The Crises

In time I hope to put on-line the full correspondence about L'Enfant. The letters written by Washington are already on-line, so putting them here first was easy. Throughout this period when L'Enfant exhibited his disinclination to follow the commissioners' order, Washington at once condemned and tried to explain L'Enfant's conduct. The case I will try to make, in due time, is that Washington offered the explanation that L'Enfant acted the way he did because he was a temperamental artist, which is the explanation generally accepted by historians (myself included in 1991,) but that the commissioners pushed beyond that. They made the case that L'Enfant was more than difficult. He was malicious and dangerous, altogether a different sort of person than might safely to be dealt with. He had a different temper, a different nature. He was dishonorable. The commissioners could not denigrate L'Enfant with innuendo and gossip to the Great Man who was his primary patron. They couched their suspicion and disgust in discussions of policy.

Bob Arnebeck

Washington to David Stuart

Philadelphia, November 20, 1791. Dear Sir:

I had heard before the receipt of your letter of the 29th. of October, and with a degree of surprize and concern not easy to be expressed, that Majr. L'Enfant had refused the Map of the Federal City when it was requested by the Commissioners for the satisfaction of the purchasers at 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 projecting 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 they would be marred if they underwent any change or alteration; but I did not suppose that he wd. 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 shew 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'Enfants, may flow ideas that are capable of improvements; and because I have heard that Ellicot, 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'Enfont 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 shew that the feelings of such Men are always alive, and, where there assistance is essential; that it is policy to humour them or to put on the appearance of doing it.

I have, however, since I have come to the knowledge of Majr L'Enfants refusal of the Map, at the Sale, given him to understd. 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. That, 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 nor 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 with-holding 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 acorrect draught of the City is prepared, the same, or some other person shall be pressed to the execution. I say a correct draught, because I have understood that Mr. Ellicot has given it as hisopinion it was lucky that Engravings did not come out from the first Plan, inasmuch 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 the measure, that for this purpose, and to accommodate the twogreat Interests of George Town and Carrollsburg, it would be advisable, rather than delay another public Sale until thewhole can be compleated, to layall the ground into squares which shall be West of the Avenue leading from George Town to the Presidents House; thence by the Avenue to the House for Congress, and thence by aproper Avenue (I have not the Plan by me to say which) to the Eastern Branch; comprehending the range of Squares next to, and binding 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 dispatch, it does not proceed from any doubt I harbour, 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 beingpretty well known, will, I am persuaded, arrest the design, if a repeal had been contemplated; but it will not prevent those who are irreconcilable, from aiming all the side blows in their power at it: and the rumours, which were spread at the Sale, that Congress never wd. 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 endeavr. 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.

When I began this letter, and until I had got to the present stage of it, it was intended as an answer to yours of the 29th of October; but on a reperusal of that of the 21st. of the said month from the Commissioners, I find it will serve as an answer to both; and, as it is of an enormous length, and my head and hands during the Session of Congress are fully employed, I pray you at the first meeting of the Commissioners to lay these Sentiments before them for theirprivate information.

I forward the enclosed, as I did a former communication from the same person, that the Commissioners may be apprised of the circumstances attending the Land which is the subject of the letter. No acknowledgment of this, or the former, has been made by me. With very great esteem and regard I am etc.
PS. I fear you have forgot my request, made in behalf of Mr. Young of England

Washington to Carroll of Duddington Philadelphia, November 28, 1791. Sir:

