Lot 1: George Washington - ALS signed Go: Washington
8th March 2017
ALS signed “Go: Washington,” one page both sides, 8 x 9.5, May 12, 1799. Seven months before his death, Washington writes from Mount Vernon to John Marshall, Edward Carrington, and William Heth regarding the structure of a national army to be raised for a possible war with France. In full: “Although the letter, of which the enclosed is a copy, is of old date, it has but just been received from the Secretary of War [James McHenry] for me to carry his views into effect; which, & the confidence I place in you, is the best apology I can make for asking you to assist me, in the business required. I have with the exception of short intervals, been so many years absent from this State; & so little from my own home while in it, that I am as little acquainted with present characters—a few excepted—as almost any man in it; and alone, as incompetent to a judicious selection of Officers to the force contemplated. The object, and principles, being sufficiently developed in the letter—Indeed being all the information I have on the subject, renders it unnecessary for me to add any sentiment of my own thereto—further than your aid in making the selection would be beneficial in a public view, and obliging me as an individual. No reason, that I can perceive, is opposed to the measure’s being known, as a cautionary preparative for an exigency, which, eventually, may happen;—and would, should it happen, save much time in the organization, when very little could be afforded under the pressure of the occasion. That you may want no light I can afford, I enclose also, the Inspector General’s division & subdivision of the State in Recruiting, & Rendezvousing districts; in order that, the secretary’s idea respected the distribution (as near as may be) of Officers to the population thereof, may have its due consideration, I forward likewise, a list of the Virginia quota of officers for the 12 Regiments, as arranged at Philadelphia in November last; but it is not in my power to discriminate between those who have, & those who have not accepted their appointments.” At the bottom of the first page, Washington has noted with regard to the letter’s later receipt from the Secretary of War, “a reason has been assigned for it.” Includes the address leaf, addressed in Washington's hand to “General Marshall and Colonels Carrington & Heth." In very good to fine condition, with a tear extending down from the top edge, a few small tears within the body of the letter, and splitting along the fragile horizontal folds; the detached address leaf is separated at folds and backed by a larger sheet, and shows scattered staining and heavy creasing. Accompanied by a full letter of authenticity from PSA/DNA. Mount Vernon had been neglected for decades, and in retirement Washington spent most of his time trying to make it solvent and functional. Still, he remained apprised of the goings-on in the nation’s capital. Relations with France were worsening in the aftermath of XYZ Affair, and President Adams warned Washington that he may soon be needed to once again lead the American military; Washington responded that he ’should not Intrench myself under the cover of Age & retirement, if my services should be required by my Country.’ In July 1798, he was officially called back into public duty and commissioned as ‘Lieutenant General and Commander in Chief of all the Armies raised or to be raised for the service of the United States.’ Working with his two major generals, Alexander Hamilton and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Washington formulated plans for raising new regiments of a ‘Provisional Army’ and made recommendations for officers—a frustrating task, as he found President Adams and Secretary of War McHenry slow to act on these recommendations. In May 1799, recruitment began in earnest, and it fell to Washington to fill the quota of officers for Virginia. Disinterested in active recruiting and “little acquainted with present characters” in Virginia’s ranks, he relied on the recipients of this letter—John Marshall, William Heth, and Edward Carrington—for aid in identifying suitable candidates. Ultimately, Washington could not fulfill the quotas, and on August 12th, he wrote to McHenry to say that he saw ‘no prospect of completing the selection of Officers from this State, for the Provisional Army, within any reasonable time.’ During the intervening months, Washington had been chiefly focused on tending to Mount Vernon and rewriting his will; he passed away shortly thereafter on December 14th. Nevertheless, these unfilled officer positions did not prove troublesome to the nation’s defenses, as the Provisional Army was disbanded only months later in June 1800. A unique, exceedingly desirable autograph letter from Washington’s last active role within American politics.
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