George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Henry Knox, 15 October 1793

To Henry Knox

Mount Vernon 15th Octobr 1793.

Dr Sir,

The violence with which (from all accounts I have received) the contagious fever in Philada continues to rage makes it still more necessary than ever that the meeting of the Heads of Departments which I requested you to attend in a letter of the 25th Sept: should not fail to take place by the first of November1 that, among other things measures may be taken for security of the public offices & Papers. I shall set out from this place in order to meet you & the other Gentlemen in the vicinity of Philada at that time.2 The heads of Departments being absent the disputes arising between the agents of the Powers at War, and other matters, are transmitted immediately to me.

Should the continuance of the fever in the City of Philada render it unsafe & improper for the members of Congress to assemble there the first of December (& indeed there seems to be no hope of its disappearance by that time) what in that case is to be done? Do you conceive the President is authorised by the Constitution or Laws of the U.S. to interfere in such a case? Altho’ the President has power to call Congress together in extraordinary cases, it is denied3 that power is given to change the fixed place of convening4—By others it is thought the exigency of the present case wd justify the measure.5 Indeed it has been made a question by some whether even Congress themselves have this power. I should be glad to have your opinion upon these points as soon as possible, because if the Executive have power no time is to be lost in using it.

Admitting, however, that the President was authorised to convene Congress at any other place than Philada where have you contemplated as most convenient & agreeable to all parties6 for the ensuing Session—considering it is a temporary measure—that the public offices are established in Phila.—& the papers difficult & expensive to remove? German town would certainly have been preferred by me7 but, unfortunately, I am told the fever has reached it & several people died therein8 but all deaths now are charged to acct of the malignt fever. Wilmington & Trenton are equidistant in opposite directions from Philada but situated on the great thoroughfare thro’ the Union, and exposed in a great degree to the communication of the infection—& would be equally unsatisfactory to the members whose distance would be encreased. Reading is more out of the way of taking the infection, being off the great road thro’ the Country—& could not be complained of by either northern or Southern members on accot of situation. how do you think it would accomdate Congress the ensuing Session?9 write fully and promptly as I may receive your letter before I shall see you—With very great estm & regard I am—Dr Sir—yr Affecte

G. W——n

Df, in the writing of Bartholomew Dandridge, Jr., and GW, DLC:GW; LB, DLC:GW.

Bartholomew Dandridge, Jr., wrote Oliver Wolcott, Jr., on this date: “As the president is uncertain where Genl Knox is, he directs me to request the favor of you to enquire of the Clerk in his office, & to direct the Letter enclosed herewith for him, accordingly” (CtHi: Oliver Wolcott, Jr., Papers).

1The rest of this sentence was added by GW.

2GW inserted the remainder of this paragraph.

3Following “it,” Dandridge wrote, “does not already appear”; GW struck this and inserted, “is denied.”

4The power at issue derived from Article 2, section 3 of the Constitution.

5GW inserted the preceding sentence. That text is omitted from the letter-book copy.

6The remainder of this sentence was inserted by GW.

7GW inserted “by me.”

8The remainder of this sentence is in GW’s handwriting.

9The remainder of the draft is in GW’s handwriting.

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