George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Shippen, Jr., 6 April 1789

From William Shippen, Jr.

Philadelphia 6. April 1789.

Dear & honord Sir

The reason of my taking the liberty to enclose a part of my sons Letter to your Excellency & to give you the trouble of reading it you will see in the extract. The Letter is dated London Feby 2. 1789⟨.⟩ I have not shown the part relative to the treaty of commerce to any one. Mr Shippen will leave Europe in August.1

I rejoice with all the citizens of America at your appointment to the first seat in the Empire & am hon’d Sir with the most profound respect & veneration Your obed. & humbe Servt

W. Shippen, Jr


William Shippen (1736–1808) of Philadelphia was a graduate of the College of New Jersey, studied medicine in London and at Edinburgh, and taught anatomy at the College of Philadelphia before the Revolution. In October 1776 he became director of hospitals for the Continental army west of the Hudson River and in April 1777 replaced John Morgan as director general of medical services for the army. The appointment involved him in an acrimonious dispute with Morgan and his supporters which lasted until Shippen’s resignation in 1781. At this time Shippen was in private practice and had resumed his faculty position in the medical department at the College of Philadelphia.

1In the late 1780s Thomas Lee Shippen (1765–1798) left Philadelphia for Europe to take the Grand Tour and was now studying law in England. The excerpt of his letter to his father of 2 Feb. enclosed in this letter reads in part: “The debates in parliament on the subject of the Regency have been highly productive in ingenuity and eloquence—I have attended them constantly and have been greatly entertained. The business is at length finished, and the Prince of Wales is advanced to the possession of a government as much enfeebled cramped and mutilated as the Premier’s ambition supported by his popularity could make it. He enters upon the duties of a station the most high, dignified and important which is known to the British Constitution covered with all the disgrace, and obloquy which a hostile parliament could by implication throw upon him. For by their resolutions they have provided against his cutting his father’s throat, picking his pocket, and squandering the revenues of the Country. They have prevented him from exercising one of the oldest prerogatives of the crown which they have been obliged to entrust to him, that of rewarding merit in the most honorable way, and have left the palace full of highly appointed Lords to insult his dignity, and boast that tho’ servants of the Crown they are independent of his power. All this I reprobate—As far as they went in asserting the right of the people to supply any unforeseen defect in their government I went with them, and held my head up high in their support, but when triumphing in their power they proceeded to insult a prince who had none, and made encroachments on the crown when it was unable to defend itself against their attacks, I despised their pusillanimity and injustice, I abhorred their proceedings, and I cannot now consent to give them any credit for what they have done. If these be the natural feelings of an unbiassed observer what must be those of the adherents of the Prince of Wales you may imagine, and thence conclude what must have been the stile and temper of the debates. Burke has distinguished himself greatly on the subject of the last resolutions. So has Lord North, & Sheridan. Fox is ill at Bath.

“From all I can discover, the administration which is now coming into power will be much better disposed to make a treaty of commerce with the U.S. than the last have been, and it seems to me of great moment that we should have some body immediately sent, cloathed with powers to avail himself of the present crisis. Many advantages might be gained now from the heat of opposition to past measures and enmity to the authors of them which in cooler times neither party might be disposed to give. If this appears to you also to be the case suppose you send a hint of it to our great President, (for I suppose by this time Genl Washington is appointed to that high office) tho’ his wisdom & foresight will probably have anticipated me—The Foederalist & the reflections which he has excited have made me an enthusiast in favor of our new Constitution, tho’ I have no objection to giving the bantling new cloaths as soon as those he has shall be a little soiled. But I am afraid if Mamma changes them so soon, she will be accused of caprice, and that the child will be of great expence to the family” (DLC:GW).

Index Entries