George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Edmund Randolph, 14 October 1793

To Edmund Randolph

Mount Vernon 14th Oct. 1793

Dear Sir,

Enclosed is the copy of a Letr I wrote to you agreeably to the date—since which I have received yours of the 3d instt—which shews it had not at that time got to your hands.1

I sincerely hope your son Peyton is in no danger from the sick person he saw, and that the rest of your family, wherever they be, are in good health.2 Are you certain that the disorder of which the persons in German town died was the real malignant fever of Philada? For every fever now, of which people die in & about that City, will be so called. I was in hopes Congress might have assembled at German town in the first instance, and there taken ulterior resolutions if the City of Philadelphia at the time should be thought unsafe for them to sit in.

I have just received a letter from the Speaker of the late house of Representatives (Trumbull) suggesting the expediency of convening Congress a few days before the first monday in December at some other place than Philadelphia, in order to avoid the necessity of a quoram of both houses meeting there3—Similar sentiments I have heard, are entertained by others—Query, what with propriety, can the President do under the circumstances which exist? If the importance, & awfulness of the occasion would justify calling the legislature together at any other place than Philadelphia (on acct of the calamity with which it is visited) where should it be? This question, if German Town is also visited, would involve the Executive in a serious, & delicate decision—Wilmington & Trenton are equidistant from Philadelphia in opposite directions—but both are on the great thoroughfare through the Union—equally liable on that account to receive the Infection—and each, to the members whose distance would be encreased, obnoxious. Annapolis is more out of the Comn & has conveniences—but it might be thought that interested & local views dictated the measure. What sort of a Town is Reading, & how would it answer for the purpose of a Session? Neither Northern nor Southern members would have cause to complain of partiality on acct of its Situation. Lancaster would be thought to favour the Southern members most.

You will readily perceive that if a change of place becomes indispensable, not a moment is to be lost in the notification thereof, whether by Proclamation, requiring it—or by a simple statement of facts, accompanied with information that at a certain time and place (which might be blank days before the 1st of December) I would meet the members in their Legislative capacity, or for the purpose of ulterior arrangements. The latter I presume, would be a novel proceeding—the other an illegal Act, if there is no power delegated for the purpose, & either would be food for scriblers; yet, if Philadelphia should Continue in its present unfortunate & alarming state something preliminary seems necessary—I wish you to think seriously of this matter; and not only give me your opinion thereon, but accompany it with what you may conceive a proper & formal instrument for publication for my consideration; leaving the place & time blank thereon, but dilated upon in a letter under the sevel views you may take of the subject; especially too as (I have heard but know not on what ground that) it is made a question by some, whether even the Legislature itself having in this instance fulfilled the powers of the Constitution have now a right to change the places which are established by law—This to me I confess, seems to be a strained Construction of the Constitution and is only mentioned to shew that caution is necessary.

The heads of the Departments you will have no opportunity to advise with on this interesting subject, nor do I suppose you will be in the way of seeing professional men of much eminence, otherwise I should request you to know their sentiments on the legality—or expediency of Convening Congress otherwise than in Philadelphia. My best wishes attend you, Mrs Randolph & family—and I am, Dr Sir Yours Affectly

Go: Washington

ADfS (photocopy), sold by Christie’s, New York, Printed Books and Manuscripts: Including Americana and Recently Discovered Manuscripts by Ernest Hemingway, Sale 9364, 19 May 2000; LB, DLC:GW.

1See GW to Randolph, 30 Sept.; Randolph’s letter to GW of 3 Oct. has not been found.

2Peyton Randolph (d. 1828) later became clerk of the Virginia Court of Appeals and authored six volumes of reports of cases argued before that court.

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