George Washington Papers

Commission, 22 January 1791


City of Philadelphia, January 22, 1791.

To all who shall see these Presents Greeting

Know Ye, That reposing special Trust and Confidence in the Integrity, Skill, and Diligence of Thomas Johnson and Daniel Carroll of Maryland, and David Stuart of Virginia, I do . . ., in Pursuance of the Powers vested in me by the Act intituled “An Act for establishing the Temporary and Permanent Seat of the Government of the United States,” hereby appoint them the said Thomas Johnson, Daniel Carroll and David Stuart, Commissioners for surveying the District of Territory accepted by the said Act for the permanent Seat of the Government of the United States, and for performing such other Offices as by Law are directed, with full Authority to them, or any two of them to proceed therein according to Law; and to have and to hold the said Office, with all the Powers, Privileges, and Authorities to the same of Right appertaining, each of them during the Pleasure of the President of the United States, for the Time being.1

In Testimony whereof, I have caused these Letters to be made Patent, and the Seal of the United States to be hereunto affixed. Given under my Hand, at the City of Philadelphia, the Twenty second Day of January, in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety one, and of the Independence of the United States of America, the Fifteenth.

By the President

George Washington

Thomas Jefferson


1Under the terms of the Residence Act, GW was authorized to appoint three commissioners “who, or any two of whom, shall, under the direction of the President, survey, and by proper metes and bounds define and limit a district of territory . . . for the permanent seat of the government of the United States.” The act authorized the commissioners “to purchase, or accept such quantity of land on the eastern side of the [Potomac River] within the said district, as the President shall deem proper for the use of the United States; and according to such plans, as the President shall approve, the said Commissioners . . . shall, prior to the first Monday in December, in the year one thousand eight hundred, provide suitable buildings for the accommodation of Congress, and of the President, and for the public offices of the government of the United States.” To defray the costs of these purchases and buildings, the act authorized the president to accept grants of money (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 130). Although GW had already determined on the site for the federal district, the Residence Act seemed to require him to appoint commissioners to receive from the proprietors the donations of land that were expected following the proclamation of the selected boundaries. The Residence Act did not require Senate confirmation of the commissioners, leaving GW to appoint whomever he wished. Thomas Johnson was a close friend and an associate of GW’s in the Potowmack Company. Daniel Carroll of Rock Creek was an appropriate representative of the Maryland gentry who controlled much of the land on which the city would be built. Carroll’s personal holdings in the federal district were small (assuring a degree of disinterestedness in the proceedings of the commission), but he was closely association with the landowners on the Eastern Branch side of the federal district. His nephew Daniel Carroll of Duddington owned a considerable tract in the federal district extending north from Carrollsburgh, including the future site of the capitol, and his brother-in-law Notley Young owned a large tract extending along the Potomac from Carrollsburgh almost to the mouth of Goose Creek. In addition to being a confidant of GW, David Stuart was a leading figure in Alexandria and representative of the local landowners on the Virginia side of the Potomac. All three were investors in the Potowmack Company. GW apparently discussed the appointments with Johnson and Stuart, and perhaps with Carroll as well, before leaving Mount Vernon in November (see GW to Charles Carter of Ludlow, 19 Dec. 1790).

At GW’s direction Jefferson enclosed the commission in a letter to Daniel Carroll of 24 Jan. 1791. Jefferson’s letter begins: “The President of the United States desirous of availing himself of your assistance in preparing the federal Seat on the Potomac, is in hopes you will act as one of the Commissioners directed by the Law for that purpose,” suggesting that Carroll had not previously agreed to serve on the commission (Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 19:63–64). Jefferson wrote similar letters to Thomas Johnson and David Stuart, both which begin: “The President of the United States desirous of availing himself of your assistance in preparing the federal Seat on the Potomac, has appointed you one of three Commissioners directed by the Law for that purpose,” suggesting that Johnson and Stuart had already agreed to serve (ibid.). Carroll, who was still a member of the House of Representatives when the appointment was made, declined to serve and returned the commission, replying to Jefferson on 27 Jan. 1791 that he was “constraind by several existing circumstances” (ibid., 67). In January Jefferson forwarded the commission to Thomas Johnson, explaining that Carroll had declined, “supposing that Doubts may arise, whether he can act as one of the Commissioners for the federal Seat, while a Member of Congress.” Jefferson added that “It will be some Time before a Third will be named” (Jefferson to the commissioners for the federal district, 29 Jan. 1791, ibid., 67–68). Carroll apparently was prevailed upon to accept the appointment as soon as his term as a member of the House of Representatives expired. Jefferson sent him a new commission on 4 Mar. 1791 (Jefferson to Daniel Carroll, 24 Jan. 1791, ibid., 63–64, source note).

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