George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, 30 June 1793

To Thomas Jefferson

Mount Vernon June 30th 1793.

Dear Sir,

You will find by the enclosed letter from the Commissioners that Mr Hallet reports unfavorably of Doctor Thornton’s Plan “on the great points of practicability, time and expence:” and that I am referred “to Mr Blodget, Hoben, and Hallet, whose verbal information will be better than any we can give you"—on which to form ultimate Instructions.1

Mr Blodget I met at Baltimore in the moment I was about to leave it—consequently I had little conversation with him on the subject referred; but Mr Hallet is of opinion that the execution of Doctor Thornton’s Plan (independent of the cost, which would far exceed our means—and the time allowed for the accomplishment of the buildings) is impracticable; or if practicable, would not in some parts answer the ends proposed. Mr Hoben seemed to concur in this opinion; and Mr Blodget, as far as I could come at his sentiments, in the short time I was with him, approved the alterations in it which have been proposed by Mr Hallet.2

It is unlucky that this investigation of Doctor Thornton’s plan, and estimate of the cost had not preceded the adoption of it; but knowing the impatience of the Carrollsburg interest and the anxiety of the Public to see both buildings progressing—and supposing the plan to be correct, it was adjudged best to avoid delay.3 It is better, however, to correct the error, though late, than to proceed in a ruinous measure, in the adoption of which I do not hesitate to confess I was governed by the beauty of the exterior and the distribution of the apartments—declaring then, as I do now, that I had no knowledge in the rules or principles of architecture—and was equally unable to count the cost. But if there be such material defects as are represented—and such immense time & cost to complete the building—it would be folly in the extreme to proceed on the plan which has been adopted. It has appeared to me proper, however, before it is laid aside, and Justice and respect to Doctor Thornton requires, that the objections should be made known to him, and an opportunity afforded to explain and obviate them if he can.4

For this reason, and because Mr Blodget is in Philadelphia, and it might not be convenient for Doctor Thornton to leave it; I have requested Mr Hallet and Mr Hoben to repair without delay to Philadelphia, with all the plans and documents which are necessary to elucidate this subject5—and do pray you to get all the parties herein named together, and after hearing the objections and explanations report your opinion on the case and the plan which ought to be executed.6 Nothing can be done to the foundation until a final decision is had—and this decision ought not to be delayed one moment that can be avoided; because time is wasting fast—because the public expectation is alive—and because the dæmon of Jealousy may be at work in the lower Town when one building is seen to progress rapidely—and a plan for the other not yet decided on. Whether it be practicable (even at an expense) to call in the aid of any other scientific Character in Philadelphia to assist in deciding this point7—or whether there be any there—is more than I can tell—Your own knowledge of this, and judgment will decide. The case is important. A Plan must be adopted—and good or bad it must be entered upon. With very great regard, I am, Dear Sir, Your Affectte & Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Tobias Lear’s writing, DLC: Jefferson Papers; ADf, DLC:GW; LB, DLC: GW; copy, DLC: William Thornton Papers. Jefferson docketed the LS as “recd July 7.”

1GW enclosed the letter from the D.C. commissioners of 23 June 1793. William Thornton’s original drawings for the Capitol have not been found, but a “Description” of his plan is in his letter to the D.C. commissioners of c.10 April 1793 (Harris, William Thornton Papers description begins C. M. Harris, ed. Papers of William Thornton: Volume One, 1781-1802. Charlottesville, Va., 1995. description ends , 242–49).

2GW met with Samuel Blodget, Jr., at Baltimore on 26 June, and with James Hoban and Stephen Hallet at Georgetown on 27 June. GW took Hallet’s “notes” to Mount Vernon to “consider” (JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 189).

3On the selection of Thornton’s design, see GW to D.C. Commissioners, 31 Jan. 1793, and notes 1, 3, 5; and 2 April. The cornerstone of the President’s House, which was farther from Carrollsburg than the site selected for the Capitol, had been laid on 13 Oct. 1792, and the Carrollsburg landowners, such as Daniel Carroll of Duddington and Notley Young, were impatient for that section of the Federal City nearest their lands to be developed (13 Oct. 1792, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings, 1791–1802).

4Jefferson’s letter to Thornton of 8 July was accompanied by this letter from GW and “some observations of Mr. Hallet,” which Thornton described in his reply to Jefferson on or about 12 July, as “five manuscript volumes in folio,” and which have not been identified (Harris, Thornton Papers, 259, 262–68; 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 , 26:455, 489–95).

6At 10 a.m. on 15 July, GW hosted a meeting at his Philadelphia home to discuss Thornton’s plan. On that meeting and the opinions generated during it, see JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 198–99, and Jefferson to GW, 17 July 1793.

7Carpenter, draftsman, and architect Thomas Carstairs (1759–1830) and builder William Williams (d. 1794), both of Philadelphia, attended the meeting (ibid.; Jefferson to Carstairs, 14 July 1793, 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 , 26:500).

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