George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the President and Fellows of Harvard University, 27 October 1789

To the President and Fellows of Harvard University

Boston October 27th 1789.


Requesting you to accept my sincere thanks for the address with which you have thought proper to honor me, I entreat you to be persuaded of the respectful and affectionate consideration with which I receive it.1

Elected by the suffrages of a too partial country to the eminent and arduous station, which I now hold, it is peculiarly flattering to find an approbation of my conduct in the judgment of men, whose reverend characters must sanction the opinions they are pleased to express.

Unacquainted with the expression of sentiments which I do not feel, you will do me justice by believing confidently in my disposition to promote the interests of science and true religion.

It gives me sincere satisfaction to learn the flourishing state of your literary Republic—assured of its’ efficiency in the past events of our political system, and of its’ further influence on those means which make the best support of good government, I rejoice that the direction of its’ measures is lodged with men, whose approved knowledge, integrity, and patriotism give an unquestionable assurance of their success.

That the Muses may long enjoy a tranquil residence within the walls of your University, and that you, Gentlemen, may be happy in contemplating the progress of improvement through the various branches of your important departments, are among the most pleasing of my wishes and expectations.

Go: Washington


On 26 Oct. Joseph Willard, president of Harvard, wrote GW a brief note inquiring whether “the President has determined upon the time, when the Corporation of the University in Cambridge may have the honor of waiting upon Him, to present their Address, He may have the opportunity of informing Dr Willard by the bearer, who will wait his commands” (DLC:GW). According to GW’s diary entry of 27 Oct., the Harvard address, along with several others, was presented before 3:00 P.M. on that day (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 5:477).

1The address from Harvard, dated 27 Oct. and signed by Joseph Willard, states that “It is with singular pleasure that we, the President and Fellows of Harvard University in Cambridge, embrace the opportunity, which your most acceptable visit to this part of the country gives us of paying our respects to the first magistrate of the United States.

“It afforded us the highest satisfaction to find this large, and respectable nation unanimous in placing at the head of the new Government the firm and disinterested Patriot—the illustrious and intrepid Soldier, who, during her struggles in the cause of Liberty, braving every difficulty and danger in the field, under the smiles of a kind Providence, led her armies to victory and triumph and finally established her freedom and independence. Nor were we less gratified when we found that the Person, whose military skill and exertions had been so happily succeeded, actuated by the same spirit of Patriotism, did not decline the arduous and toilsome office, but, listening to the voice of his country, left the tranquil scenes of private life to secure those national blessings we were in the utmost danger of losing. We were fully persuaded that the Man who during so great a length of time, and in the most trying circumstances had been accepted by the multitude of his brethren, would in this new station, enjoy their entire confidence and enjoy their highest esteem: nor have we been disappointed.

“Permit us, Sir, to congratulate you on the happy establishment of the Government of the union, on the patriotism and wisdom which have marked its public transactions, and the very general approbation which the People have given to its measures. At the same time, Sir, being fully sensible that you are strongly impressed with the necessity of religion, virtue, and solid learning for supporting freedom and good government, and fixing the happiness of the People upon a firm and permanent basis we beg leave to recommend to your favorable notice the University entrusted to our care, which was early founded for promoting these important Ends. When you took the command of the troops of your country, you saw the university in a state of depression—its members dispersed—its literary treasures removed—and the Muses fled from the din of arms, then heard within its walls. Happily restored in the course of a few months, by your glorious successes, to its former privileges, and to a state of tranquillity, it received its returning members; and our youth have since pursued, without interruption, their literary courses, and fitted themselves for usefulness in Church and State. The public rooms, which you formerly saw empty, are now replenished with the necessary means of improving the human mind in literature and science; and every thing within the walls wears the aspect of Peace, so necessary to the cultivation of the useful arts. While we exert ourselves, in our corporate capacity, to promote the great objects of this Institution, we rest assured of your protection and patronage.

“We wish you, Sir, the aid and support of Heaven while you are discharging the duties of your most important station. May your success, in promoting the best interests of the Nation, be equal to your highest wishes! And after you shall have long rejoiced in the prosperity and glory of your country, may you receive the approbation of him who ruleth among the nations” (DLC:GW).

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