From Isaac Backus
Middleborough [Mass.] Nov. 15. 1790.
Among the numerous addresses to your Excellency, since your advancement to the highest seat of goverment in America I suppose you have received none from any community of Baptists in the state of Massachusetts. Not because they have not as hearty a regard for your excellency as any denomination therein, but for want of a convenient oppertunity therefor, when you was in these parts.1 But an obscure individual begs your acceptence of a private token of love, which may be of more real service than many flattering public addresses. Indeed if elegance of style and composition were necessary to render any book agreeable to your excellency, the author would not have presumed to have sent such a present as his History of New-england.2 But believing that the knowledge of principles and facts, and of their influence on mankind through various changes, is of great importance in your view, he hopes that this work will not be unacceptable. Much of it was taken from original records and papers, which were never before published; and none of them have ever since been disputed in any newspaper among us. The Quakers were so much affected with my first volume, published in 1777, that one of them wrote a considerable volume against it;3 but when he came to lay it before their committee, they thought it better to apply to me for corrections; and a committee of theirs met with me in Providence in December 1780, and after two days labour, we agreed upon the corrections which are in the end of my second volume, which agreement was signed by me and by Thomas Hazard, Moses Brown, Job Scott, Thomas Arnold, the⟨ir⟩ committee. If any others would have favoured me with their corrections, as they might have done & conceald their names if they pleased, it might have been of public benefit; but no such favor hath been granted me.
The continuance of tax and compulsion for religious ministers in Newengland, while it is abolished in Virginia, is a clear demonstration of the narrow selfishness of mankind. The continuance of it here for Congregationalists, and the abolishing of it there for Episcopalians, are both commended by Dr Gordon in his History of the American revolution, in which is m⟨uch⟩ impartiality about civil and military officers.4 But religious ministers, when supported by force, are the most dangerous men upon earth; while no men are more necessary and useful to human society, than faithful teachers. Of this further evidence is given in two late pieces which I send you.5
That your excellency may still be guided and preserved in your exalted and difficult station, until righteous government shall be well established in this land; that your latter days may be peaceful and happy, and your end be eternal life, is the earnest prayer of Your humble servant
ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; copy, MNcANT: Backus Papers.
Isaac Backus (1724–1806) was a native of Norwich, Conn., who began preaching in 1746 and settled as pastor of Titicut precinct in Bridgewater and Middleborough, Mass., in 1748. Four and a half years after he was baptized by immersion in 1751, Backus organized a Baptist church in Middleborough and served as its pastor for the rest of his life. He also traveled extensively as an itinerant preacher and by the 1770s had become the preeminent champion of religious liberty in Massachusetts. He supported the American Revolution and was a member of the Massachusetts convention that ratified the federal Constitution in 1788. The above letter was delivered to GW by Thomas Ustick of Philadelphia (McLoughlin, Backus Diary description begins William G. McLoughlin, ed. The Diary of Isaac Backus. 3 vols. Providence, 1979. description ends , 3:1300–1301, n.1).
1. For GW’s presidential tour of New England in the autumn of 1789, see Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 5:460–97.
2. Backus’s three-volume history of New England was published from 1777 to 1796. A History of New-England, with Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians Called Baptists. . . . Collected from Most Authentic Records and Writings, Both Ancient and Modern (Boston, 1777) covered the period 1610–91. The second volume, A Church History of New-England. . . . Extending from 1690, to 1784. Including a Concise View of the American War, and of the Conduct of the Baptists Therein, with the Present State of Their Churches, was published in Providence in 1784 (Evans, American Bibliography, description begins Charles Evans et al. American Bibliography and Supplement. 16 vols. Chicago, Worcester, Mass., and Charlottesville, Va., 1903–71. description ends 5:303, 6:268).
3. In the spring of 1778, Job Scott, a Quaker of Smithfield, R.I., wrote “The Cause of Truth Maintained” in response to the emphasis in Backus’s first volume on seventeenth-century Quaker fanaticism, heresy, and disorder and asked the New England Quaker Meeting for Sufferings to publish his lengthy tract. The meeting appointed a committee to examine both works. Backus met with its members in Providence on 20–21 June and 13–16 Dec. 1780 and expressed his willingness to print in his next volume a retraction of his obvious mistakes as well as a list of doctrinal sources published by Quakers (see McLoughlin, Backus Diary description begins William G. McLoughlin, ed. The Diary of Isaac Backus. 3 vols. Providence, 1979. description ends , 2:1051–52 and note 1, 1063–64 and notes).
4. William Gordon’s The History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment, of the Independence of the United States of America . . . was published, in four volumes, in London in 1788. The first American edition, in three volumes, was published in New York the following year (see Gordon to GW, 8 Mar. 1784, source note, 24 Sept. 1788, source note, and Hodge, Allen, & Campbell to GW, 16 July 1789, n.1).
5. Two two enclosures were Isaac Backus, The Doctrine of Particular Election and Final Perseverance, Explained and Vindicated (Boston, 1789) and his The Liberal Support of Gospel Ministers, Opened and Inculcated (Boston, 1790; see Evans, American Bibliography, description begins Charles Evans et al. American Bibliography and Supplement. 16 vols. Chicago, Worcester, Mass., and Charlottesville, Va., 1903–71. description ends 8:3; McLoughlin, Backus Diary, description begins William G. McLoughlin, ed. The Diary of Isaac Backus. 3 vols. Providence, 1979. description ends 3:1301, 1625).