In June 1783, anticipating his retirement from public service, not knowing he would be elected president and serve from 1789 to 1797, George Washington, commander in chief of the army, sent circulars to the chief executives (governors) of the thirteen states. Following are excerpts.
Four Things Essential to the Well Being and Existence of the United States
There are four things, which I humbly conceive are essential to the well being, I may even venture to say, to the existence of the United States, as an Independent Power–
1st An indissoluble Union of the States under one fœderal Head.
2dly A sacred regard to public Justice.
3dly The adoption of a proper Peace Establishment, and
4thly The prevalence of that pacific and friendly disposition among the People of the United States, which will induce them to forgit their local prejudices and policies, to make those mutual concessions which are requisite to the general prosperity, and in some instances, to sacrafice their individual advantages to the interest of the Community.
The Foundation of the Empire
The foundation of our Empire was not laid in the gloomy age of Ignorance and Superstition, but at an Epocha when the rights of Mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any former period, the researches of the human mind after social happiness have been carried to a great extent, the Treasures of knowledge, acquired by the labours of Philosophers, Sages, and Legislators, through a long succession [of] years, are laid open for our use, and their collected wisdom may be happily applied in the Establishment of our Forms of Government, the free cultivation of Letters, the unbounded extension of Commerce, the progressive refinement of Manners, the growing liberality of sentiment, and above all, the pure and benign light of Revelation, have had a meliorating influence on Mankind and increased the blessings of Society; At this auspicious period, the United States came into existence as a Nation, and if their Citizens should not be compleatly Free and Happy, the fa[u]lt will be entirely their own.
Whether the States Stand or Fall, the Revolution Bless or Curse
Such is our situation, and such are our prospects; but notwithstanding the Cup of blessing is thus reached out to us, notwithstanding happiness is ours, if we have a disposition to seize the occasion and make it our own; yet it appears to me, there is an option still left to the United States of America, that it is in their choice, and depends upon their conduct, whether they will be respectable and prosperous, or contemptable and miserable as a Nation; This is the time of their political probation, this is the moment when the eyes of the whole World are turned upon them, this is the moment to establish or ruin their National Character forever, this is the favorable moment to give such a tone to our fœderal Government as will enable it to answer the ends of its institution, or this may be the ill-fated moment for relaxing the powers of the Union, annihilating the cement of the Confederation, and exposing us to become the sport of European politicks, which may play one State against another to prevent their growing importance, and to serve their own interested purposes; For according to the System of Policy the States shall adopt at this moment, they will stand or fall, and by their confirmation or lapse, it is yet to be decided, whether the Revolution must ultimately be considered as a blessing or a Curse–a blessing or a Curse, not to the present age alone, for with our fate will the destiny of unborn Millions be involved.
The Closing of the Letter (Now Called “Washington’s Prayer”)
I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government–to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their Brethren who have served in the Field, and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love Mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, Humility, and Pacific temper of mind which were the Characteristicks of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a Happy Nation. I have the honor to be with the greatest esteem & respect Sir Your Excellency’s Most Obedient and very Humble Servant
- Read Letter to John Hancock (Papers of George Washington, University of Virginia)
- See the letter (Library of Congress)