George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Supreme Court Justices, 20 July 1793

From the Supreme Court Justices

Philadelphia 20 July 1793


We have taken into consideration the Letter written to us by your Direction, on the 18th Instant, by the Secretary of State.1

The Question “whether the public may with propriety be availed of the advice of the Judges, on the Questions alluded to?[”] appears to us to be of much Difficulty as well as Importance—as it affects the judicial Department, we feel a Reluctance to decide it, without the advice and participation of our absent Brethren.2

The occasion which induced our being convened, is doubtless urgent: of the Degree of that urgency we cannot judge, and consequently cannot propose that the answer to this Question be postponed, untill the Sitting of the Sup. Court.3

We are not only disposed but desirous to promote the welfare of our Country, in every way that may consist with our official Duties. We are pleased Sir! with every opportunity of manifesting our Respect for you, and are sollicitous to do whatever may be in our power to render your administration as easy & agreable to yourself as it is to our Country.

If circumstances should forbid further Delay, we4 will immediately resume the Consideration of the Question, and decide it.5 We have the Honor to be with perfect Respect Sir your most obedient & most h’ble Servants

John Jay
James Wilson
Ja. Iredell
Wm Paterson

LS, in John Jay’s writing and signed by all four justices, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; ADf, NNC: Jay Papers. The justices enclosed this letter with a cover letter to Thomas Jefferson of this date (Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends , 26:543).

1For Jefferson’s letter to the justices on 18 July, see Jefferson to GW, 19 July, and note 1.

2Justices John Blair and William Cushing apparently were unable to travel to Philadelphia from their respective homes in Virginia and Massachusetts. For the decision to ask the justices to convene at Philadelphia and for the presence of the other four justices in Philadelphia, see Cabinet Opinion, 12 July, and note 4. For the questions concerning the U.S. neutrality policies, which were intended for review by the Supreme Court, see those enclosed in Jefferson to GW, 18 July 1793.

3According to “An Act to establish the Judicial Courts of the United States,” of 24 Sept. 1789, the court “shall hold annually at the seat of government two sessions, the one commencing the first Monday of February, and the other the first Monday of August” (1 Stat description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends ., 73).

4At this point in the draft, Jay canceled “wish to receive some of the Questions.”

5At GW’s request, Tobias Lear sent this letter to Jefferson with a cover letter of 20 July in which he wrote that the President “requests, that if the Secretary should be of opinion that an answer ought to be given to this letter, he will prepare one agreeably to what was suggested yesterday” (DLC: Jefferson Papers). Yesterday’s suggestion is probably a reference to Jefferson’s letter to GW of 19 July. GW replied to the justices in a letter of 23 July. For the eventual refusal of the justices to review the neutrality questions, see Supreme Court Justices to GW, 8 Aug. 1793.

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