December 8, 1790

Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and the House of Representatives

In meeting you again I feel much satisfaction in being able to repeat my congratulations on the favorable prospects which continue to distinguish our public affairs. The abundant fruits of another year have blessed our country with plenty and with the means of a flourishing commerce.

The progress of public credit is witnessed by a considerable rise of American stock abroad as well as at home, and the revenues allotted for this and other national purposes have been productive beyond the calculations by which they were regulated. This latter circumstance is the more pleasing, as it is not only a proof of the fertility of our resources, but as it assures us of a further increase of the national respectability and credit, and, let me add, as it bears an honorable testimony to the patriotism and integrity of the mercantile and marine part of our citizens. The punctuality of the former in discharging their engagements has been exemplary.

In conformity to the powers vested in me by acts of the last session, a loan of 3,000,000 florins, toward which some provisional measures had previously taken place, has been completed in Holland. As well the celerity with which it has been filled as the nature of the terms (considering the more than ordinary demand for borrowing created by the situation of Europe) give a reasonable hope that the further execution of those powers may proceed with advantage and success. The Secretary of the Treasury has my directions to communicate such further particulars as may be requisite for more precise information.

Since your last sessions I have received communications by which it appears that the district of Kentucky, at present a part of Virginia, has concurred in certain propositions contained in a law of that State, in consequence of which the district is to become a distinct member of the Union, in case the requisite sanction of Congress be added. For this sanction application is now made. I shall cause the papers on this very transaction to be laid before you.

The liberality and harmony with which it has been conducted will be found to do great honor to both the parties, and the sentiments of warm attachment to the Union and its present Government expressed by our fellow citizens of Kentucky can not fail to add an affectionate concern for their particular welfare to the great national impressions under which you will decide on the case submitted to you.

It has been heretofore known to Congress that frequent incursion have been made on our frontier settlements by certain banditti of Indians from the northwest side of the Ohio. These, with some of the tribes dwelling on and near the Wabash, have of late been particularly active in their depredations, and being emboldened by the impunity of their crimes and aided by such parts of the neighboring tribes as could be seduced to join in their hostilities or afford them a retreat for their prisoners and plunder, they have, instead of listening to the humane invitations and overtures made on the part of the United States, renewed their violences with fresh alacrity and greater effect. The lives of a number of valuable citizens have thus been sacrificed, and some of them under circumstances peculiarly shocking, whilst others have been carried into a deplorable captivity.

These aggravated provocations rendered it essential to the safety of the Western settlements that the aggressors should be made sensible that the Government of the Union is not less capable of punishing their crimes than it is disposed to respect their rights and reward their attachments. As this object could not be effected by defensive measures, it became necessary to put in force the act which empowers the President to call out the militia for the protection of the frontiers, and I have accordingly authorized an expedition in which the regular troops in that quarter are combined with such drafts of militia as were deemed sufficient. The event of the measure is yet unknown to me. The Secretary of War is directed to lay before you a statement of the information on which it is founded, as well as an estimate of the expense with which it will be attended.

The disturbed situation of Europe, and particularly the critical posture of the great maritime powers, whilst it ought to make us the more thankful for the general peace and security enjoyed by the United States, reminds us at the same time of the circumspection with which it becomes us to preserve these blessings. It requires also that we should not overlook the tendency of a war, and even of preparations for a war, among the nations most concerned in active commerce with this country to abridge the means, and thereby at least enhance the price, of transporting its valuable productions to their markets. I recommend it to your serious reflections how far and in what mode it may be expedient to guard against embarrassments from these contingencies by such encouragements to our own navigation as will render our commerce and agriculture less dependent on foreign bottoms, which may fail us in the very moments most interesting to both of these great objects. Our fisheries and the transportation of our own produce offer us abundant means for guarding ourselves against this evil.

Your attention seems to be not less due to that particular branch of our trade which belongs to the Mediterranean. So many circumstances unite in rendering the present state of it distressful to us that you will not think any deliberations misemployed which may lead to its relief and protection.

The laws you have already passed for the establishment of a judiciary system have opened the doors of justice to all descriptions of persons. You will consider in your wisdom whether improvements in that system may yet be made, and particularly whether an uniform process of execution on sentences issuing from the Federal courts be not desirable through all the States.

The patronage of our commerce, of our merchants and sea men, has called for the appointment of consuls in foreign countries. It seems expedient to regulate by law the exercise of that jurisdiction and those functions which are permitted them, either by express convention or by a friendly indulgence, in the places of their residence. The consular convention, too, with His Most Christian Majesty has stipulated in certain cases the aid of the national authority to his consuls established here. Some legislative provision is requisite to carry these stipulations into full effect.

