George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Innes, 17 January 1797

Virga Richmd Jany 17th 1797

Dear Sir,

The peculiarity of my present situation must plead my apology for the intrusion of this letter. Since my acceptance of the office of Commissioner to carry into effect the 6th Article of the late treaty between the United States & Great Britain, I have been gradually preparing myself for the execution of that trust, by withdrawing from the functions of my profession, and by a resignation of the office of Attorney General for this Commonwealth. The last event took place early in Novr past, at the meeting of our Legislature. The relinquishment of my practice as a Lawyer, I conceived indispensably necessary from the idea I had formed of the duties incident to the office of a Commissioner under the British treaty, not only from the impracticability of discharging the duties of a public office and of a laborious profession at the same moment, but from a supposition that possible events of embarrassment & delicacy might result from a combination of both occupations. the renumeration of my practice, could no from the nature of it, be an immediate act; because from the commencement of legal process (at which period the fees are generally paid) to the termination of the Suit, in its various courses, many months, & sometimes years are consumed. Having been informed by the Secretary of State, immediately after the nominattion of the American Commissioners had been confirmed by the Senate, that it was not probable from the opposition which the house of Representatives had made to the British treaty, that the commissioners on the part of England would arrive in America sooner than the Autumn of the last year. I governed myself by the information in extrecating myself from every species of engagement, which might in any manner form even a temporary obstruction to an unembarrassed performance of the duties of a Commissioner. As to the resignation of the public employment I bore under this state, I found that measure necessary to shield my feelings from the calumny & persecution of a wild, & unprincipled faction which unfortunately predominates in the public councils, of this deluded Country to the members of which, a known attachment to the principles, & administration of the Genl Government, that most hallowed Palladium of American liberty, & happiness, furnishes a sufficient pretext to vilify, & hunt down the possessors of it, as far as they dare, covering their wickedness under the sanction of public duty, & the prostituted terms of patriotism, & republicanism. As it was known, that I had accepted the office of Commissioner, (for I disdained to deny it) after the appointments had been announced in the public prints, the leaders of this Anarchic party, who had attacked me for the two preceeding sessions, on the score of my Western mission, were prepared to come forward on new ground—but I disappointed their malice by a resignation.

This, then, is my present inconvenient situation—without employment public or private—perfectly suspended as to my future operations, surrounded by uncertainty, and unable to point my attention to a fixed plan of any kind. It is not probable that the English Commissioners will arrive during this inclement winter—and three or four months spent in inactivity, and expense, would be heavily felt by one, whose fortune is small, & who depends on personal exertions for the maintenance & education of his family.

Your having done me the honor to make to me a private communication on the subject of my nomination to this office, in which, you were pleased to express yourself in terms of politeness & regard, that will for ever command my warmest gratitude, has induced me to take the liberty of addressing you on this occasion. I should be unhappy if my intentions in doing it should in any way bear the semblance of impropriety, or that a canded developpment of my present embarrassment could be imputed to any other motive, than an anxiety arising from my situation, to be informed, when it is probable, I may be called upon to enter on the functions of my appointment, that I may know, to what objects in the mean time, I may with propriety devote myself. With the most sincere, & cordial sentiments of perfect esteem, regard, & respect, I have the honor to be Dear sir yr mo. obt servt

Jas Innes

DLC: Papers of George Washington.

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