Posted by: Democratic Thinker | August 2, 2014

Washington—To General Lafayette (December 25, 1798)

American Correspondence

As war with France threatens, Washington writes to Lafayette concerning the situations in American and Europe.

I wish well to all nations and to all men. My politics are plain and simple. I think every nation has a Right to establish that form of Government under which It conceives It shall live most happy; provided it infracts no Right or is not dangerous to others. And that no Governments ought to interfere with the internal concerns of Another, except for the security of what is due to themselves.



—Political situation in the United States—His own efforts to prevent a breach with France—France has been deceived by an American faction—The United States prepared for a fair negotiation—Peace not favored because of Great Britain—His re-appearance in a public station—Right of self-government—Social—


MOUNT VERNON, December 25, 1798.


I AM indebted to you for the following letters, dated the 6th of Octr. and 20th of Decr. of the last year. And 26th. of April, 20th. of May, 20th. of August and 5th. of Septr. in the present. If more have been written they have fallen into other hands, or miscarried on their passage.

Convinced as you must be of the fact, it wd. be a mere waste of time to assure you of the sincere and heartfelt pleasure I derived from finding by the above letters, that you had not only regained your liberty; but were in the enjoyment of better health than could have been expected from your long and rigorous confinement; and that madame La Fayette and the young ladies were able to Survive it attall. On these desirable events I can add with truth, that amongst your numerous friends none can offer his congratulations with more warmth, or who prays more sincerely for the perfect restoration of your ladies health, than I do.

It is equally unnecessary for me to apologize to you for my long silence; when by a recurrence to your own Letters you will find my excuse; for by these it will appear that if you had embarked for this country at the epochs mentioned therein no letters of mine cou’d have arrived in Europe before your departure from thence; untill by your favor of the 20th. of Augt. I was informed, that your voyage to America was postponed for the reasons then given, and which conveyed the first Idea to my mind that a letter from me might find you in Europe.

The letter last mentioned together with that of the 5th. of September, found me in Phila. whither I had gone for the purpose of making some military arrangements with the Secretary of War, and where every moment of my time was so much occupied in that business, as to allow no leisure to attend to any thing else.

I have been thus circumstantial in order to impress you with the true cause of my silence and to remove from your mind if a doubt had arisen there that my friendship for you, had undergone no diminution or change. And that no one in the United States would receive you with open arms, or with more ardent affection than I should, after the differences between this Country and France are adjusted and harmony between the nations is again restored. But it would be uncandid and incompatible with that friendship I have always professed for you, to say (and on your own account) that I wish it before. For you may be assured my dear Sir that the Scenes you wou’d meet with, and the part you wou’d be stimulated to act, in case of an open rupture or even if matters should remain in Statu quo, would be such as to place you in a Situation in which no address or human prudence, could free you from embarrassment. In a word you would lose the Confidence of one party or the other (perhaps) both were you here under these circumstances.

To give you a Complete View of the politics and Situation of things in this Country would far exceed the limits of a letter; and to trace effects to their Causes would be a work of time. But the sum of them may be given in a few words, and amounts to this. That a party exists in the United States, formed by a Combination of Causes, which oppose the Government in all its measures, and are determined (as all their Conduct evinces) by Clogging its Wheels indirectly to change the nature of it, and to Subvert the Constitution. To effect this no means which have a tendency to accomplish their purposes are left unessayed. The friends of Government who are anxious to maintain its neutrality, and to preserve the Country in peace, and adopt measures to produce these, are charged by them as being Monarchists, Aristocrats, and infractors of the Constitution; which according to their Interpretation of it would be a mere Cypher; while they arrogated to themselves, (until the eyes of the people began to discover how outrageously they had been treated in their Commercial concerns by the Directory of France, and that, that was a ground on which they could no longer tread). the sole merit of being the friends of France, when in fact they had no more regard for that Nation than for the Grand Turk, further than their own views were promoted by it; denouncing those who differed in Opinion; whose principles are purely American; and whose sole view was to observe a strict neutrality, with acting under British influence, and being directed by her counsels, now with being her Pensioners.

This is but a short sketch, of what requires much time to illustrate; and is given with no other view, than to shew you what would be your situation here at this crisis under such circumstances as it unfold.