The establishment of the militia, of a mint, of standards of weights and measures, of the post office and post roads are subjects which I presume you will resume of course, and which are abundantly urged by their own importance.
Gentlemen of the House of Representatives:

The sufficiency of the revenues you have established for the objects to which they are appropriated leaves no doubt that the residuary provisions will be commensurate to the other objects for which the public faith stands now pledged. Allow me, moreover, to hope that it will be a favorite policy with you, not merely to secure a payment of the interest of the debt funded, but as far and as fast as the growing resources of the country will permit to exonerate it of the principal itself. The appropriation you have made of the Western land explains your dispositions on this subject, and I am persuaded that the sooner that valuable fund can be made to contribute, along with the other means, to the actual reduction of the public debt the more salutary will the measure be to every public interest, as well as the more satisfactory to our constituents.
Gentlemen of the Senate and House of Representatives:

In pursuing the various and weighty business of the present session I indulge the fullest persuasion that your consultation will be equally marked with wisdom and animated by the love of your country. In whatever belongs to my duty you shall have all the cooperation which an undiminished zeal for its welfare can inspire. It will be happy for us both, and our best reward, if, by a successful administration of our respective trusts, we can make the established Government more and more instrumental in promoting the good of our fellow citizens, and more and more the object of their attachment and confidence.

George Washington


December 1, 1790

I.—Confidence that measures for the further support of public credit, and for the payment of the interest and gradual extinguishment of the principal of the public debt, will be pursued with zeal and vigor; and that, as one means to this, a plan for the sale of the western lands will be adopted, which will give them the effect intended, appropriating them to the sinking fund, and which will extend the agriculture of the United States.

II.—Felicitation on the success of the measures hitherto adopted for the support of public credit, as witnessed by the rise of American stock, not only in the United States, but in Europe. The public credit cannot but acquire additional energy when it is known that the resources hitherto in activity have been more productive than was calculated upon. As proof not only of the resources of the country, but of the patriotism and honor of the mercantile and marine citizens of the United States, the punctuality of the former in discharging their obligations has been exemplary.

III.—Information that a loan of 300,000 florins has been effected in Holland, the terms and disposition of which (as far as any has been made) the Secretary of the Treasury has been directed to explain.

IV.—Growing conviction in the minds of the great body of the people of the utility and benefits of a National Government. It is not to be doubted that any symptoms of discontent which may have appeared in particular places, respecting particular measures, will be obviated by a removal of the misapprehensions which may have occasioned them.

V.—Communication of the expedition against the Indians, and of the motives to it.

VI.—Disturbed situation of Europe, particularly of the great maritime powers. The precautions of a prudent circumspection on the part of the United States ought not to be neglected.

VII.—Almost total interruption of our Mediterranean trade, from the dread of piratical depredations. Great importance of opening that trade, and expediency of considering whether protection cannot be afforded to it.

IX.—Symptoms of greater population than was supposed—a further proof of progressive strength and resource.

X.—Remarks on the abundance of the harvests, affording an assurance of internal plenty, and the means of easy payment for foreign supplies.


Philadelphia, November 28, 1790

Hon’d Sir

We arrived here yesterday was a week without any occurrence on the road worth mentioning. The President arrived yesterday & the members are coming in for Congress. I have made inquiry with regard to the articles you want, and send you the inclosed paper which will give you information not only with respect to them, but all others in the market here. The high price of sugar makes it advisable I think not to purchase at present. Coffee seems low enough but I do not see any probability of a rise that will be more than equivalent to the loss of the money vested in an article stored away. I shall however await your instructions on this point as well as others; or if I should meet with a bargain on account either of cheapness or quality, perhaps embrace it for you.

The price of securities at which Majr Moore’s certificates would have been sold is 12/6 in the pound, at which of course you are to settle with him. I have forwarded his letter to his son John, with 3 half Jos. & notice of the fund in my hands for him. Of this you will inform my Uncle.

I hope this will find all well and my bro’r Ambrose restored. Tell him I shall expect to hear often from him as well as yourself. I hope you have not forgotten to pay Majr. Lee, and that Robin & the will have given Sawney the aids necessary for the jobb I left unfinished. With my love to my mother & regards for the family I remain your afft son.

