George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James McHenry, 16 August 1792

From James McHenry

Fayetteville [Md.] 16 Augt 1792.


I had the honor to recieve your letter of the 13th yesterday.1

The business of the maritime court as you remark requires that the district attorney should be a resident of Baltimore. With respect to Mr Tilghman and Hammond both stand extremely fair in politics, and would either settle here would be acceptable. The former will sooner yield to transient circumstances than the latter who as far as I have known him seems to possess a fixedness of thinking in the discharge of public trusts that renders him in my eyes a valuable man.2 I have more than once endeavoured to persuade Mr Craike to settle in Baltimore where I beleive he would soon acquire practice. I have promised him such interest as I can exert.3 If he would remove thither I think him qualified, tho’ not in a higher degree than either Mr Smith or Mr Hollingsworth.4 As to these gentlemen the public opinion would be in favor of Mr Smith. He is more steady, cautious, industrious and painstaking than Mr Hollingsworth, and has obtained a character of perhaps greater probity in his profession. Mr Hollingsworth is more of a wit and not less of a lawyer. Marriage has corrected some of his levities and study must make him a much superior lawyer to Mr Smith, whose medeocrity of talents will for ever preclude from eminence at the bar.5 But all things considered (if a resident of Baltimore is preferr’d) political opinions character, connexions and present qualifications Mr Smith seems to me the most eligible. This being the case and you wishing to know whether if appointed he would accept I fell in with him yesterday evening. I mentioned to him what was true, that I had been told Mr Hollingsworth was desirous of having the appointment, and might call on me for a recommendation; that I therefore wished to know whether he would accept if appointed in which case I should sign nothing that could stand in his way. He told me he would accept and confirmed it this morning.6

It is to be lamented that the best qualified man in the State is the last person who merits this appointment. I mean Mr Luther Martin. Very few of his description have so far altered their principles as to be safely trusted with power.7

Mr Paca told me the other day that Col. Lloyd and he intended to pay you a visit about the 1st Septr Col. Lloyd you know is a good man of some influence and vast property.8 If he makes the visit it will afford you the occasion to speak of the necessity of gentlemen like him using their opportunities to remove any misrepresentations respecting the laws which may be made to the people to answer electioneering or other purposes. I think you can produce it by a happy effect upon him while it may serve as an admonition to Mr Paca not to interfere in Mr Mercers election, who is if possible more desperately mischievous than when the open decided and declared enemy of the constitution, and for whom Mr Paca may perhaps retain some regard.9

May god bless you and long preserve you in your present station. I am my ever Dear Sir most sincerely and truely your affectionate

James McHenry

Perhaps it would be proper to destroy this communication?10

ALS, DLC:GW; ADf (three pages), MdAA: James McHenry Collection; ADf (one page), MdAA: James McHenry Collection. The docket on the longer draft reads: “To Gen. Washington. with a note from Revr. Smith.” The author of this note, which has not been identified, may have been Robert Smith (1732–1801), a South Carolina clergyman who had been the chaplain general of the southern department of the Continental army during the Revolutionary War and who became the Protestant Episcopal bishop of South Carolina in 1795. Related by marriage to the prominent Tilghman family of Maryland and Pennsylvania, Smith visited GW at Mount Vernon with British diplomat George Hammond from 24 to 26 Sept. 1792 (see Knox to GW, 18 Sept., GW to Knox, 24 Sept., and to Andrew Ellicott, 26 Sept. 1792).

1Neither draft includes this opening sentence.

2In place of this sentence, the shorter draft reads: “The former is more yielding than the latter, and may be less inflexible in politics. Both are valuable men.”

After Richard Potts notified GW on 12 June of his resignation as federal district attorney for Maryland, GW solicited McHenry’s opinion on the candidacies of prominent Maryland lawyers William Tilghman, Nicholas Hammond, Robert Smith, and Zebulon Hollingsworth. He later instructed McHenry to make informal inquiries about Tilghman’s and Hammond’s interest in the position (see GW to McHenry, 13, 31 Aug. 1792).

3William Craik (1761–1814), the eldest son of Dr. James Craik, GW’s close friend, practiced law at Port Tobacco and Leonardtown, Maryland. He later moved to Baltimore and was elected to Congress, serving from 1796 to 1801, when he became chief justice of the fifth judicial district of Maryland. The section regarding William Craik does not appear in the shorter draft.

4At this place in the text, the longer draft reads: “It may be a consideration too should the appointment fall on one out of B. that he be thought by the public to be better qualified than any in it, as it is introducing a new practitioner who will change the practice of those who now enjoy it.”

5The shorter draft does not include the phrase about Robert Smith’s “medeocrity of talents.”

6Baltimore attorney Robert Smith (1757–1842) declined the position when GW offered it to him in a letter dated 31 August. He later became secretary of the navy under Thomas Jefferson and secretary of state under James Madison. Hammond and Tilghman had withdrawn their names from consideration before Smith was offered the position (see McHenry to GW, 4 Oct. 1792, and note 1).

7Luther Martin (c.1748–1826), attorney general of Maryland from 1788 to 1805 and from 1818 to 1822, had been a Maryland delegate to the Federal Convention in 1787. Opposing the establishment of a strong central government, he and fellow Maryland delegate John Francis Mercer left the convention before its conclusion and afterwards actively campaigned against ratification of the U.S. Constitution. This paragraph on Martin is not included in the shorter draft.

8Edward Lloyd (1744–1796) of Talbot County, Md., actively supported the American Revolution and voted for ratification of the federal Constitution as a delegate to the 1788 Maryland ratifying convention. In 1792 he was serving his third term in the state senate as a representative for the Eastern Shore. Lloyd shared with William Paca a joint investment in over 5,000 acres in Allegany County, Md., as well as an interest in thoroughbred racing, both having been stewards of the Annapolis Jockey Club. The rest of this paragraph is not included in the shorter draft.

9John Francis Mercer, who had been selected to fill the vacancy in Maryland’s second congressional district created by the resignation of William Pinkney in November 1791, took his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives on 6 Feb. 1792 and was reelected in the 1792 fall election.

10This sentence is not in either draft.

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