To the Officials of Washington College
[New York, 11 July 1789]
Your very affectionate address and the honorary testimony of your regard which accompanied it call forth my grateful acknowledgements.1 A recollection of past events and the happy termination of our glorious struggle for the establishment of the rights of man cannot fail to inspire every feeling heart with veneration and gratitude towards the great Ruler of events, who has so manifestly interposed in our behalf.
Among the numerous blessings which are attendant on Peace—and as One whose consequences are of the most important and extensive kind, may be reckoned the prosperity of Colleges and Seminaries of learning.
As in civilized Societies the welfare of the State and happiness of the People are advanced or retarded in proportion as the morals and good education of the youth are attended to, I cannot forbear, on this occasion, to express the satisfaction which I feel in seeing the encrease of our Seminaries of Learning through this extensive country—And the general wish which seems to prevail for establishing and maintaining these valuable institutions.
It affords me peculiar pleasure to know that the seat of learning under your direction hath attained to such proficiency in the sciences since the peace—and I sincerely pray the great Author of the Universe may smile upon the Institution and make it an extensive blessing to this country.
Washington College at Chestertown, Md., was incorporated by the Maryland legislature in 1782. See William Smith to GW, 8 July 1782. In August 1782 GW contributed fifty guineas for the use of the visitors and governors of the college, which the governors laid out for the purchase of “an Elegant Air-Pump & some optical Instruments, as the Beginning of a Philosophical Apparatus, which we have mark’d as your Excellency’s Gift to the Seminary” (GW to Smith, 18 Aug. 1782, and Smith to GW, 23 Dec. 1782). For the confusion over this sum in GW’s Revolutionary War accounts, see James Milligan to GW, 13 Jan. 1784. In his initial correspondence with Smith, GW declined an appointment to the board of visitors, but by 1784 he was apparently considered a member by the college. See Smith to GW, 5 May 1784.
1. The officials of Washington College sent GW an address on 24 June: “We the Corporation of Visitors and Governors, and the Principal and Faculty of Professors of Washington College in the State of Maryland actuated by the sincerest personal affection, as well as the purest public considerations, beg leave to embrace the present occasion of our anniversary meeting and commencement, to felicitate ourselves and our Country upon your unanimous appointment to the chief magistracy in the General Government of the United States.
“Revolving upon the vicissitudes and eventful history of the late war, every page of which bears ample and honorable testimony to the services which you have rendered to your Country, and the exertion of those virtues and Talents which have exalted your name to the first rank among the Heroes and Benefactors of Mankind; we cannot but recall to mind the occasion of our former address to you, and your benevolent answer to the same.
“The General Assembly of Maryland, upon the establishment of this Seminary, having dignified the same with the auspicious name of Washington-College, in honorable and perpetual memory of the services of the illustrious and virtuous Commander in chief of the armies of the United States we expressed our confidence that amidst all the public monuments which your country sought to erect to you, even while living, none would be more acceptable than a Seminary of Universal learning expressly dedicated to your name with a view to instruct and animate the youth of many future generations, to admire and to imitate those public virtues and patriot labours, which had erected for you a monument in the heart of every good-Citizen; That we hoped you would permit your name to be placed at the head of the visitors and Governors of the College, trusting that the time was then not very remote, when by the termination of war, the infant Institution might be enabled to salute you in person, and like a dutiful child, as one of its’ first works, present the Olive wreath, and other emblems of Peace to its’ Father, Guardian, and Friend. Highly encouraging to us was your answer That with pleasure you would consent to have your name enrolled among the Visitors and Governors of the College, if it were not to the exclusion of some other, whose Proximity, and other circumstances might enable him to be a more useful member; and that as the act of the General Assembly, which had given your name to the College would remain a monument of their esteem it made an impression on your mind which could only be exceeded by the flattering assurance of the lasting and extensive usefulness of the Seminary and when that period should arrive when we could hail the blest return of Peace, it would add to your pleasure to see the infant Seat of Learning rising into consistency and proficiency in the Sciences under the nurturing hands of its’ Founders.’
“The happy period is now arrived when through the blessing of God, upon the return of peace, this Seat of learning hath attained to such proficiency in the sciences, as to wait upon you with the promised wreath of literary honor; which we trust you will not reject, although from an Institution of inferior standing, yet not of inferior gratitude and affection to the chief of those which have already dignified themselves by presenting you with the like honors.
“Bearing an ardent and unfeigned part in the admiration and applause of those virtuous and magnanimous sentiments which, in obedience to the voice of your Country, have led you forth once more, from the enjoyment of domestic happiness, to a laborious and conspicuous participation of the cares of public life, at a most interesting crisis of our affairs: We fervently pray—That the glory and felicity of your country, the true consummation of the Patriots’ labors, may be your crown in this world, and assure you an everlasting Crown in the world to come.” The address is signed by William Smith as “President of the Corporation and Principal of the Faculty” (DLC:GW). Accompanying the address was a certificate granting GW an honorary degree of doctor of laws. A copy of the certificate is also in DLC:GW.