George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Boston Selectmen, 28 July 1795

To Boston Selectmen

United States. 28th July 1795.


In every act of my administration, I have sought the happiness of my fellow-citizens. My system for the attainment of this object has uniformly been, to overlook all personal, local and partial considerations: to contemplate the United States as one great whole: to confide, that sudden impressions, when erroneous, would yield to candid reflection: and to consult only the substantial and permanent interests of our country.

Nor have I departed from this line of conduct on the occasion which has produced the resolutions contained in your letter of the 13th instant.

Without a predilection for my own judgment, I have weighed with attention every argument which has at any time been brought into view. But the Constitution is the guide which I never can1 abandon. It has assigned to the President the power of making treaties, with the advice and consent of the Senate:2 It was doubtless supposed that these two branches of government would combine, without passion, and with the best means of information,3 those facts & principles, upon which the success of our foreign relations will always depend: that they ought not to substitute4 for their own conviction the opinions of others; or to seek5 truth thro’ any channel but that of a temperate and well informed investigation.

Under this persuasion, I have resolved on the manner of executing the duty now before me. To the high responsibility, attached to it, I freely submit; and you, gentlemen, are at liberty to make these sentiments known, as the grounds of my procedure. While I feel the most lively gratitude for the many instances of approbation from my country; I can no otherwise deserve it than by obeying the dictates of my conscience. With due respect I am—Gentlemen Your Obedient

Go: Washington

ALS, NjP: De Coppet Collection; DfS, in the hand of Edmund Randolph, with revisions by GW, DLC:GW; LB, DLC:GW; Df, MHi: Pickering Papers; Df, MHi: Pickering Papers; copy, MHi: Pickering Papers; copy (French translation), FrPMAE.

The French translation evidently was forwarded by Pierre-Auguste Adet to the French government. The DfS most likely was the final draft enclosed with Randolph’s letter to GW of 25 July. Timothy Pickering’s drafts apparently were earlier efforts (see Randolph to GW, 24 July). Pickering devoted the most space to a disquisition on popular government that did not appear in the signed draft or the letter sent. In the more complete version (which explicitly states the intent to ratify the treaty), this section reads: “I will then, gentlemen, observe, that altho’ the government of the United States is a popular government, yet it is not a simple democracy; but a representative government: that it is as impossible in practice, as absurd in theory, to conduct their affairs by the voices of the citizens individually given: that for this reason, the people of the United States have constituted another mode of managing their interests: that the affairs of a nation do not admit of the same easy decision as those of a town, with whose concerns its inhabitants may be familiarly acquainted: that the formation of laws and treaties demands much deliberate consideration, of which, it is no reproach to my fellow citizens to say, that a numerous and promiscuous assembly is incapable. How is it possible to presume that the hasty decisions of such an assembly—the decisions of an hour—can be founded in wisdom, when a select number of the best informed men would not venture to pronounce upon questions of equal magnitude & difficulty, but after the investigation and discussion of many days?

“To the reasonings of any of my fellow citizens on questions affecting the interests of our common country, I shall ever lend a willing ear: but resolutions purporting to express the opinions of a multitudinous assembly, on numerous questions of magnitude and intricacy, where the time and circumstances render calm debate and mature deliberation impracticable, will never influence my determinations.”

In addition to the comments of Pickering on the signed draft (see n.4), Treasury Secretary Oliver Wolcott, Jr., wrote “Approved” on it, and the internal address, the closing and signature, and one addition (see n.3) are in GW’s writing.

This letter served as the basis for most of the responses GW issued to the civic addresses sent him concerning ratification of the Jay Treaty. The letter is followed by a list of the names of the selectmen who signed the letter to GW on 13 July (see Boston Citizens to GW, that date). GW’s letter was printed in The Independent Chronicle: and the Universal Advertiser (Boston), 17 August.

1Here the signed draft has “will.”

2GW referred to the powers of the executive described in Article II, section 2, of the U.S. Constitution.

3GW inserted the seven previous words on the signed draft.

4The section of this paragraph between “Senate” and “substitute” was heavily revised on the signed draft. At the end of that draft, Pickering wrote: “The sentiment commencing near the bottom of the first page does not strike me as perfectly correct. I will suggest the following as an amendment—‘It was doubtless supposed that these two branches of government would combine, without passion, those facts & principles’ by which the propriety of admitting or rejecting any foreign relation should be determined: ‘that they ought not to substitute &c.[‘] If I am mistaken here, then I subscribe to the draught of the secretary of state as it stands.” How much, if any, of Randolph’s revision came in response to Pickering’s note has not been determined.

5The signed draft has “follow” crossed out and “effect” written instead.

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