Famous Eulogies: Richard Allen on George Washington

Some eulogies provide a profoundly meaningful, lasting tribute to the deceased

Washington bust and U.S. flag
After George Washington's death, sermons and eulogies were offered for several months nationwide. Photo © Tetra Images/Getty Images

Ideally, a well-crafted and -delivered eulogy illuminates and elucidates special qualities about the deceased that enhance the existing emotional and spiritual connections between the person who died and the living, thereby focusing and increasing a listener's appreciation of the life lost. In some cases, the eulogy itself proves a memorable and meaningful embodiment of both the unique nature of the departed and the depth of feeling that endures in the hearts and minds of those who remain.

This article presents the text of just such an enduring remembrance speech: the eulogy delivered by Rev. Richard Allen for President George Washington on December 29, 1799. The nation's first president died on December 14 and was buried on December 18 at his home, Mount Vernon, in Virginia. Such was the nationwide outpouring of mourning, however, that during the weeks and months that followed, memorial services and "mock funerals" were conducted across the country that included sermons and eulogies for the Founding Father.

Rev. Richard Allen delivered one such particularly memorable eulogy for George Washington. Founder of the African Methodist Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and himself a former slave, Rev. Allen skillfully blended biblical scripture with high praise while also using the fact that Washington's legal will freed the slaves on his estate (following the death of his wife) as an example of fighting oppression that others should follow.

The Eulogy of President George Washington by Rev. Richard Allen

December 29, 1799

At this time, it may not be improper to speak a little on the late mournful event -- an event in which we participate in common with the feelings of a grateful people -- an event which causes "the land to mourn" in a season of festivity.

Our father and friend is taken from us -- he whom the nations honored is "seen of men no more."

We, my friends, have particular cause to bemoan our loss. To us, he has been the sympathizing friend and tender father. He has watched over us, and viewed our degraded and afflicted state with compassion and pity -- his heart was not insensible to our sufferings. He whose wisdom the nations revered thought we had a right to liberty. Unbiased by the popular opinion of the state in which is the memorable Mount Vernon -- he dared to do his duty, and wipe off the only stain with which man could ever reproach him.

And it is now said by an authority on which I rely, that he who ventured his life in battles, whose "head was covered" in that day, and whose shield the "Lord of hosts" was, did not fight for that liberty which he desired to withhold from others -- the bread of oppression was not sweet to his taste, and he "let the oppressed go free" -- he "undid every burden" -- he provided lands and comfortable accommodations for them when he kept this "acceptable fast to the Lord" -- that those who had been slaves might rejoice in the day of their deliverance.

If he who broke the yoke of British burdens "from off the neck of the people" of this land, and was hailed his country's deliverer, by what name shall we call him who secretly and almost unknown emancipated his "bondmen and bondwomen" -- became to them a father, and gave them an inheritance!

Deeds like these are not common. He did not let "his right hand know what his left hand did" -- but he who "sees in secret will openly reward" such acts of beneficence.

The name of Washington will live when the sculptured marble and statue of bronze shall be crumbled into dust -- for it is the decree of the eternal God that "the righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance, but the memorial of the wicked shall rot."

It is not often necessary, and it is seldom that occasion requires recommending the observance of the laws of the land to you, but at this time it becomes a duty; for you cannot honor those who have loved you and been your benefactors more than by taking their council and advice.

And here let me entreat you always to bear in mind the affectionate farewell advice of the great Washington -- "to love your country -- to obey its laws-- to seek its peace -- and to keep yourselves from attachment to any foreign nation."

Your observance of these short and comprehensive expressions will make you good citizens -- and greatly promote the cause of the oppressed and show to the world that you hold dear the name of George Washington.

May a double portion of his spirit rest on all the officers of the government in the United States, and all that say my Father, my Father -- the chariots of Israel, and the horsemen thereof, which is the whole of the American people.

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