George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Richard Harrison, 8 May 1789

From Richard Harrison

New York 8th May 1789


I some time ago through the Medium of my friend Coll Harrison, with diffidence took the liberty of offering my self for Employment under the Goverment to the administration of which your Excellency has been unanimously called. However disagreeable to speak of oneself I would now beg permission briefly to state the grounds on which I thus presumed.

Although I was never honored with a direct or regular appointment from Congress, I for more than five Years, under the Authority of Mr Jay, acted as Agent for the Public, and, in reality discharged all the duties of a Consul at the Port of Cadiz. To these duties I necessarily and cheerfully devoted a great portion of my time. Far from recieving or requiring any pecuniary reward I not only purchased and shipped off a large Quantity of Cloathing free of every Charge, but was, during almost that whole period, in actual and considerable advances of Money, on which, in like manner, I never was paid Commission or common Interest even. Suffer me to add that the Expences to which this Situation exposed me, and which in consequence of it I actually incurred, amounted to a Sum that, did I now possess it, would possibly prevent the present Intrusion. These were sacrifices that I concieved the then Circumstances of my Country demanded of me, and my own in some measure justified, but no greater perhaps than any good Citizen would have made in my place. If, however, they should have any weight in your Excellency’s mind they are known, I believe, in part to most of the Gentlemen employed abroad; but I would beg leave to refer more particularly to Mr Adams, Mr Jay and Mr Barclay.1

Having said thus much, I shall detain Your Excellency no longer than to observe that, in case I should upon the whole be deemed worthy of Notice, a place in some one of the Home Departments would be most pleasing to my friends and equally acceptable to myself. If this however should prove incompatible with the Arrangement Your Excellency may judge proper or expedient to adopt, or interfere with better titles and superior merit, I would then presume to hope for an appointment in Europe, where a residence of many Years, and a competent knowledge of the French & Spanish Languages, may have qualified me, I trust, to act with some small degree of Propriety.2 With Sentiments of the purest Veneration and respect, I have the Honor to be Your Excellencys obedient and very humble Servant

R. Harrison


At this time Richard Harrison (1750–1841) was a merchant at Alexandria, Va., in the firm of Hooe & Harrison. During the Revolution he acted as Virginia’s agent on the island of Martinique and in 1780 moved to Cadiz where he served as unofficial consul for the United States until about 1786. Much of the secret aid in clothing and supplies secured by John Jay from the Spanish court passed through Harrison’s hands (see DNA: RG 59, Bureau of Accounts, Records Relating to Foreign Accounts, 1782–97, passim). After his return to the United States, Harrison was an occasional visitor to Mount Vernon and in 1791 married Ann (Nancy) Craik, the daughter of GW’s old friend and physician Dr. James Craik. Colonel Harrison is probably Robert Hanson Harrison (1745–1790) of Maryland, who had served as GW’s secretary during the American Revolution.

1Thomas Barclay (1728–1793) acted as United States consul at Paris during the Revolution and in November 1782 was appointed United States commissioner to settle the accounts of Congress in Europe. Harrison probably met Barclay while he was liquidating Congress’s accounts in Spain. In 1791 Barclay was appointed to negotiate a treaty with Morocco, and in 1792 he succeeded John Paul Jones as United States agent to establish peace with Algiers and secure the release of American captives there.

2On 23 May 1790 Tobias Lear wrote Harrison: “it having been intimated to the President of the U. S. that the appointment of Consul for the Port of Cadiz would be agreeable to you, and your having heretofore transacted the business of the U. S. in that place giving you good pretensions to that office; he has directed me to inform you that the appointment of Consuls for foreign Ports will probably come soon under his consideration—and he is therefore desireous of knowing your wishes on this head in Season.” A postscript to the letter informed Harrison that there was “no Salary annexed to the Consulships from the U. S.” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). On 7 June Harrison replied “knowing, as I do from Experience, the great expence inseparable from the Office, if filled only with the necessary degree of Decorum, I do not think it could be made to suit me without some Support from Government. As my friends and Correspondents, particularly those of Spain, seem, however, pretty generally to expect my appointment, I could still wish, if attended with no Impropriety or Inconvenience, to be nominated; because should I not appear to have been noticed on the Occasion it may possibly be construed by some into an Exception to my Character or past Conduct” (ibid.). In the meantime, on 4 June before Harrison’s reply was received, GW nominated him for the post (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 1147). There the matter rested until 28 Dec. 1790 when Lear wrote Harrison that “since your Commission for the Consulship of Cadiz has been transmitted to you there has been no information received to determine whether you accept the appointmt or not—And as you had . . . expressed a doubt of your acceptance of that office The President has commanded me to write to you upon the subject, requesting you will let him know your determination, that in case of your resignation, another person may be appointed to fill that place” (ibid.). In January Harrison replied that he had not received the commission and that “the only knowledge I have hitherto had of my Appointment has been through the public papers. This I hope will account, and sufficiently apologize, for my long silence.” In the absence of “any certainty of a decent subsistence,” he was compelled to decline the post (Harrison to GW, 6 Jan. 1791, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). In the fall of 1791 Oliver Wolcott’s promotion from auditor to comptroller of the Treasury of the United States left the former post vacant, and on 16 Nov. GW wrote to Dr. Craik: “The office of Auditor in the Department of the Treasury is not yet filled—Reasons unnecessary to detail at this time have hitherto prevented it. . . . If Mr Richard Harrison now your Son in law (on which I congratulate you) inclines to accept it, I will bring him forward in nomination to the Senate. He must decide without delay, and if on the side of acceptance he must come on without loss of time as there are many candidates for that office” (DLC:GW). Harrison replied on 21 Nov.: “Doctor Craik has put into my hands your condescending and very obliging Letter of the 16th Inst., in which you are pleased to signify your Intention of nominating me to the Office of Auditor, if I incline to accept it. Integrity and application I can venture to promise; but, although I have been long conversant in Accounts, I entertain some doubts respecting my Competency to Business so important, and—to me—so new. Encouraged, however, by your favorable Opinion, I have determined to accept, should you still see fit to honor me with the Appointment” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). The Senate confirmed Harrison’s appointment on 29 Nov. (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 1:90–91).

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