Topic: Neal Millikan

“Went to Church at Alexandria”: George Washington and Christ Church

Christ Church exteriorBy Neal Millikan, Assistant Editor
March 31, 2016

As the Washington Papers editor headquartered at Mount Vernon, I live and work in the community where George Washington spent his happiest times as an adult. Along with physically being on Washington’s estate during the week, I also serve as a docent at Christ Church in Old Town Alexandria on some weekends.1 Originally part of the Church of England (the Anglican Church), today Christ Church is part of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (formed after the American Revolution).

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Benjamin Franklin and the Adams Family: Editing the Founders

George Washington Statue in Boston Public Garden

George Washington Statue in Boston Public Garden

By Neal Millikan, Assistant Editor
January 5, 2016

“To edit a book well, especially if in any way historical, is far more of a labor than a [wo]man commonly gets credit for. It requires varied knowledge and extensive resources–far more than I could have imagined. I find it engrosses my attention very completely.”

–Diary of Charles Francis Adams, May 9, 1850

Reading this quote in the editor in chief’s office at the Adams Papers made me smile. With these three brief sentences Charles Francis Adams perfectly described what we strive to do as documentary editors.

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The Once and Future Presidents

By Neal Millikan

Neal is an Assistant Editor for The Papers of George Washington. She is currently editing volumes for the Presidential Series.

George Washington’s 20 February 1797 letter to John Adams is an interesting document for many reasons. The president and vice president rarely corresponded by letter in the last months of Washington’s administration, presumably having most of their exchanges in face to face interactions. The letter is also of a private–not public–nature, with Washington giving his personal opinion of Adams’ son. Perhaps most remarkably, the letter has the first president writing to the incoming second president about the future sixth president, John Quincy Adams.

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George Washington Forgeries at Mount Vernon

By Neal Millikan
May 8, 2015

Neal is an Assistant Editor for The Papers of George Washington. She is currently editing volumes for the Presidential Series.

Among the special collections owned by the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon are nearly 500 documents written by George Washington. And not surprisingly, there are also some known forgeries, one of which is attributed to Robert Spring, and another of which is likely the work of Joseph Cosey.

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George Washington’s Advice to his Grandson

By Neal Millikan
March 26, 2015

Neal is an Assistant Editor for The Papers of George Washington. She is currently editing volumes for the Presidential Series.

George Washington Parke Custis (1781–1857), the youngest child of John Parke and Eleanor Calvert Custis, spent most of his youth with his grandparents George and Martha Washington and in the fall of 1796 he enrolled at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). Washington, as he was called by his relatives, was not a particularly diligent student and the family worried that he might not properly apply himself to his studies. While Washington Custis’s letters to his grandfather during his first months away at school have not survived, George Washington’s letters to his grandson provide insight into his role as father figure to the young man. Both the president and the grandson lost their fathers at an early age: George Washington at eleven, and George Washington Parke Custis at only six months. By writing these letters of advice the father of our country was imparting wisdom similar to what he might have received from his own parent.

George Washington, who never attended college, explained to his grandson the importance of making the most of his education. He encouraged Custis to show obedience to his professors and the president of the college and to devote his time to reading serious, not trivial works: “Light reading (by this, I mean books of little importance) may amuse for the moment, but leaves nothing solid behind.” According to his grandfather, the purpose of Custis’s schooling was to “see you enter upon the grand theatre of life, with the advantages of a finished education, a highly cultivated mind; and a proper sense of your duties to God & Man.”[1] George Washington knew the hours Washington Custis spent studying “may feel irksome at first,” but the president advised him that “the advantages resulting from”[2] his education would outweigh the irritations. Washington warned his grandson to avoid acquiring habits that would lead to “idleness and vice,” but equally instructed him not to “deprive yourself in the intervals of study, of any recreation … which reason approves.”[3]

