George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Edmund Randolph, 24 June 1793

From Edmund Randolph

Richmond June 24. 1793


Soon after I had the honor of writing to you from Annapolis, I found an occasion of entering into discourse with the governor of Maryland on the subject of our political situation. He appeared to have been caught by the same apprehensions, as had taken hold of the people of Baltimore; and was very minute in his inquiries. Some hours afterwards he called at my lodgings, and in the presence of several gentlemen spoke to this effect; that the executive of the U.S. seemed to have proceeded on principle, which was the surest guide of its conduct. From the communications too, which I received from the gentlemen of the bar, I am persuaded, that the temper of Maryland goes with the government.1

At George-Town and Alexandria I heard but little. At Dumfries, Mr Alexr Henderson called upon me, and uttered a multitude of fears and discontents.2 Knowing him to be a talkative man, who would circulate pretty quickly, whatever he should hear from me, I endeavoured to impress upon him that information, which I was at liberty to give, and those opinions, which for the sake of harmony ought to be entertained. Altho’ I never did count much on his sincerity; yet he so often repeated the happiness, which he felt, of being able to remove the anxiety of his neighbourhood, that I cannot forbear a hope, that he was in some degree sincere.

The clamour increased at Fredericksburg, and was principally confined to the Secretary of the Treasury. But the proclamation was also censured for using the term friendship; and the prosecution against Singletem, &c. was condemned, as illegal.3 I saw no person, who supported these sentiments, as his own; but I explained to Mr Fitzhugh, and Mr Chas Carter the views, in which those criticisms presented themselves to me.4 Fredericksburg is inflamed by the doctrines and representations of Colo. Taylor, of Carolina the Senator of the U.S.5 It would astonish you, sir, to learn the success, which has attended his efforts to rouse the cool and substantial planters. Even Mr Hoomes, of the Bowling-Green, who is respectable and intelligent, and has a great deal to lose, was animated to a degree which changed his nature essentially.6 It was necessary to be particular with him; and I delayed my journey, that I might examine all his dissatisfaction. As I advanced in stating facts, he declared, that he had never heard one half, and that his information was expressly the contrary. I pledged myself for the truth of what I said to him, and he confessed, that, if it was true, the government had been grossly calumniated. This remark came twice from him, while I was speaking of the proclamation and prosecution. He begged me to stop at Colo. Pendleton’s, with an earnestness, that shewed a friendly disposition to the fœderal government.7 I spent an evening and morning with that gentleman, who approved the proclamation in all its parts, and language; and thought, that too much could not be done, to ward off a rupture with the European powers. His complaints were wholely against financial operations; but as he had never scrutinized the reports, I gave him a set, and obtained his promise to write to me without reserve, as soon as he has comprehended the questions in their full extent.

My next stage was at Mr Lyonss.8 With him scarcely any thing was right, except the measures, adopted to repel the war. He assented to the propriety of all these; but the other proceedings, whether legislative, executive or judiciary he certainly did not spare.

In this place parties are strong; and the friends to the general government are far inferior in number to its enemies. But among its enemies, not a dozen can be named, who are not averse to war. I was told, that Judge Tucker, and Judge Tyler talked in this strain; and I accepted an invitation to dinner from the general court, in order to ascertain to what lengths they would go. But politics were kept out of sight; and I can only report from the mouth of others, that there are not more than two of all the judges, who are not highly irritated against the fœderal administration. The late debates concerning British debts have served to Kindle a wide-spreading flame. The debtors are associated with the antifœderalists, and the discontented fœderalists; and they range themselves under the standard of Mr Henry, whose ascendancy has risen to an immeasurable height.9 But I was happy to learn from Colo. Innes, that he has been loud in reprobating the decapitation of the French King, and is a friend to peace; and the steps pursued for its security; adding, that nothing would induce him to vote for a war, but the redemption of the Marquis la Fayette.10 He grows rich every hour, and thus his motives to tranquillity must be multiplying every day.

Mr Jay is considered here by some, under very unfavorable aspects. But every body agrees in his ability as a judge. It is reported and believed, that he was insulted on the road by a drunken man, who had been present at the trial in the circuit court. Nothing could be more unfortunate, than the false hopes, which the decision of that court has inspired in regard to the payments into the treasury. Mr Wythe indeed, as chancellor, has determi⟨mutilated⟩d ⟨mutilated⟩gainst the British debtor; but his decree will, as it is conj⟨mutilated⟩d, be re⟨mutilated⟩d in the court of appeals unanimously. The people will th⟨mutilated⟩fore be fortified in their opposition, when they perceive so many advocates of character.11

I have had very full communications with those, who are attached to the general government; and since our conversations they think themselves armed in its defence. These are Colo. Innes, Colo. Harvie, Dr Mclurg, Mr Marshall, Capt. Singleton & some few others.12 But I am now rivetted in my persuasion, that the best administration upon the face of the earth may be vilified, and almost ruined, unless they be protected by frequent and candid publications.

Last night I was informed, that an inhabitant of this place expatriated himself, while Mr Genet was here,13 and immediately took the oath of a French citizen before him. I shall inquire into this business more accurately; but I have little doubt of its truth.

