Quotes by Washington


Note: At this stage these quotes are arranged rather haphazardly together and often not cited thoroughly, but hopefully they will give students a flavor of Washington’s views and his writing style. Most of Washington’s incorrect spellings have been kept as many of the quotes are taken from the Library of Congress website on the Washington Papers. They will be augmented and corrected from time to time.


Quotes showing an optimistic strain in GW


“Persuaded that if ever a crisis should arise to call forth the good sense and spirit of the People, no deficiency in either, will be found.” [to Rufus King,

June 25, 1797]


“As for myself I am now seated in the shade of my Vine and Fig tree, and altho' I look with regret on many transactions which do not comport with my ideas, I shall, notwithstanding "view them in the calm lights of mild philosophy", persuaded, if any great crisis should occur, to require it, that the good sense and Spirit of the Major part of the people of this country, will direct them properly.” [to CC Pinckney, June 24, 1797]


For a short time, Washington had optimism, curbed but confident, for the future of the Union. "Everything, my dear Trumbull," he wrote a former secretary, "will come right at last, as we have often prophesied; my only fear is that we shall lose a little reputation first." He told Governor Benjamin Harrison, his long-time spokesman in Congress: "Like a young heir, come a little prematurely to a large inheritance, we shall wanton and run riot until we have brought our reputation to the brink of ruin, and then, like him, shall have to labor with the current of opinion, when COMPELLED perhaps, to do what prudence and common policy pointed out, as plain as any problem in Euclid, in the first instance." [From Flexner]



“It is to be regretted, I confess, that democratical states must always feel before they can see, it is this that makes their gov. slow, but the people will be right at last.” To Lafayette July 25, 1787

“It is one of the evils, perhaps not the smallest, of democratical governments that the People must feel before they will see or act.”

To David Humphreys, March 8, 1787.


“The great mass of our citizens require only to understand matters rightly, to form right decisions.” To James Lloyd, Feb 11, 1799.


To Philip Schuyler

The good dispositions which seem at present to pervade every class of people afford reason for your observation that the clouds which have long darkened our political hemisphere are now dispersing, and that America will soon feel the effects of her natural advantages. That invisible hand which has so often interposed to save our Country from impending destruction, seems in no instance to have been more remarkably excited than in that of disposing the people of this extensive Continent to adopt, in a peaceable manner, a Constitution, which if well administered, bids fair to make America a happy nation.


To Lafayette

And then, I expect, that many blessings will be attributed to our new government, which are now taking their rise from that industry and frugality into the practice of which the people have been forced from necessity. I really believe, that there never was so much labour and economy to be found before in the country as at the present moment. If they persist in the habits they are acquiring, the good effects will soon be distinguishable. When the people shall find themselves secure under an energetic government, when foreign nations shall be disposed to give us equal advantages in commerce from dread of retaliation, when the burdens of war shall be in a manner done away by the sale of western lands, when the seeds of happiness which are sown here shall begin to expand themselves, and when every one (under his own vine and fig-tree) shall begin to taste the fruits of freedom, then all these blessings (for all these blessings will come) will be referred to the fostering influence of the new government. Whereas many causes will have conspired to produce them. You see I am not less enthusiastic than ever I have been, if a belief that peculiar scenes of felicity are reserved for this country, is to be denominated enthusiasm. Indeed, I do not believe, that Providence has done so much for nothing. It has always been my creed that we should not be left as an awful monument to prove, "that Mankind, under the most favourable circumstances for civil liberty and happiness, are unequal to the task of Governing themselves, and therefore made for a Master."


To Lafayette, July 25, 1787

I wish to see the sons and daughters of the world in Peace and busily employed in the more agreeable amusement of fulfilling the first and great commandment, Increase and Multiply : as an encouragement to which we have opened the fertile plains of the Ohio to the poor, the needy and the oppressed of the Earth; any one therefore who is heavy laden, or who wants land to cultivate, may repair thither and abound, as in the Land of promise, with milk and honey: the ways are preparing, and the roads will be made easy, thro' the channels of Potomac and James river.


GW’s optimism re the new constitution [he may be more optimistic than traditionally pictured] Same letter as above.

“The prospect, that a good general government will in all human probability be soon established in America, affords me more substantial satisfaction; than I have ever before derived from any political event. Because there is a rational ground for believing that not only the happiness of my own countrymen, but that of mankind in general, will be promoted by it.”


George Washington’s Political Philosophy and Personal Opinions


To Mary Ball Washington May 15, 1787

“Happiness depends more upon the internal frame of a person's own mind, than on the externals in the world.”

To Theodorick Bland, August 15, 1786

“I commend you, however, for passing the time in as merry a manner as you possibly could; it is assuredly better to go laughing than crying thro' the rough journey of life.”

To Benj. Tallmadge, Dec 10, 1782

[On judging] “I have accustomed myself to judge of human actions very differently, and to appreciate them, by the manner in which they are conducted, more than by the Events ; which, it is not in the power of human foresight or prudence to command.”


