George Washington Papers

To George Washington from David Stuart, 15 March 1790

From David Stuart

March 15th 1790—Abing[do]n [Va.]

Dear Sir,

I have just recieved the laws, and therefore embrace the earliest opportunity of sending you a copy of the one, which I have mentioned to you in my letter.1

Coll Grayson died on Saturday last—as his death has been expected for some time, I am informed the Executive have been endeavouring to fix on someone to fill up his place—Mr Henry has been applied to, it is said, but will not serve. It is said, he is about to remove off to a territory, he has purchased in partnership from the State of Georgia.2

A spirit of jealousy which may become dangerous to the Union, towards the Eastern States, seems to be growing fast among us—It is represented, that the Northern phalanx is so firmly united, as to bear down all opposition, while Virginia is unsupported, even by those whose interests are similar with her’s—It is the language of all, I have seen on their return from New York—Coll Lee tells me, that many who were warm Supporters of the government, are changing their sentiments, from a conviction of the impracticability of Union with States, whose interests are so dissimilar from those of Virginia3—I fear the Coll is one of the number—The late applications to Congress, respecting the slaves, will certainly tend to promote this spirit—It gives particular umbrage, that the Quakers should be so busy in this business4—That they will raise up a storm against themselves, appears to me very certain—Mr Maddison’s sentiments are variously spoke of—so much so; that it is impossible to ascertain whether they are approved of by a majority or not—The Commercial and most noisy part, is certainly against them—It appears to me, to be such a deviation from the plain and beaten track, as must make every Creditor of the Public tremble—His plan of discrimination, is founded too much on principles of equity, to please even those who have advocated allways a discrimination—If the Public was to gain, what the original holders lost in their sales, I believe it would have pleased this description of Citizens better.5 I am Dr Sir with great respect Your affecte Servt:

Dd Stuart

ALS, DLC:GW.

1Stuart enclosed an act of the Virginia legislature concerning the protracted dispute between Robert Alexander and the Custis estate. For background, see Stuart to GW, 14 July 1789, n.7, 12 Sept., 3 Dec. 1789, 11 Mar. 1790; GW to Stuart, 21 Sept, 1789; and Edmund Randolph to GW, 23 Dec. 1789. The enclosure was a copy of “An act to enable David Stuart to re-convey a tract of land purchased by John Parke Custis, of Robert Alexander,” which reads: “Whereas it is represented to the present General Assembly, that John Parke Custis departed this life in the year one thousand seven hundred and eighty-one, leaving Eleanor Custis his widow with four small children, and that the said Eleanor hath since intermarried with a certain David Stuart; And whereas it is also represented, that previous to the death of the said John Parke Custis, he purchased of a certain Robert Alexander, a tract of land lying in the County of Fairfax, for which he was to pay a considerable sum of money, but since the death of the said John Parke Custis, a dispute hath arisen respecting the said contract, and the said Alexander hath agreed to take back the said land upon being paid a reasonable compensation for the use thereof, which will be greatly to the interest of the children of the said John Parke Custis; but as the heir at law is an infant of tender years, no contract can be made to bind him, without the interposition of this Assembly, to whom application hath been made for that purpose: Be it therefore enacted by the Genl Assembly, that any agreement or contract which the said David Stuart, by and with the consent of George Washington, esquire, to be expressed under the hand and seal of the said George Washington Esquire, shall make or enter into, respecting the surrendering the said lands to the said Robert Alexander, shall be deemed and taken to be valid and effectual to all intents and purposes” (13 Hening description begins William Waller Hening, ed. The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619. 13 vols. 1819–23. Reprint. Charlottesville, Va., 1969. description ends 99–100). The act was passed on 17 Nov. 1789. A copy is in DLC:GW.

2William Grayson of Prince William County, U.S. senator from Virginia, died at Dumfries, Va., on Friday, 23 Mar. 1790, after a lengthy illness. Stuart probably learned of his death from Henry Lee, who had passed through Dumfries on 12 Mar. on his way to Alexandria (Henry Lee to James Madison, 13 Mar. 1790, 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 13:102–3). Stuart later reported to GW that a member of the Virginia council had written privately to Patrick Henry asking him if he would accept an appointment to Grayson’s seat in the Senate, but that Henry had declined (Stuart to GW, 2 June 1790). Henry was a leading investor in the Virginia Yazoo Company, one of the three companies that had arranged to purchase western land from Georgia (see Henry Knox to GW, 15 Feb. 1790, n.1), and Henry wrote to Richard Henry Lee on 29 Jan. 1790 that he was considering moving to Georgia (Henry, Patrick Henry, description begins William Wirt Henry, ed. Patrick Henry: Life, Correspondence and Speeches. 3 vols. New York, 1891. description ends 3:412–15). On 25 Mar. Gov. Beverley Randolph offered Grayson’s Senate seat to George Mason, who immediately declined (Randolph to Mason, 25 Mar. 1790; Mason to Randolph, 27 Mar. 1790, in Rutland, Mason Papers, description begins Robert A. Rutland, ed. The Papers of George Mason, 1725–1792. 3 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1970. description ends 3:1191–92). The appointment then went to John Walker (1744–1809), an Albemarle County planter who had served briefly as an aide to Washington during the Revolutionary War (see Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 6:68–69).

3Henry Lee represented Westmoreland County in the Virginia assembly in 1789–90. A staunch supporter of the Constitution at the Virginia Ratification Convention, Lee was disturbed by developments in the First Congress and had emerged as a leading opponent of Hamilton’s financial program in the Virginia legislature. On the opening day of the spring session, he delivered an impassioned speech opposing a rumored federal tax on land and was equally critical of northern congressmen’s efforts to avoid placing the new seat of the federal government on the Potomac.

4In the spring of 1790, Congress read and discussed Quaker petitions from the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and the New York Yearly Meeting calling for the abolition of the slave trade and a petition from the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery calling for Congress to abolish the institution of slavery (DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends 3:294, 295–96, 316, 321, 332, 334–35, 336, 337, 338–41). See also GW to the Society of Quakers, 13 October 1789 and notes; Warner Mifflin to GW, 12 Mar. 1790, n.1.

5Stuart is referring to James Madison’s proposal to discriminate between the original holders of Continental securities and subsequent purchasers in discharging the Continental debt, presented in a speech to the committee of the whole House considering Hamilton’s proposals for funding the national debt on 11 Feb. 1790 (see 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 13:34–39). Madison argued that justice required the compensation of the original holders of Continental securities, who included Continental soldiers and others who had been given securities in lieu of pay during the Revolution, as well as the subsequent purchasers, who had bought their securities at depreciated prices. Speculation in securities had increased dramatically after Hamilton’s proposal to redeem them at full value became known in January 1790. To reward these speculators at the expense of the original holders, Madison argued, would be a travesty of justice. Madison proposed to pay original creditors still holding their securities the principal plus 6 percent interest. Subsequent purchasers, under Madison’s plan, were to receive the highest market value (about 50 percent of face value) for their securities; the remaining 50 percent was to be paid to the original holders. The proposal was offered as a substitute for the second of eight resolutions presented by Thomas FitzSimons on 8 Feb. to the committee of the whole House considering Hamilton’s report on public credit, which specifically recommended against any such discrimination. Madison’s resolution was debated between 15 and 19 Feb. and was rejected on 22 Feb. by a vote of 36 to 13 (see 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 13:47–59; DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends 5:839–40). Nine out of the ten Virginia representatives voted for the resolution.

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