WASHINGTON, George. Autograph letter signed ("Go:Washington") as President, to David Stuart, Philadelphia, 20 January 1794. 1½ pages, 4to, minor wear on edges, otherwise fine.
ADVERSITY CONFRONTS THE ESTABLISHMENT OF WASHINGTON, D.C.: THE RESIGNATION OF COMMISSIONERS
An interesting letter which reflects the myriad problems - logistical and political - that faced those who sought to establish the seat of Federal Government. The conclusion that the national capital should lie along the banks of the Potomac was a product of Washington's first term as President. Designing, surveying and building the city was a complicated process. Andrew Ellicott and Charles L'Enfant were given the primary planning responsibility for the "Federal City", but the day to day activities, approvals and government expenditures were to be completed by three "commissioners for surveying the District of Territory." On January 22, 1791, David Stuart, Thomas Johnson and Daniel Carroll were named the district's first commissioners.
Three years later, Washington was forced to contend with the proposed resignation of Stuart and Johnson. Washington's dismay is apparent in his letter to Stuart: "As you appear to have taken a final determination, I can say nothing more on the subject of its disclosure than that it would have been pleasing to me if it had been convenient to yourselves, that those who began shd have completed the work, and not to have left the harvest of your labours to be reaped by others."
The resignations not being immediate, Washington requests recommendations for suitable replacements: "As you are better acquainted than I am with characters in the vicinity of the Federal City, and with those ...so remote as to make an attendance there is inconvenient: Know also the connections of individuals in point of interest with the same, & how far those connections ought to disqualify them for commissioners, I would thank you for the name of such as in your judgment are most likely to subserve the public purposes. Wishing as I do to make a good choice of successors, every aid I can derive towards the accomplishment of it would be gratefully received. Well qualified men might perhaps be had in George Town or among the proprietors; but how far their local, & perhaps jarring interests and views might render them unfit for the trust, being questionable, your opinion thereon would be agreeable."
The commissioners faced difficult tasks during the early years of the city's development. Of particular annoyance were the actions of Charles L'Enfant, whose extravagant plan and subsequent efforts to carry it out created controversy, conflicted with the commissioners' role, and exceeded the budget. Washington wrote to the Commissioners on November 20, 1791 defending L'Enfant's conduct, "the men who possess talents which fit them for peculiar purposes should almost invariably be under the influence of an untoward disposition" (Writings, volume 31, p. 419). But in spite of Washington's conciliatory efforts on his behalf, the obstreperous L'Enfant was removed from the project shortly thereafter.
Published in Fitzpatrick 33:246