George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Warner Mifflin, 12 March 1790

From Warner Mifflin

William shotwells, 12th of 3rd 1790

Respected Friend

Majestracy being an ordinance of God, I desire to revere it as such, and where the sword thereof is held up for a Terror to evil doers, and a Praise, to those who do well, Then is goverment a blessing to mankind, and no doubt but the blessing, Protection, and Preservation of the Almighty, by whom Kings reign and Princes only are enabled to decree justice will be witnessed—And a hope is with me that thou as the first Majestrate of this Nation art sensable thereof and desirous to be thus guided, May thou be earnest in solisitation, for renew’d supplies of his superior wisdom to guide thee aright, I see thou hast abundant need thereof indeed, even so much that it appears to me the safety of this Nation depends greatly thereon—Surely I doubt not but the Almighty is able to do more than we can forsee, or concieve, Yet in all human Probability were he in the dispensation of his Providence to call thee hence at this time it looks to me that our Situation might be deplorable—That I concieve we as a people are under strong obligations to pray for thee, as this is the weapon we must use of to thy aid, and by our influence endeavour in our neighbourhoods to attach the People to thee, and the Goverment, and promote Harmony and concord, thus much I believe thou may be assured of from the People called Quakers.

And as our society so lately presented thee an Address agreed on when perhaps there were between 8 & 10 hundred Members present which Address I believe was resulted in the fear of the supream Ruler of the Universe & I have faith to believe receiv’d the Approbation of his Holy spirit in our Hearts—And there was no doubt but thou would receive it in the manner intended by us and not a thing of course or a mear form.

This having been the case we thought it less necessary to wait on thee on our coming to this City on a deputation from same body to present, an address to the senate, and house of representatives respecting the Oppressed Affricans, tho I was some uneasy in not doing it, and should not have continued here so long without had it not been for the short interview we had with thee, when I a little oppen’d the Nature of our embassy.1

And notwithstanding I cannot say I feel it as a duty incumbant on me or I should have proceeded therein, yet I feel a strong desire to have a private interview with thee—but I feel a care on this head least making such Visits too cheap might in any sort lesson the Authority of the Majestrate which I desire to preserve—And I wish thy table may in no⟨wise⟩ tend to this; a word to the wise is sufficient—I therefore just hint in the freedom now felt this much and if thou saw cause to open the way thereto should I believe freely imbrace the oppertunity as I have a strong inclination there⟨fore⟩ yet should not think hard if it did appear in thy view best not to give it—If thou thought well a line handed next door; to the french consuls would come readily to me, or any way that was agreeable to thee—Under an Affectionate regard that I feel toward thee and thy consort also at this time I conclude thy real Friend

Warner Mifflin

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

Warner Mifflin (1745–1798), a prominent Quaker abolitionist, was originally from Accomack County, Va., from a slaveholding family. Although Mifflin generally refrained from political action, refusing to vote on the grounds that such participation in government might be considered support of slaveholding interests, he was instrumental in presenting a number of antislavery petitions to the Confederation Congress.

1An entry in the journal of the House of Representatives indicates that on 11 Feb. 1790, memorials drawn up by the Quakers at their meetings in Philadelphia and New York in 1789 “praying the attention of Congress in adopting measures for the abolition of the slave trade, and in particular in restraining vessels from being entered and cleared out, for the purposes of that trade” were read and referred to a special committee of the House; on 23 Mar. the committee of the whole House to which the findings of the special committee had been referred reported that Congress had no authority to interfere with the slave trade until 1808 when the Constitution provided that the trade would be abolished. The Quakers’ petition met the fate of most other memorials against slavery and committee reports concerning the institution. Congress ordered this petition “to lie on the table” (DHFC, 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 3:294–96, 316, 333–37, 340–41). See also GW to the Society of Quakers, 13 October 1789, n.1. GW recorded in his diary that on Tuesday, 16 Mar.: “I was visited (having given permisn.) by a Mr. Warner Mifflin, one of the People called Quakers; active in pursuit of the Measures laid before Congress for emancipating the Slaves. After much general conversation, and an endeavor to remove the prejudices which he said had been entertained of the motives by which the attending deputation from their Society were actuated, he used Arguments to shew the immorality—injustice and impolicy of keeping these people in a state of Slavery; with declarations, however, that he did not wish for more than a graduel abolition, or to see any infraction of the Constitution to effect it. To these I replied, that as it was a matter which might come before me for official decision I was not inclined to express any sentimts. on the merits of the question before this should happen” (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 6:47). On 28 Mar. GW wrote David Stuart that the “memorial of the Quakers (and a very mal-apropos one it was) has at length been put to sleep, and will scarcely awake before the year 1808.”

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