On GW’s personality [to Ward 1782]

“I never was among the sanguine ones, consequently shall be less disappointed than People of that description, if our Warfare should continue.”


“I do not enter into agreements, but with an intention of fulfilling them, and I expect the same punctuality on the part of those with whom they are made.” Fitz, 28, 175


“I have seen so many instances of the rascality of mankind, that I am convinced that the only way to make them honest, is to prevent there being otherwise.”


GW – a dig against Rum

“ But my greatest reason for supposing the trade to be detrimental to us was, that Rum, the principal article received from thence, is, in my opinion, the bane of morals and the parent of idleness.”


“What gracious God, is man! That there should be such inconsistency and perfidiousness in his conduct?”

GW’s criticism of ordinary workmen to William Gordon

“Workmen in most countries, I believe, are necessary plagues; in this where entreaties as well as money must be used to obtain their work, and keep them to their duty they baffle all calculation in the accomplishment of any plan, or repairs they are engaged in; and require more attention to, and looking after, than can be well conceived. Numbers of these, of all descriptions, having been employed by me ever since I came home (to render my situation comfortable the ensuing winter) has allowed me little leisure for other occupations”

“With respect to ourselves, I wish I could add, that as much wisdom had pervaded our councils; as reason and common policy most evidently dictated; but the truth is, the people must feel before they will see ; consequently, are brought slowly into measures of public utility. Past experience, or the admonitions of a few, have but little weight, where ignorance, selfishness and design possess the major part: but evils of this nature work their own cure; tho' the remedy comes slower than those who foresee, or think they foresee the danger, attempt to effect” To George William Fairfax, 1785


On many recommendations [has a modern ring]

“But how often do we find recommendations given without merit to deserve them, founded in a disposition to favor the applicant, or want of resolution to refuse them, oftentimes indeed, to get rid of a dependent who is troublesome or injurious to us, upon what are called decent terms.”


GW to Lafayette June 18 1788

It is a wonder to me, there should be found a single monarch, who does not realize that his own glory and felicity must depend on the prosperity and happiness of his People. How easy is it for a sovereign to do that which shall not only immortalize his name, but attract the blessings of millions.

[GW does recognize this fact and strives to achieve it]


GW to Lafayette Jan 10 1788

To know the affinity of tongues seems to be one step towards promoting the affinity of nations. Would to god, the harmony of nations was an object that lay nearest to the hearts of Sovereigns; and that the incentives to peace (of which commerce and facility of understanding each other are not the most inconsiderable) might be daily encreased! Should the present or any other efforts of mine to procure information respecting the different dialects of the Aborigines in America, serve to reflect a ray of light on the obscure subject of language in general, I shall be highly gratified. For I love to indulge the contemplation of human nature in a progressive state of improvement and melioration; and if the idea would not be considered visionary and chimerical, I could fondly hope, that the present plan of the great Potentate of the North might, in some measure, lay the foundation for that assimilation of language, which, producing assimilation of manners and interests, which, should one day remove many of the causes of hostility from amongst mankind.



“In a government as free as ours where the people are at liberty, and will express their sentiments, oftentimes imprudently, and for want of information sometimes unjustly, allowances must be made for occasional effervescences; but after the declaration which I have here made of my political creed, you can run no hazard in asserting, that the Executive branch of this government never has, nor will suffer, while I preside, any improper conduct of its officers to escape with impunity; or will give its sanctions to any disorderly proceedings of its citizens.” To G Morris Dec 22, 1795



George Washington and the Constitution


To Lafayette, Feb. 7, 1788 [this is an excellent letter on GW and const and that it has a good chance to work but there are no guarantees]

I would not be understood my dear Marquis to speak of consequences which may be produced, in the revolution of ages, by corruption of morals, profligacy of manners, and listlessness for the preservation of the natural and unalienable rights of mankind; nor of the successful usurpations that may be established at such an unpropitious juncture, upon the ruins of liberty, however providently guarded and secured, as these are contingencies against which no human prudence can effectually provide. It will at least be a recommendation to the proposed Constitution that it is provided with more checks and barriers against the introduction of Tyranny, and those of a nature less liable to be surmounted, than any Government hitherto instituted among mortals, hath possessed. We are not to expect perfection in this world; but mankind, in modern times, have apparently made some progress in the science of government. Should that which is now offered to the People of America, be found on experiment less perfect than it can be made, a Constitutional door is left open for its amelioration.


