George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the United States House of Representatives, 5 May 1789

From the United States House of Representatives

[New York, 5 May 1789]


The Representatives of the people of the United States present their congratulations on the event by which your fellow citizens have attested the pre-eminence of your merit. You have long held the first place in their esteem: you have often received tokens of their affection. You now possess the only proof that remained of their gratitude for your services, of their reverence for your wisdom, and of their confidence in your virtues. You enjoy the highest, because the truest honor, of being the first Magistrate, by the unanimous choice of the freest people on the face of the Earth.

We well know the anxieties with which you must have obeyed a summons from the repose reserved for your declining years, into public scenes, of which you had taken your leave forever. But the obedience was due to the occasion. It is already applauded by the universal joy which welcomes you to your station. And we cannot doubt that it will be rewarded with all the satisfaction, with which an ardent love for your fellow citizens must review successful efforts to promote their happiness.

This anticipation is not justified merely by the past experience of your signal services. It is particularly suggested by the pious impressions under which you commence your administration, and the enlightened maxims by which you mean to conduct it. We feel with you the strongest obligations to render the invisible hand which has led the American people through so many difficulties, to cherish a conscious reponsibility for the destiny of Republican liberty, and to seek the only sure means of preserving and recommending the precious deposit, in a system of legislation, founded on the principles of an honest policy, and directed by the spirit of a diffusive patriotism.

The question arising out of the fifth article of the Constitution, will receive all the attention demanded by its importance; and will, we trust be decided, under the influence of all the considerations to which you allude.

In forming the pecuniary provision for the Executive department, we shall not lose sight of a wish resulting from motives which give it a peculiar claim to our regard. Your resolution, in a moment critical to the liberties of your Country, to renounce all personal emolument, was among the many presages of your patriotic services, which have been amply fulfilled; and your scrupulous adherence now to the law then imposed on yourself, cannot fail to demonstrate the purity, whilst it increases the lustre, of a character, which has so many titles to admiration.

Such are the sentiments which we have thought fit to address to you. They flow from our own hearts; and we verily believe that among the millions we represent, there is not a virtuous citizen whose heart will disown them.

All that remains is that we join in your fervent supplication for the blessings of Heaven on our country; and that we add our own for the choicest of these blessings on the most beloved of her citizens.

Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg

LS, DLC:GW; copy, DNA: RG 233, entry 1; LB, DLC:GW.

On 1 May the House of Representatives considered GW’s Inaugural Address of 30 April and upon James Madison’s motion “Resolved, That it is the opinion of this committee, that an address to the President ought to be prepared, expressing the congratulations of the House of Representatives, on the distinguished proof given him of the affection and confidence of his fellow citizens, by the unanimous suffrage which has appointed him to the high station which he fills; the approbation felt by the House of the patriotic sentiments and enlightened policy recommended by his speech; and assuring him of their disposition to concur in giving effect to every measure which may tend to secure the liberties, promote the harmony, and advance the happiness of prosperity of their country.” A committee of five members—Madison, George Clymer, Roger Sherman, George Gale, and Egbert Benson—was appointed to draw up the reply. On the same day the address, presumably composed by Madison, was presented to the House for approval (De Pauw, Documentary History of the First Federal Congress, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends 3:43). See also the Gazette of the United States (New York), 2 May 1789, and the Daily Advertiser (New York), 2 May 1789. Although the address was not formally presented to GW until 8 May when he gave his reply, Tobias Lear’s diary notes that on 5 May “a committee of the House of Representatives waited on the President with a copy of the address of their House, and a request to know when it would be agreeable to him to receive it” (Sparks, Writings, description begins Jared Sparks, ed. The Writings of George Washington; Being His Correspondence, Addresses, Messages, and Other Papers, Official and Private, Selected and Published from the Original Manuscripts. 12 vols. Boston, 1833–37. description ends 10:464). On 7 May the committee reported to the House that GW had specified “twelve o’clock on Friday, at such place as the House shall be pleased to appoint.” It was then resolved that “as the chamber designed for the President’s receiving the respective Houses, is not yet prepared, this House will wait on the President, to present their address, in the room adjacent to the representatives-chamber” (De Pauw, Documentary History of the First Federal Congress, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends 3:51).

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