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Manuscript Eulogy to George Washington Penned by R.I. Senator Foster During Senate Session
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Issued five weeks after Washington’s death, this newspaper includes the handwritten reflections of a sitting Senator on the loss of the nation’s first President. It is clear from his words that the people of the nation he helped create—and individual Senators—are still struggling with Washington’s death.

[GEORGE WASHINGTON]. THEODORE FOSTER. Newspaper. United States Chronicle, Providence, Rhode Island, January 23, 1800. 4 pp., 11½ x 17¾ in. Inscribed: Hon. Theodore Foster, Senator from R.I / Senate Chamber. With autograph manuscript verses by Foster, [Philadelphia, late January 1800].

Inventory #24369       Price: $9,500

In Foster’s hand in the upper right margin is his own original and unpublished elegiac verse:

Mother & nurse of all ye arts Agriculture. Let us now attend to some of those

paternal admonitions contained in his last address.

We have so long been accustomed to consider him as our Bulwark (partly washed out) and counsellor

in times of difficulty, that it is with painful emotions we realize

the awful event of his dissolution O Washington  Wash

Senator Foster references Washington’s Farewell Address, given several years prior on September 19, 1796. (Working from drafts prepared by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, Washington prepared a final draft for the printer. He announced that he would not accept a third term as President and offered words of encouragement and advice to the American people.) Among his “paternal admonitions” were the following:

“The Unity of Government which constitutes you one people is…a main Pillar in the Edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home; your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very Liberty which you so highly prize.”

“One of the expedients of Party to acquire influence, within particular districts, is to misrepresent the opinions & aims of other Districts.”

“in a country so extensive as ours, a Government of as much vigour as is consistent with the perfect security of Liberty is indispensable--Liberty itself will find in such a Government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest Guardian.”

“A fire not to be quenched; [the Spirit of Party] demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest instead of warming it should consume.”

“cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible: avoiding occasions of expence by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it.”

“Observe good faith & justice towds all Nations. Cultivate peace & harmony with all….”

“Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence, (I conjure you to believe me fellow citizens,) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake; since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of Republican Government.”

“’Tis our true policy to steer clear of permanent Alliances, with any portion of the foreign World….”

“I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat, in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow Citizens, the benign influence of good Laws under a free Government….” Full text of Farewell Address

On page 2, this issue includes an excerpt from a letter of condolence Washington himself wrote to one of the sons of Governor Jonathan Trumbull (1710-1785), on the death of his father.

Under this loss, however great as your pangs may have been at the first shock, you have every thing to console you. A long and well spent life in the service of his country, placed Gov. Trumbull among the first of patriots.... I am sensible that none of these observations can have escaped you—that I can offer nothing which your own reason has not suggested, upon this occasion, and being of Sterne’s opinion, That ‘before an affliction is digested, consolation comes too soon; and after it is digested, it comes too late; there is but a mark between these two, as fine almost as a hair, for a comforter to take aim at,’ I rarely attempt it.” (c1)

Also on page 2, is a January 6 notice from Hanover, New Hampshire: “The President [John Wheelock] and other executive officers of Dartmouth College, have unanimously agreed to wear black crape on the left arm, two months, as a badge of mourning…” (c4)

Page 3 of this issue contains an extract from a letter of January 4, from Alexandria, Virginia, reporting that Washington’s will has freed his 130 slaves at the death of his widow Martha Washington or “as much sooner as she pleases; and it is expected it will not be long before she will liberate them all.” (c2) [A manuscript report of this news, dated at Alexandria January 4, 1800, sold for $20,000 at auction in 2016]

A fine editorial on page 3 reads:

If the powers of the general government are so limited that they cannot embrace every object which the essential interests of the United States are connected – the people, like Moses of old, may have a view of the promised land, but may not enter therein; or like Tantalus, may have the waters of life flowing in their lips, but are not suffered to taste thereof.

The Constitution of the United States has been highly complimented at home and abroad – and from the happy alterations in the circumstances of our country, under its auspices, the people have been led to subscribe to the opinion of its friends; but if the powers which the government has exercised, exceded the limits prescribed, the people must most sincerely lament the restriction, and consider the Constitution so far defective; for it is much better to derive such advantage from a constitutional source, than to owe them to accident, or an illegal assumption of legislative power.— One thing however is certain, that, independent of the Constitution, we have no reason to suppose the United States would at this day, have been in credit, free or independent. (c2-3)

Also includes a stanza of a 1795 poem, The Invention of Letters, written by Thomas Paine (1773-1811), the son of Declaration-signer Robert Treat Paine, at the request of the President of Harvard University:

            “OH, WASHINGTON! thou hero, patriot, sage!

            Friend of all climes, and pride of every age!” (c4)

Full text of The Invention of Letters. (Paine formally adopted his father’s name in 1801.)

