Lot 143

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Important A.L.S. "Go: Washington" and again "GW"as President, 1p. legal folio, Mount Vernon, Oct. 9, 1793 to his former aide de camp and close friend, John Fitzgerald (1756-1799) forwarding his response to "...the Resolution of the Citizens of Alexandria..." and requesting it not be published so as not to be exploited by the Jeffersonians. With integral transmittal leaf addressed in Washington's hand. He writes, in full: "Enclosed is an answer to the Resolution of the Citizens of Alexandria, which came under a blank cover to me; -- and which were ordered to be published in that Gazette. -- But if the 8th Resolution is not published along with the others, nor intended to be so, (which seems probable as it is separate & distinct) I request, in that case, that the answer may not appear, because I have never taken notice of any resolutions wherein one of them has not directed, and it has so appeared, that they should be sent to [me, consi]dering them without this, as no more than the expression of the sentiments of the meeting to the Community without any particular application:-- I am sincerely & affectionately Yours Go: Washington". An important and awkward letter to Fitzgerald, who remained a close friend and business associate after the war. In 1793, with war in Europe and the French Revolution taking a very radical turn following the execution of Louis XVI, the two friends found themselves on different sides of the political fence. The European war presented enormous danger to the young nation and Washington was determined to remain neutral despite the 1778 treaty of alliance with France. The issue also highlighted the growing division inside his cabinet between Jefferson and Hamilton. Jefferson was sympathetic to the republican cause and saw the execution of the French King as legitimate reaction to the excesses of monarchy while Hamilton, who wanted closer ties with Great Britain, viewed the French Revolution as a dangerous threat to the existing social hierarchy. The arrival of the French Ambassador Edmond-Charles Genêt brought the dispute into sharp focus. Upon his landing in Charleston, South Carolina, Genêt immediately and quite publicly began commissioning privateers to attack British shipping and encouraging the establishment of Democratic-Republican Societies that openly advocated entrance into the war on the side of France. Genêt's activities, which soon included public denunciations of Washington as a friend of monarchy, severely tested Washington's patience. More critically, American privateers on the side of France would have drawn the United States into the war with disastrous consequences. Despite the philosophical and political differences in Washington's cabinet, all agreed that neutrality was the only realistic course. After contentious debate, Washington and his cabinet resolved to expel Genêt. This move, in conjunction with Washington's proclamation of neutrality, galvanized the Democratic-Republicans who believed the move was a betrayal of America's historic debt to France. James Monroe wrote Jefferson that he was unwilling to admit Genêt in the wrong while Madison wanted to sidestep the matter as much as possible. As a compromise, Madison composed a model resolution to be used by county Democratic-Republican organizations to address the President urging his endorsement of the French cause and that of republicanism while distancing himself from the actions of the French minister - without mentioning Genêt specifically.

John Fitzgerald was at the head of a committee in Alexandria, Virginia that passed a set of these resolutions. The Alexandria resolutions, passed on October 6, 1793, lauded Washington's able administration and reinforced the general popular opinion, "that it is in the interest and duty of these United States to maintain a strict Neutrality towards the belligerent powers of Europe, and to cultivate peace and harmony with all the wordy by just and honorable means". In a nod to Genêt's activities, the citizens of Alexandria also "Resolved that all attempts to subvert the Federal Government, to violate its principles or to lessen the confidence of the People" should be thwarted. The next resolution reinforced America's attachment "to a republican form of Government as being the only one calculated to diffuse true national happiness..." and to oppose monarchy. This logically led the Democratic-Republicans to the next resolution: "that every attempt to disunite France and America ought to be opposed as dangerous to Republicanism" and also: "Resolved that we entertain the warmest gratitude for the generous and important Services of the French Nation during the American Revolution; and that we feel the strongest attachment to these principles which have occasioned the glorious contest in which that Nation is engaged for its own liberty, and we must ardently wish them the complete & lasting enjoyment of that inestimable blessing which, under divine providence, was secured to us by their timely aid and assistance". The seventh resolution admonished the actions of Genêt without mentioning him specifically, but did not put forth the idea that the activities of a single agent of the French government should poison Franco-American relations.

