Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Pierre Charles L’Enfant, 12 March 1802

From Pierre Charles L’Enfant

City of washington march 12th 1802.


Under the apprehension of Impropriety in the liberty I took of adressing you, in november ultmo., but remaining Ignorant whether resting as I Deed requested leave to rest on you for settlement of the business the subject of two1 repeated memorials to Congress be agreable to you:—the difficulties which this uncertainty set me under with regard to the Committee of claims to whom my memorials stand refered since the begining of this Congress (I having consequent to the wish Imparted to you and to the dependance I place in your goodness, beged the chairman of that Committee would delay their proceeding upon) forces on me the necessity to renew the sollicitation to you.

from dispositions testified by my last address I promised to myself that such settlement as I feel entitled to wait from government, might have been effected in some other ways than through a Committee of claim, which (besides, that, I fear from their having once already reported against the memorial) truely to my mind made it a disgracefull reflection that a recompense merited should be made necessary to claim.

of this however, sir, your Judgement best will determine, and I only advert to the Circumstance to Speak of my Embarrassment on the subject and how seeing the session of Congress fast approaching to its close now add disquietude to the apprehension of having mistaken in the manner of late request to you …. well persuaded nevertheless but you will excuse where the Intention was purely to prove my respect and esteem of your natural disposition:—encouraged by this hope I have here recalled to your mind all matters before stated— and beg you to believe that the request which I made to you appeared to me proper because more flatering to my ambition to obtain my prayer through your favour

with great respect I have the honor to be sir—your Excellency most obedient and humble servant.

P. Charles L’Enfant

P.S. having per statement inclosed in the late address, adverted upon speculative abusive usage of my plans of the City of washington, as a further Convictive of the great loss these have caused to me—(however as yet I can not have answer to Enquiry made in london, to state positively the amount of sale of plan there) what I have recently gained of Information on the subject authorise me to pledge myself able in some time, if it were rendered necessary, to produce manifest but the best Copies from my originals and from documents obtained as I have represented, was printed at london—by subscribtion at three guineas the set of two2 maps which has in first Instance produced to the concerned £20000 sterling besides the proceed from severals secondary Editions

a transaction which having been facilitated by measure here when at the same time I was reduced to a state worst than begary—and on other part the Commissionaires map, by saling here for 25 cents the copies has opperated a depreciation of the merite and value of my work. this is a matter I think proper to mention here as being made a particular point of the claim before the Committee—and which I hope your Justice will take in Considerations with those other matters as have forced upon me the necessity to pray for Indemnification and to renew here the sollicitation of your favour to an obtainment of the proper.

with respct.

P. Ch Lenft.

RC (DLC); ellipsis in original; above postscript: “His Excellency Thomas Jefferson President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 13 Mch. Enclosure: “Supplementary explanation” to L’Enfant’s memorial to Congress on the subject of his “Concerns in the Entreprise of the City of washington,” this memorial having been rejected by Congress in December 1800 and renewed by L’Enfant in February 1801, he was now reducing his representations to two “plain facts”; first, that the “Suppression” of his name from the first published plan of the city injured his reputation as its proposer; second, that wrong was done to his “fortune” when discussions with the District of Columbia commissioners and George Washington persuaded him that “Copy right” was not important, and L’Enfant therefore proceeded without a written contract; reflecting on his refusal of the commissioners’ offer of 500 guineas as inadequate; exonerating the commissioners for “overlooking” L’Enfant’s lack of copyright by showing that Washington, not the commissioners, directed the map’s publication; stating that he retained in his possession the drawing that he carried with him to Philadelphia to be engraved; observing the growth of Georgetown to the west and north, with “upward of 300 houses,” most of which could have been erected instead “east of rock creek on the heigh City ground” to promote development along Massachusetts and Connecticut Avenues toward “the Center of the City (north and west of the Capitol)”; criticizing current efforts to reduce ground level to match the bases of the Capitol and the President’s House, which were in themselves “deffective Structures, a compound as they are of different designs hobbingly patched together,” in imitation of the architecture of Jean-François de Neufforge and Inigo Jones; accusing the commissioners of taking the sketches that L’Enfant left in Washington and using them to have secretly prepared in Europe a “neat handsome mape of the city” that was advertised recently in a London magazine; and concluding his statement with a calculation of his potential loss, estimated at $95,500, as stated in his memorial to Congress (MS in DLC; undated; in L’Enfant’s hand and signed by him).

In a letter dated 3 NOVEMBER 1801, L’Enfant informed TJ of his MEMORIALS to Congress of December 1800 and February 1801. L’Enfant claimed compensation for his service in planning the city of Washington in 1791 and 1792.

1MS: “tow.”

2MS: “tow.”

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