George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 29 January 1790]

Friday 29th. Exercised on horse back this forenn.; during my ride, Mr. Johnston, one of the Senators from No. Carolina who had just arrived came to pay his respects, as did Mr. Cushing, one of the Associate judges. The latter came again about 3 Oclock introduced by the Vice President.

Received from the Governor of No. Carolina, an Act of the Legislature of that State, authorising the Senators thereof, or one of the Senators and two of the Representatives, to make (on certain conditions) a Deed of Session of their Western Territory; described within certain Natural boundaries and requesting that the same should be laid before the Congress of the U. States.

Received also a letter from the Baron de Steuben, declarative of his distresses; occasioned by the Non-payment, or nonfulfilment of the Contract which was made with him by the Congress under the former Confederation and requesting my Official interference in his behalf. The delicacy of this case from the nature, and long labouring of it, requires consideration.

The Visitors to Mrs. Washington this Evening were numerous and respectable.

William Cushing (1732–1810), of Scituate, Mass., graduated from Harvard, studied law with Jeremiah Gridley of Boston, and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1755. From 1760 to 1771 he practiced law in Pownalborough (Dresden) in the District of Maine; in 1772 he returned to Massachusetts to succeed his father as judge of the superior court. During the Revolution he adopted the Patriot cause and was retained by the state of Massachusetts as a justice on the Supreme Court. In 1779 he was a member of the Massachusetts state constitutional convention and in 1788 of the Massachusetts Ratifying Convention. GW appointed him an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States 24 Sept. 1789 (EXECUTIVE JOURNAL description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America: From the commencement of the First, to the termination of the Nineteenth Congress. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C., 1828. description ends , 1:29).

Gov. Alexander Martin’s letter to GW is dated 24 Dec. 1789 (DNA: RG 46, President’s Messages). North Carolina originally passed an act of cession of its western lands to the Continental Congress in April 1784 but repealed it in October of that year. The state adopted the Constitution in Nov. 1789, and in December the legislature passed “An Act for the Purpose of Ceding to the United States of America, Certain Western Lands Therein Described” (N.C. STATE REC. description begins Walter Clark, ed. The State Records of North Carolina. 16 vols., numbered 11-26. Winston and Goldsboro, N.C., 1895–1907. description ends , 25:4–6). GW sent Martin’s letter and the act of cession to the House and Senate on 1 Feb. (DE PAUW description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends , 1:233, 3:281–82). The North Carolina deed of cession, 25 Feb. 1790, signed by North Carolina senators Samuel Johnston and Benjamin Hawkins, is in CARTER [4] description begins Clarence Edwin Carter et al., eds. The Territorial Papers of the United States. 27 vols. Washington, D.C., 1934–69. description ends , 4:9–13. The North Carolina cession, supplemented by a small grant from South Carolina, was constituted as the Territory Southwest of the River Ohio by Congress in May 1790 (1 STAT. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 123 [26 May 1790]). The territory became the state of Tennessee in 1796.

When Baron von Steuben arrived in the United States in 1777, he had agreed verbally with a committee of Congress that he would join the army as a volunteer without rank or pay, but that if the United States succeeded in establishing independence his expenses incurred while in service would be paid. After the war Steuben repeatedly requested Congress to honor what he considered to be a binding contract. Congress delayed, not only from a lack of funds but from a persuasion that Steuben’s appointment in May 1778 as a major general with the usual emoluments had abrogated the original agreement. On 14 Sept. 1789 a new petition from Steuben, requesting that his claims “for military services rendered during the late war, may be liquidated and satisfied,” was presented to the House of Representatives. On 25 Sept. the committee on claims to which the petition had been referred sent it to the secretary of the treasury with instructions to report on it during the next session of Congress (DE PAUW description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends , 3:206, 233). The petition and its supporting documents are in DNA: RG 46, Petitions and Memorials, Claims. Steuben’s letter to GW, 29 Jan. 1790, requesting the president’s support for his petition, is in DNA: RG 59, Misc. Letters. Hamilton reported favorably on Steuben’s petition, 29 Mar. 1790, suggesting both an outright grant and an annuity, but Congress, probably in response to popular opposition to the petition, modified the sum. On 4 June the affair was settled, although not to the baron’s satisfaction, by passage of “An Act for finally adjusting and satisfying the claims of Frederick William de Steuben,” which granted him a lifetime annuity of $2,500 (6 STAT. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 2; HAMILTON [2] description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 6:310–27; PALMER description begins John McAuley Palmer. General Von Steuben. New Haven, 1937. description ends , 376–78).

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