Col. Lewis Nicola's Letter to George Washington of May 22, 1782

I believe this is the first complete transcription from the original of this document, significant because it is the source of the myth that "George Washington turned down a crown."

I've transcribed the entire letter from the photograhic images of the original at the American Memory site of the Library of Congress. I've also included a link to the photographic reproductions of each page at the beginning of each page.

I have highlighted in green boldface type the places on pages three and four where Nicola outlined his criticism of republics and purported advantages of limited monarchy.

I've highlighted in red boldface the passage on pages six and seven where Nicola sketches his proposal for a new western state and suggests it should be led by a king to be suitably rewarded.

A few things should be noted here. Nicola does not "offer" Washington the kingship of this proposed state. If he had done so -- and he did not -- it would not constitute an "offer", since Nicola had no "crown" to bestow on Washington or anybody else. These are the musings of the mind of one individual person, nothing more.

I have explained the context somewhat more fully, and provided bibliography and links to the "Newburgh Addresses" here:

Grover Furr
Montclair State University
March 2007  

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(Among Gen. Washingtons letters there is a remarkable answer to the following memoir, dated Mar. 22d 1782)


The injuries the troops have received in their pecuniary rights have been, & still continue to be too obvious to require a particular detail, or to have escaped your Excellencies notice, tho your exalted station must have deprived you of opportunity of information relative to the severe distresses occasioned thereby. Tho doubtless the particular circumstances of the times have occasioned many of these injuries, yet we have great reason to believe they are not all owing to that cause, but often occasioned by schemes of economy in the legislatures of some States, & publick ministers, founded on unjust and iniquitous principles; and tho, as the prospect of publick affairs cleared up, the means of fulfilling engagements increased, yet the injuries, instead of being lessened, have kept pace with them. This gives us a dismal prospect for the time to come, & much reason

to fear the future provision promised to officers [by Congress], and the nglish & satisfying their & the men’s just demands will be little attended to, when our services are no longer wanted, and that the recompence of all our toils, hardships, expence of private fortune, during several of the best years of our lives will be, to those who cannot earn a livelihood by manual labour, beggary, & that we who have born the heat & labour of the day will be forgot and neglected by such as reap the benefits without suffering any of the hardships.

It may be said that depreciations have been made up, but how has this been done? By depreciated paper money & certificates of such a nature as to be of little benefit to the original possessors, whose necessities have compelled them to part with those obligations to speculators for a small part of their value, never more, as far as I can learn, than one tenth, but often less.

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From several conversations I have had with officers, & some I have overheard among soldiers, I believe it is generally intended not to seperate after the peace ’till all grievances are redressed, engagements & promises fulfilled, but how this is to be done I am at a loss, as neither officers nor soldiers can have any confidence in promises. We have no doubt of Congresses intention to act uprightly, but greatly fear that, by the interested voices of others, their abilities will not be equal to the task.

God forbid we should ever think of involving that country we have, under your conduct & auspices, rescued from oppression, into a new scene of blood & confusion; but it cannot be expected we should forego claims on which our future subsistence & that of our families depend.

Another difference there is between our fellow citizens and us is, that we must live under governments in the forming of which we had no hand, nor were consulted either personally nor representatively, being engaged in preventing the enemy from disturbing those bodies which were entrusted with that business, the members of which would have found little mercy had they been captured.

Dangers foreseen may be removed, alleviated, or in some cases, turned to benefits, bossibly what I appreciate may be susceptible, of even the latter, by means I beg leave to propose, but must request your Excellencies patience if I digress a little before I open my prospect.

I own I am not that violent admirer of a republican form of government as numbers in this country are; this is not owing to caprice, but reason & experience. Let us consider the fate of all the modern republicks of any note without running into antiquity, which I think would also serve to establish my system.

The republicks of later days, worth our notice, may be

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reduced to three, Venice, Genoa & Holland, tho the two former are rather aristocratical than republican governments, yet they resemble those more than monarchical.

These have, each in their turns, shone with great brightness, but their lustre has been of short duration, and as it were only a blaze. What figure has Holland, that, in his infancy, successfully opposed the most formidable powers of Europe, made for more than half of the present century, or actually makes at present? Mistress of nearly half the commerce of the earth, has she occasioned any considerable diversion of the naval power of Britain? Six or eight ships of the line have been able to oppose her, & unable to protect herself and her extensive commerce, has she not been obliged to apply for assistance to a neighbouring monarch? Does not the great similarity there is between her form of government & ours give us room to fear our fate will be like hers. His it not evidently appeared that during the course of this war we have never been able to draw forth all the internal resources we are possessed of, and oppose or attack the enemy with our real vigour?

In contrast to this scene let us consider the principal monarchies of Europe, they have suffered great internal commotions, have worried each other, have had periods of vigour & weakness, yet they still subsist & shine with lustre. It must not be concluded from this that I am a partisan for absolute monarchy, very far from it, I am sensible of all its defects, the only conclusion I would draw from the comparison is, that the energy of the latter is more beneficial to the existence of a nation than the wisdom of the former. A monarch may often be governed by wise & moderate councels, but it is hardly possible for large bodies to plan or execute vigorous ones.

The inference I would deduce from what I have premised is, that each form of government has its defective & valuable parts, therefore, that form which partakes of all, or most

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of the latter & is purged of the former, must be the most eligible.

