George Washington Papers
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To George Washington from Alexander Hamilton, 29 March 1796

From Alexander Hamilton

March 29 [1796]


I wish the enclosed could have been sent in a more perfect State. But it was impossible—I hope however it can be made out & may be useful.1

It required more time to say all that was proper in a more condensed form.

In considering the course to be pursued by the President it may be well he should be reminded that the same description of men who call for the papers have heretofore maintained that they were not bound by any communication in confidence but were free afterwards to do as they pleased with papers sent them. Respect. & Aff.

A. Hamilton


1Hamilton enclosed a draft for GW’s response to the request from the House of Representatives for copies of the instructions given to John Jay and other documents relative to the Jay Treaty. Hamilton begins the draft by justifying the general practice of maintaining secrecy about negotiations among nations. The draft then asserts that “a discretionary right in the House of Representatives, to assent or not to a Treaty” is contrary to the constitutional provisions stating that the president and Senate have the power to make treaties which then become law. Moreover, “the house of representatives have no moral power to refuse the execution of a treaty, which is not contrary to the constitution, because it pledges the public faith, and have no legal power to refuse its execution because it is a law—until at least it ceases to be a law by a regular act of revocation of the competent authority.” Only if “the presumption of criminal mismanagement of the interests of the U States” requires an inquiry would the House have standing to request treaty documents. Therefore “a just regard to the Constitution and to the duty of my office forbid on my part a compliance with that request.” Hamilton then presented an alternative final paragraph that asserts the right to withhold the papers, but offers, in “a desire to cultivate harmony and to obviate unfavourable inferences in a case which has excited so much sensibility,” Jay’s commission, “so much of the instructions to him as shew the extent & limits of his discretion & all the material parts of his correspondence” (Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 20:86–103).

For reasons expressed in his letter to Hamilton of 31 March, GW did not use the draft for his response to Congress, instead retaining it “as a source for reasoning” should the House protest his decision and renew its request. That information led Hamilton, in his letter to GW of 2 April, to request the return of the paper (of which he had kept no copy) in order “to correct prune guard & strengthen” it (DLC:GW). GW complied, but Hamilton returned the draft on 8 April, having “done something but not what I intended,” because professional engagements prevented him from completing his revision in a timely manner (DLC: Alexander Hamilton Papers). The draft filed with this letter in DLC:GW is very heavily revised, but it has not been determined which corrections were on the draft when it was initially sent and which resulted from Hamilton’s later incomplete revision.

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