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Thomas Mifflin 5th President of the United States of America - President Who? Forgotten Founders - By: Stanley L. Klos

Thomas Mifflin

5th President of the United States
in Congress Assembled
November 3, 1783 to November 2, 1784

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The First United American Republic
Continental Congress of the United Colonies Presidents

Sept. 5, 1774 to July 1, 1776

Peyton Randolph

September 5, 1774

October 22, 1774

Henry Middleton

October 22, 1774

October 26, 1774

Peyton Randolph

May 20, 1775

May 24, 1775

John Hancock

May 25, 1775

July 1, 1776

 Commander-in-Chief United Colonies of America
George Washington:  June 15, 1775 - July 1, 1776

 The Second United American Republic
Continental Congress of the United States Presidents 
July 2, 1776 to February 28, 1781

 John Hancock

July 2, 1776

October 29, 1777

Henry Laurens

November 1, 1777

December 9, 1778

John Jay

December 10, 1778

September 28, 1779

Samuel Huntington

September 29, 1779

February 28, 1781

Commander-in-Chief United Colonies of America
George Washington:  July 2, 1776 - February 28, 1781

 

The Third United American Republic
Presidents of the United States in Congress Assembled  
March 1, 1781 to March 3, 1789

Samuel Huntington

March 1, 1781

July 6, 1781

Samuel Johnston

July 10, 1781

Declined Office

Thomas McKean

July 10, 1781

November 4, 1781

John Hanson

November 5, 1781

November 3, 1782

Elias Boudinot

November 4, 1782

November 2, 1783

Thomas Mifflin

November 3, 1783

June 3, 1784

Richard Henry Lee

November 30, 1784

November 22, 1785

John Hancock

November 23, 1785

June 5, 1786

Nathaniel Gorham

June 6, 1786

February 1, 1787

Arthur St. Clair

February 2, 1787

January 21, 1788

Cyrus Griffin

January 22, 1788

January 21, 1789

Commander-in-Chief United Colonies of America
George Washington March 1, 1781 - December 23, 1783 


Thomas Mifflin was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on January 10, 1744 into a fourth generation of his family and grew-up in the city of "Brotherly Love". His father was a Quaker, served as a Philadelphia alderman and was also a trustee of the College of Philadelphia which is today the University of Pennsylvania. Mifflin attended Philadelphia's grammar schools and graduated in 1760 from the College. Upon graduation, he apprenticed at an important counting house in Philadelphia. In the course of this business Mifflin traveled throughout Europe in 1764 and 1765. In 1766 he returned to the colonies early and opened an import and export business with a younger brother. In 1767 he joined the American Philosophical Society, served as it Secretary for two years and remained a distinguished member until 1799.

Mifflin's entrepreneurial pursuits were responsible for the formulation of his initial objections and protests of Parliament's taxation policy. In his first year as a Philadelphia Importer he found it necessary to publicly speak and campaign against Great Britain's initial attempts to levy taxes on the colonies. In 1771 Mifflin ran and won election as a Philadelphia's warden. The following year he began the first of four uninterrupted terms in the Colonial State Legislature of Pennsylvania. In 1773 Merchant Mifflin met Merchant John Hancock and political activist Samuel Adams to learn about the British injustices levied against the people of Boston. Adams and Hancock convinced him to join their cause of open resistance to Parliament as it was a businessman's only judicious option to resist taxes “imposed upon the people against their will.” In that same year Mifflin began to organized several Pennsylvania town meetings to support Boston's resistance to the Coercive Acts. In these meetings Mifflin cautioned that although the acts only applied to Boston in reprisal to the "Tea Party"; successful implementation would embolden Parliament to punish other cities that objected to seemingly perpetual wave of superfluous British taxation.

His no taxation without representation stance and efforts in state government were rewarded in 1774 by being elected as a Pennsylvania Delegate to the 1st Continental Congress. His business and patriotic fervor was embraced by his fellow Delegates as the leadership appointed him to serve on important committees. One Mifflin committee founded a Continental Association to enforce the resolution passed by Congress which, created an embargo against English goods. His diligence as a delegate insured his re-election to the 2nd Continental Congress. When the news came of the fight at Lexington Mifflin eloquently advocated resolute action in the Continental Congress and then attended many Pennsylvania town-meetings supporting colonial armed resistance. His direct involvement in recruiting armed patriots was most potent as Mifflin and John Dickinson were instrumental in reviving the volunteer colonial defense force that resisted the French in the 1750's and 60's known as the Associators. Once these troops were enlisted, Mifflin was elected a Major becoming active in organizing and drilling the 3rd Philadelphia Battalion. He service forced him to severe his religious ties with Quaker Society as he prepared for war. This was an action that spoke volumes to his commitment to Colonial self-government and defense as he was one of the few legislators ready to substitute Continental Congress ballots with bullets.

