George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, 17 January 1792

To the Commissioners for the District of Columbia

Philadelphia January 17th 1792.


I have duly received your favors of January 7th & 9th—am sensible of the expediency of the act of authority you have found it necessary to exercise over all the persons employed in the public works under your care, and fully approve of what you did. It has appeared, I think, that nothing less would draw their attention to a single source of authority and confine their operations to specified objects. It is certainly wise to take a view of the work to be done, the funds for carrying it on, and to employ the best instruments. Major L’Enfant might be an useful one if he could be brought to reduce himself within those limits which your own responsibility obliges you to prescribe to him. At present he does not appear to be in that temper: perhaps when Mr Johnson shall arrive here, he may be able to let him see that nothing will be required but what is perfectly reconcileable to reason and to a due degree of liberty on his part.1

I will endeavour to procure the information you desire as to Mr Ellicot.2 With great regard & esteem I am Gentlemen Your most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, DLC: Presidential MSS—General; Df, in Thomas Jefferson’s writing, DLC:GW; LB, DLC:GW; LB, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Sent, 1791–1802.

For the background to this letter, see Pierre L’Enfant to GW, 21 Nov. 1791, editorial note , and GW to Jefferson, 15 Jan. 1792.

1Illness prevented Thomas Johnson from making the journey to Philadelphia (see David Stuart to GW, 26 Feb. 1792).

2On 7 Jan. 1792 the commissioners reported to GW that Andrew Ellicott had left for Philadelphia without providing information needed to sell lots in the squares along what would become Pennsylvania Avenue between Georgetown and the Capitol. They also asked GW about Ellicott’s terms for his surveying of the federal district. Jefferson wrote to the commissioners on 6 Mar. 1792 that he had “remonstrated with him [Ellicott] on the excess of five dollars a day and his expences; and he has proposed striking off the latter; but this also is left to you, and to make the allowance retrospective. He is fully apprised that he is entirely under your orders, and that there will be no person employed but under your orders” (Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends , 23:224–25).

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