George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Marshall, 1 May 1799

From John Marshall

Richmond May 1st [17]99

Dear Sir

You may possibly have seen a paragraph in a late publication, stating that several important offices in the gift of the Executive, & among others that of secretary of State, had been attainable by me. Few of the unpleasant occurrences produc’d by my declaration as a candidate for congress (& they have been very abundant) have given me more real chagrin than this. To make a parade of profferd offices is a vanity which I trust I do not possess, but to boast of one never in my power woud argue a littleness of mind at which I ought to blush.

I know not how the author may have acquird his information, but I beg leave to assure you that he never receivd it directly nor indirectly from me. I had no previous knowledge that such a publication was designd, or I woud certainly have suppressd so much of it as relates to this subject. The writer was unquestionably actuated by a wish to serve me & by resentment at the various malignant calumnies which have been so profusely bestowd on me. One of these was that I only wish’d a seat in Congress for the purpose of obtaining some office which my devotion to the administration might procure. To repel this was obviously the motive of the indiscreet publication I so much regret.1

A wish to rescue myself in your opinion from the imputation of an idle vanity which forms, if I know myself, no part of my character, will I trust apologize for the trouble this explanation may give you.

Messrs Goode & Gray who are the successors of Messrs Claiborne & Harrison are both fœderalists. Mr Hancock who opposd Mr Trig will, to our general disappointment not succeed. At least such is our present information. Shoud Haymond or Preston be elected the Virginia delegation will stand ten in opposition to the government—nine in support of it.2 Parties, I fear will not be so nearly balancd in our state legislature.3 With the most respectful attachment I remain Sir your obedt Servt

J: Marshall


1The letter to which Marshall is referring appeared in the Richmond newspaper Virginia Gazette and General Advertiser on 19 April. See GW’s response to Marshall of 5 May.

2In Virginia’s eighth congressional district, the Federalist Samuel Goode (1756–1822) of Chesterfield County defeated Thomas Claiborne of Brunswick County, who had held the seat since 1793 and regained it in 1801. Carter Bassett Harrison of Charles City and Prince George counties, who had also been a member of Congress since 1793, lost in the tenth district to Edwin Gray (b. 1743) of Southampton County. The Federalist Gray remained in Congress until 1813. John Johns Trigg (1748–1804), a Republican from Bedford County, was reelected in the fifth congressional district, defeating Federalist George Hancock (1754–1820) of Botetourt County. His brother Abram Trigg (1750–1809) of Montgomery County defeated Francis Preston (1765–1836) to retain his seat for the fourth district. James Machir (d. 1827), one of the three Federalists elected to Congress from Virginia in 1797, stepped aside in 1799 to allow the Federalist John Haymond (1765-1838), a former state representative from Harrison County and later a state senator representing Monongalia, Ohio, Harrison, Brooke, and Randolph couties Virginia in 1799, to face the challenge of the Republican George Jackson (1757–1831), whom Machir had replaced. Jackson won (see Machir to James McHenry, 28 April, quoted in McHenry to GW, 11 May, n.1).

3In the spring of 1799 several of GW’s correspondents wrote him about the elections to the state legislature and to Congress held in Virginia on 24 April. David Stuart wrote on 27 April and 2 May; John Tayloe, on 10 Feb. and 29 April; Bushrod Washington, on 10 and 26 April; Edward Carrington, on 25 April and 10 May; and John Marshall, again on 16 May. See also the returns for Loudoun and Fauquier counties which William B. Harrison sent GW on 24 April. Biographical and other data on the 1799 elections is drawn from Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–1989, (Washington, D.C., 1989), The General Assembly of Virginia, July 30, 1619–January 11, 1928: A Bicentennial Register of Members (Richmond, 1978), and Stanley B. Parsons et al., United States Congressional Districts, 1788–1841 (Westport, Conn., 1978).

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