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Correspondence between the Early Baptists of Virginia and President George Washington - 1789
Semple's History of Virginia Baptists
[The Address of the Committee of the United Baptist Churches in Virginia assembled in the city of Richmond, August 8, 1789.]

      To the President of the United States of America:
     SIR,-- Among the many shouts of congratulation that you receive from cities, societies, States and the whole world, we wish to take an active part in the universal chorus by expressing our great satisfaction in your appointment to the first office in the nation. When America on a former occasion was reduced to the necessity of appealing to arms to defend her natural and civil rights, a WASHINGTON was found fully adequate to the exigencies of the dangerous attempt, who by the philanthropy of his heart and prudence of his head led forth her untutored troops into the field of battle, and by the skillfulness of his hands baffled the projects of the insulting foe and pointed out the road to independence, even at a time when the energy of the Cabinet was not sufficient to bring into action the natural aid of the association from its respective sources.

      The grand object being obtained, the independence of the States acknowledged, free from ambition and devoid of a thirst for blood, our HERO returned with those he commanded and laid down his sword at the feet of those who gave it to him. Such an example to the world is new. Like other nations, we experience that it requires as great valor and wisdom to make an advantage of a conquest as to gain one.

      The want of efficacy in the confederation, the redundancy of laws and their partial administration in the States, called aloud for a new arrangement of our system. The wisdom of the States for that purpose was collected in a grand convention, over which you, sir, had the honor to preside. A national government in all its parts was recommended as the only preservative of the Union, which plan of government is now actually in operation.

      When the Constitution first made its appearance in Virginia, we, as a society, had unusual strugglings of mind, fearing that the liberty of conscience (dearer to us than property and life) was not sufficiently secured; perhaps our jealousies were heightened on account of the usage we received in Virginia under the British Government when mobs, bonds, fines and prisons were our frequent repast.

      Convinced on the one hand that without an effective national government the States would fall into disunion and all the consequent evils; on the other hand it was feared we might be accessory to some religious oppression, should any one society in the Union preponderate all the rest. But amidst all the inquietudes of mind, our consolation arose from this consideration, the plan must be good, for it bears the signature of a tried, trusty friend; and if religious liberty is rather insecure in the Constitution, "the administration will prevent all oppression, for a WASHINGTON will preside." According to our wishes the unanimous voice of the Union has called you, sir, from your beloved retreat, to launch forth again into the faithless seas of human affairs, to guide the helm of the States. Should the horrid evils that have been so pestiferous in Asia and Europe -- faction, ambition, war, perfidy, fraud and persecutions for conscience sake -- ever approach the borders of our happy nation, may the name and administration of our beloved President, like the radiant source of day, scatter all those dark clouds from the American hemisphere.

      And while we speak freely the language of our own hearts, we are satisfied that we express the sentiments of our brethren whom we represent. The very name of WASHINGTON is music in our ears; and although the great evil in the States is the want of mutual confidence between rulers and the people, yet we all have the utmost confidence in the President of the States, and it is our fervent prayer to Almighty God that the Federal Government and the government of the respective States, without rivalship, may so co-operate together as to make the numerous people over whom you preside the happiest nation on earth, and you, sir, the happiest man, in seeing the people whom, by the smiles of Providence, you saved from vassalage by your martial valor and made wise by your maxims, sitting securely under their vines and fig trees enjoying the perfection of human felicity. May God long preserve your life and health for a blessing to the world in general and the United States in particular; and when, like the sun, you have finished your course of great and unparalleled services, and you go the way of all the earth, may the Divine Being, who will reward every man according to his works, grant unto you a glorious admission into His everlasting kingdom through Jesus Christ. This, great sir, is the prayer of your happy admirers.

      By order of the committee.

			 SAMUEL HARRISS, Chairman. 
	Reuben Ford, Clerk.

George Washington's Reply

      To the General Committee representing the United Baptist Churches in Virginia:

      GENTLEMEN, -- I request that you will accept my best acknowledgments for your congratulation on my appointment to the first office in the nation. The kind manner in which you mention my past conduct equally claims the expression of my gratitude. After we had, by the smiles of Divine Providence on our exertions, obtained the object for which we contended, I retired at the conclusion of the war with the idea that my country could have no farther occasion for my services, and with the intention of never entering again into public life; but when the exigencies of my country seemed to require me once more to engage in public affairs, an honest conviction of duty superseded my former resolution and became my apology for deviating from the happy plan which I had adopted.

      If I could have entertained the slightest apprehension that the Constitution framed in the convention where I had the honor to preside might possibly endanger the religious rights of any ecclesiastical society, certainly I would never have placed my signature to it; and if I could now conceive that the General Government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny and every species of religious persecution. -- For you doubtless remember I have often expressed my sentiments that every man conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.

      While I recollect with satisfaction that the religious society of which you are members have been throughout America, uniformly and almost unanimously, the firm friends to civil liberty, and the persevering promoters of our glorious revolution, I cannot hesitate to believe that they will be faithful supporters of a free yet efficient General Government. Under this pleasing expectation I rejoice to assure them that they may rely upon my best wishes and endeavors to advance their prosperity.

      In the meantime be assured, gentlemen, that I entertain a proper sense of your fervent supplication to God for my temporal and eternal happiness.

      I am, gentlemen, your most obedient servant,


[Taken from Robert. B. Semple, History of Virginia Baptists, 1810, revised 1894; rpt. 1976, pp. 484-489. The titles have been supplied for these letters. A photocopy of Washington's letter may be found at the Library of Congress website: George Washington Papers, 1741-1799: Series 2 Letterbooks. - jrd]

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