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Friday, March 18, 2022

Eliza Willing Powel and Bushrod Washington

Another important influence on Justice Washington was Elizabeth "Eliza" Willing Powel, who deserves (and will soon get) a biography of her own. Powel was the daughter of Philadelphia's Mayor and then married Samuel Powel, who himself became Mayor. She was the only woman with whom George Washington discussed politics, and she also held forth with the other Founding Fathers. The Powel mansion, which is now a museum, was a salon in Philadelphia that hosted delegates during the Constitutional Convention.

Powel was a surrogate mother for Bushrod while did his legal apprenticeship in Philadelphia under James Wilson. She was a Federalist and (later in life) an abolitionist. In addition to introducing Bushrod into high society, she gave him advice on all sorts of subjects, including how he looking in his first portrait, which is on the cover of my book. They continued a lively correspondence after he returned to Virginia, and she sent him a copy of Wilson's speech at the Pennsylvania ratifying convention to help Bushrod prepare for the Virginia convention.

After Bushrod to Philadelphia as a Supreme Court Justice for sessions of the Court and circuit riding, he would dine every Sunday at Powel's home. She even bought him his judicial robe as gift. And when he inherited Mount Vernon in 1802, he turned to Powel for a loan to buy furniture for the house, which was empty. Powel died just six weeks after Bushrod passed away.

Powel is probably most famous for being the person who allegedly asked the question that prompted Benjamin Franklin to say that the Constitutional Convention proposed "A Republic, if you can keep it." She herself said she could not recall this conversation, but more or  less said it was a good story, so why spoil it?

UPDATE: Here is her Wikipedia entry.

Posted by Gerard Magliocca on March 18, 2022 at 10:33 AM | Permalink

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