Thomas Jefferson Papers
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From Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., 16 November 1792

To Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr.

Philadelphia Nov. 16. 1792.

Dear Sir

Congress have not yet entered into any important business. An attempt has been made to give further extent to the influence of the Executive over the legislature, by permitting the heads of departments to attend the house and explain their measures vivâ voce. But it was negatived by a majority of 35. to 11. which gives us some hope of an increase to the republican vote. However no trying question enables us yet to judge, nor indeed is there reason to expect from this Congress many instances of conversion tho’ some will probably have been effected by the expression of the public sentiment in the late election. For as far as we have heard the event has been generally in favor of republican and against the aristocratical candidates. In this state the election has been triumphantly carried by the republicans; their antagonists having got but 2. out of 11. members. And the vote of this state can generally turn the balance. Freneau’s paper is getting into Massachusets under the patronage of Hancock and Sam Adams, and Mr. Ames, the colossus of the monocrats and paper men, will either be left out or hard run. The people of that state are republican; but hitherto they have heard nothing but The hymns and lauds chaunted by Fenno.—My love to my dear Martha and am Dear Sir yours affectionately

Th: Jefferson

RC (DLC); addressed: “Thos. M. Randolph Junr. esq. Monticello.” PrC (DLC).

The question of personal attendance by heads of departments before Congress first arose in January 1790 when Alexander Hamilton prepared to submit his report on public credit. At that time the House of Representatives decided to receive his report in writing. The issue did not arise again until 13 Nov. 1792, when the House considered a motion to have the secretaries of war and the treasury “attend the House” and furnish information pertaining to the committee report on the defeat of General Arthur St. Clair’s expedition against the Indians in 1791. Various Republican members of the House argued forcefully against their appearance. James Madison opposed the measure “on constitutional grounds” and questioned the desirability of introducing an innovative precedent “in respect to the principles of the Government, which at an earlier day would have been revolted from.” Abraham Venable of Virginia also objected to anything that might allow department heads “to influence the deliberations of the Legislature.” After pointed debate, the House struck out the disputed clause concerning the attendance of the two Cabinet officers and then, as indicated by TJ, defeated the amended resolution. The next day, while sitting as a committee of the whole, the House by a vote of 30 to 22 recommitted the report on St. Clair to its select committee, together with requests from Secretary of War Henry Knox and Quartermaster General Samuel Hodgdon that they be permitted to be present during the inquiry (Annals, description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Compiled from Authentic Materials, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. The first two volumes of the set cited here have “Compiled … by Joseph Gales, Senior” on the title-page and bear the caption “Gales & Seatons History” on verso and “of Debates in Congress” on recto pages. The remaining volumes bear the caption “History of Congress” on both recto and verso pages. Those using the first two volumes with the latter caption will need to employ the date of the debate or the indexes of debates and speakers. description ends iii, 679–89; White, Federalists, description begins Leonard White, The Federalists: A Study in Administrative History, New York, 1948 description ends 75–6; see also TJ to Thomas Pinckney, 3 Dec. 1792). On the outcome of the Pennsylvania election, see TJ to Randolph, 2 Nov. 1792, and note.

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