Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on a Conversation with Washington
[Philadelphia] Feb. 7. 1793.
I waited on the President with letters & papers from Lisbon.1 after going through these I told him that I had for some time suspended speaking with him on the subject of my going out of office because I had understood that the bill for intercourse with foreign nations was likely to be rejected by the Senate in which case the remaining business of the department would be too inconsiderable to make it worth while to keep it up.2 but that the bill being now passed I was freed from the considerations of propriety which had embarrassed me: that &c. (nearly in the words of a letter to mister T. M. Randolph of a few days ago) and that I should be willing, if he had taken no arrangents to the contrary to continue somewhat longer, how long I could not say, perhaps till summer, perhaps autumn.3 he said, so far from taking arrangements on the subject, he had never mentioned to any mortal the design of retiring which I had expressed to him, till yesterday having heard that I had given up my house & that it was rented by another, thereupon he mentd it to mister E. Randolph & asked him, as he knew my retirement had been talked of, whether he had heard any persons suggested in conversation’s to succeed me.4 he expressed his satisfaction at my change of purpose, & his apprehensions that my retirement would be a new source of uneasiness to the public. he said Gov. Lee had that day informed of the genl discontent prevailing in Virginia, of which he never had had any conception, much less sound information. that it appeared to him very alarming.5 he proceed to express his earnest wish that Hamilton & myself could coalesce in the measures of the government, and urged here the general reasons for it which he had done to me on two former conversations. he said he had proposed the same thing to Ham. who expressed his readiness, and he thought our coalition would secure the general acquiescence of the public.6 I told him my concurrence was of much less importance than he seemed to imagine: that I kept myself aloof from all cabal & correspondence on the subject of the government, & saw & spoke with as few as I could. that as to a coalition with mister Hamilton, if by that was meant that either was to sacrifice his general system to the other, it was impossible. we had both no doubt formed our conclusions after the most mature consideration and principles conscientiously adopted could not be given up on either side. my wish was to see both houses of Congr. cleansed of all persons interested in the bank or public stocks: & that a pure legislature being given us, I should always be ready to acquiesce under their determinations even if contrary to my own opinions, for that I subscribed to the principle that the will of the majority honestly expressed should give law. I confirmed him in the fact of the great discontents to the South, that they were grounded on seeing that their judgmts & interests were sacrificed to those of the Eastern states on every occasion, & their belief that it was the effect of a corrupt squadron of voters in Congress at the command of the Treasury, & they saw that if the votes of those members who had an interest distinct from & contrary to the general interest of their constitts had been withdrawn, as in decency & honesty they should have been, the laws would have been the reverse of what they are in all the great questions. I endorsed the new assumption carried in the H. of Repr. by the Speaker’s vote.7 on this subject he made no reply. he explained his remaing in office to have been the effect of strong sollicitations after he returned here declaring that he had never mentd his purpose of going out but to the heads of departments & mr Madison;8 he expressed the extreme wretchedness of his existence while in office, and went lengthily into the late attacks on him for levees &c.—and explained to me how he had been led into them by the persons he consulted at New York, and that if he could but know what the sense of the public was, he would most chearfully conform to it.9
AD, DLC: Jefferson Papers.
1. The enclosed letters and papers, which GW returned the following day, included Thomas Barclay’s letter to Jefferson of 1 Oct. 1792, written at Gibraltar, in which Barclay reported on the civil war in Morocco. Although Barclay was the U.S. consul to Morocco, he was apparently hesitant to move there at this time. Anxious to avoid jeopardizing U.S. interests, he solicited Jefferson for “instructions how to act under all probable circumstances.” Barclay enclosed copies of his 1 Oct. letters to Girolamo (Geronimo) and Giuseppe (Joseph) Chiappe, U.S. agents respectively at the Moroccan cities of Tangier and Mogador (Essaouira). All three letters are in DNA: RG 59, Consular Despatches, Gibraltar, and summarized in Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 24:430 and notes (see also JPP, description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends 44–45). Jefferson also included David Humphreys’s letter to him of 23 Dec. 1792, written from Lisbon, in which Humphreys as the U.S. minister to Portugal reported on current events in that nation. According to Humphreys, the chevalier Cipriano Ribeiro Freire (1749–1824), who had been appointed the first Portuguese minister to the United States, was currently in Lisbon, but he “will soon return to England, from whence he is expected to sail for the U.S. immediately after the vernal Equinox” (DNA: RG 59, Diplomatic Despatches, Portugal; also printed in Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 24:776–78). The chevalier, however, departed for the United States not in late March 1793 but in May 1794 (Humphreys to GW, 21 May 1794, DLC:GW).
2. On 5 Feb. 1793 the Senate passed “An Act to continue in force for a limited time, and to amend the act intituled ‘An Act providing the means of intercourse between the United States and foreign nations,’” which the House of Representatives previously had approved. GW signed this bill on 9 Feb. (Annals of Congress description begins Joseph Gales, Sr., comp. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. description ends , 2d Cong., 2d sess., 639–40; 1 Stat., description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 299–300).
3. See Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., 3 Feb., Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 25:137–39.
4. Jefferson sent his letter of resignation to GW on 31 Dec. 1793, and on 2 Feb. 1794 the Senate approved GW’s nomination of Attorney General Edmund Randolph as secretary of state (GW to U.S. Senate, 1 Jan. 1794; 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 144).
6. For two conversations between Jefferson and GW in which they discussed the political differences between Alexander Hamilton and Jefferson, see those of 1 Oct. and 27 Dec. 1792, n.2. For an expression of GW’s concern to Hamilton about the division within the cabinet, see GW to Hamilton, 26 Aug. 1792, and for Hamilton’s response, see his first letter to GW of 9 Sept. 1792.
7. On 25 Jan. the House of Representatives considered an assumption bill “to authorize a Loan in the certificates or notes of such States as shall have balances due to them upon a final settlement of accounts with the United States.” The House approved the bill only after Speaker Jonathan Trumbull, Jr., cast a tie-breaking vote in its favor (Annals of Congress description begins Joseph Gales, Sr., comp. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. description ends , 2d Cong., 2d sess., 843–44).
8. Perhaps GW is being discreet here not to mention a conversation the previous November with Elizabeth Willing Powel on the subject of his retirement from the presidency (Elizabeth Willing Powel to GW, 17 Nov. 1792).
9. A letter from “A Farmer” of Bucks County, Pa., was published in the 2 Feb. issue of the National Gazette (Philadelphia) in which the author described levees as “the legitimate offspring of inequality, begotten by aristocracy and monarchy upon corruption.” Using the example of Oliver Crowwell’s reign in England, the writer warned that “it is dangerous in the extreme to set up any man as an idol, to suppose that he alone is capable of dispensing the blessing of liberty; to prostrate your entire confidence, and security before him; to hail him as your political saviour; for however deserving he may be, there is a magic in power which assimilates every thing to itself, & the more implicit your confidence, the more easily will you become dupes to his views.” The writer concluded his letter by expressing the hope that “the President, who has hitherto had the warmest affections of this fellow citizens (the greatest distinction that he could receive) will be no longer misled by evil counsellors, but that he will abolish every custom which can call in question the sincerity of his professions, the uprightness of his views, or that would lessen a fame, which was more glorious, than ever fell to the lot of mortal man.” On GW’s decision to adopt the practice of a weekly levee while president, see GW to John Adams, 10 May 1789, and source note, and to David Stuart, 26 July 1789.