George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Knox, 2 April 1789

From Henry Knox

New York 2d April 1789

My dear Sir

Yesterday the house of representatives completed their number, and chose Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania Speaker and Mr Beckley of Virginia Clerk.1 The senate are still deficient one member. Mr Read of Delaware has been expected daily but he has not yet arrived.2

Mr Thomson will sett off to announce to the President the unanimous choice of the people of the United states as soon as the votes will be opened and counted.3 I am my dear Sir Your respectfully Affectionate

H. Knox


1There were three major candidates for the speakership of the House of Representatives—Elias Boudinot of New Jersey, Jonathan Trumbull, Jr., of Connecticut, and Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania. Muhlenberg (1750–1801), ordained a Lutheran minister in 1770, served in the Continental Congress during the Revolution, was speaker of the Pennsylvania assembly from 1780 to 1784, and was president of the council of censors from 1783 to 1784. He also acted as speaker of the Pennsylvania Ratifying Convention. Muhlenberg received the speakership of the House partly because of his extensive experience as a presiding officer and partly because many members of Congress believed that if the speakership went to Muhlenberg his fellow Pennsylvanian James Wilson no longer would be considered for chief justice of the Supreme Court. Muhlenberg was not elected to the speakership in the Second Congress but resumed the post in the Third.

Competition for the post of clerk of the House was largely between John Beckley of Virginia and Samuel Stockton of New Jersey, brother-in-law of Congressman Elias Boudinot and brother of Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Beckley (1757–1807), who came to the United States from England at an early age, served as an apprentice to John Clayton, the Virginia botanist, and received training as a clerk. Beckley was appointed clerk to the Virginia senate and house of delegates while he was reading law and establishing a law practice in Richmond. On the first ballot in the House of Representatives, Stockton and Boudinot tied, but Beckley won on the second. During his tenure as clerk of the House, Beckley was the unofficial party whip for the republican representatives. The federalists prevented his reelection in 1797, but he regained the office when Jefferson became president and held it until his death. In 1802 he became the first librarian of Congress.

2George Read (1733–1798), a Delaware lawyer and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was a member of the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1777 and served several terms in the state house of representatives. He was a member of the Annapolis and Constitutional conventions and was elected to the United States Senate in 1789. His arrival in New York would give the Senate a quorum, and the members were, as one senator wrote, “waiting impatiently for Mr George Read—pray why does he not come on?” (Thomas Hartley to Tench Coxe, 30 Mar. 1789, PHi: Coxe Papers).

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