George Washington Papers
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To George Washington from Edmund Randolph, 6 May 1794

From Edmund Randolph

Philadelphia May 6. 1794.

Sir

The secretaries of the treasury and war department being of opinion, that it is constitutional and expedient to impower Mr Jay to conclude a treaty of commerce with Great Britain, the powers are drawn, conformably with these ideas.1

But as they entertain sentiments, different from mine, and have committed them to paper,2 permit me to assign a few of the most operative reasons on my mind.

1. To permit such a treaty to be signed by Mr Jay, and transmitted for ratification, is to abridge the power of the senate to judge of its merits. For according to the rules of good faith, a treaty, which is stipulated to be ratified, ought to be so, unless the conduct of the minister be disavowed and punished.3

2. If he be permitted to sign a treaty of commerce, No form of expression can be devised to be inserted in it, which will not be tantamount to a stipulation to ratify, or leave the matter as much at large, as if he had no such power.

3. Tho’ I believe, that the people of the U.S. desire a proper treaty of commerce with G. Britain; and we could enumerate so many articles, as to insure their approbation; yet am I persuaded, that no man can undertake to say, that they would be contented with one or two articles only; as is proposed by the gentlemen.4 I have the honor sir, to be, with the most respectful attachment yr mo. ob. serv.

Edm: Randolph

ALS, DLC:GW; LB, DNA: RG 59, Domestic Letters.

1On this date GW signed four documents giving John Jay powers to negotiate American relations with Great Britain. Two of these empowered Jay to negotiate and sign a treaty "concerning the general Commerce between the United States and the Kingdoms and Dominions of his Britannic Majesty" (see notice of John Jay’s powers, this date).

2For some of Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton’s ideas about the proposed commercial treaty, see Hamilton to GW, 23 April (first letter), n.1, and his suggestions for a commercial treaty, April-May (Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 16:357-60).

3Perhaps to obviate this objection, Jay’s instructions of this date specified that "such a treaty, instead of the usual clause concerning ratification, must contain the following: ’This treaty shall be obligatory and conclusive, when the same shall be ratified by his Britannic Majesty of the one part, and by the President of the United States, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, of the other’" (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 , 1:473).

4In the documents cited in n.2, Hamilton suggested that in the negotiation of a commercial treaty the U.S. could accept the status quo with two additions: the privilege of trade with the West Indies and most favored nation status for trade with Great Britain and Ireland. In the end, Jay’s instructions enumerated nineteen "general objects" for the treaty negotiation and added, "If to the actual footing of our commerce and navigation in the British European dominions could be added the privilege of carrying directly from the United States to the British West Indies, in our own bottoms generally, or of certain defined burthens, the articles which, by the act of Parliament, 28 Geo. III. c. 6, may be carried thither in British bottoms, and of bringing from thence, directly to the United States, in our bottoms, of like description, the articles which, by the same act, may be brought from thence to the United States in British bottoms, this would afford an acceptable basis of treaty for a term not exceeding fifteen years; and it would be advisable to conclude a treaty upon that basis" (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 , 1:473).

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