George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Jay, 19 November 1790

To John Jay


My dear Sir,Mount Vernon Novr 19th 1790

The day is near, when Congress is to commence its third Session; and on Monday next—nothing intervening to prevent it—I shall set out to meet them at their new residence.1

If any thing in the Judiciary line—if any thing of a more general nature, proper for me to communicate to that body at the opening of the Session, has occurred to you, you would oblige me by submitting them with the freedom, & frankness of friendship.2

The length & badness of the road from hence to Philadelphia, added to the unsettled weather which may be expected at this season, will, more than probable, render the time of my arrival at that place uncertain;3 but your sentiments under cover, lodged with Mr Lear by the first of next month, will be in time to meet me and the communications from the other great Departments;4 and with such matters as have been handed immediately to myself from other quarters, or which have come under my own observation & contemplation during the recess, will enable me to form the sum of my communications to Congress at the opening of the Session.

I shall say nothing of domestic occurrences in this letter, and those of foreign import you would receive at second hand from hence.5 To add assurances of my friendship & regard would not be new—but with truth I can declare that I am—Your Affecte Hble Servt

Go: Washington


1Section 5 of the 16 July 1790 Residence Act reads: “And be it [further] enacted, That prior to the first Monday in December next, all offices attached to the seat of the government of the United States, shall be removed to, and until the said first Monday in December, in the year one thousand eight hundred, shall remain at the city of Philadelphia, in the state of Pennsylvania, at which place the session of Congress next ensuing the present shall be held” (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 130). A joint committee of the Senate and House waited on the president on 7 Dec. 1790 to inform him that a quorum of the two houses had assembled, and GW proposed meeting them at noon the following day in the Senate Chamber (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 1:495–97, 3:617–19).

2For a draft of Jay’s previous comments to GW, see Jay to GW, 13 Nov. 1790.

3GW arrived at Philadelphia on 27 Nov. 1790 after five days and nights on the road.

4GW wrote similar requests to his secretaries of the treasury and of war, and probably also personally asked his secretary of state for suggestions when Jefferson visited Mount Vernon with James Madison on their way to Philadelphia (GW to Alexander Hamilton, 10 Oct. 1790, GW to Henry Knox, 2 and 19 Nov. 1790, and Jefferson to GW, 27 Oct. 1790; see also GW to Hamilton, 1 Dec. 1790, GW to Madison, 2 Dec. 1790, and GW to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, 8 Dec. 1790). For Hamilton’s contribution, see Hamilton to GW, 1 Dec. 1790, DLC: Hamilton Papers.

Jefferson committed to paper sometime in the autumn of 1790 “A note of subjects, some of which the President may think proper to be mentioned to Congress,” as well as two possible paragraphs of the address that he drafted around 15 November. Jefferson’s undated list reads: “Announce the location of the Federal seat, and measures taken in consequence of it.

“The act of Independence of Kentucky, should it be authentically communicated to the President.

“The ratifications of the amendments to the constitution by Jersey and Virginia (which may be expected before the meeting of Congress) which making three fourths of the states, ⟨illegible establishes⟩ them.

“An Executive law is wanting to complete our compliance with the treaty of peace.

“A law to regulate the exercise of jurisdiction permitted by foreign nations to our Consuls established within their dominions & ascertaining their fees.

“A law ending the auxiliary provisions stipulated in the Consular convention with France.

“Encouragement to American exports & services [with an eye to Gr. Britain.]

“Protection to our navigation on the ocean [with an eye to Algiers.]

“the extreme want of a coin: and necessity of pursuing the establishment of a Coinage, and of uniformity in measures, weights and coins (DLC: Thomas Jefferson Papers; square brackets are Jefferson’s).

His suggested paragraphs read: “The laws you have already passed for the establishment of a judiciary system have opened the doors of justice to all descriptions of persons, you will consider in your wisdom whether improvements in that system may yet be made; and particularly whether an uniform process of execution, on sentences issuing from the federal courts, be not desireable thro’ all the states.

“The patronage of our commerce, of our merchants and seamen, has called for the appointment of Consuls in foreign countries. it seems expedient to regulate by law the exercise of that jurisdiction, and of those functions which are permitted them, either by express convention, or by a friendly indulgence in the places of their residence. The Consular convention too, with his most Christian Majesty has stipulated, in certain cases, the aid of the national authority to his Consuls established here, some legislative provision is requisite to carry these stipulations into full effect” (DLC: Thomas Jefferson Papers).

5Jay replied from New Haven on 12 Dec. 1790 that he had received GW’s 19 Nov. 1790 letter before leaving Providence and had already written to the president by the post from Boston on 13 Nov.: “That Letter probably arrived even after the Date of yours—In it I took the Liberty of suggesting some Hints on Subjects of wh. a few appeared to me, to merit, present, and others future Regard. Be so obliging as to inform me whether that Letter came safe to your Hands—I should regret its miscarriage, not on acct of any Inconveniences that might result for none can but because it evinces that Frankness which you so kindly invite, and that attention which I rejoice in opportunities of manifesting” (NNC). GW wrote to Jay from Philadelphia on 26 Dec. 1790: “Your favors of the 13th of last Month, & 12th of the present, came safe to hand. The first however, not so soon as might (from the date and distance) have been expected. I thank you for both, particularly for the communications in the first.

“In every good wish for you and Mrs Jay I am joined by Mrs Washington and in offering the Compliments of the Season and the happy return of many of them We write sincerly” (ALS, NNC).

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