George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Benjamin Harrison, 26 February 1789

From Benjamin Harrison

Berkley Feby 26. 1789

My dear Sir

It is long since I had the pleasure of any of your favors; which I hope does not proceed, from any alteration in your friendship for me; as I am not conscious of any cause that could produce such an alteration, in a breast so perfectly liberal, as I know yours to be. That we have differ’d in sentiments is true; yet as that difference arose from the same pure motives in both of us; that is, what we both thought was for the general good of the whole community; a friendship of such standing, and so cemented, can not be shaken on that account.

That you will be call’d to the helm of government by the unanimous voice of america, I hope and believe; the gratitude we all owe you, and our own happiness, point to the choice. Whether we shall be gratified or not, rests with you to determine. When I consult the welfare of america, it is my most ardent wish that you should accept the trust; but there I must pause. Your own good sense will dictate to you, what you owe to the community, and to yourself, in a much stronger light than I can pretend to do. To that good sense, and the protecting hand of providence that has guided us hither to, I shall therefore leave it.

when I had the pleasure of seeing you last, I had little thoughts of ever being reduced to the necessity of wishing to become a placeman; but the depredations of the enemy during the war, and the great fall of property in this country, owing to the scarcity of money, will in a very short time, bring on me and my deserving family, very deep distress; thinking that I have some claim on america for assistance, as my attachment to her cause mark’d me out to the enemy as a particular object of vengeance; I ask of her the appointment to the naval office of Norfolk, Portsmouth, and that district. I make the application to you my friend with confidence, as you have a perfect knowledge of me, and of every step I have taken, from the beginning of the dispute with Great Britain, to the end of the war; from which you will determine whether my pretensions are well founded or not. Colo. Parker who held the place, is chosen to congress, and has resign’d the office, and our executive have appointed a Capt. Lindsay to it.1 I believe he was a good officer, but as such he has been amply rewarded; or if not, he is young, and may wait a little longer. If I obtain the appointment I shall certainly remove down.

It gives me pain my dear sir, to make this application, as I well know you will be pester’d with them from every quarter; and I hope you will believe me when I say, that nothing but dire necessity, could have prevailed with me to do it.

Mrs Harrison has been for a long time in a bad state of health, she is however well enough to request her compliments to you, and your lady, to whom you will be so obliging as to present mine, and believe me to be with every sentiment of perfect esteem and friendship Dear Sir your most obedient Humble Servant

Benj. Harrison


Benjamin Harrison (c.1726–1791) finished his third term as governor of Virginia in 1784 and returned to Berkeley, his plantation in Charles City County. In that year he was elected to the Virginia legislature and served consecutively until his death. On 4 Oct. 1787 Harrison wrote GW of his reservations about the Constitution, and he repeated his objections as a delegate to the Virginia Ratifying Convention (DLC:GW). Although their correspondence had lapsed during the 1780s, probably because of their divergent political views, Harrison and GW had frequent contacts during the pre-Revolutionary years and during the war while Harrison was in the Continental Congress. At least once, in 1773, GW visited Berkeley (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 3:214), and GW was remotely connected to Harrison by marriage for Mrs. Harrison was Burwell Bassett’s sister Elizabeth.

1Josiah Parker submitted his letter of resignation to the state as collector at Norfolk on 23 Feb., the same day that William Lindsay, who had served as Parker’s assistant, was appointed to replace him, with Daniel Bedinger as his deputy. Over the course of three months, GW received applications from seven men to fill the federal customs positions in Norfolk: from Lindsay; Bedinger; Philemon Gatewood, Parker’s former clerk; William Finnie; James B. Nickolls; Edward Stevens; and Harrison. GW nominated the three incumbents, Lindsay, Gatewood, and Bedinger, for collector, naval officer, and surveyor respectively. For Parker’s assessment of the candidates, see his letter to GW, 1 July 1789.

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