George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the United States Senate, 6 August 1789

To the United States Senate

[New York] August 6th 1789

Gentlemen of the Senate,

My nomination of Benjamin Fishbourn for the place of Naval Officer of the Port of Savannah not having met with your concurrence, I now nominate Laclan McIntosh for that place.1 Whatever may have been the reasons which induced your dissent, I am persuaded they were such as you deemed sufficient—Permit me to submit to your consideration, whether on occasions, where the propriety of nomiminations appear questionable to you, it would not be expedient to communicate that circumstance to me, and thereby avail yourselves of the information which led me to make them, and which I would with pleasure lay before you. Probably my reasons for nominating Mr Fishbourn may tend to shew that such a mode of proceeding in such cases might be useful.2 I will therefore detail them.

First. While Colonel Fishbourn was an Officer in actual service, and chiefly under my own Eye, his conduct appeared to me irreproachable; nor did I ever hear any thing injurious to his reputation as an Officer or a Gentleman—At the Storm of Stony Point, his behaviour was represented to have been active, and brave, and he was charged by his General to bring the account of that success to the Head Quarters of the Army.

Secondly—Since his residence in Georgia he has been repeatedly elected to the Assembly as a Representative of the County of Chatham in which the Port of Savannah is situated, and sometimes of the Counties of Glynn and Camden—he has been chosen a Member of the Executive Council of the State and has been lately President of the same—he has been elected by the Officers of the Militia in the county of Chatham Lieutenant Colonel of the Militia in that district—and on a very recent occasion, to wit, in the month of May last, he has been appointed by the Council (on the suspension of the late Collector)3 to an Office in the Port of Savannah, nearly similar to that for which I nominated him—which Office he actually holds at this time—To these reasons for nominating Mr Fishbourn, I might add that I received private letters of recommendation, and oral testimonials in his favor, from some of the most respectable characters in that State: but as they were secondary considerations with me, I do not think it necessary to communicate them to you. It appeared therefore to me that Mr Fishbourn must have enjoyed the confidence of the militia Officers in order to have been elevated to a military rank; the confidence of the Freemen to have been elected to the Assembly; the confidence of the Assembly to have been selected for the Council; and the confidence of the Council to have been appointed Collector of the Port of Savannah.4

G. Washington

LB, DLC:GW. This message was delivered to the Senate by Tobias Lear (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 2:24).

In the letter book this document is preceded by a heading: “To the Senate of the United States assigning reasons for having nominated Benjamin Fishbourn, and nominating Laclan McIntosh as Naval Officer for the Port of Savannah.” For the rivalry over the collectorship at Savannah, see Anthony Wayne to GW, 10 May 1789, Lachlan McIntosh to GW, 14 Feb. 1789, n.4, and John Berrien to GW, 10 May 1789.

Benjamin Fishbourn wrote GW in the fall of 1788, shortly after his appointment as collector under the state government, evidently seeking a continuation of his appointment under the new government. On 23 Dec. GW gave his usual noncommittal reply that he would go into office “free from engagements of every kind.” Fishbourn persisted in a letter of 12 May, informing GW that he had been appointed collector by the Georgia council “in the room of Reuben Wilkenson esqr. suspended for Mai: Practises. this appt. was given to me, unsolicited, or unasked for nor did I know of the event ’till after it had taken place, this Circumstance will tend to show at any rate, that I am the choise of the People, and wch will be a favorable argument for my friends in the Senate” (DLC:GW). On 17 May Fishbourn wrote again, congratulating GW on his election and transmitting certain official papers pertaining to his appointment (DLC:GW). Fishbourn was overly optimistic about the ease with which his appointment would pass the Senate because on 5 Aug. the Senate refused to consent to his nomination. The rejection, one senator observed, resulted in the president’s showing “great want of temper” (Bowling and Veit, Diary of William Maclay, description begins Kenneth R. Bowling and Helen E. Veit, eds. The Diary of William Maclay and Other Notes on Senate Debates. Baltimore, 1988. description ends 121). An unidentified “friend in New York” on 10 Aug. sent Fishbourn “the ill news of your disappointment. . . . You were nominated by the President, and warmly supported by Mr. Robert Morris, who is your friend indeed; but objected to by Mr. [James] Gunn and Mr. [William] Few. They were frequently called upon by your friends in the Senate for their reasons: Gunn urged nothing of any consequence but personal invective and abuse. . . . Gunn and Few have gained nothing by this maneuvre, and I am happy to say their conduct will have no weight with your friends in depreciating your responsibility or integrity, for you are better known than either of them” (Georgia Gazette [Savannah], 27 Aug. 1789). Some of Gunn’s opposition to Fishbourn may have stemmed from Fishbourn’s involvement in an abortive duel in 1785 between Gunn and Nathanael Greene. See file labeled “The Gunn Case” in MiU-C: Nathanael Greene Papers. See also Anthony Wayne to GW, 30 Aug. 1789.

1McIntosh’s appointment was confirmed on 7 Aug. (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 2:26).

2For GW’s conference with the committee appointed to meet with him on the procedures for communications between the executive and the Senate, see Conference with a Committee of the United States Senate, 8 Aug. 1789.

4For Fishbourn’s reaction to his rejection, see his letter to GW, 25 Sept. 1789.

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