George Washington Papers
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From George Washington to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., 3 March 1796

To Oliver Wolcott, Jr.

Private

Thursday Morn: 3d Mar. [1796]

Dr Sir

I perceive by Bache’s Paper of this Morning, that Mr Livingston has laid a Resolution on the Table, requesting the President to lay before the House a copy of the Instructions to Mr Jay “who negociated the Treaty with the King of G.B., communicated by his message of the 1st instt (Feb.) together with the corrispondence and documents relative to the said Treaty.”1

A request somewhat similar to this was made, or about to be made, I do not now recollect which—nor the conduct that was observed upon the occasion, as it was 2, 3 or more years ago; but as Colo. Hamilton was privy to it, I would thank you, if he has not left the City, to see & converse with him thereon2—learn what the case & result was—and what he thinks ought to be the conduct of the President if Mr L—motion reaches him. Cases of this kind are to be found in the proceedings of the B. Ho. of Commons but I do not recollect the result.3 At 10 Oclock the Gentlemen were to meet here by appointment. Yours always

Go: Washington

ALS, CtHi: Oliver Wolcott, Jr., Papers.

1The report, “in substance,” of the resolution that Edward Livingston had offered “Yesterday” was printed in the Aurora General Advertiser of this date, immediately below GW’s proclamation of the treaty’s ratification (see also Annals of Congress, description begins Joseph Gales, Sr., comp. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. description ends 4th Cong., 1st sess., 400–401).

2Alexander Hamilton had come to Philadelphia to argue before the Supreme Court the government’s side in the case of Hylton v. United States, which tested the constitutionality of the carriage tax. The previous House request in question is uncertain. Possibly GW was remembering the 20 Jan. 1794 request for a letter from Thomas Jefferson that had been omitted from the papers GW submitted with his address to Congress of 5 Dec. 1793. On that occasion GW had Secretary of State Edmund Randolph supply the letter to the House, and in the debate on Livingston’s resolution, William Lyman had cited that transaction as evidence of the right of the House to call for papers (Annals of Congress, description begins Joseph Gales, Sr., comp. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. description ends 4th Cong., 1st sess., 601).

3Speaking in support of his resolution on 18 March, Livingston cited two examples in which the House of Commons requested treaty papers: one, a 1709 request for papers regarding the Barrier Treaty with the Netherlands; and the other, a 1714 request for the treaties with Spain and the instructions thereon, along with an account of the engagements entered into by any foreign treaty since 1710 and information regarding the restoration of privileges to the Catalans. After receiving the Barrier Treaty papers, the Commons voted its opposition to the pact, and the Netherlands offered to renegotiate the offensive articles. That example, Livingston claimed, was “complete to show the propriety of a call for papers by the House of Commons; a ready compliance on the part of the Crown; a deliberation on a ratified Treaty; a rejection of it, and an acquiescence on the part of the foreign nation, without remonstrance” (Annals of Congress, description begins Joseph Gales, Sr., comp. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. description ends 4th Cong., 1st sess., 633–35).

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