George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Citizens of Baltimore, 17 April 1789

To the Citizens of Baltimore

[Baltimore, 17 April 1789]


The tokens of regard and affection, which I have often received from the Citizens of this Town, were always acceptable; because, I believed them, always sincere. Be pleased to receive my best acknowledgments for the renewal of them, on the present occasion.

If the affectionate partiality of my fellow Citizens has prompted them to ascribe greater effects to my conduct & character, than were justly due; I trust, the indulgent sentiment on their part, will not produce an overweening presumption on mine.

I cannot now, Gentlemen, resist my feelings so much, as to withhold the communication of my ideas, respecting the actual situation and prospect of our national affairs. It appears to me, that little more than common sense and common honesty, in the transactions of the community at large, would be necessary to make us a great and a happy Nation. For if the general Government, lately adopted, shall be arranged & administered in such a manner as to acquire the full confidence of the American People, I sincerely believe, they will have greater advantages, from their Natural, moral & political circumstances, for public felicity, than any other People ever possessed.

In the contemplation of those advantages, now soon to be realized, I have reconciled myself to the sacrafice of my fondest wishes, so far as to enter again upon the stage of Public life. I know the delicate nature of the duties incident to the part which I am called to perform; and I feel my incompetence, without the singular assistance of Providence to discharge them in a satisfactory manner. But having undertaken the task, from a sense of duty, no fear of encountering difficulties and no dread of losing popularity, shall ever deter me from pursuing what I conceive to be the true interests of my Country. Yet after a consciousness of having been actuated by the purest motives alone, and after having made use of the most persevering endeavors in my power to advance the public weal, I shall consider it as next to a miracle, if I may be so fortunate as to go out of office with a reputation as unsullied by the breath of obloquy, as that which I flatter myself I have hitherto maintained. In all contingencies you will remember, Gentlemen, when I was entering on the chief magistracy I told you “that it would be no unprecedated thing, if the close of a life, (mostly consumed in public cares) should be embittered by some ungrateful event[.]” But in the present instance, that circumstance would be accounted by me of little moment, provided, in the mean time, I shall have been in the smallest degree instrumental in securing the liberties and promoting the happiness of the American People.”1

G. Washington


Leaving Alexandria in the late afternoon, accompanied by a number of its citizens, GW proceeded to Georgetown where he was greeted by a large party of the town’s residents. The group probably accompanied him as far as Spurrier’s Tavern, some twelve miles south of Baltimore, where he spent the night. Soon after he resumed his journey the next morning he was met by a body of Baltimore citizens who accompanied him to the city where at 6:00 P.M. he was to be honored by a supper. Otho H. Williams and David Plunkett had already written to him earlier on this day concerning the procedure to be followed: “A number of respectable Inhabitants of Baltimore have requested that we would accept the honor of conducting them, on Horse back, to meet your Excellency, and welcome your arrival in this County.

“To avoid, as much as possible, every circumstance which might occasion delay, or solicit too much of your Excellencys attention, the Gentlemen will move in files: and, on meeting you, will open to the right, and left; And, if your Excellency will please to pass through, they will wheel into the rear, and follow your suite to town.

“The Gentlemen also propose to have the honor of conducting your Excellency out of town” (DLC:GW).

On reaching the city GW was greeted with a salute of cannon and conducted to Grant’s Fountain Inn where he was to spend the night (Virginia Herald and Fredericksburg Advertiser, 30 April 1789). After supper two addresses from the citizens of Baltimore were presented to him: “We feel the honor you have this day conferred on the Town of Baltimore, by favoring it with your presence, infinitely heightened and enhanced by the desireable event which has produced it—Happy to behold your elevation, permit us to re-assure you of our purest love and affection.

