Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from George Washington, 1 April 1791

From George Washington

Mount Vernon April 1st. 1791

Dear Sir

I have had the pleasure to receive your letter of the 27th. ult. with the papers which accompanied it.

Referring to your judgment whether a commission, similar to that intended for Mr. Barclay, may be given without the agency of the Senate, I return both papers to you signed, in order that the one you deem most proper may be used.

Your opinions respecting the acts of force which have already taken place, or may yet take place on our boundaries, meet my concurrence, as the safest mode of compelling propositions to an amicable settlement and it may answer a good purpose to have them suggested in the way you mention.—Should this matter assume a serious aspect during my absence I beg you to communicate particulars with all possible dispatch.

The most superb edifices may be erected, and I shall wish their inhabitants much happiness, and that too very disinterestedly, as I shall never be of the number myself.

It will be fortunate for the American public if private Speculations in the lands, still claimed by the Aborigines, do not aggrevate those differences, which policy, humanity, and justice concur to deprecate.

I am much indebted to your kind concern for my safety in travelling. No accident has yet happened either from the high-hanging of the carriage, or the mode of driving. The latter I must continue as my Postilion (Giles) is still too much indisposed to ride the journey.

It occurs to me that you may not have adverted to Judge Putnam’s being in the Western Country at present.—Perhaps General Knox can furnish you with the maps you want, or they may be found among those that are in my study in Philadelphia.

I expect to leave Mount Vernon, in prosecution of my Southern tour, on tuesday or wednesday next. I shall halt one day at Fredericksburgh and two at Richmond. Thence I shall proceed to Charlestown by the way of Petersburg, Halifax, Tarborough, Newbern, Wilmington, and George Town, without making any halts between Richmond and Charleston but such as may be necessary to accomodate my journey. I am sincerely and affectionately Yours,

Go: Washington

RC (DLC); at foot of text: ‘Thos. Jefferson Esqr. Secy of State”; endorsed by TJ as received 5 Apr. 1791 and so recorded in SJL. Dft (DNA: RG 59, MLR); in the hand of William Jackson, with complimentary close and signature added by Washington. FC (DNA: RG 59, SDC); in Jackson’s hand, with complimentary close, signature, and docketing added by Washington.

Washington’s response to TJ’s information about the bill introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature “for building a federal hall, house for the President &c.” (TJ to Washington, 27 Mch. 1791) was construed by TJ to mean that the President intended to retire at the end of his term in 1793. On the basis of this construction, he at once made a determination of his own. On receiving the above letter, as he stated some months later, “my mind was immediately made up to make that the epoch of my own retirement from those labors of which I was heartily tired” (Memorandum of conversations with Washington, 1 Mch. 1792).

TJ was also given another concern at this critical juncture of affairs when he and the President had such harmonious relations and when their views about policy toward Great Britain were so much in accord. This arose from his fear that a serious accident might happen to Washington in his travels southward. On 23 Mch. 1791 the Gazette of the United States stated that the President had departed “in a new chariot and six … a superior specimen of mechanical perfection.” This was an opinion in which TJ certainly did not concur. His concern was indeed so great as to lead him to warn Washington that the coach was top-heavy because of the spring mountings, a condition aggravated by the fact that it was driven by a coachman rather than by a postillion mounted on the near horse of the leaders of the six-horse team (TJ to Washington, 27 Mch. 1791). Washington was not using the splendid coach of state that had been made for him in 1780 by George Bringhurst of Philadelphia. That coach, of which Washington was justifiably proud, had been thoroughly repaired, embellished, and accoutered in 1790 by the Philadelphia carriage makers, David and Francis Clark, but was thought both too heavy and too ornate for the gruelling journey southward over several hundred miles of rough roads. The Clarks were able to provide the President with one of two new coaches presumably brought from England, one of which belonged to the wife of Samuel Powel, mayor of Philadelphia. The latter came to rest at Mount Vernon in 1801 and, being referred to as “Washington’s White Chariot,” initiated a controversy which should never have arisen. The coach used on Washington’s southern journey was sold by the executors of his estate in 1802 and was evidently broken up for souvenirs (Freeman, Washington description begins Douglas Southall Freeman, George Washington, N.Y., 1948–1957, 6 vols.; 7th volume by J. A. Carroll and M. W. Ashworth, New York, 1957 description ends , vi, 296n.; Washington to Lear, 5 Sep. and 14 Nov. 1790; Washington to David and Francis Clark, 17 Sep. 1790, Writings, ed., Fitzpatrick, xxxi, 111, 115–16, 154; David and Francis Clark to Washington, 13 Sep. 1790, DLC: Washington Papers; Lear to Washington, 24 Oct. 1790, Microfilm of Feinstone Collection, No. 774). Washington not only survived the journey without serious accident but actually gained weight. TJ’s concern about the safety of the coach, like that he had manifested during Washington’s illness the previous year, testifies to his conviction that much depended on the President’s life (TJ to Short, 27 May 1790).

Index Entries