George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Vans Murray, 17 August 1799

From William Vans Murray

17 August 1799

Dear Sir,

Yesterday I went to 1268. 1175. 1582. to meet Mr 913. 753⟨.⟩ I had before met him at a more distant place. Knowing from ⟨his⟩ letters to me, that he intended to go to the United States, a measure ⟨which⟩ I opposed by every argument I could think of—I since that enjoyed ⟨the⟩ pleasure of your letter to him of December last, & on his lately w⟨riting⟩ to me for passports, informing me of his intentions of going, I w⟨ent⟩ yesterday to meet him & to urge the reasons which I had scattered in my several letters to dissuade him.1 Though I have no rights over his friendly letters, yet I may with good faith inclose to you Sir, a press copy of my last to him,2 before my ride yesterday I found him still much bent upon going—Leaving his lady & daughter in France & his plan, if he go, is to settle for life. To buy a farm near Mount Vernon—To land in the Chesepeak & hasten to present himself to his paternal house, as he says & pass the winter, that he is sure that he can convince you that he could have no azylum elsewhere from the present & probable future State of Europe, for though war is not yet declared by or against Sweden & Denmark & though the States of Germany are not all in the war, he expects that the first will be in war & in the last he cannot live & this Country is threatened with invasion.

He seems to have no idea of being in the party which will Soon be the triumphant party, because their principles are not his & he avows those which he acted on in 1791. It was in vain to urge on this head the apology afforded by that tremendous NECESSITY which in those moments crushes men of all sorts together for the public good & for the great end of indeed pursuing the Independance of all other nations! He cannot join if they would let home the parties that overturned the constitutional Monarchy of 1791. Thus he is left by the storm he helped to raise, high & dry on a shore to which no ebbs & flows can reach him, to launch him again for any quiet port.

I have urged every thing to Indispose him for the voyage to U.S. He avows that he will be a federalist & Support the Govt U.S. I tell him that will be little in his power & that title will be decisive against his affairs & family in France, if she exist as a Republic (which I do not expect[)]—He answered, I care not for my affairs, I will pursue my principles, and I would be against democratizing the American Govt—I am against what France has done towards the United States. In fact he attempted to remove my arguments continually—He repeated a question which he before made at our other interview—Could I not said he be useful in uniting parties? I told him no! but this little trait will shew you Sir, that he perpetually thinks ⟨&⟩ feels in the sense of a public character, notwithstanding all that has past—The steady adherance to those Theories which have deluged Europe with affliction, excited more of melancholy than ⟨of⟩ Admiration. Though he is I think less cheerful a little than when I saw him in March, he is fat & hearty, unbroken in mind & body, full of pleasant & interesting conversation & a most agreeable & one who will have influence go where he will, except among those who reflect & have experience enough to seperate the pleasing from the proper—I left him apparently undecided whether he will go or not—but I think rather that he will go⟨.⟩ The passport he asked for was for Emden, Hamburgh & Ame⟨rica.⟩ I had sent him a letter, the one of which a copy is inclosed which I promised him one—Though a very interesting man yet I wish him to stay here where he is quiet untill things are more tranquil among us. Long since cured of visionary speculations, I hope myself—I dread their union in a popular character in the United States—In a possible state of things in Europe—were it practicable for parties in France—to themselves restore Monarchy—it might perhaps be useful⟨.⟩ All the attractions belonging to that inducement to re⟨main⟩ in Europe, I urged as far as they occurred—Once before I had very much relyd on that line of persuasion—& then it s⟨eemed⟩ to impress him—but now he Seemed to have no idea of the probability of that project—Indeed Suwarrows late proclamation announces what is perhaps the only practicable scheme—the Restoration of L. 183—& if it be accomplished, I rather believe that the chants of Philosophy will have little to do in the business & that the respective theories which have buried under bloody ruins will be in France what the Ludicrous, but bloody extravagances of puritanism, were in England after the Restoration of Charles 2d—a theme of Ridicule & dramatic exhibition!

