Opinion on George Walker’s Case
June 14. 1801.
On considering the case between the Commissioners and mr George Walker relative to the Semicircular area at the intersection of K. and 17th. streets & the Pensylva & Kentucky avenues, there appear but two ways in which that Area can be disposed of agreeably to law & practice.
1. we may continue the sd. streets & avenues to the Water street. there would then be no reasonable cause for laying out a circular street; consequently there would be considerable triangles or points, which would be to be divided between the public & the proprietors, as building lots.
2. we may assume there a public area. in this case it is proper there should be a circular street round it, and a water street, to give to the town it’s necessary communications: assuming the area within these for public use. this appears to me most advantageous to the city, and is accordingly preferred. consequently this area exclusive of the streets is to be paid for according to the original contract. forming this opinion on such views of the subject as occur to myself, and as yet not sufficiently intimate with the affairs of the city, to be satisfied that I am apprised of all the circumstances which may bear on the question if there are any such unknown to me, which would be strongly against the opinion here given, I should wish to be informed of them, and to suspend the opinion in the mean time
N (DLC: District of Columbia Papers); in TJ’s hand and signed by him; subjoined to an unsigned order from John Adams to Thomas Beall and John M. Gantt, Feb. 1801 (Tr in same; in William Brent’s hand).
On 12 June the District of Columbia Commissioners asked the president to decide whether two plots of land, formerly owned by George Walker, should be appropriated for public use. The commissioners referred TJ to information on the Walker case that they had submitted to John Adams on 13 Feb. 1801 (RC in DLC, in Brent’s hand, signed by William Thornton, Alexander White, and Tristram Dalton, at foot of text: “President of the United States,” endorsed by TJ as received 12 June and so recorded in SJL with notation “Case with Walker”; FC in DNA: RG 42, DCLB). White wrote to TJ on 13 June, “I obtained from the Office of State the papers alluded to in the Commissioners letter of yesterday, except my letter to the late President, which the Clerk could not find,—although he found the papers accompanying it, all which are now enclosed with a copy of that letter” (RC in DLC; at foot of text: “President of the U. States”; endorsed by TJ as received 13 June and “Walker” and so recorded in SJL with notation “Walker’s case”).
By the terms of the original contract of 30 Mch. 1791, between the proprietors of land within the Federal District and the commissioners, the proprietors conveyed land to trustees who would oversee its sale as city lots. Proprietors retained use of the lots until the land was sold or appropriated for public use by the president. For appropriated land, the government would compensate the original owners £25 per acre, excluding streets. In June 1791, Walker conveyed land to trustees Thomas Beall and John Mackall Gantt by the terms of the 30 Mch. agreement (Bryan, National Capital description begins Wilhelmus B. Bryan, A History of the National Capital from Its Foundation through the Period of the Adoption of the Organic Act, New York, 1914–16, 2 vols. description ends , 1:134; Washington, Papers, Pres. Ser. description begins W. W. Abbot, Dorothy Twohig, Philander D. Chase, Theodore J. Crackel, and others, eds., The Papers of George Washington, Charlottesville, 1983–, 48 vols.: Presidential Series, 1987–, 12 vols. description ends , 8:24–5, 309n; Nicholas King to TJ, 28 May).
In their letter of 13 Feb., the commissioners explained to Adams that the two plots of land that Walker claimed payment for, as land appropriated to the U.S., were not approved for appropriations in 1798. The commissioners also recommended acceptance of most of the two plots for public use (RC in DLC: District of Columbia Papers; in Brent’s hand, signed by Thornton and William Cranch). TJ’s opinion, printed above, focused on the second plot of land, which was located at the termination of Pennsylvania and Kentucky Avenues at the Eastern Branch of the Potomac River. Money had been raised to build a bridge at this location, which probably lent particular urgency to TJ’s decision (Bryan, National Capital description begins Wilhelmus B. Bryan, A History of the National Capital from Its Foundation through the Period of the Adoption of the Organic Act, New York, 1914–16, 2 vols. description ends , 1:324, 426–7).
On 17 June the commissioners wrote TJ and presented him with an order “to appropriate the two parcels of ground which have been under your consideration; the last mentioned being described agreeably to the ideas expressed in your communication of the 14th Instant, except that no reservation of a water street is made—this we did under an impression that the Government may lay out a water street more convenient than the one now designated” (RC in DLC, in Brent’s hand, signed by Thornton, White, and Dalton, at foot of text: “President of the United States,” endorsed by TJ as received 17 June and “Area at Bridge” and so recorded in SJL; FC in DNA: RG 42, DCLB). TJ signed the order the same day (MS in DLC: District of Columbia Papers, in a clerk’s hand, signed by TJ and Madison; FC in DNA: RG 59, MPTPC; FC in DNA: RG 42, DCLB).