George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Cyrus Griffin, 10 July 1789

From Cyrus Griffin

N. York July 10th 1789

Mr Cyrus Griffin, presiding Judge of the Court of appeals and late president of Congress, having devoted the greater part of his life to the study of Laws, and particularly the Law of Nations & the Interpretation of Treaties, from duty and Inclination takes the liberty to offer his farther Services to the union, either in the diplomatic line or as one of the Judges of the Supreme Court.

To recommend him upon this important business, he can appeal to certain resolutions of Congress, to his Colleagues in office, and to the Gentlemen of the Bar who attended the Continental Court of Admiralty; and whilst a Member and president of Congress he can with like propriety appeal to many Gentlemen who are now engaged in the federal Legislature, and even to those Citizens of N. York who had an opportunity of observing and understanding his public and private demeanor.

if better Characters should be unwilling to act, and since the underwritten has invariably pursued the destiny of the Confederation could he be so happy and experience the good fortune to be honored with the President’s nomination, he flatters himself that the advice and Consent of the Senate will not be wanting to his appointment.

Cyrus Griffin


Cyrus Griffin (1748–1810) of Virginia was educated in the law at the University of Edinburgh and at the Middle Temple in London, and before the Revolution he returned to America to practice law. While he was still studying at Edinburgh he married, without her father’s consent, Lady Christina (Christiana) Stuart, the eldest daughter of John Stuart, sixth earl of Traquair. Active in the Revolutionary movement in Virginia, Griffin served in the Virginia assembly from 1777 to 1778, when he was elected to the Continental Congress. In April of that year Congress appointed him to the admiralty court. In 1788 he was again elected to the Confederation Congress and served as its last president. Griffin wrote a brief letter to GW on 7 April congratulating him upon his election and promising to pay “my respects to your excellency at the Seat of Government” (DNA:PCC, item 78). After writing GW his letter of application of 10 July, Griffin apparently had some misgivings as to the propriety of his application, for he wrote again on 14 Aug. that “understanding it as the wish of the President that every Candidate for public business Should make known his pretensions, I took the freedom, Sir, the other week to offer my Slender Services to the general Government. . . . if I have done wrong in that proceeding it has followed from misinformation concerning the manner, and from an ardent desire to continue in the employment of the union, particularly as the Government is now Constituted” (DLC:GW). A few days later, possibly before he received Griffin’s letter of 14 Aug., GW appointed him one of the commissioners, together with Benjamin Lincoln and David Humphreys, to negotiate treaties with the southern Indians and “establish peace between the State of Georgia and the Creek nation” (Executive Journal, description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America: From the commencement of the First, to the termination of the Nineteenth Congress. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C., 1828. description ends 1:19; ASP, Indian Affairs, description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends 1:65–68; GW to the United States Senate, 20 Aug. 1789). Later in the year, after Edmund Pendleton declined the post of federal district judge for Virginia, GW offered Griffin the position and he accepted. Although, as he later wrote GW, “my Genius and Inclination, and some family considerations, would have led me to a diplomatic employment, yet I expect to be very happy in my present situation, & shall always render the most sincere acknowlegements to the kind author of my future welfare; particularly, Sir, as I was but little known to you—for indeed a real diffidence and being unwilling to intrude upon the amiable and hospitable family did always prevent me from shewing my attachment, and paying my Compliments at mount Vernon” (Griffin to GW, 12 Dec. 1789, DNA> 59, Miscellaneous Letters; Executive Journal, description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America: From the commencement of the First, to the termination of the Nineteenth Congress. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C., 1828. description ends 1:38, 40). In November 1789 GW explained to Joseph Jones of Virginia, who had also applied for the district judgeship, his reasoning in giving the post to Griffin: “In every nomination to office I have endeavored, as far as my own knowledge extended, or information could be obtained, to make fitness of character my primary object—If with this the peculiar necessities of the Candidate could be combined, it has been, with me, an additional inducement to the appointment. By these principles, in a proper degree, have I been influenced in the case of Mr Griffin, who is not only out of office and in want of the emoluments of one, but has been deprived of the former by my means, owing to an opinion which prevailed here at the time, among our Countrymen, that his accepting of the temporary appointment of Commissioner to treat with the southern Indians would not bring him under the disqualifying act of Virginia by which, however, it seems he has lost his station in the council of that State, and is now entirely out of employment. This circumstance added to the knowledge of his having been a regular Student of law—having filled an important office in the union in the line of it—and being besides a man of competent abilities, and of pure character, weighed with me in the choice, to which I was not a little influenced by the opportunity of deciding positively whether he would accept or not—for I confess I was not a little unwilling to hazard another choice without some previous enquiry and consultation—and sufficient time was not allowed me between the receipt of Colonel Pendleton’s resignation, which came to this place whilst I was on a tour through the Eastern States, and the day appointed for the session of the District Court, to do this” (GW to Jones, 30 Nov. 1789). Griffin had lost his seat on the Virginia council as the result of “An act to disable certain officers under the continental government, from holding offices under the authority of this commonwealth,” passed by the Virginia legislature on 8 Dec. 1788, to prevent officeholders from serving in both state and federal establishments (12 Hening description begins William Waller Hening, ed. The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619. 13 vols. 1819–23. Reprint. Charlottesville, Va., 1969. description ends 694–95; Virginia House of Delegates Journal, description begins Journal of the House of Delegates, of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Begun and Held at the Capitol in the City of Richmond, on Monday, the nineteenth of October, in the Year of our Lord, One Thousand, Seven Hundred and Eighty-Nine, and of the Commonwealth the Fourteenth. Richmond, [1789]. description ends Oct. 1789 sess., 25).

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