“In considering the occasion that has once more drawn you from scenes of domestic ease, and private tranquillity, our thoughts naturally turn on the situation of our country previous to the expedient of the late general Convention. When you became a Member of that Body which framed our new and excellent constitution, you dissipated the fears of good Men, who dreaded the disunion of the States, and the loss of our liberties in the death of our enfeebled and expiring confederation. And, now, Sir, by accepting the high authorities of President of the United States, you teach us to expect every blessing that can result from the wisest recommendations to Congress, and the most prudent and judicious exercise of those authorities: thus relieving us in the one instance, from the most gloomy apprehensions, as when, in a different capacity you re-crossed the Delaware, and in the other opening to our view the most animating prospects, as when you captured Cornwallis.

“But it is from the tenor of your whole life, and your uniform and upright political principles and conduct that we derive the fullest confirmation of our hopes. Believing that a faithful performance of public engagements is essential to the prosperity of a People, and their implicit reliance on the promises of government to it’s stability, we recollect with pleasure your well known sentiments on this subject, and have no doubt but the other branches of Congress will concur with you in placing public credit on the most solid foundation. We have also every reason to conclude that under the administration of a Washington the useful and ingenious arts of peace, the agriculture, commerce, and manufactures of the United States will be duly favored and improved, as being far more certain sources of national wealth than the richest mines, and surer means to promote the felicity of a People, than the most successful wars. Thus, Sir, we behold a new era springing out of our independence, and a field displayed where your talents for government will not be obscured by the splendor of your military exploits. We behold too, an extraordinary thing in the annals of mankind, a free and enlightened People chusing by a free election, without one dissenting voice, the late Commander in chief of their Armies, to watch over and guard their civil rights and privileges.

“We sincerely pray that you may long enjoy your present health, and the Citizens of the United States have frequent opportunities to testify their veneration of your virtues by continuing you through many successive elections in the first station of human honor, and dignity. In those expressions of our affection and attachment, we are sensible we do not speak the wishes of a Town only: but the united feelings of a whole people” (DLC:GW). The address was signed by James McHenry, Nicholas Rogers, Joshua Barney, Paul Bentalou, Robert Smith, Otho H. Williams, Thorogood Smith, John Swan, John Bankson, and William Clemen.

1A second address from the inhabitants of Baltimore was drawn up by Otho H. Williams, but an endorsement on the document reads: “Rough Address not presented another by J: McHenry was April 18th 1789. this was not read.” The draft of this address reads: “Once more the Inhabitants of Baltimore enjoy, with pleasing sensibility, the honor of your presence. The present occasion enlivens every sentiment of respect, and veneration, for your character which the most interesting obligations could inspire; and stimulates hearts, already glowing with gratitude, to the highest possible degree of Esteem, and affection for your person.

“Your illustrious deeds, Sir, have raised your fame above the reach of our applause; But we cannot forbear to express our praises of that patriotic principle which induces you again to Sacrifice your wonted Love of private ease to a sense of public duty—We rejoice to see you, once more, ascend from the peaceful, and useful, scenes of private life to the most exalted & important rank in public.

“Anxiously hoping for the compleat establishment of that System, of general Government, which was rendered practicable by the capture of Armies, the defeat, and disgrace, of our Enemies; and the acknowledgment of our political Independence, it is with the sincerest satisfaction that we see you give to your Country another instance of your inflexible attachment: and we glory in the example which your Country has given to the World of producing a man equally worthy of wielding the Sword, and the Scepter.

“To the man who, thro a long series of the most difficult, arduous, and seducing Circumstances, has invariably exhibited the purest principles of patriotism—the truest benevolence, and the most undeviating integrity, a free people have, unanimously, conferred the first office in a Government, which they have chosen for themselves and which the Almighty in his goodness has permitted them to establish in peace.

“That you may long continue, in health, to enjoy the highest honors and the greatest blessings in this life, and that you may obtain an eternal reward of your virtues in that which is to be hereafter, is the sincere and fervant prayer of the Inhabitants of Baltimore” (MdHi: Otho H. Williams Papers).

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