Letter, Martha Washington to Mercy Otis Warren, December 26, 1789

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  • Letter, Martha Washington to Mercy Otis Warren, December 26, 1789

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Letter, Martha Washington to Mercy Otis Warren, December 26, 1789


Martha Washington as first lady


This long letter from Martha Washington to Mercy Otis Warren, the Massachusetts writer and historian, touches in a variety of ways on Martha’s public role as the first First Lady, something she did not often dwell upon in her correspondence. Despite her desire to remain in the comfort of retirement at Mount Vernon, she is determined to make the best of her new public role. The letter also contains a fascinating portrayal of her husband George’s careful reading of public opinion on his return to public life as the first President (image courtesy of Maine Historical Society).


Martha Washington





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My Dear Madam                             New York December the 26th 1789

Your very friendly letter of the 27th of last month has afforded me much more satisfaction than all the formal compliments and emty ceremonies of mear etiquette could possably have done. - I am not apt to forget the feelings that have been inspired by my former society with good acquaintances, nor to be insensible to thair expressions of gratitude to the President of the United States; for you know me well enough to do me the justice to beleive that I am only fond of what comes from the heart. - Under a conviction that the demonstrations of respect and affection which have been made to the President originate from that source I cannot deny that I have taken some interest and pleasure in them. - The difficulties which presented themselves to view upon his first entering upon the Presidency, seem thus to be in some measure surmounted: it is owing to this kindness of our numerous friends in all quarters that my new and unwished for situation is not indeed a burden to me. When I was much younger I should, probably, have enjoyed the inoscent gayeties of life as much as most my age; -but I had long since placed all the prospects of my future worldly happyness in the still enjoyments of the fireside at Mount Vernon -

I little thought when the war was finished, that any circumstances could possible have happened which would call the General into public life again. I had anticipated, that from this moment we should have been left to grow old in solitude and tranquility togather: that was, my Dear madam, the first and dearest wish of my heart; - but in that I have been disapointed; I will not, however, contemplate with too much regret disapointments that were enevitable, though the generals feelings and my own were perfectly in unison with respect to our predilictions for privet life, yet I cannot blame him for having acted according to his ideas of duty in obaying the voice of his country. The consciousness of having attempted to do all the good in his power, and the pleasure of finding his fellow citizens so well satisfied with the disintrestedness of his conduct, will, doubtless, be some compensation for the great sacrifices which I know he has made; indeed in his journeys from Mount Vernon - to this place; in his late Tour through the eastern states, by every public and by every privet information which has come to him, I am persuaded that he has experienced nothing to make him repent his having acted from what he concieved to be alone a sense of indespensable duty: on the contrary, all his sensibility has been awakened in receiving such repeated and unaquivocal proofs of sincear regards from all his country men. with respect to myself, I sometimes think the arrangement is not quite as it ought to have been, that I, who had much rather be at home should occupy a place with which a great many younger and gayer women would be prodigiously pleased. - As my grand children and domestic connections made a great portion of the felicity which I looked for in this world. - 1 shall hardly be able to find any substitute that would indemnify me for the Loss of a part of such endearing society. I do not say this because I feel dissatisfied with my present station - no, God forbid: - for everybody and everything conspire to make me as contented as possable in it; yet I have too much of the vanity of human affairs to expect felicity from the splendid scenes of public life. - I am still determined to be cheerful and to be happy in whatever situation I may be, for I have also learnt from experianence that the greater part of our happiness or misary depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances; we carry the seeds of the one, or the other about with us, in our minds, wherever we go.

I have two of my grand children with me who enjoy advantages in point of education, and who, I trust by the goodness of providence, will continue to be a great blessing to me, my other two grand children are with thair mother in virginia. -

The Presidents health is quite reestablished by his late journey - mine is much better than it used to be - I am sorry to hear that General Warren has been ill: hope before this time that he may be entirely recovered - we should rejoice to see you both, I wish the best of Heavens blessings, and am my dear madam with esteem and

regard your friend and Hble
M Washington

Mrs Warren

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Autograph Letter Signed



How to Cite this Item

Martha Washington, "Letter, Martha Washington to Mercy Otis Warren, December 26, 1789," in Martha Washington, Item #25, https://marthawashington.us/items/show/25 (accessed April 6, 2021).