George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Citizens of Boston, 27 October 1789

To the Citizens of Boston

[Boston, 27 Oct. 1789]


The obligations, which your goodness has imposed upon me, demand my grateful acknowledgements—Your esteem does me honor, and your affection communicates the truest pleasure—by endeavoring to deserve, I will indulge the hope of retaining them.1

Over-rating my services, you have ascribed consequences to them, in which it would be injustice to deny a participation to the virtue and firmness of my worthy fellow-citizens of this respectable Town and Commonwealth.

If the exercise of my military commission has contributed to vindicate the rights of humanity, and to secure the freedom and happiness of my country, the purpose for which it was assumed has been completed, and I am amply rewarded—If, in the prosecution of my civil duties I shall be so fortunate as to meet the wishes of my fellow-citizens, and to promote the advantage of our common interests, I shall not regret the sacrifice which you are pleased to mention in terms so obliging.

The numerous sensations of heartfelt satisfaction, which a review of past scenes affords to my mind, in a comparison with the present happy hour, are far beyond my powers of utterance to express.

I rejoice with you, my fellow-citizens, in every circumstance that declares your prosperity—and I do so, most cordially, because you have well deserved to be happy.

Your love of liberty—your respect for the laws—your habits of industry—and your practice of the moral and religious obligations, are the strongest claims to national and individual happiness, and they will, I trust, be firmly and lastingly established.

Your wishes for my personal felicity impress a deep and affectionate gratitude, and your prayer to the Almighty Ruler of the universe, in my behalf, calls forth my fervent supplication to that gracious and beneficent Being, for every blessing on your temporal pursuits, and for the perfection of your happiness hereafter.

G: Washington


For background to GW’s New England tour, see his letter to Betty Lewis, 12 Oct. 1789, n.3.

1The address to GW from the citizens of Boston reads: “We beg leave to express our happiness in the honor you confer upon us by your visit to this Capital. We are happy in the opportunity of again making our personal acknowledgements to a character, to which, on every principle, we are so deeply indebted.

“Every motive of esteem, duty, and affection have conspired to form in our minds the strongest attachment that the freest people can feel to the most deserving citizen. As men, we have long since considered you, under God, as the great and glorious avenger of the violated rights of humanity—As citizens, we have observed with peculiar satisfaction, that you have invariably respected those liberties, which you have so successfully defended. And as Inhabitants of a great commercial Town, we attribute the security we enjoy to the singular merit and success of those measures, in the progress of the war, which you had the honor to conduct.

“It cannot but afford you the highest pleasure when you compare our present situation with the signal distresses to which we were exposed during the period in which this Town was in the possession of exasperated Enemy. Indignant at the multiplied restraints of hostile domination we sought an assylum among our friends and connections in the country, and cheerfully abandoned our property and possessions in the common cause of America. That we were so soon happily reinstated, may be justly imputed to the wisdom of those arrangements which compelled our Invaders, in their retreat, to adopt a less destructive policy than that which, on other occasions, they so wantonly practised. In every trying vicissitude we have marked the conspicuous, and unaffected piety of your heart, and the wisdom and moderation of your councils.

“We have seen you relinquish the ease and independence of private fortune, to lead in the untried dangers of a war, at the risque of your life and reputation. With pleasure we have viewed you retiring in victory, and exhibiting a new example of patriotic virtue to an admiring World. And we now feel a still higher satisfaction at your having once more sacrificed the sweets of domestic Retirement in obedience to the united voice of your countrymen.

“These, Sir, are the sentiments and reflections which naturally occur on an attentive consideration of your past conduct. To the future we look for those virtues, which adorn the Man, and mark the wise and accomplished Legislator. We anticipate from your discernment the happy union of liberty and law, lenity and vigor, mercy and justice: The enlightened policy of a mind calm amidst the influence of Power, and uncorrupted by the fascinating allurements of Avarice or Ambition.

“With these impressions the preservation of your life through the varied scenes in which you have been engaged demands our grateful acknowledgements to the beneficent Disposer of human events.

“It is one of the first wishes of our hearts that you may be as happy in your present elevated station, as you have been distinguished in your military character, and it is our fervent prayer to the almighty Ruler of the universe that the invisible hand which led the citizens of America through the dangers and calamities of War, may still guard and protect you, as an ornament to human nature, and a blessing to your country” (DLC:GW).

GW noted in his diary that “when the committee from the Town presented their Address it was accompanied with a request (in behalf they said of the Ladies) that I would set to have my Picture taken for the Hall, that others might be copied from it for the use of their respective families” (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 5:478). The selectmen’s letter implored GW to sit for his portrait to satisfy Boston’s ladies “who are ambitious of transmitting to their Children a perfect likeness of their justly Beloved President at the moment he blessed them with his presence; when his benign countenance made such an impression on their hearts as they wish to recognize in his Portrait, in future. If favored with this Indulgence their intentions are to present it to be placed in Faneiull Hall, as the greatest Honor confered in granting them an opportunity of expressing their respect and Esteem for the Man so distinguished by the affections of the People” (DLC:GW). GW informed the group that as “I was engaged to leave town on Thursday [28 Oct.] early, I informed them of the impracticability of my doing this, but that I would have it drawn when I returned to New York, if there was a good Painter there—or by Mr. [John] Trumbull when he should arrive; and would send it to them” (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 5:478). Apparently some preliminary sketches for a portrait were made in Boston by Christian Güllager (1759–1826), and GW gave Güllager a sitting on 3 Nov. in Portsmouth. The resulting Portsmouth bust portrait, probably completed from memory by Güllager, was eventually presented to the Massachusetts Historical Society (Eisen, Portraits of Washington, description begins Gustavus A. Eisen. Portraits of Washington. 3 vols. New York, 1932. description ends 2:427–28; Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 5:490).

On 26 Oct. James Lovell wrote Tobias Lear that the recently appointed Boston port officers wished to take the opportunity of GW’s visit to the city to “have a personal Opportunity of thanking Him for his Confidence in their Appointments—an Opportunity which his and their official Engagements will never probably again admit” (DLC:GW).

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