Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to George Washington, [5 August 1793]

To George Washington

[Philadelphia, August 5, 1793]

I doubt the expediency of specially convening The Congress at this time1 for the following reasons—

The consti[tu]tion requires that an extraordinary occasion should exist as the basis of the exercise of the Power of the President to convene the Legislature.

It is not perceived that any circumstance now exists which did not exist months ago of sufficient force to constitute an extraordinary occasion.

The war in Europe existed then, as it does now. Indian affairs are not understood to be at this time in a worse, if in so bad a posture, as they have been for a considerable time past.

Some additional incidents have indeed fallen out. The decision with regard to Mr. Genet’s recall, the verdict of the Jury in the case of Henfield,2 the supposed Decree of the National Convention affecting our Treaty of Commerce with France.3

But with regard to the first, it would be only a reason for the measure, as far as the circumstance may be supposed likely to produce a war with France. According to ordinary calculation such a consequence ought not to be looked for—and the prudence is very questionable of manifesting by any public act that the Executive did look for it.

The second is a matter which under the circumstances seems not of sufficient weight. The Judges who tried the cause were united in their opinion of the law. The Jury was universally believed in this city to have been selected for the purpose of acquittal; so as to take off much the force of the example and to afford no evidence that other juries would pursue the same course.

The supposed Decree of the National Convention is an important consideration. But its authenticity is not yet out of question and it could hardly be acted upon till that was ascertained. And indeed it will deserve examination whether the Executive would not itself be competent to whatever it would be prudent to do in the case.

The objections to the measure, at this time, are that unless there are reasons of sufficient force now for adopting it which did not exist before, the taking the Step now would impeach the omitting of it hitherto, and would expose the Executive to much criticism and animadversion.

That the Meeting of Congress could scarcely be accelerated for more than a month, allowing as ought to be done due time for the knowlege of the call to diffuse itself throughout the UStates, for the members to prepare for coming and for the distant ones to perform the journey. Sufficient time ought to be given for a full house. A month is so short a period as not to form a material object—and as consequently to bring into still greater question the propriety of acting upon grounds not much if any thing stronger than existed when a call would have produced a considerable acceleration.

In proportion to the shortness of the period gained would be the public anxiety and alarm at the measure. It would be construed into an indication that something very extraordinary and urgent had occurred. And abroad as well as at home much speculation would be excited. This consideration, which was always a weighty objection to anticipating the Meeting of Congress by a special call, has now great additional force for the reason just assigned.4

Alexander Hamilton

For The President of The United States

ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress; copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

2For the Gideon Henfield case, see Jefferson to H, June 1, 1793, note 1.

3See Rufus King to H, August 3, 1793, note 7. Article 14 (originally Article 16) of the 1778 Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce provided that “it is agreed, that whatever shall be found to be laden by the Subjects and Inhabitants of either Party on any Ship belonging to the Enemys of the other or to their Subjects, the whole although it be not of the Sort of prohibited Goods may be confiscated in the same manner, as if it belonged to the Enemy, except such Goods and Merchandizes as were put on board such Ship before the Declaration of War, or even after such Declaration, if so be it were done without knowledge of such Declaration. So that the Goods of the Subjects and People of either Party, whether they be of the Nature of such as are prohibited or otherwise, which, as is aforesaid were put on board any Ship belonging to an Enemy before the War, or after the Declaration of the same, without the Knowledge of it, shall no ways be liable to confiscation, but shall well and truly be restored without Delay to the proprietors demanding the same; but so as that, if the said Merchandizes be contraband, it shall not be any Ways lawful to carry them afterwards to any Ports belonging to the Enemy. The two contracting Parties agree, that the Term of two Months being passed after the Declaration of War, their respective Subjects, from whatever Part of the World they come, shall not plead the Ignorance mentioned in this Article” (Miller, Treaties, II description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America (Washington, 1931), II. description ends , 14–15). For the discrepancy in the numbering of the articles of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, see H to Jay, first letter of April 9, 1793, note 2. Article 24 of the 1778 treaty specifically stated provisions to be noncontraband (Miller, Treaties, II description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America (Washington, 1931), II. description ends , 21–23).

4Knox’s opinion, dated August 5, 1793, advised against convening a special session of Congress (LS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress), and Randolph, in an opinion sent to the President on the same day, concurred with Knox (ADS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress). Jefferson in his opinion, dated August 4, 1793, stated: “I think the 1st. Monday in November would be a proper time for convening them, because, while it would gain a month in making provisions to prevent or prepare for war, it leaves such a space of time for their assembling, as will avoid exciting alarm either at home or abroad” (ADS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress).

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