George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Joseph Anderson, 1 March 1791

From Joseph Anderson

Ph[iladelphi]a 1st March 1791


I take the liberty of inclosing to Your Excellency, a letter I receiv’d from Mr Vining, in answer to One, I address’d to him, on the Subject of a letter he a few days since receivd from Mr Jaquet. By which Your Excellency will see that Mr Jaquet is Contradicted, in what he has said in his letter to Mr Vining, and that by a person who wrote the Certificate, and attested it.1

The Certificate had for its basis, an Original receeipt, and Contains only a State of facts, Containd in that receipt—The receipt being at too great a distance to Obtain speedily—The Certificate was ask’d—With respect to what Major Bush Says, Concerning his Considering, the additional Contracts, as a Consequence rather than a Condition of my appointment, I wou’d beg leave to Observe That I agreed with Mr Jaquet, as I ⟨had⟩ rather have the Land Warrants he receiv’d of me, at the prices he recev’d them, than the money—that If he wou’d keep them, I wou’d impower my friend Major Bush, to purchase them of him, for my use—And that to Enable him to do it—I wou’d impower Major Bush to receive money To my Use for that purpose—Your Excellency will please to Observe that Mr Vining says in his letter, that Major Bush mention’d, I had not given Jaquet any Power of Attorney, to receive part of my Sallary in Case I shou’d receive the appointment—which he says he beleives Jaquet had mentiond in his letter—meaning that I had given him such power.

Upon the whole, Your Excellency will I trust, see this business, in its true point of View, and that in the Circumstance of my agreeing to purchase the land Warrants of Major Jaquet at the price he receivd them of me—was neither a Deviation from Princepal nor integrety—But Compatible with duty to myself—The Warrants being Worth more to me at this period, than what he allowed me for them. In further Support of my Private Character, I beg leave to present a letter, to your Excellency from a Gentleman now of this City—who has known me and my family from an early period of my life—his Character is well know to Both Mr Read and Mr Vining—I am Sir with Very great respect—your Very Obedt Servt

Jos. Anderson


1For the background to this letter, see Joseph Anderson to GW, 23 Feb. 1791. Anderson’s appointment as judge for the Southwest Territory was confirmed by the Senate on 26 Feb. 1791. Within a day or two of that event, GW received a report from John Vining (1758–1802), a Federalist lawyer who represented Delaware in the House of Representatives, suggesting that Anderson had willfully deceived the president regarding the settlement of his debt to Peter Jaquett. This revelation, which seemed to undermine Anderson’s credibility, led GW to reconsider Anderson’s appointment, a course which raised unanticipated political and constitutional issues.

Shortly after Anderson and Jaquett concluded their agreement in Wilmington regarding the resolution of Anderson’s debt, Jaquett wrote to Vining explaining the terms of the agreement. Anderson, Vining contended, had obtained the certificate presented to GW from Jaquett by agreeing to make payments on his indebtedness out of his anticipated salary as a federal judge. Vining disclosed the contents of Jaquett’s letter to Delaware senators Read and Bassett. Read, and perhaps Bassett as well, apparently urged Vining to bring the matter to GW’s attention. Vining did so by showing Jaquett’s letter to GW’s secretary William Jackson. GW immediately informed Anderson of the disclosure in a personal meeting (evidently their first) which seems to have taken place on 1 Mar. 1791. The substance of this meeting is not known, but GW apparently was disturbed enough by Vining’s account to insist that Anderson provide a further explanation of the transaction with Jaquett. Anderson went immediately to Vining seeking a copy of Jaquett’s letter. Failing in this object Anderson obtained a letter from Vining describing the substance of Jaquett’s account, which he enclosed in his letter to GW of 1 Mar. 1791. In his letter, dated 1 Mar. 1791, Vining explained that he was afraid he had thrown Jaquett’s letter into the fire inadvertently, adding: “I think it my Duty in Justice both to you and to myself to relate all that I have since heard concerning the Transaction at Wilmington—Major Jaquett as well as I remember impressed me with the Idea that he had given the Certificate which was delivered to the President in Consequence of your having empowered him to recieve a certain part of that Compensation which was to go in gradual diminution of a Bond of £1200 which he represented to have recieved from you together with other Securities—this I believe as it related to you was the Substantial part of his Letter—Major Bush with whom I have conversed since I saw the President, I confess stated it differently and to my mind more favourably he appeared rather to consider the additional Contract as a Consequence, than a Condition of your Appointment—I requested him if he saw the President as he then informed me he expected to do, to mention the Circumstance to him, which he promised to do—Bush also mentioned to me that you had not given to Jaquett any Power of Attorney to recieve part of your Compensation, which was also I believe mentioned in Jaquetts Letter (as far as I can recollect) to have been the case—Conceiving it a confidential and a responsible Duty in me to make the Communications I did to the President, you will not, I trust, suppose that I have been actuated either by an unfriendly Motive to you or a desire to change the good Opinion the President had previously entertained of you” (DLC:GW).

