George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the United States Senate and House of Representatives, 20 May 1794

To the United States Senate and House of Representatives

United States 20th May 1794.

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

In the communications, which I have made to Congress during the present session, relative to foreign nations, I have omitted no opportunity of testifying my anxiety to preserve the United States in peace. It is peculiarly therefore my duty at this time, to lay before you the present state of certain hostile threats against the territories of Spain in our neighbourhood.

The documents which accompany this message, develope the measures which I have taken to suppress them, and the intelligence which has been lately received.1

It will be seen from thence, that the subject has not been neglected; that every power, vested in the executive on such occasions, has been exerted; and that there was reason to believe, that the enterprize projected against the Spanish dominions, was relinquished.

But it appears to have been revived upon principles which set public order at defiance, and place the peace of the United States in the discretion of unauthorized individuals. The means already deposited in the different departments of Government, are shewn by experience, not to be adequate to these high exigencies, although such of them, as are lodged in the hands of the executive, shall continue to be used with promptness, energy and decision proportioned to the case. But I am impelled by the position of our public affairs to recommend that provision be made for a stronger and more vigorous opposition, than can be given to such hostile movements under the laws as they now stand.

Go: Washington

LS, DNA: RG 46, Third Congress, 1793-95, Senate Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages; copy, DNA: RG 233, Third Congress, House Records of Legislative Proceedings, Journals; LB, DLC:GW.

1The enclosed copies and extracts of Thomas Jefferson to Kentucky governor Isaac Shelby, 29 Aug. and 6 Nov. 1793; Shelby to Jefferson, 5 Oct. 1793 and 13 Jan. 1794; Edmund Randolph to Shelby, 29 March 1794; Henry Knox to Northwest Territory governor Arthur St. Clair, 9 Nov. 1793; Knox to Shelby, 9 Nov. 1793; Maj. Gen. Anthony Wayne to Shelby, 6 Jan. 1794; Knox to Wayne, 31 March 1794; Micajah Williamson, Jr., to Capt. Thomas Martin, 9 April 1794; Constant Freeman to Knox, 18 April 1794; Lt. Col. Henry Gaither to Knox, 13 April 1794; Knox to Georgia governor George Mathews, 14 May 1794; Knox to Gaither, 14 May 1794; "An act to provide for calling forth the militia, &c" [2 May 1792]; an unidentified letter from Lexington, Ky., of 31 March 1794; and an unidentified document of 6 May 1794 are filed with the LS and printed in ASP, Foreign Relations description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends , 1:454-60.

The correspondence of the State Department with Shelby concerned purported efforts to organize an expedition from Kentucky against the Spanish territory on the Mississippi River. Jefferson informed Shelby of Spanish complaints about the activity, providing specific detail in his second letter. Shelby, who at first was "well persuaded" that no such activity was "in contemplation in this State," later reported that two "French men" had arrived with the declared intention of organizing such a force, but he expressed "great doubts" about whether he had "any legal Authority to restrain or punish them, at least before they have actually accomplished it." Randolph’s reply chastised Shelby for his reluctance to act, argued forcibly for the existence of authority to restrain such activities, summarized U.S. efforts to obtain navigation of the Mississippi, and warned "against the dangers, to which these unauthorized schemes of war may expose the United States, and particularly the State of Kentucky." The War Department letters to St. Clair, Shelby, and Wayne authorized the use of military force to stop any such expedition.

The remaining letters concerned reports of a similar expedition being organized in Georgia to attack East Florida. Knox’s letter to Mathews authorized him to employ militia or regular troops to stop that expedition, and Knox’s letter to Gaither directed him to place the regular troops under the governor’s orders, if called upon.

Index Entries