George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Jay, 13 November 1790

From John Jay

Boston 13 Nov. 1790

Dr Sir

the act “to regulate Trade and Intercourse with the Indian Tribes”, passed the last Session directs that the “Superintendants and Persons by them licensed, shall be governed in all things touching the sd Trade & Intercourse by such Rules and Regulations as the President shall prescribe &C.1—I was lately asked whether any and what arrangements had been made in pursuance of this act? my answer was, that I had not heard, but was persuaded that every thing necessary either had been, or wd soon be done—as every licensed Trader must know what Rules & Regulations he is to obey & observe wd it [not] be amiss to publish them.

The Constitution gives power to the Congress “To coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin—To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current coin of the United States[”]2—If the word current had been omitted, it might have been doubted whether the Congress could have punished the counterfeiting of foreign Coins—mexican Dollars have long been known in our public acts as current coin—The 55 Sect. of the Act “to provide more effectually for the Collection of the Duties” &ca enumerates a variety of foreign Coins which shall be recd for the Duties & Fees mentioned in it.3

The late penal act (as it is generally called[)], provides punishment for counterfeiting Paper, but not Coin foreign or domestic—whether this omission was accidental or designed I am uninformed4—It appears to me more expedient that this offence as it respects current coin, should be punished in a uniform manner throughout the Nation, than be left to State Laws and State Courts.

The Constitution provides that “no State shall coin money, nor make any thing but Gold and Silver Coin a Tender in paymt of Debts[”]5—must not this Gold and Silver Coin be such only, as shall be either struck, or made current by the Congress—At present I do not recollect any Act which designates unless perhaps by Implication what Coins shall be a legal Tender between Citizen & Citizen—It6

The Congress have power to establish post Roads7—this would be nugatory unless it implied a power either to repair these Roads themselves or compel others to do it—the former seems to be the more natural Construction8 possibly the Turnpike plan might gradually and usefully be introduced.9

It sometimes appears to be adviseable that U.S. should have a Fortress near the Heads of the western waters perhaps at or not very distant from Fort Pit to secure the Communication between the western and atlantic Countries, and that the place be such as wd cover the erecting [of] vessells proper for the Navigation of the most important of those Waters—Should not West point or a better post if to be found on Hudsons River be kept up—an impregnable Harbour in the North & another in the South seem to me very desireable. Peace is the Time to prepare for Defence against Hostilities.

There is some reason to apprehend that Masts and Ship Timber will as cultivation advances become scarce, unless some Measures be taken to prevent their waste—or provide for the Preservation of a sufficient fund of both.

Being persuaded that we could undersell other Nations in salted provisions especially Beef, provided none but of the first Quality was exported, I am inclined to think the national govt shd attend to it—nay that the whole Business of inspecting all such of our Exports of every kind as may be thought to require Inspection shd be done under their exclusive authority in an uniform manner—where State inspection Laws are good they might be adopted—If the individual States inspect by different Rules, & some of them not at all, the article in Question will not go to market with such plain & decided Evidence of Quality, as to Confidence, especially as various Marks under various State Laws multiply the Means of Fraud and Imposition. if only the best commodities in their kind were exported, we shd gain in name & price what we might lose at first by Diminution of Quantity.

I think It is probable that this Letter will find you at Ph[iladelphi]a—if not I presume it will be forwarded by Some of your Family, but how or by whom is uncertain.

much Content and good Humour is observable in these States the Acts of Congress are as well relished & observed as would have been expected—the assumption gives general Satisfaction here10—The Deviation from Contract respecting Interest, is censured by11 some they say, and not without Reason that the application of Surplus Revenue to the purchase of Stock shews that the measure did not result from Necessity.

Be pleased to present my respectful Compts to Mrs Washington. With the most perfect Respect Esteem & Attachmt I have the Honor to be Dr Sir Your obliged & obt Servt.


