George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Alexander Hamilton, 16 February 1791

To Alexander Hamilton

Philadelphia Feby 16th 1791


“An act to incorporate the Subscribers to the Bank of the United States” is now before me for consideration.1

The constitutionality of it is objected to. It therefore becomes more particularly my duty to examine the ground on wc. the objection is built. As a mean of investigation I have called upon the Attorney General of the United States, in whose line it seemed more particularly to be, for his official examination and opinion. His report is, that the Constitution does not warrant the Act. I then applied to the Secretary of State for his sentiments on this subject. These coincide with the Attorney General’s; and the reasons for their opinions having been submitted in writing, I now require, in like manner, yours on the validity & propriety of the above recited Act: and that you may know the points on which the Secretary of State and the Attorney General dispute the constitutionality of the Act; and that I may be fully possessed of the Arguments for and against the measure before I express any opinion of my own, I give you an opportunity of examining & answering the objections contained in the enclosed papers. I require the return of them when your own sentiments are handed to me (which I wish may be as soon as is convenient); and further, that no copies of them be taken, as it is for my own satisfaction they have been called for.2

Go: Washington


For the background to this document, see Edmund Randolph to GW, 12 Feb. 1791, and Thomas Jefferson to GW, 15 Feb. 1791.

1“An Act to Incorporate the Subscribers to the Bank of the United States” was agreed to by the House of Representatives by a recorded vote of 39–20 on 8 Feb. 1791. It was signed by the speaker of the house and the vice-president on 12 Feb. 1791 and presented to GW for his signature on 14 Feb. 1791 (DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends 4:173).

2For Hamilton’s response, see Hamilton to GW, 23 Feb. 1791, editorial note. While waiting for Hamilton to reply, GW asked James Madison to draft a veto message on the act. See Madison to GW, 21 Feb. 1791.

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