George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Joseph Jones, 22 July 1780

Head Quarters Bergen County 22d July 1780

Dear Sir,

Your favor of the 18th came to my hand last Night—considering the delicate situation in which I stand with respect to General Gates, I feel an unwillingness to give any opinion (even in a confidential way) in a matter in which he is concerned, lest my Sentiments (being known) should have unfavourable interpretation ascribed to them by illiberal Minds—I will however state facts, & leave you to draw inferences, with respect to the promotion required.)

Custom (for I do not recollect any Resolve of Congress authorizing it) has established a kind of right to the promotion of my Brigadiers in the state lines (where there are Regiments enough to require a Brigr to command—There can be no objection therefore to the Gentn named, on this ground.

By the practice of our Army, never less than four Regiments are placed in a Brigade, but in cases of necessity.

The quota of Regiments allotted to the State of Virginia originally, were 15—In the year 1778 there was an incorporation of some of them by the Committee of Arrangement (sent to the White Plains); & approved, to the best of my recollection by Congress—this reduced them to; on of which is now at Fort Pitt.

The State of Virginia at this time ([   ] the reach of Weedon) has 4 Brigrs in pay, & two in active Service—These in captivity will be injured if they should not return to act[   ]al command when they are exchanged; & they can have no command out of their o[   ] line. nor can there be any in it if new [   ] are made.

The State was about to raise 5000 Men, 4000 of which is, more than probably as many as they will get—& were to go [   ] my judgment from our usual disappointments, & the customary deficiency in these cases, I should not expect 3000 men.

At the request of Govr Jefferson, & from a list of the Officers of the Virga Line (not in captivity) I have made a temporary formation of these Troops into Six (or as the case may be) Seven Regiments, till they are surcharged—there being Officers enough in the State for this purpose.

The case of S——ns is not singular, it frequently happens—& in the nature of things must happen, while we depend upon Militia; & the appointment of officers of his Rank are the Executive of each State—I have no doubt but that several instances of this kind will occur under my immediate command in the course of the Campaign (if our intended operation goes forward)—It is unavoidable, while we depend upon Militia for field Service.

The Gentn who is the Subject of your Letter is a brave Officer, and a well meaning man, but his withdrawing from Service at the time he did last year, could not be justified on any ground—there was not, to my knowledge, the smallest cause for dissatisfaction—and the season and circumstances were totally opposed to the measure, even if cause had existed, till matters assumed a different aspect than they were at the time of his preffered resignation.

From this state of facts, which I believe to be candid & impartial, you will judge of the propriety, or impropriety of the promotion in question, & act accordingly.

If any letter of mine to Colo. Harrison (speaker to the Virginia House of Delegates) could have a tendency to injure Rather than promote the Service in which we are engaged, the operation of it, & my intention, are as far apart as the North pole is from the South. In May after the Marquis’ arrival with assurances of speedy succour from France, I wrote to Colo. Harrison (which I had not done for many months before) and informed him—knowing the assembly was then sitting—of the totally deranged situation of our affair—of our distresses—of the utter impracticability of availing ourselves of this generous aid, unless the States would rouse from the Torpor that had seized them—and observed—that

“This is a decisive moment—one (I will go further & say) the most important—america has seen. The Court of France has made a glorious effort for our deliverance, and if we disappoint its intentions by our supineness we must become contemptible in the eyes of all Mankind; nor can we offer that venture to confide that our allies will persist in an attempt to establish what if will appear we want inclination, or ability to assist them in.

“Every view of our own circumstances ought to determine us to the most vigorous efforts; but there are considerations of another kind that should have equal weight—The combined fleets of Franc & Spain last year were greatly superior to those of the enemy—The enemy nevertheless sustained no material damage, and at the close of the Campaign have given a very important blow to our allies—This Campaign the difference between the fleets from every acct I have been able to collect will be inconsiderable—indeed it is far from clear that there will not be an equality—what are we to expect will be the case if there shd be another Campaign? In all probability the advantage will be on the side of the English, & then what will become of America? We ought not to deceive ourselves. The Maritime resources of Great Britain are more substantial & real than those of France & Spain united—The commerce is more extensive than that of both her Rivals; and it is an occasion that the nation which has the most extensive commerce will always have the most powerful Marine—were these arguments less convincing the fact speaks for itself—her progress in the course of the last year is an incontestible proof.

