George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the United States Senate and House of Representatives, 8 January 1795

To the United States Senate and House of Representatives

United States, January 8. 1795.

Gentlemen of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives.

I lay before Congress copies of Acts passed by the Legislatures of the States of Vermont, Massachusetts and New York, ratifying the amendment proposed by the Senate and House of Representatives at their last session, to the Constitution of the United States, respecting the judicial power thereof.1

The Minister of the French Republic having communicated to the Secretary of State, certain proceedings of the Committee of public safety, respecting weights and measures, I lay these also before Congress.2

The letter from the Governor of the Western Terri⟨tory, co⟩pies3 of which are now transmitted, refers to a defect in the judicial system of that Territory, deserving the attention of Congress.4

The necessary absence of the Judge of the District of Pennsylvania, upon business connected with the late insurrection is stated by him in a letter, of which I forward copies, to have produced certain interruptions in the judicial proceedings of that District, which cannot be removed without the interposition of Congress.5

Go: Washington

LS, DNA: RG 46, Third Congress, 1793–95, second session, entry 33; copy, DNA: RG 233, Third Congress, House Records of Legislative Proceedings, Journals; LB, DLC:GW. The LS is in the writing of Bartholomew Dandridge, Jr.

1Copies of the ratifications of the Eleventh Amendment, along with copies of the letters of transmittal from Vermont governor Thomas Chittenden to John Adams, 9 Nov. 1794; from John Avery, Jr., secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, to Edmund Randolph, 5 Dec. 1794; and from George Clinton to GW, 5 July 1794, are filed with the LS. All the copies are certified by State Department clerk George Taylor, Jr.

2GW enclosed a translation of a letter from Joseph Jean Antoine Fauchet to Randolph, dated 2 Aug. 1794. Fauchet informed Randolph that “The Committee of the public safety of the national Convention, convinced that an enlightened and free people would receive with pleasure one of the discoveries of the human mind … and the most useful in application,” had authorized Joseph Dombey, “a learned natural Philosopher to come and communicate to you the first Types of the new mode of mensuration which has been adopted.” Dombey had died in Montserrat, but “His papers and the models which he had received in order to deliver to the Government, have luckily come to my hands. I hasten, Sir, to forward the whole to you.”

Fauchet sent copies of the Committee of Public Safety’s decree of 11 Dec. 1793 directing the French Board of Weights and Measures to send Dombey “a measure in copper, and a weight divided in the form decreed,” and of the description by the board of the materials sent. The copper measure and the weight “decimally divided” were both “conformable to standards which will soon be in use thoughout the Republic.” After describing how those standards were determined, the board stated that they were considered “provisory only,” with further measurement of the terrestrial arc required. The decimal system would be “established generally in all kinds of measures—in those of length, superficies, and of capacity, as well as in weights and money, and in short in astronomical, Geographical and nautical measures.” It was even being tried for the computation of time.

Fauchet saw “in the adoption of the new measures by america a mean of cementing the political and commercial connections of the two nations” and “a great step towards the destruction of those Customs more or less absurd and arbitrary which shackle the relations of nations with each other. Persuaded that the Government takes an equal interest itself in both these objects I cannot entertain a doubt of its sanctioning with its authority the introduction of the new method” (DNA: RG 46, Third Congress, 1793–95, second session, entry 33; see also ASP 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 , Miscellaneous, 1:115–16).

3The text in angle brackets is taken from the copy in DNA: RG 233.

4Arthur St. Clair wrote to Randolph on 15 Dec. 1794 that the ordinance establishing the government of the Northwest Territory vested “the supreme Judicial authority … in three Judges, two of whom were necessary to form a Court, with power to decide in all matters without appeal, and by a Law of Congress, one of those Judges is made competent, also without appeal.” But “the people, very generally, think it an unsafe situation which they are in” when “the whole property of a Country which may be the subject of legal dispute, should be governed by the determination of a single Judge, without the possibility of having that determination revised.”

The main settlements in the territory stood on tracts under the direction of Rufus Putnam and John Cleves Symmes, both of whom were appointed judges of the territorial supreme court. “The management of the directors and agents,” St. Clair wrote, “are thought to have laid the foundation of endless disputes. … Every land dispute will be traced to some transaction of one or other of those Gentlemen in those capacities, and they are to sit in Judgement upon them. It must be acknowleged that this is not a groundless cause of apprehension; for tho’ they are both of very fair character, and delicacy would prevent their Judging in any case where they are themselves parties, Interest hangs an insensible bias on the minds of the most upright men, and in the matters that are most likely to be litigated, in which ever of the associations they happen, there must necessarily be so great a similarity that, deciding in one by a Judge who has no direct interest in the cause, may nevertheless have as direct & certain an effect in another wherein he is interested as if he had determined in his own cause.”

St. Clair suggested that Congress repeal the law and adopt a plan “for bringing the decisions of the Supreme Court here, before the Federal Court, either by direct appeal, or by Writ of Error, or both as cases may require.” He noted: “there is perhaps nothing that contributes more to induce an affectionate submission to any power, than the habit of looking up to that power as the depository and dispenser of Justice in the last resort” (DNA: RG 46, Third Congress, 1793–95, second session, entry 33; see also ASP 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 , Miscellaneous, 1:116–17).

5Richard Peters wrote to Randolph on 7 Jan. 1795 that because he and the marshal had been in the western part of the district “at the last stated time of holding the District Court, no Session of that Court could be held, or regularly adjourned. It will therefore be requisite that a law be passed by the Legislature, to revive and continue the process and proceedings which were pending before the Court, at the last Term. There were also adjournments of special Courts, which also fell thro’, and which might be embraced, under some general words, in any law the Legislature may be pleased to pass on the subject” (DNA: RG 46, Third Congress, 1793–95, second session, entry 33).

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