George Washington Papers

Memorandum for Thomas Jefferson, 27 August 1791

Memorandum for Thomas Jefferson

[Philadelphia, c.27 August 1791]

Will circumstances render a postponement of the Sale of Lots in the Federal City advisable? If not

Where ought they to be made

Will it in that case, or even without it, be necessary or prudent to attempt to borrow money to carry on the difft works in the City?

Whether ought the building of a bridge over the Eastern branch to be attempted—the Canal set about—and Mr Peter’s proposion with respect to wharves gone into now—or postponed until our funds are better ascertained & become productive?1

At what time can the several Proprietors claim, with propriety, payment for the public squares wch is marked upon their respective tracts?

Ought there to be any wood houses in the town?

What sort of Brick or Stone [Houses]2 should be built—& of wht height—especially on the principal Streets or Avenues?

When ought the public buildings to be begun, & in what manner had the materials best be provided?

How ought they to be promulgated, so as to draw plans from skilful Architects? and what would be the best mode of carrying on the Work?

Ought not Stoups & projections of every sort & kind into the Streets to be prohibited absolutely?

What compromise can be made with the Lot holders in Hamburgh & Carrollsburgh by which the plan of the Federal City may be preserved?

Ought not the several Land holders to be called upon to ascertain their respective boundaries previous to the Sale of Lots?

Would it not be advisable to have the Federal district as laid out, (comprehending the plan of the Town) engraved in one piece?

AD, DLC:GW. These queries are in GW’s hand, but the page also bears later replies written by Thomas Jefferson, who also numbered some of the queries and wrote seven additional notes, numbered 14–20, at the bottom of the page before returning the document to GW under cover of a letter from Georgetown, Maryland. See Jefferson to GW, 8 Sept. and note 1.

When Pierre-Charles L’Enfant arrived in Philadelphia sometime during the last week of August, he presented to GW his plan of the Federal City and his letter of 19 Aug. to GW and discussed with him on or before 26 Aug. the postponement of the first sale of city lots. On that date Jefferson invited James Madison to dinner and noted: “Since writing the above the President has been here, & left L’Enfant’s plan, with a wish that you & I would examine it together immediately, as to certain matters, & let him know the result. As the plan is very large, will you walk up & examine it here?” (Madison Papers, description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds. The Papers of James Madison, Congressional Series. 17 vols. Chicago and Charlottesville, Va., 1962–91. description ends 14:74). GW’s memorandum may have been presented to Jefferson that day or as late as 29 Aug., when GW wrote to Jefferson about Jefferson’s impending meeting with the commissioners for the federal district. GW’s queries probably were drafted for Jefferson to pose to the commissioners, suggesting that they were written on 27 Aug., when GW conferred with Jefferson, Madison, and L’Enfant. On this day Tobias Lear wrote to L’Enfant that GW “wishes to see you about 5 O’clock—or from that to 6 as you can make it convenient—this afternoon” (DLC: Digges-L’Enfant-Morgan Papers). Jefferson and Madison may have been present at this meeting and may also have met with GW earlier this day to present their views on the matters committed to them on 26 August. Jefferson’s letter of 28 Aug. to the commissioners mentions these meetings without revealing their chronology or participants: “Major Lenfant also having arrived here and laid his plan of the Federal city before the President, he was pleased to desire a conference of certain persons, in his presence, on these several subjects. It is the opinion of the President, in consequence thereof, that an immediate meeting of the Commissioners at George town is requisite, that certain measures may be decided on and put into a course of preparation for a commencement of sale on the 17th. of Octob. as advertised. As Mr. Madison and myself, who were present at the conferences, propose to pass through George town on our way to Virginia, the President supposes that our attendance at the meeting of the Commissioners might be of service to them, as we could communicate to them the sentiments developed at the conferences here and approved by the President, under whatever point of view they may have occasion to know them.” Jefferson wrote that he and Madison would arrive 7–8 Sept. and proposed to confer with the commissioners on 8 Sept. (Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 22:88–89). Jefferson reported on the conference to GW on 8 September.

1For “Mr Peter’s proposion,” see GW to the Commissioners for the Federal District, 24 July and note 1.

2This word was inserted by Jefferson.

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