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title:“George Washington to Henry Lee”
authors:George Washington
date written:1788-9-22

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:04 a.m. UTC
retrieved:April 20, 2024, 11:07 a.m. UTC

Washington, George. "Letter to Henry Lee." The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution. Vol. 18. Ed. Gaspare J. Saladino and John P. Kaminski. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 1995. 354-55. Print.
Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress

George Washington to Henry Lee (September 22, 1788)

Mount Vernon, 22 September
. . . The principal topic of your letter is, to me, a point of great delicacy indeed: insomuch that I can scarcely, without some impropriety touch upon it. In the first place, the event to which you allude may never happen, among other reasons because, if the partiality of my fellow citizens Conceive it to be a mean by which the sinews of the new government would be strengthened, it will of consequence be obnoxious to those who are in opposition to it, many of whom, unquestionably, will be placed among the Electors.—1
This consideration alone would supersede the expediency of announcing any definitive, and irrevocable resolution.—you are among the small number of those, who know my invincible attachment to domestic life, and that my sincerest wish is to continue in the enjoyment of it, solely, until my final hour. But the world would be neither so well instructed, or so candidly disposed as to believe me to be uninfluenced by sinister motives; in case any circumstance should render a deviation from the line of conduct I had prescribed to myself indispensable. Should the contingency you suggest take place, and (for argument sake alone let me say) should my unfeigned reluctance to accept the office be over come by a deference for the reasons and opinions of my friends; might I not, after the Declarations I have made (and Heaven knows they were made in the sincerity of my heart) in the Judgment of the impartial World & of Posterity, be chargable with levity and inconsistency; if not with rashness and ambition?2 Nay farther would there not even be some apparant foundation for the two former charges? Now Justice to myself and tranquility of con[s]cience require that I should act a part, if not above imputation, at least, capable of vindication. Nor will you conceive me to be too solicitous for reputation. Though I prize, as I ought, the good opinion of my fellow citizens; yet, if I knew myself, I would not seek or retain popularity at the expence of one social duty or moral virtue. while doing what my conscience informed me was right, as it respected my God, my Country and myself, I could despise all the party clamour and unjust censure, which must be expected from some, whose personal enmity might be occasioned by their hostility to the government. I am conscious, that I fear alone to give any real occasion for obliquy, and that I do not dread to meet with unmerited reproach. And certain I am, whensoever I shall be convinced the good of my country requires my reputation to be put in risque; regard for my own fame will not come in compe[ti]tion with an object of so much magnitude. If I declined the task it would lie upon quite another principle. Notwithstanding my advanced season of life, my encreasing fondness for agricultural amusements and my growing love of retirement augment and confirm my decided predilection for the character of a private citizen: yet it would be no one of these motives, nor the hazard to which my former reputation might be exposed, or the terror encountering new fatigues and troubles that would deter me from an acceptance—but a belief that some other person, who had less pretence and less inclination to be excused, could execute all the duties full as satisfactorily as myself. To say more would be indiscreet; as a disclosure of a refusal beforehand, might incur the application of the Fable; in which the Fox is represented as undervaluing the grapes he could not reach. You will perceive, my dear Sir, by what is here observed (and which you will be pleased to consider in the light of a confidential communication) that my inclinations will dispose & decide me to remain as I am; unless a clear and insurmountable conviction should be impressed on my mind, that some very, disagreeable consequences must in all human probability result from the indulgence of my wishes. . . .

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