George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Law, 4 February 1797

Washington City Feby 4th 1797

Dear Sir

I respect & esteem you too much to intrude often upon your valuable time I am averse to lacerate a mind already wounded by complaint; yet I cannot forbear when I consider that perhaps in the Year 1800 at Mount Vernon, when Congress cannot come to the City, you may upbraid me for not candidly assigning to you the causes of the misfortune, when it was in your power to do them away.

I have subscribed my name to one Memorial along with many respectable Proprietors, & were we again to address You we should entitle our Representation as England once did a similar one to Rome—Vizt "The Groans of the City."

Mr Walker with whom I am not accustomed to correspond has informed me of his Complaint, & as you have promised a thorough investigation, I shall wait for a reference.

Mr Scot now often visits this end of the City in a certain direction; as Mr Nicholson cannot go out, but it is curious that out of only three City Gentlemen who dined with me yesterday; two of them who have long resided here never saw Mr Scot & the third Mr Barry Junr only saw him last Week at the Office where he went twice & verified his predictions that the Comm[tte] would not do his simple business.

If facts are wanted 1st, I aver that Mr Scot before me in a large Company avowed his partiality to the George Town end & gloried in his refusal to come in to the City & he proves his preference by recent mortgages & purchases.

2 I aver that When Mr Young Carroll myself & other Proprietors near the seat of Congress waited upon Mr Scot to approve a Petition to the Legislature of Maryland for a Bridge over the Eastern branch, he amused us by shewing the Presidents House on the Map & by pointing out where the Offices should be & by anticipating the future splendor of that part of the City by the residence of Ambassadors & by the Assemblage of Americans who were great Courtiers.

Many spirited Patriots who were doomed to destruction under Robespierre diverted their grief & indignation by poetry, & pray accept this apology for the following song written to day in the moments of despair about my property.

Rhymes to a Friend in England

"The atlantic I cross’d for America’s shore

And now will endeavor to pen you a ditty

To describe many things you ne’er heard of before

And to tell how they raise a Republican City.

You’d suppose that at first they made streets for the many

And next that the Congress’s House were begun

Ah no! for the public they care not a penny

And only attend to the flattering of One.

As the Presidents salary is very low

And as too he lives without splendor or State

His House is of stone finely sculptured for show

Scarce a Palace in Europe have I seen so great.

The Commissioners dwell in a Town rather small

For its distance, & not for their interest or gain

Thus they mean to evince they’ve no bias at all

And faith to all parts of the City its plain.

Those who gave to the public the half of their land

Who meant to improve they affront and despise,

Their great Independance we hence understand

Thus the City of Freedom depends on the Skies."

If after poetry which generally deals in fiction I might speak the language of reason in prose, I should say, that the two public Buildings are too distant. "Divide et impera" was a maxim of Despots & when well applied will prevent every thing from rising—Either force should be bent now to the Center or one end of the City should be made to preponderate—Mr Stoddert says, that even George Town & every proprietor of Land in & out of the City would benefit by doing away indecision—Concordia parva crescunt, discordia maxima delabuntur—Let reason determine which shall have the preference; six Years have passed away in uncertainty, all are watching the trepidations of the Ballance. My preference has been shewn when I had the choice of all the City & I daily see the advantages—The Ice closed George Harbour a fortnight before that of the Eastern branch, & Vessels are now waiting here for near a Week till the frost bound George Town harbour shall open—If such a Decr & Jany should happen in 1800 what will be the sentiments of the inhabitants be who were importing materials furniture & goods for the Houses of Congress near the Presidents House where only a few days ago a Gentn of respectability from George Town said Congress would meet. I know it is impossible almost to impress the idea that I am impartial & disinterested, I will however aver sincerely that I had rather throw the dice which public Edifice should be the Seat of Congress rather than let doubt & dismay spread thro’ the City & contaminate the minds of all around—with apologies for this hasty Lre written at an important Crisis—I remain With unfeigned esteem Most sincerely & respectfully

Thomas Law

I submit some suggestions not from presumption of superior knowledge but because more momentary avocations preclude you from weighing pro’s & con’s.

The great object of the President is to have private Houses ready for Congress & Offices for the various departments—If Congress is intended to meet at the Capitol all future public buildings should be within a convenient distance of the Capitol.

1st Because they may for a time accomodate some Members of Congress also.

2nd Because the workmen employed will put up small Houses adjoining for their own residence.

3rd Because these Buildings will promote others.

4th Because Commerce will be encouraged by the landing of materials within a convt distance from the Capitol & Houses will spring up there also.

Let us examine whether all these advantages are not lost by fixing the Offices on the Presidents Square.

1st The workmen employed will be all from George Town which is three miles from the Seat of Congress.

2nd All the Materials will be landed at too great a distance from the Capitol to aid the City in the least.

It may be urged that the public Offices ought to be close to the President & so they may be hereafter—but the important pressing object now is to ensure the coming of Congress—The Hotel might be purchased for 25000 if not 20000 Ds. & Blodget is bound & has given Security to finish it.

Mr Carroll will build another Hotel at the Capitol.

The Commissioners & Proprietors have the same Interest & if impartial Commissioners were to call them together & would reside among them, there would soon be displayed a different appearence & Houses would be in abundance for Congress & Lots would sell high & afford funds for public Buildings.

DLC: Papers of George Washington.

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