George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 4 August 1793

From Thomas Jefferson

[Philadelphia] Aug. 4. 1793.

The President having been pleased to propose, for consideration, the question Whether it be proper or not to convene the legislature at an earlier period than that at which it is to meet by law? and at what time? I am of the opinion it will be proper.1

1. Because the protection of our Southern frontiers seems to render indispensable a war with the Creeks, which cannot be declared, nor provided for but by the legislature, nor prudently undertaken by the Executive on account of the consequences it may involve with respect to Spain.2

2. Because several legislative provisions are wanting to enable the government to steer steadily through the difficulties daily produced by the war of Europe, & to prevent our being involved in it by the incidents & perplexities to which it is constantly giving birth.

3. Because should we be involved in it, which is every day possible, however anxiously we endeavor to avoid it, the legislature meeting a month earlier will place them a month forwarder in their provisions for that state of things.3

I think the 1st Monday in November would be a proper time for convening them, because, while it would gain a month in making provisions to prevent or prepare for war, it leaves such a space of time for their assembleing, as will avoid exciting alarm either at home or abroad.4

Th: Jefferson

ALS, DLC:GW; ALS (letterpress copy), DLC: Jefferson Papers.

1For GW’s proposal, see GW to Cabinet, 3 Aug., to Jefferson, 4 Aug. 1793 (first letter). Article I, section 4, of the Constitution mandates that Congress meet a least once a year and that “such Meetings shall be on the first Monday in December unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day.” Article II, section 3, allows the President to convene one or both houses of Congress “on extraordinary Occasions.”

2On the administration’s consideration of a military expedition against the Creeks and other hostile Indians in the South, see Henry Knox to GW, 25 July, and enclosure, and GW to Knox and Andrew Pickens, 26 July 1793.

Article I, section 8, of the Constitution gives the power to declare war to Congress.

3For GW’s decision to issue a statement of U.S. neutrality during the current war between France and Great Britain, see Neutrality Proclamation, 22 April 1793, and source note. For recent efforts to implement the administration’s neutrality policy, see Cabinet Opinion on the Rules of Neutrality and Cabinet Opinion on French Privateers, both 3 Aug. 1793.

4GW did not ask Congress to convene early. According to Jefferson’s Notes of Cabinet Decisions, 6 Aug. 1793, GW “said he should have been for calling Congress himself, but he found the other gentlemen were against it” (Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends , 26:627). For the opinions of the other cabinet members against a special session, see Hamilton to GW, 5 Aug., Knox to GW, 5 Aug. (first letter), and Randolph to GW, 5 Aug. 1793, and enclosure.

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