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From George Washington to William Thornton, 8 December 1799

To William Thornton

Mount Vernon 8th Decr 1799

Dear Sir,

For the communications contained in your letter of yesterday, I thank you.1 As a citizen of the United States, it gives me pleasure, at all times, to hear that works of public ⟨uti⟩lity are resolved on, and in a state of progression—wheresoever adopted, and whensoever begun.

The one resolved on between the Chesapeake and Delaware is of great magnitude, and will be, I trust, the Precursor of another between the Delaware and sound, at Amboy. These, with the one now about, between the Chesapeak (for Norfolk) and Albemarle Sound, will, in a manner, open a kind of Inland Navigation (with what assuredly will be attempted in the Eastern States) from one extremety of the Union to the other.2

Never having read any of the late Acts of Congress relatively to the Federal City, or rather to the public buildings, and property the Public is possessed of in that place; I know not on what grd the Attorney General of the United States has founded the opinion communicated in your letter, of the insufficiency of the Presidents Powers to Authorize the Commissioners of the City to accept a loan, for the purpose of carrying on the public works, in that place. Under the original Act empowering the President to establish the permanent Seat of the Government on the Potomac no doubt ever occured to my mind—nor I believe to the Minds of any of the Officers thereof, around me, of a want of this Power.3 But, by the obstructions continually thrown in its way—by friends or enemies—⟨this⟩ City has had to pass through a firey trial—Yet, I trust will, ultimately, escape the Ordea⟨l⟩ with eclat. Instead of a firey trial it would have been more appropriate to have said, it has passed, or is on its passage through, the Ordea⟨l⟩ of local interests, destructive Jealousies, and inveterate prejudices; as difficult, and as dangerous I conceive, as any of the other ordeals. With very great esteem & regard, I am—Dear Sir Your Most Obedt and obliged Humble Servant

Go: Washington

ALS (letterpress copy), NN: Washington Papers.

1Letter not found.

2For the canal planned between the Delaware River and the Chesapeake Bay, see John Mason to GW, 4 Dec., and note 2 to that document. The states of Virginia and North Carolina finally agreed in 1790 on the building of the Dismal Swamp canal, and in 1793 the digging at both ends of the canal connecting rivers flowing into the Chesapeake Bay and Albemarle Sound was begun; by 1799 considerable progress had been made (Brown, Dismal Swamp Canal, description begins Alexander Crosby Brown. The Dismal Swamp Canal. Hilton Village, Va., 1946. description ends ch. 2).

3For what Thornton probably wrote to GW concerning the problems arising out of the District of Columbia commissioners’ decision to seek a loan from the state of Maryland, see Harris, Thornton Papers, description begins C. M. Harris, ed. Papers of William Thornton: Volume One, 1781-1802. Charlottesville, Va., 1995. description ends 1:521–22.

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