WASHINGTON, George. Autograph letter signed ("G:o Washington") TO THOMAS JEFFERSON, Minister to France, Philadelphia, 18 September 1787. 1 full page, small 4to, slightly brittle, very small tears along one vertical fold, not affecting text.
"THE FIRST OFFERING" OF THE NEW CONSTITUTION: THE DAY AFTER THE DRAFT IS ADOPTED, THE PRESIDENT OF THE CONVENTION FORWARDS A COPY TO THE ABSENT THOMAS JEFFERSON
The President of the Federal Constitutional Convention, adjourned the previous afternoon, forwards to the American Minister to France the results of the momentous proceedings in Philadelphia (over which Washington had presided from 25 May to 17 September 1787). He later explained to Jefferson that he had "wished to make the first offering of it to you."
"Dear Sir, Yesterday put an end to the business of the Federal Convention. Enclosed [not present] is a copy of the Constitution it agreed to recommend. Not doubting but that you have participated in the general anxiety which has agitated the minds of our Countrymen on this interesting occasion. I shall be pardoned I am certain for this endeavour to relieve you from it, especially when I assure you of the sincere regard and esteem with which I have the honor to be, Dear Sir, Yr most obedient & most Hble Servt."
It is highly ironic that, during the historic debates of the Constitutional Convention, two principal American constitutionalists were conspicuously absent, able only to offer comments and suggestions from distant sidelines. John Adams had circulated his influential "Thoughts on Government" in 1775 and had just published his detailed Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (London, 1787). To his great frustration, Jefferson had missed the boat on a previous occasion. When Virginia drafted its new Constitution in 1776, he had been serving in the Constitutional Convention, charged with the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. Had he not been in France in 1787, as Malone observes, "inevitably he would have been a delegate to the convention in Philadelphia...and it is interesting to speculate on the influence he might have exerted on those fateful deliberations" (Malone, Jefferson and the Rights of Man, p.162).
Aware of the gravity of the distant deliberations, Jefferson quickly dispatched a large bundle of books he deemed relevant to James Madison, a Virginia delegate and friend destined to play a critical role in the debates. Madison wrote to Jefferson, spelling out his views on certain issues, but once the Convention convened delegates were sworn to secrecy and its deliberations moved swiftly to a conclusion. Here, writing one day after the adjournment of the Convention, Washington offers a diplomatic understatement, observing that Jefferson had, no doubt "participated in the general anxiety....on this interesting occasion...." Interesting occasion indeed!
On the same day, September 18, Washington also sent a copy of the draft Constitution to the Marquis de Lafayette. Jefferson would receive, in time, additional copies from John Adams in London and from Elbridge Gerry in Massachusetts. Washington's letter and enclosure, though, were inexplicably delayed, and when he learned this, Washington confessed in a latter dated 1 January 1788, to being "disappointed, and mortified indeed (as I wished to make the first offering of it to you)..." Fitzpatrick 29:348).
Published (from a letterbook copy) in Writings,, ed. Fitzpatrick, 29:276, and in Papers, ed. W.W. Abbott, Confederation Series, 5:333.
Provenance: Thomas Jefferson, recipient -- Presented to Amos J. Cook, "Preceptor of Fryberg Academy," Maine, in January 1816 as "something in the handwriting of George Washington" (for that letter, see lot 249). -- Frederick Blanchard Osgood --The father of the present owner.