George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, 9 February 1791

To Thomas Jefferson

Feby 9th 1791.

The messages to the two Houses, as altered are quite agreeable to.1


Whether, as it is equally known to both houses, that we have no person in a public character at the Ct of London it is best that the word “informal” should remain in the message to the Ho. of Representatives, or not, Mr J. may decide by the fair copy he shall send to


ALS, DLC: Jefferson Papers.

1For the background to this letter, see GW to Jefferson, 11 Dec. 1790, in which GW turned over his correspondence with Gouverneur Morris for Jefferson’s consideration. Jefferson reported to GW on 15 Dec. 1790. Neither GW’s letter to Jefferson of 11 Dec. nor Jefferson’s report of 15 Dec. expressed any intention or need to refer the record of Morris’s mission to Congress. In his report Jefferson had expressed the view that it would be “dishonourable” as well as “useless, & even injurious” for the United States to renew overtures for a commercial treaty or even for an exchange of ministers. The matter rested there for almost two months.

On 9 Feb. 1791 Jefferson presented GW with drafts of two messages on Morris’s mission to England: the first to the Senate and House of Representatives and the second to the Senate. The documentary record is silent about the reasons for this apparent change in administration policy. Yet the situation in Congress makes it clear that the timing and form of the messages were related to the long delay of the House of Representatives in bringing forth a bill on trade and navigation, a matter that had been languishing in committee since early in the session. On 12 Feb. 1791 this committee was discharged of its responsibility, indicating that the House of Representatives was prepared to allow the session to expire without considering the commercial legislation urged by GW in his annual message of 8 Dec. 1790. For the texts of the two messages and GW’s alterations, see GW to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, 14 Feb. 1791, and GW to the U.S. Senate, 14 Feb. 1791.

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