From Edmund Randolph
Philadelphia January 3. 1794
I had the honor of observing to you this morning, that the commissioners ought not, in my opinion, nor indeed in the opinion of Mr Jefferson and Mr Madison, to abandon the legal title to the lots sold.1
The facility, which occurred to me, was, that the commissioners might by a power of attorney authorize Mr Pinckney 2 or any other of our ministers residing at places abroad, where Mr Greenleaf might sell lots, to convey the legal title to any purchasers, whom he may designate, upon receiving the purchase money for public use. It is true, that some of the lots may be worth more, than the average-price stipulated, and that sales may be made of the choicest. Still I should think, that the personal obligation of Messrs Greenleaf and Morris, added to the hold on the remaining lots, would sufficiently secure the U.S. against the inconvenience of picking the lots; that is, would always secure the payment of the remainder.
I have mentioned nothing of lots, which Mr Greenleaf may sell here; because the legal title of them may be at any moment adjusted. I have the honor, sir, to be, with the highest respect, yr mo. ob. serv.
ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DLC:GW; LB, DNA: RG 59, GW’s Correspondence with His Secretaries of State; LB, DNA: RG 59, Domestic Letters.
1. The commissioners for the District of Columbia had signed an agreement on 23 Sept. 1793 to sell James Greenleaf 3,000 lots (GW to D.C. Commissioners, 20 Aug. 1793, n.3). This arrangement was superceded in December when the commissioners signed another agreement with James Greenleaf and his partner Robert Morris. This new contract raised the number of lots to 6,000 and modified some of the conditions. The commissioners enclosed this agreement in a letter to GW of 23 Dec. 1793. For a copy of this later contract, dated 24 Dec. 1793, see DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings, 1791–1802. GW apparently then sent the December agreement to Randolph for his legal opinion. If there were any written opinions from Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, they have not been identified.
2. Thomas Pinckney was the U.S. minister plenipotentiary to Great Britain.