Treasury Department, September 1, 1790

Sir:—Two acts of the Legislature, of the fourth and twelfth of August, of which I inclose you copies, authenticated according to law, empower the President to cause to be borrowed on their behalf fourteen millions of dollars, subject to certain restrictions and qualifications, to be applied in payment of such part of our foreign debt as shall have become due, and to a new modification of the remainder, if it can be effected upon terms beneficial to the United States. The execution of this authority he has committed immediately to me, and ultimately through me to you; except as to three millions of florins, part of the above sum, of which, as you are informed, a loan has been anticipated by Messrs. Willinks, Van Staphorsts, and Hubbard, and of which a confirmation, with correspondent powers, has been sent directly to them. Among the documents which accompany this letter you will find a copy of the commission from the President to me, and a power founded on it from me to you.

It remains for me to give you some indications for your government, conformable to the general tenor of the instructions which I have received from the President, and of which I transmit a copy; premising that it is understood, between the Secretary of State and myself, that you are to proceed to Amsterdam without delay, and to continue there, in the first instance, for a term not less than three months.

A primary and principal object of your attention will be, to acquire as exact knowledge as may be of the footing upon which the different foreign powers who borrow in Holland have usually obtained their loans, since the commencement of our independence, and upon which they at present obtain them; the prices of foreign stock in the Dutch market, including our own; the state of our credit compared with that of other nations; the extent and the conditions to and upon which we shall be likely to borrow in case of war between England and Spain, and in the alternative of our being ourselves at peace or war; the principal houses and brokers concerned in the negotiations of foreign loans; their characters; comparative solidity and influence with the money-lenders; the terms upon which their agency is afforded to their employers; the manner in which those whom we have heretofore employed are understood to have conducted themselves in relation to our interest and credit; and particularly their solidity and influence with the money-lenders.

Most if not all these inquiries will be immediately serviceable to you. They will all be productive of information useful to my department; and I will therefore thank you for successive communications of the result.

One consequence of them to you will be, that they will enable you to judge whether our confidence in our former commissioners or agents ought to be continued, or withdrawn in order to the substitution of others; or, if continued, whether the terms of their agency may not be meliorated; or whether, with their consent, some other house or houses may not be combined with them, with an increase of credit and resource to us.

These, as you will be sensible, are delicate points. They are, however, left to your prudence and discretion, according as facts shall be ascertained to you.

I shall only remark, that changes of public servants ought never to be made but for cogent reasons. If lightly made, they are not only chargeable with injustice and are a symptom of fickleness in the public counsels, but they destroy the motives to good conduct, and, in money concerns especially, are apt to beget a disposition to make the most of possession while it lasts. Circumspection in the present case is also recommended by the consideration that those whom we have heretofore trusted risked themselves and their fortunes upon our affairs, when the doing it was not without serious hazard. This is a reason for permitting them to reap the benefits of our more prosperous days, if they have been faithful and are adequate to the trust. A further reason is, that they are now deeply interested in our funds, and consequently, it is presumable, in our credit. Competition and variance once existed between the house of Willinks and that of the Van Staphorsts; but these appear some time since to have been compromised. The latter have most merit for early exertions, the former are said to be most solid. This union is desirable for the greater security it affords.

Suggestions of this nature are not dictated by any distrust of the fidelity or good conduct of our former commissioners. As far as I know, they deserve well of us. My object is, in entering upon a new stage of our affairs, to have the ground over which we have passed well examined, that we may the better judge whether to continue or alter our course.

In the consideration of our foreign debt, it naturally divides itself into two parts; that which is now payable, and that which will be payable hereafter. The first we are bound to discharge as soon as may be, and upon the best terms we can. The last we are not bound to discharge but as the times of payment elapse, and therefore are not called upon to do it unless some positive advantage accrues from it to ourselves. This view of the matter governs the instructions of the President to me, which, of course, regulate mine to you.

You are accordingly to borrow, on the best terms which shall be found practicable, within the limitations prescribed by law, such sum or sums as shall be sufficient to discharge as well all instalments or parts of the principal of the foreign debt, which now are due or shall become payable to the end of the year one thousand seven hundred and ninety-one, as all interest and arrears of interest which now are or shall become due in respect to the said debt to the same end of the year one thousand seven hundred and ninety-one. But you shall not extend the amount of the loans which you shall make or cause to be made beyond the sum which shall be requisite for that purpose, unless it can be done upon terms more advantageous to the United States than those upon which the residue of the said debt shall stand or be.

