WASHINGTON, George (1732-1799). Autograph letter signed (“Go: Washington” to François Jean de Beauvoir, Marquis de Chastellux (1734-1788), Mount Vernon, 25 April, 1 May 1788. 6 pages, 4to, mild toning in a few spots, else fine.
A warm and emotional letter, congratulating the Marquis on his recent marriage, musing on the end of all war while awaiting news on the ratification of the constitution: “Should it be adopted… America will lift up her head again and in a few years become respectable among the Nations.”
“A Wife!” Washington opens in an unusually jocular tone, warmly congratulating the Comte on his recent nuptials. In October 1787, Chastellux had wed Marie Josephine, Brigitte-Charlotte de Plunkett (1759-1815), lady-in-waiting to the duchesse d’Orleans. “My dear Marquis: In reading your very friendly...letter...I was, as you may well suppose, not less delighted than surprised to come across that plain American word ‘my wife’. A Wife! Well my dear Marquis, I can hardly refrain from smiling to find you are caught at last.— I saw, by the eulogium you often made on the happiness of domestic life in America, that you had swallowed the bait, & that you would as surely be taken (one day or another) as you was a Philosopher and a Soldier.— So your day has, at length, come. I am glad of it with all my heart and soul...Now you are well served for coming to fight in favor of the American Rebels, all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, by catching that terrible contagion — domestic felicity, which like the small pox, or the plague, a man can have only once in his life: because it commonly lasts him (at least with us in America, I don’t know how you manage these matters in France) for his whole life time.— And yet after all the maledictions you so richly merit on the subject, the worst wish which I can find in my heart to make against Madame de Chastellux and yourself is, that you may neither of you ever get the better of this same —domestic felicity —during the entire course of your-Mortal existence.”
“If so wonderful an event should have occasioned me, my dear Marquis, to have written in a strange style— you will understand me as clearly as if I had said (what, in plain English, is the simple truth) do me the justice to believe that I take a heartfelt interest in whatever concerns your happiness. And in this view, I sincerely congratulate you on your auspicious Matrimonial connection.— I am happy to find that Madame de Chastellux is so intimately connected with the Dutchess of Orleans, as I have always understood that this noble lady was an illustrious pattern of connubial love, as well as an excellent model of virtue in general.”
“…it is time for the age of Knight-Errantry and mad-heroism to be at an end.” Washington comments on international political affairs, expressing his hope for an end to global war-making and a return to peaceful pursuits, abandoning the “waste of war and the rage of conquest.” He gently chides Chastellux: “While you have been making love, under the banner of Hymen— the great Personages in the North have been making war [presumably Austria and Russia who were separately warring with the Ottomans], under the inspiration, or rather under the infatuation of Mars.— Now, for my part, I humbly conceive, you have had much the best and wisest of the bargain. For certainly it is more consonant to all the principles of reason and religion (natural and revealed) to replenish the Earth with inhabitants, rather than to depopulate it by killing those already in existence.—Besides, it is time for the age of Knight-Errantry and mad-heroism to be at an end.— Your young military men, who want to reap the harvest of laurels, don't care (I suppose) how many seeds of war are sown. But for the sake of humanity it is devoutly to be wished, that the manly employment of Agriculture and the humanizing benefits of commerce, would supersede the waste of War and the rage of conquest; that the swords might be turned into plough-shares, the spears into pruning hooks, and, as the Scripture expresses it, ‘the nations learn war no more.—’"
Awaiting ratification of the Constitution. Washington moves to local affairs, namely the ratification of the federal Constitution: “As for us, we are plodding on in the dull road of peace and politics.— We, who live in these ends of the earth, only hear of the rumors of war like the roar of distant thunder. It is to be hoped, that our remote local situation will prevent us from being swept into its vortex.” With palpable satisfaction on the progress of ratification of the new Constitution, Washington explains: “The Constitution, which was proposed by the foederal Convention, has been adopted by the States of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Georgia.— No State has rejected it.— The Convention of Maryland is now sitting and will probably adopt it; as that of South Carolina is expected to do in May. The other Conventions will assemble early in the summer. Hitherto there has been much greater unanimity in favour of the proposed government than could have reasonably been expected. —Should it be adopted (and I think it will be) America will lift up her head again and in a few years become respectable among the Nations.— It is a flattering and consolatory reflection, that our rising Republics [i.e.states] have the good wishes of all the Philosophers, Patriots, & virtuous men in all Nations: and that they look upon them as a kind of Asylum for Mankind. God grant that we may not disappoint their honest expectations, by our folly or perverseness!—”
Washington then adds a short postscript: “If the Duke de Lauzun is still with you, I beg you will thank him, in my name, for his kind remembrance of me...” In a subsequent and longer postscript, dated 1 May, Washington confirms “I have been favoured with a duplicate of your letter in the hand-writing of a lady, and cannot close this without acknowledging my obligations for the flattering Postscript of the fair Transcriber. In effect, my dear Marquis, the Characters of this Interpreter of your sentiments are so much fairer than those through which I have been accustomed to decypher them, that I already consider myself as no small gainer by your Matrimonial connection. Especially, as I hope, your amiable amanuensis will not forget, at sometimes, to add a few annotations of her own to your original text.”
In a final note, Washington rejoices that “I have just received that the Convention of Maryland has ratified the proposed Constitution by a Majority of 63 to 11.”
Letter book copy published in Papers, Confederation Series, 6:227-230.