Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Thomas Munroe, 17 September 1802

From Thomas Munroe

Washington 17th. September 1802


The Sale of Lots which commenced on Monday the 30th. ulto. was continued from day to day during that week, and was adjourned on Saturday the 4th. Instant ’till monday the 13th Instant, and has since been continued daily.—About 100 Lots were sold the first week, & four only have been sold this week—the whole Amount of sales is about $9,500.—After the third or fourth day of sale competition amongst the purchasers almost ceased, the best and the largest lots (which were first called up) having been by that time nearly all sold.—

One or two persons have since offerred from five to fifteen, & in one instance twenty, dollars Lot for many Lots w’ch owe the public from one to two hundred Dollars, but thinking so great a sacrafice at so early a period of the sale would be unjustifiable I have hitherto declined selling at such very low prices, knowing the lots will at any other time during the sale bring at least as much, if not more—by so doing I have in several instances got ten times the Amount of the rejected bids for the same Lots, by afterwards setting them up at something near the sums due on them, whenever I have observed as many persons attending the sale as to render competition probable.—Altho’ in some instances the sales which have been made will, I fear, be very injurious to individuals, it is generally said here that the prices have been much higher than was expected, but however great the sacrifices may have been considered there are the strongest reasons to expect they must be much greater before all the Lots advertised can be sold.—I have offerred to sell as low as a quarter of a Cent square foot, or $30 Lot, yet have not made a single sale, or recd. a single bid today or the two preceeding days, nor do I expect to make any more sales until it is made known that the Lots will be sold for whatever may be bid for them, but the probable consequence thereof, I think, will be that as we have no distant purchasers; and there being so little money or demand for Lots amongst the people here, the few who have money will purchase as many of the best lots as they want at, from five to ten Dollars each; which will fall very far short of producing the $50,000 due to the State of Maryland, even if the worst Lots should sell at that price also—.

I shall keep the sale open from day to day and continue to do the best I can until I may be honored by your instructions on the subject which I beg leave, Sir, respectfully to solicit.

I presume it will be proper to give a week or ten days previous notice (in case nothing better can be done) that on, and after a certain day any sum which may be offerred for a Lot will be received as a bid—The Bank of Columbia has threatened me with an execution for the $2,500 due on the Commissioners note endorsed by me. I supposed that the money arising from the present sales was applicable to the payment of that note but Mr Mason appears to be of a contrary opinion—I take the liberty of enclosing the Law & Mr. Ms. Opinion for your perusal in case your leisure will admit of it.—

I have the Honor to be with the highest respect Sir Yr mo Ob. Servt.

Thomas Munroe

RC (DLC); addressed: “President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 19 Sep. and so recorded in SJL. Enclosures: (1) probably a copy of “An Act to abolish the Board of Commissioners in the City of Washington; and for other purposes,” enacted by Congress on 1 May 1802 (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States . . . 1789 to March 3, 1845, Boston, 1855–56, 8 vols. description ends , 2:175–8). (2) John Thomson Mason to Munroe, 7 Sep. 1802, observing that by the wording of Section 4 of the act abolishing the board of commissioners for the city of Washington, it appears that only funds received by Munroe as superintendent when the law passed can be applied toward paying the debt due to the Bank of Columbia, since the debt was contracted by the commissioners and no special provision for its payment exists elsewhere in the law; “That is the gramatical construction of the clause,” Mason writes, “But that could not be the meaning of Congress, for you only came into existence after the passage of the law, and could therefore have received no monies when it passed”; a slight rewording of the clause would have given Munroe power to use funds from the sale of lots, but the provision at the end of Section 6 stands “very much in the way” by directing that all monies from the sale be applied toward the Maryland loan and the interest due thereon, and only allows the Treasury to pay the remaining deficiency once the proceeds of the sale have been applied; “Upon the whole,” Mason concludes, “I would advise you to postpone the application of any part of this money until you obtain the directions of the President” (RC in DLC; endorsed by TJ: “opn on paiment of monies”).

For notes drawn by the District of Columbia commissioners on the BANK OF COLUMBIA, see ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Miscellaneous, 1:228; Vol. 36:166–7; Vol. 37:586–7.

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