George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Beverley Randolph, 13 January 1791

To Beverley Randolph

Philadelphia January 13th 1791


The various and important business which required my particular attention in the beginning of the present session of Congress will, I presume, sufficiently apologize to your Excellency for this late acknowledgment of your letter of November last.1

I have attentively considered the request which your Excellency has made, by desire of the Legislature, that I would again open the business of establishing a Woollen manufactory in Virginia; and it is with infinite regret that I must decline any further agency in it; at least so far as relates to carrying on a correspondence with the person in Great Britain who has proposed to establish the Manufactory. I am persuaded that your Excellency and the Legislature will see, upon reflection, the impropriety of my appearing in this business while I remain in my present situation; for I am told that it is felony to export the Machines which it is probable the Artist contemplates to bring with him, and it certainly would not carry an aspect very favorable to the dignity of the United States for the President, in a clandestine manner, to entice the subjects of another Nation to violate its laws.

I have communicated the subject of your Excellency’s letter to the Secretary of State and the Attorney General, who are both of the same sentiment which I have expressed, and for the reason mentioned.

I am, however, happy that my agency is not absolutely necessary to the completion of this object; for the project has been announced to Virginia, and the original letter from the Artist has been transmitted to your Excellency. This communicates every thing that I am possessed of on the subject, and leaves it with the State of Virginia to do whatever may be thought best in the affair.

Impressed as I am with the utility of such an establishment I shall ever be ready to give it every aid that I can with propriety; and I am certain that your Excellency and the Legislature will impute my conduct, on this occasion, to its true motive. With due consideration, I have the honor to be Your Excellency’s most Obedt Servt

G. Washington

LS, Vi: General Assembly Collection, Executive Communications, 1791; LB, DLC:GW.

1For the background to this letter, see Thomas Howells to GW, 14 July 1789, and Beverley Randolph to GW, 11 Jan. 1790. Beverley Randolph had written to GW regarding this proposal on 8 Nov. 1790. His letter reads: “On the 11th of January last I did myself the Honour to inclose to you the Resolutions of the General Assembly respecting the proposal of a foreign Gentleman to establish a Woolen Manufactory in this State. The Legislature at their present Session have again taken up this subject and have directed me to open a Correspondence with you upon it. They are impressed with the great national importance of the Object but conceive the former proposals not sufficiently definite. It is their wish therefore to receive new propositions expressed in such precise terms as to enable them the better to determine on the propriety of acceeding to them. Relying on your well known zeal to promote the Interest of America on every occasion. I beg leave to request that you will open this business again in such manner as shall appear most likely to attain the desired end” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; there is a copy of this document, misdated 15 Nov. 1791, in Vi: General Assembly Collection, Executive Communications, 1791). The author of the resolution of the Virginia general assembly to reopen the matter was Henry Lee, who was personally involved in efforts to develop the industrial potential of the Great Falls of the Potomac.

GW referred Beverley Randolph’s letter to the secretary of state for his opinion shortly after arriving in Philadelphia. Jefferson prepared a report on the matter, dated 3 Dec. 1790, which reads:

“On the proposition for establishing

a woollen manufactory in Virginia

“The house of delegates of Virginia seem disposed to adventure 2500.£ for the encouragement of this undertaking: but the Senate did not concur. by their returning to the subject however at a subsequent session, and wishing more specific propositions, it is probable they might be induced to concur if they saw a certain provision that their money would not be paid for nothing. some unsuccessful experiments heretofore may have suggested this caution.

“Suppose the propositions brought into some such shape as this.

“The Undertaker is to contribute £1000. the State £2500. viz.

“The Undertaker having laid out his £1000. in the necessary implements to be brought from Europe, & these being landed in Virginia, as a security that he will proceed, let the state pay for the first necessary purposes then to occur

£ 1000
let it pay him a stipend of £100. a year for the first three years 300
let it give him a bounty (suppose 3d) on every yard of woollen cloth equal to good plains, which he shall weave for 5. years not exceeding 250£ a year (20,000 yards) the 4. first years, & 200£ the 5th 1200
To every workman whom he shall import, let them give, after he shall have worked in the manufactory 5. years, warrants for [ ] acres of land and pay the expences of survey, patent, &c. (this last article is to meet the proposition of the Undertaker. I do not like it because it tends to draw off the manufacturer from his trade. I should better like a premium to him on his continuing in it. as for instance that he should be free from state taxes as long as he should carry on his trade.)

“The President’s intervention seems necessary till the contract shall be concluded, it is presumed he would not like to be embarrassed afterwards with the details of superintendance. Suppose in his answer to the Governor of Virginia he should say

“That the Undertaker being in Europe, more specific propositions cannot be obtained from him in time to be laid before this assembly:

“That in order to secure to the state the benefit of the establishment, & yet guard them against an unproductive grant of money, he thinks some plan like the preceding one might be proposed to the Undertaker:

“That, as it is not known whether he would accept it exactly in that form, it might disappoint the views of the state were they to prescribe that or any other form vigorously; consequently that a discretionary power must be given to a certain extent.

“That he would willingly co-operate with their Executive in effecting the contract, and certainly would not conclude it on any terms worse for the state than those before explained: and that the contract being once concluded, his distance and other occupations would oblige him to leave the execution of it to the Executive of the state” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

Jefferson apparently changed his mind after presenting the report to GW. Tobias Lear’s endorsement of the document reads: “Report of the Scy of State. N.B. After this report was given in the Secy of State thought upon further Considerations that the President had better not have any further agency in the business.”

After receiving Jefferson’s opinion GW instructed Tobias Lear to refer the matter to the attorney general for his opinion. Lear transmitted Beverley Randolph’s letter of 8 Nov. 1790 to the attorney general on 8 Jan. 1791. Lear’s letter, which also referred another matter to Edmund Randolph, reads in part: “The papers respecting the establishment of a Woollen Manufactory require likewise the consideration of the Attorney General, and his opinion is requested as to the part which the President should take in this business, and the Answer which it would be most expedient for him to give the Governor of Virginia” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Randolph reported to GW on 10 Jan. 1791: “I do myself the honor of informing you, that the plan for opening a contract with the woollen manufacturer, appears, as far as I am able to judge, to be proper in itself, and likely to be approved by the legislature of Virginia. But I must confess, that I have paid more attention to the propriety of the President, undertaking a correspondence with the British Artist. I am told and believe, that it is felony to export the machines, which he probably contemplates to bring with him. Permit me therefore to submit to your consideration, whether the continuance of your agency in this affair may not be somewhat objectionable? The project has been announced to Virginia; and the executive of that state can easily transact the business for themselves” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters. Randolph mistakenly dated this letter “January 10. 1790.” GW properly docketed it “Jany 10th 1791,” but his “1791” is mistakenly altered to read “1790” in a later hand, apparently to make the docket consistent with Randolph’s date. The document was mistakenly printed in Papers, Presidential Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series. 17 vols. to date. Charlottesville, Va., 1987—. description ends , 4:557, under the date 10 Jan. 1790).

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