George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Thomas Johnson, 23 January 1794

To Thomas Johnson

Philadelphia Jany 23d 1794.

Dear Sir

Your letter of the 23d Ulto came duly to hand. With regret I perceive your determination to with draw from the Commission under which you have acted—for executing the plan of the federal City.1 My wish was, and still is, if it could be made to comport with your convenience and inclination, that it should be changed; or at least suspended: for I should be sorry to see others (coming in at the eleventh hour, as it were) reap the fruits of your difficult labours; but if this cannot be, I would thank you for naming (which may be in confidence) such persons as you shall think best qualified to succeed you in this interesting and important business. My limited acquaintance with convenient characters does not enable me to do it, to my own satisfaction; and even among those which might happen to present themselves to my view, there might be local circumstances in the way, unknown to me, which would render them ineligible in the opinion of the public, for the impartial execution of the trust reposed. Were it not for this, I presume proper characters might be had in George town, or among the proprietors of the City; but how far their connections with, or jarring interests therein, may be a let to such appointments, is worthy of that consideration which you can so well appreciate, for my information.2

With respect to Mr Blodget, I have not hesitated on former occasions to declare—and I think to the Commissioners themselves—from the moment his conduct began to unfold itself, that his appointment did not, in my judgment, answer the end which had been contemplated. At first I was at a loss how to account for a conduct so distant from any ideas I had entertained of the duties of a superintendant; but it appears evidently enough now, that speculation has been his primary object from the beginning. My letters (if not to the Commissioners, to an individual member I am sure) when compared with the conduct of Mr Blodget, will shew that he has in no wise answered my expectations as a Superintendant, for my ideas of these (in the exercise of a competent character, always on the spot with sufficient powers, & fully instructed) were, that it would render a meeting of the Commissioners oftener than quarterly, or half yearly, unnecessary in the ordinary course of the business; cases it is true might occur requiring occasional ones; but these, after the stated meetings were sufficiently promulgated, woud very rarely happen. According to these ideas, fixing on a plan, giving the out lines of it, receiving the reports, inspecting the proceedings, examining the accounts, revising the instructions or furnishing new ones at the periodical meetings, is all that appeared to me necessary for the Commissioners to do; leaving to the Superintendant, who ought to be competent thereto & responsible, the execution in detail.3

I wish you may have yet seen the worst features in Mr Blodgets conduct. Finding that he was determined to proceed in his second lottery, notwithstanding the admonition that had been given him by the Commissioners; that he had actually sold tickets in it—and for Georgia land;4 I directed the Secretary of State to inform him in explicit terms, that if he did not instantly suspend all further proceeding therein until the sanction of the Commissioners should be unequivocally obtained, I would cause the unauthorised mode in which he was acting to be announced to the public, to guard it against imposition—In consequence, he has set out, it is said, to wait upon them—if this be true the result you must know.5 Little confidence, I fear, is placed in Mr Blodget—& least where he is best known. With much truth, I remain Dear Sir Your Affecte Servant

Go: Washington


1On Johnson’s appointment as one of the three original commissioners for the District of Columbia, see Commission, 22 Jan. 1791.

2For Johnson’s inability to suggest suitable candidates, see his letter to GW of 6 Feb. 1794. In August and September, GW appointed, respectively, Gustavus Scott and William Thornton to replace Johnson and David Stuart, who also resigned from the D.C. Commission this year (GW to Lear, 28 Aug. 1794, ALS, DLC:GW; Harris, William Thornton Papers description begins C. M. Harris, ed. Papers of William Thornton: Volume One, 1781-1802. Charlottesville, Va., 1995. description ends , 1:287).

3For GW’s thoughts on the usefulness of a superintendent for the Federal City and on the appointment of Samuel Blodget, Jr., to that position, see GW to D.C. Commissioners, 13 Nov. 1792, and to Benjamin Stoddert, 14 Nov. 1792. On the proprietors, see source note to Agreement of the Proprietors of the Federal District, 30 March 1791.

4Shortly after his appointment, Blodget received permission from the D.C. commissioners to establish a lottery in which the winner would receive ownership of a hotel to be constructed in the Federal City (D.C Commissioners to GW, 9 April 1793). Other, monetary, prizes would be paid one month after the drawing, which originally was set to begin on 9 Sept. 1793. Failure to conduct the drawing on time and repeated delays in awarding prizes raised suspicions of mismanagement and corruption (Gazette of the United States [Philadelphia], 23 Jan., 14 Sept., and 20 Dec. 1793). When Blodget proceeded with a second lottery, the commissioners withdrew their support (D.C. Commissioners to GW, 23 Dec. 1793).

5At GW’s direction, Edmund Randolph met with Blodget in early January to inform him of GW’s opposition to the second lottery. Randolph’s account of this meeting, GW’s instructions to the commissioners to “prevent the progress of this second scheme,” and notice of Blodget’s departure on 17 Jan. for the Federal City are contained in Randolph’s letter to the D.C. Commissioners of 19 Jan. 1794 (see D.C. Commissioners to GW, 23 Dec. 1793, source note and n.7). Following GW’s instruction, the commissioners decided to publicly disavow any association with Blodget’s second lottery (18 May 1794 minutes, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings, 1791–1802; Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, 23 May 1794). For the prizes offered in the second lottery, which Blodget continued on his own, see the advertisement placed in the 3 Sept. 1794 issue of the Gazette of the United States and Daily Evening Advertiser (Philadelphia).

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