George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Isaac Senter, 24 January 1794

From Isaac Senter

Newport State of Rhode Island, Jany 24th 1794


By the Death of my worthy friend & fellow Citizen, William Channing Esqr. the office of District Attorney for this Department, some time since, became vacant, & as I have been lately informed Still continues so.1

There have been two gentlemen, I am told, residing in Providence, recommended to fill that vacancy.2

It is Sir, with great deference that I presume to address you on a Subject of this kind—and were I much more advantageously known to the President, than I can boast of being, it would never be my expectation, or desire, to influence his Judgement in matters of this nature—but only to give that kind of honest information, which perhaps in Some instances may be indulgantly considered as a Duty to my country, as well as to its first magistrate.

David Howell Esqr. L.L.D. one of the gentlemen in nomination, by some of the Citizens of Providence,3 was one of the patriots of this State as early as the year, 1775 & to my Knowledge has unremittingly continued So through the revolution—He adds to the most extensive Erudition, a legal knowledge, Second to no one Among us—He has been formerly a member of the Continental Congress & has Sustained Several important officces in this State—Among which was that of Judge of the Superior Court, at a period when iniquity was established by Law—By his extensive Law Knowledge, firmness & perseverance, he was the greate cause on the bench, of preventing the extensive and ruinous application of the penal Law of this State, which made it a Crime to refuse a tender of paper bills at par, at a time when they could be purchased with gold & silver, of the framers of this law, at Six for one 4—Had it not been for this & I may add some other able & honest exertions of Dr Howell in the various State offices he has held, the names of Some who are now high in Office, in this Government, would have been Seen, Among those of the other Gentlemen who recommend him to the President to fill the office of District Attorney for this District.

May I be permitted to add, that it is my opinion as relative to the two candidates in question, that it would be agreeable to the greate body of freemen of this State, as well to the Generality of the Bar, that Dr Howell, should fill that vancancy.5 Sir, I have the honor to be your most obedt & devoted Servant

Isaac Senter

ALS, DLC:GW. Newport doctor Isaac Senter (1755–1799) was president of the Rhode Island Society of the Cincinnati.

1William Channing died on 21 Sept. 1793 (Theodore Foster to GW, 3 Oct. 1793).

2Besides David Howell, whom Senter recommends, the other candidate from Providence was David Leonard Barnes. For letters to GW recommending his appointment, see the 7 Oct. 1793 letters from Arthur Fenner and Jeremiah Olney. On the dissension surrounding the selection of a suitable candidate and for letters critical of Howell and favorable to Barnes and other candidates, see Olney to Alexander Hamilton, 7 Oct.; Hamilton to unknown, 20 Nov.; Henry Marchant to Hamilton, 9 Dec.; and William Ellery to Hamilton, 16 Dec. 1793 (Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 15:357–58, 402, 447–48, 458–59).

3For earlier letters recommending Howell, see John Brown et al. to GW, 2 Oct., and source note; Theodore Foster to GW, 3 Oct.; and Moses Brown to GW, 7 Oct. 1793. Howell wrote a letter of application to GW on 4 Oct. 1793.

4The Rhode Island legislature’s creation of a paper-currency system and passage of penal laws to enforce its use was successfully challenged in the fall of 1786 by the state’s superior court of judicature, of which Howell was a member. On the relevant legislation, the unanimous decision against the state, and Howell’s assertion of judicial review before the state legislature, see James Mitchell Varnum, The case, Trevett against Weeden: on information and complaint, for refusing paper bills in payment for butcher’s meat, in market, at par with specie. Tried before the Honourable Superior Court, in the county of Newport, September term, 1786. Also, the case of the judges of said court, before the Honourable General Assembly, at Providence, October session, 1786, on citation, for dismissing said complaint. Wherein the rights of the people to trial by jury, &c. are stated and maintained, and the legislative, judiciary and executive powers of government examined and defined (Providence, 1787).

5GW nominated Ray Greene to the position of district attorney (GW to U.S. Senate, 24 Jan. 1794).

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