George Washington Papers
Documents filtered by: Date="1792-11-30"
sorted by: date (ascending)
Permanent link for this document:

From George Washington to David Stuart, 30 November 1792

To David Stuart

Philadelphia Novr 30th 1792

Dear Sir,

Knowing that tomorrow is the time appointed for the monthly meeting of the Commissioners at George Town, I had intended to have written you a line or two on a particular subject by Wednesday’s Post; but one thing or another put it out of mind until it was too late. I now set down to do it, as the letter in the common course of the Post will reach George Town on Monday—probably, before you shall have left that place.1

You will consider what I am now about to say as a private communication; the object of which is only to express more freely than I did in my last letter to the Commissioners,2 the idea that is entertained of the necessity of appointing a Superintendant of the execution of the plans & measures wch shall be resolved upon by the Commissioners of the federal City. one who shall always reside there. and being a man of skill & judgment—of industry & integrity, would, from having a view of the business constantly before his eyes, be enabled to conduct it to greater advantage than the Commissioners can possibly do unless they were to devote their whole time to it. Instances of this are adduced by some of the Proprietors; particularly in the alteration which has taken place in the Bridge, the delay consequent thereof—&ca. It is remarked by some of (the best disposed of) them, that although you meet monthly—spend much time together—and are truly anxious to forward this great object; yet, from the nature of the thing, you cannot acquire at those meetings the minute information which a proper character always on the spot would do; and which is indispensably necessary to do in order to avoid mistakes, and to give vigor to the undertaking. And besides, add they, a man of fertile genius, & comprehensive ideas, would, by having the business always before him, seeing, shewing to, & conversing with Gentlemen who may be led, either by curiosity or an inclination to become adventurers therein, to view the City, obtain many useful hints, by means of which, and his own reflections, might suggest many useful projects to the consideration of the Commissioners at their stated (say) quarterly meetings, or at such occasional ones as he might, in cases of importance and immergency, be empowered to call.3

But where, you may ask, is the character to be found who possesses these qualifications? I frankly answer I know not! Major L’Enfant (who it is said is performing wonders at the new town of Patterson) if he could have been restrained within proper bounds, and his temper was less untoward, is the only person with whose turn to matters of this sort I am acquainted, that I think fit for it. Th⟨ere⟩ may, notwithstanding, be many others although they are unknown to me, equally so.4

Mr Blodget seems to be the person on whom many eyes are turned, & among others who look that way, are some of the Proprietors. He has travelled, I am told, a good deal in Europe; & has turned his attention (according to his own Account) to Architecture & matters of this kind. He has staked much on the issue of the Law establishing the permanent residence; and is certainly a projecting genius, with a pretty general acquaintance. To which may be added, if he has any influence in this Country, it must be in a quarter where it is most needed; and where, indeed, an antitode is necessary to the poison which Mr F——s C——t is spreading; by insinuations, that the accomplishment of the Plan is no more to be expected than the fabric of a vision, & will vanish in like manner.5 But whether with these qualifications, Mr Blodget is a man of industry & steadiness, & whether (as soon as it is necessary) he would take up a settled abode there, are points I am unable to resolve.6 As an Architect, Mr Jefferson has a high opinion of Mr Hallet, but whether Mr Hallet has qualities, & is sufficiently known to fit him for general superintendancy I cannot pretend even to give an opinion upon.7 If Mr B⟨l⟩odget is contemplated for this office would it not be well to be on or off with him at once. [I] hear he is held in suspence on this head.8

Have you yet decided on a Plan for the Capitol? Mr Carroll talked of their being sent hither—Is any thing done towards the foundation of the Presidents house?9 What number of lots are bona fide sold? In what squares do they lye? Let your Clerk send me a list. Do you receive offers to purchase at private Sale? If you have fixed on a time for another public Sale, ought not notice thereof to be immediately given; & measures adopted to make the thing known in Europe as well as in this Country; Inserting advertisements in the Gazettes of the latter at intervals between this & the Sale, by way of remembrancer. A little expence in these would be profitably incurred. How does [Andrew] Ellicot[t] go on?10 I am always, & Affectly Yours

Go: Washington

ALS, sold by Christie’s, 1993; ALS (letterpress copy), DLC:GW; LB, DLC:GW.The text in angle brackets is taken from the letterpress copy.

1Since GW had missed the post for Wednesday, 28 Nov., he now hoped that this letter would reach Stuart on Monday, 3 December. Commissioner Thomas Johnson did not join the other commissioners, David Stuart and Daniel Carroll, when they met at Georgetown from 3 to 6 Dec. (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings). Contrary to GW’s expectations Stuart did not receive GW’s letter until 8 Dec. (see Stuart to GW, 10 Dec. 1792).

3For recent criticism of the commissioners, see George Walker to GW, 8 Oct., and Benjamin Stoddert to GW, 24 Oct. 1792, in which Stoddert criticized the construction of the bridge over Rock Creek and called for the appointment of a superintendent for the district.

4For background on events leading to the dismissal in February 1792 of architect and engineer Pierre L’Enfant as surveyor general and supervisor of the construction of the new capital, see L’Enfant to GW, 21 Nov. 1791, editorial note; see also GW to L’Enfant, 28 Feb. 1792. L’Enfant was hired in July 1792 by the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures to direct the construction of a manufacturing complex at the falls of the Passaic River, to prepare a plan for bringing water to the respective works, and to lay out the town of Paterson, N.J. (see “Draft Minutes of a Meeting of a Committee of the Directors of the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures,” 1 Aug. 1792, in Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 12:140–43).

5For GW’s earlier doubts about Francis Cabot, Jr., see his letter to Stuart of 8 Mar. 1792.

6The commissioners appointed Samuel Blodget, Jr., the district superintendent on 5 Jan. 1793 (see D.C. Commissioners to GW, 5 Jan. 1793).

7Although the commissioners did not select Stephen Hallet’s design for the Capitol, they hired him in the summer of 1793 to revise the plan chosen for the building and to supervise its construction (see D.C. Commissioners to GW, 23 June 1793, and GW to Thomas Jefferson, 30 June 1793).

8The preceding three sentences were inserted at this place in the text, by GW on the receiver’s copy and by Tobias Lear on the letterpress copy.

9The plan for the Capitol was not selected until early April 1793. The commissioners had selected James Hoban’s architectural plan for the President’s House in July 1792, and they subsequently hired him to supervise its construction (see D.C. Commissioners to GW, 19 July 1792).

10For David Stuart’s response to these various questions, see his letter to GW of 10 Dec. 1792.

Index Entries