This section is from the book "The National Capitol. Its Architecture Art And History", by George C. Hazelton, Jr. Also available from Amazon: The National Capitol Its Architecture Art and History.
History to-day gives to L'Enfant full credit for the genius of arrangement displayed in his original plan of the Federal City. Unfortunately, however, the qualities of his temperament made it impossible for the authorities long to brook his erratic ways, or to allow him personally to carry out his grand conception. His first material disagreement with the Commissioners arose from the lawless way in which he demolished a house that Mr. Carroll of Duddington was then constructing on the site of one of his proposed streets. The arbitrary procedure of the engineer, who evidently looked upon himself as possessed of military power and accountable to no one where his theories of art were concerned, is well revealed by a letter of December 8, 1791, from the Commissioners to Mr. Jefferson, wherein they complain that, as the house was " nearly demolished before the Chancellor's injunction arrived, Mr. Carroll did not think it worth while to have it served, trusting perhaps that our directions expressly forbidding their further proceedings in it would have been attended to. We are sorry to mention that the Major, who was absent at the time we issued them, paid no attention to them but completely demolished it on his return." The President also became out of patience with this defiance of the procedure of law: " I did not expect to meet with such perverseness in Major L'Enfant, as his late conduct exhibited".
The more immediate rupture, however, which led to the loss of his position by the engineer, was the persistent way in which he refused to surrender his plans for public inspection in order that sales of city lots might be conducted in accordance with them. His grounds, no doubt sincere, but impracticable where money had so to be secured to the Commissioners for the erection of federal buildings and the maintenance of the local government, were that purchasers " would immediately leap upon the best land in his vistas and architectural squares, and raise huddles of shanties which would permanently embarrass the city." On the 14th of March, 1792, the Commissioners write to L'Enfant from Georgetown : " We have been notified that we are no longer to consider you as engaged in the business of the federal City." In the same letter, they tender him five hundred guineas and a city lot for his past services, whenever he shall desire to apply for the same; but to this his pride would not stoop. He was afterwards employed for a short time at Fort Mifflin, in 1794, and in 1812 declined an appointment as Professor of Engineering at West Point. He was a member of the Society of the Cincinnati, and the designer of its badge.
" He was a favorite with Washington," writes Ben : Perley Poore, " but Jefferson disliked him on account of his connection with the Society of the Cincinnati, and availed himself of his difficulty with the Commissioners to dis-charge him. The Major then became an unsuccessful * petitioner before Congress for a redress of his real and fancied wrongs, and he was to be seen almost every day slowly pacing the Rotunda of the Capitol. He was a tall, thin man, who wore, towards the close of his life, a blue military coat, buttoned quite to the throat, with a tall, black stock, but no visible signs of linen. His hair was plastered with pomatum close to hiis head, and he wore a napless high beaver bell-crowned hat. Under his arm he generally carried a roll of papers relating to his claim upon the government, and in his right hand he swung a formidable hickory cane with a large silver head".
A life of great qualities was thus passed, for the most part, in retirement from active endeavor, because of an inability to take the American world as he found it and to deal with men as men. The proud French spirit passed away June 14, 1825. He was then residing on the Chellum Castle estate, in the vicinity of Bladensburg, where Dudley Diggs had given him a home, and where, beneath a little mound of myrtle in the garden, with no monument or inscription save an ancient cedar to mark the spot, he found a grave. The story goes that, at his death, the plan of the city of Washington was found upon his breast. Some day this man, who had not even ground he could claim for burial, will be honored with a statue in the city which owes so much to his genius.
"The enemies of the enterprise," writes Washington at the time of the Frenchman's dismissal, with apprehension for the city's welfare, " will take advantage of the retirement of L'Enfant to trumpet the whole affair as an abortion." The President's fears were not well founded, however; for, in Andrew Ellicott, the young surveyor from Pennsylvania who as L'Enfant's assistant had done the most of the work in the field, was found an able successor, though his relations with the Commissioners, like L'Enfant's, were anything but harmonious.
* We find that by act of May 1, 1810, P. C. L'Enfant received $1,394.20 (which was the sum of $666% with legal inteifcst from March 1, 1792) as a compensation for his services in laying out the city of Washington.
Ellicott was directed to " prepare a new plan for publication, using material gathered and information acquired while acting surveyor." The original plan by L'Enfant had been sent to the House by Washington on December 13, 1791, but afterwards withdrawn. Ellicott's plan, purporting to be the result of actual survey, contained many alterations, though its difference from the plan of the French engineer was not of such a character as to take from L'Enfant the credit of the design. It was finished in 1792, and engraved by Washington's order, in October of that year. It is said that L'Enfant, who was then in that city, when he saw that the scroll upon the " Philadelphia " map did not bear his name as its author, and that by his own hand, as shown in a former paragraph, Ellicott's name appeared upon it, left the engraver's office in disgust and would have nothing more to do with the matter. This was for a long time the only engraved map, and was followed by the Commissioners in all operations of the city, so far as practicable; " but the city not having been surveyed, and this plan being partly made from the drafts of L'Enfant, and partly from materials possessed by Ellicott," as they tell us, many spaces of ground were found to be neither in a street nor public square, and were added to the plan and divided into building lots, while "the actual survey had another apparent effect; it occasioned many squares to be laid in the water, being governed by the channel, and to insert other squares between the apparent water-squares and the river." These alterations were incorporated into a plan in the Commissioners' office, which, however, was neither engraved nor published. The consequence was that many disputes arose among the Commissioners, the original proprietors and the purchasers,—the first claiming their own plan to be correct, others L'Enfant's plan, and still others the engraved plan, which had been widely circulated throughout the United States and in Europe to entice investment. The differences led the trustees to refuse to convey the public grounds, though ordered by President Adams; and, finally, on April 8, 1802, a committee of the House recommended the printing of the Commissioners' map and the giving of lieu lands where warranted.