As an adult George Washington had many acquaintances but few whom he considered close friends; this fact explains the guidance he gave his grandson about forming ties with his classmates. While he advised Washington Custis to “Endeavor to conciliate the good will of all your fellow-students, rendering them every act of kindness in your power,”[4] he also counselled him to reserve friendship until he knew his fellow students well, and then to “select the most deserving only,” noting that “True friendship is a plant of slow growth.” He cautioned his grandson against becoming friendly with immoral youths who might become “a stumbling block in your way; and act like a Millstone hung to your neck.” However, he also advised Custis not to form “hasty, & unfavourable impressions of any one: let your judgment always balance well, before you decide.” If adequate time had not yet occurred to form an opinion, the grandfather suggested that “it is best to be silent; for there is nothing more certain than that it is, at all times, more easy to make enemies, than friends.”[5]

George Washington, himself a life-long (albeit laconic) diarist, encouraged his grandson to keep a diary while at school to make a record “of the occurrences which happen to you, or within your sphere.” Writing from personal experience, Washington noted that while the practice may appear “Trifling” at the time, “by carefully preserving” his thoughts Custis would gain more “satisfaction” in returning to these diaries at a future date “than what you may conceive at present.” The grandfather also recommended entering all his expenses into an account book, which would “initiate you into a habit, from which considerable advantages would result. Where no account of this sort is kept–there can be no investigation; no correction of errors; no discovery from a recurrence thereto, wherein too much, or too little has been appropriated to particular uses. From an early attention to these matters, important & lasting benefits may follow.”[6] Washington further instructed Custis to promptly acknowledge receiving letters “to remove doubts of their miscarriage”[7] by the sender, and implored him to “Never let an indigent person ask, without receiving something”[8] if he had the means.

Writing on 27 February 1797, shortly before he left the presidency, George Washington was gratified to hear that Washington Custis seemed to enjoy his studies and hoped his grandson would “reward my cares & anxieties to see you a polished Scholar, & a useful member of society, by persevering with assiduity & steadiness in the course you are now in.”[9] Custis, however, only attended the College of New Jersey at Princeton until October; he subsequently matriculated at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, but left in September 1798 without graduating.

[1]19 December 1796, ViHi: Custis Papers.

[2] 15 November 1796, George Washington Parke Custis, Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington, New York, 1860, 73-75.

[3] 28 November 1796, ViHi: Custis Papers.

[4] 15 November 1796, George Washington Parke Custis, Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington, New York, 1860, 73-75.

[5] 28 November 1796, ViHi: Custis Papers.

[6] 11 January 1797, ViMtvL.

[7] 28 November 1796, ViHi: Custis Papers.

[8] 15 November 1796, George Washington Parke Custis, Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington, New York, 1860, 73-75.

[9] ViHi: Custis Papers.

Responses to George Washington’s Farewell Address

By Neal Millikan
February 23, 2015

Neal is an Assistant Editor for The Papers of George Washington. She is currently editing volumes for the Presidential Series.

On 19 September 1796 Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser in Philadelphia published the
document that became known as George Washington’s Farewell Address.  The work that was addressed “To the PEOPLE of the United States” and began with the salutation “Friends and
Fellow-Citizens” had two goals: first, to announce that Washington would not accept another term as president, and second, to offer his reflections and comments on the United States.  The Address warned the nation against political partisanship and foreign influence in politics, and encouraged the country to avoid the political affairs of Europe.

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 Image from America’s Historical Newspapers

After its publication groups and individuals from across the United States wrote to George Washington. These letters typically combined a sadness that he was stepping down from office with an appreciation for the years of service the first president had given to the nation.  On 27 October the Vermont legislature asked Washington to accept “the only acknowledgment in our power to make, or in yours to receive, the gratitude of a free People.  Ardently as we wish your continuance in public office, yet, when we reflect on the years of anxiety you have spent in your country’s service, we must reluctantly acquiesce in your wishes, and consent that you should pass the evening of your days, in reviewing a well-spent life … We receive your address to your fellow citizens, as expressive of the highest zeal for their prosperity, and containing the best advice to ensure its continuance”(D, DLC:GW).

