At the start of George Washington’s second term, Patrick Henry replies to a request that he accept the position of Secretary of State.
I should be unworthy the character of a Republican or an honest man if I withheld from the Goverment my best and most zealous Efforts because in its Adoption I opposed it in its unamend Form. And I do most cordially execrate the Conduct of those men who loose Sight of the public Interest from personal Motives.
To President Washington.
Long-Island, Campbell County, Octr. 16th. 1795
YOUR Favor of the 9th Inst. is this Moment brot. to me by an Express from Richmond. The Contents of it make a deep Impression on my Mind. To disobey the Call of my Country into Service, when her venerable Chief makes the Demand of it must be a Crime, unless the most substantial Reasons justify declining it. And I must trust in Candour & your Goodness to excuse me for not accepting the Appointment you are pleased to offer me. My Domestic Situation pleads strongly against a Removal to Philadelphia, having no less than eight Children by my Present Marriage, & Mrs. Henry’s—Situation now forbidding her Approach to the small pox which-neither herself nor any of our Family ever had—To this may be added other Considerations arising from Loss of Crops & consequent Derangemt. of my Finances—And what is of decisive Weight with me, my own Health & Strength I believe are unequal to the Dutys of the Station you are pleased to offer me—This Detail, composed so much of Particulars uninteresting to the public, I am emboldened to lay before you, from the very friendly & unreserved—sentiments you are pleased to express towards me. Permit me to add, that having devoted many Years of the prime of my Life to the public Service, & thereby injured my Circumstances, I have been obliged to resume my Profession & go again to the Bar, at a Time of Life too advanced to support the Fatigues of it. By this Means my Health has been injured.
When these Things are considered, may I hope for your favorable Judgement on the Motives by which I am actuated? Believe me, Sir I have bid adieu to the Distinction of federal & Antifederal ever since the Commencement. of the present Govermt; & in the Circle of my Friends have often expressed my Fears of Disunion amongst the States from Collision of Interests, but especially from the banefull Effects of Factions—The most I can say is, that if my Country is destined in my Day to encounter the Horrors of Anarchy, every Power of Mind & Body which I possess will be exerted in Support of the Goverment under which I live, & which has been fairly sanctioned by my Countrymen. I should be unworthy the character of a Republican or an honest man if I withheld from the Goverment my best and most zealous Efforts because in its Adoption I opposed it in its unamend Form. And I do most cordially execrate the Conduct of those men who loose Sight of the public Interest from personal Motives.
It is with painfull Regret that I perceive any Occurrences of late have given you Uneasiness. Indeed Sir I did hope & pray that it might be your Lot to feel as small a portion of that, as the most favored condition of Humanity can experience—And if it eventually comes to pass that Evil instead of Good grows out of the Public Measures you may adopt, I confide that our Country will not so far depart from her character as to judge from the Events, but give full Credit to the Motives, & decide from these alone. Forgive Sir these Effusions & permit me to add to them one more which is an Ardent Wish that the best Rewards which are due to a well spent Life may be yours.
With the most sincere Esteem & high Regard, I ever am dear Sir your much obliged & very humble Servant,
To the President of the united States.
Copy of my Letter to the president in answer to his offering the Department of State to me