Your letter of the 21st. came to my hands on thursday afternoon. By the Post of next morning I was unable to answer it; and this is the first opportunity that has offered since by wch. it cd. be done.
It would have been better, and given me more satisfaction if you had made your appeal to the Commissioners; to whom all matters respecting the Federal district and City are now committed; but as you have made it to me, I must furnish you with my opinion; and reasons for it.
First then, permit me to regret, and I do it sincerely, that the dispute between the public and yourself is brought to the point, at which it now stands. But what practicable relief remains for you? I see none. You say yourself if the House is a nuisance you agree to its being pulled down. a simple fact decides the question upon your own principles. viz. is the whole, or part of it in the Street? If the answer is in the affirmative, it is unquestionably a nuisance. 1st., because the Street is injured by it; 2dly., because the regulations are infringed; and 3dly., which indeed may be considered as the primary reason, because the original compact is violated.
You add, that other Houses have fallen in the Streets and are suffered to remain: but does it follow from hence that they are to continue in the Streets? and is there not a wide difference between a House built, and a house building? the first has already incurred all the expence that is necessary to make it habitable; therefore the public will have no more, perhaps not so much, to pay for it 3, 5, or 7 years hence as now; and the possessesor may enjoy the benefit of it in the interim: but would that be the case with a House not covered in, and which, to make inhabitable, will require a considerable additional expence? Who is to bear this expence when a removal (for a House never will be suffered to obstruct a Street, and a principal street too) takes place? Would you not complain more 5, or even 7 years hence at being obliged to pull down your new building after having incurred (at your own expence) a large additional sum in the completion, than to do it now when the Walls only are up? The answer in my opinion is plain; but, in the present state of the building, under the existing circumstances, as there appears to have been some misconception between Majr. L'Enfant and you in this business; I am inclined, in behalf of the public, to offer you the choice of two alternatives: first, to arrest and pull down the building in its present state, and raise it to the same height next Spring, if it is your desire, agreeably to the regulations wch. have been established without any expence to you; or, 2dly. to permit you to finish it at your own cost, and occupy it 6 years from the present date; at which period itmust be removed, with no other allowance from the public than a valuation for the Walls in the present state of them. I am etc.

Washington to L'Enfant Philadelphia, November 28, 1791. Dear Sir:

Your letter of the 21st. instt. came duly to hand, as did one of the same date from Mr. Carroll of Duddington, on the same subject. A Copy of my answer to the latter is enclosed; by which you will perceive I have proposed an accommodation. As a similar case cannot happen again (Mr. Carroll's house having been begun before the Federal District was fixed upon) no precedent will be established by yielding a little in the present instance; and it will always be found sound policy to conciliate the good-will rather than provoke the enmity of any man, where it can be accomplished without much difficulty, inconvenience or loss.
Indeed the more harmoniously this, or any other business is conducted, the faster it will progress and the more satisfactory will it be.
Should Mr. Carroll adopt the first alternative mentioned in my letter to him, and there is no pressing cause for taking the building down this Winter, the materials will be less liable to injury by standing as they are, and less apt to be stolen, than if they should be taken down before the period shall arrive for re-erection.
As there is a suspension, at present, of the business which took Mr. Ellicots brother to Georgia, there will be no occasion for his proceeding thither, until he shall receive further advice from me, or from the Department of War. But it is my earnest wish, and desire, that he would give every aid in his power to prepare for a large Sale of Lots in the Spring, agreeably to the sentiments which have been communicated to the Commissioners; and It is moreover exceedingly to be wished, that correct Engravings of the City be had, and properly disseminated (at least) throughout the United States before such Sale.
A great pressure of business at this time prevents me from adding more than that I am etc.

Washington to the Commissioners   Philadelphia, December 1, 1791. Gentlemen:

I receive with real mortification the account of the demolition of Mr. Carrolls house by Major L'Enfant, against his consent, and without authority from yourselves or any other person for you have done me but justice in asserting that he had no such authority from me. My letter of the 28th. Ulto. to Mr. Carroll of Duddington will prove this. I now enclose you the copy of one to Majr. L'Enfant, in which you will see what I say to him on this subject.
You are as sensible as I am of his value to us. But this has it's limits, and there is a point beyond which he might be overvalued.
If he is saved from the notice of the law on the present occasion, I would chuse he shd. owe it entirely to yourselves, and that he be made sensible that there will be no interference from me on his behalf.
The enclosed for Mr. Carroll, of Duddington you may either deliver or destroy as it shall seem best to you.
With very great esteem etc.

Washington to L'Enfant Philadelphia, December 2, 1791. Dear Sir:

