Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Robert Leslie, 26 January 1803

From Robert Leslie

Philada. January 26th 1803


On the 10th inst. I took the liberty of troubling you with a few observations on the proposed dry Docks, at your City, at which time I was not certain, but suspected what I supposed a considerable defect in the plan offered by Mr Latrobe. I have since been informed that my conjecture was right, which was that all the twelve ships ware to be in one Dock, which I supposed to be a great inconvenience for the folowing reasons,

1st It will be impossible to take any one ship out, or in, without floating all the rest, some of which may be in a condition which would render such a measure very injurious, such as those which might have some of their planks striped off, for the purpose of admitting air as recommended in the report,

2d such as ware tight would have all their props, stanchans, and shores loosened, and displaced, and require great care and attention to get them secured in their places agane,

3d it would never be prudent to attempt to Build a Ship in such a Dock, as she might perhaps be subject to an inundation every month during the time of her being on the stocks,

4th the greate quantity of water that would be necessary to fill such a Dock would make the filling very tedious &c

I should not have troubled you so soon on the subject, had I not seen in this morning paper, that Congress had hisitated to grant the Sum Mr Latrobe had stated as nessary to compleat the Works, and that it had been proposed to pospone it till next Session, I tharefore consider it as my duty to offer any information that may be likely to do away the objections ariseing from the great expence any of the members may have in view, from Mr Latrobes estimate.

I have tharefore made a hasty scetch of a Plan which if you should approve of it, I flatter myself, will answer a better purpose than the one reported and if 200,000 Dollars (which is not the half of Mr Ls estimate) ware granted, and apply’d with judgment and Oconemy, in carrying it into effect, if it should not compleat the whole work required, would make so respectable an appearence that the leguslator would chearfully grant a sufficent addition at the next Session.

The plan I have inclosed represents twelve Dry Docks, all separate from each other, and in the centre of them, is one wet Dock. but as it is not likely that twelve ships will be ready to lay up in one place next year, it will not be nessary to begin all the Docks at first. four may be made this year. four next year, and four the year after, which will not require a large advance of money, nor a greater number of hands than can be procured with ease.

As for the kind of meterials I should propose, and the manner of executing the work, time will not permit me to enter into it at present, I am also well aware that a man who offers his opinion, and one who is askeed for it, stands on very different grounds, as thare is always a prepossession in favour of the one, and frequently against the other, under this consideration I should not have offerd my opinion on the above subject as I have done, either to Mr Washington, or Mr Adams, ware either of them now President of the U.S. as I am well convinced that Mr Latrobes eloquence, both in speaking, and writeing, so far exceads mine, that with either of those gentlemen his plan would be prefer’d, wheather right or wrong.

But you Sir I know are capable of forming a correct opinion, and will without partiality adopt the best.

I am with the highest respect your Humble Servt

Robert Leslie

RC (DLC); addressed: “The President of the United States”; franked and postmarked; endorsed by TJ as received 29 Jan. and so recorded in SJL.

congress had hisitated: the committee appointed to consider TJ’s dry dock proposal presented its report to the House of Representatives on 10 Jan., which was thereafter considered by the Committee of the Whole House on 19 and 20 Jan. The report favored the plan, and committee chairman Samuel L. Mitchill suggested a $500,000 appropriation for the purpose. But several representatives, including William Eustis and John Bacon of Massachusetts and Roger Griswold of Connecticut, voiced concerns over its costs and practicality, and also questioned the wisdom of constructing a single, large dry dock at Washington in lieu of several smaller facilities elsewhere. After further discussion, the House adopted a resolution appointing a new committee to examine “the usefulness and propriety of constructing a dock or docks, at either of the public navy yards, or elsewhere, within the United States, for the building and repair of ships of war” (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1832-61, 38 vols. description ends , Naval Affairs, 1:109; Gazette of the United States, 25 Jan. 1803; Aurora, 26 Jan. 1803; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , 4:277, 294–6; Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States…Compiled from Authentic Materials, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834-56, 42 vols. All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. The first two volumes of the set cited here have “Compiled…by Joseph Gales, Senior” on the title page and bear the caption “Gales & Seatons History” on verso and “of Debates in Congress” on recto pages. The remaining volumes bear the caption “History of Congress” on both recto and verso pages. Those using the first two volumes with the latter caption will need to employ the date of the debate or the indexes of debates and speakers. description ends , 12:401–11).

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