George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the People of South Carolina, 5 July 1790

To the People of South Carolina

[c.5 July 1790]


The congratulatory address of the People of the State of South-Carolina1 on my election to the office of President of the United States, expressed in such forcible and endearing terms affects me with the liveliest emotions of satisfaction, and induces me to request their acceptance of my sincerest acknowledgements.

Flattering as it may be to find the extraordinary unanimity of the People of the United States in placing me at the head of their federal Republic; I am still more pleased with a recollection of the manly conduct on their part, which in the issue of an arduous struggle, put them in a condition to enjoy the blessings of a free government. It was owing to their steady and strenuous support, with the smiles of a gracious providence, that I did not sink under the oppression I felt from a diffidence in my abilities to conduct their military operations. It was a distressing consideration that so good a cause might be endangered by a single false step on the part of their General. But in such a cause although surrounded with difficulties and dangers on every side, and in the midst of dark and gloomy prospects, it would have argued the most infamous pusillanimity to have despaired of the Commonwealth. Seconded by such a body of yeomanry as repaired to the standard of liberty, fighting in their own native land, fighting for all that freemen hold dear, and whose docility soon supplied the place of discipline, it was scarcely in human nature, under its worst character, to have abandoned them in their misfortunes: nor is it for me to claim any singular title to merit, for having shared in a common danger, and triumphed with them, after a series of the severest toil and most accumulated distress, over a formidable foe.

The value of liberty was thus enhanced in our estimation by the difficulty of its attainment, and the worth of characters appreciated by the trial of adversity. The tempest of war having at length been succeeded by the sunshine of peace; our citizen-soldiers impressed an useful lesson of patriotism on mankind, by nobly returning with impaired constitutions and unsatisfied claims, after such long sufferings and severe disappointments, to their former occupations. Posterity as well as the present age will doubtless regard with admiration and gratitude the patience, perseverance, and valour, which atchieved our revolution: they will cherish the remembrance of virtues which had but few parallels in former times, and which will add new lustre to the most splendid page of history.

If there be for me any peculiarly just subject of exaltation, and with an honest pride I avow the fact, it is in being the citizen of a country, whose inhabitants were so enlightened and disinterested as to sacrifice local prejudices and temporary systems for the sake of rendering secure and permanent that Independency, which had been the price of so much treasure and blood. Animated with the hope of transmitting to Posterity the spirit of a free constitution in its native purity; they have, since the conclusion of the war evinced the rectitude of their principles, as well as proved themselves by their practice worthy of their successes.

For myself, notwithstanding my former intentions and declarations, I could not hesitate to return to public life, when from all the circumstances within my knowledge I had collected it to be my duty: because it was apparently the wish of a whole nation. Nor shall I regret the loss of that tranquillity in retirement, which my time of life and state of health seemed in some measure to authorise and require, if I may still be an instrument of any good to that country which has continued to assist my administration with such generous and unlimited confidence.

I pray you to be persuaded, that, while I receive with great sensibility such repeated proofs of the partiality of my fellow-citizens in my favor, I feel encreasing obligations to devote my labours unremittingly to the public service, and with the benediction of the great Father of the universe on our councils, to use my best endeavours that the American people who have of right assumed an independent station amongst the nations of the earth should for ever remain a great, respectable, and happy nation.

G. Washington


On 14 June 1790 Charles Pinckney, president of the state constitutional convention that sat at Columbia, S.C., from 10 May to 3 June, sent to South Carolina’s congressional delegation a congratulatory address to GW accepted by the convention on 31 May 1790. Pinckney sent directions for its immediate presentation to GW upon its arrival. Each member of the delegation (the two senators, Ralph Izard and Irish-born Pierce Butler, and congressmen Aedanus Burke, Daniel Huger, William Loughton Smith, Thomas Sumter, and Thomas Tudor Tucker) was probably present when the address was officially delivered to the president at his house between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. on 5 July 1790. Smith reported: “it was read by Butler—the answer will please you—there was a part of it which I beleive did not much please the Reader; the President says he takes a pride in being a Native of America” (GW to Charles Pinckney, 8 July 1790, n.2; George C. Rogers, Jr., ed., “The Letters of William Loughton Smith to Edward Rutledge, June 6, 1789 to April 28, 1794,” S.C. Historical Mag., 69 [1968], 122; see also Charles Cotesworth Pinckney to GW, 19 June 1790; Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 6:85; DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972–. description ends 9:312–13).

