George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Alexander White, 20 February 1798

From Alexander White

Philadelphia 20th Feb: 1798

Dear Sir

I arrived in this City on Saturday senight and immediately waited on the President; He gave me a Memorial which my Colleagues had forwarded to him addressed to the Congress for my perusal & signature I urged him as far as propriety would admit, to transmit the Memorial addressed to himself, but could not prevail he said he would transmit the Memorial of the Comrs and requested me to prepare a Message such as I thought proper to accompany it, informing me at the same time that he should want two copies, in terms which indicated his expectation, that I would have another drawn—On Monday I again waited on him, and proposed with his consent to make a small alteration in the Memorial shewing him an authority from my Colleagues to draw a Memorial and sign their names. he would not agree to this, but said I might send it to my Colleagues, and have it altered by them. I told him I did not consider the proposed alteration of sufficient consequence to justify the delay; he said the delay would be attended with no bad consequence; for while the House were engaged in the business of Lyon, any application on that subject would meet an unfavourable reception; beside, he wished to have a copy for each house signed by the Comrs I then mentioned the draft of a Message, and asked him whether it would not be proper to state, that the subject had first been submitted to the President and that he deemed it deserving the consideration of Congress; at this he shewed an uncommon degree of Warmth, said he should not make himself a Slave to the Federal City; that the People there had belied him, that he would do what his official duty required of him and no more: he resumed the subject of Lyon, and said if he were not expelled the Seat of Government would be in N. York; that it was impossible the Eastern People should bear to be tyrannised ever by Giles & such men1—I was astonished at this conversation but restrained my feelings so far as to avoid an offensive reply; I have not communicated it to my Colleagues or to any other Person; neither shall I. I have been much among the Members of Congress from differrent parts of the Union, and Officers of Government I find some Friends of the Federal Seat particularly the attorney General clearly of opinion, that nothing in the present State of things can be obtained from Congress; all think the event doubtful, but pretty generally agree that the experiment ought to be made—I expected a return of the Memorial to-day, it is not arrived2—I am with sentiments of the highest Respect Dear Sir Your most ob. Serv.

Alexr White


1White arrived in Philadelphia on 17 February. The District of Columbia commissioners on 1 Feb. wrote President John Adams: “Agreeably to your wishes expressed in Your letter of the 16th Ulto we do ourselves the honor of enclosing a Memorial to be presented to Congress in which, we have endeavoured to give a full and candid state of the affairs of the City” (D.C. Commissioners Records description begins Commissioners of the District of Columbia Records, 1796–1816. Library of Congress. description ends ). They followed this up with a letter to the president on 19 Feb.: “We do ourselves the honor of enclosing to you two Copies of the Memorial proposed to be presented to Congress. Mr White is advised of their being sent under Cover to you and will no doubt call to sign them and receive your Instructions” (ibid.). For the commissioners’ memorial, dated 25 Nov. 1797, see White to GW, 8 Jan. 1798, n.2.

2On 23 Feb. President Adams sent this message to both houses of Congress: “The enclosed memorial from the Commissioners appointed under an act of the United States, entitled ‘An act for establishing the temporary and permanent seat of the Government of the United States,’ representing the situation and circumstances of the city of Washington, I take this opportunity to present to both Houses of the Legislature, and recommend to their consideration. Alexander White, Esq., one of those Commissioners, is now in this city, and will be able to give to Congress, or any of their committees, any explanation or further information which the subject may require” (Annals of Congress description begins Joseph Gales, Sr., comp. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. description ends , 5th Cong., 2d sess., 511, 1063). For the bill to provide additional funding to the Federal City and its ultimate passage by both houses of Congress, see White to GW, 10, 24 Mar. and 1, 18 April, and notes to these documents. For the Matthew Lyon affair, see James McHenry to GW, 1 Feb. (second letter), n.2. William Branch Giles (1762–1830) of Amelia County had been a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia since 1790.

Index Entries