George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Nathaniel Pendleton, 5 March 1791

From Nathaniel Pendleton

Savannah Georgia. March 5th 1791.


I am informed Mr Rutledge has lately accepted the appointment of Cheif Justice of the State of South Carolina, which will of course oblige him to resign his office of Assistant Justice in the supreme Court of the United States.1

When I solicited the Appointment of Judge of this District, I imagined Congress would have made a more ample provision for their Judges; but having, at my own solicitation had the honor to be nominated by you, I could not with propriety refuse serving: altho it will readily be admitted by those who knew the extant of my practice at the bar, that the salary allowed me, is but a small compensation—nor is it indeed an adequate provision for a family in this Country.

Permit me however, Sir, to assure you I feel with equal Sensibility, and gratitude the honorable proof you were pleased to give of your approbation of my Character and Conduct on that occasion—An honor I hope always to merit, as far as fidelity and diligence can merit it, whenever I shall be so happy as to be distinguished by your nomination to a public office.

Under the impression of these ideas, permit me to communicate my wish that it may be agreeable to you, to put me in nomination to succeed Mr Rutledge. I should not perhaps indulge so flattering a hope, on this subject, but from an idea that you will probably nominate some person residing in the Southern Circuit—in which I now have the honor to be the oldest district Judge.2

If I were to make a particular profession of the personal respect and admiration, I have always had for your Character and public services, it might have the appearance perhaps on this occasion, of flowing from other than the real motives—yet, having served under you as my General from a few weeks after your appointment to that important trust, to the end of the War, I hope to have the credit of sincerity, when I profess to be, with Sentiments of the most respectful, and unalterable Attachment, Sir, Your most Obedient, and most humble Servant

Nathl Pendleton

ALS, DLC:GW; ALS (duplicate), DLC:GW. There are minor changes in wording between the original letter and the duplicate.

1For the resignation of John Rutledge, see Rutledge to GW, 5 Mar. 1791.

2On 5 Mar. 1791 Pendleton wrote to James Iredell to solicit his aid in obtaining the appointment, repeating that when he had applied for the post of district judge, he had assumed the salary would be greater. “I am now the eldest District Judge in the Southern Circuit,” he added, “and if the President shall not find me deficient in Capacity and professional knowledge, I think I have just grounds to hope to be put in nomination—I presume the President will be governed as heretofore by the propriety of Chusing the Judges nearly in equal proportion from among the United States; and if so, I know of none that would accept the appointment, who have a preferable claim. Mr. Bee is spoken of in Charleston; should he be appointed it will, I confess, be a sensible mortification to me, because he is a younger Judge, and South Carolina, hath already had her turn” (Marcus and Perry, Documentary History of the Supreme Court, description begins Maeva Marcus et al., eds. The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789–1800. 8 vols. New York, 1985-2007. description ends vol. 1, pt. 2, 719–20). Pendleton also wrote another letter on 5 Mar., which internal evidence suggests was written to Henry Knox, soliciting aid in obtaining the appointment (ibid., 720–22; for Knox’s mention of Pendleton, see Henry Knox to George Washington, 17 April 1791). Pendleton wrote to GW again on 10 April 1791: “I was not apprized of the adjournment of Congress, nor your intention of visiting the Southern States, til after I had sent to the northward, a Letter I did myself the honor to address to you of the 5th of last month, of which I take the liberty now to inclose a duplicate. The recess of Congress makes a temporary appointment, to the office alluded to, necessary—The information you will obtain by being here, I trust will add weight to the motives I have ventured to suggest as the foundation of my application” (DLC:GW). Nathaniel Pendleton also sought the aid of his uncle, Edmund Pendleton of Virginia, who wrote to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison soliciting their influence on the younger Pendleton’s behalf (Edmund Pendleton to Thomas Jefferson, 12 July 1791, and Edmund Pendleton to James Madison, 13 July 1791, in Marcus and Perry, Documentary History of the Supreme Court, description begins Maeva Marcus et al., eds. The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789–1800. 8 vols. New York, 1985-2007. description ends vol. 1, pt. 2, 728, 729). Despite this campaign for the office, Pendleton did not receive the appointment, which went to Thomas Johnson of Maryland. Pendleton resigned from the federal bench in 1796, explaining that his salary as district judge was not sufficient to allow him to educate his children properly (see Nathaniel Pendleton to GW, 30 July 1796, DNA: RG 59, Letters of Resignation and Declination from Federal Office).

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