Office of University Communications
From Martha Mitchell’s Encyclopedia Brunoniana:
George Washington visited the College in August 1790. He arrived in Providence at about 4 p.m. on August 18, after a seven-hour sail from Newport and was accompanied by Governor Clinton of New York, Thomas Jefferson, and several members of Congress, including Senator Theodore Foster 1770. The Providence Gazette noted that in the evening “the President and many others took a walk on the College green, to view the illumination of the building by the students, which made a most splendid appearance.” On August 19 Washington and his suite were escorted to the College by the students, and President Manning greeted him with an address in behalf of the Corporation:
“Sir: – Though among the last to congratulate you on your advancement to that dignified and important station to which the unanimous voice of a grateful country has called you, the Corporation of Rhode Island College claim to be among the first in warmth of affection for your person, and in esteem for your public character.”Washington replied with his address to the Corporation:
“Gentlemen: – The circumstances which have until this time prevented you from offering your congratulations on my advancement to the station I hold in the government of the United States, do not diminish the pleasure I feel in receiving this flattering proof of your affection and esteem ... I rejoice in having so favorable an opportunity of felicitating the State of Rhode Island on the co-operation I am sure to find in the measures adopted by the guardians of literature in this place, for improving the morals of the rising generation, and inculcating upon their minds principles peculiarly calculated for the preservation of our rights and liberties. You may rely on whatever protection I may be able to afford in so important an object as the education of our youth.”The references to the delayed exchange of congratulations were occasioned by the fact that Rhode Island was the last of the thirteen colonies to ratify the Constitution, having done so only on May 29, 1790 after several days of debate by the narrow margin of 34 affirmative votes to 32 negative. At the Commencement exercises two weeks after his visit the degree of Doctor of Laws was conferred upon Washington. On October 10, 1932 the University celebrated the bicentennial of the birth of Washington by unveiling a plaque on University Hall commemorating his visit in 1790. The plaque was presented by Chancellor Henry D. Sharpe and an address was delivered by Professor James B. Hedges. A long procession passed through the Van Wickle Gates, which were usually only opened on Commencement Day.
The above entry appears in Encyclopedia Brunoniana by Martha Mitchell, copyright ©1993 by the Brown University Library. It is used here by permission of the author and the University and may not be copied or further distributed without permission.