George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Edmund Randolph, 9 April 1794

From Edmund Randolph

Philadelphia April 9. 1794.


Among my first reflections upon the two letters, which you did me the honor of shewing to me yesterday and the day before, I could not forget, that they produced a degree of delicacy to myself.1 The authors of them are of the number of my friends; and one is closely connected with me by other considerations. However, I did not rest long upon any idea of this kind; being persuaded, that after my declaration of the most absolute and unequivocal ignorance of what was meditated, and of what was done, you would not for a moment believe, that I had resorted to those expedients for conveying to you sentiments, which I was unwilling to deliver to you in person. This never has been, and never can be, a recourse of mine; altho’ I have no doubt, that both parties have more or less Endeavoured to forward their views, by occasionally, and as it would seem without concert, by making communications of the supposed opinion of the public.

I cannot learn, that any body has undertaken to say, that you had determined to nominate any particular gentlemen. At any rate nothing has fallen from me except the conversation, which you permitted me to hold, upon the Affair; and in which the individual was spoken of, only as a character, which stood forward.

The first of the two letters appears to be settled; that is, it has been so considered and explained, as to prove, that the writer is not, (and I affirm it) inferior to any man in the U.S. in attachment to yourself.2

The letter of the second gentleman creates the difficulty: and these seem to be the leading ideas.

Is no person to write to the executive upon public subjects, but an acquaintance? The answer will immediately be, that the President will receive information from every quarter.

Is the President to answer these letters? Undoubtedly not, for reasons too obvious to need an enumeration.

Is there any line to be drawn between matter proper and improper for such communications? They may speak of facts, or of public opinion; but they ought to be disregarded, if they go beyond these.

But what kind of attention is to be paid to these facts, and this public opinion? An inquiry into both.

Suppose charges are brought against public officers, and the writers offer themselves, as witnesses? I presume they will be heard, and called upon to produce proofs, if the character of the informer be not such, as to render it disgraceful to listen to him.

Suppose a particular appointment be apprehended; and a stranger shall arraign it, without making charges against the person? The letter ought to be treated with silent contempt; unless an occasion should arise for expressing a particular disapprobation.

This is a course of thinking for cases in general. But that of a senator has other aspects.

If I were to examine the question upon abstract principles, I would say, that no senator ought to recommend, or oppose a candidate by any representations, except of fact, made beforehand to the President. For he will have his vote upon the nomination; and to recommend is to promise to support, and to oppose, is a declaration to thwart the nomination; neither of which is exempt from indecorum.

The letter of Colo. M. does not relate to fact; as far as I can discover from its language. But he shews, that he wishes an interview; and an interview for the purpose of communicating facts would, I suppose, be admissible.

How is it to be brought about? The mode ought to be well considered. To refuse to receive information would be food for clamor; to admit the offers to give it, without restrictions and in full latitude, hazards the independance of the executive.

The following therefore is the best style of proceeding, which occurs to me.

“That the secretary of state inform Colo. M. verbally, that his station entitles his communications to atte⟨ntion⟩ that it is presumed, that he has considered and made up his mind as to the kind of interference, which a senator ought to make in a nomination beforehand: that upon this idea, the President would be ready to afford an interview at a given time.3

It may be added in the course of conversation as the opinion of the Secretary, that facts are the principal things to be consulted.

Should he place his advances upon the ground of private friendship or regard, then I think, that he may be told, that any letter, going upon this ground, ought to be worded in such a manner as demonstrably to shew, that he intended it in that and no other light. I have the honor, sir, to be with the most respectful and sincere attachment yr mo. ob. serv.

Edm: Randolph


1GW showed Randolph the letters received from Congressman John Nicholas, who was Randolph’s brother-in-law, of 6 April and from Senator James Monroe of 8 April. In these letters, both men responded negatively to rumors that GW was planning to nominate Alexander Hamilton as a special envoy to Great Britain.

2For an expression of this attachment, see Nicholas to GW, 7 April, in n.5 of Nicholas to GW, 6 April.

3GW did not offer Monroe an interview, as Randolph suggested, but instead decided to compose a written reply on this date.

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