And in order that you may judge what will be due to the end of the year one thousand seven hundred and ninety-one, I refer you to the papers marked A and B, which contain statements of principal and arrears of interest of our foreign loans to that period; and shall, by the next opportunity, send you a copy of the contracts respecting them, from which you will derive a more accurate knowledge of their terms.

You will perceive, by the act which authorizes the loan for paying off the foreign debt, that there is no other restriction as to the terms except that, in the contracts to be made, the United States shall be left at liberty to reimburse the sum borrowed, within a period not exceeding fifteen years. As this seems to be the usual period for the reimbursement of moneys borrowed in Holland, that restriction can constitute no embarrassment.

In the second act there is no restriction as to time of repayment, but there is one as to the rate of interest, which must not exceed five per cent. This, however, I consider as compatible with the allowance of those premiums, commissions, and other charges which are customary in ordinary times; and which, I am informed, are, in the aggregate, about four and a half per cent. But the allowance of unusual or extraordinary premiums to obtain loans upon a nominal interest of five per cent., as well because it is a pernicious mode of borrowing as because it would be an invasion of the law, is inadmissible.

If war should continue or become more general in Europe, it is to be apprehended that the demand for money will raise its price upon us, and that loans will not be practicable upon so good terms as in time of peace. The situation of this country, too, authorizes us to expect that as our resources become more unfolded and better understood, we shall be able to borrow upon easier terms than we have at any time heretofore done. On both these accounts it would be very desirable, while we did not oblige ourselves to reimburse the principal borrowed in less than fifteen years, commencing at the end of ten, that we could stipulate for a right of reimbursing it sooner,—that is to say, either upon giving notice of our intention to do it for a limited time beforehand, or at the end of a short period, say five years. I should consider a stipulation of this kind as a valuable ingredient in your contracts.

I have intimated above the inexpediency of extraordinary premiums to purchase a nominal low rate of interest. Against this error I would particularly guard you. It is sacrificing a real future interest to an appearance, at best, to temporary accommodation. A higher rate of interest upon a sum actually received, is preferable to a lower rate upon a nominal sum, with large deductions in the first instance, or considerable premiums afterwards; this will be more especially the case if we can reserve a right to repay when we please or after a short period; as we may reasonably contemplate, with the return of peace, a fall of interest.

But every thing of this kind is, after all, matter of calculation, and to be tested by the evidence of figures. I can only, therefore, mean to give you a caution, referring you to that test, and intimating to you this general principle, that the name of a low interest ought not to betray us into giving more for it in the shape of premium or discount than it is worth, and that, as we shall borrow at a time when circumstances will render interest high, we had better pay that interest on actual value received, than a lower one on a fictitious value, or for future and exaggerated compensations; reserving, as far as it can be done, the right of paying off at pleasure, or at an early period. The future fall of interest will, in the first case, turn to our advantage, in the last, to our disadvantage.

You will not pass unnoticed the circumstance that the laws contain actual appropriations of very adequate funds for the payment of interest upon the sums you shall borrow. The first act, indeed, after reserving six hundred thousand dollars for the support of government, gives a priority in payment to the foreign debt out of revenues which are calculated upon the estimate of a much larger product. You may confidently assert that the duties hitherto have produced at the rate of one million eight hundred thousand dollars; which alone would leave twelve hundred thousand dollars, as the fund out of which the interest on your loans would be payable. But the augmentations which have been made in the rates are computed to be capable of affording an addition of eight hundred thousand dollars; and I believe the computation to be well founded.

You will also, no doubt, make a proper use in your communications of the actual situation and future prospects of this country. The economical scale of our establishments, civil and military; the comparative smallness of our debt; the reliance which may be had on the stability of our pecuniary arrangements once made, from the nature of our government in respect to the mutual checks inherent in its organization; the rapid progression of population and resources to which we may look forward; the actual and probable emigrations occasioned by the troubled state of Europe; the hope that we shall continue in peace, while other Powers are accumulating their debts by new wars; the very favorable situation in which we shall find ourselves at the end of a general war in Europe, if we avoid participating in it, etc., etc. These are topics which ought to have weight in our favor, and, within due limits, may be urged with force and assurance.

With regard to that part of the debt which does not become payable till after the year one thousand seven hundred and ninety-one, you will have observed that nothing is to be done by you in respect to it, unless it can be done upon terms of advantage to the United States. However cordial our disposition to come to the pecuniary aid of France in her present affecting and embarrassed condition, in this early stage of our finances we could not in prudence volunteer payments not due by the terms of the contract, especially, too, by the expedient of new foreign loans, unless it should be attended with some circumstance of advantage in the operation to ourselves. By this I understand a lower rate of interest.

