George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Society of Free Quakers, c.8 April 1790

To the Society of Free Quakers

[New York, c.8 April 1790]


I desire to assure you of the sensibility with which I receive your congratulations on my appointment to the highest office and most extended trust which can be confided by a free People—and I thank you with sincerity for the obliging terms in which you express yourselves in my behalf.1

Ever happy in being favored with the approbation of my fellow-citizens, the time at which yours is declared does not diminish my sense of the obligation it confers.

Having always considered the conscientious scruples of religious belief as resting entirely with the sects that profess, or the individuals who entertain them, I cannot, consistent with this uniform sentiment, otherwise notice the circumstances referred to in your address, than by adding the tribute of my acknowledgement, to that of our country, for those services which the members of your particular community rendered to the common cause in the course of our revolution—and by assuring you that, as our present government was instituted with an express view to general happiness, it will be my earnest endeavor, in discharging the duties confided to me with faithful impartiality, to realise the hope of common protection which you expect from the measures of that government.

Impressed with gratitude for your supplications to the supreme Being in my favor, I entreat his gracious beneficence in your behalf.

G. Washington


The Society of Free Quakers was a group of Quakers who either bore arms in or actively supported the Revolution. After the war they were disowned by the main body of Quakers and in 1781 formed their own society, consisting of about 100 members. In 1783 the society purchased land and a building on the southwest corner of Arch and Fifth streets in Philadelphia where they constructed a meetinghouse (Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 16 [1892], 315; Faris, Old Churches and Meeting Houses, description begins John T. Faris. Old Churches and Meeting Houses in and around Philadelphia. Philadelphia and London, 1926. description ends 225–27).

1On 8 April, a delegation from The Society of Free Quakers delivered to GW the following statement, which had been drawn up at the society’s meeting in Philadelphia on 4 Mar. 1790 and signed by Timothy Matlack, clerk: “We beg leave to join the general voice in the most respectful congratulation on thy appointment to the highest office and most extended trust which can be confided by a free People: A trust which the force of precedent in the first exercise of the supreme executive authority, at the founding of such an empire, renders infinitely important, not to its immediate citizens only, but to every part of mankind, who have an interest in the firm establishment of religious and civil liberty.

“We offer no apology for the time of this address, as decency required that the youngest religious Society in the empire should give place to those that are more numerous, and of far more ancient establishment; yet springing up with and growing out of the revolution, it is our duty on this great occasion to appear among our fellow-citizens; and we feel a dignity in declaring, that we have reason to believe there is not a member of our religious society who has at all times and on all occasions, relied on and confided in thy patriotism, prudence, and virtue.

“Many of our members having been educated Quakers, admitted the doctrine declared by that People, of a state attainable here in which a christian cannot be concerned in wars and fightings of any kind, yet they perceived the wisdom and soundness of the distinction, made by the apologist of that People, when he expressly declares that until men attain that state, they cannot be undefending themselves[.] They indeed, saw, that by discharging the great duty they were called upon to perform, in support of their own civil rights and those of our country and posterity, they would, probably, be disowned by that people; and there was no means of retaining or recovering their rights among them; but by neglecting that duty, or by publickly condemning their conduct in the discharge of it: A treachery to the cause of liberty and truth, of which they feel themselves utterly incapable.

“They were not unaware of the alienation of friendship, and many other injurious effects on temporal affairs, which too commonly attend offence given by individuals to a body so numerous as the Quakers are, and of such weight in civil society; but in the course of divine providence they were called to make so great a sacrifice, and they obeyed.

“They perceived the advantage of religious society, and being desirous of obtaining it, united together in such a body. They had felt the evil of undue restraint on the conscience of men, and determined, if possible, to leave their members free: They therefore founded our society on the enlarged and catholic principles of the Gospel, appealing to the lessons of wisdom and virtue left us by Christ and his Apostles, as the best external rule of faith and practice, and leaving every man to answer to God, to his own conscience, and to civil government for his conduct. And being formed on this ground, we ask no extraordinary or special privilege; but having discharged a common duty, and being determined to pay a due obedience to the laws, we claim the common protection of that government.

“Far from repining at our sufferings we have rejoiced in the triumph of liberty over despotism; and exulted in the praise which our fellow-citizens have bestowed on the measures which led to success: They are justly styled glorious; but it is that undeviating steadiness of mind, and invariable regard to the rights of the people, that has so honorably distinguished thy conduct on such varied and trying occasions, which lead us to a full confidence that thy administration will, indeed, tend to make liberty more secure than it ever before has been: And we feel, that it is this confidence which gives the unusual glow to congratulation from every quarter on this happy occasion.

“The prospect of an union that will embrace all that contended for the cause of freedom, is highly pleasing to us; and we beg leave to add our most cordial congratulation on the high honors so deservedly bestowed by the Nation of France on thy illustrious Pupil the Marquis de la Fayette; We trust that it will be a brilliant and lasting honor to America, that her conduct has inspired the world with the most noble emulation in support of liberty and the common cause of mankind.

“May that supreme Being which rules in Heaven and among men, continue to pour his wisdom into thy heart, and so guide thy administration as to make the government a blessing to the People, and render it free, efficient, and stable. And to whatever length of days he shall please to extend thy life to a purpose so eminently important, may thine eye never become dim, nor thy natural force abate. And finally when the great task shall be fully compleated, and thou shalt advance into that state which is the end and highest glory of our Being, may thine inheritance be among ‘the Spirits of just men made perfect’” (LB, DLC:GW; see also Daily Advertiser [New York], 13 April).

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