George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Duane, 16 December 1784

From James Duane

Trenton [N.J.] 16th Decemr 1784

Dear Sir

I entertained the pleasing hope of meeting you at this place; on no better authority indeed than report; and yet I feel the disappointment in proportion to my affection for your Person, my gratitude for your publick Services, and the kind attention with which you have always indulged me.1

Be pleased to take in good part the Address which I have the honor to transmit with the Freedom of our City in a golden box.2 It can add nothing to your Glory; but we flatter ourselves it may not be unacceptable as a permanent Testimony of the Esteem and Gratitude of Citizens who, of all others, have been most distinguished by your Care and Sollicitude.

I once flatterd myself that the Dignity of our Government would have born some proportion to the illustrious atchievements by which it was succesfully established—but it is to be deplored that fœderal attachment, and a sense of national obligation, continue to give place to vain prejudices in favour of the Independance and Sovereignty of the individual States. I have endeavourd, in pursuance of the great Motive which induced me to continue in publick life, to inculcate more enlarged and liberal principles; but the Spirit of the times seems opposed to My feeble efforts, and I have lost credit with our Assembly, tho’ I hope not with the world. If opportunity offers I shall take the liberty to submit to your perusal the Judgement pronounced in the Court where I preside which has produced the Censure promulgated in the papers—“in effect that we had the presumption to controul the operation of an act of the Legislature from a respect to the Treaty of peace and the Law of Nations.”

I trust you know me too well to think that I can be otherwise concerned for this Event than as it may injure the reputation of my native State, of which I have so long been a faithful and confidential Servant.

Mr Jay, Mr Dickenson, and other great men, from publick Considerations, have honor’d us with the highest Approbation. Their comments are calculated for the publick Eye, and will appear when they can do the greatest good.3

I have too long been indulged in writing to you with unreserved freedom and confidence to suppress this detail, and if it was ever so immaterial your Goodness wou’d pardon it.

Do me the honor to make my most respectful Compliments acceptable to Mrs Washington and to assure her that in the Circle of her numerous Friends there are none who remember her with more sincere regard than Mrs Duane and all the branches of our Family. With every Sentiment of the most perfect and affectionate attachment—I have the honor to be—Dear Sir your most obedient and very humble Servant

Jas Duane

ALS, DLC:GW; ADfS, NHi: Duane Papers. Duane seems to have delayed sending this letter and its enclosure until 10 Mar. 1785, at which time he enclosed both in a letter of that date.

2The certificate making GW a freeman of New York City and the address from the officials of the city are both dated 2 Dec. 1784 and both are signed by Duane as mayor. GW’s responses are printed in GW to Duane, 10 April 1785. The certificate reads: “By James Duane Esqr. Mayor and the Recorder & Alderman of the City of New York:

“To all to whom these presents shall come or concern Greeting:

“Whereas his Excellency George Washington late Commander in Chief of the Armies of the United States of America by a Series of the most illustrious Services is entitled to the respect gratitude and applause of every heart which is truly american: And as none can have greater reason to cherish the most honorable and affectionate Sentiments towards him than the Citizens of the State of New York: So we have the fullest Confidence that there is no State in which they are more generally and emphatically felt: Flattering ourselves that convinced of this truth, his Excellency may be present to have his name enrolled among the Citizens of a Metropolis for the Recovery of which so much of his Care and Solicitude have been employed: Now therefore Know Ye that we considering that the Effusions of public esteem are the most welcome Tribute to a patriot Mind have admitted and received and by these presents Do admit and receive his said Excellency to be a Freeman and Citizen of the said City To Hold exercise and enjoy all the rights priviledges and immunities to the Freedom and Citizenship of the said City incident and appurtaining As a permanent Proof of the Admiration we feel for his exalted Virtues, for the wisdom Fortitude and Magnanimity which he hath so gloriously displayed, thro’ all the Vicissitudes and embarrasments, thro’ all the alternate Scenes of prosperous and adverse fortune produced in the progress of an arduous and difficult War: And finally for that patriotic heroism which after having been an essential Instrument in giving, by the divine Blessing, Liberty and Independence to thirteen Republics hath led him to retire with chearfulness from the head of a Victorious Army to the modest Station of a private Citizen.

