George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Edmund Pendleton, 28 September 1789

To Edmund Pendleton

New York Septr 28th 17891

I write to you, my dear Sir, on a subject which has engaged much of my reflection, and to which I am persuaded I shall obtain your ready and candid attention.

Regarding the due administration of Justice as the corner stone of good government, I have considered the first arrangement of the judicial department as essential to the happiness of our country, and to the stability of its’ political system—Under this impression it has been an invariable object of anxious solicitude with me to select the fittest characters to expound the laws and dispense justice.

Concurring in sentiment with some others of your friends that the functions of the Supreme Bench, which involve the fatigue of circuit courts, would be too much for the infirm state of your health, I believed it necessary, to avail our Country of your abilities and the influence of your example, by nominating you to the office of Judge of the District-Court of Virginia, which will not require much greater personal exertion than the duties of your present station—and I trust the hope, with which I flatter myself, that I shall have the pleasure to hear of your acceptance of the appointment, is well founded—indeed I cannot doubt it, when I again consider the necessity of giving a tone to the system in its’ out-set, by placing the administration of the laws with the best and wisest of our Citizens.2

As soon as the Acts, which are necessary accompaniments of these appointments can be got ready you will receive official notice of the latter. This letter is only to be considered as an early communication of my sentiments on this occasion and as a testimony of the sincere esteem & regard with which I am Dr Sir Yrs &ca.

G. W——n3

DfS, partly in the writing of GW, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DLC:GW.

For background to GW’s Judiciary appointments, see his letter to the United States Senate submitting his nominations, 24 Sept. 1789.

1The dateline is in GW’s writing.

2At this point the following paragraph is deleted: “You will, I hope, attribute my late silence to its true cause, when you recollect that I have not yet been favored with the annual letter.”

3The last paragraph and the closing are in GW’s hand. On 13 Oct. Pendleton replied: “If Motives of a General Nature had been wanting to induce my Acceptance of the Commission to be the Fœdral Judge of this District, wch I have had the Honr of recieving, they would have been abundantly Supplied by reflecting on the happiness of being Selected by you, my Dear & Venerable Sir, (not only unasked For, but wholly unexpected) to fill an Office in that branch which you justly deem of great Magnitude, as one of the Pillars on which the New Fabric of Government must rest; and by your very polite & friendly prefatory Favr of the 28th past, placing every motive in it’s strongest & most pleasing point of view. The subject commanded my immediate & close Attention. Candid I could with difficulty be since one side of the question presented prospects Flattering to my Character, and was Aided by lucrative considerations, to me not un-important: the Struggle was great, And like Females who deliberate on certain Occasions, I might have been over come, if a Cough or short-breathing had not come to my Aid, by reminding me of the true State of my Constitution, & producing the reflections & resolution to decline, contained in my Public Letter: After all, the choice was relunctantly made, & would have been more so, but for two reflections, A confidence that my successor will possess superior Abilities, and equal Integrity & Fortitude in the exercise of the Functions of his Office; and that an honest upright State Judge may as effectually serve all the just purposes of the General Government; as one in the Fœdral line; Since it seems to me that the same Rule of decision must govern both in questions respecting Jurisdiction & Constitutional powers, as well as in those relating to Civil rights.

“That I may stand acquited to you, Sir, of being influenced by any private or Other motives than those assigned, permit me to take notice of two, wch are all that Occur As subjects of Suspicion, My want of Ardour in the Fœdral Cause, and that my Ambition was not gratified in the Grade of Appointment. As to the first, My Zeal For the Union of America as involving not only the Peace & happiness, but the very existence of it’s Members; and my Warm Attachment to a temperate, but firm energetic Government in the Fœdral Head, as indispensible to the preservation of Union, which have been uniformly manifested in my conduct since the Subject has been Agitated, must fully acquit me. And as to the other—I can truly say, that having resolved to call me into Office, your Usual Sagacity was conspicuous in the choice of it, there being none other in the Government, about accepting which I could have Ballanced a Moment, the higher Offices in the Judiciary, requiring the Circuit duty, being impossible to me.

“May the Goverment prosper and prove a terror to all evil doers, & the protection of virtuous Citizens. May you live long & happy in the office of diffusing it’s blessings, and may I never Forfeit your Esteem and regard until I cease to be my Countrey’s & My Dear Sir Your mo. devoted, Affecte & Obedt Servt” (DNA: RG 59, Acceptances and Orders for Commisions).

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