WASHINGTON, George. Document signed ("Go: Washington") as President, countersigned by Secretary of State Timothy Pickering, Philadelphia, 3 March 1797. 1 page, large folio (17.58 x 414 5/8 in.), text in a clear clerical hand, boldly headed "The President of the United States," large papered seal of the United States at lower left, edges with a few minor nicks, small clean tear to lower corner, folds reinforced from verso.
ONE OF WASHINGTON'S LAST OFFICIAL ACTS AS PRESIDENT: "IT IS EVER MY DESIRE TO TEMPER THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE WITH...MERCY"
On his final day in office, Washington signed two documents: a remittance of a fine levied against a smuggler and the present presidential pardon for 10 Pennsylvanians under indictment for high treason in the so-called Whiskey Rebellion. These documents "probably constitute Washington's last official acts as President (J.C. Fitzpatrick 35:417n.).
The text reads: "Whereas Daniel Hamilton, William Miller, Richard Holcroft, Ebenezer Gallagher, William Hannah, Peter Lisle, David Lock, Alexander Fulton, Samuel Hannah and Thomas Spiers, all of the District of Pennsylvania now stand indicted for High Treason...and whereas application has been made to me in their behalf setting forth their contrition...and assurances of their good behavior in future and whereas it is ever my desire to temper the administration of justice with a reasonable extension of mercy...Therefore I, George Washington...have thought proper and by these present do grant...to each of them a full free and entire pardon of the treason or treasons whereof they respectively stand indicted willing and requiring all prosecutions and judicial proceedings against them...to be withdrawn and discharged..."
Having delivered his formal valedictory in his final message to Congress in September 1796, Washington prepared to turn over his duties as chief executive to his successor John Adams. "As the curtain of my political life is about to drop," he wrote to his grandson, "I am...a great deal hurried in the closing scenes of it..." (Fitzpatrick 35:403). March 3, the day on which this important pardon was signed, constituted Washington's last day as President. In the midst of the many farewells to be said, arrangements for his return to Mount Vernon after an eight-year absence, Washington spent some time on a few last letters: a formal salutation to the Philadelphia clergy, an official communication to Secretary of State Jefferson, one containing some last-minute advice to the Commissioners of the new Federal City (which he finally acquiesced in referring to as "the City of Washington"), and a personal letter to Jonathan Trumbull (confessing that "I shall resign the chair of government without a single regret, or any desire to intermeddle in politics again"). That evening, hosting a formal dinner with visiting dignitaries, President-elect Adams and members of the cabinet, he reportedly raised his wineglass and observed that the occasion was "the last time I shall dring your health as a public man" (reported by Bishop White, who was present, see J.A. Carroll and M.W. Ashworth, George Washington: First in Peace, p.436).
Whiskey distillers in Western Pennsylvania, angered by new government-imposed excise taxes on whiskey--the chief transportable, bartarable western product, had strongly resisted the collection of the tax and the affair had escalated into a test of the government's committment to enforcement. A militia army was dispatched to suppress the insurrection and a number of the ringleaders--the men named here--were arrested and charged with treason. By pardoning these men, with the present document, the outgoing President no doubt spared his successor the awkwardness and potential controversy of a prolonged public prosecution.
Provenance: Roy P. Crocker -- Donated to Claremont McKenna College (sale, Sotheby's, 31 October 1984, lot 77).