I shall set off for Williamsburg this morning, and shall return hither at the beginning of next week; Should I meet Mr Wilson Nicholas,14 when I get back, I shall be ready in three or four days afterwards to commence my journey to Philadelphia. I have the honor, sir, to be with an affectionate attachment and respect—Yr mo. ob. serv.

Edm: Randolph.


1On the need for Randolph to defend GW’s Neutrality Proclamation of 22 April and the administration’s other efforts to keep the United States neutral during the war between Great Britain and France, see his letter from Annapolis to GW of 11 June, and notes 1–3; see also Cabinet Opinion on French Privateers, 1 June 1793. Thomas Sim Lee was the governor of Maryland.

2After emigrating from Scotland c.1756, Alexander Henderson (c.1738–1815) established a mercantile business at Colchester, Va., before moving to Dumfries, Va., in 1787. He served in the Virginia assembly, 1783–85, 1789-90, and he was a delegate to the Mount Vernon conference of 1785, during which Maryland and Virginia settled various disputes concerning use of the Potomac River.

3On the prosecution of John Singleterry for his service on the French privateer Citoyen Genet, see Cabinet Opinion on French Privateers, 1 June, and General Advertiser (Philadelphia), 3 June 1793.

4In 1793 William Fitzhugh (1741–1809) lived at Chatham, his estate across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg, Virginia. Fitzhugh had served in the Virginia assembly, 1772–77, 1780–85, 1787–88. He represented Virginia in the Continental Congress, 1779–80. His youngest daughter, Mary Lee Fitzhugh, married George Washington Parke Custis in 1804. Charles Carter of Ludlow was a cousin of Fitzhugh and also lived near Fredericksburg.

5John Taylor of Caroline (1753–1824), a Revolutionary War veteran, practiced law in Caroline County, Va., and served in the Virginia assembly, 1779–81, 1783–85, 1796–1800. He served in the U.S. Senate, 1791–94, 1803–4, 1821–24. He was an ardent opponent of the Washington administration.

6On John Hoomes of Bowling Green in Caroline County, Va., see Hoomes to GW, 16 Aug. 1790, and source note.

7Edmund Pendleton (1721–1803), of Caroline County, served in the Virginia general assembly, 1752–78, the Continental Congress, 1774–75, and as the president of the Virginia court of appeals, 1778–1803.

8This is probably Peter Lyons of Hanover County, who was a judge on Virginia’s court of appeals.

9Virginia lawyer St. George Tucker (1752–1827), a Revolutionary War veteran, practiced law in the Petersburg area. In 1788 he became a judge of the Virginia general court and in 1790 a professor of law at the College of William and Mary. He accepted an appointment to the Virginia court of appeals in 1804, and he became a U.S. District Court judge in 1813, serving until 1825. John Tyler, a judge of the Virginia general court, had worked closely with fellow lawyer Patrick Henry at the Virginia ratifying convention in opposition to the U.S. Constitution.

10King Louis XVI of France had been executed on 21 Jan. 1793. Lafayette had fled France in August 1792, only to be captured by Prussian troops, who later transferred him to Austrian custody. He remained in prison until September 1797.

11Virginia lawyers James Innes, Patrick Henry, and John Marshall were attorneys for the defense in the case of Ware v. Hylton, which involved the payment by Americans of pre-war debts to British creditors. John Jay, chief justice of the Supreme Court, presided over the trial held 22 May–8 June 1793 before the U.S. Circuit Court at Richmond. For background on this case and the court’s rulings, see Charles F. Hobson, “The Recovery of British Debts in the Federal Circuit Court of Virginia, 1790 to 1797,” Va. Mag description begins Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 1893–. description ends 92 (1984), 177–200; see also Documentary History of the Supreme Court description begins Maeva Marcus et al., eds. The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789–1800. 8 vols. New York, 1985-2007. description ends , 2:339 and note 4, 380. George Wythe (1726–1806) served in the Virginia general assembly, 1754–55, 1758–78, and the Continental Congress, 1775–76, signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776. He became a member of the High Court of Chancery in 1778 and the first professor of law at William and Mary College in 1779. In 1788 he became the sole chancellor of Virginia, holding this position until 1801. For Wythe’s decisions as chancellor, see Decisions of Cases In Virginia, By the High Court of Chancery, With Remarks Upon Decrees By the Court of Appeals, Reversing Some of Those Decisions (Richmond: Thomas Nicolson, 1795).

12Although active in state and national politics in earlier years, John Harvie was now a builder and financier in Richmond. Dr. James McClurg and John Marshall currently served on Virginia’s executive council. Richmond resident Anthony Singleton (born c.1754) served as a captain in the 1st Continental Artillery, 1777–83. Along with Harvie, McClurg, and Marshall, Singleton was one of the founders of the Bank of Richmond in 1792.

13On Edmund Genet’s stop in Richmond earlier this year, see Henry Lee to GW, 14 June, and note 4.

14Wilson Cary Nicholas (1761–1820) was a member of Washington’s Life Guard during the Revolutionary War. He represented Albemarle County in the Virginia assembly, 1784–86, 1788–89, 1794–1800. He served in the U.S. Senate, 1799–1804, and the U.S. House of Representatives, 1807–9. He was governor of Virginia, 1814–17.

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