George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Wilson, 31 December 1791

From James Wilson

Philada 31st Decemr 1791.


Agreeably to what you mentioned when I had the Honour of an Interview with you, I have reduced to Writing my Sentiments concerning a Digest of Laws for the United States.1 I enclose also the Copy of a Letter, which I wrote to the Speaker of the House of Representatives of Pennsylvania. This shews the Manner ⟨mutilated⟩ a Digest of Law ought, in my Opinion, to be executed.2

Any farther Explanation that may be necessary I will chearfully give.3 I have the Honour to be, Sir Your most obedient and very humble Servant

James Wilson


1See Enclosure I.

2See Enclosure II. Wilson obtained state approval in March 1791 to begin work on the digest (Dunlap’s American Daily Advertiser [Philadelphia], 8 Mar. 1791). When he met with a joint legislative committee in April 1792 to determine its continuance, Wilson reported that he had compiled a list and index of over 1,700 statutes passed since the founding of the colony. The committee was sufficiently impressed with his proposal to include the common law related to each branch of statutes and recommended that Wilson be paid £150 for his work to date. The Pennsylvania house of representatives approved, but the state senate tabled the matter, and it was not revived. The project never was completed.

3GW apparently referred to Edmund Randolph for comment Wilson’s proposal to produce a digest of U.S. law. The attorney general replied to GW on 21 Jan. 1792.

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