George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James McHenry, 3 July 1798

From James McHenry

Philadelphia 3d July 1798.

Dear Sir.

The crisis, and almost universal wish of the people, to see you at the head of the armies of the United States, has been too strong to be resisted, the President has yielded to causes so powerful and nominated you accordingly, which has been unanimously confirmed to-day by the Senate.1

Thus you are again called upon by all voices, to fill a station which all think you alone qualified for at this moment. I know what must be your feelings, and how many motives you must have for prefering the privacy you are in the enjoyment of, to the troubles and perplexities of a commander of an army. This however is the crowning sacrifice, which I pray to god you may agree to make for the sake of your country, and to give the last finish to a fame, that nothing short of such a call, and the present occasion, could have been capable of increasing.

I think it probable that the President will request me to be the bearer of his letter to you. I shall, in that case have an oppertunity to converse with you at large on several subjects relative to the army, and agree with you upon such arrangements, as may leave you as long as possible at Mount Vernon. Perhaps I shall set out on Friday, or at farthest monday next. Present me to Mrs Washington & Miss Custis and accept of my sincere attachment & unchangeable affection

James McHenry

ALS, DLC:GW; copy, in hand of McHenry’s clerk, DLC: Hamilton Papers; ADf, MiU-C: McHenry Papers.

1GW’s commission as “Lieutenant General and Commander in Chief of all the Armies raised or to be raised” (printed in note 1 to GW to Adams, 13 July) is dated 4 July, and President Adams’s letter informing him of his appointment is dated 7 July. Both the commission and the president’s letter were brought to Mount Vernon by McHenry, the secretary of war, on the afternoon of 11 July. On 13 July GW wrote Adams to accept the appointment, provided that he would “not be called into the field until the Army is in a situation to require my presence, or it becomes indispensible by the urgency of circumstances.” When the commission as commander in chief was extended to GW on 4 July, the army that he was being asked to command consisted of about three thousand men in the regular army, which had been reorganized in 1796, and a nonexistent provisional army of ten thousand which Congress in May had authorized the president to call into being should war be declared against the United States or should it be invaded or in imminent danger of invasion. Before GW accepted the commission on 13 July, Congress as was expected also had voted to add twelve regiments and six troops of dragoons to the four existing regiments of the regular army. Although GW never had to take the field, remaining at Mount Vernon except for a trip to Philadelphia in November and December 1798, much of his time and a large part of his correspondence for the remainder of his life were taken up with efforts to form this “new army,” as it came to be called.

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