“It is true France in a manner created a fleet in a very short space, and this may mislead us in the judgment we form of her naval abilities. But if they bear any comparison with those of G. Britain when comes it to pass that with all the force of Spain added she has lost so much ground in so short a time, as now to have scarcely a superiority. We Should consider what was done by France as a violent & unnatural effort of the Government, which for want of sufficient foundation canner continue to operate proportional effects.

“In modern wars the longest purse must chiefly determine the event. I fear that of the enemy will be found to be so. Though the government is deeply in debt, & of course poor, the nation is rich, & their riches afford a fund which will not be easily exhausted. Besides, their system of public credit is such, that it is capable of greater exertions than that of any other nation. Speculatists have been a long time foretelling its downfall, but we see no symptoms of the catastrophe being very near. I am perswaded it will at least last out the war, & then in the opinion of many of the best politicians it will be a National advantage. If the war should terminate successfully the Crown will have acquired such influence and power that it may attempt anything—and a bankruptcy will probably be made the ladder to climb to absolute authority—Administration may perhaps wish to drive matters to this issue—At any rate the will not be restrained by an apprehension of it from forcing the resources of the State. It will promote their present purposes on which their all is at Stake, & it may pave the way to triumph more effectually over the constitution; with this disposition, I have no doubt that ample means will be found to prosecute the war with the greatest vigor.

France is in a very different position the abilities of her present financier has done wonders— By a wise administration of the Revenues aided by advantageous loans he has avoided the necessity of additional taxes. But I am well informed—if the war continues another Campaign he will be obliged to have recourse to the Taxes usual in time of war, which are very heavy—& which the People in France are not in a condition to endure for any duration. When this necessity commences, France makes war on Ruinous terms; and England from her individual wealth will find much greater facility in supplying her exigencies.

Spain derives great wealth from the mines, but not so great as is generally imagined—of late years the profit to Governmt is essentially diminished—Commerce and industry are the best mines of a Nation; both which are wanting to her—I am told her treasury is far from being so well filled as we have flattered ourselves—She also is much divided on the propriety of the war—there is a strong party against it—the temper of the nation is too sluggish to admit of great exertions— & though the Courts of the two: Kingdoms are closely linked together, there never has been in any of their wars a perfect harmony of measures, nor has it been in this; which has already been no small detriment to the common Cause.

I mention these things to shew that the circumstances of our Allies as well as our own, can for Peace; to obtain which we must make great effort this Campaign. The present instance of the friendship of the Court of France is attended with every circumstance that can render it important and agreeable; that can interest our gratitude, or fire our emulation—If we do our duty we may ever hope to make the campaign decisive on this Continent. But we must do our duty in earnest—or disgrace & ruin will attend us—I am sincere in declaring a full perswasion, that the succour will be fatal to us if our measures are not adequate to the emergency.

The Committee of Congress in their late address to the several States have given a just picture of our situation—I very much doubt its making the desired impression and if it does not, I shall consider our lethargy as incurable—The present juncture is so interesting, that if it does not produce corrispondent exertions, it will be a proof that motives of honor, public good & even self preservation, have lost their influence on our Minds.”

If there is anything in the foregoing quotation of my Letter to Colo. Harrison that could prejudice the Service, I must abide the consequences, for I certainly wrote what is recited—not officially as you will readily perceive, but in a private letter to a friend, whose influence, together with that of every well wisher to the cause I wanted to engage, as I thought it high time that every Engine should be at work. The whole of what I wrote on the points you mention, are faithfully transcribed, that you may judge her for it could prejudice the Service—With the greatest esteem & regard I am Dear Sir Yr affe Hble Servt

Go: Washington

P.S. The latter clause of the quotation of my letter to Colo. Harrison I am not absolutely certain was sent. The original draught contained it, but I am in some doubt whether it was copied. or not. this I mention that there may be no possible mis-information on my part.


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