A notice is given on page 3 of a meeting of the citizens of East Greenwich and Warwick on January 13, “anxiously wising to pay a suitable Tribute of Respect” to their illustrious Fellow-Citizen.” The article then notes that they resolved upon February 22 as a “Day of Solemn Mourning” with the attendance of “the several Independent Companies in the County of Kent… in military order.” This likely refers to the Kentish Guards and the Warwick Alarm Company. (c3)

And John Russell’s proposal for printing “an elegant Volume to contain those invaluable compositions of our late Chief and President, by which he communicated to his Country, and the World, a System of Political Morality, that can only be surpassed by the Scriptures of Divine Revelation.” (c4) John Russell and John West published Washington’s Political Legacies in March 1800 in Boston and dedicated it to Martha Washington. Full text of Washington’s Political Legacies.

On page 4, the Standing Committee of the Rhode Island Society of the Cincinnati, “penetrated with the deepest Sorrow for the irreparable Loss the Nation, and Humanity in general have sustained, in the Death of that true Patriot, Father and Saviour of his Country,” recommended that its members “wear black Crape or Ribbon on the left Arm, below the Elbow, until the 30th Day of June next, as a Tribute of Honor and Esteem, due to the Memory of the late venerated President-General of the Cincinnati.” (c4)

Additional news items in this issue of the United States Chronicle relate to Napoleon Buonaparte (p1, c4) and Toussaint Louverture (p3, c2). “Gen. Touissaint [sic] is victorious over Rigaud, and it is generally expected here [Cape Francois], he will soon put an end to the war.”

Also includes content on a resolution in Congress to disband the national army, which was rejected. (p2) On that topic, is a stern letter from Representative John Randolph, Jr. to President John Adams, dated January 11: “For words of a general nature, uttered on the floor of this House, addressed in my official capacity, to the chairman of the committee of the whole, and urged with a view to effect the reduction of a military establishment, I have been grossly and publicly insulted, by two officers of the Army (or Navy, I know not which) with evident intention to provoke me to a conduct which might justify the hostile designs which they manifestly entertained towards me.... It is enough for me to state that the independence of the Legislature has been attacked – the majesty of the people of which you are the principal representative insulted, and your authority contemned. In their name, I demand that a provision commensurate with the evil, be made, and which will be calculated to deter others from any future attempt to introduce the reign of Terror into our country.” (p2, c3-4)

Historical Background

The nation’s first president had died on December 14, 1799, and was interred at Mount Vernon by his family four days later. News reached Philadelphia, then the seat of the federal government, on the day of Washington’s burial. Congress and President Adams immediately began planning an official mourning procession, and the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives appointed Representative Henry Lee (1756-1818) of Virginia to deliver the official eulogy. Lee had served as a cavalry officer under Washington in the Revolutionary War and aided President George Washington in suppressing the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794.

Lee immediately authored resolutions to commemorate Washington, and the following day, John Marshall presented them to Congress, beginning with the exclamation, “Our WASHINGTON is no more!” Congress unanimously adopted the resolutions.  They include the famous description of Washington as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his country.” On December 26, Lee altered the description slightly in his eulogy, in which he described Washington as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

Congress urged American citizens to wear black crape on their left arm for thirty days as a sign of mourning and respect and immediately began planning a marble monument to Washington’s memory in the capitol in the new capital city, named Washington in 1791. Congress did not hold its first session there until November 1800.

Theodore Foster (1752-1828) was a lawyer and politician from Rhode Island who served thirteen years in the U.S. Senate (1790-1803); from 1801-1803, he was Dean[1] of the Senate. A graduate of Rhode Island College (now Brown University), Foster was an aspiring classicist and sprinkled his letters and speeches with allusions to Greek and Latin writers. Foster’s role in the burning of the British customs schooner HMS Gaspee by colonists in June 1772 has been debated for many years (most conspirators were never named). At the time, Foster, aged 20, had already graduated Brown University, married and had a child, completed a law degree, and began practicing law in Providence. While his age fits that of several Gaspee raiders, he is thought to have had a more important role in the months after the arson. At the time, he was assistant clerk with the RI Superior Court, and “his likely complicity with Justices of the RI Superior Court no doubt contributed to the failure of the British appointed Royal Commission of Inquiry into the burning of the Gaspee.” Because of these local efforts, the British investigation was stymied and no one was ever brought to Britain for trial. [The “Gaspee Affair” marked the first act of violent uprising against the authority of the British crown in America, preceding the Boston tea party by more than a year and moving the Colonies as a whole toward the war for independence.]

During the American Revolution, Foster served in the RI colony (then state) house of representatives from 1776-1782. At the May 1776 session, Rhode Island became the first colony to renounce allegiance to George III. During his long political career, his important family connections, being the brother of U.S. Senator and Representative from Massachusetts Dwight Foster, and brother-in-law of RI Governor Arthur Fenner, must have both fostered and propelled his activity and influence. In addition, he was good friends with Dr. Solomon Drowne (a Brown classmate) who conducted botanical research on a farm, Mt. Hygeia, abutting Foster’s.

Foster’s retirement from public life in 1803 was caused primarily by his decision to leave the Federalist Party in 1800, as the Federalists remained the dominant party in New England for the next fifteen years. He later served on the Board of Trustees of Brown University from 1794-1822, and contributed to the early organization of both the Rhode Island Historical Society and the Massachusetts Historical Society.

[1] An informal term used to recognize the Senator with the longest continuous service, regardless of party affiliation. This is not an official position within the Senate, although customarily (since 1945) the longest-serving member of the majority party serves as President pro tempore.

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