George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Juris Peritus, 13 January 1794

From Juris Peritus

13. Jany 1794.


The promotion of Mr Randolph to the office of Secretary of State having left his place vacant, the public mind is considerably interested in conjecturing who will be his successor1—Aware of your zeal for the public welfare & persuaded that you regard your power of nominating to office as a trust for the benefit of the people; the universal sentiment is, that in order to fix on the most suitable character for any office, in the genl govt it is only requisite that such a character should be presented to your view.

Under these impressions a citizen who cannot communicate his sentiments to you personally, avails himself of the present mode of introducing to your attention a character which in every point of view, is consider’d as the most suitable one for the place to be filled; of perhaps any within the United States.

The qualifications of an Attorney General of the U.S. it is presumed, should in substance be the following.

1. Eminence as a counsellor at law

2. A fair moral character

3. That he should possess the entire confidence of the people of the State from which he is taken

4. That he should be a known friend to the Genl Governt

5. To the knowlege of the principles & practice of the law he should add, a general acquaintance with science in other words, he should be a scholar

6. That his manners should be agreeable to you personally—in other words he should be a gentleman

These are qualities not commonly united in one man but if the general Sentiment of Pennsylvania be right, they all meet in that of William Bradford. Introduced into public life under the enlighten’d administration of the late Governor Reed, & at the early age of 27. appointed Attorney General of Pennsylva. he has continued in that place until his late promotion to the office of Judge of the Supreme Court, (a period of above 14 years,) with distinguish’d honor to himself & advantage to the State—At the Bar he was ev⟨er⟩ consider’d as one of its brightest ornaments, & on the Bench he is considerd as inferior to neither of his Bretheren—His political sentiments are known to be decisively favourable to the Governt of the U. States—while no one stands higher in the opinion of the people of this State His late publication on the subject of the penal Code of Pennsylvania, proves his talents in Composition, & his humane dispositon—a publication which seems to have arrested the attention of the legislatures of the different States & promises to produce the happiest effects.2

In private life no character can be fairer—his benevolency is diffusive & his charities unremitting.

His delicacy would revolt at the present measure, had he any intimation of it—but though it is foreign from his nature to request in the most indirect way, the place now contemplated, yet were it offerd him, it would not probably meet a refusal.

Mr Bradford from his abilities & charater, cannot but prove an acquisition to any governt in whose service he may be engaged—& his nomination to the post of Attorney Genl of the

U. States would add to the many civic honors you have already acquired in calling forth modest merit & in filling the first stations under the Genl Governt with men of talents & integrity.3

This State also, has perhaps a claim to this place—for altho one of the 3. first, her citizens have not shared more of the first offices of the Genl Governt than some of the smallest of the United States.4 With the sincerest wishes for your personal welfare, that of the governt over which you preside with so much glory—I remain Sir Yours most humbly.

Juris peritus5


1Edmund Randolph assumed the duties of secretary of state on 2 Jan. 1794 (Affidavit from James Wilson, 2 Jan., enclosed in Randolph to GW, 2 Jan. 1794). Previous to this date, he served as the administration’s first attorney general.

2William Bradford, Jr. (1755–1795) was a native of Pennsylvania and a graduate of the College of New Jersey, 1772. After service in the Continental army during the Revolutionary War, 1776–1779, he returned to civilian life and the practice of law, settling in Yorktown, Pennsylvania. Joseph Reed (1741–1785), who served as the state’s governor from 1778 to 1781, selected the young lawyer to be the state’s attorney general in 1780, a position he held for the next eleven years until Gov. Thomas Mifflin appointed him a justice on the state’s supreme court in 1791. Bradford’s An enquiry how far the punishment of death is necessary in Pennsylvania. With notes and illustrations (Philadelphia, 1793) led to a revision in 1794 of Pennsylvania’s penal code, whereby the death penalty was removed from all capital crimes except for murder in the first degree.

3GW submitted Bradford’s nomination as attorney general in his first letter to the U.S. Senate of 24 Jan. 1794.

4Pennsylvania was one of the first three states to ratify the U.S. Constitution, in 1787: Delaware on 7 Dec., Pennsylvania on 12 Dec., and New Jersey on 18 December. Of the members of GW’s cabinet and the Supreme Court, Justice James Wilson was from Pennsylvania.

5This Latin phrase means “one learned in the law.”

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