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President Washington Privately Asks John Jay If He Will Replace Pinckney

as Minister to London

President Washington, in a letter marked “Secret and confidential,” asks Chief Justice John Jay to consider becoming the U.S. Minister in London and discusses the difficulty in finding ministers to France. 

GEORGE WASHINGTON. Autograph Letter Signed as President, to John Jay, April 29, 1794, Philadelphia, [Pa.] 2 pp., 9 x 7¼ in.  #21635  $120,000

Complete Transcript


Philadelphia 29th April 1794

(Secret & confidential)

My dear Sir,  

Receive, I pray you, the suggestion I am going to impart with the friendship and caution the delicacy of it requires.—


You are already informed that I am under the necessity of recalling Mr. Gouvr Morris from France—and you can readily conceive the difficulty which occurs in finding a successor that would be agreeable to that Nation, and who, at the same time, would meet the approbation of the friends of that Country in this.


These considerations have induce me to ask you, if it could be made to comport with your inclination, after you shall have finished your business as Envoy, and not before, to become the Resident Minister Plenipotentiary at London; that Mr. [Thomas] Pinckney, by that means, might be sent to Paris?—I mean no more than simply to ask the question [2], not intending (although the measure would remove the above difficulty) to press it in the smallest degree.

If you answer in the affirmative, be so good as to return the enclosed letter to me, and correspondent arrangements shall be made.—If in the negative, I pray you to forward it, through the Penny Post or otherwise according to circumstances, to the Gentleman to whom it is directed, without delay—and in either case to let the transaction be confined entirely to ourselves.


With much trust & regard

I am sincerely & affectionately / Yours

Go: Washington

John Jay Esqr


Historical Background

Washington confidentially explains to Jay the necessity of recalling Gouverneur Morris from France and the difficulty this entails in finding a suitable successor.  This remarkable letter resulted from the embarrassing position brought upon the government by Gouverneur Morris, Resident Minister to France. Morris's reputation as a “monarchy man” was manifest in his distaste for the French Revolution, making him a liability and threat to Franco-American relations, so that his recall and replacement by a suitable figure was a matter of urgency. Washington’s first choice for a replacement was Thomas Pinckney, then U.S. Resident Minister in London.


John Jay did not accept Washington’s invitation but continued as Chief Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. He later became a special envoy to Great Britain and in November 1794 successfully negotiated the important treaty known as the Jay Treaty, which resolved issues left from the Revolutionary War and averted another war with Britain. Thomas Pinckney remained in London but also took on additional diplomatic responsibilities in Spain, where in 1795 he negotiated the Treaty of San Lorenzo (also known as Pinckney’s Treaty), which defined the boundaries between the United States and Spanish colonies and guaranteed the United States free navigation rights on the Mississippi River. Gouverneur Morris was replaced in France by James Monroe, who served until 1796, when he was replaced by Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, brother of Thomas.


The contents of the letter enclosed, and the individual to whom it is addressed are unknown at present.


John Jay (1749-1829) was among the most influential of the founding fathers. He was instrumental in achieving passage and acceptance of the Declaration of Independence and served as President of the Continental Congress, minister to Spain, peace negotiator with Britain and France and Secretary for Foreign Affairs (1784-1789), perhaps the most important post in the country during his tenure. After the Constitution was adopted, again with significant contributions by Jay, Washington gave Jay his choice of positions in the new federal government. Jay became the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1789-1795), a post he held at the time of this letter from Washington, and later became a special envoy to Great Britain and then was elected governor of New York. Few Americans have served with such great distinction in as varied and important posts in every area of government. He was also author, with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, of The Federalist (1788), a landmark collection of essays promoting a strong federal government.


Thomas Pinckney (1750-1828) was an ardent patriot who fought in the Revolutionary War and served as aide-de-camp to General Horatio Gates. He was governor of South Carolina from 1787 to 1789 and then served in the South Carolina House of Representatives. Washington appointed him U.S. minister to Great Britain in 1792. During 1794-1795 he also served as Envoy Extraordinary to Spain, where he arranged the Treaty of San Lorenzo in1795. He was elected to a vacant seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from South Carolina in 1797, serving until 1801, and then served in the War of 1812 as a major general. His brother Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and his cousin Charles Pinckney were signers of the Constitution.


Condition: Very fine. Tipped to Japanese tissue guards, bound in a linen portfolio with engraved portraits of Washington and Jay. Folding marbled case, blue morocco spine, gilt-lettered label.

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