To Alexander White
Mount Vernon 8th December 1799
Your favour of yesterday I received this morning.1 Altho’ the Legislature of Maryland has taken up the business of the Potomack Company upon different ground, than on that which was adopted at the last General meeting of the Stockholders, and less advantageous for them if they could have carried their mode into effect; yet, as my primary wish, is to see the work completed, I rejoice that the means are likely to be obtained which will accomplish this desirable object—and trust that on its progress to this end, there will be no more lingering.
Percieving no object Mr Liston could have in misrepresenting the expression of Mr Stoddard, respecting a site near the Capital; the pre⟨sumption⟩ is—all other considerations apart, that he was ⟨cor⟩rect in the recital. But to the attempt of diverting the followers of the Government from engaging houses in the vicinity of the Capital, Mrs Liston was more pointed, & full than He was.2 I trust, notwithstanding, that the event will prove that ⟨accomoda⟩tions will be found equal to the ⟨demand⟩ for them, and altho’ (I believe it may be said with truth) that those whose interest it was, most to promote the welfare & growth of the City, have been its worst enemies, yet that matters will still go right.
I should, as yesterday or to day (according to your first intentions) , and at all other times when it is convenient to you, be glad to see you at this place. Being—Dear Sir—with great esteem and regard Your most Obedt Humble Servant
ALS (letterpress copy), NN: Washington Papers.
1. Letter not found.
2. Robert Liston (1742–1836) began his tenure as British minister to the United States in May 1796 and served until his departure in December 1800. In May 1797 the District of Columbia commissioners, with the approval of President John Adams, offered Liston and other foreign envoys land in the Federal City for residences and embassies. On a trip to Mount Vernon, where the ambassador and his wife, Henrietta Marchant Liston, stayed with their entourage from 13 to 16 Nov. 1797 (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 6:268–69), Liston selected the site for the British embassy in Washington, “about midway between the President’s House and what is termed the Capitol” (Harris, Thornton Papers, description begins C. M. Harris, ed. Papers of William Thornton: Volume One, 1781-1802. Charlottesville, Va., 1995. description ends 1:436). On 17 Feb. 1798 William Thornton wrote Liston: “Soon after your departure from this place I made known to my colleagues the preference you gave to the ground on the edge of the Capitol Park, situated between Ninth and Tenth Streets West. . . . The Board signify through me their willingness to vest in you this property for the use of the Ambassador of England to the United States of America. . . . If on further consideration you have any objections to that square, I shall be very happy in giving any information in my power respecting other property” (ibid., 435–36).
What “the expression of Mr Stoddard [Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert], respecting a site near the Capitol” was, has not been determined, but it probably was during the second visit of the Listons to Mount Vernon, from 22 to 25 Oct. 1799, that GW found Mrs. Liston’s comments “more pointed, & full” than her husband’s. Doubts had arisen earlier in the year about the legality of the grants of land the commissioners had made to foreign envoys, and it was decided that an act of Congress would be required if the grants were to be validated. At that point Liston decided not to proceed in the matter (ibid., 436).