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To George Washington from the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, 24 July 1795

From the Commissioners for the District of Columbia

City of Washington [D.C.] 24 July 1795

Sir,

The enclosed Letter from the Secretary of State covering the charge made by Mr Greenleaf were received by the mail the Day you left town.1 Upon such an occasion we thought the sooner an Invitation to Greenleaf to come forward and substantiate his charges was handed to him the better. The enclosed answer to him open and under Cover to the Secretary of State which is also enclosed was forwarded by the Mail of Tuesday.2 We shall forbear to make any Observations on this business at present, and shall wait with temper for the Result; happy in recollecting that Mr Laws business was taken up the second day after Mr Whites arrival and determined on immediately after it had been communicated to the Executive on the Morning of the third Day after Mr White had taken his Seat at the Board3—We have the Honor to be with sentits of the highest respect sir Your mo. obedt Servts

Gusts Scott
William Thornton

Upon looking over the Minutes of our proceedings we find the following Entry on the Proceedings of June 10—“Letter received from Mr Law of this Day the consideration of it postponed until there is a full Board of which Mr Law being present, was informed.”

LB, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Sent.

1GW visited the commissioners on 20 July and left the city that same day (see Diaries, description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends 6:205). Edmund Randolph wrote the commissioners on 15 July and enclosed a copy of a letter from James Greenleaf, who had also discussed its contents in a conversation with the secretary. Randolph had “insisted” Greenleaf put his comments in writing. Greenleaf, Randolph noted, replied “he would never hesitate to repeat in writing, what he had orally uttered, but was unwilling to enter into an altercation” with the commissioners. Greenleaf then “proposed one or two expedients for avoiding a written communication,” but Randolph insisted “that he must either give me under his hand his charges against the Commissioners, or request me in writing not to mention them to the President.” Randolph wrote that he would have considered “The latter … as a retraction, and would have disabled him from ever circulating, that he had advanced to me accusations, which I passed over without notice.” Greenleaf, however, “preferred the former” (DNA: RG 59, Domestic Letters).

Greenleaf’s letter addressed to Randolph on 11 July claimed that because Gustavus Scott and William Thornton had property on the Georgetown side of the Federal District they used their positions as commissioners “to promote the benefit of that part of the City; to the detriment of the part lying on the Eastern branch.” He added that this bias had led the commissioners to discriminate against Thomas Law, preventing him “from commencing very important improvements” (Clark, Greenleaf and Law, description begins Allen C. Clark. Greenleaf and Law in the Federal City. Washington, D.C., 1901. description ends 153).

2In their letter to Greenleaf of 20 July, the commissioners noted his “charges against us of direct fraud and partiality in the execution of our Office, to cover we believe your inability to comply with your engagements with the public.” The board challenged Greenleaf to “substantiate these charges or … be considered as a false and infamous accuser.” They informed him that GW currently visited Mount Vernon for a month “and will no doubt listen to any Charge which can be proved against Officers of his appointment” (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Sent). For Greenleaf’s reply to the commissioners of 31 July, see Clark, Greenleaf and Law, description begins Allen C. Clark. Greenleaf and Law in the Federal City. Washington, D.C., 1901. description ends 155–56.

The commissioners wrote Randolph on the same date and thanked him for giving them “an opportunity of immediately dragging this Malignant Slanderer to light” (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Sent).

GW replied to the commissioners on 29 July: “As you have called upon Mr Greenleaf to come forward and substantiate the charges he has exhibited agt you, in his letter to the Secretary of State (copy of which you sent me) I shall wait the issue, and do no more, at this time, than to acknowledge of your dispatch” (ALS, DLC: U.S. Commissioners of the City of Washington records, 1791–1869; LB, DLC:GW).

3Alexander White produced his commission and took his seat among the commissioners at their meeting of 17 July. The delay charged by Greenleaf involved Law’s memorials of 7 and 10 June discussing Law’s desire to turn an inlet at the end of New Jersey Avenue into a dock and asking approval of a transfer of lots to facilitate that project. At the commissioners’ meeting on 18 July, they postponed consideration until 20 July, at White’s request. When the commissioners met that morning, resolutions on the subject “were laid before the President and finally determined upon before 12 o’Clock.” The resolutions acceded, with conditions, to Law’s request (Commissioners to Randolph, 20 June, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Sent; entries of 17 and 20 July, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings).

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