George Washington Papers

Address to Charles Thomson, 14 April 1789

Address to Charles Thomson

[Mount Vernon, 14 April 1789]

Sir, I have been long accustomed to entertain so great a respect for1 the opinion of my fellow citizens, that the knowledge of their2 unanimous suffrages having been given in my favour scarcely leaves me the alternative for an Option. Whatever may have been my private feelings and sentiments,3 I believe I cannot4 give a greater evidence of my sensibility for the honor5 they have done me than by accepting the appointment.

I am so much affected by this fresh proof of my country’s esteem and confidence, that silence can best explain my gratitude—While I realize the arduous nature of the task which is conferred on6 me and feel my7 inability to perform it, I wish8 there may not be reason for regreting the choice. All I can promise is only that which can be accomplished by an honest zeal.9

Upon considering how long time some of the gentlemen of both houses of Congress have been at New York, how anxiously desirous they must be to proceed to business and how deeply the public mind appears to be impressed with the necessity of doing it immediately10 I cannot find myself at liberty to delay my Journey—I shall therefore be in readiness to set out the day after to morrow, and shall be happy in the pleasure of your company. For you will permit me to say that it was11 a peculiar gratification to have received the communication from you.

Copy, enclosed in Thomson to the United States Senate, 24 April 1789, DNA: RG 46, General Files, 1789–1942, Senate 1A-J3; LB, DLC:GW.

For the background to this document, see Henry Knox to GW, 23 Mar. 1789, John Langdon to GW, 6 April, GW to Langdon, 14 April, and Address by Charles Thomson, 14 April 1789. In 1786 David Humphreys made a preliminary sketch of events in GW’s early life in preparation for a full-scale biography (see First Inaugural Address, 30 April 1789, introductory note). Appended to the sketch are copies of several letters written by GW at a later date and several other fragmentary documents. Among them is what may be a copy by Humphreys of a proposed reply drawn up for GW to Thomson’s address. The document, in Humphreys’s writing, reads: “I accept the office of [ ], upon condition of being allowed to retire, whensoever the circumstances will conveniently admit. This determination of acceptance is formed in consequence of the fullest consideration which I have been able to bestow on the subject; and, you will permit me to add, not without a struggle which has occasioned uncommon distress.

“Whatever might have been my desire of adhering to my resolution of remaining in retirement, I thought that the unanimous suffrages of a whole people ought to be preferred. Should this deference to the public sentiment be imputed to me by any one as a crime; I shall, however, have the satisfaction of not being reproached by my own consciance, for having acted from interested motives.

“While, with an aching heart, I leave the enjoyments of private life, to encounter the fatigues, the troubles & not improbab[l]y the obloquy of public life; I carry with me the consolation that the judgment of every individual on my conduct will at least be suspended, untill after I shall have had an opportunity of disclosing my reasons more fully to the two Houses of Congress.

“In the meantime, penetrated with a due sense of this last & greatest token of affection & confidence which my Country could confer upon me: I promise that my endeavours shall be strenuously exerted to promote the welfare & glory of the United States.

“I return my best thanks to both [Houses] of Congress, for the flattering manner in which they have communicated the choice that has fallen upon me; and to you, Gentlemen, for the urbanity with which you have executed their Commission” (PPRF).

1In the letter book this phrase reads “to pay so much respect to.”

2In the letter book the words “having given their” are inserted.

3The words “Whatever may have been my private feelings and sentiments,” are omitted from the letter book.

4In the letter book this phrase reads “I cannot, I believe.”

5In the letter book the word “which” appears here.

6In the letter book this phrase reads “imposed upon.”

7In the letter book the word “own” appears here.

8In the letter book the words “however that” appear here. For Thomson’s suggestion that this phrase be omitted, see his letter to GW, 24 April 1789.

9In the letter book this sentence reads “—for indeed all I can promise is only to accomplish that which can be done by an honest zeal.”

10In the letter book this word reads “speedily.”

11In the letter book this word reads “is.”

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