To Alexander Hamilton

Mount Vernon Novr 10th 1787.

... The new Constitution has, as the public prints will have informed you, been handed to the people of this state by an unanimous vote of the Assembly; but it is not to be inferred from hence that its opponants are silenced; on the contrary, there are many, and some powerful ones—Some of whom, it is said by overshooting the mark, have lessened their weight: be this as it may, their assiduity stands unrivalled, whilst the friends to the Constitution content themselves with barely avowing their approbation of it. Thus stands the matter with us, at present; yet, my opinion is, that the Major voice is favourable.

Application has been made to me by Mr Secretary Thompson (by order of Congress) for a copy of the report, of a Committee, which was appointed to confer with the Baron de Steuben, on his first arrival in this Country—forwarded to me by Mr President Laurens. This I have accordingly sent. It throws no other light on the Subject than such as are to be derived from the disinterested conduct of the Baron. No terms are made by him “nor will he accept of any thing but with general approbation”—I have however, in my letter enclosing this report to the Secretary, taken occasion, to express an unequivocal wish, that Congress would reward the Baron for his Services, sacrafices and merits, to his entire satisfaction...

  1. What does than such as mean above? Could someone please anatomise and parse this conjunction (I think?) ?

  2. Why "Major" ? Why did Washington capitalise the adjective "major"?

  • For question 1, I assume it should be expanded as "no other light on the Subject than such [lights] as are to be ...". This makes sense if Washington used "light" here as a count noun, which I believe was possible in the 18th and 19th centuries. – Peter Shor Oct 23 '13 at 14:30

It throws no other light on the Subject than such as are to be derived from the disinterested conduct of the Baron.

There are a lot of pieces to this sentence that are being mixed in a way that is very uncommon in recent English. The moving parts:

no other than — You use nothing other than and no other than when you are going to mention a course of action, decision, or description and emphasize that it is the only one possible in the situation.

Another way to say this is simply, "the only".

such as

  1. of the kind specified: A plan such as you propose will never succeed.

  2. for example: He considers quiet pastimes, such as reading and chess, a bore.

Therefore, "it throws no other light than such as" means "the only light it throws is like". Since Washington used "are", "lights" would be more appropriate. This gives us:

The only lights it throws on the Subject are like those to be derived from the disinterested conduct of the Baron.

A more modern rewriting:

The report does not throw any new light on the subject; it's information has already been derived from the disinterested conduct of the Baron.

As for Major's capitalization, Washington felt that the Major's opinion was noteworthy enough to signal as a specific entity. Depending on the context, this could mean that Washington simply wishes to follow the popular opinion on the matter instead of listening to any particular person. To confirm this, you would need to read more of the conversation between Washington and Hamilton.

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Synonyms help out a lot on this one. The "than" in "than such as" is more linked to the word other, a few words before it. You could demonstrate this by moving the word:

"... no light on the Subject other than such as..."

The two mean the same thing.

The use of "such as" here actually links more closely with the "are" right after it, giving "such as are," which could be reworded as "the types that are," i.e.

"... other light on the Subject" than the types that are to be derived..."

That sentence states, in whole, that the report mentioned doesn't contain any information that couldn't be obtained by noting the Baron's behavior.

Also, I think "Major" is only capitalized as a formality. It seems to be referring to a majority body of some type; it might have been customary to refer to the entity in proper case. (I'm not certain about any of that, though.)

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First, grammatically "such as are" is incorrect here, because "light" - no matter what it means - is singular. However, we can still dissect the sentence...

"Throwing light" means "providing clarity or understanding", so "No light" in this case means "no understanding";

"No [or nothing] ... other ... than" could be restated as "nothing, other than" or "nothing but";

"such as are derived from" should really be "such as is derived from" (because we're talking about light, which is singular), and means "something that could be understood (or gleaned) from";

so what he's really saying is "It offers no explanation of the subject, other than what you might interpret from the disinterested conduct of the Baron".

"Major", capitalized, likely means "the majority" (i.e. of the populace), but I'm not certain.

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