When the 2nd Continental Congress created the Colonial Army as a national armed force on June14th, 1775, Mifflin held to his convictions resigning as delegate and enlisting as a Pennsylvania Militia Major to serve with the new Commander-in-Chief, George Washington. General Washington, who knew Mifflin as a fellow delegate, promoted him as his first aide-de-camp after the establishment of the command headquarters at Cambridge. While there, Colonel Mifflin successfully led a force against a British detachment placing the heavy artillery stripped from Fort Ticonderoga on Dorchester Heights. This was a strategic move that ended Britain's occupation in Boston. Mifflin also managed the complex logistics of moving troops to meet a British thrust at New York City. In July 1775, he was promoted to quartermaster-general of the army; after the evacuation of Boston by the enemy. Mifflin was commissioned as brigadier-general on May 19th, 1776 and assigned to the command of a Pennsylvania troops when the army lay encamped before New York.

General Mifflin's Pennsylvania brigade was described as the best disciplined of any in the Continental Army. His Regiment covered the retreat of the American army from Brooklyn after General William Howe, in the dead of night outmaneuvered Washington. At dawn the continental troops were forced to fight British regulars in a superior position and fell back to the East River. Washington's only hope was to assemble enough boats to quietly cross the river into Manhattan and as luck would have it the night brought a thick fog over the entire area. Through a military order gaffe General Mifflin received the word to retreat before all of the troops had embarked to Manhattan Island. At the ferry, upon learning of the error, Mifflin managed to regain the lines before the enemy discovered that the post was deserted and uncovered the daring water retreat across the East River. Mifflin's troops remained at their posts and were the last to leave Brooklyn in the hasty nighttime evacuation.

Washington's rapid retreat across the East River meant that wagons containing most of the Continental Army's powder, baggage and critical supplies fell into to the hands of the British. In the aftermath soldier moral was low and the Continental Congress held a committee hearing. After a three-day investigation the committee recommended that quartermaster Moylan, who was given the impossible task to protect the British controlled waterways resign. In an effort to restore the morale of the soldiers, against his wishes, Mifflin was appointed this position by a special resolve of Congress. This new assignment as Quarter-Master-General bitterly disappointed Mifflin who was also unhappy with General Nathanael Greene emerging as Washington's principal military adviser, a role which Mifflin coveted. George Washington did not object to Mifflin's re-assignment and the disgruntled quarter-master assumed the mundane duties of protecting and delivering the supply necessary for the Continental Army.

The Journal of Congress reported:

Resolved, That Brigadier General Mifflin be authorized and requested to resume the said office, and that his rank and pay, as brigadier, be still continued to him:1[Note 1: 1 "We have obtained Colonel Moylan's resignation, and General Mifflin comes again into the office of Quartermaster General." Elbridge Gerry to Horatio Gates, 27 September 1776.]

That a committee of three four be appointed to confer with Brigadier General Mifflin: The members chosen, Mr. Richard Henry Lee, Mr. Roger Sherman, Mr. John Adams, and Mr. Elbridge Gerry.”

In November 1776, General Mifflin was sent to Philadelphia to report to the Continental Congress the critical condition of the army. Washington was unable to hold onto Manhattan Island and witnessed the loss of Fort Washington, that was garrisoned with a large contingent of soldiers, ammunition, weapons and supplies, helplessly from the New Jersey Palisades. The Continental Army was outgunned and manned and unable to make a stand in New Jersey to stop the advancing British march towards Philadelphia. Additionally, Washington was out of supplies and money to pay the troops whose tours of duty were set to expire in 60 days in the early winter of 1776. It was a wise move by the Commander-in-Chief to send General Mifflin to rally Philadelphia, as Congress in fear of losing the Capital, was preparing to take flight to Baltimore. Washington's Continental Army was forced to cross the Delaware into Pennsylvania and it was then that the citizens of Philadelphia began to panic. Business was suspended, schools were closed and agitated Patriots and Tories gathered in the streets. As news of the Continental Army's plight filtered in, roads leading from the city were crowded with refugees all fleeing the city.

