George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Pierre L’Enfant, 2 December 1791

To Pierre L’Enfant

Philadelphia Decr 2d 1791

Dear Sir,

I have received with sincere concern the information from yourself as well as others, that you have proceeded to demolish the house of Mr Carroll of Duddington, against his consent, and without authority from the Commissioners or any other person. In this you have laid yourself open to the Laws, and in a Country where they will have their course. To their animadversion will belong the present case.

In future I must strictly enjoin you to touch no man’s property without his consent, or the previous order of the Commissioners. I wished you to be employed in the arrangements of the Federal City: I still wish it: but only on condition that you can conduct yourself in subordination to the authority of the Commissioners (to whom by law the business is entrusted, & who stands between you & the President of the United States)1—to the laws of the land—& to the rights of its citizens.2

Your precipitate conduct will, it is to be apprehended, give serious alarm, & produce disagreeable consequences. Having the beauty, & harmony of your Plan only in view, you pursue it as if every person, and thing was obliged to yield to it; whereas the Commissioners have many circumstances to attend to, some of which, perhaps, may be unknown to you; which evinces, in a strong point of view, the propriety, the necessity & even the safety of your acting by their directions.

I have said, and I repeat it to you again, that it is my firm belief that the Gentlemen now in Office have favorable dispositions towards you, and in all things reasonable and proper, will receive, and give full weight to your opinions: & ascribing to your Zeal the mistakes that have happened, I persuade myself, under this explanation of matters, that nothing in future will intervene to disturb the harmony which ought to prevail in so interesting a work. With sincere esteem and regard I am Dr Sir Your Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

ALS, DLC: Digges-L’Enfant-Morgan Papers; ALS (letterpress copy), DLC:GW; Df, in Thomas Jefferson’s writing, DLC: Jefferson Papers; LB, DLC:GW; copy, DLC: Digges-L’Enfant-Morgan Papers.

For the background to this letter, see Pierre L’Enfant to GW, 21 Nov. 1791, editorial note. Jefferson drafted this letter, as well as GW’s letter to the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, which GW altered slightly and sent under the date of 1 December. When submitting the drafts to GW on 1 Dec., Jefferson wrote that the president would find the one to L’Enfant “too severe.” The full text of Jefferson’s draft, which consisted of the first two paragraphs of the final version, is in 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 , 22:368. Jefferson intended GW to send the letter for L’Enfant to the commissioners, unsealed, directing them to read it before delivering it to L’Enfant, thus apparently intending to underscore L’Enfant’s official subordination to the commissioners. GW rejected this idea and sent L’Enfant’s letter directly to him while sending a copy to the commissioners (see GW to the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, 1 Dec. 1791).

1GW added the parenthetical expression to Jefferson’s draft.

2Jefferson’s draft ends here.

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