Skip to comments.George Washington, Circular Letter to the States
Posted on 06/08/2012 2:13:48 PM PDT by Jacquerie
When word that peace with Great Britain was assured, General Washington issued a blistering condemnation of Congress. In addition to demands for soldier's back pay, he called for reforms to the Articles of Confederation. His admonitions would culminate in 1788 with ratification of the Constitution.
When we consider the magnitude of the prize we contended for, the doubtful nature of the contest, and the favorable manner in which it has terminated, we shall find the greatest possible reason for gratitude and rejoicing; this is a theme that will afford infinite delight to every benevolent and liberal mind, whether the event in contemplation, be considered as the source of present enjoyment or the parent of future happiness; and we shall have equal occasion to felicitate ourselves on the lot which Providence has assigned us, whether we view it in a natural, a political or moral point of light.
The Citizens of America, placed in the most enviable condition, as the sole Lords and Proprietors of a vast Tract of Continent, comprehending all the various soils and climates of the World, and abounding with all the necessaries and conveniencies of life, are now by the late satisfactory pacification, acknowledged to be possessed of absolute freedom and Independency; They are, from this period, to be considered as the Actors on a most conspicuous Theatre, which seems to be peculiarly designated by Providence for the display of human greatness and felicity; Here, they are not only surrounded with every thing which can contribute to the completion of private and domestic enjoyment, but Heaven has crowned all its other blessings, by giving a fairer oppertunity for political happiness, than any other Nation has ever been favored with. Nothing can illustrate these observations more forcibly, than a recollection of the happy conjuncture of times and circumstances, under which our Republic assumed its rank among the Nations; The foundation of our Empire was not laid in the gloomy age of Ignorance and Superstition, but at an Epocha when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any former period, the researches of the human mind, after social happiness, have been carried to a great extent, the Treasures of knowledge, acquired by the labours of Philosophers, Sages and Legislatures, through a long succession of years, are laid open for our use, and their collected wisdom may be happily applied in the Establishment of our forms of Government; the free cultivation of Letters, the unbounded extension of Commerce, the progressive refinement of Manners, the growing liberality of sentiment, and above all, the pure and benign light of Revelation, have had a meliorating influence on mankind and increased the blessings of Society. At this auspicious period, the United States came into existence as a Nation, and if their Citizens should not be completely free and happy, the fault will be intirely their own.
Such is our situation, and such are our prospects: but notwithstanding the cup of blessing is thus reached out to us, notwithstanding happiness is ours, if we have a disposition to seize the occasion and make it our own; yet, it appears to me there is an option still left to the United States of America, that it is in their choice, and depends upon their conduct, whether they will be respectable and prosperous, or contemptable and miserable as a Nation; This is the time of their political probation, this is the moment when the eyes of the whole World are turned upon them, this is the moment to establish or ruin their national Character forever, this is the favorable moment to give such a tone to our Federal Government, as will enable it to answer the ends of its institution, or this may be the ill-fated moment for relaxing the powers of the Union, annihilating the cement of the Confederation, and exposing us to become the sport of European politics, which may play one State against another to prevent their growing importance, and to serve their own interested purposes. For, according to the system of Policy the States shall adopt at this moment, they will stand or fall, and by their confirmation or lapse, it is yet to be decided, whether the Revolution must ultimately be considered as a blessing or a curse: a blessing or a curse, not to the present age alone, for with our fate will the destiny of unborn Millions be involved.
With this conviction of the importance of the present Crisis, silence in me would be a crime; I will therefore speak to your Excellency, the language of freedom and of sincerity, without disguise; I am aware, however, that those who differ from me in political sentiment, may perhaps remark, I am stepping out of the proper line of my duty, and they may possibly ascribe to arrogance or ostentation, what I know is alone the result of the purest intention, but the rectitude of my own heart, which disdains such unworthy motives, the part I have hitherto acted in life, the determination I have formed, of not taking any share in public business hereafter, the ardent desire I feel, and shall continue to manifest, of quietly enjoying in private life, after all the toils of War, the benefits of a wise and liberal Government, will, I flatter myself, sooner or later convince my Countrymen, that I could have no sinister views in delivering with so little reserve, the opinions contained in this Address.
