George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Edmund Randolph, 20 July 1795

From Edmund Randolph


Philadelphia July 20. 1795


I do myself the honor of inclosing to you a letter from Colo. H.1 It proves, what I suspected, that the first opinion was not maturely weighed. But there is something in the business a little mysterious to me; which I shall examine into, before I write to you upon the occasion.

The whole subject is daily increasing in magnitude: The proceedings in Boston, which, as yet, we guess at only, but which have passed, as it is said, to Mount Vernon by express, are very pregnant in their consequences.2 A like effort was to have been made on saturday at New-York;3 and the example will certainly, I believe, catch in this city. I conjecture, that you will wish to see the full upshot of all these measures before you take your final act; altho’ the degree of attention to them may be questionable. The rough of the memorial, and a paper to accompany it are finished; but I mean to conclude the instructions for the further negotiation before I transcribe them, that I may have an intire view of the matter all at once.4 It grows more and more delicate and critical; and it looks at present; as if after it is somewhat more developed, I should run down for a day to Mount-Vernon. I think a personal conference will be necessary in the progress of the affair; and my going to Virginia will be a thing of no notice. In fact, so much is at stake, that no pains, labour, vigilance, circumspection, or thought can be excessive. You may be assured, that I will collect every particle of information on all sides; and estimating this subject, as the greatest in its consequences, which has occurred under this government, I shall understand well, how it will operate all round.

Archibald Hamilton Rowan, who wa⟨s⟩ convicted of sedition in Ireland, arrived the day before yesterday from France. Major Butler brought him to my office, to introduce him. This inaccuracy of this member of the senate did not surprize me; nor did it betray me into more than decent civility to a man, who brought a recommendatory letter from Colo. Monroe; dated in April.5 A public letter of the same date will be forwarded in my next; being now detained for a particular reason, which will be then explained.6 I have the honor to be with the most respectful and affectionate attachment yr mo. ob. serv.

Edm: Randolph


1This letter has not been identified, but it likely was the letter that GW had asked Alexander Hamilton to send to Randolph concerning the Jay Treaty (see GW to Hamilton, 14 July). Randolph probably referred to it when he wrote Hamilton on 21 July, “I am much obliged to you for your explanatory letter to myself” (DLC: Alexander Hamilton Papers).

2Randolph referred to the proceedings of the 13 July meeting of Boston citizens, forwarded to GW by the selectmen of that city (see Boston Citizens to GW of that date). For GW’s discussion of the express, see his letter to Randolph of 18 July, and n.1 to that document.

3The previous Saturday was 18 July. For that meeting, see New York Citizens to GW, 20 July, n.1.

4Randolph referred to the proposed memorial to British minister George Hammond about ratification of the Jay Treaty (see Randolph’s letter to GW of 12 July). Randolph subsequently published the rough draft of the memorial: “BUT neither his Britannic Majesty nor the world will be surprised, when they shall be informed, that the disposition to ratify has been suspended at least by a recent order, issued under the royal authority. Its genuineness, though not ascertained by official documents, is scarcely any where doubted. It is understood to import, that all ships, of whatever nation, laden with corn or other provisions for French ports, may be seized, and from this description not even neutral vessels are excepted. Against this doctrine the United States have often protested; and more particularly in the memorial of their minister plenipotentiary in London to the British secretary of state for foreign affairs, and in a letter from the department of state to the minister plenipotentiary of his Britannic majesty in Philadelphia, on the [ ] It was not without regret, that the efforts were unsuccessful in conforming to the current of modern treaties the definition of contraband. But that the order of the 8th of June 1793 was thus repeated upon the United States by the proposed treaty, was as apparent from the rules of construction, as an acquiescence in that construction was remote from every opinion hitherto formed. It was believed, and is still believed, that the treaty justifies no such interpretation. The considerations, which indispose the United States to yield to it, are too obvious to require an enumeration; and gain, instead of losing force, every day. To ratify then, in the face of this comment, would stamp upon [ ] article a meaning which the United States disavow; and contribute to the establishment of a principle, against which they revolt. Hence objections, which might have been overbalanced by the hope of burying past differences, and of raising a barrier against fresh injuries array themselves again in view; when the abandonment of them, notwithstanding, leaves behind this burthen upon American agriculture and commerce.

“But as in the language of the constitution of the United States, the President is to make the treaty, no method is satisfactory to him, by which he can or ought to delegate to a subordinate agent the determination when the proposed treaty shall become the supreme law of the land. With this impression, he cannot now adopt any style of ratification which shall preclude him from being personally satisfied, that the advice and consent of the Senate, which are the ground-work of his action on treaties, have been truly pursued. To demonstrate, however, that candour alone prevails throughout this transaction, there is annexed to this memorial the draught of a ratification which the President contemplates to use, whensoever the occasion shall require; that is, when he shall be satisfied as to the order for seizing provisions, and constitutional forms, present no objection.

“The chief obstacle, which is dependent for its removal on his Britannic Majesty, is the order above stated. The President is too much deprived of its particulars, to declare, what shall be his irrevocable determination; but the sensibility, which it has excited in his mind, cannot be allayed without the most unequivocal stipulation, to reduce to the only construction, in which he can acquiesce, the article of the treaty” (Randolph, Vindication, description begins Edmund Randolph. A Vindication of Mr. Randolph’s Resignation. Philadelphia, 1795. description ends 33–34).

5Archibald Hamilton Rowan was arrested in Ireland on 21 Dec. 1792 for distributing an address from the Society of United Irishmen to the Dublin Volunteers of Ireland, which included the inflamatory words “Citizen Soldiers to Arms!” His case came to trial in January 1794. Rowan was found guilty, fined £500, and confined for two years at Newgate prison in Dublin. Early in May 1794 he escaped and spent time in France, where he briefly sought assistance for a possible invasion of Ireland. He gradually became frustrated with the French republican government and sailed for the United States in the spring of 1795. Rowan arrived in Philadelphia aboard the Columbus on 17 July. The letter of introduction from James Monroe has not been identified.

6Randolph presumably was referring to Monroe’s letter to him of 14 April, the only official dispatch sent by Monroe in April (DNA: RG 59, Despatches from U.S. Ministers to France; see also Papers of James Monroe, description begins Daniel Preston et al., eds. The Papers of James Monroe. 5 vols. to date. Westport, Conn., and Santa Barbara, Calif., 2003–. description ends 3:290–96).

Index Entries