Sunday, October 25, 2009

George Washington Really Did Sleep Here, Day 5

As was today, October 25 in 1789 fell on a Sunday. Even though we tend to think of our Founding Fathers in secular terms, they still were religious men. And much like today, even if they weren't personally devout, it was politically expedient to embrace the religious nature of the populace.

The Massachusetts Centinel on October 24, 1789, reflected the sentiment that public officials should respect the Sabbath: "How pleasing the idea that the most venerable and respectable characters of our Federal Legislature pay such strict attention to the Sabbath--that time which is by many gentlemen too often appropriated to serve their temporal interests in journeying, is spent by our national rulers, in such a manner, as, while it reflects the highest honour on our holy religion, must be considered as a gentle rebuke to those whose conduct on such days, as occasion offers, is truly reprehensible." (Of course, much like in today's society there was another side to those celebrating piety. The Centinel's lead story in that issue: "An Oration in Praise of Rum.")

So, on George Washington's trip through New England it was his practice not to travel on Sundays and spend much of the day in church services. On this glistening fall morning, the president attended services at the Trinity Episcopal Church, then located on Summer Street. In the afternoon, he attended services at the Brattle Street Congregational Church. Washington also dined at his lodgings with Vice President John Adams.

On Sunday, the president finally met with Governor John Hancock, who had not been present at the city-wide celebration the day before. Washington wrote in his diary: "I received a visit from the Govr., who assured me that Indisposition alone had prevented his doing it yesterday, and that he was still indisposed; but as it had been suggested that he expected to receive the visit from the President, which he knew was improper, he was resolved at all hazds. to pay his Compliments to day. The Lt. Govr. & two of the Council to wit Heath & Russel were sent here last Night to express the Govrs. Concern that he had not been in a condition to call upon me so soon as I came to Town. I informed them in explicit terms that I should not see the Govt. unless it was at my own lodgings."

There is some speculation as to whether Hancock's illness was real or just an excuse to cover his faux pas of waiting for the president to come to him to pay his respects. Winfield M. Thompson wrote in "When Washington Toured New England" (in the Magazine of History) that the governor pleaded that he was ill with gout. "He presented himself at Washington's lodgings, his legs sheathed in red flannel, and carried from his carriage by two stalwart servants." Perhaps it was some elaborate charade to cover his bases, but Hancock would miss a banquet in Washington's honor a few nights later, and again it was chalked up to illness.

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