I have received with sincere concern the information from yourself as well as others, that you have proceeded to demolish the house of Mr. Carroll of Duddington, against his consent, and without authority from the Commissioners or any other person. In this you have laid yourself open to the Laws, and in a Country where they will have their course. To their animadversion will belong the present case.
In future I must strictly enjoin you to touch no man's property without his consent, or the previous order of the Commissioners. I wished you to be employed in the arrangements of the Federal City: I still wish it: but only on condition that you tend to, some of which, perhaps, may be unknown to you; Commissioners (to whom by law the business is entrusted, and who stands between you and the President of the United States) to the laws of the land, and to the rights of its citizens.
Your precipitate conduct will, it is to be apprehended, give serious alarm and produce disagreeable consequences. Having the beauty, and regularity of your Plan only in view, you pursue it as if every person, and thing was obliged to yield to it; whereas the Commissioners have many circumstances to attend to, some of which, perhaps, may be unknown to you; which evinces in a strong point of view the propriety, the neccessity and even the safety of your acting by their directions.
I have said, and I repeat it to you again, that it is my firm belief that the Gentlemen now in Office have favorable dispositions towards you, and in all things reasonable and proper, will receive, and give full weight to your opinions; and ascribing to your Zeal the mistakes that have happened, I persuade myself, under this explanation of matters, that nothing in future will intervene to disturb the harmony which ought to prevail in so interesting a work. With sincere esteem etc.

Washington to Carroll of Duddington Philadelphia, December 2, 1791. Sir:

Yesterday I received your letter of the 28th. Ulto. My letter of the same date to you (which you must have recd. before this time) in answer to your favor of the 21st. will have conveyed my sentiments. to you on the unlucky dispute which exists between yourself and Majr. L'Enfant, whose zeal in the public cause has carried him too fast.
What has been done cannot be undone, and it would be unfortunate, in my opinion, if disputes amongst the friends to the federal City should Arm the enemies of it with weapons to wound it. If you should consider the matter in this point of view, and compare it with the communications in my last, you may perhaps think it more advisable to quash, than prosecute the chancery injunction: especially too, as disputes of this kind may injure you more on the large scale in the general sale of the lots than you can possible gain by going into a Court of Chancery. I am etc.

Washington to L'Enfant Philadelphia, December 13, 1791. Sir:

I have received your letter of the 7th- instant, and can only once more, and now for all, inform you that every matter and thing which has relation to the Federal district, and the City within it, is committed to the Commissioners appointed agreeably to the "Act for establishing the temporary and permanent Seat of the Government of the United States" that it is from them you are to derive your powers, and the line of demarcation for your government is to be drawn by them.
You may remember, Sir, that the first official notice you had of the business in which you are now engaged, was from one of these Commissioners, namely, Mr. Carroll; and that a supposed impropriety in his acting whilst a member of Congress, occasioned a suspension, until a renewal of his Commission after his term of Service in that body, had expired.
Had it not been for this circumstance all the directions you would have receiv'd on your way to Georgetown would have been from him. All you have received since ought to have been from them.
This is the reason why I have said to you in a former letter, that the "Commissioners stand between you and the President of the United States" they being the persons from whom alone you are to receive your direction.
Were it necessary, I would again give it to you as my opinion that the Commissioners have every disposition that can be desired to listen to your suggestions, to adopt your plans, and to support your authority for carrying the latter into effect, as far as it shall appear reasonable, just and prudent to them, and consistent with the powers under which they act themselves. But having said this in more instances than one it is rather painful to reiterate it. With esteem and regard I am etc.
P. S. Since writing the foregoing letter yours of the 10th. is come to hand. As you are well acquainted with my, as well as the earnest wishes of the Commissioners, to have the work forwarded with all the dispatch the nature of it will admit, I persuade myself that nothing will be wanting on your part or the part of Mr. Ellicot to hasten the execution.

Washington to the Commissioners Philadelphia, December 18, 1791. Gentlemen:

