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[Detail] George Washington. Portrait by Gilbert Stuart c1929.

Historical Comprehension

Diary entries, notes, personal correspondence, and public speeches convey the intentions of people, the difficulties they encountered, and the complexities of the time in which they lived.

Investigating Washington's expressions of gratitude of the public trust placed in him on election to the presidency, coupled with his reluctance to resume the responsibility of public service reveals insights to his character, values, and ideals that are often lost in textbook accounts of Washington's public life.

Search on ocean of difficulties to find a letter Washington wrote to Henry Knox before leaving Mount Vernon for New York and his inauguration as first president of the United States:

. . . I assure you . . . that my movements to the chair of Government will be accompanied with feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of his execution: so unwilling am I, in the evening of a life nearly consumed in public cares, to quit a peaceful abode for an Ocean of difficulties, without that competency of political skill--abilities & inclination which is necessary to manage the helm. . . .

Letter from George Washington to Henry Knox, April 1, 1789 [Transcription]

Compare this with the letter to Henry Lee on the occasion of Washington's re-election on January 6, 1793.

. . . A mind must be insensible indeed, not to be gratefully impressed by so distinguished, and honorable a testimony of public approbation and confidence: and, as I suffered my name to be contemplated on this occasion, it is more than probable that I should, for a moment, have experienced chagreen if my re-election had not been by a pretty respectable vote. But to say I feel pleasure from the prospect of commencing another tour of duty, would be a departure from truth ...

Letter from George Washington to Henry Lee, January 20, 1793 [Transcription]

Search on election and 1789 or election and 1793 to find additional correspondence regarding Washington's election to the presidency.