George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Edmund Randolph, 2 February 1794

From Edmund Randolph

Sunday evening [2 Feb. 1794]1

E. Randolph has the honor of informing the President, that, as far as he has understood, it is not intended, that a committee should wait upon him, with the resolution; but that it should be transmitted. If this be the case, as it pretty certainly is, no immediate answer will be necessary.2

Supposing it to be otherwise; namely that a committee are to be the bearers of the resolution Still the answer, which the President has recited, seems to be proper in the first instance.3 For time must be taken to consider the resolution, so as to determine how far it is to be complied with, or if at all. The President will be pleased to recollect, that a distinction was taken at the first interview, between the resolution, as an executive and a legislative act.4 At least it was not meant by E.R. that if papers were asked for in a legislative capacity, altho’ without qualification, what was proper for the public eye should not be sent. The only idea, which he contemplated, was, that what was required without qualification, should not be granted without qualification; but that what was improper should be witheld.

E.R. had asked himself, how the President was to know, whether the resolution was a legislative or executive act? For it is very probable, that it will not be specified. To this the answer appears to be, that if the President chooses to understand it, without more accurate information, to be executive; he may then oppose in toto. If he chooses to understand it, as a legislative act, for the sake of avoiding unnecessary contests; he may do so, without injury to the executive rights, and discriminate such parts of the correspondence, as are unfit to be communicated. Or if he should be of opinion, that he ought to observe a different line of conduct, according as the resolution may be executive or legislative; and will not undertake to decide, whether it be of an executive or legislative nature; he may, it is presumed, call for an explanation, as to the source, from which it proceeds.

Be this as it may; and even if a committee, contrary to what is now probable, should bring the resolution; the answer, mentioned by the President, remains perfectly apt and proper.


1GW’s docket reads “2d Feby 1794,” which was a Sunday.

2The resolution under discussion requested GW to provide the Senate with copies of the official correspondence of Gouverneur Morris, the U.S. minister to France (U.S. Senate to GW, 24 Jan. 1794). The exact date that GW received this resolution is not known, but Randolph’s letter to GW of 25 Jan. also indicates that both men knew its contents before its official delivery. This resolution first appeared in the Philadelphia newspapers on Friday, 31 Jan. (Gazette of the United States).

3For GW’s official response, see his letter to the Senate of 26 February.

4For Randolph’s previous thoughts on the distinction between the Senate’s legislative and executive authority and its impact on GW’s obligation to comply with the resolution, see his second letter to GW of 26 January.

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