George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the United States Senate and House of Representatives, 14 February 1791

To the United States Senate and House of Representatives

United States Feby 14th 1791.

Gentleman of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives

Soon after I was called to the administration of the Government, I found it important to come to an understanding with the Court of London, on several points interesting to the United States, and particularly to know whether they were disposed to enter into arrangements, by mutual consent, which might fix the commerce between the two Nations on principles of reciprocal advantage. For this purpose I authorized informal1 conferences with their Ministers; and from these I do not infer any disposition, on their part, to enter into any arrangements merely commercial. I have thought it proper to give you this information, as it might at some time have influence on matters under your consideration.

Gentlemen of the Senate

Conceiving that in the possible event of a refusal of Justice on the part of Great Britain, we should stand less committed should it be made to a private rather than to a public person, I employed Mr Gouverr Morris, who was on the spot, and without giving him any definite Character, to enter informally into the conferences before mentioned. For your more particular Information, I lay before you the Instructions I gave him, and those parts of his Communications wherein the British Ministers appear either in conversation or by Letter. These are two Letters from the Duke of Leeds to Mr Morris, and three Letters of Mr Morris giving an account of two Conferences with the Duke of Leeds, and one with him and Mr Pitt.2 The sum of these is, that they declare without scruple they do not mean to fulfill3 what remains of the Treaty of Peace to be fulfilled on their part (by which we are to understand the delivery of the Posts and payment for property carried off) ’till performance on our part, and compensation where the delay has rendered the performance now impracticable: that on the subject of a treaty of commerce they avoided direct answers, so as to satisfy Mr Morris they did not mean to enter into one unless it could be extended to a Treaty of Alliance offensive and defensive, or unless in the event of a rupture with Spain.

As to the sending a Minister here, they made excuses at the first conference, seem disposed to it in the second, and in the last express an intention of so doing.

Their views being thus sufficiently ascertained, I have directed Mr Morris to discontinue his communications with them.

Go: Washington

LS, DNA: RG 46, First Congress, 1789–1791, Records of Executive Proceedings, President’s Messages—Foreign Relations; LB, DLC:GW; Df, in the handwriting of Thomas Jefferson, DLC: Jefferson Papers; copy (partial), to the House of Representatives, DNA: RG 233, First Congress, 1789–1791, Records of Legislative Proceedings, Journals. At the heading of these documents in the letter-book copy the following statement appears: “The following message was communicated to the Senate and House of Representatives so far as is addressed to both Houses. The additional part, which is addressed to the Senate, was communicated to that Body with the papers which are mentioned therein.”

For the background to this document, see GW to Jefferson, 9 Feb. 1791.

This message was presented to both houses of Congress on 14 Feb. 1791. The message was intended to spur the House of Representatives to bring in commercial legislation, as GW’s annual message of 8 Dec. 1790 had urged. The matter had been referred to a committee which had failed to bring out a bill, and the committee had been discharged of its responsibilities on 12 Feb. 1791. In response to GW’s revelations regarding the Morris mission, the House referred his message to a new committee consisting of Madison, Benjamin Goodhue, Thomas FitzSimons, Benjamin Bourne, John Laurance, John Vining, and William Loughton Smith on 15 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 3:716). With the exception of Madison, these were all staunch supporters of the bank bill and other Hamiltonian measures.

1In Jefferson’s draft the word “informal” was interlined and placed in parentheses by GW, who queried its use in his note to Jefferson of 9 Feb. 1791. Jefferson deleted the parentheses, allowing the word to stand in the final version.

2GW enclosed a copy of his letter to Morris of 13 Oct. 1789, with the accompanying letter of credence of the same date. He also enclosed a copy of Morris to GW, 7 April 1790, the duke of Leeds to Morris, 28 April 1790 (see Morris to GW, 1 May 1790, n.3), Morris to GW, 29 May 1790, Morris to the duke of Leeds, 10 Sept. 1790 (see Morris to GW, 18 Sept. 1790, n.2), the duke of Leeds to Morris, 10 Sept. 1790 (see Morris to GW, 18 Sept. 1790, n.3), and Morris to GW, 18 Sept. 1790. All of these enclosures are 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 2:451–67.

3In the MS this reads “fulful.”

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