There are four things, which I humbly conceive, are essential to the well being, I may even venture to say, to the existence of the United States as an Independent Power:
1st. An indissoluble Union of the States under one Federal Head.
2dly. A Sacred regard to Public Justice.
3dly. The adoption of a proper Peace Establishment.
4thly. The prevalence of that pacific and friendly Disposition, among the People of the United States, which will induce them to forget their local prejudices and policies, to make those mutual concessions which are requisite to the general prosperity, and in some instances, to sacrifice their individual advantages to the interest of the Community.
These are the Pillars on which the glorious Fabrick of our Independency and National Character must be supported; Liberty is the Basis, and whoever would dare to sap the foundation, or overturn the Structure, under whatever specious pretexts he may attempt it, will merit the bitterest execration, and the severest punishment which can be inflicted by his injured Country.
On the three first Articles I will make a few observations, leaving the last to the good sense and serious consideration of those immediately concerned.
Under the first head, altho' it may not be necessary or proper for me in this place to enter into a particular disquisition of the principles of the Union, and to take up the great question which has been frequently agitated, whether it be expedient and requisite for the States to delegate a larger proportion of Power to Congress, or not, Yet it will be a part of my duty, and that of every true Patriot, to assert without reserve, and to insist upon the following positions, That unless the States will suffer Congress to exercise those prerogatives, they are undoubtedly invested with by the Constitution, every thing must very rapidly tend to Anarchy and confusion, That it is indispensable to the happiness of the individual States, that there should be lodged somewhere, a Supreme Power to regulate and govern the general concerns of the Confederated Republic, without which the Union cannot be of long duration. That there must be a faithfull and pointed compliance on the part of every State, with the late proposals and demands of Congress, or the most fatal consequences will ensue, That whatever measures have a tendency to dissolve the Union, or contribute to violate or lessen the Sovereign Authority, ought to be considered as hostile to the Liberty and Independency of America, and the Authors of them treated accordingly, and lastly, that unless we can be enabled by the concurrence of the States, to participate of the fruits of the Revolution, and enjoy the essential benefits of Civil Society, under a form of Government so free and uncorrupted, so happily guarded against the danger of oppression, as has been devised and adopted by the Articles of Confederation, it will be a subject of regret, that so much blood and treasure have been lavished for no purpose, that so many sufferings have been encountered without a compensation, and that so many sacrifices have been made in vain.
Many other considerations might here be adduced to prove, that without an entire conformity to the Spirit of the Union, we cannot exist as an Independent Power; it will be sufficient for my purpose to mention but one or two which seem to me of the greatest importance. It is only in our united Character as an Empire, that our Independence is acknowledged, that our power can be regarded, or our Credit supported among Foreign Nations. The Treaties of the European Powers with the United States of America, will have no validity on a dissolution of the Union. We shall be left nearly in a state of Nature, or we may find by our own unhappy experience, that there is a natural and necessary progression, from the extreme of anarchy to the extreme of Tyranny; and that arbitrary power is most easily established on the ruins of Liberty abused to licentiousness.
General Washington and his men knew better than any member of Congress how ineffective the Articles of Confederation were. They bore the brunt of a government that could not provide the stores, equipment and necessities for an Army to defend the nation.
In return for continued loyalty, General Washington pledged to work toward "complete justice for all of your toils and dangers."
George Washington both shamed them into sullen retreat and promised that with the peace, he would work to correct the wrongs done them.
To your pinglist, if you please.
"The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger -- The General hopes and trusts, that every officer and man, will endeavour so to live, and act, as becomes a Christian Soldier defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country. "
"The Continental Congress, impelled by the dictates of duty, policy and necessity, having been pleased to dissolve the Connection which subsisted between this Country, and Great Britain, and to declare the United Colonies of North America, free and independent States : The several brigades are to be drawn up this evening on their respective Parades, at Six OClock, when the declaration of Congress, shewing the grounds and reasons of this measure, is to be read with an audible voice."
