Mount Vernon 21st Oct. 1796
According to my promise, I have given the several matters contained in your letter of the first instant, the best consideration I am able.
The following is the result: subject however to alterations, if upon fuller investigation, and the discussion I mean to have with you on these topicks on my way to Philadelphia, I should find cause therefor.
Had not those obstacles opposed themselves to it, which are enumerated by one of the Commissioners, I should, (for reasons which are now unnecessary to assign) have given a decided preference to the Site which was first had in contemplation for a University in the Federal City; but as these obstacles appear to be insurmountable, the next best Site for this purpose, in my opinion, is the square surrounded by numbers 21. 22. 34. 45. 60 & 63.—and I decide in favor of it accordingly.
Conceiving (if there be space sufficient to afford it) that a Botanical Garden would be a good appendage to the Institution of a University, part of this square might be applied to that purpose: If inadequate, and the Square designated in the Plan of Majr L’Enfant for a Marine Hospital, is susceptible of that Institution and a Botanical Garden also, ground there might be appropriated to this use. If neither will admit of it, I see no solid objection against commencing this Work within the President’s square; it being previously understood that, it is not to be occupied for this purpose, beyond a certain period; or until circumstances would enable, or induce the Public to improve it into pleasure Walks &ca &ca.
Although I have no hesitation in giving it as my opinion, that all the Squares (except those of the Capitol & President’s) designated for public purposes, are subject to such appropriations as will best accomodate its views, yet it is, and always has been my belief, that it would impair the confidence which ought to be had in the Public, to convert them to private uses, or to dispose of them (otherwise than temporarily) to individuals. The Plan which has been exhibited to, and dispersed through all parts of the World, give strong indications of a different design; and an innovation in one instance, would lay the foundation for applications in many; and produce consequences which cannot be foreseen, nor perhaps easily remedied. My doubts therefore with respect to designating the Square on the Eastern Branch for a Marine Hospital, did not proceed from an idea that it might be converted, advantageously, into Saleable Lots; but from the utility of having an Hospital in the City at all. Finding however, that it is usual in other Countries to have them there the practice, it is to be presumed, is founded in convenience; and as it might be difficult to procure a Site without the City that would answer the purpose, I confirm the original idea of placing it where it is marked, in L’Enfant’s plan.
I am disposed to believe, if foreign States are inclined to erect buildings for their Representatives near the United States, the Sites for these buildings had better be left to the choice of their respective Ministers: for besides the reasons which have been already adduced, against innovations, it is very questionable whether ground as low as that in the Capital Square, west of the building, would be their choice: to fix them there then, might be the means of defeating the object altogether.
As the business of the Executive Officers will be chiefly, if not altogether with the President, Sites for their Offices ought to be convenient to his residence; but as the identical spots can be better chosen on the ground with the plan of the City before one, than by the latter alone, I will postpone this decision until my arrival therein; as I shall also do other appropriations of public Squares, if it be necessary to take the matter up before my return to Philadelphia.
It might be well to amplify on those subjects which you conceive ought to be laid before Congress, or the national Council, and to suggest the mode which you may have contemplated as best for the purpose, against my arrival; which, probably, will be on Tuesday or Wednesday next. With great esteem I am Gentlemen Your Obedt Humble Servant
DLC: Papers of George Washington.