It gave me much pleasure to find by a late letter of yours to Mr. Jefferson, that the dispute between Major L'Enfant and Mr. Carroll of Duddington is likely to terminate more favorably than might have been expected from the nature of it; and that you are disposed to take no further notice of his late unjustifiable proceedings.
You will perceive by the enclosed copy of a letter which I have just written to him, that I have placed it beyond a doubt (if he had any before, from an opinion that the Commissioners were appointed for one purpose, and himself for another, and that they were to act independent of each other) that his powers, and Instructions, are to flow from you.
His aim is obvious. It is to have as much scope as possible for the display of his talents, perhaps for his ambition. A copy of his letter of the 7th. instant herewith sent, not only evinces this, but shews the extent to which he wishes to carry it. If, however, he will bear the curb which is put upon him by the letter; of which you have the copy (and which will admit of no misinterpretation) I submit to your consideration whether it might not be politic to give him pretty general, and ample powers for defined objects; until you shall discover in him a disposition to abuse them.
His pride would be gratified, and his ambition excited by such a mark of your confidence. If for want of these, or from any other cause he should take miff and leave the business, I have no scruple in declaring to you (though I do not want him to know it) that I know not where another is to be found, who could supply his place.
His conduct, in the dispute with Mr. Carroll of Duddington, I will readily acknowledge is no inducement to entrust him with extensive powers; because, after your interference, his proceeding was unwarrantable and previous to it (in the last act) it was imprudent. Having said this, I must go further and declare, that under the statement I received of this matter when I was at George-town (not only from Majr. L'Enfant but from another on whom I could depend) I think Mr. Carroll of Duddington is equally to blame. and without entering far into the detail of the dispute between these two Gentlemn., the following will comprise, and in my opinion, be a solution of the motives, which influenced the former. The work of Majr. L'Enfant (wch. is greatly admired) will shew that he had many objects to attend to and to combine; not on paper merely, but to make them corrispond with the actual circumstances of the ground. This required more time than the patience, perhaps the convenience of Mr. Carroll would admit; and therefore, notwithstanding the assurances of the other that he was using all the despatch in his power to ascertain the principal Streets and objects, and, that he Mr. Carroll should not suffer by the delay, the latter proceeded, after waiting a while, to the completion of his buildings.
This excited resentment in L'Enfant; and, more than probably gave birth to expressions which begat mutual warmth; and conceiving (without adverting to, or perhaps even knowing the formalities which are required by our laws) that by the Deeds of cession, houses, and every other impediment which might happen to stand in the way, was to be removed (paying the value thereof), he took the determination to demolish, without further ceremony, the house of Mr. Carroll; and having proceeded to the execution, his pride (however false) would not permit him to recede. This, in my opinion, is a true state of the case; to which, a reserve, and an unwillingness to answer enquiries respecting his plan, has given disgust. But how far a compliance on his part, in an unfinished stage of the wk. would have been consistent with his duty, is a matter worthy of consideration. If this reserve &ca. proceeded from self importance and the insolence of Office, the motives were unworthy. If from a conviction of the impropriety of developing his designs to the public before they were matured, and approved; they were good; at any rate not condemnable.
These sentiments being the result of my reflections upon this subject, I communicate them for your private information; and for that reason request that this letter may not be mixed with other papers that respect your public transactions. An imprudent use made of them, might sow the seeds of discord, whilst reconciliation ought to be promoted, and discontents of every sort ought to be buried, by all those who have any concern, or interest in the business. With much esteem etc.

Washington to the Commissioners Philadelphia, December 27, 1791. Gentlemen:

When I proposed the alternatives contained in my letter of the 28th. Ulto. to Mr. Carroll of Duddington it was done on the ground of accommodation; and under full persuation that, as the house of that Gentleman had been begun before the land was ceded, and had progressed between that and the ultimate decision on the lines of the Street which embraces part of it, no doubt would arise with respect to the legality of reinstating the house in the order it was found when the demolition commenced. Much less did I imagine that there could be any doubt of the expediency of the measure, as the obvious design of it was to heal differences which were pregnant with mischief and could produce no good effect as the case was a singular one and could not be drawn into precedent.
But, as many of the former Proprietors of the land dispute the right of applying any of the monies which have arisen, or may arise from the Sale of the lots to this purpose, I shall take the opinion of the Attorney General of the U. States upon this case; and for his information do require a copy of the transfer from Mr. Carroll of Duddington to the Trustees.
It may be necessary also to ascertain, with precision, at what exact period the lines of the Street which interfere with Mr. Carrolls house were finally run and resolved on, and notice thereof given to Mr. Carroll of D. with other facts pro. and con, that the Attorney General may be enabled to give his opinion upon clear ground.
I find by a letter which I have just received from Majr. L'Enfant that the house of Notley Young Esqr. has (contrary to expectation) fallen into a principal Street. But I hope the Major does mean to proceed to the demolition of this also unless he is properly authorized and instructed.
It gives me pleasure to find by your letter of the 21st. that you are so well advanced in your Contracts. With great esteem etc.
PS. I pray you to inform Mr. Carroll of Dudn. that until the above opinion is obtained I can say nothing to him with decision, in answer to his letter of the 21st. Instant.

More letters on L'Enfant


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