George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Jonathan Trumbull, Jr., 13 October 1793

To Jonathan Trumbull, Jr.


Dear SirMount Vernon Oct. 13th 1793

I was duly favoured with your letter of the 2d instt.

The calamitous situation of Philadelphia makes it necessary that some previous steps should be taken with respect to the meeting of Congress—But of what kind is a serious question. That the President has Power by the Constitution to Convene Congress in extraordinary cases admits of no doubt,1 but that he has power to summon them to meet at an unusual place when the Law, has designated the seat of Government 2 is not merely equivocal, but in the opinion of those with whom I have hitherto conversed on the subject absolutely beyond the powers of the Executive. On the 30th of last month (hearing that the fever rather increased then abated) I wrote to the Attorney General for an official opinion on this point, but have not yet received an answer.

When I left Phila. which was for the purpose of fulfilling a previous engagement of a private nature that made it necessary for me to be at home the 18th of Septr 3 I fully expected to return to the City before the end of the month but the flight of the Clerks from the public Offices which in a manner shut them up and the Head of Departments being also absent my return has hitherto been delayed. But public business of various kinds requiring their attendance I (did some time since) desire them to meet me at Phila. or in the vicinity, the first of next month whither I shall go myself. At the time of my leaving the City with these expectations and till lately, I hoped the fever would be stopped, & the City so purified by the approaching cool Season as to admit Congs with safety by the time appointed—Or Congress to there,4 if doubts arose then for a quoram to adjourn it to some other place This would have been (for reasons unnecessary to mention) more agreeable to me than to do it myself 5 admitting I had power. But as this is not likely to happen unless a very unexpected change should take place—as I have had no opinion yet from the proper Law Officer of Government on this head—and as you know I wish to hear the opinion of my friends upon all difficult & delicate subjects I would thank you for yours on this—particularly with respect to the place, under present circumstances—least exceptionable.6 Your letter may meet me at this place—if it does not I may find it on the road—if neither—most certainly at whatever place I shall Assemble the Officers of Governt. I am always & Affly Yours

G. W——n

ADfS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DLC:GW.

1See Article 2, section 3 of the Constitution.

2GW was referring to “An Act for establishing the temporary and permanent seat of the Government of the United States,” 16 July 1790 (Stat. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends , 1:130).

3GW had arranged to meet with William Pearce at Mount Vernon on or about 20 Sept. to complete the process of hiring Pearce as his manager there (see GW to Pearce, 26 Aug., and Pearce to GW, 30 Aug.).

4The preceding three words are omitted from the letter-book copy.

5The word “myself” was inserted on the draft and then the letter “m” was crossed out, but the remainder of the word was not stricken. The letter-book copy omits this word.

6GW originally followed “under present circumstances” not with “least exceptionable,” but with more than three lines of written text. Of these lines, only the final words, “of Northern and Southern interests, or convenience,” have been retrieved from under the strike.

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