Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Benjamin Henry Latrobe, 18 February 1807

Philadelphia Feby. 18th. 1807


Since the situation of my family has been such as to leave me at liberty to return to Washington, I have been detained here by the most distressing pecuniary embarrassments. They have arisen from the recoil of the notes issued by the Ches: & Del. Canal Company upon me,—which I took in payment & paid away again more than a Year ago; and also from the misconduct of the persons who were proprietors of the Rolling works here,—& who have permitted me to be sued for their debts, contracted several Years ago while I was professionally employed by them.

I have candidly given to you the real cause of my long absence from Washington, an absence which I much fear, may be very injurious to the objects contemplated by You in regard to the public buildings; for I see by the course of the debate of the 13th. that the subject is not at all understood in the house, notwithstanding the impression which I endeavored to make by the information conveyed by me to the individual members and in my report to You.—

Nothing keeps me here at present but the absolute necessity of my leaving my family in a situation to exist during my absence. I ought to reside entirely at Washington, or entirely here. Difficulties to either plan start up daily. I have sold my horses,—to remove to Washington with my family of five children two in the midst of their education, and my furniture, will cost me at least 300 Dollars. My house rent to be paid here 250 more. If the appropriation for the North wing of the Capitol is curtailed as it seems to be intended, my residence at Washington will not be worthy of the trouble, vexation, & expense, which my removal must occasion;—for in addition to the opposition of circumstances,—I have to oppose the advice, and the entreaties of my immediate connections & friends, who consider it as madness in me to leave a populous & wealthy city where I am known & where I may obtain much business, less honorable indeed but more lucrative, for a situation so precarious; & depending on appropriations the last of which must be that of the present Year, should the Capitol be finished before the next session.—

I do not mention this from any other motive but to interest Your personal feelings for me in forgiving me present absence.—I pledge myself to You to devote my talents to the completion of the public Works while you are pleased to employ them, but if I appear to take liberties with Your indulgence, let me solicit that you will consider that I am absolutely the slave of the circumstances under which I must obtain my support by a profession of which I have as yet to establish the rights & the rewards; and that altho’ I have been successful beyond any other in obtaining claims against the public bodies who have employed me, I have been obliged to sell my patrimony in order enable myself to wait for their liquidation,—and am now near 15,000$ poorer than when I came to this country, without having ever lived beyond the plainest style of a private Gentleman.—

I have no doubt of arriving in Washington in a few days.—I have written to Dr Logan explaining to him the reasons for altering the Senate chamber, and hope that the original project may still be executed.—

I am with the highest respect Your much obliged hble Serv

B H Latrobe

DLC: Papers of Thomas Jefferson.

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