175
175
Washington, George, as Continental Commander
Estimate
100,000150,000
JUMP TO LOT
175
Washington, George, as Continental Commander
Estimate
100,000150,000
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

The JAMES S. COPLEY LIBRARY: MAGNIFICENT AMERICAN HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS: FIRST SELECTION

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New York

Washington, George, as Continental Commander
Autograph letter signed ("Go: Washington"), 4 pages (12 1/4 x 7 3/8 in.; 313 x 188 mm) on a bifolium (watermarked English arms | gr), Philadelphia, 12 March 1782, to James McHenry (at Annapolis?), reception docket in margin of first page; leaves separated at central fold, masterfully silked. Half blue morocco folding-case.
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Provenance

Helen Fahnestock Hubbard (Parke-Bernet, 27 March 1956, lot 152)

Literature

Writings of George Washington, ed. Fitzpatrick, 24: 62–64 (no source given; the text is highly inaccurate)

Catalogue Note

Uncertain if Great Britain will "prosecute the War or treat of Peace," a resolute Washington declares that "Never, since the commencement of the present revolution, has there been, in my judgment, a period when vigorous measures were more consonant to sound policy than the present."

Washington opens with some flattery for Mrs. Richard Benjamin Lloyd, who had delivered to him McHenry's last letter, "the value of [which] was enhanced by" the "fair hand" that brought it. But he quickly moves to more substantial matters, replying to McHenry's report that Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer had been appointed the Intendant of the Maryland Senate. "Good Laws—ample means—and sufficient power—may render the birth of your Intendant a public benefit—and from the spirit of your people, I hope these are provided—without them the appointment must be nugatory."

Washington is writing during that period when the Revolution was almost—but not fully—over, no articles of peace having yet been signed, and skirmishing continuing in the Carolinas. He tells McHenry that "Never, since the commencement of the present revolution, has there been, in my judgment, a period when vigorous measures were more consonant to sound policy than the present." He explains his reasoning as he continues, "The speech of the B. King, & the addresses of the Lords & Commons are proofs, as clear as Holy Writ to me, of two things—their wishes to prosecute the American War—and their fears of the consequences—My opinion therefore of the matter is, that the Minister will obtain supplies for the current year—prepare vigorously for another Campaign—and then prosecute the War or treat of Peace, as circumstances and fortuitious events may Justify—and that, nothing will contribute more to the first than a relaxation, or apparent supineness on the part of these States."

Washington clearly fears that despite Cornwallis's surrender at Yorktown five months earlier, many factions in the British government are not yet prepared to give up their hold on North America. "What madness then can be greater, or policy and economy worse, than to let the enemy again rise upon our folly, and want of exertion?—shall we not be justly chargeable for all the blood & treasure which shall be wasted in in a lingering War, procrastinated by the false expectation of Peace, or timid measures for prosecuting the War?—Surely we shall, and much is it to be lamented that our endeavors do not at times accord with our wishes—"

With unusual emphasis, Washington excoriates the selfish behavior of the individual states: "Each State is anxious to see the end of our Warfare but shrinks when it is called upon for the means to accomplish it!—and either withholds altogether, or grants them in such a manner as to defeat the end—Such, it is to be feared will be the case in many instances respecting the requisitions of Men & Money." But Washington does have some praise for the legislature of Pennsylvania. "I have the pleasure however to inform you that the Asembly of this State, now sitting, have passed their supply Bill without a dissenting voice & that a laudable spirit seems to pervade all the Members of that body." The Commander stills worries, however, that the Keystone State will not meet its quota of men, and he foresees the necessity of some form of compulsory military service.

"It is idle at this late period of the War—when enthusiasm is cooled, if not done away with—when the Minds of that Class of Men who are fit subjects for soldiers are poisoned by the high bounties which have been given—and the knowledge of the distresses, under which the army has groaned, is so generally diffused that our Battalions can be compleated by voluntary enlistment—The attempt is vain—and we are only deceiving ourselves, & injuring the cause By making the experiment—There is no other effectual mode of getting men suddenly than that of classing the people & compelling each Class to furnish a Recruit. ... If our necessities for Men did not press I should prefer the mode of voluntary enlistment to all others, but as it does I am sure it will not answer & that the season for Enterprise will be upon us long 'ere we are prepared for the Field."

In the conclusion of his letter, Washington expresses his great and "disagreeable" suspense in waiting word of the result of De Grasse's naval assault on St. Kitts; "the Issue of these events must be very interesting & may give a very unfavourable turn to affairs in that quarter & on this Continent in consequence of it." In fact, the Battle of St. Kitts proved a favorable turn as the French fleet took the island from British forces commanded by Admiral Samuel Hood. Following the Treaty of Paris, St. Kitts was restored to Great Britain.

The JAMES S. COPLEY LIBRARY: MAGNIFICENT AMERICAN HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS: FIRST SELECTION

|
New York