George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Presbyterian Ministers of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, 2 November 1789

To the Presbyterian Ministers of Massachusetts and New Hampshire

[Portsmouth, N.H., 2 November 1789]


The affectionate welcome, which you are pleased to give me to the eastern parts of the union, would leave me without excuse, did I fail to acknowledge the sensibility, which it awakens, and to express the most sincere return that a grateful sense of your goodness can suggest.

To be approved by the praise-worthy is a wish as natural to becoming ambition, as its consequence is flattering to our self-love—I am, indeed, much indebted to the favorable sentiments which you entertain towards me, and it will be my study to deserve them.1

The tribute of thanksgiving which you offer to “the gracious Father of lights” for his inspiration of our public-councils with wisdom and firmness to complete the national constitution, is worthy of men, who, devoted to the pious purposes of religion, desire their accomplishment by such means as advance the temporal happiness of their fellow-men—and, here, I am persuaded, you will permit me to observe that the path of true piety is so plain as to require but little political direction. To this consideration we ought to ascribe the absence of any regulation, respecting religion, from the Magna-Charta of our country.

To the guidance of the ministers of the gospel this important object is, perhaps, more properly committed—It will be your care to instruct the ignorant, and to reclaim the devious—and, in the progress of morality and science, to which our government will give every furtherance, we may confidently expect the advancement of true religion, and the completion of our happiness.

I pray the munificent Rewarder of virtue that your agency in this good work may receive its compensation here and hereafter.

G: Washington

LB, DLC:GW. This letter is addressed to “the Ministers and Ruling Elders delegates to represent the Churches in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, which compose the first Presbytery of the Eastward.”

For background to GW’s tour of the eastern states, see his letter to Betty Lewis, 12 Oct. 1789, n.3.

1GW is replying to an address of the Presbytery of the Eastward, dated 28 Oct. 1789: “We the Ministers and ruling Elders delegated to represent the Churches in Massachusetts and New Hampshire which compose the first Presbytery of the eastward, now holding a stated session in this Town, beg leave to approach your presence with genuine feelings of the deepest veneration and highest esteem. We ask the honor of a place among the multitudes of good citizens who are ambitious of expressing the heartfelt satisfaction, with which they bid you welcome to these eastern parts of your government.

“In unison with rejoicing millions, we felicitate our country, and ourselves on your unanimous election to the highest office a nation can bestow—and on your acceptance of the trust with every evidence, which a citizen can give of being actuated thereto by the purest principles of patriotism, of piety and of self-denial.

“Great was the joy of our hearts to see the late tedious and destructive war terminated in a safe and honorable peace—to see the liberty and independence of our country happily secured—to see wise constitutions of civil government peaceably established in the several States—and especially to see a confederation of them all finally agreed on by the general voice. But amid all our joy, we ever contemplated with regret the want of efficiency in the federal government—we ardently wished for a form of national union which should draw the cord of amity more closely around the several States—which should concentrate their separate interests—and reduce the freemen of America to one great Body—ruled by One head, and animated by one Soul.

“And now we devoutly offer our humble tribute of praise and thanksgiving to the all-gracious Father of lights who has inspired our public Councils with a wisdom and firmness, which have effected that desireable purpose, in so great a measure by the National-Constitution, and who has fixed the eyes of all America on you as the worthiest of its Citizens to be entrusted with the execution of it.

“Whatever any may have supposed wanting in the original plan, we are happy to find so wisely providing in its amendments; and it is with peculiar satisfaction we behold how easily the entire confidence of the People, in the Man who sits at the helm of Government, has eradicated every remaining objection to its form.

“Among these we never considered the want of a religious test, that grand engine of persecution in every tyrant’s hand: But we should not have been alone in rejoicing to have seen some Explicit acknowledgement of the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent inserted some where in the Magna Charta of our country.

“We are happy to find, however, that this defect has been amply remedied, in the face of all the world, by the piety and devotion, in which your first public act of office was performed—by the religious observance of the Sabbath, and of the public worship of God, of which you have set so eminent an example—and by the warm strains of christian and devout affections, which run through your late proclamation, for a general thanksgiving.

“The catholic spirit breathed in all your public acts supports us in the pleasing assurance that no religious establishments—no exclusive privileges tending to elevate one denomination of Christians to the depression of the rest, shall ever be ratified by the signature of the President during your administration.

“On the contrary we bless God that your whole deportment bids all denominations confidently to expect to find in you the watchful guardian of their equal liberties—the steady Patron of genuine Christianity—and the bright Exemplar of those peculiar virtues, in which its distinguishing doctrines have their proper effect.

“Under the nurturing hand of a Ruler of such virtues, and one so deservedly revered by all ranks, we joyfully indulge the hope that virtue and religion will revive and flourish—that infidelity and the vices ever attendant in its train, will be banished [from] every polite circle; and that rational piety will soon become fashionable there; and from thence be diffused among all other ranks in the community.

“Captivated with the delightful prospect of a national reformation rising out of the influence of your authority and example; we find the fullest encouragement to cherish the hope of it, from the signal deeds of pious and patriotic heroism, which marked the steps of the Father of his country, from the memorable hour of his appearance in Congress, to declare the disinterested views, with which he accepted the command of her armies, to that hour, not less memorable, when, having gloriously acquitted himself in that important trust, and completely accomplished the design of it, he appeared in the same great Assembly again; and resigned his commission into the hands that gave it.

“But glorious as your course has been as a Soldier in arms, defending your country, and the rights of mankind; we exult in the presage that it will be far outshone by the superior lustre of a more glorious career now before you, as the Chief Magistrate of your nation—protecting, by just and merciful laws—and by a wise, firm, and temperate execution of them, enhancing the value of those inestimable rights and privileges, which you have so worthily asserted to it by your sword.

“Permit us then, great Sir, to assure you that whilst it ever shall be our care, in our several places, to inculcate those principles, drawn from the pure fountains of light and truth, in the sacred scriptures, which can best recommend your virtues to their imitation, and which, if generally obeyed, would contribute essentially to render your people happy, and your government prosperous; Our unceasing prayers to the great Sovereign of all nations, shall be that your important life, and all your singular talents may be the special care of an indulgent Providence for many years to come; that your administration may be continued to your country, under the peculiar smiles of Heaven, long enough to advance the interests of learning to the zenith—to carry the arts and sciences to their destined perfection—to chace ignorance, bigotry, and immorality off the stage—to restore true virtue, and the religion of Jesus to their deserved throne in our land: and to found the liberties of America, both religious and civil, on a basis which no era of futurity shall ever see removed: and, finally, that, when you have thus done—free grace may confer on you, as the reward of all your great labours, the unfading laurels of an everlasting crown” (DLC:GW). The address was signed on behalf of the First Presbytery, by Joseph Prince, moderator.

Index Entries