George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Joseph Reed, 15 July 1780

Philad. July 15. 1780

Dear Sir

I must acknowledge & thank you most cordially for your truly friendly & valuable Letter of the 4th Inst. I consider it an inestimable Mark of that Esteem, of which, with a kind Allowance for human Frailty, I trust I am not altogether unworthy & which I shall [be] sollicitous to improve & preserve as adding Dignity & Value to my Life.

I am sensible of the Delicacy of my Station & that whether I go forward or stand still, I run infinite Hazard. However personal Considerations are secondary, I am willing to run any personal Risque if the Measure bids fair to serve the publick Interests. But there are political Impossibilities as insurmountable almost as Physical or moral, & which prescribe Limits to Power & Influence equally impassable. The Turk, as despotick as he is cannot Lay a new Tax upon his Subject[s nor can] The King of France arbitrary as he is violate the Rank of his Army. The Powers [therefore] supposed to be vested in me however extensive must I take it, to be used with Succ[ess] a constant Respect & Attention to the Feeling and general Approbation of the People; I say supposed because they are not vested in me singly but in the Council which is Composed of five persons, some of whom have just Pretensions [from their] Abilities to very respectable Characters — However they may be influenced by Reason or Argument, I neither wish nor do possess that Influence which gains the Opinion without convincing the Judgment. Their Concurrence I must have in every Case & then the Powers must be exercised under the Restrictions I have mentioned.

