Monthly Archives: April 2006

Item of the Day: Washington’s First Inaugural Address (1789)

Full Title: The Writings of George Washington; Being His Correspondence, Addresses, Messages, and Other Papers, Official and Private, selected and published from the original manuscripts, with A Life of the Author, Notes, and Illustrations. Volume XII. By Jared Sparks Printed in Boston by John B. Russell, 1837.

[Washington’s retirement after 1783 was short-lived. The virtuous citizenry whom he hoped would emerge after the Revolution, had yet to appear as evidenced by the disspiriting Shays’ Rebellion of 1 786. Washington recognized that the Articles of Confederation were far too weak to cement the fledgling republic now threatening to splinter. But he was reluctant to attend a meeting to revise the Articles (which became the Constitutional Convention) not only because he questioned its legality but because he had formally retired from public life. Persuaded that his presence was not only desired but necessary if the meeting was to be effective, Washington agreed to go to Philadelphia. Although his role was at the Convention by all accounts minimal, but he gave the meeting its necessary legitimacy. After ratification, Washington’s sterling reputation and wartime heroism were revered from every factious corner making him the unanimous choice to be first president of the national government. On April 14, 1789 Washington received notification of his election. A few days later he left Mount Vernon for New York City where on April 30 he took the oath of office on the steps of Federal Hall at the corner of Wall and Broad Streets. Keenly aware of his obligation to create a dignified presidency that would act as a precedent for all future presidents, his was a model of decorum and public virtue, respectability and morality, a powerful stabilizing presence of an honorable chief executive during a delicate period of transition from colonial dependency to independent republic.]

Inaugural Speech to Both Houses of Congress, April 30th, 1789.

Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives,

Among the vicissitudes incident to life, no event could have filled me with greater anxieties, than that of which the notification was transmitted by your order, and received on the 14th day of the present month. On the one hand, I was summoned by my country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love, from a retreat which I had chosen with the fondest predilection, and, in my flattering hopes, with an immutable decision, as the asylum of my declining years; a retreat which was rendered every day more necessary as well as more dear to me, by the addition of habit to inclination, and of frequent interruptions in my health to the gradual waste committed on it by time. On the other hand, the magnitude and difficulty of the trust, to which the voice of my country called me, being sufficient to awaken in the wisest and most experienced of her citizens a distrustful scrutiny into his qualifications, could not but overwhelm with despondence one, who, inheriting inferior endowments from nature, and unpractised in the duties of civil administration, ought to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies. In this conflict of emotions, all I dare aver is, that it has been my faithful study to collect my duty from a just appreciation of every circumstance by which it might be affected. All I dare hope is, that, if in executing this task, I have been too much swayed by a grateful remembrance of former instances, or by an affectionate sensibility to this transcendent proof of the confidence of my fellow-citizens; and have thence too little consulted my incapacity as well as disinclination for the weighty and untried cares before me; my error will be palliated by the motives which misled me, and its consequences be judged by my country with some share of the partiality in which they originated.

. . . It will be more consistent with those circumstances, and far more congenial with the feelings which actuate me, to substitute, in place of a recommendation of particular measures, the tribute that is due to the talents, the rectitude, and the patriotism, which adorn the characters selected to devise and adopt them. In these honorable qualifications I behold the surest pledges, that as, on one side, no local prejudices or attachments, no separate views or party animosities, will misdirect the comprehensive and equal eye, which ought to watch over this great assemblage of communities and interests; so, on another, that the foundations of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality, and the preeminence of a free government be exemplified by all the attributes, which can win the affection of its citizens, and command the respect of the world.

I dwell on this prospect with every satisfaction, which an ardent love for my country can inspire; since there is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness, between duty and advantage, between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy, and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity; since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained; and since the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered as deeply perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment intrusted to the hands of the American people. . . .


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Filed under 1780's, Legal, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

Item of the Day: George Washington’s Farewell Address to the Continental Army (1783)

Full Title: The Writings of George Washington Being his Correspondence, Addresses, Messages, and Other Papers, Official and Private, Selected and Published from the Original Manuscripts: with A Life of the Author, Notes, and Illustrations. By Jared Sparks. Volume VIII. Printed in Boston by Russell, Odiorne, and Metcalf, and Hilliard, Gray, and Co., 1835.

Circular Letter Addressed to the Governors of All the States on Disbanding the Army.
Head-Quarters, Newburg, 8 June, 1783.

[When George Washington delivered his farewell address to the Continental Army in 1783, he believed that he had completed his duties to the new nation. With the war successfully concluded, the hero general announced his intention to resume his private life at Mount Vernon. But before he embarked on retirement, he used his notable public influence to call on the people to shoulder the responsibility for securing the future of their new country. He revealed in this address his core beliefs in the necessity of a strong central government, the value of personal honor and reputation in a law-abiding people, as well as his apprehension that the American experiment of democracy, unless scrupulously monitored, could easily fail. Of even greater importance was that as a victorious general Washington was willing to relinquish his post in the army at all. Rather than demanding even greater power in the new government, to which many thought he was entitled, and by choosing retirement instead, he embodied the ideal of the moral, devoted republican patriot. In doing so Washington enhanced his already formidable prestige and assured his ascent into the ranks of American icon.]