“Notwithstanding the jealous and contracted temper which seems to prevail in some of the States, yet I cannot but hope and believe that the good sense of the people will ultimately get the better of their prejudices; and that order and sound policy, tho' they do not come so soon as one wou'd wish, will be produced from the present unsettled and deranged state of public affairs.” To Jonathan Trumbull, Jan 5, 1784


To John Jay, May 18, 1786

“I coincide perfectly in sentiment with you, my Dr. Sir, that there are errors in our national Government which call for correction, loudly I would add; but I shall find myself happily mistaken if the remedies are at hand. We are certainly in a delicate situation, but my fear is that the people are not yet sufficiently misled to retract from error. To be plainer, I think there is more wickedness than ignorance mixed in our Councils. Under this impression, I scarcely know what opinion to entertain of a general convention. That it is necessary to revise and amend the articles of confederation, I entertain no doubt; but what may be the consequences of such an attempt is doubtful. Yet something must be done, or the fabrick must fall, for it certainly is tottering.

Ignorance and design are difficult to combat. Out of these proceed illiberal sentiments, improper jealousies, and a train of evils which oftentimes, in republican governments, must be sorely felt before they can be removed. The former, that is ignorance, being a fit soil for the latter to work in, tools are employed by them which a generous mind would disdain to use; and which nothing but time, and their own puerile or wicked productions can show the inefficacy and dangerous tendency of. I think often of our situation and view it with concern. From the high ground we stood upon, from the plain path which invited our footsteps, to be so fallen! so lost! it is really mortifying; but virtue, I fear has, in a great degree, taken its departure from us; and the want of disposition to do justice is the source of the national embarrassments; for whatever guise or colorings are given to them, this I apprehend is the origin of the evils we now feel, and probably shall labour under for some time yet.”


Every real patriot must have lamented that private feuds and local politics should have unhappily insinuated themselves into, and in some measure obstructed the discussion of a great national question. A just opinion, that the People when rightly informed will decide in a proper manner, ought certainly to have prevented all intemperate or precipitate proceedings on a subject of so much magnitude; nor should a regard to common decency have suffered the zealots in the minority to stigmatize the authors of the Constitution as Conspirators and Traitors To Charles Pettit, Aug. 16, 1788

To William Gordon, Jan. 1, 1788 [optimistic re const]

I have the pleasure, however, to inform you, that there is the greatest prospect of its being adopted by the people. It has its opponents, as any system formed by the wisdom of man would undoubtedly have; but they bear but a small proportion to its friends, and differ among themselves in their objections.


To William Gordon July 8, 1783 [Excellent on GW view for stronger const] Note how early GW expresses these sentiments.

“It now rests with the Confederated Powers, by the line of conduct they mean to adopt, to make this Country great, happy, and respectable; or to sink it into littleness; worse perhaps, into Anarchy and Confusion; for certain I am, that unless adequate Powers are given to Congress for the general purposes of the Federal Union that we shall soon moulder into dust and become contemptable in the Eyes of Europe, if we are not made the sport of their Politicks; to suppose that the general concern of this Country can be directed by thirteen heads, or one head without competent powers, is a solecism, the bad effects of which every Man who has had the practical knowledge to judge from, that I have, is fully convinced of; tho' none perhaps has felt them in so forcible, and distressing a degree. The People at large, and at a distance from the theatre of Action, who only know that the Machine was kept in motion, and that they are at last arrived at the first object of their Wishes are satisfied with the event, without investigating the causes of the slow progress to it, or of the Expences which have accrued and which they now seem unwilling to pay; great part of which has arisen from that want of energy in the Federal Constitution which I am complaining of, and which I wish to see given to it by a Convention of the People.


Another good quote on GW’s view re a strong gov to James Warren, Oct 1785

The war, as you have very justly observed, has terminated most advantageously for America, and a fair field is presented to our view; but I confess to you freely, My Dr. Sir, that I do not think we possess wisdom or Justice enough to cultivate it properly. Illiberality, Jealousy, and local policy mix too much in all our public councils for the good government of the Union. In a word, the confederation appears to me to be little more than a shadow without the substance; and Congress a nugatory body, their ordinances being little attended to. To me , it is a solecism in politics: indeed it is one of the most extraordinary things in nature, that we should confederate as a Nation, and yet be afraid to give the rulers of that nation, who are the creatures of our making, appointed for a limited and short duration, and who are amenable for every action, and recallable at any moment, and are subject to all the evils which they may be instrumental in producing, sufficient powers to order and direct the affairs of the same. By such policy as this the wheels of Government are clogged, and our brightest prospects, and that high expectation which was entertained of us by the wondering world, are turned into astonishment; and from the high ground on which we stood, we are descending into the vale of confusion and darkness.


GW to David Stuart July 1, 1787 [good on the const. Conv.]

No doubt there will be a diversity of sentiments on this important subject; and to inform the judgment, it is necessary to hear all arguments that can be advanced. To please all is impossible, and to attempt it would be vain. The only way, therefore, is, under all the views in which it can be placed, and with a due consideration to circumstances, habits, &c., &c., to form such a government as will bear the scrutinizing eye of criticism, and trust it to the good sense and patriotism of the people to carry it into effect. Demagogues, men who are unwilling to lose any of their State consequence, and interested characters in each, will oppose any general government. But let these be regarded rightly, and justice, it is to be hoped, will at length prevail.”


