Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO DAVID STUART. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. XI (1785-1790)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
TO DAVID STUART. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. XI (1785-1790) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. XI (1785-1790).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
TO DAVID STUART.
New York, 26 July, 1789.
In the first moment of my ability to sit in an easy chair, and that not entirely without pain, I occupy myself in acknowledging the receipt of your letter of the 14th instant, and thanking you for it.
Although my time (before I was confined) had been and probably now will be much more engaged, yet your communications without any reserve will be exceedingly grateful and pleasing to me. While the eyes of America, perhaps of the world, are turned to this government, and many are watching the movements of all those, who are concerned in its administration, I should like to be informed, through so good a medium, of the public opinion of both men and measures, and of none more than myself; not so much of what may be thought commendable parts, if any, of my conduct, as of those which are conceived to be of a different complexion. The man, who means to commit no wrong, will never be guilty of enormities; consequently he can never be unwilling to learn what is ascribed to him as foibles. If they are really such, the knowledge of them in a well-disposed mind will go half way towards a reform. If they are not errors, he can explain and justify the motives of his actions.
At a distance from the theatre of action, truth is not always related without embellishment, and sometimes is entirely perverted, from a misconception of the causes which produce the effects that are the subjects of censure. 1. This leads me to think, that a system, which I found it indispensably necessary to adopt upon my first coming to this city, might have undergone severe strictures, and have had motives very foreign from those that govern me, assigned as causes therefor. I mean, returning no visits1 ; 2ly, appointing certain days to receive them generally, (not to the exclusion however of visits on any other days under particular circumstances;) and, 3ly, at first entertaining no company, and afterwards until I was unable to entertain any at all confining it to official characters. A few days evinced the necessity of the two first in so clear a point of view, that, had I not adopted it, I should have been unable to have attended to any sort of business, unless I had applied the hours allotted to rest and refreshment to this purpose; for by the time I had done breakfast, and thence till dinner, and afterwards till bed-time, I could not get relieved from the ceremony of one visit, before I had to attend to another. In a word, I had no leisure to read or to answer the despatches, that were pouring in upon me from all quarters.
And with respect to the third matter, I early received information through very respectable channels, that the adoption thereof was not less essential, than that of the other two, if the President was to preserve the dignity and respect, that was due to the first magistrate. For that a contrary conduct had involved the late presidents of Congress in insuperable difficulties, and the office, (in this respect,) in perfect contempt; for the table was considered as a public one, and every person, who could get introduced, conceived that he had a right to be invited to it. This, although the table was always crowded (and with mixed company, and the President considered in no better light than as a maitre d’hôtel), was in its nature impracticable, and as many offences given as if no table had been kept.
The citizens of this place were well knowing to this fact, and the principal members of Congress in both Houses were so well convinced of the impropriety and degrading situation of their President, that it was the general opinion, that the President of the United States should neither give or receive invitations; some from a belief, independent of the circumstances I have mentioned, that this was fundamentally right in order to acquire respect. But to this I had two objections, both powerful in my mind; first, the novelty of it I knew would be considered as an ostentatious show of mimicry of sovereignty; and, secondly, that so great a seclusion would have stopped the avenues to useful information from the many, and make me more dependent on that of the few. But to hit on a discriminating medium was found more difficult than it appeared to be at first view; for, if the citizens at large were begun upon, no line could be drawn; all, of decent appearance, would expect to be invited, and I should have been plunged at once into the evil I was endeavoring to avoid. Upon the whole, it was thought best to confine my invitations to official characters and strangers of distinction. This line I have hitherto pursued. Whether it may be found best to adhere to, or depart from it, in some measure must be the result of experience and information.
So strongly had the citizens of this place imbibed an idea of the impropriety of my accepting invitations to dinner, that I have not received one from any family (though they are remarkable for hospitality, and though I have received every civility and attention possible from them) since I came to the city, except dining with the governor on the day of my arrival; so that, if this should be adduced as an article of impeachment, there can be least one good reason adduced for my not dining out; to wit, never having been asked to do so.
One of the gentlemen, whose name is mentioned in your letter, though high-toned, has never, I believe, appeared with more than two horses in his carriage1 ; but it is to be lamented, that he and some others have stirred a question, which has given rise to so much animadversion, and which I confess has given me much uneasiness, lest it should be supposed by some, (unacquainted with facts,) that the object they had in view was not displeasing to me. The truth is, the question was moved before I arrived, without any privity or knowledge of it on my part, and urged, after I was apprized of it, contrary to my opinion; for I foresaw and predicted the reception it has met with, and the use that would be made of it by the adversaries of the government. Happily the matter is now done with, I hope never to be revived.1
The opposition of the Senate to the discrimination in the tonnage bill was so adverse to my ideas of justice and policy, that I should have suffered it to pass silently into a law without my signature, had I not been assured by some members of the Senate, that they were preparing another bill, which would answer the purpose more effectually without being liable to the objections and to the consequences, which they feared would have attended the descrimination, which was proposed in the tonnage law. Why they keep their doors shut, when acting in a legislative capacity, I am unable to inform you, unless it is because they think there is too much speaking to the gallery in the other House, and business thereby retarded.
