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Message in Reply to the House of Representatives

December 17, 1796

Address of the House of Representatives to George Washington, President of the United States.

SIR: The House of Representatives have attended to your communication respecting the state of our country with all the sensibility that the contemplation of the subject and a sense of duty can inspire.

We are gratified by the information that measures calculated to insure a continuance of the friendship of the Indians and to maintain the tranquillity of the Western frontier have been adopted, and we indulge the hope that these, by impressing the Indian tribes with more correct conceptions of the justice as well as power of the United States, will be attended with success.

While we notice with satisfaction the steps that you have taken in pursuance of the late treaties with several foreign nations, the liberation of our citizens who were prisoners at Algiers is a subject of peculiar felicitation. We shall cheerfully cooperate in any further measures that shall appear on consideration to be requisite.

We have ever concurred with you in the most sincere and uniform disposition to preserve our neutral relations inviolate, and it is of course with anxiety and deep regret we hear that any interruption of our harmony with the French Republic has occurred, for we feel with you and with our constituents the cordial and unabated wish to maintain a perfectly friendly understanding with that nation. Your endeavors to fulfill that wish, and by all honorable means to preserve peace, and to restore that harmony and affection which have heretofore so happily subsisted between the French Republic and the United States, can not fail, therefore, to interest our attention. And while we participate in the full reliance you have expressed on the patriotism, self-respect, and fortitude of our countrymen, we cherish the pleasing hope that a mutual spirit of justice and moderation will insure the success of your perseverance.

The various subjects of your communication will respectively meet with the attention that is due to their importance.

When we advert to the internal situation of the United States, we deem it equally natural and becoming to compare the present period with that immediately antecedent to the operation of the Government, and to contrast it with the calamities in which the state of war still involves. several of the European nations, as the reflections deduced from both tend to justify as well as to excite a warmer admiration of our free Constitution, and to exalt our minds to a more fervent and grateful sense of piety toward Almighty God for the beneficence of His providence, by which its administration has been hitherto so remarkably distinguished.

And while we entertain a grateful conviction that your wise, firm, and patriotic Administration has been signally conducive to the success of the present form of government, we can not forbear to express the deep sensations of regret with which we contemplate your intended retirement from office.

As no other suitable occasion may occur, we can not suffer the present to pass without attempting to disclose some of the emotions which it can not fail to awaken.

The gratitude and admiration of your countrymen are still drawn to the recollection of those resplendent virtues and talents which were so eminently instrumental to the achievement of the Revolution, and of which that glorious event will ever be the memorial. Your obedience to the voice of duty and your country when you quitted reluctantly a second time the retreat you had chosen and first accepted the Presidency afforded a new proof of the devotedness of your zeal in its service and an earnest of the patriotism and success which have characterized your Administration. As the grateful confidence of the citizens in the virtues of their Chief Magistrate has essentially contributed to that success, we persuade ourselves that the millions whom we represent participate with us in the anxious solicitude of the present occasion.

Yet we can not be unmindful that your moderation and magnanimity, twice displayed by retiring from your exalted stations, afford examples no less rare and instructive to mankind than valuable to a republic.

Although we are sensible that this event of itself completes the luster of a character already conspicuously unrivaled by the coincidence of virtue, talents, success, and public estimation, yet we conceive we owe it to you, sir, and still more emphatically to ourselves and to our nation (of the language of whose hearts we presume to think ourselves at this moment the faithful interpreters), to express the sentiments with which it is contemplated.

The spectacle of a free and enlightened nation offering, by its Representatives, the tribute of unfeigned approbation to its first citizen, however novel and interesting it may be, derives all its luster (a luster which accident or enthusiasm could not bestow, and which adulation would tarnish) from the transcendent merit of which it is the voluntary testimony.

May you long enjoy that liberty which is so dear to you, and to which your name will ever be so dear. May your own virtues and a nation's prayers obtain the happiest sunshine for the decline of your days and the choicest of future blessings. For our country's sake, for the sake of republican liberty, it is our earnest wish that your example may be the guide of your successors, and thus, after being the ornament and safeguard of the present age, become the patrimony of our descendants.

DECEMBER 15, 1796.

Reply of the President:

GENTLEMEN: To a citizen whose views were unambitious, who preferred the shade and tranquillity of private life to the splendor and solicitude of elevated stations, and whom the voice of duty and his country could alone have drawn from his chosen retreat, no reward for his public services can be so grateful as public approbation, accompanied by a consciousness that to render those services useful to that country has been his single aim; and when this approbation is expressed by the Representatives of a free and enlightened nation, the reward will admit of no addition. Receive, gentlemen, my sincere and affectionate thanks for this signal testimony that my services have been acceptable and useful to my country. The strong confidence of my fellow-citizens, while it animated all my actions, insured their zealous cooperation, which rendered those services successful. The virtue and wisdom of my successors, joined with the patriotism and intelligence of the citizens who compose the other branches of Government, I firmly trust will lead them to the adoption of measures which, by the beneficence of Providence, will give stability to our system of government, add to its success, and secure to ourselves and to posterity that liberty which is to all of us so dear.

While I acknowledge with pleasure the sincere and uniform disposition of the House of Representatives to preserve our neutral relations inviolate, and with them deeply regret any degree of interruption of our good understanding with the French Republic, I beg you, gentlemen, to rest assured that my endeavors will be earnest and unceasing by all honorable means to preserve peace and to restore that harmony and affection which have heretofore so happily subsisted between our two nations; and with you I cherish the pleasing hope that a mutual spirit of justice and moderation will crown those endeavors with success.

I shall cheerfully concur in the beneficial measures which your deliberations shall mature on the various subjects demanding your attention; and while directing your labors to advance the real interests of our country, you receive its blessings. With perfect sincerity my individual wishes will be offered for your present and future felicity.


DECEMBER 16, 1796.

George Washington, Message in Reply to the House of Representatives Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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