George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Edmund Randolph, 28 September 1789

To Edmund Randolph

New York Septr 28th 1789.1

Dear Sir,

Impressed with a conviction that the due administration of justice is the firmest pillar 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—hence the selection of the fittest characters to expound the laws, and dispense justice, has been an invariable object of my anxious concern.

I mean not to flatter when I say that considerations like these have ruled in the nomination of the Attorney-General of the United States &, that my private wishes wd be highly gratified by yr accepte of the Office—I regarded the office as requiring those talents to conduct its’ important duties, and that disposition to sacrifice to the public good, which I believe you to possess and entertain—in both instances, I doubt not, the event will justify the conclusion—the appointment, I hope, will be accepted, and its’ functions, I am assured, will be well performed.

Notwithstanding the prevailing disposition to frugality, the salary of this office appears to have been fixed, at what it is, from a belief that the station would confer pre-eminence on its’ Possessor, and procure for him a decided preference of Professional employment.2

As soon as the Acts, which are necessary accompaniments of the appointment 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 regd and esteem3 with which I am &ca.

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 for judicial posts, 24 Sept. 1789.

1The dateline is in GW’s writing. The receiver’s copy of this letter was apparently dated 27 September. See Randolph’s reply in note 3, below.

2“An Act for allowing certain Compensation to the Judges of the Supreme and other Courts, and to the Attorney General of the United States” allowed yearly compensation of fifteen hundred dollars to the attorney general (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 , 1:72 [23 Sept. 1789]).

3The closing is in GW’s writing. Randolph replied to GW’s letter on 8 Oct.: “Altho’ it may be improper to express my thanks to the chief magistrate of the union, for any act of office, yet you will pardon me, I hope, for assuring you, that your very friendly communication of the 27th Ulto is truly cordial to me.

“The appointment is by no means unacceptable for its duties; nor will I say any thing as to salary. My wish therefore to obey your summons will be restrained by the following considerations only: an ignorance whether it will require me to remove from the seat of fœderal government, to attend any court, and a difficulty in arranging my private affairs, early enough for the service of the United States. The former obstacle will, I suppose, be destroyed, or confirmed on the inspection of the judiciary bill—the latter is of a more serious cast. My worthy uncle [Peyton Randolph] left me all, that he ought to have given me; but it was not much better, than a nominal estate; since the money, which I have been obliged to pay for his debts, and those of my father, in which he was bound, took three fourths of the value of that property, in actual cash acquired by my profession. But I have added to this mischief, by two injudicious purchases of land, made after the decline of its price. These are loads around my neck, and are rendered more oppressive, by the partition of my bonds into many hands. Time alone can bring this evil to an end. I pass over other debts, as well as the necessity of putting my plantations, lying in distant counties, (Albemarle and Charlotte) on a proper footing.

“If however the act, when examined, should not, as I suppose it does not, contain any provision, which I cannot get over, I will repair to New-York, as soon as I possibly can. I trust that March may be in time; for then I can carry my whole family. In the mean time, if any professional aid should be demanded by government, I hope that there would be no impropriety in soliciting the aid of some gentleman of the law on the spot, to render it in my behalf.

“But I cannot conceal a desire to remain in the assembly until the end of the ensuing session. I have been employed for more than six weeks, in completing a revision of our laws upon a scale, which alone will please a majority. Their confusion has caused calamities, scarcely to be conjectured. Our statute laws are dispersed thro’ six unwieldy volumes, of which ten copies are not to be found, I verily believe, in the state. Our local acts are in eight different volumes—amount to at least 1300, and may be reduced to 350. This work will, I am confident, miscarry, without the support of some man, who has it’s success at heart. I can signify my acceptance, without being disqualified, and finish this indispensable business. With your permission therefore I will, should I determine to accept at last, postpone an answer, until you drop me a hint on the subject of delay.

“This letter is written under the affliction of a violent fever, into which I have relapsed, after a perfect cure, as I presumed, about two weeks ago. But knowing, that I write to one, who has always shewn himself regardful of me, beyond my deserts, I shall conclude with repeating to you, my dear sir, that I am yr obliged & affectionate friend” (DLC:GW).

For a more detailed account of Randolph’s reservations about accepting a post in the new government, see his letter to James Madison, 19 July 1789, in Rutland, Madison Papers, description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds. The Papers of James Madison, Congressional Series. 17 vols. Chicago and Charlottesville, Va., 1962–91. description ends 12:298–300. On 23 Dec. he sent GW a formal reply, stating that he accepted the commission. “I purpose to be present at the supreme court in february. But the peculiar situation of my family and of my private affairs will probably prevent me from fixing my residence in New-York immediately; if the nature of my duties will permit, (as I hope they will) my absence, until my final arrangements can be made” (DNA: RG 59, Acceptances & Orders for Commissions). Randolph arrived in New York around 2 Feb. 1790 (Reardon, Edmund Randolph, description begins John J. Reardon. Edmund Randolph: A Biography. New York, 1974. description ends 191).

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