You have expressed a wish, worthy [of] that benevolence of your heart, that I would exert all my endeavors to avert the Calamitous effects of a rupture between our Countries. Believe me my dear friend that no man can deprecate an event of this sort with more horror than I should and that no one, during the whole of my Administration laboured more incessantly and with more sincerity and zeal than I did to avoid this, and to render every justice, nay favor to France, consistently with the neutrality which had been proclaimed to these sanctioned by Congress and approved by the State legislatures, and the people at large in their Town and County meetings. But neutrality was not the point at which France was aiming. for whilst it was crying peace, Peace, and pretending that they did not wish us to be embroiled in their quarrel with great Britain they were pursuing measures in this Country so repugnant to its Sovereignty, and so incompatible with every principle of neutrality, as must inevitably, have produced a war with the latter. And when they found that the Government here was resolved to adhere steadily to its plan of neutrality, their next step was to destroy the confidence of the people in, and to seperate them from it; for which purpose their diplomatic agents were specially instructed; and in the attempt were aided by inimical characters among ourselves not as I observed before because they loved France more than any other nation, but because it was an instrument to Facilitate the destruction of their own Government.

Hence proceeded those charges which I have already enumerated, against the friends to peace and order. No doubt remains on this side of the water, that to the representations of and encouragement given by these people, is to be ascribed in a great measure, the intentions of our Treaty with France; their violation of the Laws of nations, disregard of justice and even of sound policy. But herein they have not only deceived France, but were deceived themselves, as the event has proved, for no sooner did the yeomanry of this Country come to a right understanding of the nature of the dispute, than they rose as one man with a tender of their Services; their lives and their fortunes, to support the Government of their choice, and to defend their country. This has produced a declaration from them (how sincere let others judge), that, if the French should attempt to invade this Country that they themselves would be amongst the foremost to repel the attack.

You add in another place that the Executive Directory are disposed to accommodation of all differences. If they are Sincere in this declaration, let them evidence it by actions, for words unaccompanied therewith will not be much regarded now. I would pledge myself, that the Government and people of the United States will meet them heart and hand at fair negotiation; having no wish more ardent, than to live in peace with all the world, provided they are suffered to remain undisturbed in their just rights. Of this their patience, forbearance, and repeated solicitations under accumulated injuries and insults are incontestable proofs; but it is not to be infered from hence that they will suffer any nation under the sun (while they retain a proper sense of Virtue and Independence) to trample upon their rights with impunity, or to direct, or influence the internal concerns of their Country.

It has been the policy of France and that of the opposition party among ourselves, to inculcate a belief that all those who have exerted themselves to keep this Country in peace, did it from an overweening attachment to Great Britain. But it is a solemn truth and you may count upon it, that it is void of foundation; and propagated for no other purpose, than to excite popular clamour against those whose aim was peace, and whom they wished out of their way.

That there are many among us, who wish to see this Country embroiled on the side of Great Britain, and others who are anxious that we should take part with France against her, admits of no doubt. But it is a fact on which you may entirely and absolutely rely, that the Governing powers of the Country, and a large part of the people are truly Americans in principle, attached to the interest of it; And unwilling under any circumstances whatsoever to participate in the Politics or Contests of Europe: Much less since they have found that France, hav’ing forsaken the ground she first took, is interfering in the internal concerns of all nations, Neutral as well as Belligerent, and setting the world in an uproar.

After my valedictory address to the people of the United States you would no doubt be somewhat surprised to hear, that I had again consented to Gird on the Sword. But, having Struggled Eight or nine Years against the invasion of our rights by one power, and to establish an Independence of it, I could not remain an unconcerned spectator of the attempt of another Power to accomplish the same object, though in a different way, with less pretensions indeed without any at all.

On the Politics of Europe I shall express no Opinion, nor make any inquiry who is Right or who is Wrong. I wish well to all nations and to all men. My politics are plain and simple. I think every nation has a Right to establish that form of Government under which It conceives It shall live most happy; provided it infracts no Right or is not dangerous to others. And that no Governments ought to interfere with the internal concerns of Another, except for the security of what is due to themselves.

I sincerely hope that Madame la Fayette will accomplish all her wishes in France and return safe to you with renovated health. I congratulate you on the marriage of your eldest daughter, and beg to be presented to them both and to Virginia in the most Respectful and affectionate terms; to George I have written. In all these things Mrs. Washington (as the rest of the family would do if they were at home) most cordially joins me: as she does in wishing you and them every felicity which this life can afford, as some consolation for your long cruel, and painful Confinement and Sufferings.

I shall now only add what you knew well before that with the most Sincere friendship and affectionate regard,

I am always &c.,


P. S. Your old aid de camp, and my worthy nephew George A. Washington; died about 5 years ago of a palmanory Complaint, he left 3 fine Children a daughter and two Sons, the eldest of the boys was called after you.

The letters herewith enclosed and directed one to yourself, another to George, and the third to Mr. Frestel, have been some time in my possession and detained to be delivered to you here upon the same principle that prevented me from writing to you at an earlier period.