George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Edmund Randolph, 6 April 1794

From Edmund Randolph

Philadelphia April 6. 1794.


I conclude from what you observed yesterday, that in the nomination of an envoy extraordinary to London, you prefer some statement more special, than is customary in nominations. I beg leave therefore to present to you a short review of the subject; that you may determine, whether the occurrences in the legislature are ripe for such a statement.1

I believe, that I was among the first, if not the first, who suggested this mission to your consideration; and I am still its advocate. I was induced to think favorably of the measure; 1. because the representations, made by our minister in ordinary,2 seemed to rest on the British files among the business, which, if ever entered upon, would be entered upon, at extreme leisure; 2. because the recent accumulations of injuries called for pointed notice; 3. because the merchants and insurers would suspect an inattention in government, if their interests were left to the routine and delays of common affairs, and would on the other hand be highly gratified by the movement; 4. because the British nation, without whose affections the British Minister3 can do nothing of importance in war, ought to be retained by the strongest demonstrations in the persuasion, that we mean peaceable negotiation, rather than war; and 5. because a distinguished character, sent fresh from the feelings of the U.S., would with more confidence assert, and with more certainty impress.

I confess, that two remarks, which came from yourself, had for some time employed my thoughts. These related to the sensations, which might be excited in Mr Pinckney, and to those, which may be excited in the people of our country.

To wound unnecessarily a valuable and meritorious officer, as Mr Pinckney is, may be affirmed to be a public mischief. But this will not be the case, I hope. He will admit, that on great occasions, such missions are often instituted; that they are never interpreted by the diplomatic world, as a disparagement of the minister resident; and that a step of so much eclat will rouse the British court from their profound slumber over our various applications. He may moreover to receive s⟨uch⟩ declarations of continuing confidence, as to calm little possible inquietudes.

The same kind of considerations will satisfy the animadversions of our citizens. For, if a man, the most conspicuous for talents and character were now the stationary representative of the U.S. at London, the efficacy of a solemn and special mission may still upon the foregoing principles, be easily conceived.

And yet, the difference between one grade and another is not so powerful as of itself to secure a difference of reception to our demands. The Envoy will be impotent, if he is to carry with him only the language of rhetoric, or of menaces without the power of revenge. To fulfil the purpose of his creation, he must shew, that the U.S. can and will vindicate their rights. But measures of this kind depend on congress alone; and from them we have the embargo alone.4 They are employed in discussions, leading to these Objects.5 To nominate an envoy immediately, or until you see the nature and extent of the preparations, may perhaps be to nominate an useless officer; and, if by such a nomination it is proposed to give a direction to the views and deliberations of congress, may it not be better to send a message to them, urging them to adopt the preparatory steps, than to run the risque of appointing a gentleman, who, if our state of imbecility is to remain, cannot, except from personal qualities, have more influence, than Mr Pinckney. It would be unusual too, to expect by an act done to the Senate in its executive capacity, that its influence should extend to the other house in its legislative.

I believe indeed, that to postpone the nomination will be attended with two advantages; the one is, that after congress shall have given nerve to our affairs, the propriety of the mission will no longer be questionable; nor will it require those arguments, which in the present state of things will not be sufficiently apparent; the other is, that the person nominated will then be able to decide, whether he would choose to be the missionary, after certain acts of congress. For example, it might not accord with the opinions of some gentlemen, to go, with an act of Sequestration in their hands.6

Notwithstanding the suspension of the nomination, you may perhaps approve of mentioning in the mean time your intention eventually to the person, whom you contemplate.7 I must request your instruction, whether I am to prepare the message to the senate immediately. I have the honor, sir, to be with the highest respect yr mo. ob. serv.

Edm: Randolph

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DNA: RG 59, GW’s Correspondence with His Secretaries of State; LB, DNA: RG 59, Domestic Letters. The text in angle brackets is from the letter-books.

1For the nomination of John Jay as an envoy extraordinary to Great Britain, see GW to U.S. Senate, 16 April (first letter). Among the unresolved issues that led to this appointment were British orders-in-council that adversely affected U.S. shipping, and the continued British occupation of military posts located within the United States, contrary to the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War in 1783 (Miller, Treaties description begins Hunter Miller, ed. Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America. Vol. 2, 1776-1818. Washington, D.C., 1931. description ends , 2:151–57). On British interference with U.S. shipping, see Randolph to GW, 2 March; see also the British order-in-council of 8 Jan. (ASP, Foreign Relations description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends , 1:431).

2Thomas Pinckney was the U.S. minister plenipotentiary to Great Britain.

3William Pitt the Younger was the British prime minister.

4For the congressional resolve of 26 March that imposed an embargo on all ships in U.S. ports that were bound for foreign ports, see 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 . 1:400.

5On 12 March, Massachusetts congressman Theodore Sedgwick introduced eight resolutions designed to create a program of national defense (Annals of Congress description begins Joseph Gales, Sr., comp. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. description ends , 3d Cong., 1st sess., 500–501).

6Jonathan Dayton of New Jersey offered a resolve on 27 March that would have provided for “the sequestration of all the debts due from the citizens of the United States to the subjects of the King of Great Britain” (Annals of Congress description begins Joseph Gales, Sr., comp. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. description ends , 3d Cong., 1st sess., 535).

7GW wrote to John Jay on 15 April, and he sent Jay’s nomination as envoy extraordinary in his first letter to the U.S. Senate of 16 April.

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