George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the United States Senate and House of Representatives, 28 December 1791

To the United States Senate and House of Representatives

United States [Philadelphia] December 28th 1791.

Gentlemen of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives.

I lay before you, for your consideration, the copy of a letter which I have received from the Attorney General of the United States.1

L, DNA: RG 46, Second Congress, 1791–1793, Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages; LB, DLC:GW; copy, DNA: RG 233, Second Congress, 1791–1793, Records of Legislative Proceedings, Journals.

1The enclosed copy of Edmund Randolph’s letter to GW of 26 Dec. 1791 reads: “The Office, which I have the honor of holding under the United States, has presented in the course of its execution, some defects which, I trust, will not be deemed unworthy of a remedy. If however, they were only personally inconvenient, I should certainly forbear to trouble you with a recital of them: but while I consider them as injurious to the public service, I cannot satisfy myself of the propriety of withholding them from you. Many instances have occurred, in which the heads of the Departments have requested, that suits should be prosecuted in different States under my direction. It has been always my inclination to conform to their wishes: but the want of a fixed relation between the Attornies of the Districts, and the Attorney General, has rendered it impossible for me to take charge of matters, on which I was not authorised to give instructions. From the same source it may frequently arise, that the United States may be deeply affected by various proceedings in the inferior Courts, which no appeal can rectify. The peculiar duty of the Attorney General calls upon him to watch over these cases; and being, in the eye of the world responsible for the final issue, to offer his advice at the earliest stage of any business: and indeed, until repeated adjudications shall have settled a clear line of partition between the federal and State Courts, his best exertions cannot be too often repeated, to oppose the danger of a schism. For this purpose the Attornies of the Districts ought, I conceive, to be under an obligation, to transmit to him a state of every case, in which the harmony of the two judiciaries may be hazarded; and to communicate to him those topics, on which the subjects of foreign nations may complain in the administration of Justice. Perhaps too, in the review which the President takes of the affairs of the Union, at the opening of each Session of Congress, the judicial department will be comprehended. But the Attorney General, who ought to be able to represent the true situation of it, must be forever incompetent to the task; until he may officially and with the right of expecting an answer propound his enquiries to the District Attornies. I might extend this enumeration much farther; but I will only add, that the opinions which the Attorney General gives, are many in number, and often lengthy—From this consideration united with the foregoing, the reasonableness of allowing him a transcribing Clerk, will I hope, be obvious. Permit me Sir, to request you to forward to Congress the subject of this letter, in the manner most agreeable to yourself. I have taken the liberty of addressing it to you; not with an idea of thus obtaining your sanction; but from an impression, that the application of an executive Officer for the reform of his office, ought not, of his own accord, to be laid before the Legislature” (DNA: RG 46, Second Congress, 1791–1793, Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages). Congress referred GW’s message to a committee of the House of Representatives on 29 Dec., and the House considered the committee’s report on 23 Jan. 1792. It resolved that the attorney general be granted authority over U.S. attorneys, assume the role of advocate in any suit in which the United States should be a party, and appoint a clerk. The committee was instructed to bring in a bill to this effect, but no further action was taken during the Second Congress (Annals of Congress description begins Joseph Gales, Sr., comp. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. description ends , 2d Cong., 1st sess., 289–90, 298, 329–30).

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