George Washington broke political barriers during the creation of the presidency when he set out on the Southern Tour from March-July 1791. As the first President, he was convinced that the survival of the new republic depended on people identifying as Americans and feeling a sense of belonging to the same nation. Its survival also depended on their support of the federal government. Washington astutely expected that as a Revolutionary hero, President, and symbol of the new nation he would be well-received, even though heated debates in Congress over diverse economic and social interests, slavery, for example, made clear how different the states saw themselves. Many feared that the fragile republic would crumble. Washington, who witnessed the sacrifices people made during the Revolution, believed in the future of the nation. President Washington wanted to become acquainted with people and hear what they envisioned for the future of the nation while he also promoted the new government. Washington and his companions traveled through rough terrain and visited small and large settlements. Washington broke political barriers by traveling to the different states and listening to people’s opinions about the government and informing himself on how to better create new policies. More importantly, by visiting people in person, and he showed them that they were an essential part of the new federal government.

Establishing a Connection

A Rough Journey

From Philadelphia, Washington was accompanied by eight men (two of them enslaved), eleven horses, and a four-wheel coach. Prior to the trip, the President received important advice on which roads to take and where to eat and rest, however, the trip proved a difficult one. At the time, there was no public transportation or paved roads, of course. Traveling through rough terrain and dangerous waterways posed a risk to most travelers. 

Primary Source: Letter from George Washington to Tobias Lear, 1791

Toward the end of this letter, Washington commented that the roads in South Georgia were “abominably sandy & heavy,” and his horses were “much worn out.”

 

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This coach from Mount Vernon is similar to the one George Washington traveled in.

Memories of War

Pin presented to Katherine Greene, 1791

Pin presented to Katherine Greene, 1791

While in Georgia, Washington visited Katherine Greene, the widow of General Greene, and presented her with this pin. Nathanael Greene, who proved to be essential during the Revolution’s Southern campaigns, was one of Washington’s most trusted generals. During the War, both George and Martha Washington became very fond of "Kitty" Greene. Although Washington did not provide many details about his visit to Mrs. Greene, it is likely that he went to pay his respects for the death of her husband.

Washington also visited some of the sites where General Greene fought with valor against the British. Many of the places he visited were a reminder of the many sacrifices colonists made during the War.

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Documenting the Tour

The Diary of George Washington

The Diary of George Washington

Primary Source: The diary of George Washington, from 1789 to 1791...

As a man who kept detailed records, President Washington kept a diary during his Southern Tour. The diary is rich with important details about the very different places he visited and the diverse people he encountered.

Always concerned about the future of the nation’s economy, he inquired about the land, crops, manufacturers and exports in different places. He noted, for example, that tobacco was Georgia’s principal export. Southern economic and social interests were diverse, and Washington had a discussion with Edward Telfair of Georgia about fugitive slaves (see pg. 191). Later on the tour, chiefs of the Catawba Indians sought to discuss their treaty rights. Washington noted that they “seemed to be under apprehension” of losing their land (see pg. 196). Throughout the tour, the President was received by grand parades and fireworks for him. Even in, a small settlement, he received the salute of one cannon upon arrival.

Washington met politicians and high society ladies, and he also attended community organized dinners and was pleased to find the people in good spirits. For example,  Washington commented in his diary that the people of Charleston, S.C. appeared “happy and satisfied with the Genl. Government” (see pg. 184).

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The People

The President in Salisbury

The President in Salisbury

An account from the President’s visit to Salisbury, N.C. republished in the Gazette of the United States, in June 1791.

Primary Source: The account begins here and continues here

The account revealed how President Washington was received by people in Salisbury, and how they viewed the new government. A representative of the community addressed Washington and assured him that, although they were situated far away from the seat of the government, they would “maintain and perpetuate the federal government.” A grateful Washington pointed that they were all cooperating with their “fellow-citizens throughout the union” to keep the country together. As he made his way to dinner, the President "bowed respectfully to the people," as many cheered "Long live the President!" 

The support of the people in Salisbury likely gave Washington hope for the future.  

A New Perspective

After the Tour

After the Tour

Primary Source: Letter from George Washington to Alexander Martin, 1791

After the completion of the tour, Washington shared with the governor of North Carolina his observations on the people he represented.

This letter’s excerpt reads: “…My object in that journey was not to be received with parade and an ostentatious display of opulence. It was for a noble purpose. To see with my own eyes the situation of the country, and to learn on the condition and disposition of our Citizens. In these respects, I have been highly gratified…”
With a new perspective on the diverse people he represented, Washington looked forward to the future of the nation.

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