George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Rawle, 18 January 1791

From William Rawle

[18 January 1791]

At a special meeting of the Directors of the Library Company of Philadelphia January 18th 1791.

The Directors of the Library Company of Philadelphia desireous of shewing a respectfull mark of Attention to the President and Congress of the United States Resolve that the President and Members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives of the United States shall have the free Use of the Books in the Library in as full and ample Manner as if they were Members of the Company—By order of the directors

W: Rawle secretary.

DS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

William Rawle (1759–1836), a member of a prominent Philadelphia family, was educated at the Friends’ Academy in that city. His stepfather, Samuel Shoemaker, was the Loyalist mayor of Philadelphia during the British occupation, and young Rawle fled with his family to New York when the British evacuated Philadelphia. He studied law in New York and in 1781 went to England where he enrolled in the Middle Temple. The next year he returned to Philadelphia, where he was admitted to the bar in 1783. Rawle became one of the city’s most respected lawyers. He was elected as a Federalist to the Pennsylvania legislature in 1789. Later in 1791 GW appointed him to succeed William Lewis as U.S. attorney for Pennsylvania (see GW to the U.S. Senate, 31 Oct. 1791).

The Library Company of Philadelphia, founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1731, was the oldest circulating library in the United States and one of the principal cultural institutions in the city. A private library, its collections were open to members, but the directors had made the collection available to members of the Continental Congress and later to the members of the Federal Convention (see Rawle to GW, 6 July 1787). The resolution of the directors of 18 Jan. 1791 to extend the same offer to GW and Congress is recorded in the Library Company of Philadelphia Directors’ Minute Books, PPL.

Tobias Lear replied for GW on 20 Jan. 1791: “In obedience to the command of the President of the United States, I have the honor to communicate to you, to be presented to the Director of the Library company of Philadelphia, his best thanks for the very polite manner in which they have offered him the use of the books in the Library, and he begs they will be assured that this mark of attention has made a proper impression upon him” (DLC:GW).

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