George Washington Papers

From George Washington to James McHenry, 6 January 1799

To James McHenry

Mount Vernon 6th jany 1799

Dear Sir,

Your favor of the 28th Ulto I have duly received.

I have no wish that any sentiments of mine, handed to you officially, should be withheld from Congress, or the Public. All I should have desired, wou’d have been, that such parts of my Report of the proceedings which occupied the attention of the two Major Generals and myself in Philadelphia, and fit for Legislative consideration, might have been communicated entire; with the reasons in support of the measures. Extracts, without these, does not always convey the sense, or the intention of the Reporter.

It is unnecessary I presume to add, that such other parts of the Report as depend upon Executive decision, ought not to be delayed. Many valuable Officers & Men have already been lost by it; and if the arrangement is not announced soon, more will be so. The Regulations with respect to the Uniforms, and Army distinctions, should be announced at the same time (if approved) in clear and peremptory terms; to guard, in the first place, Officers against unnecessary expence—and in the second place to prevent fantastic decorations at the whim of Corps. I do not recollect whether it is so expressed, but it was the meaning, that all Officers who are not directed to be distinguished by feathers, are not to wear any; but if it is not forbidden at the time of the annunciation, to those who shall, the practice will still prevail in the lower grades; such is the propensity in favor of it.1

That those who applied for higher grades than they have been appointed to shd decline accepting them, was, in many instances, apprehended—but to find among others, who were appointed, unworthy characters, is more surprising; although it is an evidence of the truth of the doctrine I advanced, that there was no dependence (except in a few instances) on the mode of obtaining information—for reason wch I detailed at the time.

The Papers you have asked for went off before your letter was received—and safe with you, I hope, ’ere this.

I ought to have taken your advice with respect to drawing three, in place of two months pay. Not keeping the a/c of my expenditures to, from, and at Philadelphia myself—Mr Lear paying them out of the money he received there, on his own account. and not coming to the knowledge of their amount until I got home, I presumed two months Pay &ca would have covered all my expences—but with the purchase of a few articles incidental to my journey, I find that the aggregate, amounts to $1115 55/100 and the pay drawn, to 1039 50/100; without including in the first sum the preparatory expence of equipment, for the journey.2 one item alone of which, a horse, cost me $300.3

This communication is incidental; not byway of application for a further allowance; for I had rather sustain the loss, and the fatiegues of the journey, than it should be thought I was aiming to draw an Iota more from the Public, than my declaration at the acceptance of my Commission would authorize. With very great esteem & regard I am—Dear Sir Your Most Obedt and Affectionate Servt

Go: Washington


1GW is referring to his second report of 13 Dec. 1798 to McHenry, printed as a note in his first letter to McHenry of that date. Secretary of war McHenry issued on 8 Jan. 1799 “Uniform for the Army of the United States,” a copy of which he enclosed in his letter to GW of 10 January. McHenry’s regulations for army uniforms replaced those issued in 1787, which in any case had been largely ignored. Out of necessity a hodgepodge of military hats and coats had been issued as were available. It was important to GW that the men of the New Army being formed under his command have not only adequate clothing but also proper uniforms. Furthermore, he was determined that his own uniform be suitable. As he wrote McHenry on 10 Feb. 1799, the uniform to be made for him “being the commencement of a distinguishing dress for the Commander in Chief of the armies of the United States . . . and probably will be a permanent one—my wish . . . is, that it may be correctly executed.” The correspondence regarding the correct execution of GW’s uniform includes GW’s letters to McHenry of 27, 28 Jan., 10 Feb., 7, 30 June, 14 July 1799, to James McAlpin, 27 Jan., 10 Feb., 18 Mar., 12 May, 14 July 1799, from McHenry, 10 Jan., 1, 12 Feb., 21 May, 24, 25, 28 June, 24 Aug. 1799, and from McAlpin, 15 Feb., 24, 27 June 1799.

2GW wrote in his Day Book on 20 Dec. 1798: “By Sundry expences—and purchases—in a journey to Philadelphia—commencing the 5th of November and ending the 19th Instant—as paid by Mr Lear—exclusive of the Expenditures & purchases made by myself—viz.—

On the Road going $ 62. 8
Doctr [ ] Spence—Dentist 18.  
Sent to Jno. Greenwood of N. Yk Do 30.  
A Gold Seal & repg Chain $14.  
Engraving—Ditto 3.50
Cleang my Watch & gold Key 4.  
Inspeck [John Inskeep]. 4 dozn Tumblurs 12.  
For Miss Custis Books, Paints & Music 25.25
Peter Gavenstine—Fruit 45.  
B.W. Morris—Porter—49 dozn 104.80
[James] McAlpen—Taylors Bill—$1.70 & 38.25 39.95
Mrs Washington Gloves & Muslin 66.16
Holster Caps & Cockades—Servants 3.50
Hopkins Razer Strap 1.75
Saml McLean—Leathr Breechs, Servts 15.25
John Bedford Boots Do 27.24
John Lambert—1 Bush. Clovr Seed 17.  
Sheet Iron—for Chimneys 4.73
A fine Carpet 7.  
Washington Custis—a bridle 18.  
N. Eyre—a Great Coat for myself 14.  
Robt Fielding—Repairg Chariot 18.45
Jno. Dinwiddie—Livery Stable 99.48
Shoeing Horses 6.25
Washing at differt Times 5.87
Mrs White—Board— $172.  
Club— 17.52
Left with Colo. Biddle to pay for a Bk Case 150.  
Paid for Sundry Small art[icle]s. by Mr Lear as will appear by his a/c 72.92
Apples—13 Barls pr Fredk Leoffler 39.65
Total 1115.55’’

On 7 Dec. 1798 GW recorded the payment to himself of $1,039.50 for “two months pay, Rations and forage recd from the public by Warrant from the Secretary of War” (Cash Memoranda, 1797-99 description begins "Cash + Entries & Memorandums," 1 Sept. 1797–3 Dec. 1799. Manuscript in John Carter Brown Library, Providence. description ends ). After receiving this letter McHenry had another month’s pay sent to GW (McHenry to GW, 10 Jan., n.1).

3No record of GW’s having paid for a horse just prior to his journey to Philadelphia in November has been found, but he notes in his Day Book on 15 Dec. paying David Rees $200 “for a Naraganset horse—Cream colour.”

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