To William Gordon April 10, 1787

It is not in my power to give you such accurate information of our Settlements in the Western Country as might answer the purposes of a publication, my own knowledge of it being more general than particular, and information you know is not always to be relied upon. The idea however, of it being made up of the scum and refuse of the Continent, that the people are opposed to Congress, and attached to the British government is of a piece with other doctrines and consequent publications which have recoiled upon the authors, and which one would think was enough to discourage such unfounded and short sighted reports.



GW’s View of the Rep. Party and Partisanship


To Lafayette, Dec. 25, 1798

“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 maybe 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…..

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 pose, than to excite popular clamour against those whose aim was peace, and whom they wished out of their way….

[This is from another letter but makes same pt - The Alien and Sedition Laws, are now the desiderata in the Opposi[t]ion. But any thing else would have done; and something there will always be, for them to torture, and to disturb the public mind with their unfounded and ill favored forebodings. – To Wm. Van Murray, Dec.26, 1798



To Henry Lee Aug.22, 1794

It is with equal pride and satisfaction I add, that as far as my information extends, this insurrection is viewed with universal indignation and abhorrence; except by those who have never missed an opportunity by side blows, or otherwise, to aim their shafts at the general government; and even among these there is not a Spirit hardy enough, yet, openly to justify the daring infractions of Law and order; but by palliatives are attempting to suspend all proceedings against the insurgents until Congress shall have decided on the case, thereby intending to gain time, and if possible to make the evil more extensive, more formidable, and of course more difficult to counteract and subdue.

I consider this insurrection as the first formidable fruit of the Democratic Societies; brought forth I believe too prematurely for their own views, which may contribute to the annihilation of them.

That these societies were instituted by the artful and designing members (many of their body I have no doubt mean well, but know little of the real plan,) primarily to sow the seeds of jealousy and distrust among the people, of the government, by destroying all confidence in the Administration of it; and that these doctrines have been budding and blowing ever since, is not new to any one, who is acquainted with the characters of their leaders, and has been attentive to their manoeuvres. I early gave it as my opinion to the confidential characters around me, that, if these Societies were not counteracted (not by prosecutions, the ready way to make them grow stronger) or did not fall into disesteem from the knowledge of their origin, and the views with which they had been instituted by their father, Genet, for purposes well known to the Government; that they would shake the government to its foundation. Time and circumstances have confirmed me in this opinion, and I deeply regret the probable consequences, not as they will affect me personally, (for I have not long to act on this theatre, and sure I am that not a man amongst them can be more anxious to put me aside, than I am to sink into the profoundest retirement) but because I see, under a display of popular and fascinating guises, the most diabolical attempts to destroy the best fabric of human government and happiness, that has ever been presented for the acceptance of mankind.



To Lafayette, May 10, 1786

Your reception at the Courts of Berlin, Vienna, and elsewhere must have been pleasing to you: to have been received by the King of Prussia, and Prince Henry his brother, (who as soldiers and politicians can yield the palm to none) with such marks of attention and distinction, was as indicative of their discernment, as it is of your merit, and will encrease my opinion of them. It is to be lamented however that great characters are seldom without a blot. That one man should tyranise over millions, will always be a shade in that of the former; whilst it is pleasing to hear that a due regard to the rights of mankind, is characteristic of the latter: I shall revere and love him for this trait of his character. To have viewed the several fields of Battle over which you passed, could not, among other sensations, have failed to excite this thought, here have fallen thousands of gallant spirits to satisfy the ambition of, or to support their sovereigns perhaps in acts of oppression or injustice! melancholy reflection! For what wise purposes does Providence permit this? Is it as a scourge for mankind, or is it to prevent them from becoming too populous? If the latter, would not the fertile plains of the Western world receive the redundancy of the old.



GW and Slavery


The benevolence of your heart my Dr. Marqs. is so conspicuous upon all occasions, that I never wonder at any fresh proofs of it; but your late purchase of an estate in the colony of Cayenne, with a view of emancipating the slaves on it, is a generous and noble proof of your humanity. Would to God a like spirit would diffuse itself generally into the minds of the people of this country; but I despair of seeing it. Some petitions were presented to the Assembly, at its last Session, for the abolition of slavery, but they could scarcely obtain a reading. To set them afloat at once would, I really believe, be productive of much inconvenience and mischief; but by degrees it certainly might, and assuredly ought to be effected; and that too by Legislative authority. To Lafayette May 10, 1786


George Washington on the Masons


GW to GW Snyder. Sept.25, 1798. Shows how little he was involved in the Masons

“ And which allows me to add little more now, than thanks for your kind wishes and favourable sentiments, except to correct an error you have run into, of my Presiding over the English lodges in this Country. The fact is, I preside over none, nor have I been in one more than once or twice, within the last thirty years. I believe notwithstanding, that none of the Lodges in this Country are contaminated with the principles ascribed to the Society of the Illuminati. With respect I am &c.”

