Partly printed document signed (“G:o Washington''), as president, [Philadelphia] 12 January 1792. 1 page, folio, on vellum; paper seal. Washington signs with a large, bold signature. Matted and framed with two engravings of Washington. Counter-signed on reverse by James Wilson (1742-1798), as Justice of the Supreme Court. “GEORGE WASHINGTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA…'' A rare Washington judicial appointment from his first term, “reposing special trust and confidence in the wisdom, uprightness and learning of Richard Peters of Pennsylvania,'' and appointing “him Judge of the District Court in and for Pennsylvania District…'' Peters was sworn in by Declaration of Independence signer and, now, Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, James Wilson, who attests on the reverse of the appointment: “On the first day of February in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety two the within named Richard Peters took before me the oath to support the Constitution of the United States and also the Oath of Office required by law.''
Richard Peters Jr. (June 22, 1744–Aug. 22,1828) was one of the most important and influential legal minds in the early history of Pennsylvania. He graduated as valedictorian from the College of Pennsylvania (now the Univ. of Penn.) in 1761. Although he came from an influential British family, Peters supported the Revolution as a Whig and led a company of troops against the British in 1775. A week after the Continental Congress created the Continental Army, Peters was named Secretary of the Board of War and held this position with honor throughout the active phase of the Revolutionary War. When he resigned in 1781 Congress passed a declaration to thank him for “long and faithful service.” During his tenure on the Board of War he discovered that Benedict Arnold was misusing funds and became embroiled in a feud with Arnold. Peters later served as a member of the Continental Congress from 1782-1783.
As our first president, and almost immediately after the Judiciary Act was passed, George Washington began making appointments to our first Supreme Court (Washington named 10 justices during his presidency) and since there were no sitting Federal judges at the beginning of Washington’s first term, he had the unique opportunity to fill the entire body of federal judges with his selections but only appointed a total of 28 federal district judges during his presidency. At this time, most states had a single district court and each district had a single judge assigned to it. Peters was assigned to the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia (then the U.S. capitol), which was one of the most important and influential judicial posts in the country. Peters served on this court for over 35 years, which was the longest tenure of any of the 28 district judges appointed by George Washington. His judicial service was notable for his support of the federal government over the states and for his work in developing admiralty law. His court held its sessions in Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Peters died in 1828. His home, known as Belmont Mansion, still stands today in Philadelphia, Fairmount Park and is open as a museum.
Provenance: “Mary Benjamin 1952” in pencil lower left of manuscript (Mary Benjamin 1905-1998 was a leading historical document dealer who for many decades was widely recognized one of the nation’s leading document authorities). Washington judicial appointments are rare. Only four have appeared at auction in the last 40 years, and none recorded in American Book Prices Current since 1999. Exceptionally fine, bold examples of both Washington’s and Wilson’s signatures with tremendous visual appeal. This is the first document signed by Washington and Wilson that we have ever offered. An absolutely stunning artifact from Washington’s presidency. Previously sold at Heritage Auctions, Feb. 20, 2006, $16,730. Another Washington signed appointment recently sold at Christie’s, Dec. 7, 2015, lot 306, $17,500 albeit smaller, not on vellum, without paper seal and appointing a naval officer of the port of Savannah, Georgia, compared to a much more historically significant appointment of Richard Peters as the first federal district judge for Penn. including Philadelphia, then the nation’s capital. Pre-certified PSA/DNA.
Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.