George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 31 July 1793

From Thomas Jefferson

Philadelphia July 31. 1793.

Dear Sir

When you did me the honor of appointing me to the office I now hold,1 I engaged in it without a view of continuing any length of time, & I pretty early concluded on the close of the first four years of our republic as a proper period for withdrawing; which I had the honor of communicating to you.2 when the period however arrived circumstances had arisen, which, in the opinion of some of my friends, rendered it proper to postpone my purpose for a while. these circumstances have now ceased in such a degree as to leave me free to think again of a day on which I may withdraw, without it’s exciting disadvantageous opinions or conjectures of any kind. the close of the present quarter seems to be a convenient period; because the quarterly accounts of the domestic department are then settled of course, & by that time also I may hope to recieve from abroad the materials for bringing up the foreign account to the end of it’s third year. at the close therefore of the ensuing month of September, I shall beg leave to retire to scenes of greater tranquility, from those which I am every day more & more convinced that neither my talents, tone of mind, nor time of life fit me. I have thought it my duty to mention the matter thus early, that there may be time for the arrival of a successor, from any part of the union, from which you may think proper to call one. that you may find one more able to lighten the burthen of your labors, I most sincerely wish;3 for no man living more sincerely wishes that your administration could be rendered as pleasant to yourself, as it is useful & necessary to our country, nor feels for you a more rational or cordial attachment & respect than Dear Sir Your most obedient & most humble servt

Th: Jefferson

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; ALS (letterpress copy), DLC: Jefferson Papers; LB, DNA: RG 59, George Washington’s Correspondence with His Secretaries of State.

1Jefferson did not accept GW’s offer of an appointment as secretary of state until February 1790, and he did not arrive in New York City to assume his duties until late March of that year (GW to James Madison, 20 Feb. 1790, and note 1, and GW’s Conversation with Jefferson, 23 Mar. 1790, and source note).

2In a letter to GW of 9 Sept. 1792, Jefferson mentioned his desire to resign at the end of GW’s first term, and he continued to remind Washington of his intention to leave public office as soon as possible (see Jefferson’s Notes on a Conversation with Washington, 1 Oct. 1792, 7, 20 Feb. 1793).

3On 6 Aug., GW called on Jefferson to discuss the latter’s resignation. GW mentioned his own regret at accepting a second term as president, “and how much it was increased by seeing that he was to be deserted by those on whose aid he had counted: that he did not know where he should look to find characters to fill up the offices, that mere talents did not suffice for the departmt. of state, but it required a person conversant in foreign affairs, perhaps acquainted with foreign courts, that without this the best talents would be awkward and at a loss.” GW added that Alexander Hamilton’s plans to resign later this year “increased his difficulty, for if he had both places to fill at one he might consult both the particular talents and geographical situation of our successors.” Jefferson responded to GW with an expression of his own “excessive repugnance to public life” and the difficulty of serving when “Merchants connected closely with England,” speculators, and others “bear me peculiar hatred.” GW responded to Jefferson’s pessimistic views by observing that “he believed the views of the Republican party were perfectly pure, but when men put a machine into motion it is impossible for them to stop it exactly where they would chuse or to say where it will stop. That the constitution we have is an excellent one if we can keep it where it is, that it was indeed supposed there was a party disposed to change it into a monarchical form, but that he could conscientiously declare there was not a man in the US. who would set his face more decidedly against it than himself.” The two men then turned to a discussion of possible candidates to replace Jefferson. The conversation concluded with GW’s request that Jefferson delay his resignation until the end of December (Jefferson’s Notes on a Conversation with Washington, 6 Aug. 1793, 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 , 26:627–30). For Jefferson’s formal letter of resignation, see his second letter to GW of 31 Dec. 1793. GW submitted Edmund Randolph’s nomination for secretary of state on 1 Jan. 1794, and the Senate approved it the following day (Senate 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).

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