To the United Baptist Churches of Virginia
[New York, May 1789]
I request that you will accept my best acknowledgments for your congratulation on my appointment to the first office in the nation. The kind manner in which you mention my past conduct equally claims the expression of my gratitude.1
After we had, by the smiles of Heaven on our exertions, obtained the object for which we contended, I retired at the conclusion of the war, with an idea that my country could have no farther occasion for my services, and with the intention of never entering again into public life: But when the exigence of my country seemed to require me once more to engage in public affairs, an honest conviction of duty superseded my former resolution, and became my apology for deviating from the happy plan which I had adopted.
If I could have entertained the slightest apprehension that the Constitution framed in the Convention, where I had the honor to preside, might possibly endanger the religious rights of any ecclesiastical Society, certainly I would never have placed my signature to it; and if I could now conceive that the general Government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution—For you, doubtless, remember that I have often expressed my sentiment, that every man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.
While I recollect with satisfaction that the religious Society of which you are Members, have been, throughout America, uniformly, and almost unanimously, the firm friends to civil liberty, and the persevering Promoters of our glorious revolution; I cannot hesitate to believe that they will be the faithful Supporters of a free, yet efficient general Government. Under this pleasing expectation I rejoice to assure them that they may rely on my best wishes and endeavors to advance their prosperity.
In the meantime be assured, Gentlemen, that I entertain a proper sense of your fervent supplications to God for my temporal and eternal happiness.
1. The “Address of the General Committee representing the United Baptist Churches in Virginia, assembled in the City of Richmond, May 8th, 9th, 10th 1789,” reads in part: “Amongst the many shouts of congratulation that you receive from Cities, Societies, States, and the whole world, we wish to take an active part in the universal chorus, in expressing our great satisfaction in your appointment to the first office in the nation.
“When America on a former occasion was reduced to the necessity of appealing to arms, to maintain her natural and civil rights, a Washington was found full adequate to the exigencies of the dangerous attempt, who, by the philanthropy of his heart, and prudence of his head led forth her untutored Troops into the field of battle, and by the skillfulness of his hands baffled all the projects of the insulting foe, and paved the rugged road to independence even at a time when the energy of the Cabinet was not sufficient to bring into action the natural aid of the confederation from its respective sources.
“The grand object being obtained; the Independence of the States acknowledged; free from ambition and a sanguine thirst for blood, our Hero returned with those whom he commanded, and yielded up his sword to those who gave it him.
“Such an example to the world is new,
“Who can such wondrous proofs of virtue shew.
“Like other nations we experience that it requires as great wisdom and valor to make an advantage of a conquest as to gain one. The want of efficacy in the confederation; the redundancy of laws in the States and their partial administration, with other evils, called aloud for a new arrangement of our political system.
“The wisdom of the States for that purpose was collected in a grand Convention, over which you, Sir, had the deserved honor to preside. . . . When the constitution first made its appearance in Virginia, we, as a Society, had unusual strugglings of mind; fearing that the liberty of conscience, dearer to us than property or life, was not sufficiently secured. Perhaps our jealousies were heightened on account of the usage that we received under the royal government, when Mobs, Bonds, Fines, and Prisons were our frequent attendants. Convinced on one hand that without an effective national government we should fall into disunion and all the consequent evils; and on the other fearing that we should be accessary to some religious oppression, should any one Society in the union preponderate over all the rest: But amidst all the inquietudes of mind, our consolation arose from this consideration ‘The plan must be good for it bears the signature of a tried, trusty friend’—and if religious liberty is rather insecure, ‘The administration will certainly prevent all oppression for a Washington will preside’—According to our wishes the unanimous voice of the Union has called you, Sir, from your beloved retreat, to launch forth again into the faithless seas of human affairs to guide the helm of the States. . . .
“And while we speak freely the language of our own hearts, we are satisfied that we express the sentiments of all our Brethren in the State that we represent—The very name of Washington is music in all our ears: and although the great evil in the State is the want of mutual confidence between the Rulers and the People, yet we all have the utmost confidence in the President of the States.
“And it is our fervent prayer to Almighty God that the federal government, and the governments of the States, without rivalship may so co-operate together as to make the numerous people, over whom you preside, the happiest nation on earth, and you, Sir, the happiest man, in seeing the People, whom you saved from vassalage by your martial valor, and made wise by your maxims sitting securely under their vines and fig-trees, enjoying the perfection of human felicity . . .” (DLC:GW).