Before the chief justice left New York in August for the summer term of the New England federal circuit court, GW probably asked John Jay’s advice on judicial matters to be discussed in the address that he would present to Congress when it reconvened in December 1790. Less than a week after Jay drafted a reply, GW reiterated his request from Mount Vernon before his departure for Philadelphia (see U.S. Supreme Court Justices to GW, 13 Sept. 1790, source note, and GW to Jay, 19 Nov. 1790 and note 5).

1For “An Act to regulate trade and intercourse with the Indian tribes,” see GW to the U.S. Senate, 4 Aug. 1790, Enclosure, source note; 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 137–38 (22 July 1790).

2See U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8.

3Jay actually meant Sec. 56 of the said act (see 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 173).

4See Sec. 14 of the 30 April 1790 “An Act for the Punishment of certain Crimes against the United States” (ibid., 115).

5See U.S. Constitution, Art. I, Sec. 10.

6The deletion “cannot think seems to me adviseable that no Doubts should be left on that subject;” follows this point in the draft.

7See U.S. Constitution, Art. I, Sec. 8.

8The deletion “If so—would it not be well for them to put that Business in Train possibly I think” follows this point in the draft.

9A substantial deletion appears after this point at the bottom of the first page of the original draft: “The Paper herewith inclosed is communicated merely for yr private Information as yet I have not recd a single answr to the Letter mentioned in the note subjoined to it—It is therefore very doubtful whether the Business will be fulfilled by the sitting of Congress the Report of the Atty Gen. (to whom I also sent a Copy of this proposed answer) will perhaps render the Delay less important—You will perceive my dear Sir that nothing on my part has been omitted” (Jay crossed out the phrases “the sitting of Congress” and “You will perceive my dear Sir that nothing on my part has been omitted”). Another significant deletion on the left margin of the same page reads: “The Judges had a Conference in Augt last on the Subject of the judicial act; and your Letter of the 3d april copies of which had been sent to each of them—It was agreed that I shd prepare an answer to that Letter, and transmit a Copy to each of the Judges, who were to return it with their Remarks that then the original Draft shd be corrected accordingly, and the Letter signed by me be transmitted to you—My answer was prepared and forwarded to them in Septr as yet I have not heard from either of the Judges on the Subject, so that it is not probable that it will be perfected & transmitted before the Sitting of Congress.” For the background to the content of these two deletions, see U.S. Supreme Court Justices to GW, 13 Sept. 1790 and notes.

10Alexander Hamilton first suggested federal assumption of state Revolutionary War debts to the U.S. House of Representatives in his January 1790 report on public credit, which recommended the creation of a large funded national debt that would more strongly bind the interests of American creditors to the new federal government. Months of fierce congressional debate followed. In February Congressman James Madison of Virginia proposed that, in discharging the debt, the federal government discriminate between the original holders of Continental securities and subsequent purchasers, as many of the former were Revolutionary War soldiers who had accepted the securities in lieu of pay but had been forced to sell them far below face value when overcome by financial difficulties during the economic dislocations of the postwar period. It was charged that northern speculators bought up most of the debt after hearing of Hamilton’s proposal to redeem the securities at full value, and the split in the House was along regional as well as economic lines. Madison’s proposed resolution was rejected on 22 Feb. 1790, and House debate on assumption continued for another month. An amended bill, without assumption, was sent to the Senate in June, and that house wrestled with the reinsertion of assumption for another two months before sending a funding bill with assumption back to the House on 21 July 1790. Only when assumption became tied to the location of the capital was compromise achieved, and GW signed the resulting Funding Act, which contained assumption but not discrimination, on 4 Aug. 1790 (see David Stuart to GW, 15 Mar. 1790, n.5, “Junius Americanus” to GW, 12 July 1790, n.1; Rutland, Madison Papers, description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds. The Papers of James Madison, Congressional Series. 17 vols. Chicago and Charlottesville, Va., 1962–91. description ends 13:47–59; Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 6:65–85; DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972–. description ends 5:713–38, 839–40, and 918–21, n.15).

11After this point in the draft is deleted “many especially as it seems to have resulted more from policy than necessity; the public having applied a Surplus of Revenue to apply to the purchase of the Stock as” (Jay crossed out “Revenue”).

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