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    President Washington tries to "keep the wheels moving" on construction of the new "Federal City"

    George Washington Autograph Letter Signed "G:Washington" as president to Robert Morris. One page, 7" x 9", Philadelphia, December 3, 1795. Less than two years before Washington's second presidential term ended, he writes this letter to financier Robert Morris concerning financial difficulties faced in the construction of the new "Federal City." In full:

    "Dear Sir,

    I can add nothing in support of the extract on the other side, that was not contained in a former letter from me to you on the same subject. But I would thank you for letting me know what answer I shall return to the Commissioners of the Federal City.

    Their credit, I know, has been stretched to its utmost limits, in order to keep the wheels moving, even in the slow, and unprofitable manner in which they have turned.

    I am Dear Sir
    Your obed. Servt.
    [signed] G:Washington."

    After the Constitutional crisis of 1787 and 1788, the young nation struggled with where to place the seat of government. The answer that came in 1790 was to temporarily house the capital in Philadelphia while building a permanent home along the Potomac River, just a few miles from Mount Vernon. To manage the planning and construction of the new "Federal City," President Washington had appointed three commissioners in 1791. Four years later when the president wrote this letter, lack of financing threatened to end the project.

    The "former letter" referenced in this letter was written by Washington on September 14, 1795, in which he informed Morris that after meeting with the three commissioners, he was "so thoroughly impressed with the ruinous consequences wch. must result to the public building from a delay of the payment which the Comrs. have requested, that I should think my official conduct reprehensible if I did not press them upon you most urgently." If that delayed payment did not reach the commissioners, "the Stone cutters, and other workmen now engaged . . . must be discharged; and . . . the most valuable of them will be irrecoverably lost. whilst the buildings will be left, not only in a stagnant state but in a hurtful situation." The situation as Washington saw it was dire. Morris replied four days later that he was "not in possession of money at present, nor can it be obtained in any way," but, he wrote, he was attempting to secure the needed loans - "However repugnant."

    Interestingly, until the seat of government was moved to Washington, D.C., President Washington lived in Robert Morris' four-story Philadelphia house. Washington died before the capital was completed, but President Adams and Congress arrived moved to the unfinished city in November 1800. Three years after receiving this letter, Robert Morris (1734-1806) was imprisoned in a debtors' prison in Philadelphia, the sad fate of a man who had signed the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the U.S. Constitution, and had been a successful merchant, politician, and had overseen the emerging American economy as the first Superintendent of Finance.

    This letter has been published in the Writings of Washington (John C. Fitzpatrick, editor) and the George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress. Darkly toned around the very edges. Minor soiling. Washington's signature is large and clear.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2011
    8th-9th Friday-Saturday
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