The great object, for which I had the honor to hold an appointment in the service of my country, being accomplished, I am now preparing to resign it into the hands of Congress, and to return to that domestic retirement, which, it is well known, I left with the greatest reluctance; a retirement for which I have never ceased to sigh, through a long and painful absence, and in which (remote from the noise and trouble of the world) I meditate to pass the remainder of life, in a state of undisturbed repose. But before I carry this resolution into effect, I think it a duty incumbent on me to make this my last official communication; to congratulate you on the glorious events which Heaven has been pleased to produce in our favor; to offer my sentiments respecting some important subjects, which appear to me to be intimately connected with the tranquillity of the United States; to take my leave of your Excellency as a public character; and to give my final blessing to that country, in whose service I have spent the prime of my life, for whose sake I have consumed so many anxious days and watchful nights, and whose happiness, being extremely dear to me, will always constitute no inconsiderable part of my own.

. . .

The citizens of America, placed in the most enviable condition, as the sole lords and proprietors of a vast tract of continent, comprehending all the various soils and climates of the world, and abounding with all the necessaries and conveniences of life, are now, by the late satisfactory pacification, acknowledged to be possessed of absolute freedom and independency. They are, from this period, to be considered as the actors on a most conspicuous theatre, which seems to be peculiarly designated by Providence for the display of human greatness and felicity. Here they are not only surrounded with every thing, which can contribute to the completion of private and domestic enjoyment; but Heaven has crowned all its other blessings, by giving a fairer opportunity for political happiness, than any other nation has ever been favored with.
Nothing can illustrate these observations more forcibly, than as recollection of the happy conjuncture of times and circumstances, under which our republic assumed its rank among the nations. 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 labors 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 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 completely free and happy, the fault will be entirely their own.

Such is our situation, and such are our prospects; but, notwithstanding the cup of blesses 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 contemptible 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 for ever; this is the favorable moment to give such a tone to our federal government, as will enable it to answer the needs 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 politics,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.

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Filed under 1780's, 1830's, Posted by Rebecca Dresser, Revolution

Item of the Day: Hobbes’s Tripos (1684)

Full Title:

Hobbs’s Tripos, In Three Discourses: The first, Humane Nature, Or the Fundamental Elements of Policy. Being a Discovery of the Faculties, Acts and Passions of the Soul of Man, from their Original Causes, according to such Philosophical Principles as are not commonly known, or asserted. The second, De Corpore Politico, Or the Elements of Law, Moral and Politick, with Discourses upon several Heads, as of the Law of Nature, Oaths and Covenants; several kinds of Governments, with the Changes and revolution of them. The third, Of Liberty and Necessity; Wherein all Controversie, concerning Predestination, Election, Free-will, Grace, Merits, Reprobation, is fully decided and cleared. The Third Edition.

Written by Thomas Hobbes. Printed in London for Matt. Gilliflower, Henry Rogers, Booksellers in Westminster Hall, and Tho. Fox next the Fleece Tavern in Fleetstreet, and at the Angel in Westminster-Hall, 1684.

Chapter One of “Humane Nature: or the Fundamental Elements of Policy”:

The true and perspicuous Explication of the Elements of Laws Natural and Politick (which is my present Scope) dependeth upon the Knowledge of what is Humane Nature, what is Body Politick, and what it is we call a Law; concerning which Points, as the Writings of Men from Antiquity down wards have still increased, so also have the Doubts, and concerning the same: And seeing that true Knowledge begetteth not Doubt nor Controversie, but Knowledge, it is manifest from the present Controversies, That they which have heretofore written thereof, have not well understood their own Subject.

2. Harm I can do none, though I err no less than they; for I shall leave Men but as they are, in Doubt and Dispute: but, intending not to take any Principle upon Trust, but only to put Men in Mind of what they know already, or may know by their own Experience, I hope to erre the less; and when I do, it must proceed from too hasty Concluding, which I will endeavour as much as I can to avoid.

3. On the other side, if Reasoning aright win not Consent, which may very easily happen, from them that being confident of their own Knowledg weigh not what is said, the Fault is not mine but theirs; for as it is my Part to shew my Reasons, so it is theirs to bring Attention.

4. Mans Nature is the Summ of his natural Faculties and Powers, and the Faculties of Nutrition, Motion, Generation, Sense, Reason, &c. These Powers we do unanimously call Natural, and are contained in the Definition of Man, under these words Animal and Rational.

5. According to the two principal Parts of Man, I divide his Faculties into two forts, Faculties of the Body, and Faculties of the Mind.

