George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Nathaniel Chipman, 22 February 1791

From Nathaniel Chipman

Philadelphia 22d Feb. 1791


I have the honor to enclose a letter from Governor Chittenden on the Subject of appointing a Judge for the District of Vermont1—I flatter myself the contents of that letter will suggest a sufficient apology for my not delivering it before. I am Sir with the greatest respect your most obedient humble Servt

Nathaniel Chipman


Nathaniel Chipman (1752–1843) was born in Connecticut and received a degree from Yale in 1777. From 1777 to 1779 he served as an officer in the Second Connecticut Regiment. In 1779 he settled in Vermont, practiced law, and was active in local politics. In 1787 he was appointed assistant judge of the Vermont supreme court, and he became chief justice in 1790. He played a prominent role in the Vermont constitutional convention in Bennington in 1791 and along with Lewis R. Morris was sent to Philadelphia to negotiate for the admission of Vermont into the Union (see GW to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, 9 Feb. 1791, source note). While in Philadelphia Chipman actively sought the post of district judge for the state.

1The enclosed letter of recommendation from Thomas Chittenden, governor of Vermont, to GW, dated 25 Jan., described Chipman as “the first law character in this State” and “the most competent person for the office of district Court Judge within this State” (DLC:GW).

About the time he received Chipman’s application, GW asked Thomas Jefferson to make inquiries regarding Chipman’s fitness for office and alternative candidates for district judge. Jefferson reported on 23 Feb. 1791, summarizing the opinions of Theodore Sedgwick, Jeremiah Wadsworth, Abraham Baldwin, Lewis R. Morris, Noah Smith, and Caleb Strong. His memorandum reads:

“Mr Sedgewick. there can be no competitor with Chipman for the place of judge. he is by far the most able lawyer in that state. a man of very fair moral character. the straitlaced old people think him not very orthodox in his religion.

“Mr Wadsworth. Chipman the first man for a judge. Bradly, a lawyer of eminence, remarkeable for his eloquence; not so steady a character as Chipman.

“Mr Baldwin. he & Chipman were at Yale college together. Chipman was then 23 years of age. a young man of great natural abilities and of as good an education as that place could give. his moral character was unexceptionable: his religious ideas latitudinarian. as far as he has had sight of him since, he has supported a solidly good character.

“Mr L. R. Morris & mister Chipman. on being asked, the latter was silent, the former said he had conferred with Colo. Wadsworth & mister Sedgewick who would write to me on the subject. I asked him particularly who was proper to be Marshal: he said they had named a person to Colo. Wadsworth who would write of him to me. on going away however, he said he had offered himself to the consideration of Colo. Wadsworth as Marshal. Colo. Wadsworth however has not named him in the preceding letter.

“Noah Smith of Vermont (now in Philadelphia) the general expectation is that Chipman will be judge. he is a good lawyer and a good man. Governor Robinson is also a good man, & has been thought of by some. he is not of the law at all. for Attorney Israel Smith (brother of Noah) was spoken of by Colo. Wadsworth & Sedgewick (who conferred with Noah Smith) Isaac Tichinor is also a proper person. L. R. Morris and Stephen Keyes are the only persons thought of for Marshall. both good & proper men.

“Mr Strong. he thinks it unquestionable that Chipman is the properest person for judge: and Tichinor is preferable to Israel Smith, for Attorney. he observes that in all the instances of persons named by their assembly to bring forward their claims, Tichinor has been one, which is a proof of their confidence in him, & a presumption that he deserves it⟨.⟩ L. R. Morris is a very good man, & proper for the marshal. his present appointment shews he is respected” (DLC:GW).

GW nominated Chipman as district judge for Vermont on 4 Mar. 1791; the appointment was confirmed by the Senate the same day (see GW to the U.S. Senate, 4 Mar. 1791). Chipman resigned the office on 27 July 1793, explaining in his letter to GW of that date that “Circumstances have arisen, which renders it inconsistent with my interests longer to hold the office” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Chipman recommended Samuel Hitchcock, attorney general of Vermont, as the “proper person” to succeed him (Chipman to GW, 30 July 1793, DLC:GW). After resigning Chipman returned to legal practice and in 1796 was reappointed chief justice of Vermont.

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