George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Thomas Johnson, 14 July 1791

To Thomas Johnson

Philadelphia July 14th 1791.

Dear Sir

Without preface, or apology for propounding the following question to you—at this time—permit me to ask you with frankness, and in the fullness of friendship, whether you will accept of an appointment in the Supreme Judiciary of the United States?

Mr Rutledge’s resignation has occasioned a vacancy therein which I should be glad to see filled by you. Your answer to this question by the Post (which is the most certain mode of conveying letters) as soon as you can make it convenient, will very much oblige Dear Sir Your most Obedient & Affectionate Hble Servt1

Go: Washington

ALS, PHi: Dreer Collection; photostat of ALS (duplicate), MdHi; LB, DLC:GW.

1GW probably posted the original receiver’s copy of this letter and then on 17 July sent a duplicate enclosed in a letter to William Deakins, Jr., who replied from Georgetown, Md., on 22 July: “Your much Esteem’d favor of the 17th Current, I had the Honor to receive, yesterday, & the letter for Mr Johnson was forwarded this day by a safe hand” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Thomas Johnson answered GW on 27 July, writing from Spurrier’s Tavern in Anne Arundel (later Howard) County, Md.: “I write this in my way from Annaps to Frederick to acknowledge the Receit of your kind Letter of the fourteenth Instant and the Duplicate of it; they reached me so early as the twenty second and twenty third the last on my Way to Annapolis. Your earnestness that I should accept so strongly marks the Rank I hold in your Regard that I cannot but be in good Humor with myself and a Conversation with Mr Carroll, which I hoped to have had at Annapolis would probably have informed me in some particulars that might lead my Determination—amongst others and not the least whether the southern Circuit would fall to me; if it would at my Time of Life and otherwise circumstanced as I am it would be an insurmountable Objection. Mr Carroll is at his Manor where I purpose to call on him Tomorrow—soon after I intend to trouble you with another Letter” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Johnson wrote again to GW from Frederick, Md., on 30 July: “I wrote to you the other Day from Spurriers on my way from Annapolis undecided as to accepting the Office of Judge and expecting Mr Carroll could assist with Lights to determine me but he could not. I now write to Mr Jay, who is probably not in Phila., and also to Mr Wilson to inform you whether by the subsisting or designed Arrangement, which I suppose the Judges agree on amongst themselves, the next Southern Circuit would fall to me; if it would, I neither expect or desire any Alteration to accomodate me but my weak Frame and the Interest my Family have in me forbid my engaging in it: Let this Single Circumstance if you please, determine the one Way or the other for my Answer. I had almost resolved to see you at Philadelphia but Potomack Affairs and Mr D. Carroll’s Letter call me to George Town on Monday, from whence it is likely this Letter will go. I feel real Unesiness that my Embarrassment should occasion delay in your filling up this Office as the Time is now so short: impute it to the true Occasion and believe me that whether I receive the Commission or not the Manner in which you have been pleased to offer it is the greater part of it’s Value and will with the many other Instances of your Confidence and Friendship be remembered with pleasure.” Before sending this letter Johnson added a postscript when he was at Georgetown on 1 Aug.: “It never occurred to me ’till Yesterday that the supreme Court was to sit as to day, I imagine you found yourself obliged to fill up the Office I do not regret my Inattention for any Thing so much as keeping you in Suspence for which indeed I am sorry” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). After receiving Johnson’s two letters, GW consulted with the justices of the Supreme Court about Johnson’s appointment and issued Johnson a temporary commission as associate justice on 5 August. GW presented his name to the Senate when the Second Congress convened, and Johnson’s appointment was confirmed on 7 Nov. (see GW to Johnson, 7 Aug., and to the U.S. Senate, 31 Oct., and Executive Journal, description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America: From the commencement of the First, to the termination of the Nineteenth Congress. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C., 1828. description ends 1:85–86, 88).

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