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Letter to John Adams from George Washington

July 13, 1798


President of the United States.

DEAR SIR: I had the honor, on the evening of the 11th instant, to receive from the hands of the Secretary of War your favor of the 7th, announcing that you had, with the advice and consent of the Senate, appointed me "Lieutenant-General and Commander in Chief of all the armies raised or to be raised for the service of the United States."

I can not express how greatly affected I am at this new proof of public confidence and the highly flattering manner in which you have been pleased to make the communication. At the same time I must not conceal from you my earnest wish that the choice had fallen upon a man less declined in years and better qualified to encounter the usual vicissitudes of war.

You know, sir, what calculation I had made relative to the probable course of events on my retiring from office, and the determination I had consoled myself with of closing the remnant of my days in my present peaceful abode. You will therefore be at no loss to conceive and appreciate the sensations I must have experienced to bring my mind to any conclusion that would pledge me, at so late a period of life, to leave scenes I sincerely love to enter upon the boundless field of public action, incessant trouble, and high responsibility.

It was not possible for me to remain ignorant of or indifferent to recent transactions. The conduct of the Directory of France toward our country, their insidious hostility to its Government, their various practices to withdraw the affections of the people from it, the evident tendency of their acts and those of their agents to countenance and invigorate opposition, their disregard of solemn treaties and the laws of nations, their war upon our defenseless commerce, their treatment of our ministers of peace, and their demands amounting to tribute could not fail to excite in me corresponding sentiments with those my countrymen have so generally expressed in their affectionate addresses to you. Believe me, sir, no one can more cordially approve of the wise and prudent measures of your Administration. They ought to inspire universal confidence, and will no doubt, combined with the state of things, call from Congress such laws and means as will enable you to meet the full force and extent of the crisis.

Satisfied, therefore, that you have sincerely wished and endeavored to avert war, and exhausted to the last drop the cup of reconciliation, we can with pure hearts appeal to Heaven for the justice of our cause, and may confidently trust the final result to that kind Providence who has heretofore and so often signally favored the people of these United States.

Thinking in this manner, and feeling how incumbent it is upon every person, of every description, to contribute at all times to his country's welfare, and especially in a moment like the present, when everything we hold dear and sacred is so seriously threatened, I have finally determined to accept the commission of Commander in Chief of the armies of the United States, with the reserve only that I shall not be called into the field until the Army is in a situation to require my presence or it becomes indispensable by the urgency of circumstances.

In making this reservation I beg it to be understood that I do not mean to withhold any assistance to arrange and organize the Army which you may think I can afford. I take the liberty also to mention that I must decline having my acceptance considered as drawing after it any immediate charge upon the public, or that I can receive any emoluments annexed to the appointment before entering into a situation to incur expense.

The Secretary of War being anxious to return to the seat of Government, I have detained him no longer than was necessary to a full communication upon the several points he had in charge.

With very great respect and consideration, I have the honor to be, dear sir, your most obedient and humble servant,


George Washington, Letter to John Adams from George Washington Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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