George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Clement Biddle, 27 November 1792

From Clement Biddle

Philada Nov: 27. 1792.


Mr Randolph communicated to me your Orders that I should in person serve the process on the two men indicted for a riot in Washington County.1

A Sense of Duty and earnest desire to execute it in such manner as would be most conformable to your desire, would make me undertake the Service in person but I am apprehensive that I may be lay’d up in the Attempt, as I have not only had repeated attacks of the Gout for several months past, but have been Afflicted with another Complaint which has prevented me from riding any distance on horseback.

From these Considerations I had prevailed on Captain Jonas Simonds formerly an Officer of Artillery and at present of the Customs, a man of respectability on whose firmness and prudence I could rely, to undertake the business and he was preparing to set off whenever I should be called on for the purpose.2

If you should not, under these Circumstances, approve of this Arrangement I will however attempt to execute the business in person.3 I have the honour to be, with the greatest respect, Your most Obedient and very humble Servant

Clement Biddle
Marshall in & for the Pennsylvania District

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

1For background on Attorney General Edmund Randolph’s instructions to Biddle to serve papers on William Kerr and Alexander Berr, who had been recently indicted for their violent resistance to the federal excise tax on whiskey, see GW to Randolph, 24 Nov. 1792.

2Jonas Simonds, a Massachusetts native, began his military career in 1775 as a second lieutenant in Richard Gridley’s Massachusetts artillery regiment and then served in other Continental artillery regiments until he retired in January 1783 with the rank of captain. At the time of Biddle’s letter Simonds was a customs inspector in Philadelphia.

3GW consulted Alexander Hamilton about Biddle’s response, and Hamilton advised the president in a letter of 27 Nov.: “The execution of the process by the Marshal himself is, for many reasons, so important that it does not appear possible to dispense with it. If there should be any failure in the Deputy it would probably furnish a topic of censure and a source of much embarrassment. The impediment in point of health is to be regretted, but, it would seem, must be surmounted” (DLC:GW).

That GW agreed with Hamilton is apparent in Tobias Lear’s letter to Biddle of 28 November. “In obedience to the command of the President of the United States,” Lear wrote, “I have the honor to inform you, that while the President sincerely regrets the cause which prevents you from immediately executing in person the service which is required, relative to the process issued at the Circuit Court against the persons indicted for a riot in Washington County; yet so strongly is he impressed with the propriety of this business being executed by the marshall in person, and so much does he rely on your judgemt & zeal in the discharge of this duty that he considers the inconveniences which might be occasioned by a small delay in the matter, as being less than the disadvantages which might result from its being executed by a deputy. The President is therefore willing that the execution of this service should be postponed for a short time in hopes that your health will then be so well established as to enable you [to] perform it in person” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

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