George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Marshall, 14 October 1789

From John Marshall

Richmond October 14th 1789


Not having been in Richmond when your Excellencys letter arriv’d, enclosing me a commission as Attorney for the United States in the Virginia district, I coud not, sooner, acknowlege the receit of it.1

I thank you sir very sincerely for the honor which I feel is done me by an appointment flowing from your choice, & I beg leave to declare that it is with real regret I decline accepting an office which has to me been render’d highly valuable by the hand which bestow’d it. Coud a due attention to the duties of the office have consisted with my practice in the superior courts of this state I shoud with great satisfaction have endeavord to discharge them, but the session of the foederal & state courts being at the same time in different places an attendance on the one becomes incompatible with the duties of an Attorney in the other.2 With every sentiment of respect & real attachment I remain Sir Your most obedt Servt

John Marshall


1GW’s letter to John Marshall has not been found, but it was probably similar to other letters written in late September covering appointments in the Judiciary. See, for examples, GW to Thomas Johnson and to Edmund Randolph, both dated 28 Sept. 1789. It is possible the letter was simply the form letter usually covering commissions. See Cullen and Johnson, Marshall Papers, description begins Herbert A. Johnson et al., eds. The Papers of John Marshall. 12 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1974–2006. description ends 2:41–42.

2GW replied to Marshall’s letter on 23 Nov. 1789: “Upon my return to this place from a tour through the eastern States, I met your letter of the 14th Ultimo, giving me information of your declining the appointment of Attorney for the district of Virginia, and assigning the reasons for so doing.

“Your name was mentioned to me for that Office by Colo. Saml Griffin as a request of your own—to which my feelings assented with peculiar pleasure—and I am sorry that circumstances are such as render your acceptance of the appointment incompatible with your business.

“As some other person must be appointed to fill the Office of Attorney for the district of Virginia it is proper your Commission should be returned to me” (Df, in writing of Tobias Lear, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Marshall’s name appeared on a list Samuel Griffin left with GW in the course of an interview concerning Virginia appointments to the Judiciary. See Conversation with Samuel Griffin, 9 July 1789.

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