Thanks, but no thanks. That completely refutes the Declaration of Independence. We, the people have the power to reform government as we desire, when we desire, to best meet our needs.
Not at all.
Article XIII of the Articles of Confederation: . . . And the Articles of this confederation shall be inviolably observed by every State, and the union shall be perpetual; . . .
He asked for strengthening of the Confederation so that Congress could meet its Article III responsibilities.
Article III. The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretense whatever.
And yes, I would have been one of those griping about both the AOC and the Constitution. ;)
I just haven't in my life seen much benefit to a central federal government. I have seen the downside to a centralized federal government.
In fact, I've stated here that I think it's outdated and needs to be eliminated. Especially when it works contrary to what the people need and want.
Governments by men tend to fail.
T’anks- as usual you say these things better than I could.
I’ve learned so much reading those things you have posted.
reading your stuff helped me with the Hillsdale College online Constitution 101 Course. I agree there is no evidence of any refutation of the Declaration—but I have been quite guilty of knee jerk reactions—my friends help me backup and regroup.
It is my pleasure. Thank you for posting this, Jacquerie.
For, according to the system of Policy the States shall adopt at this moment, they will stand or fall, and by their confirmation or lapse, it is yet to be decided, whether the Revolution must ultimately be considered as a blessing or a curse: a blessing or a curse, not to the present age alone, for with our fate will the destiny of unborn Millions be involved.
As one of those "unborn Millions" that the General spoke of, may I say thank you, it was a blessing. Not only for Americans, but for freedom loving people everywhere.
The RevWar/Colonial History/General Washington ping list...
Washington writes like a man who had already attained greatness of character before the rigor of war. After war, he has been refined and tempered.
We need to bring him alive to our high school students of today.
And Tanks back to you!
I brought my kids up to understand this: America was founded—to a large extent—on the character of George Washington. I have not asked much of my kids, but did ask them to be sure and teach that to their children.
That doesn't sound very perpetual to me. Just my opinion, of course.
He thanked God for the bountiful land. He was also thankful for the happy confluence of religiosity, public spirit, and knowledge of history and political philosophers. We did not create governments at the point of a sword, but in quiet deliberation among free people. It would be up to us to remain happy and free.
Our choices were between, "respectable and prosperous, or contemptible and miserable." If the Confederation dissolved, our revolution would be regarded by future generations as a curse.
Liberty was the goal, and opponents should feel the public's wrath.
If Congress did not assert its powers under the Confederation, anarchy and confusion would result.
The man who probably could have been set upon a throne if he wanted it, merely asked the government to do its duty as he had done.
Hmm, on second thought, I doubt a man of such virtue could be honestly studied in today's government schools. Islam yes, Washington no.
I don't see that there were just 2 choices.
I think there was a 3rd way that the people of the time, like Washington, who wanted to be a British officer but was turned down for a commission, couldn't see.
We did create/support governments at the point of a sword. See the Whiskey Rebellion.
I find excessive lauding of a fallible man to be much to close to hero-worship.
Again, my humble opinion.
"It is impossible to introduce into society a greater change and a greater evil than this: the conversion of the law into an instrument of plunder." - Bastiat 1801-1850
"Socialism Is Legal Plunder" - Bastiat 1801-1850
"Is there any need to offer proof that this odious perversion of the law is a perpetual source of hatred and discord; that it tends to destroy society itself? If such proof is needed, look at the United States [in 1850]. There is no country in the world where the law is kept more within its proper domain: the protection of every person's liberty and property. As a consequence of this, there appears to be no country in the world where the social order rests on a firmer foundation." - Bastiat 1801-1850
Thanks for posting. Great post. Great thread. Thanks to all posters.
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He didn't however, grow up in a distributed world. His world was heirarchical. As was the world of all the founders. His view is biased toward big government and central control. It's all he knew.
He did define the function of government narrowly. Smart guy.
It most certainly was, even to these perilous times..
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