George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and Edward Rutledge, 24 May 1791

To Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and Edward Rutledge


Gentlemen—Columbia [S.C.] May 24th 1791.

An address to you jointly on a subject of the following nature may have a singular appearance; but that singularity will not exceed the evidence which is thereby given of my opinion of, and confidence in you; and of the opinion I entertain of your confidence in, and friendship for each other.

The Office lately resigned by the Honble Mr J. Rutledge in the Supreme Judiciary of the Union remains to be filled. Will either of you two Gentlemen accept it? and in that case, which of you? It will occur to you that appointments to Offices in the recess of the Senate are temporary, but of their confirmation on such a case there can be no doubt.

It may be asked why a proposition similar to this has never been made to you before; this is my answer—your friends whom I have often conversed with on like occasions, have always given it as their decided opinion that no place in the disposal of the genl Government could be a compensation for the relinquishment of your private pursuits; or, in their belief, would withdraw you from them. In making the attempt, however, in the present instance, I discharge my duty, and shall await your answer (which I wish to receive soon) for the issue.1 Of my sincere esteem & regard for you both I wish you to be assured and that I Am—Gentlemen—Your Most Obedt & Affecte Humble Servant

Go: Washington


1Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and Edward Rutledge wrote this joint reply from Charleston on 12 June: “We embrace the earliest opportunity which has presented itself to acknowledge the Receipt of your very friendly Letter of the 24th May, and return you our best Thanks for the Confidence with which you have treated us. Living as we do, and as we long have done, in the uninterrupted Habits of Friendship we feel a mutual Delight in every Measure which tends to the Happiness of either; and every Honor which may be confer’d on one, will unquestionably reflect Pleasure on the other. Altho’ our Minds had been long made up, with respect to the acceptance of Offices, yet the arrival of your Letter, very naturally called for a reconsideration of the Subject—The Sincerity, with which the offer was marked—the great Esteem which we entertain for you—and an anxious desire to yield, to what appeared to be your wish, led us to review the Reasons which had formerly occasioned our Determination: and having done that, we feel a deep Regret indeed, in being obliged to decline the acceptance of a Seat on the Federal Bench. Private Considerations have had their weight: but others of a general & more powerful nature have influenced our hesatation. We think we can be of more real Advantage to the General Government, & to our own State Government⟨,⟩ by remaining in the Legislature than we could possibly be, by accepting of any Office under either, which fills the Public Eye with the appearance of being lucrative. Under this Opinion, you will be in Sentiment with us, that it is our indispensible Duty to continue in the Stations we are, so long as we possess the Confidence of the Public. But as we devoted a large portion of our early Years to the Service of our Country, so, whenever her Honor, or her Interest, shall seem to require our Aid, we shall chearfully lay aside all private or partial Considerations, & imitate as far as may be in our Power, the best, & brightest of Examples” (DLC:GW). For the resignation of U.S. Supreme Court associate justice John Rutledge, Sr., see Rutledge to GW, 5 Mar. 1791 and note 1.

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