December 18, 1778 – George Washington on the American Character

On this day in history, Washington sent a letter to a friend of his, Benjamin Harrison. (No, not Benjamin Harrison the President of the United States from 1889-1893), although that was this Benjamin Harrison’s great-grandson. Harrison’s son, William Henry Harrison, also served as U.S. President from March 4, 1841 to April 4, 1841 – he was the first president to die in office.)

This Harrison was a Virginia planter and delegate from Virginia to the First and Second Continental Congresses. During the Second Continental Congress Harrison resided in a house in north Philadelphia with Peyton Randolph and George Washington. He remained friends with Washington, corresponding with him often, especially in his role as Chairman of the Board of War during the Revolution.

Benjamin Harrison V , Founding Father

Benjamin Harrison V , Founding Father

Seven months after the Continental Congress ratified the Treaty with France, Washington wrote a letter to Harrison suggesting he did not perceive the treaty as helpful enough; there were still barriers to overcome. Some of his criticisms concerned the Continental Congress itself. His observations make it sound as if nothing has changed since then. He wrote, in part:

If I was to be called upon to draw A picture of the times, and of Men; from what I have seen, heard, and in part know I should in one word say that idleness, dissipation and extravagance seem to have laid fast hold of most of them. That Speculation, peculation, and an insatiable thirst for riches seems to have got the better of every other consideration and almost of every order of Men. That party disputes and personal quarrels are the great business of the day whilst the momentous concerns of an empire, a great and accumulated debt; ruined finances, depreciated money, and want of credit (which in their consequences is the want of every thing) are but secondary considerations and postponed from day to day, from week to week as if our affairs wore the most promising aspect; after drawing this picture, which from my Soul I believe to be a true one I need not repeat to you that I am alarmed and wish to see my Countrymen roused.”

You can read the entire letter here.

President George Washington here seen as Major General and Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army

President George Washington here seen as Major General and Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army


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