George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Hancock, 26 October 1789

From John Hancock

Sunday ½ past 12 oClock
[Boston, 26 October 1789]

The Governours Best respects to The President, if at home & at leisure, the Governour will do himself the honour to pay his respects, in half an hour1—This would have been done much sooner, had his health in any degree permitted, He now hazards every thing as it respects his health, for the desirable purpose.


For background to GW’s New England tour, see his letter to Betty Lewis, 12 Oct. 1789, n.3.

1This incident produced a minor contretemps with implications for state and federal relationships. GW had assumed that he as president would receive the first visit from John Hancock representing state authority. As he noted in his diary, “Having engaged yesterday to take an informal dinner with the Govr. to day (but under a full persuation that he would have waited upon me so soon as I should have arrived) I excused myself upon his not doing it, and informing me thro his Secretary that he was too much indisposed to do it, being resolved to receive the visit” (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 5:475). Hancock’s illness was reported to be gout. On Sunday, 25 Oct., according to GW’s diary account, “I received a visit from the Govr., who assured me that Indisposition alone had prevented his doing it yesterday, and that he was still indisposed; but as it had been suggested that he expected to receive the visit from the President, which he knew was improper, he was resolved at all hazds. to pay his Compliments to day.” GW returned Hancock’s call the next evening (ibid., 476–77). According to Boston newspapers the governor was not well enough to attend the dinner for GW on the afternoon of 27 Oct. but was present at the ball on Wednesday, 28 Oct. (Boston Gazette, 26 Oct., 2 Nov. 1789; Massachusetts Centinel [Boston], 28 Oct. 1789). Squabbling between state and local officials had apparently resulted in violations of protocol even before GW entered the town. In response to inquiries from Jared Sparks in the 1830s, Benjamin Russell, one of the members of the committee of arrangements for GW’s reception into Boston, reported that the governor had claimed the right of welcoming the illustrious guest into Boston, while representatives of the town insisted that as he was entering the city the formal welcome was their prerogative. The governor, they contended, should have met the president at the boundary of the state. “The President was approaching the town, and they were ready to render civic honors to him. The controversy was without result. Both authorities remained in their carriages, while the aids and marshals were rapidly posting between them. Both contended that the point of etiquette was on their side. The day was unusually cold and murky. The President with his secretary had been mounted for a considerable time on the Neck, waiting to enter the town. He made inquiry of the cause of the delay, and, on receiving information of the important difficulty, is said to have expressed impatience. Turning to Major Jackson, his secretary, he asked, ‘Is there no other avenue to the town?’ And he was in the act of turning his charger, when he was informed, that the controversy was over, and that he would be received by the municipal authorities” (Russell to Sparks, 22 May 1835, in 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 10:491–93). See also Ford, Writings of Washington, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed. The Writings of George Washington. 14 vols. New York, 1889–93. description ends 11:445.

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