George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 21 March 1792

From Thomas Jefferson

[Philadelphia, c.21 March 1792]1

Th: Jefferson presents his respects to the President, and sends for his perusal a letter he has prepared for the Commissioners, which will inform him also of mister Blodget’s ideas, in the mean time Blodget will be preparing the necessary papers.2

Th: J. has at length been able to see Dr Wistar about the big bones. they are at his house, always open to inspection. the Doctor is habitually at home at two oclock: if the President would rather go when he is not at home, the servants will shew the bones. Th: J. did not intimate to the Doctr who it was that wished to see them, so that the President will fix any day & hour he pleases on these premises, & Th: J. will have the honor to attend him.3

AL, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DNA: RG 59, George Washington’s Correspondence with His Secretaries of State; LB (photocopy), DLC:GW.

1Tobias Lear docketed the cover of the receiver’s copy “March—1792 (private).” A second writer later wrote “28” over Lear’s dash. A third person wrote at the top of the letter: “file March 28. 1792.” Jefferson, however, must have written it sometime before GW’s apparent reply of this day.

2Jefferson’s enclosed letter to the commissioners for the District of Columbia of 21 Mar. concluded that “The temporary check on the price of public paper, occasioned by Mr. [William] Duer’s failure, induces Mr. [Samuel] Blodget [Jr.] to think it will be better to postpone for a few days the opening of the loan proposed, as he thinks it important that the present panic should be so far over, as to enable him to get it through at once, when proposed” (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 23:320–21). For Blodget’s proposed loan to finance projects in the Federal City, see GW to the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, 6 Mar. 1792, n.7.

The financial panic in New York City following the collapse of William Duer’s project to corner the government bond market did not subside until May 1792. Duer’s overextension of credit proved fatal to his reputation and to his far-flung speculations when his first payments to the government fell due after the price for securities had peaked in late January and declined over the next five weeks. He was forced to suspend payments on 9 Mar., the day after the Bank of New York stopped extending him credit. Duer’s financial situation was further complicated by the Treasury Department’s decision to recover $200,000 from Duer’s long-overdue accounts stemming from war contracts and his service as secretary to the Board of Treasury, a move instituted on 12 Mar. by U.S. comptroller Oliver Wolcott, Jr., who wished to secure the government’s claims on Duer’s assets before he fell into bankruptcy. Duer was committed to the city prison on 23 Mar., as much for his own safety against mobs of his creditors who had invested their all in his scheme as for his own fiscal mismanagement. Duer’s partner, New York speculator Alexander Macomb, was forced to suspend payments on his loans on 12 April. He entered debtors’ prison a week later, where he remained until February 1793 (see Duer to Alexander Hamilton, 12 Mar., Hamilton to Duer, 14, 23 Mar., Robert Troup to Hamilton, 19 Mar., Philip Schuyler to Hamilton, 25 Mar., and William Seton to Hamilton, 9 April 1792, all in Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 11:126–27, 131–32, 155–58, 170–72, 186–90, 257–58; “The Panic of 1792” in Davis, Earlier History of American Corporations, description begins Joseph Stancliffe Davis. Essays in the Earlier History of American Corporations. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1917. description ends 1:278–315). Jefferson and other opponents of Hamilton’s funding system made much political capital out of the panic, and the secretary of the treasury was forced to shore up government securities to restore public confidence in the administration’s fiscal policies (see Hamilton to GW, 12 April, n.1, Jefferson to GW, 23 May [second letter]).

3Dr. Caspar (Casper) Wistar (1761–1818), who had received medical degrees from the University of the State of Pennsylvania in 1782 and the University of Edinburgh in 1786 and who resided at 138 High Street in Philadelphia in 1792, was a professor of chemistry at the College of Philadelphia and, later, a professor of anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania. Wistar also served as curator, vice-president (1795–1815), and president (1815–1818) of the American Philosophical Society. In 1794 Henry Wansey wrote in his journal that Wistar, “I am told, has collected a vast variety of huge bones of this animal [mammoth], which he is endeavouring to systematise” (Miller, Peale Papers, description begins Lillian B. Miller, ed. The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family. 4 vols. New Haven, 1983–96. description ends 2:97).

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