I thought dear, Sir, that I ought to inform you upon a subject that has brought your pen into action & to shew you that I wished not only to do good but that I take a pride in pursuing what I believe to be accordant with your paternal views & vigilance towards our native land—even in cases where your personal friendship tended to another biass4—I am with perfect & affecte respect & attachment Dear Sir yo. mo. obdt Sert &c. &c. &c.

Df, NNPM. The draft is in Murray’s letter book. As the letter from Murray to John Quincy Adams printed in note 1 indicates, the coded numbers in the first sentence of this letter to GW stand for “Leyden” and “Lafayette.”

1Murray wrote to John Quincy Adams in Berlin on 15 Aug.: “I go to Leyden tomorrow morning to meet M. La Fayette who has requested to meet me somewhere. We have lately written about his voyage to the United States—I to dissuade him. General W[ashington] wrote to him in December [1798] dissuading him neatly; but he writes me he will go, and be quiet at Mount Vernon” (Ford, “Murray-Adams Letters,” description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed. Letters of William Vans Murray to John Quincy Adams, 1797–1803. Washington, D.C., 1914. In Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1912, pages 343-715. description ends 583–84). Murray also drafted a letter to GW on 15 Aug. (NNPM), a copy of which he may or may not have sent to him. On 26 Oct. 1799 GW acknowledged the receipt of a number of letters dating back to April 1799, including one dated 17 Aug. but not one dated 15 August. The letters of 15 and 17 Aug. are both about Lafayette and include much the same information. In both letters Murray says he is enclosing the “press copy” of his letter to Lafayette. Murray went to see Lafayette after drafting the letter of 15 Aug. and before composing the letter of 17 August. It may well be that he wrote and sent the letter of 17 Aug. in the place of the one drafted on 15 Aug., which GW had not received by 26 Oct. perhaps because it was never sent. In any case, the copy of Murray’s letter of 15 Aug. reads: “The Gentleman to whom you wrote last december & who is actually in this Country, is I believe resolved to go to America & especially to Mount Vernon. He thinks of setting off this autumn. I have Said all I could to put him off from this ill timed visit. I have no rights over his letters to me, but I can without a breach of delicacy inclose Sir to you the press copy of my last letter to him on this subject. In answer however he says that ‘any consequences of my preferring Mount Vernon to every other place on earth I would meet with pleasure & pride.’ I have most Seriously & at different times combatted his intentions by every way I thought most successful. I confess Sir that his unconquered restlessness—the tough attachment to his first opinions, notwithstanding these are bury’d under those bloody ruins that demonstrate at least their prematurity & want of sound application to his own Country, his facilities in regenerating his half killed body & mind—So lately from a Dungeon—His fond hopes of Liberty!! European liberty—that strumpet that no Sermons—no examples can reform. These things both astonish me & execite some uneasiness when I consider him as the Citizen of the United States, possessed of a certain desire of popularity—& having had indeed great merit in our Glorious Revolution. Of course it would be best that he should be kept out of the Critical Scene, where it may be feared his Self love & ambition might be playd on—As you have long honoured him with your friendly offices it may be not unpleasing to hear more particularly of him—I had never seen him & went [in March 1799], at his request, to meet him—Thirty miles off. Instead of the grave & thoughtful countenance which his Misfortunes of all sorts justified the expectation of—I found him cheerful, & even pleasant in Anecdotes & old American war Stories, in which he delig⟨hted.⟩ With an air perfectly disengaged—in good health & of sound Consti⟨tution⟩ & of the same set of abstract & political principles which he carry’d from the U.S. to his Country & which he still adhered to—Condemning Jacobinism, but still talking about liberty (that of his own nation) and of the progress of the human mind & the yet hopeful amelioration of Europe upon the principles of liberty—He always spoke of you Sir, with great attachment—& we talked much of parties—One trait alone will give you a clue to his way of thinking & what must be expected of him. He asked if it would not be in his power to Unite parties in U.S.! if he were there. I took the occasion which a long walk offered to shew him the uneasy Situation in which a residence there at present would place him—He told me Col. H——had written to the same effect—I left him with the persuasion that his mind is impenetrable ⟨to⟩ perfectly defeated & scouted experiments—that he seems as if he considered his fame as bottomed on the alliance between American forms & theories & the Revolution of his own country—& I believe he knows that the American Revolution is the basis on which his statue rests. His unconquered mind excited somewhat ⟨of⟩ melancholy rather than of Admiration—& the fecundity of his resources to explain why this principle had not been fairly try⟨’d⟩ & that experiment not fairly made, accompany’d by so much Sang froid—left the same impression that the Chapter of Gil Blas always does—Sangrado had hot watered & blooded half ⟨the⟩ nobility & burghers of Valadolid to death—Twenty years constant mortality had testified to his Theory & practice—He did doubt—but he said he had when young written a book to support his Theory—his fame was at Stake—he could not recede! with a thousand excellent qualities he would I fear be sported with by events & by a certain party of impenetrables in the U.S.—I must add however that he seems most cordially to condemn the great injuries perpetrated by his Country against us. The French Republic has not been able, nor will she be, I think Sir, to oppose a dam against that torrent of Victories that has lately poured against her—We have it as certain that at last Mantua has surrendered—In the actual state of Europe this is a very important thing. Suwarrow has detached 20,000 men towards Swisserland—he may thus probably turn Massena’s right along the Aar; though Championet has some troops, army of the alps, in Savoy. The interior of France is becoming as it was in the year 1793 So. of the Vendee. The exterior force of the enemy Stronger & Successful & opinion outside & inside different. In Holland all is in preparation against expected invasion—But the moment of actual attack—if it come, will be attended by great desertion, it is believed to the Prince hereditary of Orange, who with a Russian General & a corps of cidevant Dutch Officers is now at Lingen on the Ems, near the borders” (NNPM). For Murray’s visit to Lafayette in March 1799, see also Lafayette to GW, 9 May 1799, n.4.

