George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Virginia Legislature, 27 April 1790

To the Virginia Legislature

United States [New York]

Gentlemen,April 27th 1790

With a due sense of the affectionate terms in which your affection is conceived, I offer my best thanks for your congratulations on my election to the Chief Magistracy of a free and enlightened Nation.1

If I have been enabled to make use of whatever abilities Heaven has been pleased to confer upon me, with any advantage to our common Country, I consider it not less owing to the fostering encouragement I received in early life from the Citizens of the Commonwealth in which I was born, than to the persevering support I have since experienced from my fellow-Citizens collectively, in the course of their exertions, which, under Divine Providence, saved their Liberties and established their Independence.

However I may have confirmed my professions by my conduct, I can claim no merit for having been involved in the duties of a military command through necessity, or for having retired to the state of a private citizen through inclination. But I may be permitted to avow, that the construction you are pleased to put upon my motives for returning to public life is peculiarly satisfactory to me. Because I receive, from the voice of my Countrymen, the only reward I wished for the sacrafice—a just interpretation of the principles by which, I am conscious, I have been actuated.

Accustomed to have my actions viewed through a favorable medium by my fellow-Citizens in general, and more especially by those of my native State; I can but poorly compensate for such indulgence, by the purest emotions of gratitude, demonstrated in an active devotion to that Republican Government, which is so deservedly the first object of their political attachment.

In looking forward to that awful moment, when I must bid adieu to Sublunary Scenes, I anticipate the consolation of leaving our Country in a prosperous condition. And, while the curtain of seperation shall be drawing, my last breath will, I trust, expire in a prayer for the temporal and eternal felicity of those, who have not only endeavoured to gild the evening of my days with unclouded serenity, but extended their desires to my happiness hereafter in a brighter world.

Go: Washington


1The address, dated 28 Oct. 1789, was presented to GW by Richard Henry Lee and John Walker soon after their arrival in New York to attend the second session of Congress. GW’s reply was presented to the two Virginia senators on the same day (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 6:68). There was apparently some discussion among members of the assembly concerning the address. Edmund Randolph wrote to James Madison on 26 Sept. 1789 that “The president is supposed to have written to Mr. Adams, while titles were in debate, that if any were given, he would resign. Whether it be true or not, it is a popular report. However I question if even this, added to his services will draw forth from the assembly an address of congratulation. I will endeavour to prevent any pain to him, or imputation on Virginia. But I fear the ardor of those, who wish to be conspicuous, will not suffer them to be prudent” (Rutland, Madison Papers, description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds. The Papers of James Madison, Congressional Series. 17 vols. Chicago and Charlottesville, Va., 1962–91. description ends 12:421).

The address from the legislature reads: “The General Assembly of your native State embrace the first moment in their power, to present the congratulations of your countrymen, on your elevation to the magistracy of a free and enlightened nation:

“In early life you engaged the affections of your fellow citizens, by the exercise of those social virtues which have so eminently marked your conduct, and acquired their confidence, by the display of those abilities, which afterwards saved their liberties, and established their independence:

“That you were a citizen, was never forgotten by you whilst a soldier, and the end of your military command confirmed the professions with which you commenced it:

“The very toils and dangers through which you have passed for our defence, although they sanctified your claim to retirement, yet by presenting an earnest of your worth, created a title in your fellow citizens to demand your return to public action. Yes, sir, you have been called to your present high station by the unanimous voice of a free people; you have obeyed them with a peculiar greatness of mind, disdaining all scruples which could induce even a momentary pause, and renouncing that domestic tranquillity, which you sought as the reward of victory:

“Devoted as we are to republican government, we fear not to utter these truths to you, for we believe you will feel no emotions from the cordial offerings of universal praise, but those which the purest virtue inspires:

“We look forward therefore, with ardent hopes that you may long continue the instrument of general happiness, and when the awful moment shall arrive, in which, the citizen most distinguished for his piety, wisdom, valor and patriotism, must quit this sublunary scene, the people of Virginia can be consoled, only by their firm persuasion, that he is summoned to meet that well earned recompense, which gratitude itself cannot render upon earth” (Journal of the House of Delegates, description begins Journal of the House of Delegates, of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Begun and Held at the Capitol in the City of Richmond, on Monday, the nineteenth of October, in the Year of our Lord, One Thousand, Seven Hundred and Eighty-Nine, and of the Commonwealth the Fourteenth. Richmond, [1789]. description ends 1789, 19).

On 30 Oct. 1789 the assembly voted to send another address to GW concerning Indian affairs, which came with a covering letter from Gov. Beverley Randolph (Vi: Executive Letter Books). No reply from GW to this address has been found. “It has been a great relief to our apprehensions for the safety of our brethren on the frontiers, to learn from the communications of the Secretary at War, that their protection against the incursions of the Indians has occupied your attention.

“Knowing the power of the Federal Executive to concentrate the American force, and confiding in the wisdom of its measures, we should leave the subject unnoticed, but from a belief that time has been wanting to gain the proper intelligence, and make the necessary arrangements of defence for a country so far remote from the seat of government. Many members of the General Assembly now present, have been either witnesses of the recent murders and depredations committed by the savages, or have brought with them information, the truth of which cannot be questioned. It is unnecessary to enter into a detail of those hostilities. Permit us only to say that those parts of Kentucky, and the southwestern and northern counties lying on the Ohio and its waters, which have generally been the scene of Indian barbarity, are now pressed by danger the most imminent.

“We have been induced to suppose it possible, that for the purpose of affording effectual relief, it may be found expedient to carry war into the country of the Indian enemy; should this be the case, we take the liberty of assuring you that this Commonwealth will cheerfully sustain her proportion of the expenses which may be incurred in such an expedition.

“The same causes which induced us thus to offer the treasure of Virginia, have occasioned another proceeding, which we think proper to communicate to you; it is indeed incumbent on us to make this communication, least in case of silence it might be interpreted into a design of passing the limits of State authority.

“Chiefs of the Chickasaw nation have solicited the General Assembly for a supply of ammunition; the advanced season of the year, and their anxiety to return home, owing to the perilous situation of their nation, who were in daily expectation that hostilities would be commenced against them by the Creeks, have determined them to stop here, and not to proceed to New York, the place of their original destination.

“The resolution which we have now the honor of enclosing you, will therefore be executed in their favor; and we trust that our conduct, from the peculiar circumstances of the case, will be acceptable to yourself and the Congress of the United States; and being approved that we shall receive retribution for the expense we have thereby incurred” (ibid., 24–25).

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