To the Society of the Cincinnati
[4 July 1789]
I beg you, gentlemen, to return my most Affectionate regards to the society of the Cincinnati of the State of New York, and assure them, that I receive their congratulations on this auspicious day, with a mind constan[t]ly anxious for the honor and welfare of our country;1 and can only say, that the force of my abilities, aided by an integrity of heart, shall be studiously pointed to the support of its dignity, and the promotion of its prosperity & happiness.
Copy, ViMtvL: Robert Lewis Diary.
1. The committee of the New York Society of the Cincinnati that called on GW today to present an address consisted of Baron von Steuben and Alexander Hamilton, recently elected president and vice-president of the New York society, Samuel B. Webb, William Stephens Smith, and Sebastian Bauman (Smith, New York City in 1789, description begins Thomas E. V. Smith. The City of New York in the Year of Washington’s Inauguration, 1789. 1889. Reprint. Riverside, Conn., 1972. description ends 68). According to Robert Lewis’s diary, the address, to which GW made an “extemporary reply,” stated: “The society of the Cincinnati of the State of New York have directed this delegation to present to you, Sir, their sentiments of the profoundest respect. In common with all good citizens of the United States of America, they join their ardent wishes for the preservation of your life, health, and prosperity. In particular, they feel the highest satisfaction in contemplating the illustrious Chief of our armies, by an unanimous vote of an independant people, elected to the highest station that a dignified an[d] enlightened country can bestow. Under your conduct, Sir, this Band of Soldiers were led to glory and to conquest, and feel ourselves confident, that under your administration, our country will speedily arrive at an e[n]viable state of properity and happyness” (ViMtvL).
After Steuben delivered the address, the committee proceeded to St. Paul’s chapel, accompanied by Col. Bauman’s regiment and band, where they heard a “eulogium on Major-General Nathanael Greene . . . delivered by Col. Hamilton. The society on this occasion were honored by the presence of the Lady and Family of the President, his indisposition . . . prevented his personal attendance” (Stokes, Iconography of Manhattan Island, description begins I. N. Phelps Stokes. The Iconography of Manhattan Island, 1498–1909: Compiled from Original Sources and Illustrated by Photo-Intaglio Reproductions of Important Maps Plans Views and Documents in Public and Private Collections. 6 vols. New York, 1915–28. description ends 5:1251; Gazette of the United States [New York], 8 July 1789. The eulogy is printed in Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 5:345–59). Sen. William Maclay noted that the “Cincinati had seats allotted for themselves; wore their Eagle at their Button Holes—and were preceeded by a flag” (Bowling and Veit, Diary of William Maclay, description begins Kenneth R. Bowling and Helen E. Veit, eds. The Diary of William Maclay and Other Notes on Senate Debates. Baltimore, 1988. description ends 101). William Malcolm’s brigade paraded on the race ground earlier in the morning and on its return stopped at the president’s house where in spite of his illness, GW appeared at the door in full regimentals.
Among the papers collected by David Humphreys for a proposed biography of GW is an undated address in Humphreys’s writing that was undoubtedly prepared for GW’s use on this day, probably by Humphreys and probably never delivered: “Since the last Anniversary of Independence, my dear fellow-Citizens, we have been witnesses to the complete establishment of a new general Government. On an event of such magnitude, the voice of congratulation has already been heard from one extreme of our land to the other. But as our feliciations can never be more grateful than on the day in which we are accustomed to commemorate the birth of our nation; so no occasion can be more suitable than the present, for employing our reflections on our political situation. I will therefore hope for your indulgence, while I make a few observations on circumstances which attended is the American Revolution; on the necessity which afterwards appeared for establishing a general government of more energy than the original Confederation; on the nature of the Government which has lately been carried into execution; and on the national prosperity which we may reasonably expect will result from the faithful administration of that Government.
“What then remains but for the several orders of men in Society to exert all the faculties which God hath conferred upon them, to accelerate this great & glorious event & for the accomplishment of that end. Thus circumstanced, we seem to want nothing to make us a happy people, but the persevering exertions of common sense & common honesty.
“But as our felicitations can never be more grateful than at the time, when we are convened to commemorate the birth of our nation; it may perhaps be expected, from the task I am called upon to perform this day, that I shall be the organ for expressing the part you bear in this universal joy. In the sincerity of our souls, we rejoice with our Countrymen in the happy prospect which now opens before us. But while we rejoice, we may remember, that no occasion can be more suitable than the present, for employing our reflections on our political situation. I feel a confidence, from the sensations of my own heart, that every bosom in this assembly beats high at the thought of our country’s happiness. Even the ardent eyes & the animated countenances, of all who compose it at this moment, attest how sincerely they rejoice in the prospect before them. But while we rejoice, we may remember, that no occasion can be more suitable than the present, for employing our reflections, on our political situation” (PPAmP).