[Note 9: In a letter from Snyder (Aug. 22, 1798, which is in the Washington

Papers), it is stated that this book "gives a full Account of a Society of Free-Masons, that distinguishes itself by the Name of 'Illuminati,' whose Plan is to overturn all Government and all Religion, even natural."]


GW and Religion


“I am not less ardent in my wish that you may succeed in your plan of toleration in religious matters. Being no bigot myself to any mode of worship, I am disposed to indulge the professors of Christianity in the church, that road to Heaven, which to them shall seem the most direct plainest easiest and least liable to exception.” [to Lafayette, Aug 15, 1787]


Dear Sir: “I am informed that a Ship with Palatines is gone up to Baltimore, among whom are a number of Trademen. I am a good deal in want of a House Joiner and Bricklayer, (who really understand their profession) and you would do me a favor by purchasing one of each, for me. I would not confine you to Palatines. If they are good workmen, they may be of Asia, Africa, or Europe. They may be Mahometans, Jews or Christian of an Sect, or they may be Athiests. I would however prefer middle aged, to young men.”

To Tench Tilghman March 24, 1784


“Altho, no man's sentiments are more opposed to any kind of restraint upon religious principles than mine are; yet I must confess, that I am not amongst the number of those who are so much alarmed at the thoughts of making people pay towards the support of that which they profess, if of the denomination of Christians; or declare themselves Jews, Mahomitans or otherwise, and thereby obtain proper relief. As the matter now stands, I wish an assessment had never been agitated, and as it has gone so far, that the Bill could die an easy death; because I think it will be productive of more quiet to the State, than by enacting it into a Law; which, in my opinion, would be impolitic, admitting there is a decided majority for it, to the disquiet of a respectable minority. In the first case the matter will soon subside; in the latter, it will rankle and perhaps convulse, the State.” TO GM, Oct.3 1785


On May 26 [1789] the general assembly of Presbyterian churches in the United States, meeting in Philadelphia, sent an address to Washington. His answer, which is undated in the "Letter Book," follows immediately after the copy of the address. In it he wrote in part: "While I reiterate the professions of my dependence upon Heaven as the source of all public and private blessings; I will observe that the general prevalence of piety, philanthropy, honesty, industry, and oeconomy seems, in the ordinary course of human affairs, particularly necessary for advancing and confirming the happiness of our country. While all men within our territories are protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of their consciences; it is rationally to be expected from them in return, that they will be emulous of evincing the sanctity of their professions by the innocence of their lives and the beneficence of their actions; for no man, who is profligate in his morals, or a bad member of the civil community, can possibly be a true Christian, or a credit to his own religious society. "I desire you to accept my acknowledgments for your laudable endeavours to render men sober, honest, and good Citizens, and the obedient subjects of a lawful government."]


“If I could conceive that the general government might ever be administered as to render liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny and every speices of religious persecution.”


GW’s most religious words [not in his handwriting] His Circular Letter

“I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the Field, and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristicks of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation”.


George Washington Sense of Humor


To William Gordon Dec, 1784

I am glad to hear that my old acquaintance Colo. Ward is yet under the influence of vigorous passions. I will not ascribe the intrepidity of his late enterprize to a mere flash of desires, because, in his military career he would have learnt how to distinguish between false alarms and a serious movement. Charity therefore induces me to suppose that like a prudent general, he had reviewed his strength , his arms, and ammunition before he got involved in an action. But if these have been neglected, and he has been precipitated into the measure, let me advise him to make the first onset upon his fair del Toboso, with vigor, that the impression may be deep, if it cannot be lasting, or frequently renewed


GW's View of Marriage


Fanny Bassett and my nephew Geo: A. Washington have fullfilled an engagement of long standing, and are now one bone, and one flesh.


To Chastelux

“So your day has, at length, come. I am glad of it with all my heart and soul. It is quite good enough for you. Now you are well served for coming to fight in favor of the American Rebels, all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, by catching that terrible Contagion, domestic felicity, which time like the small pox or the plague, a man can have only once in his life: because it commonly lasts him (at least with us in America, I dont know how you manage these matters in France) for his whole life time. And yet after all the male-dictions you so richly merit on the subject, the worst wish which I can find in my heart to make against Madame de Chastellux and yourself is, that you may neither of you ever get the better of this same domestic felicity during the entire course of your-mortal existence.”



