Posted by: Democratic Thinker | November 19, 2009

America: We Act For Ourselves

American Correspondence

President George Washington makes clear—in a letter offering Patrick Henry the office of Secretary of State—his intentions to keep the United States independent of foreign nations.

Let the passion for America cast out the passion for Europe. Here let there be what the earth waits for,—exalted manhood. … They who find America insipid—they for whom London and Paris have spoiled their own homes—can be spared to return to those cities.—Emerson, 1878.

Letter to Patrick Henry.

Mount Vernon, 9 October, 1795.


Whatever may be the reception of this letter, truth and candor shall mark its steps. You doubtless know, that the office of State is vacant; and no one can be more sensible, than yourself, of the importance of filling it with a person of abilities, and one in whom the public would have confidence.

Patrick Henry.

It would be uncandid not to inform you, that this office has been offered to others; but it is as true, that it was from a conviction in my own mind, that you would not accept it, (until Tuesday last, in a conversation with General Lee, he dropped sentiments which made it less doubtful,) that it was not offered first to you.

I need scarcely add, that if this appointment could be made to comport with your own inclination, it would be as pleasing to me, as I believe it would be acceptable to the public. With this assurance, and with this belief, I make you the offer of it. My first wish is, that you would accept it; the next is, that you would be so good as to give me an answer as soon as you conveniently can, as the public business in that department is now suffering for want of a Secretary.

I persuade myself, Sir, it has not escaped your observation, that a crisis is approaching, that must, if it cannot be arrested, soon decide whether order and good government shall be preserved, or anarchy and confusion ensue. I can most religiously aver I have no wish, that is incompatible with the dignity, happiness, and true interest of the people of this country. My ardent desire is, and my aim has been, as far as depended upon the executive department, to comply strictly with all our engagements, foreign and domestic; but to keep the United States free from political connexions with every other country, to see them independent of all and under the influence of none. In a word, I want an American character, that the powers of Europe may be convinced we act for ourselves, and not for others. This, in my judgment, is the only way to be respected abroad and happy at home; and not, by becoming the partisans of Great Britain or France, create dissensions, disturb the public tranquillity, and destroy, perhaps for ever, the cement which binds the union.

I am satisfied these sentiments cannot be otherwise than congenial to your own. Your aid therefore in carrying them into effect would be flattering and pleasing to, dear Sir, &c.


—William Wirt Henry, Patrick Henry; Life, Correspondence and Speeches (1891).