Although Washington was known, as John Adams stated, for his “gift of silence”, he could be a very eloquent man. His public and private letters and speeches express a wide range of Washington’s interests, quirks, passions, and insights. At times he wrote with revolutionary zeal and other times with cold, calculating reason. Although he lacked the literary imagination of Jefferson and the Lincoln, the most celebrated presidential wordsmiths, his greatest public documents gave guidance to a young republic and his wisdom was celebrated for centuries by his countrymen.
The Farewell Addresses
Both of these documents reflect his great wisdom and political philosophy.
The Inaugural Addresses
Washington set a precedent when he delivered his inaugural addresses after taking the oath of office as president. Although his second address was barely an address – 135 words – his first one was an eloquent message of optimism for the new nation.
Letter to the President of Congress, December 27, 1776 – “I determined to push on at all Events..”
Letter to Robert Morris, George Clymer, and George Walton, January 1, 1777 – “as the Sword was the last Resort for the preservation of our Liberties, so it ought to be the first thing laid aside, when those Liberties are firmly established.”
Letter to the President of Congress, December 23, 1777 – “This Army must inevitably be reduced to one or other of these three things. Starve, dissolve, or disperse..”
Newburgh Address, March 15, 1783 – Washington’s eloquent speech to the Army which, along with his famous gesture, prevented a potential military takeover.
Letter to Touro Synagogue, August 18, 1790 – Washington’s eloquent statement on religious freedom in America
Proclamation of Neutrality, April 22 1793 – A proclamation that defined early American foreign policy
Last Will and Testament, July 9, 1799 – Washington famous last act, manumitting his slaves.
The Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation – Although not written by Washington, he transcribed these rules early in his life and most historians consider them influential.
Letter to John A. Washington, May 31, 1754 – “I heard the bullets whistle, and, believe me, there is something charming in the sound.”
Letter to Sally Fairfax, September 12, 1758 – The famous letter Washington wrote to his youthful infatuation.
Letter to Bryan Fairfax, July 20, 1774 – “Great Britain hath no more right to put their hands into my pocket, without my consent, than I have to put my hands into yours..”
Letter to Martha Washington, June 18, 1775 – Letter to Martha upon being appointed commander.
Letter to Martha Washington, June 23, 1775 – “I retain an unalterable affection for you which neither time or distance can change..”
Letter to Lund Washington, September 30, 1776 – “I tell you that I never was in such an unhappy, divided state since I was born.”
Letter to John A. Washington, December 18, 1776 – “I think the game is pretty near up..”
Letter to James Warren, March 31, 1779 – “Our cause is noble, it is the cause of Mankind!”
Letter to the Marquis de Lafayette, September 30, 1779 – “I have a heart susceptable of the tenderest passion..”
Letter to Lewis Nicola, May 22, 1782 – In this letter, Washington demonstrates his integrity by disavowing Nicola’s suggestion to resort to force against the Congress
Letter to Alexander Hamilton, April 4, 1783 – “The Army is a dangerous instrument to play with..”
Statement to David Humphreys, ca. 1788-89 – “The only unavoidable subject of regret.”
Letter to Sir Edward Newenham, August 29, 1788 – “I was convinced it approached nearer to perfection than any government hitherto instituted among Men.”
Letter to Thomas Jefferson, August 23, 1792 – “There may be liberal allowances, mutual forbearances, and temporising yieldings on all sides.”
Letter to Alexander Hamilton, August 26, 1792 – “I would fain hope that liberal allowances will be made for the political opinions of each other; and instead of those wounding suspicions.”
Letter to Eleanor Parke Custis, January 16, 1795 – “Love is said to be an involuntary passion..”
Letter to Thomas Jefferson, July 6, 1796 – “I had never discovered any thing in the conduct of Mr. Jefferson to raise suspicions..”