George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Clement Biddle, 19 June 1789

From Clement Biddle

Philadelphia June 19. 1789


With reluctance I trouble your Excellency on a subject relating to myself.

Being informed that the Judiciary Bill is in forwardness and that there will probably be a Marshal of the federal Court for the district of Pennsylvania, I beg leave to inform you that on my retiring from the Army, I was appointed Marshal of the Court of Admiralty for this State and have filled the Office since that Time—About Eighteen months ago, on a revision of the Officers of Government, the supreme Executive Council were pleased to approve my Conduct by reappointing me to that Office and as a further mark of their Approbation, a few months ago they appointed me one of the Justices of the Court of Common pleas for the County of Philadelphia—If other Testimonials of my Conduct in Office are wanting, I have no doubt but I can procure ample recommendations from the Officers of Government as well as from respectable Citizens.

The Court of Admiralty of this State dissolves by the instituting a federal Court.

I solicit the favour of your Excellency to be appointed to the Office of Marshal of the federal Court for the District of Pennsylvania, or to any other in which you think I can be useful to my Country. I have the honour to be with the greatest respect Your Excellencys Most Obedient & very humle servt

Clement Biddle


Biddle’s application was supported by a letter to GW from Blair McClenachan, a prominent Philadelphia businessman. Writing to GW on 11 July 1789, McClenachan testified that during Biddle’s tenure as marshal “I had more business to transact with the Marshall than any other Man in Pennsylvania, and hence had great opportunity from experience to Judge of his conduct and to me he appeared to perform the Duties of the Said Office with great ability, and have reason to believe he gave universal Satisfaction. Therefore apprehend he would be a fit person . . . for Said appointment. I have no Motive whatever for Mentioning him, than that I think his appointment would give Satisfaction, and because I know no other Man so well calculated to fill the Office” (DLC:GW). GW appointed Biddle marshal for the district of Pennsylvania on 24 Sept. 1789 (DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends 2:44).

Biddle also wrote to Henry Knox, 29 June, soliciting his support and requesting “that you will be so Obliging as to point out to me any Measures that you think I had best pursue either with the President or the Members of the senate to strengthen my pretensions” (NNGL: Knox Papers). On 22 July he again approached Knox on the appointment, stating that he had received no reply from the president “which I suppose is the Case with others making such Applications, but from his constantly employing me in his private affairs here & other marks of his Approbation I have no reason to doubt of his friendly Attention to my Claims, but if you find a suitable Opportunity and it meets your Approbation, I wish you may mention me to the president” (NNGL: Knox Papers). Some question may have arisen concerning Biddle’s wartime accounts. A certificate, 10 Aug. 1789, from Jonathan Burrall, former commissary for the quartermaster’s department, appended to Biddle’s file, states that Biddle’s accounts had been examined by Burrall but were not settled “for the following reasons Vizt—He has advanced considerable sums of money to sundry persons, his Assistants and others, on account of services performed, or supplies to be furnished, who have not yet accounted for it, and the acts of Congress hold him answerable for such advances. He also makes a charge for Commissions on that part of the disbursments under his direction for which his Deputies issued their Certificates, agreeable to an estimate, the real amount of which cannot be ascertained untill all his Deputies and Assistants have rendered their Accounts—A final settlement of his accounts is therefore prevented by the delay of some of his Deputies and Assistants. His business has been extensive and Labourious, and from the present state of his accounts I have reason to believe there will be a balance in his favor unless he is eventually held responsible for the delinquency of all persons employed by him in the Department” (DLC:GW).

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