George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Joseph Willard, 28 February 1781

From Joseph Willard

Beverly [Mass.] Febry 28. 1781.


By the direction of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, I have the honor of acquainting your Excellency, that Janry 31, 1781, you were elected a member of that literary Body.1 Your Excellency’s name—a name revered and celebrated, not only in your native land, but through Europe, the Academy considers as giving an additional lusture to this Institution. We doubt, not your Excellency will have a favorable regard to this Society, which is formed upon an extensive and liberal plan; and is designed to promote every species of knowlege, which is of public utility. I hope the ends of the foundation will ever be properly pursued; and that while your Excellency’s arms, by the smiles of a kind providence, are crowned with signal success, and made effectual for supporting the independence of the United States of America, this Academy, together with the philosophical Society in Philadelphia, will be instrumental of promoting and diffusing that knowlege, which is necessary to the maintenance of true liberty, and is for the happiness of a free people.2 I am, Sir, with the highest respect & esteem, your Excellency’s most humble and most obedient servt

Joseph Willard

ALS, MdHi: George C. Washington Papers.

Joseph Willard (1738–1804), a 1765 graduate of Harvard, was minister of the Congregational church at Beverly. He was also vice president and corresponding secretary of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which he had helped to found in 1780. A noted scholar of astronomy, mathematics, and the classics, he became president of Harvard in December 1781, a position he held until his death.

GW replied to Willard on 22 March from New Windsor: “I am much indebted to you for announcing my election as a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. I feel myself particularly honored by this relation to a Society whose efforts to promote useful knowledge will, I am perswaded, acquire them a high reputation in the literary world.

“I entreat you to present my warmest acknowledgements to that respectable body and to assure them that I shall with Zeal embrace every oppertunity of seconding their laudable views and manifesting the exalted sense I have of the institution.

“The Arts & Sciences essential to the prosperity of the State & to the ornament & happiness of human life have a primary claim to the encouragement of every lover of his Country & mankind.

“For the polite & flattering terms in which you have been pleased to convey the sentiments of the Academy I beg you to accept my grateful thanks” (ALS, MBA, on deposit at MBAt; ADfS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW).

1A certificate from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, signed by academy president James Bowdoin and Willard, as vice president, attests that on 31 Jan. the society met and elected GW a fellow of the academy (DS, DLC:GW).

2GW was also a member of the American Philosophical Society (see GW to Joseph Reed, 15 Feb. 1780).

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