George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Edmund Randolph, 15 July 1794

From Edmund Randolph

Philadelphia July 15th 1794.

The Secretary of State has the honor of reporting to the President of the United States, as follows.

1. The resolutions from Kentucky of the 24th of May, upon which the address to the President and Congress is founded, involve very momentous matter.1

The temper of that country is roused to an extreme. They entertain suspicions that it is not the wish of every state in the Union that they should enjoy the Mississippi, or should continue members of the union. Great allowance is therefore made for their sensibility. Still the resolutions and address ought not to receive a formal answer. These are the reasons.

1. Altho’ individuals, of whatsoever number, great or small, have a right to petition, memorialize or remonstrate for a redress of grievances, there is a respect, which every Government ought to exact for itself. To charge the General Government with design in not adopting effectual measures for attaining the navigation—to intimate, that its measures have been uniformly concealed from the people of Kentucky, and veiled in mysterious secrecy, and that civil liberty is prostituted, when the servants of the people are suffered to tell them, that communications, which they may judge important ought not to be intrusted to them; as if the Executive was bound to promulge, what it might deem injurious to the public interest to be known; to demand that Spain be compelled to acknowledge their right, or that an end be put to all negotiations on that subject; to censure the President for tame submission, and to exclaim against the want of protection, after all that has been done; These things have no claim upon a formal answer; many of them being unfounded, and all untenable upon principle.

2. The resolutions even as far as they go, are those of a part of the state who seem to have begun the business, only that the sense of the whole state may be taken.

3. It is impossible to satisfy the expectations expressed in the 5th resolution;2 without establishing a precedent for throwing open the archives of the Executive to the whole world, on all occasions.

4. As much has been already communicated to the Governor of Kentucky in the letter of the 29th of March last as can be with propriety, except what may be added in consequence of the recommendation of the two houses of Congress.3

5. That letter has not yet been acknowledged by the Governor; and we do not know, whether it was generally circulated at the time of the meeting of the 24th of May.

The Secretary of State is therefore of opinion, that a letter be written to the Governor of Kentucky in pursuance of the resolutions of the Senate and House of Representatives; and if in the course of writing it, any matter can be interwoven, which may obviate the complaints, which have been uttered, without appearing to be intended as answers to the resolutions, and without violating the degree of secrecy due to negotiations existing, or the respect due to the Government, that it ought to be attended to.

Edm: Randolph.

LS, DLC:GW; LB, DNA: RG 59, Reports of the Secretary of State to the President and Congress.

1For a summary of the resolutions of 24 May, see GW to Alexander Hamilton, 11 July, n.1. For the address, see Kentucky Citizens to GW, c.24 May.

2The fifth resolution read: "That civil liberty is prostituted, when the servants of the people, are suffered to tell their masters, that communications which they may judge important, ought not to be intrusted to them" (Kentucky Gazette [Lexington], 31 May).

3For a summary of what Randolph’s letter of 29 March to Kentucky governor Isaac Shelby said about efforts to open navigation of the Mississippi River, see William Bradford to GW, c.14 July, n.5; for the full text, see 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 , 1:456-57.

In response to resolutions submitted by Kentucky’s senators on 15 April about the navigation of the Mississippi, the Senate decided on 15 May that "it would be improper for Congress to interfere" since "in the negociation now carrying on at Madrid between the United States and Spain, the right of the former to the free navigation of the Missisippi is well asserted and demonstrated, and their claim to its enjoyment is pursued with all the assiduity and firmness which the magnitude of the subject demands." However, "in order to satisfy the citizens of the United States more immediately interested in the event of this negociation, that the United States have uniformly asserted their right to the free use of the navigation of the river Missisippi," the Senate resolved "That the President of the United States be and he hereby is requested to cause to be communicated to the executive of the State of Kentucky, such part of the existing negociation between the United States and Spain, relative to this subject, as he may deem adviseable and consistent with the course of negociations" (U.S. Senate Journal, Washington Administration, 6:139-40).

The House resolved on 5 June "That as it appears from the communications of the executive, that the right of the United States to the free navigation of the Mississippi, is now the subject of negociation with the court of Spain; and as it is the interest of the United States, and every part thereof, to come to an amicable adjustment of the right in that mode, rather than resort to any means constitutionally belonging to the legislature, no farther proceeding should be had on the said remonstrance, during the present session of Congress" (U.S. House Journal, Washington Administration, 6:412).

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