To the United States Senate
United States [Philadelphia]
December the 22nd 1791.
Gentlemen of the Senate,
I nominate Gouverneur Morris, of New York, to be Minister Plenipotentiary for the United States at Paris—Thomas Pinckney, of South Carolina, to be Minister Plenipotentiary for the United States at London—and William Short, of Virginia, now Chargé des affaires of the United States at Paris, to be Minister Resident for the United States at the Hague.
DS, DNA: RG 46, Second Congress, 1791–1793, Records of Executive Proceedings, President’s Messages—Executive Nominations; LB, DLC:GW.
On 22 Dec. 1791 GW presented this message to the Senate, which considered it the next day. The nominations immediately became embroiled in the long-running dispute about the nature and extent of the Senate’s authority over diplomatic appointments. In the spring of 1790 GW had asked John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison about the propriety of consulting with the Senate on the placement and grade of American diplomats abroad, and the three advised him that the Senate had “no Constitutional right to interfere with either, . . . their powers extending no farther than to an approbation or disapprobation of the person nominated by the President” (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 6:68). The Senate, however, considered the placement and grade of American diplomats during debate on the foreign intercourse bill in May 1790, and members discussed the propriety of appointing ministers to the European courts in addition to appropriations for the support of the diplomatic corps (see Jefferson to GW, 24 April 1790). During those debates GW discussed with individual senators the future need for ministers to France and Great Britain in order to win support for a sufficient appropriation (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 6:75).
The Senate reasserted its authority over the placement and grade of ministers in considering the nominations of Gouverneur Morris, Thomas Pinckney, and William Short. It postponed further consideration of the nominations on 29 Dec. 1791 and took up a motion “That, in the opinion of the Senate, it will not be for the interest of the United States to appoint Ministers Plenipotentiary to reside permanently at foreign Courts.” The next day the original motion was amended to read “That the Senate do not possess evidence sufficient to convince them that it will be for the interest of the United States to appoint Ministers Plenipotentiary to reside permanently at foreign Courts.” The nominations and motions were committed to senators Caleb Strong, Aaron Burr, Richard Henry Lee, Oliver Ellsworth, and James Gunn. Their committee report of 6 Jan. 1792 reads: “That from the facts communicated to them, they are of opinion that there is now a special occasion for appointing a Minister to the Court of London. The Committee submit to the consideration of the Senate, the information they have received relative to the expediency of appointing Ministers at the Courts of Paris and the Hague, at this time.” After defeat of a motion to postpone consideration of this report and adopt the first of the original motions, rejecting the appointment of ministers plenipotentiary, the Senate agreed to the first sentence of the committee report. A new resolution, consenting to the appointment of Thomas Pinckney as minister plenipotentiary to Great Britain, was postponed while the Senate considered a resolution “That a special occasion now exists for appointing a Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of France.” This resolution was adopted by a vote of 19 to 7 (Executive Journal, description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America: From the commencement of the First, to the termination of the Nineteenth Congress. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C., 1828. description ends 1:93–94).
Further consideration of GW’s message of 22 Dec. was put off until 11 Jan. 1792, when the president submitted the nominations of William Carmichael and William Short to be “Commissioners Plenipotentiary” to negotiate a treaty with Spain for the opening of the Mississippi River. This message may have been timed to affect the debate over Short’s nomination to the Hague. On 12 Jan. the Senate confirmed Morris as minister plenipotentiary to France and Pinckney as minister plenipotentiary to Great Britain. It postponed consideration of the propriety of appointing a minister plenipotentiary to the Hague and William Short’s nomination to that post until 16 Jan., when it resumed consideration of those matters. The Senate first disposed of the general issue of diplomatic representation at the Hague and divided 13–13 on whether to set aside a motion “That there is not, in the opinion of the Senate, any present occasion that a Minister should be sent to the Hague.” Vice-President John Adams broke the tie in favor of setting the motion aside. The Senate then voted 15–11 to confirm Short’s nomination as minister plenipotentiary (ibid., 88–98). The last of GW’s three appointments thus was confirmed, but the disagreement between the Senate and the president over their relative authority remained unresolved (see Memorandum of Thomas Jefferson, 4 Jan. 1792).