George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the United States Supreme Court, 3 April 1790

To the United States Supreme Court

United States [New York] April 3d 1790


I have always been persuaded that the stability and success of the National Government, and consequently the happiness of the People of the United States, would depend in a considerable degree on the Interpretation and Execution of its Laws. In my opinion, therefore, it is important that the Judiciary System should not only be independent in its operations, but as perfect as possible in its formation.

As you are about to commence your first Circuit, and many things may occur in such an unexplored field, which it would be useful should be known; I think it proper to acquaint you, that it will be agreeable to me to receive such Information and Remarks on this Subject, as you shall from time to time judge expedient to communicate.

Go: Washington

ALS, NNC; Df, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DLC:GW.

The first session of the Supreme Court convened in the Merchants Exchange on Broad Street, New York City, on 1 Feb. 1790, with justices John Jay, James Wilson, William Cushing, and John Blair (Marcus and Perry, Documentary History of the Supreme Court, description begins Maeva Marcus et al., eds. The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789–1800. 8 vols. New York, 1985-2007. description ends 1:171–81, 335–40). On 4 Feb. justices Wilson, Cushing, and Blair, together with Attorney General Edmund Randolph, Secretary of War Henry Knox, and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, and others joined GW for dinner (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 6:28). The first session of the Supreme Court lasted ten days and adjourned on 10 February. The justices then prepared to hold circuit courts (see GW to the U.S. Senate, 24 Sept. 1789, source note). James Wilson and David Brearley convened the first of these circuit courts in New York on 2 April 1790. On 17 June James Iredell, who was not present at the first session of the court, wrote to GW that John Jay had shown him GW’s letter of 3 April and that he would do “every thing in my power to contribute to the important purpose of it” and that he hoped “to consult with the other Judges when I have the pleasure of meeting them at New York in order that we may jointly communicate to you the observations which occur to us.” In September 1790 the justices responded with a long letter arguing that the assignment of Supreme Court justices to the circuit courts was unwise, primarily because it threatened to impair the legitimacy of the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. See the Supreme Court Justices to GW, c.13 Sept. 1790.

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