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Auction: Auction 09.10.2002
was auctioned on: 9 October 2002
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WASHINGTON, George, President . Autograph letter signed ("G o: Washington") as President to General Alexander Spotswood (1751-1818), Philadelphia, 23 November 1794. 4 full pages, 4to (9 x 7 3/8 in.) splitting at folds with tiny losses at fold interse...

Estimate: US$200,000 - US$300,000
Price realised:  US$471,500
Lot number 17, Views: 120

WASHINGTON, George, President . Autograph letter signed ("G o: Washington") as President to General Alexander Spotswood (1751-1818), Philadelphia, 23 November 1794. 4 full pages, 4to (9 x 7 3/8 in.) splitting at folds with tiny losses at fold intersections, the folds neatly silked. WASHINGTON ON SLAVERY: "THE OTHER SPECIES OF PROPERTY," OF WHICH "I DO NOT LIKE EVEN TO THINK, MUCH LESS TALK"; HE EMPHATICALLY VOWS THAT "WERE IT NOT THAT I AM PRINCIPLED AG[AINS]T SELLING NEGROES, AS YOU WOULD DO CATTLE IN THE MARKET, I WOULD NOT, IN TWELVEMONTHS FROM THIS DATE, BE POSSESSED OF ONE, AS A SLAVE" A highly important private letter, with a revealing passage that is almost invariably cited in discussions of Washington's complex and evolving attitudes towards slavery. Here, in a long, thoughtful reply to a Virginia landowner regarding the wisdom of moving to the new frontier lands in Kentucky or Northwest of the Ohio, Washington considers the investment prospects in western lands, the dangers of the unsettled frontier (especially due to hostile Indians) and predicts a wave of European investment in America. First, explaining his delay in responding, Washington notes that Spotswood's letter "did not get into my hands until my return from the Westward"; furthermore, the President has been preparing to deliver his 1794 State of the Union address, and "my attention has been occupied" in sifting the reports of cabinet officers "on which my communications to Congress were to be founded" (the 1794 Annual Address was delivered on 19 November). Washington frankly discusses Spotswood's plan to sell his lands on the Rappahannock and move to the newly opened western territories. Then, at the very end of his letter, Washington turns--with obvious distaste--to a discussion of Spotswood's property in slaves and whether they too should be sold. He writes, "With respect to the other species of property, concerning which you ask my advice, I shall frankly declare to you that I do not like even to think, much less talk of it. However, as you have put the question I shall, in a few words, give you my ideas of it. Were it not then, that I am principled ag[ains]t selling negros, as you would do cattle in the market, I would not, in twelvemonths from this date, be possessed of one, as a slave. I shall be happily mistaken, if they are not found to be a very troublesome species of property ere many years pass over our heads; (but this bye the bye). For this reason--and because there is but little sale for what is raised in the western country, it remains for you to consider whether, their value would be more productive in lands , reserving enough for necessary purposes than to carry many there..." WASHINGTON AND SLAVERY Only six months previously, in a private letter to his personal secretary Tobias Lear, Washington candidly confessed his earnest wish "to liberate a species of property which I possess very repugnantly to my own feelings." (6 May 1794, Fitzpatrick 33:358). Washington had grown up deeply emmeshed in the tradition of slave-owning. As a young man he had inherited 10 slaves on the death of his father in 1743; Martha Dandridge Custis's dowery included a large number of slaves. But, probably beginning with his personal involvement in the American revolution, he had become uncomfortably aware of the irreconcilable conflict between the public principles of the American experiment in liberty, the equality unqualifiedly proclaimed by the Declaration of Independence and guaranteed by the Constitution, and the stark realities of human chattel slavery. At various points during his public career he considered the prospects for gradual, legislative abolition of slavery--which appeared doubtful--and also pondered paths he himself might take, as a slave-owner to resolve the contradiction of his own position. In one scheme--discussed with an overseer at about the same period as this letter--he proposed dividing the Mount Vernon plantation into smaller farms t

Informations about the auction
Auction house: Christie's
Title: Auction 09.10.2002
Date of the auction: 9 Oct 2002
Address: Christie's
New York, Rockefeller Center