Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO DAVID STUART. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. XII (1790-1794)
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. XII (1790-1794) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. XII (1790-1794).
About Liberty Fund:
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
TO DAVID STUART.
Philadelphia, 20 November, 1791.
I had heard before the receipt of your letter of the 29th of October, and with a degree of surprise and concern not easy to be expressed, that Major L’Enfant had refused the map of the Federal City, when it was requested by the commissioners for the satisfaction of the purchasers at the sale. It is much to be regretted, however common the case is, that men, who possess talents which fit them for peculiar purposes, should almost invariably be under the influence of an untoward disposition, or are sottish, idle, or possessed of some other disqualification, by which they plague all those with whom they are concerned. But I did not expect to have met with such perverseness in Major L’Enfant as his late conduct exhibited.
Since my first knowledge of the gentleman’s abilities in the line of his profession, I have received him not only as a scientific man, but one who added considerable taste to professional knowledge; and that, for such employment as he is now engaged in, for prosecuting public works, and carrying them into effect, he was better qualified than any one, who had come within my knowledge in this country, or indeed in any other, the probability of obtaining whom could be counted upon.
I had no doubt, at the same time, that this was the light in which he considered himself, and, of course, that he would be so tenacious of his plans as to conceive, that they would be marred if they underwent any change or alteration; but I did not suppose, that he would have interfered further in the mode of selling the lots, than by giving an opinion with his reasons in support of it; and this perhaps it might be well always to hear, as the latter would stamp the propriety or show the futility of it. To advise this I am the more inclined, as I am persuaded that all those, who have any agency in the business, have the same objects in view, although they may differ in sentiment with respect to the mode of execution; because, from a source even less productive than L’Enfant’s may flow ideas, that are capable of improvements; and because I have heard, that Ellicott, who is also a man of uncommon talents in his way, and of a more placid temper, has intimated that no information had been required either from him or L’Enfant on some point or points (I do not now particularly recollect what), which they thought themselves competent to give.
I have no other motive for mentioning the latter circumstance, than merely to show, that the feelings of such men are always alive, and, where their assistance is essential, that it is policy to honor them, or to put on the appearance of doing it.
I have, however, since I have come to the knowledge of Major L’Enfant’s refusal of the map at the sale, given him to understand through a direct channel, though not an official one as yet, (further than what casually passed between us, previous to the sale, at Mount Vernon,) that he must in future look to the commissioners for directions. They having laid the foundation of this grand design, the superstructure depended upon them; that I was perfectly satisfied his plans and opinions would have due weight, if properly offered and explained; that, if the choice of commissioners was again to be made, I could not please myself better, or hit upon those who had the measure more at heart, or better disposed to accommodate the various interests and persons concerned; and that it would give me great concern to see a goodly prospect clouded by impediments, which might be thrown in the way, or injured by disagreements, which would only serve to keep alive the hopes of those, who are enemies to the plan. But, that you may not infer from hence, he has expressed any dissatisfaction at the conduct of the commissioners towards him, it is an act of justice I should declare, that I never have heard, directly or indirectly, that he has expressed any. His pertinacity would, I am persuaded, be the same in all cases and to all men. He conceives, or would have others believe, that the sale was promoted by withholding the general map, and thereby the means of comparison; but I have caused it to be signified to him, that I am of a different opinion, and that it is much easier to impede than to force a sale, as none who knew what they were about would be induced to buy, to borrow an old adage, “a pig in a poke.”
There has been something very unaccountable in the conduct of the engraver, yet I cannot be of opinion the delays were occasioned by L’Enfant. As soon, however, as a correct draft of the city is prepared, the same or some other person, shall be pressed to the execution. I say a correct draft, because I have understood that Mr. Ellicott has given it as his opinion, it was lucky that engravings did not come out from the first plan, in as much as they would not have been so perfectly exact, as to have justified a sale by them. It is of great importance, in my opinion, that the city should be laid out into squares and lots with all the despatch that the nature and accuracy of the work will admit. And it is the opinion of intelligent and well-informed men, now in this city, who are friends to this measure, that for this purpose, and to accommodate the two great interests of Georgetown and Carrollsburg, it would be advisable, rather than delay another public sale till the whole can be completed, to lay all the ground into squares, which shall be west of the avenue leading from Georgetown to the President’s house, thence by the avenue to the house for Congress, thence by a proper avenue (I have not the plan by me to say which) to the Eastern Branch, comprehending the range of squares next to and bounding on the said avenues on the east side, and to appoint as early a day for the sale as a moral certainty of their completion will warrant.
When I speak of the importance of despatch, it does not proceed from any doubt I harbor, that the enemies to the measure can shake the establishment of it; for it is with pleasure I add as my opinion, that the roots of the permanent seat are penetrating deep, and spreading far and wide. The eastern States are not only getting more and more reconciled to the measure, but are beginning to view it in a more advantageous light, as it respects their policy and interests; and some members from that quarter, who were its bitterest foes while the question was pending in Congress, have now declared in unequivocal terms to various people, and at various times, that, if attempts should be made to repeal the law, they would give it every opposition in their power. These sentiments of the eastern people, being pretty well known, will, I am persuaded, arrest the design, if a repeal has been contemplated; but it will not prevent those, who are irreconcilable, from aiming all the side blows in their power at it; and the rumor, which was spread at the sale, that Congress never would reside there, is one of the expedients, that will be exerted in all its force, with a view to discourage the sales of the lots, and the buildings thereon, that the accommodations may be unfit for the government when the period shall arrive that the removal is to take place.
When I see Major L’Enfant, who it is said will shortly be here, I shall endeavor to bring him to some explanation of the terms on which he will serve the public; and will also impress upon him the necessity of despatch, that as early a sale as circumstances will admit may ensue.1 * * *
With very great esteem and regard, I am, &c.
[1 ]“It having been found impracticable to employ Major L’Enfant about the federal city, in that degree of subordination which was lawful and proper, he has been notified that his services are at an end.”—Jefferson to the Commissioners, 6 March, 1792.