Washington, mindful of America's debt to France for securing her independence, responded to the petition on October 8: "While the public mind is engaged, and in some degree disturbed by various subjects which have arisen, consequent of a War in which most of the European powers are engaged, with the highest satisfaction I have received assurances from many parts of the United States, of the determined resolution of the Citizens thereof to be neutral, thereby securing to themselves the inestimable blessings resulting from peace, and that they will give support to measures, adopted by those to whom they have confided authority for that purpose, which are dictated with an evident regard to their interests, and by a wish to promote the happiness of all the Citizens of the Union. Among those which have been received, the resolutions of my Fellow Citizens of Alexandria, enclosed by you, have contributed not a little to afford me pleasure, and justify the opinion I had entertained of their good sense and patriotism. I request you, Sir, to make known to them my attachment, equally with their's [sic], to a republican system, and as far as my personal endeavours will contribute, they will be employed in supporting the principles of our federal Government, and defeating any attempts which might be made to violate them, or to lessen the confidence of the people therein. I join with them also in expressions of gratitude to the French Nation for their timely and important services rendered to these States, and it is my earnest wish that genuine Liberty and equal rights may pervade every Nation of the Earth". After composing his response, Washington recalled how his response to a similar petition from the citizens of Caroline County, Virginia a month earlier was being exploited by the Jeffersonian-Republican press. Washington, determined to remain neutral in the dispute, did not want his words manipulated in the press. In an attempt to avoid publication, Washington noted that the 8th resolution authorizing publication was placed at the bottom of a mostly unfilled sheet and asked if that provision was perhaps optional. On October 11, Fitzgerald responded that Washington "...will be pleased to observe that the Publick Papers join the Eighth Resolution with the others which, I don't know why, were separated with the Copy sent, this I presume will render the Answer, to be made public, proper & necessary which will accordingly appear". Washington's response began appearing in the Democratic-Republican Press within two weeks.

Col. John Fitzgerald was a close associate of Washington, and interestingly the only comprehensive biography on him describes the former aide-de-camp as an ardent Federalist. An extensive biography of Fitzgerald reprints an account by Edmund J. Lee, who recalled Washington and Fitzgerald's last dinner together on August 7, 1799. Fitzgerald had become a staunch Federalist: "'During the dinner Colonel Fitzgerald repeatedly attempted to give the conversation a political turn, with a view of expressing his detestation of Mr. Jefferson, Bache and Duane, Giles of Virginia and other members of the anti-Federal party. But he received no encouragement from the General, who led the conversation to the subject of the wonderful prosperity of the country...'Ah!' exclaimed Fitzgerald, 'and to be assured that all this glorious prosperity, and the very existence of the Republic itself, are imperiled by the vile arts of an unprincipled demagogue.'" (Martin Ignatius Joseph Griffin, Catholics and the American Revolution, 1909, Vol. 2, p. 386). Interestingly this 1909 source makes no mention of Fitzgerald's 1793 petition; perhaps Fitzgerald had a momentary political 'lapse,' as he too would have appreciated the contribution of France to the success of the American Revolution. His Irish heritage also could have informed his belief that any enemy of the English were friends to the Irish. It almost seems by Lee's account, that when Fitzgerald switched his allegiance back to the Federalists, he did so with a vengeance.

In any event, Washington did not seem to take this 'lapse' personally and the two continued their correspondence, never mentioning the incident again. In 1787 he recommended him in a letter to Jefferson, "shall still venture to name a Gentleman who is a native of Ireland, Col. John Fitzgerald. The active Services of this Gentleman during the War, his long residence in the Country, and intermarriage in it (with one of the most respectable families, Digges of Maryland) all entitle him to be considered as an American. The laws of this Country know no difference between him and a Native of America" (G.W. to Thomas Jefferson, May 30, 1787). John Fitzgerald emigrated from Ireland in1769 and established himself as a merchant in Alexandria. He was a major in the 3rd Virginia Regiment in 1776, and he joined Washington's staff as an aide-de-camp in November of that year. Fitzgerald was on the battlefield at Princeton, and he is probably the source of the often-told story that when he covered his eyes as the British fire a volley at Washington, the commander-in-chief remains unscathed. Fitzgerald was wounded at the battle of Monmouth, and he resigned from the army shortly thereafter. He returned to his business in Alexandria, and at one point helped supply American prisoners-of-war. Elected mayor of Alexandria in 1783, Fitzgerald's friendship with Washington continued after the war, where he was a frequent guest at Mount Vernon. The two also had extensive business dealings and Fitzgerald was one of the directors of the Potomack Company. During Washington's presidency, he was appointed a local collector of customs and served as mayor of the town in 1780s. Fitzgerald declared bankruptcy in 1799 and died shortly thereafter.

The present letter is an important piece demonstrating Washington's desire to remain above party and faction just as the First Party System was taking shape and dividing the nation. Within two months of this letter, Jefferson would leave his post as Secretary of State. Washington, who had wanted to lead a bi-partisan administration now found himself in the position of a party leader, a position he did not relish. The letter also demonstrates Washington's respect for those who opposed him politically. Interestingly, Washington could have simply decided not to respond to the petition, yet he did and enclosed this request hoping that his friend would intercede on his behalf and see it remained unpublished. Fitzgerald, who was bound by the provisions of the resolution, was unable to comply with his friend's request. Provenance: Carnegie Book Shop, New York, c. 1950; the present owner. Minor marginal loss from seal tear, expected folds with minor separations and small tear affecting several words of text, else very good condition. Expertly matted and framed with a reverse window to reveal the integral address leaf.

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December 16, 2010 11:00 AM EST
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