 

In the Pennsylvania Statehouse Yard a town meeting was called and newly arrived General Thomas Mifflin addressed the crowd and much of Continental Congress. After listening to his appeals for unity and support, Congress formally appealed to the militia of Philadelphia and those in nearest counties to join Washington's beleaguered Army. Congress also sent word to all parts of the country for reinforcements and supplies, and then ordered Mifflin to remain in Philadelphia for consultation and advice. Mifflin organized and trained three regiments of militia of the city and adjoining neighborhoods, sending a body of 1,500 men to Washington. The General also orchestrated the complex re-supply of the Washington's ragged American forces once they reached safety on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River. These Mifflin measures were critical components needed by Washington to cross the Delaware into New Jersey and counterattack the "fatheaded" British Army on Christmas Day in Trenton. After the successful win at Trenton, General Mifflin, accompanied by a Committee of the legislature, made the tour of the principal towns of Pennsylvania. Through his stirring oratory Mifflin recruited many men into the ranks of the Continental Army. Washington's army reassembled once again in Pennsylvania and crossed the Delaware taking the brunt of the British regular forces head-on just outside of Trenton. That evening Mifflin came up with more desperately needed reinforcements adding to Washington's troops nighttime advance that outmaneuvered the British attacking a weak flank in the college town of Princeton. This battle was won and the troops moved safely north into the hills of Northern New Jersey. In recognition of his services, Congress commissioned Mifflin as a major-general on February 19th, 1777 and made him a member of the Board of War.

On the Board of War, General Mifflin joined a growing number of delegates and generals who shared the dissatisfaction at the "Fabian policy" of General Washington. The war was going poorly by the summer of 1777 with Major General Arthur St. Clair's loss of Fort Ticonderoga. Clearly, at the very least, Thomas Mifflin sympathized with the views of General Horatio Gates and General Thomas Conway who blamed Washington for the losses of the Continental Army. In the late fall of 1777 Horatio Gates, with the help and field leadership of Benedict Arnold, defeated General Burgoyne's forces at Saratoga. Almost immediately Washington's enemies embolden with the victory and sought his replacement with the "Hero of Saratoga," General Gates. Thomas Conway, with Mifflin doing nothing to stop the political intrigue, organized an effort in the Board of War to establish Gates as the new Commander-in-Chief. Mifflin vehemently declared, after Washington overcame the now notorious Conway Cabal that he had not participated in their efforts to remove General Washington as Commander-in-Chief. The Conway Cabal and responsibilities of his various offices so impaired General Mifflin's health that he offered his resignation. Congress refused to accept it. However, General Mifflin was replaced by General Nathanael Greene in the quartermaster's department in March, 1778, and in October of 1778 he and General Gates were discharged from their places on the Board of War.

More trouble followed from Mifflin's "loosing side" affiliation after his replacement on the Board of War. An investigation of his conduct was ordered by Congress resulting from charges that the distresses of the army at Valley Forge were due to the mismanagement of the Quartermaster-General. When the decree was revoked, after he had himself demanded an examination, he resigned his commission. Congress refused to accept it, and placed in his hands $1,000,000 to settle outstanding claims.

In January1780, Mifflin was appointed on a board to devise means for retrenching expenses. In this capacity he once again became a stalwart and strong advocate of General Washington during the darkest days of the revolution. After the achievement of the Treaty of Paris Mifflin was elected as a delegate to new United States in Congress Assembled that was formed after the ratification of the Articles of Confederation on March 1, 1781. Thomas Mifflin served tirelessly as a Delegate and was so respected by his fellow delegates for his good work and conduct during the 1780-81 campaigns that he was elected President of the United States in Congress Assembled, on November 3, 1783.