I intirly agree with you, my dear Sir, that in the general the best Way to preserve the Confidence of the People is to promote their true Interest: but then a Question arises whether they ought not to see their Interest & the Case to be such as they will be disposed to see it when proper Evidence appears. If a General declines Battle because his Interest is to delay or retreat he may venture & ought to get over the false Shame of appearg to decline Action for he is certain that Time will do him Justice & there is no permanent rooted Passion of the Mind to combat his Prospects—but where Property is to be invaded, Force used, Life perhaps indangered in the Struggle (for we have had Officers killed in the Execution of the clearest Law) I conceive common Prudence Suggests not merely a decisive but also cautious Line. For I have found by Experience that where you touch the Property, be it of Whig or Tory, Arguments resulting from publick Good or publick Necessity have very little Weight: In the presant Instance the Demands for Supplies are of such Magnitude that the Whigs both real & professional must bear great Part—There are but two Modes of procuring them, Persuasion and force the former must be accompanied with Money, which we have not, for such has been the waste of publick Confidence, that every dollar we can furnish is anticipated by the Calls of Congress long before it reaches our Treasury. Force then must be used upon so great a Proportion that it may be said to be nearly all but [from whence is] this Force to come[?] it must be the Force of the Country against the Country Experience enables me say that it is difficult to turn the Force of the Country against the Tor[ies] for in them selves they are considerable in Point of Numbers & Weight; but the Support they receive from degenerate Whigs for the Sake of discrediting the Government enables them if not wholly to defeat, to weaken the best Measures for the publick Welfare, least their Enemies should get some Reputation. I could give some surprizing Instances of this if it was necessary & that from Men who figure highly as Whigs in Profession. One Mode they have taken is to depreciate & discredit the State Money which they know is one of the principal Means of enabling us to procure the Supplies. It is an undoubted fact that after acknowledging its Credit & agreing under their Hands to take it in all Payments, it is frequently refused but for Goods, & then they lay an additional Price, tho they have solemnly agreed, to receive it as Gold & Silver. By Arts & Practices of this Kind, by thwarting every Measure of Government refusing even Communication with [it] setting up Schemes of Individuals; drawing off both [the articles &] the Means of procuring them they n[ot only mean] to raise some Reputation themselves (to [which I have] no Objection) but the principal View [is to discredit us for] not doing what they have prevent[ed and drive us to] use violent Methods which in Addition [to the heavy taxes] will disgust the People, & induce them to seek Relief in a Change of Councils. A generals Combination seems to be entered into among them to [exaggerate] the Resources & Supplies of the State far [beyond their] real Bounds & what I consider as the [most] unhappy, is that this is agreable, that every [ear catches the] Impression with Greediness & even Men [that we cannot] suppose been interested in our Disputes [receive the] Impression, & act under its Influence. My [situation and] Acquaintance with the State gives me a good Oppty to know & I have taken Care to inform myself—After making such a Sacrifice of my own Time & Prospects to the apparent Ruin of my Family I cannot be suspected of sparing others unnecessarily, I can therefore with great Truth declare, that the State does not possess those Supplies which some give out: & it is obvious from the State of things which cannot be. In the first Place there are great Numbers who will not cultivate or improve their Lands as formerly but only raise what is barely necessary for their own Support & lately to pay the Taxes—all that Surplus which formed a great Exportation is not produced. In the second Place we have four entire Counties formerly productive of Taxes & Exports which now draw their Support from the Interior Country & must have constant Advances of Money Aid & Men &c. to an Amount far beyond what Strangers or distant Observers can suppose. In the third Place the enormous Debts of the Quarter Masters & Commissy Department & the Depreciation of the Money have poisoned all the Springs of Industry—finding by Experience that they receive no Value not even a nominal one well knowing that while a War is to be carried on their Property is found must go they not only have not the usual Spur to acquire it, but they are laid under the strongest Temptation, to have as little as may be subject to this Risque; A most infallible Proof of what I advance is, that even for Specie so sought & coveted, Articles cannot be procured even of Country Produce but at 33 1/3 Advance on former Prices. This surely is no Argument of Plenty. Our Trade is by many supposed to be a Source of Wealth & Strength, but every days Experience shews [the Fallacy of this] Reasoning—a Supply of a few necessary Articles is indispensable & for which the Luxury of [the] Country might be sent out; but what are our [importations] Sugar, Wines, Spirits & Gewgaws of every Kind only calculated to gratify Pride, Intemperance & Folly & for these the Men & Provisions of the Country are sent forth in the Quantities & Number that would give us great Relief if applied to the Service of the Country. When the Enemy made their Incursion into New Jersey & the most alarming Consequences were apprehended we laid an Embargo: which lasted only 8 days, but it is difficult to discribe that Clamour this created tho in the Judgment of the most considerate a Measure important to the Supply of the City itself. The Merchants sent a Deputation to know our Reasons & to expostulate with us on this Invasion of their Property & Restraint of their Business—In Short there is no Measure we pursue which touches Interest or Pride but a powerful Opposition is immediately made. & it