George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Francis Bailey, 2 February 1790

From Francis Bailey

New-York, Feby 2. 1790.

To the honorable the President and the honorable the Members of the Senate, of the United States of America the Memorial and Petition of Francis Bailey of the City of Philadelphia, Printer,

Most respectfully sheweth,

That your petitioner, has invented a mode of forming Types, for printing devices, to surround, or make parts of printed papers, for any use, which cannot be counterfeited, by the most ingenious Artists in sculpture, or by any other means. That the simplicity of his invention is such, that it would be difficult to describe it; without conveying, in a very few words, the whole secret, so plainly, as to enable any artist to profit himself by the discovery. Your petitioner apprehends, that the only mode of securing to himself and his heirs, any benefit by his invention, is to disclose it, to a Committee of your honorable house, or to such heads of executive departments, as your honorable house, shall think proper to recommend, in order to obtain an exclusive right, to the use of his discovery; not doubting, but the utility of his invention, will point out the propriety of employing the petitioner, to print all such Official Papers, as may be necessary for the several Offices, within the United States, which your petitioner will undertake to execute, at the prices which you have already paid, without charging any thing, for adding these inimitable devices.

Your petitioner, respectfully prays, that your honorable house, would direct an enquiry, into the said invention, which your petitioner is ready to disclose; and thereupon, to encourage your petitioner, in such manner, as his discovery shall appear to merit. Your respectful petitioner,

Francis Bailey.

ALS, DNA: RG 46, First Congress, Petitions and Memorials, Resolutions of State Legislatures, and Related Documents.

Francis Bailey (c.1744-1817) was a printer and journalist who began publication of the Lancaster Almanac in Lancaster, Pa., in 1771. During the Revolution he printed an edition of the Articles of Confederation and the fourth edition of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. In 1778 Bailey published, with Hugh Henry Brackenridge, the United States Magazine, and in 1781 he became editor of the Freeman’s Journal or the North American Intelligencer. From time to time he acted as printer for Congress and for the state of Pennsylvania.

According to GW’s diary entry for 25 Jan. 1790, Bailey was introduced by congressmen Thomas Scott and Thomas Hartley of Pennsylvania and Alexander White of Virginia (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 6:13). Bailey’s petition was presented in the Senate on 2 Feb. and referred to a committee which recommended that the petition be referred to the secretary of the treasury. The House of Representatives, to which Bailey sent the petition on 29 Jan., also referred it to Hamilton (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 1:235, 245, 3:279, 284, 304). Hamilton reported, 23 Feb. 1790, stressing the difficulty of deciding “to what extent that Invention will afford the Security against Counterfeiting, which is the Object of it,” but stating that “nevertheless he is of opinion, it will be likely to add to the difficulty of that pernicious practice, in a sufficient degree, to merit the countenance of Government, by securing to the Petitioner an exclusive right to the use of his Invention” (Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 6:277). On 26 Feb. the House ordered a bill to be brought in “securing to the said Francis Bailey an exclusive privilege to the use of his invention” (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 1:307). The House bill—“An Act to vest in Francis Bailey, the exclusive privilege of making, using, and vending to others, punches for stamping the matrices of types, and impressing marks on plates, or any other substance, to prevent counterfeits, upon a principle by him invented, for a terms of years”—was remanded to the Senate on 2 Mar., and on 4 Mar. the Senate postponed the bill until a “bill to promote the progress of useful arts shall be taken into consideration” (ibid., 1:250, 251). Bailey would have been able to apply for a patent under the terms of “An Act to promote the progress of useful arts” (1 Stat. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 109–12 [10 April 1790]).

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