George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Edmund Randolph, 11 February 1790

To Edmund Randolph

United States [New York] February 11th 1790

I have weighed with deliberate attention the contents of your letter of yesterday;1 and altho’ that consideration may result in an approbation of the ideas the[re]in suggested; yet I do not, at present, feel myself authorized to give a sanction to the measures which you propose. For, as the Constitution of the United States, & the Laws made under it, must mark the line of my official conduct, I could not justify my taking a single step in any matter which appeared to me to require their agency, without its being first obtained; and so far as I have been able to form a judgement upon the objects held up to view in your letter, they cannot be effected without the operation of a Law.

As an act must necessarily be passed to extend the Judicial Power of the United States to the State of North Carolina, it appears to me that a clause might be there introduced to establish that uniformity & precision in the business of the United States in each district, which you observe is highly proper to be effected—and to make such other regulations as may be thought necessary. I, however, only suggest this idea to you, that you may, if you think proper, mention it to such members of the Senate & House of Representatives as are acquainted with the subject, and thereby have the matter brought to view whenever the abovementioned act shall be under consideration. I am, Sir with very great esteem, Your most Obdt Servt.

Copy, in Tobias Lear’s writing, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DLC:GW.

Randolph had accepted GW’s offer of the post of attorney general but had not yet left Virginia. See GW to Randolph, 28 Sept. 1789, n.3.

1Randolph’s letter of 10 Feb. 1790 has not been found. For Randolph’s controversial views on the reorganization of the judiciary, see his report to Congress, 27 Dec. 1790 (ASP, Miscellaneous, description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends 1:21–36). GW had replied to Randolph’s letter of 10 Feb. on the same day, stating that he would give the letter “that attention which the importance of the subject, to which it relates, demands. When I have made up my opinion on the matter you shall be informed thereof.” Some of Randolph’s criticisms may have been mitigated by the passage of “An Act to prescribe the mode in which the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings in each State, shall be authenticated so as to take effect in every other State” (1 Stat. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 122 [26 May 1790]).

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