George Washington Papers
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From George Washington to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, 8 January 1796

To the United States Senate and House of Representatives

United States, January the 8th 1796

Gentlemen of the Senate, and House of Representatives

I transmit to you a Memorial of the Commissioners appointed by virtue of an Act intitled, “an act for establishing the temporary and permanent seat of the Government of the United States,” on the subject of the public buildings under their direction.1

Since locating a District for the permanent seat of the Government of the United States, as heretofore announced to both Houses of Congress;2 I have accepted the grants of money and of Land, stated in the Memorial of the Commissioners. I have directed the buildings therein mentioned, to be commenced on plans which I deemed consistent with the liberality of the Grants, and proper for the purposes intended.

I have not been inattentive to this important business, intrusted by the Legislature to my care. I have viewed the resources placed in my hands, and observed the manner in which they have been applied: the progress is pretty fully detailed in the Memorial from the Commissioners; and one of them attends to give further information if required.3 In a case new and arduous like the present, difficulties might naturally be expected: some have occurred; but they are in a great degree surmounted; and I have no doubt, if the remaining resources are properly cherished, so as to prevent the loss of property by hasty and numerous sales, that all the buildings required for the accommodation of the Government of the United States, may be completed in season, without aid from the Federal Treasury. The subject is therefore recommended to the consideration of Congress, and the result will determine the measures which I shall cause to be pursued with respect to the property remaining unsold.

Go: Washington

LS, DNA: RG 46, entry 47; copy, DNA: RG 233, entry 28, Journals; copy, DLC:GW.

1A copy of the undated memorial, certified by GW’s secretary Bartholomew Dandridge, Jr., as “Truly copied from the original,” is with the LS in DNA: RG 46 (see also ASP, Miscellaneous, 1:133–34). The commissioners reviewed their progress in laying out the Federal City, constructing public buildings, and selling lots, and they noted that “there still remain unsold about four thousand seven hundred Lots; which, valued at the average Price of those sold … are worth near one Million and an half of Dollars.” Although they had “no doubt of compleating such buildings as will be absolutely necessary for the reception of Congress before the time appointed for their removal to the permanent Seat of Government,” they pointed out that “the punctual compliance with the contracts of Individuals cannot be relied on with that certainty which is necessary to the carrying on of public works to advantage,” and that “the bringing into Market so large a portion of the City property as would raise money sufficient for that purpose, would greatly depreciate its value.” They suggested “that the Loan of a sum of Money secured on the City property would be highly advantageous as it would enable them to proceed with more celerity in compleating the Public Buildings, than a dependence on the collection of Debts and Sale of property will admit. The rapid progress of the Buildings would in itself be an encouragement to private Improvements, and have an immediate tendency to enhance the price of Lots, but could the Lots be generally retained until the Seat of Government shall be removed they will rise so far beyond their present value that not only all sums now borrowed on that foundation may be repaid, but much Property reserved for the disposal of the United States.” However, the laws of Maryland limited interest to 6 percent per annum, which was likely to be insufficient, and “Money Lenders in foreign contries at least may be unacquainted with the value of the security offered.” Therefore, the commissioners asked Congress “to pass an Act authorizing the President of the United States to borrow such sums as on consideration of the Premises shall appear reasonable, to be secured on the Lots ceded for the Use of the Federal City … at such rate of Interest as he may judge expedient and payable at such time or times as he may judge proper after the expiration of the year 1800—And to guarrantee to the Money Lenders, that in case the Property so pledged shall prove inadequate to the purpose of re-payment, the United States will make good the deficiency.”

On 25 Dec. 1795 commissioner Alexander White at Philadelphia had written the other commissioners, enclosing a memorial (not identified) that “having undergone the inspection of several Members of Congress friendly to our measures, and having been finally approved by the President—is sent for your approbation and signature.” White also enclosed a rough draft of a letter from the commissioners to GW to accompany the memorial (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Received). No such letter has been found.

Early on this date White again wrote the other commissioners to report on the status of the memorial. Some members had expressed doubts about whether it should be brought forward while the Jay Treaty was under discussion in Congress, and when GW was told this, he “seemed doubtful of the propriety of bringing the matter before Congress.” When White dined with GW on 7 Jan., GW told him that copies of the memorial were made and a message prepared, and he asked White to call at eleven this morning, when GW “would determine what to do.” White would advise that the message be sent (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Received).

2See GW’s message to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives of 24 Jan. 1791 and his proclamation of the same date.

3GW is referring to White.

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