Anderson followed his letter of 1 Mar. 1791 with a final one on 2 Mar. 1791, offering further explanations and enclosing a certificate from Francis Barber, a former colonel for whom Washington expressed admiration. This certificate has not been found. The letter reads: “I inclose your Excellency, the Certificate of Colonel Barber, and beg your indulgence, for again, Offering to trouble you by letter, But trust that your Excellencys benevolence, will suffer my very delicate and peculiar Situation, to plead my Appology.

“Your Excellency yesterday Observ’d to me, that Major Jackson inform’d you, that Mr Jaquet, in his letter to Mr Vining, Observ’d that he had told the truth in the Certificate, but not the whole truth—If he told the truth, it must then appear, that he was amply compensated, by receiving the land warrants; for he says that he receiv’d them at a price affixed by himself and to the Amount of the Certificates I had of him; it is a maxim in Law, and founded on reason, that every mans words, shall be taken most strongly against himself; here then he wou’d Stand Convicted—and in a Court of Law or equity the Certificate, and the repugnant letter if produced, wou’d totally invalidate Mr Jaquets Testimony as an evidence—Mr Vining in his letter to me, mentions, that Jaquet in his letter to him, said, that I had impowered him to receive a part of my Sallary—But Mr Vining also Says that Major Bush told him, that I had not given Mr Jaquet any such power—Here then Sir, is an Issue Joind, Mr Jaquet asserts, on his own account, and Major Bush, who as a man of reputation stands, uncensured, was present the whole time, wrote and Attested the Certificate, (as your Excellency may see,) not even his own account, but for another, possitively denies, what Mr Jaquet asserts; to whom then Sir ought Credence to be given—your Excellency will I trust, readily agree to the impartial person; To this Sir, I will add, upon the Honor of a Soldier, that I never gave him any Such power—The Contract or agreement as mention’d in my paper to you of Yesterday, was a renewal of the Original Agreement, when he receivd the Land Warrants of me, respecting which Your Excellency may possibly recollect, that in a former letter previous to my being nominated, I mention’d that in the transaction between Mr Jaquet and myself, I had reserv’d, the equity of redemption, at any time within three years, upon the terms, and for the reasons, in that letter mention’d—The principles of this last Contract, was a mere renewal of the former, with this addition, That I wou’d impower Major Bush to act as my Attorney, in Case I went to the Westward, and that I impower to receive Money to my use, to repurchase those warrants at the same time Mr Jaquet had them of me—But Mr Jaquet was not prevented, by this Contract, from seling the warrants to any Other person, or from locating them whenever he pleas’d.

“Your Excellency, I think told me that when Mr Vining, presented you Mr Jaquets letter, you did not mean to take any notice of it, but intended that I shoud notwithstanding have my Commission—Your Excellency[’s] Judgment being then form’d, even after recieving the letter—There are Strong Circumstances, to Confirm it, namely—Those Contain’d in Mr Vinings letter to me—in which Major Bush positively Contradicts the assertions of Jaquet—Your Excellencys nomination of me, being founded I believe principally upon my Military and professional Certificates, A Veiw of those Certificates by the Senate, wou’d I Judge, have induced their accession, without the interference of any individual member; But respect, and Politeness—induced me to apply to Mr Read—Whose dissatisfaction appeard, founded on a belief, that What Jaquet said respecting my having impowerd him to receive my Sallary was true—This your Excellency will observe, is positively contradicted by Major Bush—The business now rests entirely with your Excellency, It is now generally Known in the City that the Senate have approved your nomination of me to the Office of a Judge—And if under those Circumstances, it shou’d be your Excellencys Opinion that I ought not to be Commission’d—my reputation is forever blasted, an eternal Mark will be fix’d on me—and then may I indeed—(to use borrowed Language) grow old in wretchedness, perhaps poverty and what is worse even Contempt—To use your Excellencys own Language to Congress, it will embitter every moment of my future days—But Sir, shou’d you determine against me—I pledge you my sacred Honor it will not lessen my affection for you—for I am confident that you will do every thing for me, that to Justice can appertain” (DLC:GW).

Uncertain about the most appropriate course to take, GW turned to Jefferson for his opinion. In his reply Jefferson recommended that Anderson’s commission be delivered (see Jefferson to GW, 4 Mar. 1791).

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