The New Jersey legislature wrote that Washington’s Address was “replete with sentiments of political wisdom, truth and justice, and merits our grateful acknowledgement.”  That body hoped that Washington’s successor “will be emulous to imitate his virtues and pursue the wise and wholsome system of politics, which has so conspicuously distinguished his administration, and so effectually secured to us the inestimable blessings of Peace, and the present unparallelled prosperity of our country.” (DS, DLC:GW; LB, DLC:GW).  The Delaware house of representatives’ 1 February 1797 response shared a similar view: “To enjoy the advantages resulting from your wise Administration, and not to express our Gratification; to feel the beneficial effects of your firmness and Patriotism, and not acknowledge them, to admire your Magnanimity and to be silent, would throw a Shade over the Republican Character, of which we boast, and would wound the sensibility of our Constituents.  Permit us, Sir, to offer the only tribute in our Power to give, and the only one worth your acceptance–the grateful acknowledgments of a free and independent People” (D, DLC:GW).

Some correspondents were already well acquainted with George Washington. Thomas Pinckney wrote from Charleston, South Carolina, on 10 January: “My absence from America at the time when the United Voice of our fellow citizens testified their gratitude for your past services, & their regret that they were about to be deprived of a Chief Magistrate so deservedly the object of their approbation & affection will I hope apologize for intruding my individual assent to these sentiments, and permit me without impropriety to indulge myself in the expression of that veneration for your public character & attachment to your personal merits with which I am sincerely impressed” (ALS, DLC:GW).  John Quincy Adams wrote from The Hague on 11 February that he hoped his fellow citizens would “not only impress all” the document’s “admonitions upon their hearts, but that it may serve as the foundation upon which the whole system of their future policy may rise, the admiration and example of future time; that your warning voice may upon every great emergency recur to their remembrance with an influence equal to the occasion” (Worthington Chauncey Ford, Writings of John Quincy Adams, 2:119-120).

Persons unknown to George Washington also felt motivated to write after reading the Farewell Address.  John Stiles commented on 8 October 1796 that although he was unacquainted with the president, “I feel such a glow of Affectionate gratitude to you, for the signal blessings we as a Nation enjoy, Owing Under God, to your Wise, Virtuous, and firm Administration, as Our Executive Officer, that I beg you sir to recieve My most Unfeigned and hearty Thanks, as an individual Citizen, Amongst the Millions of my Brethren who feel the same emotions for you” (ALS, DLC:GW).  Robert Nesbitt wrote on 22 October: “Four days ago I got a New[s] paper containing your Address to the PEOPLE.  A sentimental Patriotic friend told me that I would be affected, when reading it.  He spoke Truth.  Neither my Tongue nor my Pen can express my Sensations.  Excuse me, Beloved Sir, for addressing you, I cannot help it” (ALS, DLC:GW).  Daniel Jones wrote on 23 November that “though he does not presume to imagin that the opinions of an obscure individual resideing at the distance of an hundred miles west of Philadelphia, can augment or deminish your fame, he begs leave to tender you his warmest and most explicit thanks, for the many great and precious blessings which, as the chosen instrument of heaven, you have procured for our common country.” Jones further noted that he had named his youngest child Washington, so that “by a frequent repitition of the name, the memory of your virtues and services may be kept alive” in his family (ALS, DLC:GW).

George Washington also earned international approbation for the Farewell Address.  The Earl of Radnor wrote from Longford Castle near Salisbury, England, on 19 January 1797: “Tho’ of Necessity a Stranger to You, I cannot deny myself the Satisfaction among the Many, who will probably even from this Country intrude upon your Retirement, of offering to You my Congratulations on your withdrawing yourself from the Scene of public Affairs with a Character, which appears to me perfectly unrivalled in History” (ALS, PHi: Gratz Collection).  During the last six months of his presidency George Washington received correspondence relating to many issues, but one constant theme during that period was the universal commendation of his Farewell Address from admirers both in the United States and abroad.