George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Hill, 4 July 1798

From Henry Hill

Philada July 4th 1798

Dear Sir

The pleasing sensations produced on this anniversary are so connected with you, that my forwardness to pay it any mark of respect I hope may find indulgence—I should have been happier to have seen you & thrown myself at the feet of Mrs Washington and miss Custis, saving you the care in that case, which as it is, I must intreat you would undertake of gracing my Complimts to these Ladies.

A very late publick testimony in your favor has to all intents & good purposes the prevalence of a self evident proposition—By the event now commemorated the nation’s Man is known. By retirement he knew himself.

He promoted political regulations that were establish’d by general consent—carried them into effect—A flow of national prosperity ensued, too shining indeed for the jaundiced eyes of regular or unprincipled republican governments.

In the prosecution of his humane plan, temporising with one, disdaining only to fraternise with ’tother, he perceived war against both the desperate powers became justifiable, with one at least, unavoidable.

Tho war was his profession he withdrew uncensured.

From these premises our rulers doubtless infer that he who perfectly knew the cost of independence & proved we were worthy of it, would feel the noblest inducements to assert and perpetuate it’s blessing.

Gratification of your patriotism & benevolence may be consulted by coming forward again, but greater disinterestness than we have already seen can never be imagined.

Our youth avow they dare not stay at home when you take the field. They look up to you with the kindling attachment of children to a parent and will blush only at finding it excell’d by your’s to them.

Another Frederick shall judge of them under your command, like that Prince who exclaim’d on hearing of your huts in the woods provided for winter quarters, “By my faith such men will yield no easy conquest!”1

Wherever you are you must expect to find me as often as there is any prospect of my being useful for I always am Dear Sir Your most obliged obedt servt

Henry Hill


1GW responded on 15 July to this ceremonial letter from his old friend in these terms: “Dear Sir, Your very polite, friendly & obliging letter of the 4th Instant, has been duly presented to me; and receives, as it ought, my grateful thanks for those flattering sentiments your partiality, more than my deserts, have led you to express for me.

“I have again consented, if occasion should require it, to quit the calm and pleasing shades of retirement, in which I fondly hoped the remnant of a life (from 19 years of age) spent, one way or another, in the Service of my Country, would be undisturbed, to enter ⟨illegible⟩ a period ⟨illegible⟩ not calculated ⟨illegible⟩ the boundless field of responsibility & trouble; in which, if I prove an unprofitable labourer, it must be remembered that the Call is my inducement to obey, and that ⟨those who illegible for the error because⟩ I must be received as I am, ⟨not as I would be,⟩ for you are sensible—my friend—however desirous we may be of it that we cannot strike off 40 years of our ages.

“The spirit, which has accompanied the unequivocal expression of the sense of the People of the United States, whom the Directory of France had placed in opposition to the Government of their choice, and looked to for support, with the preparatory measures gone into by Congress; will convince them, I trust, that they have proceeded upon false estimates; that they have been deceived by misrepresentation; and that it is time to pause. If, notwithstanding, there ⟨can be no limit⟩ to their injustice & rapacious conduct; If intoxicated with success, their lawless ambition cannot be restrained by any principle of moral rectitude; I shall hold myself ready to meet them in the field of contest; but till then, or until circumstances make it indispensible for me to come out, I hope to be endulged in sitting quietly under my Vine and Fig tree.

“I have not neglected to present you in the way you requested, to Mrs Washington and Miss Custis; and have it in charge from them to offer you, in return, their complimts and best wishes, to which permit me to add those of Dear Sir Your ⟨Most⟩ Obedt Hble Ser. Go: Washington.

“This letter ⟨illegible⟩ with which it was written, that it is unnecessary to say anything on that head; but by way of apolog⟨illegible⟩ for such a scrawl. It is necessary to inform you that from the combination of public, and private concerns I have been very much hurried for some days past” (letterpress copy, NN: Washington Papers). Much of the postscript is illegible.

On 1 Aug. Henry Hill, who was GW’s age and in 1770 had married Ann Meredith, daughter of the Philadelphia merchant Reese Meredith, wrote GW a playful letter in response to GW’s comment about old age: “I congratulate with you Dear Sir on the high duties you are preparing to resume in the camps and councils of our country. The presidents publication of your letter on that head is so apparently the reverse of being calculated to raise the lustre of pseudo patriots, that he never ought to be suspected of a concern with any such secretly insidious detachment. Your acceptable favor to me I have read over and over, and had I a son should entail the letter on him as an honorable testimony of General Washington’s friendship. When you were pleased to include me in the reflection ‘that however desirous we may be of it we cannot strike off 40 years of our ages’ I began to profit by the hint; still it has hardly checkd an inveterate partiality that won it’s easy way on me for a beautiful young Maiden: Artless manners baffle the wisest plan. She has however a far more eloquent encomiast in the worthy bearer of this. Then as to her facility at enlivening the control of friendship I beg leave to refer you to the young lady whose kind wishes confirm’d by those of Mrs Washington gave the finest coloring to the pleasure conveyed by your letter. Do you not think such feelings are admirably suited to ‘the calm & pleasing shades of retirement’? I should never wish you to quit them longer than was necessary to render them secure” (DLC:GW).

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