General Washington Writes to George Mason His Feelings on the War

Lee Cary

In a letter dated March 17, 1779, General George Washington, from his encampment at Middlebrook, wrote a return letter to his Virginia friend, George Mason.

It began by the General recounting how he had complied with a request, dated March 8, from Mason to offer some personal assistance to Mason's son and a "Mr. Smith."

Then he wrote how he always welcomed correspondence from Mason. In passages where his somewhat inanimate public image dropped away, Washington expressed his current feelings on the War, Congress, and various behaviors on the home front.

I am particularly desirous of it at this time [the opportunity to exchange opinions with his friend, Mason], because I view things very differently, I fear, from what people in general do who seem to think the contest is at an end; and to make money, and get places, the only things now remaining to do. I have seen without dispondency (even for a moment) the hours which America have stiled her gloomy ones, Eminent dangers but I have beheld no day since the commencement of hostilities that I have thought her liberties in such eminent danger as at present. Friends and foes seem now to combine to pull down the goodly fabric we have hitherto been raising at the expence of so much time, blood, and treasure; and unless the bodies politick will exert themselves to bring things back to first principles, correct abuses, and punish our internal foes, inevitable ruin must follow. Indeed we seem to be verging so fast to destruction, that I am filled with sensations to which I have been a stranger till within these three Months. Our Enemy behold with exultation and joy how effectually we labour for their benefit; and from being in a state of absolute despair, and on the point of evacuating America, are now on tiptoe; nothing therefore in my judgment can save us but a total reformation in our own conduct, or some decisive turn to affairs in Europe. The former alas! to our shame be it spoken! is less likely to happen than the latter, as it is now consistent with the views of the Speculators, Speculation and avarice various tribes of money makers, and stock jobbers of all denominations to continue the War for their own private emolument, without considering that their avarice, and thirst for gain must plunge every thing (including themselves) in one common Ruin.

{snip}

To me it appears no unjust Simile to compare the affairs of this great continent to the Mechanism of a Clock, each State representing some one or other of the smaller parts of it, which they are endeavouring to put in fine order without considering how useless and unavailing their labour, unless the great wheel, or spring which is to set the whole in motion, is also well attended to and kept in good order. I allude to no particular state, nor do I mean to cast reflections upon any one of them. Nor ought I, it may be said, to do so upon their representatives, Congress rent by party but as it is a fact too notorious to be concealed, that C- is rent by party, that much business of a trifling nature and personal concernment withdraws their attention from matters of great national moment at this critical period. When it is also known that idleness and dissipation takes place of close attention and application, no man who wishes well to the liberties of his Country and desires to see its rights established, can avoid crying out where are our Men of abilities? Why do they not come forth to save their Country? let this voice my dear Sir call upon you, Jefferson and others; do not from a mistaken opinion that we are about to set down under our own vine and our own fig tree let our hitherto noble struggle end in ignominy; believe me when I tell you there is danger of it. (The Papers of George Mason, University of North Carolina Press, Vol. II, pp. 491-494)

 

Once upon a time, in the midst of the ordeal of this nation's birth, Washington, and other giants, walked the land.

Today, we trace the smallish footprints of our national midgets.

 

(No offense intended toward persons of small physical statue, some of whom no doubt stand taller than the officious denizens of D.C.'s marble buildings.)

In a letter dated March 17, 1779, General George Washington, from his encampment at Middlebrook, wrote a return letter to his Virginia friend, George Mason.

It began by the General recounting how he had complied with a request, dated March 8, from Mason to offer some personal assistance to Mason's son and a "Mr. Smith."

Then he wrote how he always welcomed correspondence from Mason. In passages where his somewhat inanimate public image dropped away, Washington expressed his current feelings on the War, Congress, and various behaviors on the home front.

I am particularly desirous of it at this time [the opportunity to exchange opinions with his friend, Mason], because I view things very differently, I fear, from what people in general do who seem to think the contest is at an end; and to make money, and get places, the only things now remaining to do. I have seen without dispondency (even for a moment) the hours which America have stiled her gloomy ones, Eminent dangers but I have beheld no day since the commencement of hostilities that I have thought her liberties in such eminent danger as at present. Friends and foes seem now to combine to pull down the goodly fabric we have hitherto been raising at the expence of so much time, blood, and treasure; and unless the bodies politick will exert themselves to bring things back to first principles, correct abuses, and punish our internal foes, inevitable ruin must follow. Indeed we seem to be verging so fast to destruction, that I am filled with sensations to which I have been a stranger till within these three Months. Our Enemy behold with exultation and joy how effectually we labour for their benefit; and from being in a state of absolute despair, and on the point of evacuating America, are now on tiptoe; nothing therefore in my judgment can save us but a total reformation in our own conduct, or some decisive turn to affairs in Europe. The former alas! to our shame be it spoken! is less likely to happen than the latter, as it is now consistent with the views of the Speculators, Speculation and avarice various tribes of money makers, and stock jobbers of all denominations to continue the War for their own private emolument, without considering that their avarice, and thirst for gain must plunge every thing (including themselves) in one common Ruin.

{snip}

To me it appears no unjust Simile to compare the affairs of this great continent to the Mechanism of a Clock, each State representing some one or other of the smaller parts of it, which they are endeavouring to put in fine order without considering how useless and unavailing their labour, unless the great wheel, or spring which is to set the whole in motion, is also well attended to and kept in good order. I allude to no particular state, nor do I mean to cast reflections upon any one of them. Nor ought I, it may be said, to do so upon their representatives, Congress rent by party but as it is a fact too notorious to be concealed, that C- is rent by party, that much business of a trifling nature and personal concernment withdraws their attention from matters of great national moment at this critical period. When it is also known that idleness and dissipation takes place of close attention and application, no man who wishes well to the liberties of his Country and desires to see its rights established, can avoid crying out where are our Men of abilities? Why do they not come forth to save their Country? let this voice my dear Sir call upon you, Jefferson and others; do not from a mistaken opinion that we are about to set down under our own vine and our own fig tree let our hitherto noble struggle end in ignominy; believe me when I tell you there is danger of it. (The Papers of George Mason, University of North Carolina Press, Vol. II, pp. 491-494)

 

Once upon a time, in the midst of the ordeal of this nation's birth, Washington, and other giants, walked the land.

Today, we trace the smallish footprints of our national midgets.

 

(No offense intended toward persons of small physical statue, some of whom no doubt stand taller than the officious denizens of D.C.'s marble buildings.)