has become such a Fashion to find fault with the State of Pennsylvania that most of our young Politicians set out with it as their first & capital Lesson. Being influenced very much by your Excelly[’s] Opinion last Winter that we could not rely upon voluntary Inlistment but must have Recourse to Draughts to answer the Demands of the Campaign I pressd this Measure last March with all my Might but without Success such are the Circumstances & such the Disposition of the People that the Assembly would not venture to pass the Bill, nor if they had do I now think it would have . been carried into Execution—For no Measure has been more generally reprobated. The Cry is for voluntary Inlistment & the most confident Assertions are made that a sufficient Number of Men would have been procured & on better Terms. And now such is the Temper of some of the Counties that they absolutely refuse to march the Draughts to the Army alledging the Necessity of defending themselves and Friends against the Savages. The whole Amount of these Draughts would be 1200 of which we suppose about 1000 might be thrown into the Line—that we could then make some Addition of voluntary Recruits [&] pick up some deserters so as to fill up the Deficiency stated last Winter [namely 1425 Men] — except Militia I dare not flatter myself with any considerable Additions, & when it is considered what heavy Losses this State had in Troops in 1776—the great Proportion of our People who will not bear Arms under any Pretext—the Force to be Kept on the Frontiers—the Drain which Trade & Privations will unavoidably make & the Number which have been inlisted during the War, & consequently kept constantly in the Field subject to all the Casualties of Disease, Desertion &c. I cannot help thinking we are intitled to some Degree of Credit for what we have done as well as what we may do I have never sought after Comparisons with other States, but have ever understood that (Maryland excepted) this State allways had a greater Proportion of Troops in the Field than any State, unless we reckoned the ill selected Draughts that came in from some Eastern States a [previous] Proportion of which would not pass Muster & the rest went Home assoon as they became Soldiers. As to Men inlisted for the War this State has certainly ever had a great Proportion & would have retained a much greater if the Land Office in Virginia had not afforded Both an Asylum & a Temptation for Desertion. We now have a very Sufficient Evidince that great Numbers of the deserters are at Kentucki & its Vicinities where they are free from Taxes, Militia Duties & other [burdens & enjoy] a Sort of savage Freedom which is highly pleasing to some Minds—With Respect to the Militia I hope we shall be able to produce the Number required without much Difficulty now the harvest is got in — but a Call three Weeks sooner would have been very Distressing & I fear impracticable from the great Scarcity of Labourers in the Country that class of People being dissipated by the War. I cannot say that I am very sanguine in my Expectations of their being very useful as they have not in many Instances had that Practice & Familiarity with Danger which many other States have had. but the principal Reason is that the Gentlemen having generally withdrawn themselves intirely, or into seperate Corps these Officers are not such as I could wish although there are some of whom we expect respectable Service—We have been using every Exertion to procure a Number of Teams as well voluntarily as by Impress—and they are coming in daily—but the Qr Masters Department is so deranged that it is attended with considerable Difficulty; I have frequently been obliged to interest myself to get them Forage & Provisions as they are not officially known to the Continental Officers. The Waggon Masters universally represent that they find the Situation insupportably distressing; that the Number of Teams in the Country has decreased one Third, that of these from former Service unpaid the inadequate Price, & real Change of Circumstances a part can only be got—the rest hiding their Horses & Grain & even destroying their Waggons that they may not be compelled to go. To impress requires a Force to support it & from the Nature of the Service a Number of People to collect & keep the impressed Articles most of the Teams yet obtained are Impressed—I hope we shall be able to make up the Number of 250 and then we shall immediately set about collection of Horses wherein I presume there will be less Difficulty because we know they are in the Country & cannot be concealed with the same Ease as Grain Waggons &c. — We have quartered the whole Number of Waggons & Horses in the Counties as well as the Commissarial Articles but the Expectation of fully answering such a Demand amounting to one half and more (namely, 106 Millions of Dollars) than all the Money ever issued by Congress cannot I fear be answered. I have not met with one Person in or out of Congress belonging or not belonging to the State who does not pronounce the Requisition in its full Extent impracticable. I hope we shall get 1000 Horses at least, & that we shall be able to answer the Requisition of February. If we can do more we shall, for as I observed before we have actually demanded the whole—have furnished all the Commissioners with Blanks of various kinds of Returns & directed them to send us a weekly Account of their Progress — Our first Instructions were for monthly Returns but they were not complied with owing as we suppose to a Want of Skill in making the Returns and to a Want of Time to ascertain what they could do. I do not know how it is conducted in other States, but at Least three Parts of my Time & Labour are employed in doing this Duty of Quarter Master & Commissary to the great Neglect of my other Duties—I have never in any Part of my Life gone thro half the Fatigue of Business that I have done for these two Months past—& it is very discouraging, that with so unremitted and Attention to the publick Service I find I am to be the Subject of Complaint—I do acknowledge my dear Sir that my Health & Spirits daily Sink under it & that I find I am Every Week less capable of Business.

