George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 28 March 1792

From Thomas Jefferson

Philadelphia Mar. 28. 1792.


I have the honor to inclose you two letters from Judge Symmes of Jan. 25th & 27th. his letter of Sep. 17. mentioned in the first of these was received by me Nov. 23. and after being laid before you, was answered Dec. 4.1 the part of the answer respecting leave from you to come to Philadelphia was in these words. “the President does not conceive that the Constitution has given him any controul over the proceedings of the Judges, and therefore considers that his permission or refusal of absence from your district would be merely nugatory.”

With respect to the escort for the judges on their circuits, you will be pleased to determine whether the good of the service will permit them to have one from the military, or whether that part of the letter shall be laid before the legislature to make regular provision for an escort. That part of the letter respecting jails, must, as I apprehend, be laid before the legislature.2

The complaint against Capt. Armstrong, in the letter of Jan. 27. coming formally from a judge, will require notice.3 a civil prosecution in the courts of the Territory appears to me most proper. perhaps a formal instruction to the Governor as Commander in chief to put his officers on their guard against any resistance to civil process might have the effect of preventing future disputes. I shall have the honor of waiting on you to take your pleasure on these several subjects, & have now that of being with sentiments of profound respect & sincere attachment Sir Your most obedt & most humble servt

Th: Jefferson

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; ALS (letterpress copy), DLC: Jefferson Papers; LB, DNA: RG 59, George Washington’s Correspondence with His Secretaries of State; LB (photocopy), DLC:GW; LB, DNA: RG 59, Domestic Letters.

1The three letters from Judge John Cleves Symmes to the secretary of state have not been found by the editors of the 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 (23:35on.). For Jefferson’s reply of 4 Dec. 1791, see ibid., 22:377–78. Symmes (1742–1814), who had served on the N.J. supreme court 1777–87 and in the Continental Congress 1785–86, was appointed a judge in the Northwest Territory in 1788.

2No evidence has been found suggesting that GW laid these two matters before Congress.

3This complaint probably concerned an incident that Symmes reported to Elias Boudinot and Jonathan Dayton two days earlier: “Captain John Armstrong, who commands, for the present, at Fort Hamilton, has, within a few days past, ordered out of the purchase some of Mr. [John] Dunlap’s settlers, at Colerain, against whom he has a pique. He threatens to dislodge them with a party of soldiers if he is not obeyed. The citizens have applied to me for advice, and I have directed them to pay no regard to his menaces, yet I very much fear he will put his threats in execution, for I well know his imperious disposition” (Bond, Correspondence of Symmes, description begins Beverley W. Bond, Jr., ed. The Correspondence of John Cleves Symmes: Founder of the Miami Purchase. New York, 1926. description ends 161). John Armstrong (1755–1816), a veteran of the Revolutionary War from Pennsylvania, resigned from the U.S. Army in March 1793.

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