George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Pennsylvania Legislature, 12 September 1789

To the Pennsylvania Legislature

[New York, c.12 September 1789]


When the representatives of a free people, delivering the sense of their constituents, give such marks of affectionate attachment to an individual as are contained in your address to me, it must call forth the warmest acknowledgements of a grateful heart.1 Under this impression, I beg you to believe that your favorable opinion of my past conduct, and kind congratulations on my elevation to the high station which I now fill, are indelibly marked on my mind.

The early and decided part which the Citizens of Pennsylvania took in behalf of the present system of government cannot be forgotten by the People of these United States—and, in acknowledging the grateful sense which I have of your assurances of the firm and constant support of your State, in all measures in which its aid shall be necessary for rendering my administration easy to myself, and beneficial to our Country, I trust that I meet the concurrence of all good citizens.

The virtue, moderation, and patriotism which marked the steps of the American People in framing, adopting, and thus far carrying into effect our present system of Government, has excited the admiration of Nations; and it only now remains for us to act up to those principles, which should characterize a free and enlightened People, that we may gain respect abroad and ensure happiness and safety to ourselves and to our posterity.

It should be the highest ambition of every American to extend his views beyond himself, and to bear in mind that his conduct will not only affect himself, his country, and his immediate posterity; but that its influence may be co-extensive with the world, and stamp political happiness or misery on ages yet unborn. To obtain this desireable end—and to establish the government of laws, the union of these States is absolutely necessary; therefore in every proceeding, this great, this important object should ever be kept in view; and so long as our measures tend to this; and are marked with the wisdom of a well informed and enlightened people, we may reasonably hope, under the smiles of Heaven, to convince the world that the happiness of nations can be accomplished by pacific revolutions in their political systems, without the destructive intervention of the sword.

Your wishes for my personal happiness, and fervent prayers for the preservation of my existence have made a grateful impression upon me—and I shall not fail to implore the divine Author of the Universe to bestow those blessings upon you and your Constituents, which can make a people happy.

G. Washington


1On 3 Sept. 1789 the Pennsylvania assembly appointed a committee to draw up an address to GW “expressive of the high sense entertained by this House of his distinguished merit, and congratulating him on his appointment to his present exalted station.” The address was to be presented to GW by the U.S. senators from Pennsylvania. GW’s reply was read in the assembly on 16 Sept. (Minutes of the Thirteenth General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in Their Third Session [n.p., n.d.], 229, 236, 261–62). The address, signed by Richard Peters, reads: “The Representatives of a free People cannot comply with their duty to their Constituents more to their satisfaction than by paying a just tribute to the merits of One whose important exertions, unexampled perseverance, and distinguished military talents have eminently contributed to the establishment of their liberties.

“Impressed with the most lively sense of your love for your country, invariably evidenced in the course of your past services, and of which you have given a new proof by sacrificing your predilection for private life to the desires of your fellow-citizens, and again appearing on the public stage, we most sincerely congratulate you on your elevation to the high station you now fill.

“The citizens of this State having been among the first to adopt the System of federal Government on which they so much depend for their portion of the national prosperity, cannot but be highly gratified by the progress which has been made towards it’s complete organisation, and they have a pleasing addition to their satisfaction by your having been so unanimously placed at the head of it. We are confident that we declare the sense of the People of Pennsylvania, when we assure you of the firm and constant support of this State, in all measures in which its aid shall be necessary for rendering your administration easy to yourself and beneficial to our country.

“We deem it a circumstance which strongly marks the good sense and virtue of our countrymen, that they peaceably and deliberately concurred in a frame of General Government which we firmly trust, will in its operation dignify our character, entitle us to respect among the nations, and ensure happiness to us and our posterity.

“With hearts expanded beyond the limits of our own country, we most ardently hope that the influence of this novel but bright example may be extended until freedom, under government of Laws not of Men, shall bless the oppressed of every climate and country.

“The old will then be experimentally taught by the new World that reason, virtue, union, moderation, and patriotism, can, under the smiles of Heaven, without the sword, accomplish the happiness of nations by pacific revolutions in their political systems whensoever they require them.

“With the warmest wishes for your personal happiness we fervently beseech the great Author and Supporter of our existence, that he will, by granting you a continuance of health, long preserve a life so dear to your Country and exemplary to mankind” (DLC:GW).

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