George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Mayor, Corporation, and Citizens of Alexandria, 16 April 1789

To the Mayor, Corporation, and Citizens of Alexandria

[Alexandria, 16 April 1789]


Although I ought not to conceal, yet I cannot describe, the painful emotions which I felt in being called upon to determine whether I would accept or refuse the Presidency of the United States. The unanimity in the choice, the opinion of my friends, communicated from different parts of Europe, as well as of America, the apparent wish of those, who were not altogether satisfied with the Constitution in its’ present form, and an ardent desire on my own part, to be instrumental in conciliating the good will of my countrymen towards each other have induced an acceptance.

Those who have known me best (and you, my fellow citizens, are from your situation, in that number) know better than any others my love of retirement is so great, that no earthly consideration, short of a conviction of duty, could have prevailed upon me to depart from my resolution, “never more to take any share in transactions of a public nature”—For, at my age, and in my circumstances, what possible advantages could I propose to myself, from embarking again on the tempestuous and uncertain ocean of public-life?

I do not feel myself under the necessity of making public declarations, in order to convince you, Gentlemen, of my attachment to yourselves, and regard for your interests. The whole tenor of my life has been open to your inspection; and my past actions, rather than my present declarations, must be the pledge of my future conduct.

In the meantime I thank you most sincerely for the expressions of kindness contained in your valedictory address—It is true, just after having bade adieu to my domestic connections, this tender proof of your friendship is but too well calculated still farther to awaken my sensibility, and encrease my regret at parting from the enjoyments of private life.

All that now remains for me is to commit myself and you to the protection of that beneficient Being, who on a former occasion hath happily brought us together, after a long and distressing separation—Perhaps the same gracious Providence will again indulge us with the same heartfelt felicity. But words, my fellow-citizens, fail me: Unutterable sensations must then be left to more expressive silence: while, from an aching heart, I bid you all, my affectionate friends, and kind neighbours, farewell!

G. Washington


GW left Mount Vernon on his journey north on the morning of 16 April. Mrs. Washington was to follow later in the month. According to his diary entry, about ten o’clock in the morning he “bade adieu to Mount Vernon, to private life, and to domestic felicity; and with a mind oppressed with more anxious and painful sensations than I have words to express, set out for New York in company with Mr. Thompson, and colonel Humphries, with the best dispositions to render service to my country in obedience to its call, but with less hope of answering its expectations” (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 5:445).

The citizens of Alexandria held a dinner in GW’s honor at Wise’s Tavern during which thirteen toasts were drunk and the following address was delivered on behalf of the town by Dennis Ramsay, the mayor of Alexandria: “Again your country demands your care. Obedient to it’s wishes, unmindful of your own ease, we see you again relinquishing the bliss of retirement; and this too, at a period of life, when nature itself seems to authorize a preference of repose.

“Not to extol your glory as a Soldier—not to pour forth our gratitude for past services—not to acknowledge the justice of the unexampled honor which has been conferred upon you, by the spontaneous and unanimous suffrage of three millions of freemen, in your election to the supreme Magistracy—Not to admire the patriotism which directs your conduct—Do your neighbours and Friends now address you. Themes less splendid, but more endearing, impress our minds—The first and best of citizens must leave us—Our aged must lose their ornament! our Youth their model! our agriculture it’s Improver! our commerce it’s Friend! our infant Academy it’s Patron! our Poor their Benefactor! And the interior Navigation of the Potowmack—an event replete with the most extensive utility, already, by your unremitted exertions, brought into partial use—it’s Institutor and Promoter!

“Farewell! Go, and make a grateful People happy; a People, who will be doubly grateful when they contemplate this recent sacrifice for their interest.

“To that Being, who maketh and unmaketh at his will we commend you—and, after the accomplishment of the arduous business, to which you are called, may He restore to us again the best of men, and most beloved fellow-citizen” (DLC:GW).

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