George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Jay, 14 December 1795

From John Jay


New York 14 Decr 1795

Dear Sir

apprehensive that my Letter to you (herewith enclosed)1 is not exactly such an one, as the Gentleman mentioned in it, may perhaps wish and expect it to be, I think it adviseable to send him a copy of it: and that you may have the more perfect and accurate Information, I enclose a copy of my Letter to him.2

I have lately received much Intelligence from several Quarters—some allowances are to be made for Zeal—but all my accounts agree in representing the public mind as becoming more and more composed; and that certain virulent publications have caused great and general Indignation, even among many who had been misled into intemperate Proceedings, & had given too much Countenance to factious Leaders. The latter however persevere with great activity, tho’ with less noise and clamour—These are political Evils which in all ages have grown out of such a State of Things, as naturally, as certain physical Combinations produce whirlwinds and meteors. with perfect Respect Esteem & attachment I am Dear Sir your obliged & affecte Servt

John Jay


1The enclosed letter, also dated 14 Dec., reads: “Some years ago I had the Pleasure of becoming acquainted with Mr Pickman, a respectable merchant at Salem, and experienced his friendly attentions. Since my Return I was greatly surprized and concerned to learn from him, that by underwriting on american vessels which were captured by the British, he had sustained Losses so heavy, as to oblige him to sell Possessions which had been in his family for more than a century. This is a misfortune which naturally excites in delicate minds very painful Sensations; and leads one to wish very sincerely that he and his Family may regain the prosperous Situation to which they have been accustomed.

“Being now unemployed, he wishes to be appointed one of the Commissioners mentioned in the Treaty, for settling the Claims of such british merchants as have met with legal Impediments to the Recovery of their Debts—I communicate this to You Sir with Pleasure—being convinced that your Feelings would be gratified by shewing that mark of attention to a Gentleman so circumstanced, if on further Information you find that public good & official Duty will permit you to endulge the Dictates of personal Sensibility. I say—if on further Information—for the Candor by which my Conduct must be regulated, makes it proper for me to observe, that my acquaintance with this Gentleman has not afforded me opportunities of forming a decided opinion relative to his possessing all the Qualifications requisite for that Place. His manners and conversation impressed me with very favorable Sentiments of him as a Gentleman—His Profession evinces his acquaintance with accounts, & his character as far as it has come to my Knowledge is amiable and fair. There will however be connected with the Discussions of these Claims, Questions that are not merely mercantile, and which demand in a Commissioner other Qualifications besides those of commercial Knowledge, and strict Integrity—Mr Pickman may also possess these, but of this I have not had adequate opportunities of judging” (ALS, DLC:GW).

2Jay copied his letter to Benjamin Pickman of this date at the bottom of this letter. It reads: “I have been favored with your Letter of the 27th of last month, together with the one mentioned in it. It was with real concern and Regret that I received the Information of the heavy Losses you had sustained, and the painful necessity they imposed upon you of selling Estates which had been so long in your Family.

“Such has been the State of Things relative to the Treaty since its Ratification, that it did not appear to me seasonable to communicate the Subject of your Letter to the President, untill the Treaty should have received its ultimate Ratification in England, and the united States should thereby be enabled to proceed with Propriety to take the measures necessary on their part towards its Execution.

“But considering that the Congress are now in Session, and that the british Ratification may soon arrive, I have concluded to write a Letter to The President, of which the enclosed is a copy. I do not expect an answer to it, for I apprehend it to be a maxim with him never to commit himself on Subjects of this kind directly or Indirectly.”

Benjamin Pickman (1740–1819), a graduate of Harvard College, spent the Revolutionary War period in England, but he resumed his status as a town leader after his return in 1785, serving for many years as treasurer of Salem, Massachusetts.

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