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To George Washington from the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, 10 July 1794

From the Commissioners for the District of Columbia

Washington 10th July 1794.


We have come to an agreement with Mr Greenleaf by which he will be accomodated, and the public participate in a Loan negociating in Holland in his name—the inclosed copy will let you into the particulars, one of which, that the paper which gives the legal title in the 1000 Lots the public part of the Mortgage, is to remain till Bills are drawn and the money deposited agreeable to our Order, on which we communicate with the Secretary of the Treasury thinking this money transaction will give him little Trouble1—the Effects of expending 300,000£ on public and private Buildings in the City must be so certain, and extensive that our motives cannot be mistaken.

On recurring to the Conditions published, it may be doubtful whether the Commissioners have not the power of dispensing with the 7th Article—we have prepared and inclose a new Regulation permitting a limitted incroachment on the Streets, and if it meets your Ideas wish your signature of approbation So that the Act may be valid let the power reside where it may.2

We have had Intercourse with Mr Greenleaf about Drains, and expect he will have a conversation with you on the subject—None can be more strongly impressed than we are of the propriety and importance of entering on this Business early, and on a large Scale, but we know we have not the Funds and are not clear that we have the Power to make such an application.3 We have the Honor to be with the greatest respect your mo. obedt Servts

Th. Johnson

Dd Stuart

Danl Carroll

LS, DLC:GW; LB, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Sent, 1791-1802. The LS is docketed, apparently in error (see n.2), "recd 17th July."

1For the text of the commissioners’ agreement with Greenleaf of 9 July, see DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings. The loan of £300,000 Maryland money was to be secured by D.C. lots valued at £100 per lot. The commissioners took up a third of the loan and thus transferred to Greenleaf 1,000 lots. GW submitted the contract to Edmund Randolph, who wrote the commissioners on 18 July to inquire "how far, under the laws of Maryland, the paper which is to be retained in behalf of the United States will prevent the legal title from passing under the new Agreement to purchasers without notice? Ought not that paper, if not already recorded, to be recorded?" (DNA: RG 59, Domestic Letters).

The commissioners’ letter to Alexander Hamilton of this date enclosed to him "the Title Certificate Duplicate and Triplicate to Mr Greenleaf for 1000 Lots in the City—it is intended to create a mortgage on these Lots for £100,000 in Holland, and by our agreement these papers are to be deposited in Philadelphia ’till Mr Greenleaf raises the Money on Bills of Exchange and pays to our Order what remains of their produce after purchasing and applying sufficient productive Stock to secure and pay Interest of 5 perCent during the loan of six years." Hamilton was asked to receive Greenleaf’s money and "deliver him the Papers on its being paid" (DLC:GW).

2The new regulation, signed by the commissioners, with GW’s signed note "Approved. July 15th 1794," is in DLC: Records of the U.S. Commissioners of the City of Washington, 1791-1869: "Whereas by the seventh article of the Terms and Conditions declared by the President of the United States the 17th day of October 1791 for regulating the materials and manner of the Buildings and Improvements on the Lots in the City of Washington it is provided ’That no vaults shall be permitted under the Streets, nor any encroachments on the foot way above by steps, stoops, porches, cellar doors, windows, ditches or leaning walls; nor shall there be any projection over the Street, other than the eves of the house, without the consent of the Commissioners.’

"And it is thought that allowing Areas or Ditches of five feet in breadth cut in the Street and secured by a good wall raised one foot of wrought free stone above the surface and having neat Iron pallisading of the height of 4 feet on the center of the wall and Joining to the steps into the Doors of the Houses, would tend to the convenience and safety of the inhabitants and their property and add to the Beauty of the City.

"Therefore so much and so much only of the said seventh article is hereby dispensed with as will allow and permit such Areas or Ditches to be made walled on the Street side with good stone walls at least eighteen Inches thick, of the height and pallisaded with Iron as aforesaid on the Center of the wall, leaving five feet between the line of the Street and the pallisading and such areas or Ditches are hereby permitted and allowed to be made so that the same be finished within one year from cutting out the same.

"But if the same shall not be so completed within that time then the Owner of the House shall fill the same up or the same may be done by the Commissioners or others by their Order."

The words "of wrought free stone" in the second paragraph were inserted by GW before he returned the document in his letter to the commissioners of 23 July.

3Greenleaf’s "Note . . . respecting Sections Bridges and Drains" has not been identified. In their reply to Greenleaf of this date, the commissioners essentially repeated the opinion they give to GW here (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Sent, 1791-1802). Secretary of State Edmund Randolph wrote the commissioners on 30 July to convey GW’s opinion of Greenleaf’s proposal for drains: "The President . . . is perfectly persuaded of their utility; and no less so, of your power to cause them to be made. . . . But with regard to the funds on which such a work is to be executed, he does not think himself competent to give an opinion. . . . You will therefore determine for yourselves, whether the appropriation of your resources to the object of the drains will or will not interfere with greater objects. . . . If you clearly foresee, that you can make arrangements for the drains without incurring any embarrassment, it may be adviseable to do so." Randolph added that a proposal by Greenleaf to construct drains "at his own expence and for his own profit" was "inadmissible" unless the United States retained the power to take over the drains "whensoever they please, upon paying the principal money expended." GW, however, "thinks that the level for ascertaining the foundation of the houses ought at any rate to be taken" (DNA: RG 59, Domestic Letters).

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