By an ironic sort of providence, Thomas Mifflin (1744-1800) served as George Washington’s first aide-de-camp at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, and, when the war was over, he was the man, as President of the United States, who accepted Washington’s resignation of his commission. In the years between, Mifflin greatly served the cause of freedom while serving as the first Quartermaster General of the Continental Army. He obtained desperately needed supplies for the new army. Although experienced in business and successful in obtaining supplies for the war, Mifflin preferred the front lines, and he distinguished himself in military actions on Long Island and near Philadelphia.
Born on this day in 1744, he was reared in a strict Quaker home. As a young man, much to his dismay, he was excluded from Quaker meetings for his military activities. Nevertheless, he maintained throughout his life a pattern of devotion to his family and their traditions. Somehow though, that did not protect him from public controversy. Mifflin lost favor with Washington, for instance, and was part of the Conway Cabal—a rather notorious plan to replace Washington with General Horatio Gates. And Mifflin narrowly missed court-martial action over his handling of funds by resigning his commission in 1778.
In spite of all these problems and of repeated charges that he was a drunkard, Mifflin continued to be elected to positions of responsibility—as President and Governor of Pennsylvania, delegate to the Constitutional Convention, as well as the highest office in the land, where he served from November 3, 1783 to November 29, 1784. In addition, he was heralded by friends and supporters as a pious and gracious man who cared for nothing more than the sacred honor of his God and his nation.
Most of Mifflin’s significant contributions occurred in his earlier years—in the First and Second Continental Congresses he was firm in his stand for independence and for fighting for it, and he helped obtain both men and supplies for Washington’s army in the early critical period. In 1784, as President, he signed the treaty with Great Britain which ended the war. Although a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, he did not make a significant contribution—beyond signing the document.
As Governor of Pennsylvania, although he was accused of negligence, he supported improvements of roads, and reformed the State penal and judicial systems. He had gradually become sympathetic to Jefferson’s principles regarding states' rights, even so, he directed the Pennsylvania militia to support the Federal tax collectors in the Whiskey Rebellion. In spite of charges of corruption, the affable Mifflin remained a popular figure. A magnetic personality and an effective speaker, he managed to hold a variety of elective offices for almost thirty years and make an indelible mark on the critical Revolutionary period.