Alexander Hamilton Papers
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From Alexander Hamilton to George Washington, [7 March 1796]

To George Washington

[New York, March 7, 1796]

Sir,

I found Young La Fayette here and delivered him your Letter which much relieved him.30 I fancy you will see him on the first day of April.

Mr. Livingston’s motion in the House of Representatives, concerning the production of papers has attracted much attention. The opinion of those who think here is, that if the motion succeeds, it ought not to be complied with. Besides that in a matter of such a nature the production of the papers cannot fail to start [a] new and unpleasant Game—it will be fatal to the Negotiating Power of the Government if it is to be a matter of course for a call of either House of Congress to bring forth all the communication however confidential.

It seems to me that something like the following answer by the President will be advisable.

“A right in the House of Representatives, to demand and have as a matter of course, and without specification of any object all communications respecting a negotiation with a foreign power cannot be admitted without danger of much inconvenience. A discretion in the Executive Department how far and where to comply in such cases is essential to the due conduct of foreign negotiations and is essential to preserve the limits between the Legislative and Executive Departments. The present call is altogether indefinite and without any declared purpose. The Executive has no cases on which to judge of the propriety of a compliance with it and cannot therefore without forming a very dangerous precedent comply.

It does not occur that the view of the papers asked for can be relative to any purpose of the competency of the House of Representatives but that of an impeachment. In every case of a foreign Treaty the grounds for an impeachment must primarily be deduced from the nature of the Instrument itself and from nothing extrinsic. If at any time a Treaty should present such grounds and it shall have been so pronounced by the House of Representatives and a further inquiry shall be necessary to ascertain the culpable person, there being then a declared and ascertained object the President would attend with due respect to any application for necessary information.”

This is but a hasty and crude outline of what has struck me as an eligible course. For while a too easy compliance will be mischievous, a too peremptory and unqualified refusal might be liable to just criticism.

Most Respectfully & Affectionately   I have the honor to be   Sir your Obed sert

A Hamilton

The President of the U. States.

Four copies, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1Miller, Treaties, II description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America (Washington, 1931), II. description ends , 245.

2Annals of Congress description begins 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 (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , V, 48.

3For the text of Articles 5, 6, and 7 of the Jay Treaty, see “Remarks on the Treaty … between the United States and Great Britain,” July 9–11, 1795, notes 12, 13, 39. For the text of Article 8, which dealt with the payment of the commissioners and “all other Expences attending the said commissions,” see “Remarks on the Treaty … between the United States and Great Britain,” July 9–11, 1795, note 42.

4Annals of Congress description begins 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 (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , V, 400–01.

5ALS, James Madison Papers, Library of Congress.

6Annals of Congress description begins 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 (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , V, 426.

7Annals of Congress description begins 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 (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , V, 438.

8Annals of Congress description begins 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 (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , V, 438.

9Annals of Congress description begins 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 (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , V, 759–60.

10Benjamin Franklin Bache was publisher of the [Philadelphia] Aurora. General Advertiser.

11See “Cabinet Meeting. Opinion on Communicating to the Senate the Dispatches of Gouverneur Morris,” January 28, 1794. For an earlier request made by a House committee to investigate Major General Arthur St. Clair’s expedition against the Indians, see Washington to H, April 6, 1792; Joseph Nourse to H, May 1, 1792, note 1.

12H, who had been in Philadelphia to argue the constitutionality of the carriage tax before the Supreme Court of the United States, had left that city for New York on February 24. When Washington wrote to Wolcott on March 3, he may have believed that H was still in the city. On the other hand, H may have returned to Philadelphia for a short visit at the end of February or the beginning of March.

13ALS, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford.

16ADf (undated, but filed under March 30, 1796), George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.

17LC, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. This message is printed in Annals of Congress description begins 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 (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , V, 760–62, and GW description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington (Washington, 1931–1944). description ends , XXXV, 2–5.

18AL, James Madison Papers, Library of Congress.

19Madison to James Monroe, April 18, 1796 (AL, James Madison Papers, Library of Congress).

20Annals of Congress description begins 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 (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , V, 782–83.

21The Blount resolutions read: “Resolved, That, it being declared by the second section of the second article of the Constitution, ‘that the President shall have power, by and with the advice of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senate present concur,’ the House of Representatives do not claim any agency in making Treaties; but, that when a Treaty stipulates regulations on any of the subjects submitted by the Constitution to the power of Congress, it must depend, for its execution, as to such stipulations, on a law or laws to be passed by Congress. And it is the Constitutional right and duty of the House of Representatives, in all such cases, to deliberate on the expediency or inexpediency of carrying such Treaty into effect, and to determine and act thereon, as, in their judgment, may be most conducive to the public good.

Resolved, That it is not necessary to the propriety of any application from this House to the Executive, for information desired by them, and which may relate to any Constitutional functions of the House, that the purpose for which such information may be wanted, or to which the same may be applied, should be stated in the application.” (Annals of Congress description begins 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 (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , V, 771–72.)

22Annals of Congress description begins 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 (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , V, 970.

23Annals of Congress description begins 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 (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , V, 1280.

24Annals of Congress description begins 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 (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , V, 1282, 1289.

25Annals of Congress description begins 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 (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , V, 1291.

26Annals of Congress description begins 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 (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , V, 1291.

27Annals of Congress description begins 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 (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , V, 1293, 1295.

28Annals of Congress description begins 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 (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , V, 79–80.

291 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 459.

30George Washington Motier Lafayette. Washington confirmed his original invitation to Lafayette in the following letter, written from Philadelphia on February 28, 1796: “My dear young friend, My desire to see you, is such, that I request that you and Mr. Festal, will make me a visit about the first of April at this City; by that time the weather will be settled, the roads good, and the travelling pleasant.

“Colo. Hamilton will be the channel thro’ which this letter will be conveyed to you; and my wish is that you and Mr. Festal could come by the way of New York to this City, and there make necessary arrangements with that Gentleman with respect to your proceeding hither.…” (ADfS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.) Felix Frestel (not Festal) was George Washington Motier Lafayette’s tutor. For information on Lafayette and Frestel, see H to Washington, October 16, 26, November 19, 26, December 24, 27–30, 1795; Washington to H, October 29, November 10, 18, 23, 28, December 22, 1795, February 13, 1796.

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