Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, 23 October 1791

To George Washington

Th: Jefferson has the honour to subjoin the alteration he suggested in the last paragraph of the President's speech.

Having read Colo. Humphreys' letters after Mr. Short's he had been led into an erroneous arrangement of the facts they state. Colo. Humphreys' letter mentioning the king's refusal of the constitution is of Aug. 22. while it appears by Mr. Short's letter of Aug. 30. that it had not yet been presented to him, and that it was believed he would ratify it.

A provision for the sale of the vacant lands of the United states is particularly urged1 by the important considerations that they are pledged as a fund for reimbursing the public debt; that, if timely and judiciously applied, they may save the necessity of burthening our citizens with new taxes for the extinguishment of the principal; and that being free to2 pay annually but a limited proportion of that principal, time lost in beginning the payments cannot be recovered however productive the resource may prove in eve[nt].


PrC (DLC). Not recorded in SJL, but entry in SJPL reads: “Oct. 23. Paragraph for speech to Congr.” Washington included the last paragraph of this letter in his annual message to Congress on 25 Oct. 1791, with the alterations noted below.


  1. At this point Washington inserted “among other reasons” in the text of his 25 Oct. 1791 address to Congress (Fitzpatrick, Writings , xxxi, 403).
  2. Washington substituted the following for the remainder of this sentence: “discharge the principal but in a limited proportion no opportunity ought to be lost for availing the public of its right” (same, p. 404).