Your letter is the first intimation I ever received of any defect in the title or of any claim to the land called Claiborn’s. It is hardly to be conceived that Philip Whitehead Claiborn, who was Brother (and as you say Executor) to William Claiborn, for the payment of whose debts it was sold, should have joined in the conveyance of land, to which he himself had a right by entail. Admit this, and bad motives must be ascribed to the action; viz., a knowledge that his son, if the entail was good, would not be barred by his conveyance, if no act of Assembly or writ of ad quod animum had previously docked it. Such a suspicion I cannot harbor of that Gentleman, because he possessed an exceeding fair character. To the best of my recollection there are some papers in the garret at Mount Vernon, which belong to the estate of Mr. Custis. In making a hasty arrangement of my own I came across and had them put into a trunk or box by themselves. From a cursory inspection they appeared altogether unimportant, or I should have sent them to you; and in another trunk in my study there are papers which relate to my accounts and transactions with that estate. Possibly (for it is not very probable,) you may find something in one or the other of those that may be useful. If in the first, I wish, if they are deserving of the carriage, that you would take them home. The others may be necessary for my own security, and therefore I would not have them removed. The decree of King William’s Court will not, I fear avail much, for I do not conceive that it could extend (if there was an entail in force) beyond the life of William Claiborn if then living, or that Phil. Claiborn’s act could bind his son. Your trouble in this and the other disputes with Mr. Custis’s estate I perceive will be very great. That your success may be correspondent I sincerely wish. We shall be anxious after the decisions to learn the result.
I am mistaken greatly, if I did not in the year 1778 convey both the King William and the King and Queen lands to Mr. Custis by deeds executed at Camp before Colonels Harrison, Mead, and many others as witnesses to prove it in the General Court, and this in the presence of Mr. Custis. If it was not received for want of due proof, I am ready to reacknowledge the same deed, or a copy of it, for I recollect (pretty well) taking the opinion of Col. Harrison upon the nature of the conveyance—and if my memory has not failed me you will find some mention of the matter in one of my letters to Mr. Custis which you called upon me some time ago to authenticate.
Mr. Dandridge gave me an order upon Mr. Brown (of Kentucky) for £800 to be applied if received to the credit of Mr. Custis’s Estate but the order was protested, and Mr. Dandridge had been advertised thereof.
Nothing would give me more pleasure, than to serve any of the descendants of General Nelson, of whose merits, when living, no man could entertain a higher opinion than I did. At the same time I must confess, there are few persons of whom I have no personal knowledge, or good information, that I would take into my family, where many qualifications are necessary to fit them for the duty of it; to wit, a good address, abilities above mediocrity, secrecy and prudence, attention and industry, good temper, and a capacity and disposition to write correctly and well and to do it obligingly.
Most clerkships will, I presume, either by law or custom, be left to the appointment of their principals in office. Little expectation therefore could Mr. Nelson, or any stranger, have from this source. This latter consideration, added to the desire I feel of serving the son of my old friend and acquaintance, has induced me at all hazards to offer Mr. Thomas Nelson, his son, a place in my family.
I shall not trouble you with legislative or any other accounts, which are detailed in the papers, but that I have sent you the journals of the Senate, as far as they have been published and handed to me. If the successor of Mr. Richards would get the Federal Gazette, published by Fenno, from this city, it would enable him to collect as much information of what is passing on the theatre of New York, as he could extract from all the other papers of the place (and they are very numerous), were he to go to the expense of them. My best wishes attend Mrs. Stuart and all the family; and I am, dear Sir, your affectionate friend and servant.1
[1 ]He seems to have made visits of ceremony before his inauguration.
[1 ]A report had gone abroad, that the Vice-President never appeared publicly except with a coach and six horses, which Dr. Stuart said was creating much excitement in Virginia, and was put forward by the opponents of the constitution as a proof of the monarchical tendency of the government.
[1 ]This paragraph relates to a scheme, which had lately been before Congress, respecting the titles by which the high officers of government should be addressed. “Nothing could equal the ferment and disquietude,” said Dr. Stuart, “occasioned by the proposition respecting titles. As it is believed to have originated with Mr. Adams and Mr. Lee, they are unpopular to an extreme.” The history of the proceedings on this subject is briefly as follows:
[1 ]The first appointment submitted to the Senate by the President was that of William Short to be in charge of the American legation in Paris, during the absence of Thomas Jefferson, the minister under the confederation. This nomination was made on June 16th, and confirmed on the 18th. On August 3d, a long list of appointments in the revenue service was submitted, and the Senate acted upon them, rejecting but one—the nomination of Benjamin Fishbourn as naval officer for the port of Savannah. In sending in the name of Lachlan McIntosh as his substitute, Washington showed that the rejection had not a little touched him. “Permit me to submit to your consideration, whether on occasions, where the propriety of a nomination appears questionable to you, it would not be expedient to communicate that circumstance to me, and thereby avail yourselves of the information which led me to make them and which I would with pleasure lay before you.” And he proceeded to give his reasons for naming Fishbourn.—Message, 6 August, 1789.