President George Washington Closes the Matter of the Appointment of Captain John Kilty to Federal Office by Refusing to Depart From His Impartial Procedures

Ex-Rosenbach, this piece was part of President Washington’s files, with his docket, and sold later to Rosenbach by the Custis descendants

Key Facts

  • Has Washington's docket on the verso
  • Addressed to Maryland patriot John E. Howard

John Kilty of Maryland served as an officer from 1776 to the end of the Revolutionary War. In January 1783 he left the military as a captain, the records stating that he had become “deranged.” He apparently recovered and was a founding member of the Society of the Cincinnati, becoming its Secretary in 1784. Kilty was a member of the Maryland Governor's Council from 1786 to 1793 and its president in 1790. In 1793 he sought to be appointed to a federal post as Surveyor at Baltimore, and he wrote a letter to his friend John Eager Howard, expressing this and arguing the merits of his qualifications for the office. Howard had finished his term as Governor of Maryland and was soon to embark on his career in the U.S. Senate; he was on close personal terms with President Washington. He wrote the President with his endorsement of Kilty.

On August 25, 1793, Washington responded to Howard, saying in effect that though he would like to help Kilty out of his affection for Howard, he just could not diverge from his normal procedures regarding appointments. Moreover, he frankly stated that he was appointing someone else. “It is not my usual custom to answer letters of application or recommendation for an office...So numerous and respected have been the applications for the office of Surveyor of Baltimore; that I have thought a deviation from my general rule might not be improper in the present instance. I have been induced to appoint Mr. Daniel Delozier to the Office of Surveyor of Baltimore, for the consideration that in addition to the strong and respectable recommendations forwarded by him, he must, from the station he has held for a long time as Deputy to the Collector of the Port, have a very competent cognizance with the duties of a Surveyor...But the weighty recommendation of Capt. Kilty would make it a pleasing circumstance to have that gentleman employed in the general government. And as the present collector of Annapolis intends resigning his place as soon as another person may be found to fill it, if Captain Kilty will accept this office, it will give me pleasure to appoint him to it.”

This promise of a future position seems to have encouraged Howard to further promote Kilty's interests. He responded to Washington on September 4, and again putting forward Kilty, included Kilty’s original letter to him containing Kilty’s credentials. Washington was clearly unwilling to discuss the matter further, and he returned Kilty’s letter to Howard. Autograph Letter Signed as President, Mount Vernon, September 16, 1793, to Howard, offering the carrot and stick of his refusal to comment at all on the matter, while tendering his warmest personal respects to both Howard and his wife. “On the way home, I met at the post office in Alexandria your favor of the 4th instant enclosing Mr. Kilty’s letter to you; the letter I return without any comment upon it. My compliments if you please to Mrs. Howard, & praying you to accept my thanks for the expression of your kind wishes for my health, I remain with very great esteem & regard...G. Washington.” It is interesting to see how President Washington handled such delicate situations as Chief Executive. This letter is Washington’s retained draft, and contains his docket holograph on the verso. It was once among the Washington family heirlooms that were sold by Custis descendants to dealer A.S.W. Rosenbach. It has been closely trimmed at the right edge.

Howard obviously related Washington’s response to Kilty, and Kilty was concerned that his letter to Howard (which was forwarded to and read by Washington) may have been too strong and offended Washington. So on July 23, 1794, Kilty wrote to Washington apologetically, saying “Loth as I am Sir to trespass on your attention, I cannot pass over the only occasion I may ever have of discharging my mind of an uneasiness which I have suffered on account of my letter written to Col. Howard...A judicious friend...found in it a degree of impatience not justified by the occasion, and improper to be exhibited to the person on whose act it was the design of the letter to comment.”

Washington, having done his duty as he saw it, was not offended. In June 1795 he appointed Kilty Supervisor of the Revenue of the United States in Maryland. So Kilty and Howard got what they wanted, and Washington had maintained his impartial procedures. In 1810 Kilty became the third Adjutant General of the State of Maryland.