George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Pierre L’Enfant, 28 February 1792

To Pierre L’Enfant

Philadelphia February 28th 1792.


Your final resolution being taken, I shall delay no longer to give my ideas to the Commissioners for carrying into effect the plan for the federal City.1

The continuance of your services (as I have often assured you) would have been pleasing to me, could they have been retained on terms compatible with the law. Every mode has been tried to accommodate your wishes on this principle, except changing the Commissioners (for Commissioners there must be, and under their direction the public buildings must be carried on, or the law will be violated; this is the opinion of the Attorney General of the United States and other competent Judges). To change the commissioners cannot be done on ground of propriety, justice or policy.2

Many weeks have been lost since you came to Philadelphia in obtaining a plan for engraving, notwithstanding the earnestness with which I requested it might be prepared on your first arrival. Further delay in this business is inadmissable.

In like manner five months have elapsed and are lost by the compliment which was intended to be paid you, in depending alone upon your plans for the public buildings, instead of advertising a premium to the person who should present the best (which would equally have included yourself). These are unpleasant things to the friends of the measure, and are very much regretted.

I know not what kind of a certificate to give that will subserve the purpose of Mr Roberdeau. My conversations with, and letters to you, have uniformly conveyed the idea that the Commissioners stood between you and the President of the United States; that it lay with them to draw the line of demarkation between themselves and you; and that it was from them alone you were to receive your directions—A recurrence to my letters of the 2d & 13th of December will clearly shew you the light in which I have considered this subject.3 With sincere wishes for your happiness and prosperity, I am, Sir Your most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, DLC: Digges-L’Enfant-Morgan Papers; ADf (with complimentary close in another writing), DLC:GW; LB, DLC:GW. Significant variations between the receiver’s copy and GW’s draft are given in notes 2 and 3.

For the background to this letter, see Pierre L’Enfant to GW, 21 Nov. 1791, editorial note, and GW to Thomas Jefferson, 28 Feb. 1792.

2At this place in the draft GW struck out the phrase: “Nor do I believe it would avail any thing if they were—the same causes will produce like effects, and as it is to be feared you would be under the controul of no one.”

3GW struck out the following paragraph in the draft: “Was there any alternative after the explicit declaration contained in these letters but to have proceeded agreeably to the line then drawn?—or to have renounced all further connection with the Plan?—Matters being placed on this footing, would it not have comported with propriety, & have been but a very moderate accomodation on your part, before you had left George town, to have made a communication of your intentions & settled some pla⟨ns⟩ for the winter of your intentions, with the Commissioners?—A quoram of these gentlemen were meeting almost every week at that place, and a full board was summoned to attend there on the 4th or 5th of January but a few days after you left it—How easy then was it to have obviated the difficulties under which Mr Roberdeau now labours, and how much smoother and better would things have gone on?—Had you been on the spot and could not; or would not have satisfied the Commissioners with respect to the utility of continuing men at daily wages in so inclement a season, there is no question but that the order for their dismission would have been handed to you. As you were not there—had made no communication, of your plan—and they conceived from the inclemency of the season that an expence inadequate to the advantages was incurring, they were reduced to the alternative of submitting to what they conceived to be an evil—or issuing their order to Mr Roberdeau to desist—The consequences of not doing it is now to be decided.”

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