Washington, 1st October 1796
Conformably to your wish, expressed to us, when we had last the honor of your company, we have taken into consideration such matters, relative to the business of the City, as appear to require your attention, and beg leave, respectfully, to submit our opinions thereon—With respect to a national university, we are of opinion, that the Space heretofore proposed to be appropriated for a fort and Barracks, on Peter’s hill, is the most proper site for that object—The establishment of a botanical Garden, a measure not unconnected with this, has lately been suggested; the sentiments of a number of the proprietors of the City and its vicinity, have been laid before us in a Letter, of which, we enclose a copy: in general, we approve the Idea, and think the place mentioned in that Letter, proper for the purpose; but, if it should not be approved, we presume, ground in the Square proposed for the university, may be applied to that purpose—We have no doubt of the president’s right, at this time, to make such appropriations of the Grounds, ceded for the public use, as he shall judge them best adapted to, where it has not already, been specifically done—Taking every circumstance into consideration, we are of opinion that the present is a favorable moment to bring these subjects before Congress—A large and valuable Space of Ground, the free grant of Individuals to the united States, being appropriated by the President to the purpose of an university, together, with the liberal pecuniary donation, which you, Sir, have made towards its support, seems to have laid such a foundation for an Institution, in the utility of which, all men agree, that we cannot but entertain the pleasing hope, that Congress will extend their patronage to it—We are likewise of opinion, that the large Space of grounds, extending from the presidents Square to the Capitol, laid off in the plan of the City, for pleasure grounds, would afford proper sites for the houses of foreign Ministers, without deviating from the original intention: Indeed, we are informed, that such were Major L’Enfant’s ideas in laying off the ground—Should this be approved, it would enable the president to be more liberal in his donations, and would avoid even the appearance of counteracting the Act of Congress, guarranteeing the Loan by which, the whole City property, not appropriated to public use, is pledged, for the redemption of the money to be borrowed—Our Letter to the Spanish Minister, however, precludes us from the measure, so far as that Nation is concerned, unless the Minister himself should make choice of these Grounds—We have also considered the subject of a marine-hospital in the City, and the Square of parcel of Land supposed to have been designated for that purpose—this Tract contains upwards of Eighty Acres: for which, we shall have to pay, immediately 5333 33/100ths Dollars—It will contain about 240 Standard Lots, belonging to the public, which, at two hundred Dollars Lot (a moderate price, in our opinion, were we even to sell at this time, considering the extent of water property annexed to it) amount to $48,000—We are not perfectly satisfied with the propriety of the situation, for the purpose of an hospital; neither do we see the necessity of sacrificing so much property, at this time, towards an Institution, which, certainly will not be wanting for many Years to come.
We are far from advising a measure which would do away appropriations already made, or change them, to the injury of adjacent purchasers, or of the City, at large—The Square on Peter’s hill and other Squares, similarly circumstanced, we consider as given up for public use, or, in the words of the Deeds of trust, to the use of the united-States; but, as the particular use has not been designated by authority, we are of opinion, it may yet be done—With regard to the large Tract, west of the Capitol, designed as public Walks and pleasure-Grounds, and which contains 289 acres, we conceive, that the erection of elegant buildings, with the necessary concomitant Improvements, provided they are judiciously placed, and not too numerous—so far from counteracting the original design, would add greatly to the beauty & pleasure of the Scene, and would be the means of bringing the whole into more immediate notice and cultivation—The hospital Square, as it has been called, has this distinguishing characteristic from the other Squares in the City, it has never been paid for by the public, in whole or in part. All the proprietors of adjacent property agree to the discontinuing the appropriation. and have signed a writing to that purpose, a copy of which is enclosed, and its situation is such that the general Interest of the City, we conceive, cannot be affected by the change—But, whatever may be done with this or other Squares, designed for public use, we think it is proper that the appropriations should now be fixed: there are maps of the City preparing for publication, in which, the appropriations ought to be designated—We consider this among many others as a weighty reason for the immediate determination of this business; when that is done, it is our opinion that the Trustees ought to convey the Streets, Squares and parcels So appropriated, to the Commissioners, for the use of the United States, but, this being a great national object, it is our wish, that the president would advise with his constitutional counsel with respect to the completion of it—We wish you, Sir, before your return to Philadelphia, to determine, particularly, the Sites for the Executive Departments—We Will then cause plans to be drawn, agreeably to the opinions of the executive Officers, expressed to Mr White, in Philadelphia, and submit them to your consideration, and, if approved, the buildings will commence as soon as our funds admit of it—Our opinion is, that they ought to consest of two handsome brick buildings, on the presidents Square, so situated, as to give the most agreeable Appearance to the whole.
We have been the more particular in this communication, because, it is our earnest desire that every thing respecting the seat of Government which can now be determined should be determined before a change takes place in the presidential Chair. We are with Sentiments &c.
(not signed by Dr Thornton)
P.S. It seems some difficulties have occurred among the Citizens respecting the propriety of recommending a part of the presidents Square for a botanic Garden, and their Letter is not yet ready to be forwarded.
DNA: RG 42--Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Sent.