GW on Him being elected President


To William Gordon Dec.23,1788

“How far I may ever be connected with its political affairs is altogether a matter of uncertainty to me. My heartfelt wishes, and, I woud fain hope, the circumstances are opposed to it. I flatter myself my countrymen are so fully persuaded of my desire to remain in private life; that I am not without hopes and expectations of being left quietly to enjoy the repose, in which I am at present. Or, in all events, should it be their wish (as you suppose it will be) for me to come again on the Stage of public affairs, I certainly will decline it, if the refusal can be made consistently with what I conceive to be the dictates of propriety and duty. For the great Searcher of human hearts knows there is no wish in mine, beyond that of living and dying an honest man, on my own farm.” [I think there is truth in this – he writes somewhere to Lafayette that L. will have to follow duty rather than desire]


“At my age, and in my circumstances, what sinister object, or personal emolument had I to seek after, in this life? The growing infirmities of age and the increasing love of retirement, daily confirm my decided predilection for domestic life: and the great Searcher of human hearts is my witness, that I have no wish, which aspires beyond the humble and happy lot of living and dying a private citizen on my own farm.”


To Alex. Hamilton, 1788

“For you know me well enough, my good Sir, to be persuaded, that I am not guilty of affectation, when I tell you, that it is my great and sole desire to live and die, in peace and retirement on my own farm. Were it even indispensable a different line of conduct should be adopted; while you and some others who are acquainted with my heart would acquit , the world and Posterity might probably accuse me [of] inconsistency and ambition . Still I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain (what I consider the most enviable of all titles) the character of an honest man , as well as prove (what I desire to be considered in reality) that I am.”


To Edward Rutledge May 5, 1789

“My dear Sir: I cannot fail of being much pleased with the friendly part you take in every thing which concerns me; and particularly with the just scale on which you estimate this last great sacrafice which I consider myself as having made for the good of my Country. When I had judged, upon the best appreciation I was able to form of the circumstances which related to myself, that it was my duty to embark again on the tempestuous and uncertain Ocean of public life, I gave up all expectations of private happiness in this world. You know, my dear Sir, I had concentered all my schemes, all my views, all my wishes, within the narrow circle of domestic enjoyment. Though I flatter myself the world will do me the justice to believe, that, at my time of life and in my circumstances, nothing but a conviction of duty could have induced me to depart from my resolution of remaining in retirement; yet I greatly apprehend that my Countrymen will expect too much from me. I fear, if the issue of public measures should not corrispond with their sanguine expectations, they will turn the extravagant (and I may say undue) praises which they are heaping upon me at this moment, into equally extravagant (though I will fondly hope unmerited) censures. So much is expected, so many untoward circumstances may intervene, in such a new and critical situation, that I feel an insuperable diffidence in my own abilities. I feel, in the execution of the duties of my arduous Office, how much I shall stand in need of the countenance and aid of every friend to myself, of every friend to the Revolution, and of every lover of good Government.”


To Philip Schuyler May 9, 1789

“It is only from the assurances of support which, I have received from the respectable and worthy characters in every part of the Union, that I am enabled to overcome the diffidence which I have in my own abilities to execute my great and important trust to the best interest of your country. An honest zeal, and an unremitting attention to the interest of United America is all that I dare promise.”


GW on acting properly and response to criticism


“Integrity and firmness is all I can promise; these, be the voyage long or short, never shall forsake me though I be deserted by all men. For of the consolations which are to be derived from these (under any circumstances) the world cannot deprive me.”


“For myself, I expected not to be exempted from obloquy any more than others. It is the lot of humanity. But if the shafts of malice had been aimed at me in ever so pointed a manner on this occasion, shielded as I was by a consciousness of having acted in conformity to what I believed my duty, they would have fallen blunted from their mark.” To Charles Pettit, Aug. 22, 1788


GW on the way he will conduct himself [to Henry Knox]

“Next to a conscientious discharge of my public duties, to carry along with me the approbation of my Constituents, would be the highest gratification my mind is susceptible of; but the latter being subordinate, I cannot make the former yield to it; unless some criterian more infallible than partial (if they are not party) meetings, can be discovered as the touch stone of public sentiment. If any power on earth could, or the great power above would, erect the standard of infallibility in political opinions, there is no being that inhabits this terrestrial globe that would resort to it with more eagerness than myself, so long as I remain a servant of the public. But as I have found no better guide hitherto than upright intentions, and dose investigation, I shall adhere to these maxims while I keep the watch; leaving it to those who will come after me to explore new ways, if they like; or think them better.”


To Boston Selectmen, July 28, 1795.

“Gentlemen: In every act of my administration, I have sought the happiness of my fellow-citizens. My system for the attainment of this object has uniformly been to overlook all personal, local and partial considerations: to contemplate the United States, as one great whole: to confide, that sudden impressions, when erroneous, would yield to candid reflection: and to consult only the substantial and permanent interests of our country….

While I feel the most lively gratitude for the many instances of approbation from my country; I can no otherwise deserve it, than by obeying the dictates of my conscience.”


To Henry Knox, Sept 25, 1795

If any power on earth could, or the great power above would, erect the standard of infallibility in political opinions, there is no being that inhabits this terrestrial globe that would resort to it with more eagerness than myself, so long as I remain a servant of the public. But as I have found no better guide hitherto than upright intentions, and dose investigation, I shall adhere to these maxims while I keep the watch; leaving it to those who will come after me to explore new ways, if they like; or think them better.