His presidency lasted only six months, as Congress adjourned on June 3, 1784 until it reconvened with a new President in November 1784. On his presidential election the Journals of the United States in Congress Assembled report:

Pursuant to the Articles of Confederation, the following delegates attended:


FROM THE STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE, Mr. A[biel] Foster, MASSACHUSETTS,Mr. E[lbridge] Gerry, who produced a certificate under the seal of the State, signed
John Avery, Mr. S[amuel] Osgood, RHODE ISLAND AND PROVIDENCE PLANTATIONS, Mr. W[illiam] Ellery and Mr. D[avid] Howell, CONNECTICUT, Mr. S[amuel]
Huntington and Mr. B[enjamin] Huntington, NEW YORK, Mr. James Duane, NEW JERSEY, Mr. E[lias] Boudinot, MARYLAND, Mr. D[aniel] Carroll,Mr. J[ames] McHenry, VIRGINIA.Mr. J[ohn] F[rancis], Mr. A[rthur] Lee, NORTH CAROLINA, Mr. [Benjamin]Hawkins, and Mr. [Hugh] Williamson, SOUTH CAROLINA, Mr. J[acob] Read, Mr. R[ichard] Beresford, Seven states being represented, they proceeded to the choice of a President; and, the ballots being taken, the honorable Thomas Mifflin was elected.

Mifflin's first mission, as the new President, was to insure that the Treaty of Paris was ratified under the six month time constraint set forth in the agreement. President Mifflin scheduled a ratifying convention at the Maryland State House in Annapolis in November 1783, but many of the delegates failed to arrive. By mid-December Mifflin's attempt to assemble a ratifying quorum became desperate. On December 15th Congress even failed to achieve even the simple seven state quorum to read foreign dispatches. Once again, on December 17th Congress failed to convene the mandatory nine state quorum to conduct ratification despite the news of George Washington's impending audience to resign as Commander-in-Chief. According to Ramsay:

In every town and village, through which the General passed, he was met by public and private demonstrations of gratitude and joy. When he arrived at Annapolis, he informed Congress of his intention to ask leave to resign the commission he had the honor to hold in their service, and desired to know their pleasure in what manner it would be most proper to be done. They resolved that it should be in a public audience.

George Washington's attendance in Congress set the stage for one of the most remarkable events of United States history under Thomas Mifflin's Presidency. In November of 1783 the British finally evacuated New York and Congress made the momentous decision to place the Continental Army on "Peace Footing". It was in Annapolis, where the US Government convened, that the last great act of the Revolutionary War occurred. George Washington was formally received by President Thomas Mifflin and Congress. Instead of declaring himself King or dictator as many men feared while others hoped, Washington resigned his commission as Commander-in-Chief to the President of the United States. What made this action especially remarkable was that George Washington, at his pinnacle of his power and popularity, surrendered the commission to President Thomas Mifflin, who by all accounts, conspired to replace Washington as Commander-in-Chief with Horatio Gates (see the chapter on Henry Laurens for a full account) in 1777. The United States in Congress Assembled Journal account of George Washington's December 23, 1783 resignation is as follows:

According to order, his Excellency the Commander in Chief was admitted to a pub­lic audience, and being seated, and silence ordered, the President, after a pause, informed him, that the United States in Congress assembled, were prepared to receive his communications; Whereupon, he arose and addressed Congress as follows:

'Mr. President:

The great events on which my resignation depended, having at length taken place, I have now the honor of offering my sincere congratulations to Congress, and of presenting myself before them, to surrender into their hands the trust committed to me, and to claim the indulgence of retiring from the service of my country.

Happy in the confirmation of our independence and sovereignty, and pleased with the opportunity afforded the United States, of becoming a respectable nation, I resign with satisfaction the appointment I accepted with diffidence; a diffidence in my abilities to accomplish so arduous a task; which however was superseded by a confidence in the rectitude of our cause, the support of the supreme power of the Union, and the patronage of Heaven.

The successful termination of the war has verified the most sanguine expectations; and my gratitude for the interposition of Providence, and the assistance I have received from my countrymen, increases with every review of the momentous contest.

While I repeat my obligations to the army in general, I should do injustice to my own feelings not to acknowledge, in this place, the peculiar services and distinguished merits of the gentlemen who have been attached to my person during the war. It was impossible the choice of confidential officers to compose my family should have been more fortunate. Permit me, sir, to recommend in particular, those who have continued in the service to the present moment, as worthy of the favorable notice and patronage of Congress.

