James Madison Papers

To James Madison from George Washington, 9 August 1789

From George Washington

Sunday 9th. Augt. 1789

My dear Sir,

Consequent of the enclosed resolution, I had a conference with the Comee. therein named yesterday, when I expressed the Sentiments which you also have enclosed.1

I was assured by the Committee, that the only object the Senate had in view was to be informed of the mode of communication which would be most agreeable to the President, and that a perfect acquiescence would be yielded thereto. But I could plainly perceive notwithstanding, that oral communications was the point they aimed at. Indeed one of the Gentlemen candidly declared that a great object with him, for wishing this, was, to effect a viva voce vote in that body (he added however that he was not without hopes of accomplishing this without). To this I replied, finding all three were opposed to the ballotting system, that nothing would sooner induce me to relinquish my mode of nominating by written messages, than to accomplish this end. Thus the matter stands for my further consideration.

What do you think I had best do? I am willing to pursue that line of conduct which shall appear to be most conducive to the public good, without regard to the indulgence of my own inclination which (I confess, and for other reasons in addition to those which are enumerated, although they are secondary) would not be gratified by personal nominations.2

The period is now arrived when the Seat of the vacant judge in the Western district is to be filled. Would Colo. Carrington do you think, be pleased with this appointment? or are you acquainted with any professional character of fitness for the Office, South of New Jersey, that would accept it.

I have had some conversation with Mr. Jay respecting his views to Office, which I will communicate to you at our first interview—and this, if perfectly convenient and agreeable to you, may be this afternoon as I shall be at home, and expect no Compy. I am Yrs. Affectly.

G Washington

RC (DLC). Addressed by Washington. Docketed by JM. Enclosures not found (see n. 1).

1After rejecting Washington’s nomination of Benjamin Fishbourne as naval officer for the port of Savannah, the Senate on 5 Aug. took up the following motion: “That it is the opinion of the Senate that their advice, and consent to the appointment of Officers should be given in the presence of the President.” The motion was postponed until the next day, when senators Izard, King, and Carroll were appointed “a Committee to wait on the President of the United States, and confer with him on the mode of communication proper to be pursued between him and the Senate, in the formation of Treaties, and making appointments to Offices” (DHFC description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds., Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America (3 vols. to date; Baltimore, 1972—). description ends , II, 23–24). For the president’s “Sentiments Expressed to the Senate Committee …,” see Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXX, 373–74. Washington preferred oral communications on treaty matters and written messages for nominations.

2JM and Washington probably discussed this matter in person, for no written reply has been found. On 10 Aug. the president had a second conference with the Senate committee, in which he expressed his wish to be left “free to use the mode and place that may be found most eligible and accordant with other business which may be before him at the time.” On 21 Aug. the Senate adopted a rule that left the president the option of personal or written communications and provided for a viva voce vote in both cases. That same day the president notified the Senate he would meet with that body to discuss the terms of a proposed Indian treaty. This experiment in personal consultation proved unsatisfactory (ibid., XXX, 379–80; DHFC description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds., Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America (3 vols. to date; Baltimore, 1972—). description ends , II, 29–30, 30; Maclay Journal description begins The Journal of William Maclay, United States Senator from Pennsylvania, 1789–1791, Introduction by Charles A. Beard (1927; New York, 1965 reprint). description ends , pp. 124–28; Freeman, Washington, VI, 223–24).

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