To Henry Lee, 1793

“But in what will this abuse terminate? The result, as it respects myself, I care not; for I have a consolation within, that no earthly efforts can deprive me of, and that is, that neither ambitious nor interested motives have influenced my conduct. The arrows of malevolence, therefore, however barbed and well pointed, never can reach the most vulnerable part of me; though, whilst I am up as a mark , they will be continually aimed. The publications in Freneau's and Beeche's [Bache] papers are outrages on common decency; and they progress in that style, in proportion as their pieces are treated with contempt, and are passed by in silence, by those at whom they are aimed. The tendency of them, however, is too obvious to be mistaken by men of cool and dispassionate minds, and, in my opinion, ought to alarm them; because it is difficult to prescribe bounds to the effect.”


GW wants Approval from his Countrymen


“The happiness I experience in engaging the affections and esteem of my Country and the satisfaction I feel in having done my utmost to support their just Cause and promote their common good are, to me, the best rewards and beyond which I have none to wish for.”

To Penn. House of Delegates

“I consider the approbation of the Representatives of a free and virtuous People as the most enviable reward that can ever be conferred on a public Character.”

“Nor have my unwearied endeavours ever been wanting to serve my Country with the highest integrity. For which reasons I should ever be content in retirement; and reflect with no little pleasure, that no sordid views have influenced my conduct, not have the hopes of unlawful gain swerved me in any measure, from the strictest dictates of Honor! I have diligently sought the public welfare; and have endeavorured to inculcate the same principles on all that are under me. These reflections will be a cordial to my mind so long as I am able to distinguish between Good & Evil.”


GW on resigning his commission in 1783


“Happy in the confirmation of our Independence and Sovereignty, and pleased with the oppertunity afforded the United States of becoming a respectable Nation, I resign with satisfaction the Appointment I accepted with diffidence. A diffidence in my abilities to accomplish so arduous a task, which however was superseded by a confidence in the rectitude of our Cause, the support of the Supreme Power of the Union, and the patronage of Heaven.

The Successful termination of the War has verified the most sanguine expectations, and my gratitude for the interposition of Providence, and the assistance I have received from my Countrymen, encreases with every review of the momentous Contest.”


GW on why people oppose Jay’s treaty


“The temper of the people of this State, particularly the Southern parts of it, of South Carolina and Georgia, as far as it is discoverable from the several meetings and resolutions which have been published, is adverse to the Treaty with Great Britain; and yet, I doubt much whether the great body of Yeomanry have formed any opinion on the subject; and whether, if their sense could be fairly taken under a plain and simple statement of facts, nine tenths of them would not advocate the measure. But with such abominable misrepresentations as appear in most of the proceedings, is it to be wondered at that uninformed minds should be affrighted with the dreadful consequences which are predicted, and are taught to expect, from the ratification of such a diabolical instrument, as the treaty is denominated”


GW on poets and secular immortality

To Lafayette, May 28, 1788

Mr. Barlow is considered by those who are good Judges to be a genius of the first magnitude; and to be one of those Bards who hold the keys of the gate by which Patriots, Sages and Heroes are admitted to immortality. Such are your Antient Bards who are both the priest and door-keepers to the temple of fame. And these, my dear Marquis, are no vulgar functions. Men of real talents in Arms have commonly approved themselves patrons of the liberal arts and friends to the poets of their own as well as former times. In some instances by acting reciprocally, heroes have made poets, and poets heroes. Alexander the Great is said to have been enraptured with the Poems of Homer and to have lamented that he had not a rival muse to celebrate his actions. Julius Cæsar is well known to have been a man of a highly cultivated understanding and taste. Augustus was the professed and magnificent rewarder of poetical merit, nor did he lose the return of having his achievements immortalized in song. The Augustan age is proverbial for intellectual refinement and elegance in composition; in it the harvest of laurels and bays was wonderfully mingled together


George Washington on Foreign Affairs


“The nation, which indulges towards another nation an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave of its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficent to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.”


GW’s basis for foreign policy

“It is well known that Peace has been (to borrow a modern phraze) the order of the day with me, since the disturbances in Europe first commenced. My policy has been, and will continue to be, while I have the honor to remain in the administration of the government, to be upon friendly terms with, but independant of, all the nations of the earth. To share in the broils of none. To fulfil our own engagements. To supply the wants, and be carriers for them all: being thoroughly convinced that it is our policy and interest to do so; and that nothing short of self respect, and that justice which is essential to a national character, ought to involve us in War; for sure I am, if this country is preserved in tranquillity twenty years longer, it may bid defiance, in a just cause, to any power whatever, such, in that time, will be its population, wealth, and resource.” [to g. Morris]

"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.

