George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, 26 February 1792

To Thomas Jefferson

4 Oclock Feby 26th 1792


I have perused the enclosed answer to your letter, to Majr L’Enfant.1 Both are returned. A final decision thereupon must be had. I wish it to be taken upon the best ground, and with the best advice. Send it, I pray you, to Mr Madison who is better acquainted with the whole of this matter than any other.

I wish also that the Attorney General may see, and become acquainted with the circumstances (I can think of no other, at this moment to call in) and wish that all three of you would be with me at half-after Eight ’oclock tomorrow—if convenient—⟨mutilated⟩ at a later hour, to be named, that I may be at home and disengaged.2 Yours sincerely

Go: Washington

ALS, DLC: Thomas Jefferson Papers.

For the background to this letter, see Pierre L’Enfant to GW, 21 Nov. 1791, editorial note, and GW to Jefferson, 22 Feb. 1792.

1The enclosure was L’Enfant’s long, exculpatory letter to Jefferson of 26 Feb. in which he laid all blame for the conflict between himself and the Commissioners for the District of Columbia squarely on the shoulders of the commissioners, whose “supercilious Conduct, and haughty Superiority” had forced him to act defiantly. L’Enfant wrote that their daily display of vanity “justifies every apprehension of the Contest being renewed with acrimony, and assures me that the inquietude I feel must continue to the end to impede the Business, which will oblige me to renounce the pursuit of that fame, which the Success of the undertaking must procure, rather than engage to conduct it under a System which would I am fully Satisfied not only crush its growth, but make me appear the principal cause in the destruction of it.” L’Enfant presented his view of the controversy, beginning with the running of the boundary line of the Federal City and ending with the imprisonment of Isaac Roberdeau. L’Enfant attributed the opposition of the commissioners to their thirst for power and desire to provide opportunities for gain for themselves and their friends, but he remained confident that GW shared his vision of the vast and novel undertaking of changing “a Wilderness into a City.” L’Enfant wrote: “The only expedient is to conciliate, and interest the Minds of all Ranks of People of the propriety of the Pursuit by engaging the national Fame in its Success, evincing in its progress that utility and Splendor, capable of rendering the Establishment unrivalled in greatness by all those now existing, by holding out forcible inducements to all Ranks of People.” In concluding his letter, L’Enfant stated that his determination “no longer to act in Subjection to [the commissioners’] Will and Caprice” was influenced “by the purest principles and warmest good wishes to the full attainment of the main object, and you will doubtless consider that although from the Confidence which I flatter myself the President has placed in me I would be induced to endeavour to accommodate all Matters with the Commissioners, yet those Gentlemen by their general Conduct toward me, and the length to which they have carried Matters in the late instance places this out of my power, and renders it in the highest Manner inconsistent for me to enter into any arrangment with them.—If therefore the Law absolutely requires without any equivocation that my continuance shall depend upon an appointment from the Commissioners, I cannot, nor would I upon any Consideration submit myself to it&” (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 , 23:150–59).

2The proposed meeting apparently was held on 27 Feb., but whether or not James Madison or Edmund Randolph attended it is uncertain; Alexander Hamilton clearly was there, because he drafted Jefferson’s reply of 27 Feb. to L’Enfant: “From your letter received yesterday in answer to my last, and your declarations in conversation with Mr. Lear, it is understood that you absolutely decline acting under the authority of the present commissioners. If this understanding of your meaning be right, I am instructed by the President to inform you that notwithstanding the desire he has entertained to preserve your agency in the business, the condition upon which it is to be done is inadmissable, and your services must be at an end” (ibid., 161). For L’Enfant’s response, see L’Enfant to GW, 27 February.

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