George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Citizens of Greene County, Tennessee, 8 September 1798

To Citizens of Greene County, Tennessee

Mount Vernon 8th Septr 1798


Having once more engaged in the arduous duties of public life, (after I had retired therefrom with the most ardent wishes and pleasing hopes that no circumstances would occur to call me from my peaceful abode during the few remaining years of my life) I cannot be insensible to the approbation of my fellow Citizens. And, while I thank you, Gentlemen, for your warm & friendly Address,1 permit me to observe, that I can take no merit to myself for any personal sacrifices I may make in accepting the arduous and important trust with which I have been honored; for, when the Property of our Citizens has been despoiled—our Sovereignty encroached upon—our constituted Authorities treated with contempt—and our Independence threatned, can that man be deserving the Appellation of an American Citizen, who would suffer any motives of personal consideration to withhold his exertions at such an eventful crisis.

It certainly appears, Gentlemen, as you observe, that the mild and pacific policy of America has been mistaken for Cowardice, and a base desertion of our Rights. But I trust that the injured spirit of our Country will now be roused, and that we shall shew to the world that we can and will support our Rights and the Government of our choice against all aggressions, and that we will yield our Independence only with our lives.

To do this requires a spirit of unanimity which, I presume, will shortly prevail in every part of the United States, & that every virtuous Citizen will see the necessity of his exertions to preserve the invaluable blessings which we have yet in our power.

Go: Washington

ALS (letterpress copy), DLC:GW.

1The address from “Greenville (State of Tennessee),” signed by Daniel Kennedy as chairman of the Greene County meeting and by George Duffield, Jr., as its secretary, reads: “At a meeting of a large and respectable number of the inhabitants of the County of Green assembled at the Court House in Greenville on the 16th day of August 1798, agreably to the request of Benjamin Crow Lieut. Col. Commandant of said County, Col. Daniel Kennedy was unanimously appointed Chairman and George Duffield Junr Secretary. The meeting taking into consideration the eminent and distinguished patriotism of George Washington Esqr. in accepting at the present crisis the appointment of Lieutenant General and Commander in Chief of the American Armies, Unanimously Resolved, That a Committee be appointed to draw up and transmit to the Commander in chief an address expressing their grateful sensibility on the acceptance of his appointment, and stating their attachment to the Government of the United States, and their firm determination to cooperate with him in the defence of the liberty and independence of their Country, in case of attack or invasion by any Power whatsoever. Resolved, that Colonels Benjamin Crow, Daniel Kennedy and Joseph Conway, Major Baldwin Harle, Captains James Stinson, James Guthry and John Harmon, Cornet John Russell, and John Gass, Samuel Frazer, James Hays, David Russell, Robert Wyly and George Duffield Junr Esqrs. be the Committee to draw up and transmit the address as agreed to in the above resolution.

“‘To George Washington Esqr. Lieut. General and Commander in Chief of the American Armies, Sir[,] However novel an address from your fellow citizens may appear at so early a period, and before you are personally engaged in the discharge of the duties of your appointment; yet we would do injustice to our feelings, did we not express our grateful sensibility on once more beholding you in the exalted station of Commander in chief of the American armies. For successive years we have traced you in an illustrious career. We have with affectionate regard contemplated your long and useful life dedicated to the good of your Country. In the hour of her adversity, we have looked up to you under the smiles of an indulgent Providence, as the political father and Saviour of Columbia. Emerged from the gloom of despotic sway, her sons have long enjoyed the cheering light of freedom. They have seen their Country eminently exalted in the blessings of virtue, liberty and independence. Having so conspicuously aided in conducting her to the zenith of prosperity, we saw you retire crowned with the plaudits of your grateful country-men. We hoped, and we had reason to expect that the Sun of Peace would set with mild effulgence on the evening of your life. Pleased with the prospect, we anticipated from other nations the political rectitude which characterized our own. Guided by impartial justice, and the purest principles, we expected from the European World a receprocity of conduct founded on the same good faith. In this most reasonable expectation our sanguine wishes have deceived us. France⟨,⟩ whom we hastened to acknowledge as a Sister Republic, when struggling against combined Europe for her freedom, has burst asunder the bonds of friendship and good faith. She beholds the mild and pacific policy of America, and mistakes it for cowardice and the base desertion of our rights. She has plundered our citizens, she has for successive years rioted on the Spoils of our defenceless Commerce, twice has she spurned with insolence and contempt our messengers of peace; she has subjugated to her power a part of the European world, and now threatens America with the scourge of her despotism. Under your banner, Sir, Americans have fought for, and acquired the glorious acquisition of liberty and independence; in defence of that acquisition, they are ever ready to risk their lives. We are not ignorant of the determination with which you “consoled” yourself, of spending the “remnant of your days,” in the peaceful retirement and domestic sweets of your beloved Vernon. We cannot therefore duly appreciate your recent sacrifice on the Altar of your Country’s good. The only return we can make, is by solemnly pledgeing ourselves as Citizens and soldiers to protect and defend our rights, and with life and fortune to follow you in the path of Honor, whenever the prosperity and independence of our Country may require”’ (DLC:GW).

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