George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Alexander White, 8 January 1798

From Alexander White

Washington 8th January 1798

Dear Sir

Since the conversation with which you honored me at Mount Vernon the subject of the Federal Buildings as connected with my conduct has never been mentioned—Our affairs being at a crisis I thought the measure then in contemplation might be considered as deserting my Post1—Before the Presidents return to Phil[adelphi]a we wrote to him requesting a power to borrow $150,000, and sent a Copy of the power granted by you last year; this he received in the state of New York, and wrote us that there was one point on which he wished to take advice; this I presume was the clause authorising the receipt of 6 prCt Stock at par—In the mean time we prepared a lengthy memorial stating every circumstance which we conceived to be material relative to the Federal Seat, especially those which placed in the clearest light, the justice and policy of Congress taking timely and effectual measures to have it in an unequivocal state of preparation previous to the period fixed for the removal of the Government; after the receipt of this Memorial the President sent us the desired power in the terms we had drawn it; at the same time informing us, that if this measure had not its compleat effect that he was fully of opinion that the subject ought to be laid before Congress for their consideration and further provision; that this should be done in the manner we had suggested by transmitting the Memorial to Congress accompanied by a Message.2

You have no doubt heard, that the Assembly of Maryland have granted another loan of $100,000 6 pc. Stock3—At first blush we supposed this would supercede the necessity of applying to Congress, but in taking a view of our means we found (without unexpected aid from our Debtors) we should not be able to pay our debts; the current expences of the year, and carry on the works longer than till about the first of July—a time when neither Congress nor any State Assemblies will be in Session from whom we could expect aid—We have therefore submitted to the President whether the subject ought not yet to be brought before Congress during their present Session—Should he be of that opinion, it is proposed that I should proceed to Phila. as soon after the Presidents determination is known, as convenient; in that event I will endeavour to induce Congress to adopt such decisive measures as will put the removal of the Government out of doubt in the minds of all men—I wished much to have conversed largely with you on these matters, but the weather has put it out of my power; if anything occurs which you think might aid me (for I would not wish you to take the trouble of writing merely for my gratification) a letter directed to me near Winchester put in the Post Office at Alexandria any day this week will reach me on the Wednesday of next week, for I must go home to prepare for another Phila. Seige should it be so determined, and will proceed from thence.4 I am with Sentimts of the highest esteem Dear Sir Your Ob. Ser.

Alexr White


Alexander White (1738–1804) lived at Woodville, near Winchester, in Frederick County, Virginia. He was the leading lawyer in his part of the state and served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1789 to 1793. In 1795 GW made him one of the District of Columbia commissioners to supervise the laying out of the new Federal City and the erection of its public buildings.

1White spent the night of 19 Nov. 1797 at Mount Vernon (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 6:269). For what White feared might be considered desertion, see note 4.

2The three Federal City commissioners, White, Gustavus Scott (1753–1800), and William Thornton (1759–1828), wrote John Adams on 3 Nov. 1797 about securing a loan from Congress. They wrote to him again on 25 Nov. enclosing a memorial running to some twenty-five manuscript pages, in which they made the case for Congress to guarantee a loan of about $300,000 in additional funds for completing the public buildings in the new city (D.C. Commissioners Records description begins Commissioners of the District of Columbia Records, 1796–1816. Library of Congress. description ends ). For White’s mission to Philadelphia to try to persuade the president himself to submit the commissioners’ memorial to Congress and then to secure its favorable reception there, see White to GW, 1 Feb., 20 Feb., and note 1 of that document, 10 Mar., and note 4 of that document, and 24 March.

3For references to the application of the Potowmack Company to the Maryland and Virginia legislatures, see Scott to GW, 21 Dec., n.2.

4White delayed his departure from Washington to go home to Woodville, and from there to Philadelphia, until late in the month. He kept GW informed of his successful negotiations to secure a loan for the District of Columbia commissioners. See his letters to GW of 20 Jan., 1, 20 Feb., 1, 10, 17, 24 Mar., and 1, 18 April.

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