In the brittish Government we have a sketch of this, far, it is true from perfect, but no despicable basis of a good one. The english constitution has been the result of repeated struggles between prince & people, but never received anything of a regular or stable form till the revolution, & yet is still short of perfection. The principal defects are pointed out by the experience of almost a century, & I believe may be reduced to two, one in the legislative the other in the executive authorities. Were elections annual, & confined to representatives for counties & few large trading cities only, & all contributing to the support of government priviledged to elect, and had the king no command of money beyond what is requisite to the support of his family & court, suitable to the dignity of his station, I believe the constitution would approach much nearer to that degree of perfection to which sublunary things are limited. In a well regulated legislative body I conceive a third branch necessary. Montesquieu observes that a hereditary nobility is requisite in a monarchy but incompatible with a republick, taking this for granted, some degree of nobility may be proper in a mixed government, but limited, suppose not hereditary.

I shall now proceed to my scheme.

Congress has promised all those that continue in the service certain tracts of land, agreeable to their grades. Some States have done the same, others have not, probably owing to their not having lands to give, but as all the military have equal merits so have they equal claims to such rewards, therefore, they ought all to be put on a footing by the united States.

Besides those who may actually be in service at the peace, I consider all those dismissed, or put to half pay, through schemes of economy, have equal rights, as their being out of the service was not voluntary.

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These things premised, I think Congress should take on itself the discharging all such engagements, made, or that ought to be made, for lands & discharge them by procuring a sufficient tract in some of the best of those fruitful & extensive countries to the west of our frontiers, so that each individual should have his due, all unprofitable mountains & swamps, also lakes & rivers within the limits of this tract not be to reckoned as any part of the lots, but thrown in for the benefit of the whole community. This tract to be formed into a distinct State under such mode of government as those military who choose to remove to it may agree on.

Debts due to the army should be adjusted with dispatch & liquidated in the following manner. One third to be paid immediately, to enable the settlers to buy tools for trades & husbandry, & some stock, the other two thirds by four notes payable, with interest, in three months, & the others on the same terms at three months interval between each payment. In order to give such notes a due value, good funds should be appropriated for the discharge of principal & interest, but previous to such first payment & notes given, a sum should be deducted from each non commissioned & private mans debt, sufficient to victual him & family for one year from the first harvest succeeding the arrival of the colony to the granted lands; during the intermediate time those persons to be victualled at the expence of the continent, & also to receiv pay & clothing to the time the accounts are all adjusted & the troops ready to march.

Officers being entitled to half pay, such as choose to emigrate, should have provisions be allowed them as above & quarterly notes with interest for three years full pay to commence & be computed from the time they begin their march, in full discharge of all such half pay.

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As I have already observed that it may be objected that depreciations and other payments have been made good; but can a just debt be equitably discharged by certificates of very small comparative value or depreciated paper money? Certainly no, consequently the States are still bound to make good the deficiency. To this it will probably be answered that those certificates having generally passed into other hands, who have paid a consideration for them; but what consideration? A tenth or twentieth of the principal value expressed therein, independent of interest; and is it not generally understood in some States, if not in all, that when those certificates are to be paid off they will be estimated at no more than what was given for them? I therefore conceive the following rules should be observed in discharge of these obligations.

Every person in whose favour a certificate has been or shall be given, and who will keep it to the conclusion of the war, to be paid its full value.

To every person paid in depreciated money the depreciation thereof to be made good.

To the original possessors of certificates sold two thirds of the value expressed, the other third to be considered as received when the certificate was sold. This is certainly much beyond what, on an average, has been received for all certificates sold, but as it will be difficult, if at all possible, to ascertain in a reasonable time the money paid, it is requisite to find some rule.

This war must have shown to all, but to military men in particular the weakness of republicks, and the exertions of the army has been able to make by being under a proper head, therefore I little doubt, when the benefits of a mixed government are pointed out and duly considered, but such will be readily adopted; in this case it will, I believe, be uncontroverted that the same abilities which have lead us, through difficulties apparently

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insurmountable by human power, to victory and glory, those qualities that have merited and obtained the universal esteem and veneration of an army, would be most likely to conduct and direct us in the smoother paths of peace.

Some people have so connected the ideas of tyranny and monarchy as to find it very difficult to separate them, it may therefore be requisite to give the head of such a constitution as I propose, some title apparently more moderate, but if all other things were once adjusted I believe strong argument might be produced for admitting the title of king, which I conceive would be attended with some material advantages.

I have hinted that I believe the United States would be benefited by my scheme, this I conceive would be done by having a savage and cruel enemy separated from their borders by a body of veterans, that would be as an advanced guard, securing the main body from danger. There is no doubt but Canada will some time or other be a separate State, and from the genious & habits of the people, that its government will be monarchical. May not casualties produce enmity between this new State and our Union, & may not its force under the direction of an active prince prove too powerful for the efforts of republicks? It may be answered that in a few years we shall acquire such vigour as to baffle all inimicel attempts. I grant that our numbers & riches will increase, but will our governments have energy enough to draw them forth? Will those States remote from the danger be zealously anxious to assist those more exposed? Individuals in Holland abound in wealth, yet the government is poor & weak.

Republican bigots will certainly consider my opinions as heterodox, and the maintainer thereof as meriting fire and faggots, I have therefore hitherto kept them within my own breast. By freely communicating them to your Excellency I am persuaded I own no risk, & that, this disapproved of, I need not apprehend their ever being disclosed to my prejudice.

(the above by Col. Nicola)