Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO THOMAS JEFFERSON. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. XI (1785-1790)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON. - 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 THOMAS JEFFERSON.
New York, 21 January, 1790.
I had the pleasure to receive duly your letter, dated the 15th of December last; but I thought proper to delay answering or mentioning the contents of it, until after the arrival of Mr. Madison, who, I understood, had been with you. He arrived yesterday; and I now take the earliest opportunity of mentioning to you the result of my reflections, and the expediency of your deciding, at as early a period as may consist with your convenience, on the important subject before you.
Previous to any remarks on the nature of the office, to which you have been recently appointed, I will premise that I feel such delicacy and embarrassment, in consequence of the footing on which you have placed your final determination, as to make it necessary for me to recur to the first ground on which I rested the matter. In confidence, therefore, I will tell you plainly, that I wish not to oppose your inclinations, and that, after you shall have been made a little farther acquainted with the light in which I view the office of Secretary of State, it must be at your option to determine relative to your acceptance of it, or continuance in your office abroad.1
I consider the successful administration of the general government, as an object of almost infinite consequence to the present and future happiness of the citizens of the United States. I consider the office of secretary for the department of state very important on many accounts, and I know of no person, who in my judgment could better execute the duties of it than yourself. Its duties will probably be not quite so arduous and complicated in their execution, as you might have been led at the first moment to imagine. At least, it was the opinion of Congress, that, after the division of all the business of a domestic nature between the departments of the treasury, war, and state, those which would be comprehended in the latter might be performed by the same person, who should have the charge of conducting the department of foreign affairs. The experiment was to be made; and, if it shall be found, that the fact is different, I have little doubt that a farther arrangement or division of the business in the office of the department of state will be made in such manner as to enable it to be performed, under the superintendence of one man, with facility to himself, as well as with advantage and satisfaction to the public. Those observations, however, you will be pleased to remark, are merely matters of opinion. But, in order that you may be the better prepared to make your ultimate decision on good grounds, I think it necessary to add one fact, which is this, so far as I have been able to obtain information from all quarters, your late appointment has given very extensive and very great satisfaction to the public. My original opinion and wish may be collected from my nomination.
As to what you mention in the latter part of your letter, I can only observe, I do not know that any alteration is likely to take place in the commission from the United States to the court of France. The necessary arrangements, with regard to our intercourse with foreign nations, have never yet been taken up on a great scale by this government, because the department, which comprehended affairs of that nature, has never been properly organized, so as to bring the business well and systematically before the executive. If you should finally determine to take upon yourself the duties of the department of state, it would be highly requisite for you to come on immediately, as many things are required to be done while Congress is in session, rather that at any other time, and as in that case your presence might doubtless be much better dispensed with after a little time than at the present moment. Or, in all events, it will be essential that I should be informed of your conclusive option, so that, if you return to France, another person may be, at as early a day as possible, nominated to fill the department of state.
With sentiments of the highest regard and esteem, I am, dear Sir, &c.
[1 ]“I wrote you on what footing I had placed the President’s proposal to me to undertake the office of Secretary of State. His answer still left me at liberty to accept it or return to France; but I saw plainly he preferred the former, and have learned from several quarters it will be generally more agreeable. Consequently, to have gone back would have exposed me to the danger of giving disgust, and I value no office enough for that. I am, therefore, now on my way to enter on the new office.”—Jefferson to Short, 12 March, 1790.