George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Benjamin Lincoln, 16 July 1789

From Benjamin Lincoln

Boston, 16 July 1789. “When I had the honour of addressing your Excellency on the subject of returning to public life I did not suggest a wish to hold one office in preference to an other1—Indeed at that time it was not ascertained what offices would be established under the new constitution. It was however the general idea that the union would be formed into different districts and that there would be an officer appointed in each to fill up the large space between the treasury board and the several collectors & naval officers—As the partiality of my friends here has excited a public expectation that I might be called to an office of more respectibility than either of the two last mentioned it may possibly be supposed that I would decline accepting either should your Excellency think me quallified to fill one of them—but this is so far from being the case that I should feel well satisfied to hold that, in which I might be thought by your Excellency to be most useful.”


1For Lincoln’s application for office, see his letter to GW, 20 Feb. 1789. Writing to Lincoln on 1 Aug. 1789 Theodore Sedgwick, United States senator from Massachusetts, observed that he had found his colleagues in New York greatly in favor of Lincoln’s appointment. “About three weeks since I requested a conversation with the president on the subject. He conversed freely. He observed that he knew of no more certain means of obtaining a knowledge of characters acceptable to the people of the respective states than from the appointments which had taken place under the state governments, especially where those appointments were of the popular kind and made by the legislatures. That three officers had for some time passed exercised the duties of their respective offices in the revenue department in Boston Jarvis, Lovel and Melville, that these men had been repeatedly reappointed and in addition to that circumstance had obtained recommendations from very important characters of their merits and faithful services. To these observations I replied that legislative appointments were sometimes the effect of party, often of inattention. That altho I know nothing to the disadvantage of the characters of the men he had named, yet I presumed any officer of a character not generally odious and unpopular might obtain recommendations, and indeed if they had not misbehaved had a kind of claim to them, that Mr Jarvis would still be continued in his office of state comptroler, and Mr Lovel in the collection of the duty of excise, &ca &ca.

“A few days since I again waited on the president, and mentioned your case to him more freely and particularly, I told him that all men who wished well to the measures of this government and were the means of obtaining it in Massa. most ardently wished your appointment. That it was the opinion of all the friends to government there that the opposition to you was founded solely on a knowledge and dread of your virtues and talents, That all good men would be wounded exceedingly should their wishes be disappointed, and that bad men in the same proportion, & from the same cause would uxult—He said that there was no man in Massa. nor in the U.S. he had a stronger desire to gratify. That you had no friend who entertained a more just opinion of your merits than he did himself. That it certainly could not be long before he should have it in his power to shew to the world the respectful opinion he entertained of his friend. His declarations, however, were so very general, that it was impossible for me to form an opinion what was his intention. . . . On Monday he will present his nominations to the senate, what they are you shall hear by the tuesday’s post” (MHi: Benjamin Lincoln Papers). Apparently GW’s choices for nominations remained a well-kept secret until the names were presented to the Senate. For Congressman John Brown’s observation that nothing was known generally about the appointments, see Brown’s letter to Harry Innes, 3 Aug. 1789 (DLC: Innes Papers). On Monday 3 Aug. GW sent Lincoln’s name to the Senate for the post of collector of the customs for the port of Boston (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 1:9). Although some of Lincoln’s friends in New York lamented that the appointment was “the best to be had—if there had been any better we should all have been mortified for we think it much less than your deserts,” Lincoln observed to his son that “the profits of this will give us a handsom living, & I think some over” (Jonathan Jackson to Lincoln, 3 Aug. 1789, Knox to Lincoln, 4 Aug. 1789, Lincoln to Theodore Lincoln, 20 Aug. 1789, MHi: Lincoln Papers).

Index Entries