George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the United States Senate and House of Representatives, 9 February 1791

To the United States Senate and House of Representatives

United States February 9th 1791.

Gentlemen of the Senate and of the House of Representatives.

I have received from the Governor of Vermont authentic documents expressing the consent of the Legislatures of New York and of the Territory of Vermont, that the said territory shall be admitted to be a distinct member of our union; and a Memorial of Nathaniel Chipman and Lewis R. Morris Commissioners from the said Territory, praying the consent of Congress to that admission by the name and stile of the State of Vermont, copies of which I now lay before Congress, with whom the constitution has rested the object of these proceedings.

Go: Washington.

LB, DLC:GW.

A long-standing dispute over the status of conflicting New York and New Hampshire titles to land in what became Vermont and internal political divisions within the state delayed admission of Vermont into the Union until 1791. A convention to ratify the federal Constitution was called in 1790 and met in Bennington in January 1791, ratifying the Constitution by a vote of 105–4. On 24 Jan. 1791 Nathaniel Chipman and Lewis R. Morris were commissioned to go to Philadelphia to negotiate for the admission of Vermont to the Union (for an identification of Chipman, see Chipman to GW, 22 Feb. 1791; for an identification of Morris, see Morris to GW, 22 Feb. 1791).

Chipman and Morris arrived in Philadelphia in early February and sought an interview with GW. On 7 Feb. Tobias Lear wrote to the commissioners that “The President of the United States has commanded me to inform you that if it will be convenient for you to make your communication to him at two o’clock instead of twelve as was proposed on Saturday, it would be more agreeable to him; as he has not been on horseback for several days and finding it necessary to his health to ride frequently he intends to take a longer ride today than usual, and will not probably be in by twelve o’clock” (DLC:GW; for GW’s health regime, see William Jackson to Clement Biddle, 12 May 1790, editorial note).

When Chipman and Morris met with GW on 7 Feb. 1791, they presented him with several documents, among which was a letter of 22 Jan. 1791 from Thomas Chittenden, the governor of Vermont, enclosing a copy of the March 1790 act of the New York legislature, granting full authority to settle the title dispute with Vermont and to inform the president and Congress of such settlement, a copy of the statement of the New York commissioners declaring the assent of the New York legislature to the admission of Vermont to the Union and defining the boundary between the two states, dated 7 Oct. 1790, a copy of the act of the Vermont legislature of 28 Oct. 1790, directing the payment of $30,000 to New York in settlement of disputed claims and assenting to the boundary settlement, a copy of the Vermont act of 27 Oct. 1790 calling a convention to ratify the federal Constitution, a copy of the formal act of ratification adopted by that convention on 10 Jan. 1791, and a copy of the commission, dated 24 Jan. 1791, appointing Chipman and Morris to “proceed to the Congress of the United States . . . and negociate on behalf of this state” for admission into the Union. The commissioners also presented a memorial, dated 7 Feb. 1791, addressed to the president and Congress, seeking the admission of Vermont as a state. Chittenden’s letter to GW and the other enclosures were copied into the Senate legislative journal (DNA: RG 46, First Congress, 1789–1791, Records of Legislative Proceedings, Journals). These documents are all printed in 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 1:552–62).

Chittenden did not enclose, and the commissioners may not have disclosed, the provisions of the act of the Vermont legislature appointing Chipman and Morris, which directed them to seek an act of Congress affirming the provisions of the agreement with the New York commissioners respecting land titles and state boundaries and declaring it their “duty . . . in such act or acts of Congress as shall recognize the sovereignty & independence of this State to endeavour that the same extend back as far as the first formation of government in this State.” The act also directed the commissioners to seek to obtain for Vermont three representatives in Congress (E. P. Walton, Records of the Governor and Council of the State of Vermont [Montpelier, Vt., 1875], 3:485). The intent of the Vermont act seems to have been that Chipman and Morris should present themselves as emissaries of a sovereign state, and that they should negotiate the entrance of Vermont into the Union on special terms favorable to that state.

Regardless of this legislative intent, the memorial requesting the admission of Vermont drawn up by Chipman and Morris and presented to GW on 7 Feb. 1791 included no special conditions. The special nature of the situation seems to have been apparent to GW, and he immediately consulted with Jefferson about the most appropriate way to proceed. The next day Lear wrote to the commissioners that the president intended to lay copies of all the papers before Congress (Lear to Commissioners for Vermont, 8 Feb. 1791, DLC:GW). GW’s letter to Congress, together with the memorial of Chipman and Morris, Chittenden’s letter of 22 Jan. 1791, and the enclosures to it, was laid before Congress by Lear on 9 Feb. 1791 (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 1:552–62). A bill admitting Vermont into the Union effective 4 Mar. 1791 was introduced in the Senate on 10 Feb. 1791 and, after passing both houses, was signed by GW on 18 Feb. 1791 (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 6:2008–10).

Since Vermont had effectively been a separate republic since 1777, it had not been governed by the laws of any state or as a territory of the United States, and special provision had to be made for the extension of federal authority over the state. Such provision was made in a separate “Act giving effect to the laws of the United States within the State of Vermont,” providing for the organization of the federal judiciary, the taking of a census, the collection of import duties, and the enforcement of other federal laws, which was introduced into the House of Representatives on 17 Feb. 1791 and, after passing both houses, was signed by GW on 2 Mar. 1791 (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 6:2003–7).

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