I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last act of my official life by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them to his holy keeping. Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of action, and bidding an affectionate farewell to this august body, under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life'”

George Washington then advanced and delivered to President of the United States his commission, with a copy of his address, and resumed his place. President Thomas Mifflin returned him the following answer:

Sir,


The United States in Congress assembled receive with emotions, too affecting for utterance, the solemn deposit resignation of the authorities under which you have led their troops with safety and triumph success through a long a perilous and a doubtful war. When called upon by your country to defend its invaded rights, you accepted the sacred charge, before they it had formed alliances, and whilst they were it was without funds or a government to support you. You have conducted the great military contest with wisdom and fortitude, through invariably regarding the fights of the civil government power through all disasters and changes. You have, by the love and confidence of your fellow-citizens, enabled them to display their martial genius, and transmit their fame to posterity. You have persevered, till these United States, aided by a magnanimous king and nation, have been enabled, under a just Providence, to close the war in freedom, safety and independence; on which happy event we sincerely join you in congratulations.


Having planted defended the standard of liberty in this new world: having taught an useful lesson a lesson useful to those who inflict and to those who feel oppression, you
retire from the great theatre of action, loaded with the blessings of your fellow-citizens, but your fame the glory of your virtues will not terminate with your official life the glory of your many virtues will military command, it will continue to animate remotest posterity ages and this last act will not be among the least conspicuous .

We feel with you our obligations to the army in general; and will particularly charge ourselves with the interests of those confidential officers, who have attended your person to this interesting affecting moment.

We join you in commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God, beseeching him to dispose the hearts and minds of its citizens, to improve the opportunity afforded them, of becoming a happy and respectable nation. And for you we address to him our earnest prayers, that a life so beloved may be fostered with all his care; that your days may be happy, as they have been illustrious; and that he will finally give you that reward which this world cannot give.

On the following day, December the 24th, President Mifflin once again appealed to States to send their required representatives. Not even the resignation of George Washington was enough incentive to attract a quorum of delegates for the ratification of the Definitive Treaty of Peace between the United States and Great Britain. In this Christmas Eve letter Mifflin makes a passionate plea to New Jersey and Connecticut::

I had the honor to write to your Excellency on the 23rd November, informing you that the definitive Treaty was arrived, and that the last article of it declares that it should be ratified & exchanged within six months from its Signature.

Yesterday I again writ to your Excellency by order of Congress informing you that only Seven States were represented in Congress viz. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia & North Carolina, and that the ratification of the definitive Treaty & several other matters of the greatest consequence were delayed by want of a representation of Nine States.

My Letter of yesterday was forwarded by the post, but as Congress are strongly impressed with an apprehension that the time mentioned in the definitive Treaty will elapse, before a representation of nine States can be obtained, and as such a representation cannot take place unless New Jersey and Connecticut send on their delegates, they have instructed me to write to you by Express, and to urge in the strongest terms the importance of an immediate representation in Congress from the State of New-Jersey. Let me therefore entreat your Excellency to use your influence on this important point, that the consequences to be expected from the Want of an imme­diate representation of nine States may not be imputable to your State, which on every former Occasion has exerted itself with so much honor and reputation.

New Hampshire has but one Member attending, and there is no probability of a representation of that State in less than Six Weeks. New York has no delegates in Congress, nor can it be represented in many Weeks. South Carolina has one member attending; one of the delegates from that State is in ill health at Philadelphia; his attendance uncertain. By letters from Georgia we find there is no probability of a representation from thence this Winter; from this view of our situation your Excellency will observe that the Ratification of the definitive Treaty in proper time, depends upon the immediate exertions of New Jersey & Connecticut.

I should be glad to know from your Excellency by the return of this Express, at what time we may expect a representation from your State.

Later that day the President wrote Governor Livingston a personal letter:

I have already addressed three several dispatches to your Excellency of the 23d of November & of the 23d & 24th of December stating to you the arrival of the Definitive Treaty and the necessity, by an Article thereof, of its ratification and Exchange at Paris by the 3d of March next: I have also stated in those dispatches the particular situa­tion of Congress. Nine States being necessary to a Ratification & Seven only being present. Apprehending that these Letters may have miscarried & having Reason to believe that the Representation from South Carolina will be compleat in a day or two, I have dispatched Col. Harmar my private Secretary with this Letter to your Excellency, informing you that if the Delegation of New Jersey attends in Congress without further delay we may yet ratify the Treaty in time. A Representation of Nine States to ratify the Definitive Treaty before the Time limited for its Exchange expires must appear to your Excellency too important to be longer delayed.

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