George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Mercer, 4 July 1790

From James Mercer

Virginia Richmond July 4th 1790


The Honble Mr Dawson one of the Council of this State, expressing a desire of obtaining the office of a Commissioner, under the expressed Act of Congress for settling the Accounts of the United States with the individual States:1 and supposing himself not so well known to your Excellency as to possess that Confidence he merits, has applyed to me a long & very intimate acquaintance to supply that object, so far as your Excellency’s knowledge of my integrity may extend.

Upon these Grounds I do myself the honour to assure your Excellency that from a long and very intimate acquaintance with Mr Dawson, I can aver that he is more than sufficiently qualifyed for such an Office, by his knowledge of Figures & writing—his attention to business is not surpassed by any—and as to Honour & Integrity, it would be impertinent in me to recommend a Gentleman who has been in public office for several years in the House of Delegates, the late Congress & the present Council.2

Permit me to advert to this memorable Day3 & to add to those of America, the prayers of an humble Citizen for your Excellency’s Health & Happiness and to subscribe myself With the sincerest graditude & Respect Yr Excellency’s Most obedient, respectfull & very huble Servant.

Js Mercer


1On 20 April 1790 the House appointed a committee to prepare a bill for the “speedy settlement of the accounts of the several states with the United States.” On 22 June a bill was sent to the Senate, which debated and amended it before returning it to the House on 10 July. A conference committee of the two houses, appointed on 14 July, reported one week later. The final bill was presented to GW on 27 July, who signed it as “An Act to provide more effectually for the settlement of the Accounts between the United States and the individual States” on 5 Aug. 1790. The act created a board of three commissioners with annual salaries of $2,250 each (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 3:372, 427, 441, 443, 445, 447, 448, 449, 463, 468–69, 511, 522–23, 526, 529, 550, 6:1877–87; 1 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 178–79).

2On 8 July 1790 Joseph Jones also wrote to GW recommending John Dawson for one of the two possible additional commissioner positions that Congress considered creating, noting that Dawson “communicated to me his willingness to serve should it be thought necessary to take one of them from this State” (DLC:GW). No additional commissioner appointments were created, however, nor did Dawson receive one of the original three. James Monroe recommended Dawson to GW on 6 Nov. 1791 to fill Oliver Wolcott’s position as auditor in the Treasury Department (DLC:GW). Dawson, however, continued to serve on Virginia’s executive council until becoming a U.S. congressman in 1797 and failed to receive either a territorial governorship or a foreign appointment under the Jefferson administration (GW to the U.S. Senate, 9 Aug. 1790. See also Dawson to James Madison, 7 Aug., 29 Oct. 1803, Dawson to Thomas Jefferson, 11 April 1804, 12 Mar. 1805, all in DNA: RG 59, Letters of Application and Recommendation during the Administration of Thomas Jefferson, 1801–9).

3As GW noted in his diary, since the Fourth of July fell on a Sunday in 1790, New York’s celebration of the fourteenth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence was postponed to the following day (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 6:85–86).

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