“In Testimony of these Truths and to perpetuate them to our remotest Posterity we the said Mayor Recorder and Alderman have caused these presents to be entered on our public Records and our common Seal of the said City enclosed in a Golden box to be here unto affixed: Witness James Duane Esquire Mayor of the said City this second day of [Dec]ember in the Year of our Lord 1784 and of the Independence of the State the ninth” (DLC:GW).

The address reads: “When this City immediately after its restoration, had the honor of your Excellencys presence, it was regretted that the arrangement of its Institutions suspended those public Testimonials of respect, gratitude, and applause which every heart truly american is sollicitous to pay to your distinguished merits and services. The Corporation, since organized, resolved to embrace a proper opportunity to manifest the exalted Sense which they entertain of both, and are happy that your Approach to the Vicinity of this State will put it in their power to carry that Resolution into effect.

“The effusions of public Esteem are the most welcome Tribute to a patriot Mind, and as none can have greater reason to cherish the most honorable and affectionate Sentiments toward you than the Citizens of the State of New York. So we have the fullest Confidence that there is no State in which they are more generally and emphatically felt. Flattering ourselves that you are convinced of this truth we are led to hope that it may not be displeasing to you to have your name enrolled among the Citizens of a Metropolis for the Recovery of which so much of your Care and Sollicitude have been employed.

“On the present Occasion we would wish to convey to your Excellency a just Idea of the admiration we feel for the Virtues you have displayed in the late Revolution; but justice to the illustrious part you have acted would oblige us to adopt that strong language of Panegyric which we fear might wound the Delicacy for which you are conspicuous. We shall therefore only indulge ourselves so far as to observe that it is your glory, thro’ all the vicissitudes and embarrasments of a Revolution, thro’ alternate Scenes of prosperous and adverse Fortune never to have known a Moment when you did not possess the full confidence and esteem of your Country; and after having, by the divine Favor most essentially contributed to establish the Liberty and Independence of thirteen republics, it is your peculiar Glory to have chearfully retired from the Head of a Victorious Army to the modest Station, of a private Citizen.

“Permit us to add our fervent Prayers that your Excellency in just reward of such eminent Services and Virtues may be crowned with every Blessing which a grateful Country and indulgent Heaven can bestow. By order of the Corporation” (DLC:GW).

3Duane is referring to the famous case, Rutgers v. Waddington, which was ordered in Duane’s mayor’s court on 29 June 1784. Elizabeth Rutgers, an elderly widow and Patriot, entered a suit early in 1784 against Joseph Waddington, agent of the British merchants who had taken over Mrs. Rutgers’s brewery during the British occupation of the city, for £8,000 unpaid rent. The lawyers for the plaintiff, led by Attorney General Egbert Benson, argued for the validity of the Trespass Act passed by the New York legislature on 17 Mar. 1783, under the terms of which Mrs. Waddington would be paid. The lawyers for the defense, led by Alexander Hamilton, argued that the law of nations and the terms of the treaty of peace barred Mrs. Rutgers from collecting rent for her brewery. In a finely drawn decision, Duane delivered the opinion of the court on 27 Aug. 1784. It held that for the three years, from 1780 to 1783, when the two merchants controlled the brewery under the authority of the British commander, the law of nations transferred the right to the rent to the British commander, which the two had paid in accordance with the commander’s directions. This left the defendants liable for the payments to Mrs. Rutgers in 1778 and 1779 when they held the brewery under orders from the commissary and paid no rent. Rutgers v. Waddington, in its contemporary context, receives full and authoritative treatment in Julius Goebel, Jr., ed., The Law Practice of Alexander Hamilton: Documents and Commentary, 1 (New York, 1964), 282–419.

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