1The address of the South Carolina convention, 31 May 1790, reads: “We the People of the State of South Carolina now met and sitting in Convention, beg leave to address you, and to embrace this first opportunity, which has been afforded us of congratulating you on your election to the high and important station of President of the United States—Such, Sir, has been the impression made upon the public mind by a due sense of your eminent services, and such the affection of a nation whose dearest rights you have defended, that one wish pervaded the whole Continent of placing you at the head of the federal republic, and enjoying under your protection, as our first Magistrate, the blessings of that free government, for the attainment of which, we are so much indebted to your exertions as our General. The promises of your earlier life, Sir, had prepared your fellow-citizens for your acceptance of the military command in 1775, when dangers and difficulties surrounded on all sides, and the prospect was dark and gloomy; but they must ever remember with gratitude and admiration the wisdom and energy of that system, which could induce men accustomed to the most perfect equality to submit to the rigorous duties of a camp, and thus convert the tumultuary array of an undisciplined yeomanry into a permanent force capable of making head against the veteran army of our enemies. With similar sentiments do they call to mind the efforts of that heroic fortitude, which despaired not in the worst of times, but rose superior to every misfortune, infusing new spirit into the bosoms of an unfortunate army, and animating them by the force of example to undergo the severest toil with alacrity, and to endure with perseverance the most accumulated distress.

“It was the will of an allwise Providence that the great objects we were contending for should not be attained without some difficulty, and that we should be taught to observe and to value the virtues which spring up in Adversity; but the time of our severe trial was at length terminated, the cloud which had hovered over us so long was at length dispelled, and the sun of American-Glory appeared in it’s full splendor: To have borne this change of fortune with equanimity, and to have employed the last hours of command in reconciling our gallant soldiers to a disappointment which their long suffering during the war but ill prepared them for, and having checked the rage of civil discord in its infancy, to have resigned all power, and cheerfully descended into the walks of private life, are circumstances that must for ever illumine the page of history, and which, as they can never be effaced from our remembrance, so we trust they will be deeply engraven upon the minds of our Posterity.

“To transmit to that posterity the spirit of a free constitution in its native purity, is the hope which animates us all, we hope also, that they will learn from us to cherish every grateful sentiment towards you, Sir, and that they will be proud, as we are, to participate individually in the honor which America may so justly claim to herself of having produced a citizen, whose love of glory was devoid of ambition, whose view embraced no objects but the freedom and the happiness of his countrymen, whose integrity was equal to their most unbounded confidence, and who combining the prudence of retreat with all the active valour of attack was at once the shield and the sword of his native country. The tranquility of retirement after the dangers of war and the fatigues of public life, is one of those rewards which exalted merit seems ever entitled to, but which your fellow-citizens were constrained, to deny you. Independency had been established, but the arduous talk of internal legislation still remained, and the united States were yet to establish upon the firmest basis that station amongst the nations of the earth which they had of right assumed; called upon for this sacred purpose, you have listened, Sir, to the voice of your Country, you have given a further proof of your never failing attachment to her interests, and can only hope, in the warmest wishes, which we form for the good of the public weal, that your administration in the office of President of the United States may be as prosperous, as your acceptance of it has been honorable and patriotic.

“We will not, Sir, by thus giving way to the effusions of our hearts any longer intrude upon that time which is devoted to the general good, but conclude with offering up our prayers to the great Father of the universe that he may be pleased to shed his influence over all Your councils, and that having saved your Country, and given an awful lesson to all mankind, you may finally in the fullness of your years, close the long glories of an illustrious life, not only with the consciousness of having deserved, but with the comfort and satisfaction of having received every proof of respect and esteem from the heartfelt gratitude of your fellow-citzens. By the unanimous order of the Convention” (DLC:GW).

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