George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Roger West, 23 April 1799

From Roger West

W. Grove 23 April [17]99


From the delicate state of my health and the extreme debility I am at present laboring under I am unable to wait upon you personally as I otherwise would do, from these causes I hope to find an apology for troubling you by letter—I have this moment received a paper from Alexa. of this date exhibiting some attempts to prove that in my late application for a Commission in the army contemplated to be raised I have acted with duplicity—with you Sir I had a conversation upon this subject, and if it is my misfortune to differ from you on some political opinions in regard to our Common Country, I rely with entire confidence upon your doing me on all occasions strict and compleat justice—I will therefore proceed to ask the favor of you to state what was the Conclusion in your Mind in regard to my application to you for a recommendation, and beg leave to state as well as I can recollect the prominent parts of our conference—Did you not after reading Colo. Hooe’s Letter which I was the bea⟨r⟩er of ask me whether I wanted a Commission in the Army of ten thousand men or whether it was in the provisional Army? and did I not answer that my object was to go into the provisional Army? that the ten thousand men which I calld a standg army would be disagreeable to me while there was no active employment for them? and that it was my determination to unite in repelling any Enemy who might Invade our Country? and were you not pleased to say you were glad to find such a disposition? Did you not add that if I wanted a recommendation for a Commission in the Army of ten thousand men that you would take the matter into consideration, or that you would always be glad to ⟨illegible⟩ when you could [do] so consistently? The first question is the most important to my feelings and I beg you Sir to say whether from the whole of the Conversation which passed you were not then and have not been ever since under an impression that ⟨my⟩ application upon that subject was not ⟨mutilated⟩ind to the Provisional Army1—My ⟨ne⟩rves have been so greatly affected for three or four days past that I can scarcely write legibly I hope to be excused therefor for not copying this letter—permit me to subscribe myself with all possible respect Your mt obt Huble Servt

R: West


Roger West of Fairfax County was the Republican candidate for Congress in the election to be held the next day, in which he lost to Leven Powell. In an address on 13 April, it was reported, West directed his opposition “principally. . . against the army of ten thousand men to be raised, which he very improperly calls a standing army, the increase of the navy, and the alien and sedition laws” (Columbian Mirror and Alexandria Gazette, 20 April 1799). The letter in the newspaper from which the quotation is taken, dated 17 April and signed “A Number of Freeholders,” runs on for several columns spelling out the terms of West’s opposition to governmental policy and offering a rebuttal. In the Mirror of 23 April Lemuel Bent inserted a letter to the editor, dated 22 April, followed by letters to himself from Henry Piercy, Charles Simms, John Fitzgerald, Robert Townsend Hooe, and Philip Marsteller, all supporting the claim that West had sought an army commission and had not limited it to the Provisional Army. On 1 Aug. 1798 GW had forwarded letters from John Fitzgerald and Charles Simms to Secretary of War James McHenry recommending Bent and Piercy for commissions, which both received in January 1799. Piercy wrote that he and Bent had made it clear to West that they had no intention of going into the Provisional Army but rather into the additional regiments of the regular army, the New Army, and that West “more than once remarked that he hoped we should procure commissions, as he should be much pleased at entering into military service with us as we were neighbors, and . . . [would] pass our time very happily together.” In his letter to Bent, Hooe alludes to his own letter of 12 July 1798 to GW recommending West and refers to Marsteller for confirmation of its contents. See Hooe to GW, 12 July 1798, n.1; see also GW’s reply to West later this day, 23 April 1799.

When GW, Alexander Hamilton, and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney were in Philadelphia in November and December 1798 to lay the groundwork for the creation of the New Army, they made lists of the men in the various states who had been recommended as officers and often summarized opposite the candidates’ names what had been said or written about them (see Editorial Note to Candidates for Army Appointments from Virginia, November 1798). Opposite West’s name is written: “Coll [John] Fitzgerald—Mr Ludlow [Ludwell] Lee—Man of Fortune—Father of a Family—Major of Militia—Coll Sims differed from him in political sentiments, but recommends him—Unblemished Character—strong Military ardour. Wishes to command a regiment in the provisional army—Mr [Charles] Lee the Atty Genl says he is in prime of Life & well qualified to command a Regt.” At a meeting of Alexandria citizens on 10 May 1798, Roger West opposed the resolution drawn up by David Stuart and John Carlyle Herbert in support of the Adams administration; Charles Simms, a strong Federalist, was one of the supporters of the resolution (see GW to Alexander Hamilton, 27 May 1798, n.4).

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