George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Arthur St. Clair, 4 January 1798

To Arthur St. Clair

Jany 4th 1798


Mr Edward Tiffin solicits an appointment in the Territory North West of the Ohio, The fairness of His Charactor in private and publick life, together with a knowledge of Law resulting from close application for a considerable time, will I hope, justify the liberty I now take in recommending Him to Your attention; regarding with due attention the delicacy, as well as importance of the character in which I act; I am sure you will do me the justice to believe, that nothing but a knowledge of the Gentlemans merrits founded upon long acquaintance could have induced me to trouble you upon this occation. with sincere wishes for Your happiness and welfare I am &c.

George Washington

L (photocopy), IEfDAR. This, the only known copy of the letter, is in Edward Tiffin’s hand. The photographic copy of the letter in Tiffin’s hand from which the text printed here was taken was provided by the Ann Crooker St. Clair chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Effingham, Illinois. When printing the letter in his biography of Tiffin published in 1897, William Edward Gilmore wrote: “Dr. Tiffin brought with him from Virginia a letter written by George Washington and addressed to Governor St. Clair. . . . [it] is, so far as the author of this sketch is aware, the only letter of recommendation of an aspirant for official appointment ever written by Washington in behalf of any person” (Gilmore, Life of Edward Tiffin, description begins William Edward Gilmore. Life of Edward Tiffin: First Governor of Ohio. Chillicothe, Ohio, 1897. description ends 15–16). Gilmore added below the text of the letter: “That this letter was duly delivered to St. Clair is evident from the fact that it has been until lately in the custody of Dr. W H. St. Clair of Effingham County, Ill.—Dr. St. Clair being a great-grandson of General Arthur St. Clair, to whom it was addressed. It is now in the State archives at Columbus, Ohio” (ibid., 16). Mr. Gilmore is not being entirely accurate when he says that GW never wrote another letter recommending someone for public office, but it is certainly true that he very rarely did, and never one of this tone and style. Four months after the date of this letter, on 11 April 1798, GW wrote Hugh West, a man for whom GW had agreed to act as guardian at West’s father’s death and who had served GW as a clerk: “I inform you that when I left the Chair of Government, I resolved not to intermeddle in any appointments which should take place by vacancies, in offices, thereafter. From this determination I have not departed in any instance, although sollicited for recommendations in an hundred.” Furthermore, no evidence has been found of any contact, either before or after this time, between GW and Tiffin, who was only 22 or 23 years old when GW left Mount Vernon to become president. As for Tiffin’s “knowledge of Law resulting from close application for a considerable time,” there is no indication that young Tiffin had practiced law in Virginia in addition to practicing medicine and acting as a lay preacher.

Edward Tiffin (1766–1829) was born in England and emigrated with his family in 1784, at the age of seventeen or eighteen, to Berkeley County, Virginia. He is said to have studied medicine both in England and Philadelphia, and he practiced medicine at Charles Town in Berkeley County. In 1789 he married Mary Worthington, a member of a prominent local family. Bishop Asbury ordained him in 1792 a lay preacher in the Methodist Episcopal church. In 1798 he and his brother-in-law, Thomas Worthington, moved with their families to the Northwest Territory. After Tiffin’s arrival territorial governor St. Clair appointed him prothonotary of the territorial court of common pleas. The next year, in 1799, he was elected to the territorial legislature and made speaker. He presided at the Ohio constitutional convention in 1802 and was elected as the first governor of Ohio, taking office in 1803.

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