George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Mifflin, 18 July 1794

From Thomas Mifflin

Phila. 18th July 94


I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your Excellency’s answer to my letter of the 15. instant, communicated in a letter from the Secretary at war, dated yesterday:1 and it is with peculiar regret that I perceive the embarrasment of my situation, relatively to the Presqu’ isle establishment, increasing with every addition to the correspondence which the subject has produced. I certainly, Sir, have hitherto proceeded upon the presumption, that, whatever form of words may have been employed, it was your request, that the execution of the Presqu’ isle law should, for the present, be suspended; and, as you possessed all the information, upon which that request was founded, I have thought, likewise, that you would readily assume the responsibility attached to a prompt and confidential compliance with it. But when the Secretary at war remarks that you never contemplated carrying your opinions upon the subject, farther than to state them as strongly as they were conceived; he leaves it to be inferred, that for all the consequences of the suspension, without possessing the information, or perhaps entertaining the sentiments that led to the measure, I am deemed to be exclusively responsible. This idea, Sir, claims and justifies, on my part, the utmost circumspection: and, I am persuaded that while the Executive of the Genl Govt is solicitous to avoid reproach for inattention, or a neglect to make full representations of any danger which is apprehended to the interests of the Union; a similar solicitude in the Execut. of a particular Government, to avoid reproach either for transgressing the constitutional boundaries of his authority, or for sacraficing the interests of the State, will be equally approved and indulged.

Hence, Sir, I have been induced, in order satisfactory to compare your opinions on this occasion, with my constitutional and legal powers, to take the advice of the Attorney General of Pennsylvania; and I have the honor to inclose a copy of the letter in which his sentiments are expressed.2 From this document you will perceive, that, although any delay consistent with the performance of the duties enjoined upon me, may be permitted, a delay, which will prevent the execution of the Law within the time prescribed, will not be justifiable. It is of importance, therefore, to know how long the temporary obstacles, which induced you to advise the suspension of the establishment of Presqu’-isle are expected to continue; for if they should not be shortly removed, I must either direct the Commissioners to proceed in laying out the town, or (resorting to the alternative suggested by the Attorney General) convene the Legislature upon the occasion. The latter measure, however, I shall not think it expedient to adopt, unless you expressly request it.

Though the title of the State, to the jurisdiction and soil, of the territory, on which she proposes to form her settlements, can admit of no just controversy, I would cheerfully, as far as my power extends, co-operate in any amicable proceeding, to conciliate the minds, of the Six Nations: but I have no authority to appoint a Commissioner to treat with them upon the subject; and, indeed, the Secretary at war has misunderstood the purport of my conversation in that respect, since he ascribes to me an opinion that, under the present circumstances all differences may be accommodated by Treaty. The truth, is, that if a sense of justice influenced the conduct of those Indians, no opposition would have been made to our improving the lands which we had fairly bought, and the sale of which they have repeatedly acknowledged: and if they act (as I believe they do) under the direction and controul of British Agents, their opposition must be expected to last as long as the policy by which it is excited. If, however, Sir, you should be pleased, on the part of the United States, to authorise a Treaty to be held, I shall think it my duty to furnish you with all the documents, that relate to the title of Pennsylvania, and its repeated recognitions by Corn-planter, and the other Indians, who now presume to deny it.3 I am, with perfect respect, Sir, Your Excellency’s Most Obedt Servt

Tho. Mifflin

DfS, in the writing of Alexander James Dallas, PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790-99; LB, PHarH: Executive Letterbooks; copy, DNA: RG 46, Third Congress, 1793-95, Senate Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages; copy, DLC: Papers of Andrew Ellicott; copy, PHi: Papers of William Irvine. The copy in Senate records was enclosed with GW’s message to Congress of 19 November.

1For Henry Knox’s letter to Mifflin of 17 July, see Knox to GW, 16 July, n.2.

2Pennsylvania secretary of state Alexander James Dallas had written Pennsylvania attorney general Jared Ingersoll on 14 July to inquire: "Can the Executive of Pennsylvania under all the circumstances of the case, justify in point of law, a continuance of the suspension of the proceedings of the Commissioners, beyond a period that will admit of his carrying into effect the Act for laying out the Town at Presqu’ Isle as directed by the legislature?" Ingersoll replied to Dallas on 18 July: "In point of law. I conceive, even under the circumstances mentioned in the communications enclosed, the Executive of Pennsylvania cannot justify omitting to conform to the directions of the Act of the legislature to which you refer, though the Executive may justify any delay, consistent with the performance of the duties enjoined, within the time prescribed. . . . If it shall appear that measures of a general concern will be defeated by pursuing the line of conduct pointed out by the legislature, as the Governor has no dispensing power, convening the legislature is the only remedy for the inconvenience" (both DNA: RG 46, Third Congress, 1793-95, Senate Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages; see also ASP, Indian Affairs 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 , 1:517-18).

3Bartholomew Dandridge, Jr., wrote to Secretary of War Henry Knox on this date: "By the President’s order Bw Dandridge has the honor to send herewith enclosed to The Secy of War, a letter of this date just received by the President from Govr Mifflin, & also copies of a letter recd therewith & the answer thereto from Mr Dallas to Mr Ingersoll on the subject of the proposed establishmt at Presqu’isle. The President desires the Secy to give them due consideration & prepare such an answer to the Govr Letter as he may deem proper" (DLC:GW).

Knox replied to Mifflin on 21 July (see Knox’s second letter to GW of 21 July, n.1).

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