George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Edmund Randolph, 24 October 1793

From Edmund Randolph

Spencer’s [Germantown, Pa.] October 24. 1793.


My messenger, who carried into Philadelphia yesterday the letter, which I had the honor of addressing to you at Baltimore,1 brought from the post-office your favor of the 14th instant. It is but lately, that I could procure an intercourse with it: but he will go in again tomorrow, in order to convey this letter, and receive any others, which you may have thought proper to write to me.

I have travelled over the subject of your interposition as to the place for the next session of congress: but have not been able to complete my remarks on paper. They will be ready at your arrival at German-Town. In the mean time, I beg leave to suggest the result of my reflections, as being adverse to a call of congress from the executive. It seems to be unconstitutional. It is also unnecessary at this moment; for if the two houses should happen to meet within the limits of Philadelphia on the first monday in december, they may adjourn to some other place: if they do not meet, then the President will stand justified to convene them; inasmuch as a failure to meet in the present posture of public affairs on the appointed day will, by producing a well-grounded apprehension, that they may not assemble for a long time, of itself create an “extraordinary occasion”. Some days may be lost, if the members may not have come into the neighbourhood; but not many more, than by an adjournment of their own to a new place. By my mode the object will be accomplished in an easy and natural course: by a summons from the President serious discontents may be excited.

I ought however to inform you, sir, that the governor of Pennsylvania, (whose authority is, so far as the constitution of this state goes, nearly the same with yours,) will probably call his legislature a few days before the regular meeting to German Town, instead of Philadelphia. Mr Dallas thinks, that he may do so with safety; but the question is to be submitted to the attorney-general.2 He tells me, that Mr Rawle is of opinion, that altho’ you should convene congress, they must assemble in the first instance at Philadelphia. I intended to have consulted with him and Mr Lewis; but having heard from Major Lenox, that Colo. Hamilton came home last night, I shall postpone going over to them until I can converse with him. But in pursuance of your instruction, I inclose, what appears to be a proper proclamation, if my sentiments should unfortunately not accord with your decision.

Concerning the place; I can with certainty give you the characters of such of the towns in this state, as you have named. German Town cannot accommodate congress with tolerable satisfaction; it will be surcharged with the assembly and congress together; it is not willing to enter upon the task; and a great part of the very furniture, which would be used, would be drawn from Philadelphia itself—I called at Reading on saturday last; and Judge Rush, who lives there asserted, and I believe from my examination, with truth, that it could not accommodate congress.3 The public building might answer well enough, but if the President should carry them to a place, where houserooom and supplies would be scanty, because the demand is unexpected, multitudes would feel sore—Lancaster is able and willing to provide for congress in every shape; and I hope to receive in a day or two a statement of the arrangements, which can be made for their reception. In this place the Pennsylvania members will concur, and probably in no other out of Philadelphia. It is an universal persuasion, that, unless Lancaster be chosen, New-York will be revisited by congress—Your observation on Annapolis is too striking not to command an instantaneous assent. Wilmington and Trenton, besides being thoroughfares, are beyond the limits of Pennsylvania, who thinks herself intitled by a kind of compact to retain the temporary seat of government within its own bosom.

There can be no doubt of several persons dying in, and about German Town, with the yellow fever.

Dr Rush has written to Dr Shippen, that he may advertize for the commencement of the medical lectures about the first day of december; as the disorder has abated.4 This may be the case; but many discerning men think differently. I have the honor, sir, to be, with the highest respect, and true attachment yr mo. ob. serv.

Edm: Randolph


1Randolph was presumably referring to his letter to GW of 22 October.

2No opinion from Pennsylvania Attorney General Jared Ingersoll regarding a move of the Pennsylvania legislature has been identified. Governor Thomas Mifflin wrote two Philadelphia physicians on 31 Oct. asking if it would be safe for the legislature to meet at Philadelphia, and received a reply that the disease had “so rapidly declined” that “at the time appointed” the legislature should be able to meet “without being under any apprehensions of danger from the contagion” (Diary; or, Loudon’s Register [New York], 8 Nov.). Alexander James Dallas, secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, did, however, write Randolph on 1 Nov. reporting that he and Ingersoll agreed that in such extraordinary circumstances the president did have the right to change the place at which Congress met, although he hoped that a change would prove “unnecessary” in this instance (PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790–99).

3Jacob Rush (1747–1820), who graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1765, was an associate justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and president of the third judicial district at Reading. The previous Saturday was 19 October.

4William Shippen, Jr., had written Benjamin Rush earlier in October proposing to advertise lectures for December or January (see Rush to Mrs. Rush, 11 Oct., Butterfield, Rush Letters description begins L. H. Butterfield, ed. Letters of Benjamin Rush. 2 vols. Princeton, N.J., 1951. description ends , 2:712–13). Later, Shippen announced, in an advertisement dated 31 Oct., that the medical lectures of the University of Pennsylvania would commence on 9 Dec. (Independent Gazetteer, and Agricultural Repository [Philadelphia], 23 Nov.).

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