While I see hundreds around me securing a comfortable Competence for themselves & Families, enjoying occasional Amusements & even Members of Congress themselves & their Officers partaking of the Satisfaction of cheerful Society—I am sacrificing my Youth my profession, my whole Time & denying myself all sorts of Relaxation, that I may answer at least in Part the Expectations form’d at this crisis. My conscience, and the Knowledge those have who see my course of Life, must acquit me of any Neglect; and if after all this I do not stand justified in the opinion of my Country & Friends I think I have Reason to conclude myself an unhappy & an injured character. I have seen some Letters from Camp& one from Mr Tilghman that have hurt me a good deal, considering his Connection with the State, & the Station he holds in your Family. In this Letter, not wrote to a Person of the most Prudence or Consideration, he pronounces our Exertions scandalous. This Letter is doubless, shewn about Town. You observe, my dear Sir that our Affairs are not in the Train they ought to be, I am not sensible of any material Defect but this I can truly say, that they are in as good a Train as our Abilities & the Circumstances of Things will admit—this State (setting aside the Opposition to the Government) is composed of very heterogeneous Particles. It has been settled by People from all Countries, & a great Portion of them very incapable to Judge of the Nature & Extent of the present Controversy which arising from Apprehension more than a Reality of Oppression, now that they feel the heavy Taxes & the Burthens which are necessarily laid begin to reason from their Feelings & grew extremely uneasy. They cannot anticipate the future Happiness of their Country in being exempt from foreign Laws & Jurisdiction, when they find they must work harder & pay more than they did. Comparisons of former taxes, Burthens, &c. are now frequent; and it is my firm Opinion sanctified by that of many Gentlemen of more Knowledge & Experience, that the People of this State would if too heavily pressed, more readily renew their Connection with Great Britain than any State now in the Union — Even the Arguments & Influence of Tories have great Weight upon Whigs, when under the Pressure of heavy Taxes and Burthens. They are told, you are not well governed, & you will find (as you have found) that the Yoke of Great Britain is easy and her Burden light, compared with what you now endure — My best friends seem to have adopted a Sentiment which surprises me, and use Arguments of this nature; "Your Enemies will serve The Publick effectually and gain Credit, you must therefore exert yourself —" My dear Sir, I wish every man to have Credit & Success, if he does serve the publick, whether he is my friend or foe; & if he does it effectually I am content he should have Reputation. Let him make what Use he pleases of it to my Prejudice. I am conscious of having no Object to stand in Competition with the Freedom of my Country. This was my first Motive for getting into publick Service—it is still the governing Principle of my life. Those therefore who really contribute to Affect it gratify me in the most essential Point. But it does not appear to me that all the Modes & Measures taken lead to that Point — The Opposition in this State has no Strength or Consequence out of the City that they acknowledge, their seperate Schemes therefore serve only to embarrass; whereas, did they, as they ought, join with the Government, there is no Point, scarcely, within Physical Possibility, we could not attain—They cannot have Popularity, because the Thirst of Gain continually leads them into some Scheme opposed to the publick Interests which is discovered. A late Instance has occurred, in Addition to 20 others. The Inhabitants of Bermudas have to discourage Privateering associated to buy no Prize Goods. The consequence of which was, that those Kinds of Goods might be had next to nothing on which the principal Merchants in this City, Messrs Morris, Nesbit & Co. send a Person, or at least employ one who had been proscribed & is since under Security for his good Behaviour, He goes to that Island without Permission & then in Company they purchase those Prize Goods the Inhabitants of the Island had associated, out of Friendship to us not to purchase—& import them under Cover of British Papers. We have seized the Goods, and upon Inquiry, all these Facts turn out in Proof — We have never been able to get the least Assistance from them to prevent taking Deserters on board their ships; whereas a virtuous Resolution to employ no Captain who received them would do more good than all the laws, Proclamations, and searches that could ever be mad —. But I find myself insensibly drawn to a tedious Length of Letter, which my Anxiety to remove any [unfavourable] Impressions has hurried me into. I will, therefore, trespass but little longer — From what I have said, I hope you will not suspect my relaxing in the publick Service while I have Strength of Body or Mind. I must intreat you to do me the Justice to believe I shall strain the Cord as tight as it will bear—those of Government are never tied again if once broken, & governing too much is the Way not to govern at all. I will use every Species of Influence, Argument & Authority I possess, to promote the Views of the publick at this Juncture—I have done it for Months past as Congress is very sensible from the Letters laid before them in Consequence of a very unkind one from their Committee. Every Motive that can interest or impel the Heart of Man I must have on this Occasion & why should it be supposed that they will not have due Operation—I am not so stupid as not to comprehend the Force & Necessity of corresponding fully with the Exertions of our Ally — nor so insensible of national Reproach as not to feel for the Honour for the Country if it should fail in a capital Degree in its Engagements. No one can more sincerely wish an End to the War than I do or be more sensible that great Exertions at this Period may bring about this happy Issue. Nor am I capable of mean & selfish Pain at seeing those who are my Enemies more successful in servg the publick than myself if it should be so. If I know myself my Errors are of the Head & Tempe, not of the Heart I rely therefore, dear Sir, much on your Friendship & candid Construction, and shall take it as the greatest favour if in the same free & friendly Manner you have now done you will tell me what is amiss & how I may rectify it.

Mrs Reed & myself are exceedingly gratified with the kind & obliging Notice you have taken of this small Proof of our Regard in giving your Name to our newborn Son & shall be happy in every Occasion to give more extensive & essential Proofs: And as to your good Lady her Company gave us so sincere a Pleasure that we could not but regret that it was so short—We hope she got safe Home as we have not heard from her since we left her a few Miles on the Way.

I am persuaded you are so busy that I hope you will not think of answering this long tedious letter, which has been wrote by Snatches as I could steal a few Minutes at one Time or another—I shall therefore now conclude with mentioning that next Week will take forward 2000 excellent Shirts & as many Overalls for the State Troops with a large Supply of Refreshments of other Kinds—that we have sent off a Person to Europe some time since to lay in a good Supply of all Kinds of Clothing for Officers & 6000 Men—so that we need not depend on uncertain & precarious Supplies. Mrs Reed received your kind Favour a few Days ago and is exerting herself to comply with your Direction —but there is at present a very great Difficulty in procuring the Articles even for Money. I am, with the greatest Respect & most sincere Regard, dear Sir, Your Obliged & Most Afte Hble Servt,

Jos. Reed.

DLC: Papers of George Washington.

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