GW to Lafayette June 18, 1788

There seems to be a great deal of bloody work cut out for this summer in the North of Europe. If war, want and plague are to desolate those huge armies that are assembled, who that has the feelings of a man can refrain from shedding a tear over the miserable victims of Regal Ambition? It is really a strange thing that there should not be room enough in the world for men to live, without cutting one anothers throats.


George Washington on Conducting the War for Independence


“I do not mean to exclude altogether the ideas of patriotism. I know it exists, and I know it has done much in the present contest. But I will venture to assert, that a great and lasting war can never be supported on this principle alone. It must be aided by a prospect of interest or some reward. For a time, it may, or itself push men to action: to bear much, to encounter difficulties; but it will not endure unassisted by interest.” [to Bannister, April 21, 1778. [of course, this applies to foreign affairs as well]

To Burwell Bassett, April 22, 1779

It is most devoutly to be wished that the several States would adopt some vigorous measures for the purpose of giving credit to the paper currency and punishment of speculators, forestallers and others who are preying upon the vitals of this great Country and putting every thing to the utmost hazard. Alas! what is virtue come to; what a miserable change has four years produced in the temper and dispositions of the Sons of America! It really shocks me to think of it!


[Note 85: An extract of what purports to be a letter from Washington to Rev. William Gordon (Apr. 22, 1779) is printed in the Magazine of American History, vol. 13, p. 489, as follows: "To speak within bounds, ten thousand pounds will not compensate the loss I might have avoided by being at home, and attending a little to my own concerns, I am now receiving a shilling in the Found in discharge of bonds, which ought to have been paid me, and would have been realized before I left Virginia, but for my indulgence to the debtors. Alas! what is virtue come to, what a miserable change has four years produced in the tempers and dispositions of the sons of America! It really shocks me to think of it." A copy or draft of this letter is not now found in the Washington Papers.]


GW to Congress, Sept. 24, 1776 This is a key letter

It is in vain to expect, that any (or more than a trifling) part of this Army will again engage in the Service on the encouragement offered by Congress. When Men find that their Townsmen and Companions are receiving 20, 30, and more Dollars, for a few Months Service, (which is truely the case) it cannot be expected; without using compulsion; and to force them into the Service would answer no valuable purpose. When Men are irritated, and the Passions inflamed, they fly hastely and chearfully to Arms; but after the first emotions are over, to expect, among such People, as compose the bulk of an Army, that they are influenced by any other principles than those of Interest, is to look for what never did, and I fear never will happen; the Congress will deceive themselves therefore if they expect it.

A Soldier reasoned with upon the goodness of the cause he is engaged in, and the inestimable rights he is contending for, hears you with patience, and acknowledges the truth of your observations, but adds, that it is of no more Importance to him than others. The Officer makes you the same reply, with this further remark, that his pay will not support him, and he cannot ruin himself and Family to serve his Country, when every Member of the community is equally Interested and benefitted by his Labours. The few therefore, who act upon Principles of disinterestedness, are, comparatively speaking, no more than a drop in the Ocean. It becomes evidently clear then, that as this Contest is not likely to be the Work of a day; as the War must be carried on systematically, and to do it, you must have good Officers, there are, in my Judgment, no other possible means to obtain them but by establishing your Army upon a permanent footing; and giving your Officers good pay; this will induce Gentlemen, and Men of Character to engage; and till the bulk of your Officers are composed of such persons as are actuated by Principles of honour, and a spirit of enterprize, you have little to expect from them.--They ought to have such allowances as will enable them to live like, and support the Characters of Gentlemen; and not be driven by a scanty pittance to the low, and dirty arts which many of them practice, to filch the Public of more than the difference of pay would amount to upon an ample allowe. besides, something is due to the Man who puts his life in his hands, hazards his health, and forsakes the Sweets of domestic enjoyments. Why a Captn. in the Continental Service should receive no more than 5/. Curry per day, for performing the same duties that an officer of the same Rank To place any dependance upon Militia, is, assuredly, resting upon a broken staff. Men just dragged from the tender Scenes of domestick life; unaccustomed to the din of Arms; totally unacquainted with every kind of Military skill, which being followed by a want of confidence in themselves, when opposed to Troops regularly train'd, disciplined, and appointed, superior in knowledge, and superior in Arms, makes them timid, and ready to fly from their own shadows. Besides, the sudden change in their manner of living, (particularly in the lodging) brings on sickness in many; impatience in all, and such an unconquerable desire of returning to their respective homes that it not only produces shameful, and scandalous Desertions among themselves, but infuses the like spirit in others. Again, Men accustomed to unbounded freedom, and no controul, cannot not brook the Restraint which is indispensably necessary to the good order and Government of an Army; without which, licentiousness, and every kind of disorder triumpantly reign. To bring Men to a proper degree of Subordination, is not the work of a day, a Month or even a year; and unhappily for us, and the cause we are Engaged in, the little discipline I have been labouring to establish in the Army under my immediate Command, is in a manner done away by having such a mixture of Troops as have been called together within these few Months.


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