Cabinet Meeting. Opinion on Communicating to the
Senate the Dispatches of Gouverneur Morris
[Philadelphia, January 28, 1794]
At a meeting of the heads of departments January 28, 1794.
Upon consideration of the resolution of the Senate, of January 24, 1794, calling for the correspondences, therein mentioned:1
General Knox is of opinion, that no part of the correspondences should be sent to the Senate.
Colo. Hamilton, that the correct mode of proceeding is to do, what General Knox advises; but that the principle is safe, by excepting such parts as the President may choose to withold:
Mr. Randolph, that all the correspondence, proper from its nature to be communicated to the Senate, should be sent; but that what the President thinks improper, should not be sent.
In either form messages are recommended to be prepared.2
DS, in the handwriting of Edmund Randolph and signed by H, Henry Knox, and Randolph, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.
1. This resolution reads as follows: “Resolved, That the President of the United States be requested to lay before the Senate the correspondences which have been had between the Minister of the United States at the Republic of France and said Republic, and between said Minister and the office of the Secretary of State” (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings of the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , IV, 38). This resolution raised the question of the independence of the executive branch of the Government. This was not the first time this issue had been considered, for at a 1792 meeting the cabinet had discussed the right of Congress to call for executive documents (Ford, Writings of Jefferson description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (New York, 1892–1899). description ends , I, 189–90). The resolution also had political implications, for Gouverneur Morris, the United States Minister to France, had been supported by H and other Federalist leaders. The resolution of January 24, 1794, was passed by a slim margin (13 to 11), and the names of those listed in the roll call suggest the party complexion of the vote. Even before December 5, 1793, when Edmond Charles Genet’s demand for Morris’s recall was presented to the Congress, Morris’s known conservative views had brought criticism from Republicans in the Senate. Jefferson had called him a “high flying monarchyman” (Ford, Writings of Jefferson description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (New York, 1892–1899). description ends , I, 188), and the opinion that Morris had allowed his views to lessen his usefulness as a diplomatic representative in France had been impressed upon Randolph. After he had glanced over the Morris correspondence requested by the Senate, Randolph wrote to Washington on January 26, 1794, in some surprise: “After the impression which I had received from others, whom I supposed to be conversant with it, I am really astonished to find so little of what is exceptionable, and so much of what the most violent would call patriotic.… He speaks indeed of his court; a phrase, which he might as well have let alone …” (ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress).
2. On February 26, 1794, Washington submitted the correspondence “except in those particulars, which, in my judgment, for public considerations, ought not to be communicated” (GW description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington (Washington, 1931–1944). description ends , XXXIII, 282). The Morris correspondence is printed in ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, I, 329–78.