Thomas Jefferson Papers

Opinion on Compensation to the Commissioners of the Federal District, 11 March 1793

Opinion on Compensation to the Commissioners of the Federal District

Qu. 1? What sacrifice may be made to retain Mr. Johnson in the office of Commissioner for the federal territory?

Answ. for such an object it is worth while to give up the plan of an allowance per diem, to give, instead of that, a sum in gross, and to extend that sum to 500. Dollars per annum, and expences; the latter to be rendered in account.

If Mr. Johnson persists in resigning, as it is evident Dr. Stewart will not continue even for the above allowance, and Mr. Carrol does not appear to make any conditions, the President will be free as to Mr. Carrol and two new associates to adhere to the allowance per diem already proposed, or to substitute a sum in gross.

Qu. 2? may new commissioners be chosen in the town?

Answ. it is strongly desireable that the Commissioners should not be of the town, nor interested in it; and this objection is thought a counterpoise for a sensible difference in talents. But if persons of adequate talents and qualifications cannot be found in the country, it will be better to take them from the town, than to appoint men of inadequate talents from the country.

Qu. 3 How compensate them?

Answ. if they come from the country, the per diem allowance is thought best. If from the town, a sum in gross will be best, and this might be as far as 300. D. a year, and no allowance for expences: if partly from the town and partly from the country, then 300. Dol. a year to the former, and the same with an allowance of expences to the latter.

Mr. Madison, Mr. Randolph and Th: Jefferson having consulted together on the preceding questions, with some shades of difference of opinion in the beginning, concurred ultimately and unanimously in the above answers.

Th: Jefferson
Mar. 11. 1793.

PrC (DLC); partially overwritten in a later hand. Entry in SJPL: “opns on compensns to Commrs. of Fedl. territory.”

Congress had not provided for payment to the Commissioners of the Federal District, and they had served without compensation since their initial appointment in January 1791. On 31 Jan. 1793 President Washington offered each of the Commissioners $1,000 plus expenses for past services and, beginning 1 Jan. 1793, $6 for each day of actual service plus a mileage allowance, a rate of compensation similar to that received by Congressmen. Evidently the Commissioners regarded both proposals as inadequate, and for this and other reasons Thomas Johnson and David Stuart announced their intention to resign. Washington had solicited the opinion of TJ, James Madison, and Edmund Randolph on 9 Mch. 1793, and TJ sent the above memorandum to the President three days later. The use Washington made of it is unclear. Johnson and Stuart both remained adamant about stepping down, although in June 1794 the President was still trying to persuade Johnson to remain in his post, and they seem to have been paid by the day for attendance until they were replaced in August and September 1794. Their successors were paid $1,600 a year, an increase justified by the stipulation that they live in or near the Federal District and devote enough time to the work to make a Superintendent unnecessary (Fitzpatrick, Writings description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, Washington, D.C., 1931–44, 39 vols. description ends , xxxii, 323–4, 326, xxxiii, 415–16, 481–2; Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 85; Washington to TJ, 9 Mch. 1793; payments to Stuart and Johnson in DNA: RG 42, PC, 17 Sep., 14 Oct. 1794; Bryan, National Capital description begins W. B. Bryan, History of the National Capital, New York, 1914–16, 2 vols. description ends , i, 237).

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