2In addition to the copy in McHenry’s hand of Murray’s letter to GW of 15 Aug., there is at the New York State Library at Albany a copy of a letter, also in McHenry’s hand, without heading or date, from Murray to Lafayette. This undoubtedly is a copy of the letter, a press copy of which Murray told GW in his letters of 15 and 17 Aug. that he was enclosing. After writing about Lafayette’s passport and, at length, about the different meanings of the word liberty, Murray had this to say to Lafayette in conclusion: “My Dear Sir, as to your pleasing idea of being still & tranquil at Mount Vernon! It is true that you would be tranquil there—all men hold it in veneration—but that is to be ⟨with⟩ our free & glorious Govrnt & Constitution. You would there be a Monarchy man, Royalist, British, and a thousand & one wretched things against you. On the contrary if you are not there—though you cannot be a jacobin—yet the jacobins would count upon you! Neutrality is impossible! A middle man would be suspected as a spy! If our internal struggles had no relation to the interests of France & her revolutionaries & worst of principles, there you would be more quiet, as things are you would be either in a situation such as you never were in—or be obliged to be on one side or the other. The one side, the side you would take, is that which would be decisive against you in France. The other side—so like the Tory side against which you broke your first spear—you could not take.”

3Gen. Aleksandr Vasilievich Suvorov (1729–1800), a noted Russian military commander, was conducting a campaign against the French in Italy. On 13 June 1799 Murray had written Pickering of the possibility that Louis XVIII would be “on the throne in a few months” (manuscript quoted in Hill, William Vans Murray, description begins Peter P. Hill. William Vans Murray, Federalist Diplomat: The Shaping of Peace with France, 1797–1801. Syracuse, N.Y., 1971. description ends 155).

4GW remained fearful that Lafayette was coming to the United States; as late as 24 Oct. 1799 Secretary of State Timothy Pickering wrote GW that he suspected that “la Fayette is coming to America.”

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