George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Supreme Court Justices, 9 August 1792

From the Supreme Court Justices

Philadelphia 9th August 1792.


Your official connection with the Legislature and the consideration that applications from us to them, cannot be made in any manner so respectful to Government as through the President, induce us to request your attention to the enclosed representation and that you will be pleased to lay it before the Congress.1

We really, Sir, find the burthens laid upon us so excessive that we cannot forbear representing them in strong and explicit terms.

On extraordinary occasions we shall always be ready, as good Citizens, to make extraordinary exertions; but while our Country enjoys prosperity, and nothing occurs to require or justify such severities, we cannot reconcile ourselves to the idea of existing in exile from our families, and of being subjected to a kind of life, on which we cannot reflect, without experiencing sensations and emotions, more easy to conceive than proper for us to express. With the most perfect respect, esteem, and Attachment, we have the honor to be, Sir, Your most Obedient and most humble Servants,

John Jay

William Cushing

James Wilson

John Blair

James Iredell

Thomas Johnson.

Copy, in Tobias Lear’s hand, DNA: RG 46, Second Congress, 1791–1793, Senate Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages; LB, DLC:GW. Tobias Lear attested on the manuscript of his copy that it was “A true Copy.”

1The enclosed copy of the “Representation” signed by the members of the U.S. Supreme Court reads: “That when the present Judicial arrangements took place, it appeared to be a general and well founded opinion, that the Act then passed was to be considered rather as introducing a temporary expedient, than a permanent System, and that it would be revised as soon as a period of greater leisure should arrive.

“The subject was new and was rendered intricate and embarrassing by local as well as other difficulties; and there was reason to presume that others, not at that time apparent, would be discovered by experience.

“The ensuing Sessions of Congress were so occupied by other affairs of great and pressing importance, that the Judges thought it improper to interrupt the attention of Congress by any application on the subject.

“That as it would not become them to suggest what alterations or system ought in their opinion to be formed and adopted, they omit making any remarks on that head; but they feel most sensibly the necessity which presses them to represent.

“That the task of holding twenty seven circuit Courts a year, in the different States, from New Hampshire to Georgia, besides two Sessions of the Supreme Court at Philadelphia, in the two most severe seasons of the year, is a task which considering the extent of the United States, and the small number of Judges, is too burthensome.

“That to require of the Judges to pass the greater part of their days on the road, and at Inns, and at a distance from their families, is a requisition, which, in their opinion, should not be made unless in cases of necessity.

“That some of the present Judges do not enjoy health and strength of body sufficient to enable them to undergo the toilsome Journies through different climates, and seasons, which they are called upon to undertake; nor is it probable that any set of Judges, however robust, would be able to support and punctually execute such severe duties for any length of time.

“That the distinction made between the Supreme Court and its Judges, and appointing the same men, finally to correct in one capacity, the errors which they themselves may have committed in another, is a distinction unfriendly to impartial justice, and to that confidence in the supreme Court, which it is so essential to the public Interest should be reposed in it.

“The Judges decline minute details, and purposely omit many considerations, which they are persuaded will occur whenever the subject is attentively discussed and considered.

“They most earnestly request that it may meet with early attention, and that the System may be so modified as that they may be releived from their present painful and improper Situation” (DNA: RG 46, Second Congress, 1791–1793, Senate Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages). Tobias Lear attested at the close of the document that the above was “A true Copy.” GW laid a copy of the justices’ representation before Congress in early November (see GW to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, 7 Nov. 1792 [second letter]).

Index Entries