6. Since the minute and distinct Anatomy of the Powers of the Body is nothing necessary to the present Purpose, I will only summ them up in these Three Heads, Power Nutritive, Power Motive, and Power Generative.

7. Of the Powers of the Mind there be two Sorts, Cognitive, Imaginative, or Conceptive and Motive; the first of Cognitive.

For the understanding of what I mean by the Power Cognitive, we must remember and acknowledge that there be in our Minds continually certain Images or Conceptions of the Things wihtout us, insomuch that if a Man could be alive, and all the rest of the World annihilated, he should nevertheless retain the Image thereof; and all those Things which he had before seen or perceived in it; every one by his own Experience knowing, that the Absense or Destruction of things once imagined doth not cause the Absence or Destruction of the Imagination it self; This Imagery and Representation of our Conception, Imagination, Ideas, Notice, or Knowledg of them; and the Faculty or Power by which we are capable of such Knowledge, is that I here call Cognitive Power, or Conceptive, the Power of Knowing or Conceiving.

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Filed under 1680's, Philosophy, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt

Item of the Day: Alexander Hamilton’s Defense to Callender’s Charge of Speculation (1797)

Full Title: Observations on Certain Documents continued in No. V and VI of “The History of the United States for the Year 1796,” in which the Charge of Speculation against Alexander Hamilton, Late Secretary of the Treasury, is Fully refused. Written by Himself. Published in Philadelphia for John Fenno by John Bioren, 1797.

[After the publication of James Callender’s accusation that he had been making payments to James Reynolds for the purpose of securities speculation, Alexander Hamilton felt compelled to reveal to the public his liaison with Reynolds’ wife, Maria. The admission had been made previously to a secret congressional committee investigating the matter. In his defense, Hamilton provided the committee with letters allegedly written by Reynolds to prove blackmail. The committee acquitted Hamilton. The incident was effectively hushed up until 1797 when James Callender published an account of it and accused Hamilton of forging the letters to conceal a far worse crime. Desperate to clear his name, Hamilton published this rebuttal only two months after Callender’s pamphlet appeared. In it he revealed details of his relationship with Maria and James Reynolds through his own account and by printing corroborating correspondence from Reynolds. Hamilton’s Republican enemies, however, seized upon Hamilton’s scandalous indiscretion. Hamilton himself later came to regret issuing the defense as Republicans cheerfully republished it whenever they sought to buttress their position as the true champions of virtue and character.]

Was it not to have been expected that these repeated demonstrations of the injustice of the accusations hazarded against me would have abashed the enterprise of my calumniators? However natural such an expectation may seem, it would betray an ignorance of the true character of the Jacobin system. It is a maxim deeply ingrafted into that dark system, that no character, however upright, is a match for constantly reiterated attacks, however false. It is well understood by its disciples, that every calumny makes some proselites and even retains some; since justification seldom circulates as rapidly and as widely as slander. The number of those who from doubt proceed to suspicion and thence to belief of imputed guilt is continually augmenting; and the public mind fatigued at length with resistance to the calumnies which eternally assail it, is apt in the end to sit down with the opinion that a person so often accused cannot be be entirely innocent.

Relying upon this weakness of human nature, the Jacobin Scandal-Club though often defeated constantly return to the charge. Old calumnies are served up fresh and every pretext is seized to add to the catalogue — The person whom they seek to blacken, by dint of repeated strokes of their brush, becomes a demon in their own eyes, though he might be pure and bright as an angel but for the daubing of those wizard painters.

Of all the vile attempts which have been made to injure my character that which has been lately revived in No. V and Vi, of the history of the United States for 1796 is the most vile. This it will be impossible for any intelligent, I will not say candid, man to doubt, when he shall have accompanied me through the examination.

I owe perhaps to my friends an apology for condescending to give a public examination. A just ride with reluctance stoops to a formal vindication against so despicable a contrivance and is inclined rather to oppose to it the uniform evidence of an upright character. This would be my conduct on the present occasion, did not the tale seem to derive a sanction from the names of three men of some weight and consequence in the society: a circumstance, which I trust will excuse me for paying attention to a slander that without this prop, would defeat itself in intrinsic circumstances of absurdity and malice.

The charge against me is a connection with one James Reynolds for purposes of improper pecuniary is speculation. My real crime is an amorous connection with his wife, for a considerable time with his privity and connivance, if not originally brought on by a combination between the husband and wife with the design to extort money from me.

This confession is not made without a blush. I cannot be the apologist of an vice because the ardour of passion may have made it mine. I can never cease to condemn myself for the pang, which it may inflict in a bosom eminently intitled to all my gratitude, fidelity and love. But that bosom will approve, that even at so great an expence, I should effectually wipe away a more serious stain from a name, which it cherishes with no less elevation than tenderness. The public too will I trust excuse the confession. The necessity of it to my defence against a more heinous charge could alone have extorted from me so painful an indecorum.

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Filed under 1790's, Journal, Legal, Posted by Rebecca Dresser