For, according to my speculations on the probable rate of exchange between this country, France, and Holland, and between Holland and France for some years to come, I deem it better (whether our payments proceed directly from hence, or circuitously through Holland) to have to pay a given sum to France, than an equal sum to Holland.

The charges too upon the new loans will have to be taken into the account, and an indemnity for them included in the terms of the operation. Calculating only upon the ordinary ones, it does not appear to me that it would be the interest of the United States to change the form of this debt, unless the rate of interest on the new loans did not exceed four per cent. And I own that, in the present aspect of affairs, I see no ground to expect that loans will be obtained at so low a rate.

If the thing should be possible, it must be on the score of some collateral advantages to the lenders; such, for instance, as their being permitted to pay a part in the effects or stock of France, as was contemplated in the last negotiations. Whether any arrangement of this nature will be a desirable accommodation to France; whether persons of real capital, who would not in the execution be obliged to use means prejudicial to the credit of the United States, would be willing to embark in such a plan; whether it would prove an obstacle to other loans which we may have occasion to make for other purposes, are circumstances essential in determining its eligibility, which cannot be known to me, and can only be accurately judged of by one on the spot.

I suggest them as hints to you. In exploring or feeling the ground, you will recollect that propositions of such a nature ought not to come from us. If the thing should be capable of being placed upon a footing conducive to our interests, we ought only to appear to sanction what other parties desire of us. And we should in no event make any movement that may injure our reputation, or place us in the light of a people desirous of making hard bargains at the expense of friends.

Neither can I authorize you to conclude any general arrangement of this nature, without a previous communication of it to me, to be submitted to the consideration of the President; there being a separate instruction from him to me, that no loan shall be opened for more than a million of dollars, and that no new loan shall be undertaken until the preceding one shall have been announced to him, and shall have received his sanction.

This limitation, therefore, in all your proceedings, you will of course attend to, and you will perceive the utility of making the earliest communication of every loan you shall set on foot, in order that you may know the determination of the President before its completion, and be prepared in time to commence another.

It has been suggested that loans may be made with advantage in certain parts of Italy. I do not count on this resource, but I shall be glad to know how far, from inquiry, it shall appear to be an eligible field for an experiment.

With regard to the application of the moneys to be borrowed, you will, from time to time, receive special directions.

The foregoing are the only observations which the time I have will permit me to make. They contain general indications of the course you are to pursue; the rest must be left to your judgment, circumspection, and delicacy. I doubt not you will be duly impressed with the importance of the trust; how much the interest and reputation of our government are concerned in its proper execution. And I feel a confidence that they will not suffer in your hands.

P. S.—I send for your information a copy of my letter to Messrs. Willinks & Co., by which you will perceive the footing on which the provisional loan of three millions of florins is placed.


New York, August 29, 1790


That New Orleans and the Spanish posts on the Mississippi will be among the first attempts of the English, in case of a war with Spain, appears very probable; and that a combined operation from Detroit would be convenient to that end, cannot be doubted. The consequences on the western settlements, on the commerce with the West Indies, and on the general security and tranquillity of the American Confederation, of having them in our rear and on both our flanks, with their navy in front, are very obvious.

The interest of the United States duly weighed, and their duty conscientiously considered, point out to them, in the case of such a war, a neutrality, as long as it may be practicable. The people of these States would not willingly support a war, and the present government has not strength to command, nor enough of the general confidence of the nation to draw, the men or money necessary, until the grounds, causes, and necessity of it should become generally known and universally approved. A pacific character, in opposition to a warlike temper, a spirit of conquest, or a disposition to military enterprise, is of great importance to us to preserve in Europe; and, therefore, we should not engage, even in defensive war, until the necessity of it should become apparent, or, at least, until we have it in our power to make it manifest in Europe as well as at home.

In order to preserve an honest neutrality, or even the reputation of a disposition to it, the United States must avoid, as much as possible, every real wrong, and even every appearance of injury to either party. To grant to Lord Dorchester, in case he should request it, permission to march troops through the territory of the United States, from Detroit to the Mississippi, would not only have an appearance, offensive to the Spaniards, of partiality to the English, but would be a real injury to Spain. The answer, therefore, to his Lordship, should be a refusal, in terms clear and decided, but guarded and dignified; in a manner which no power has more at command than the President of the United States.

If a measure so daring, offensive, and hostile, as the march of troops through our territory to attack a friend, should be hazarded by the English without leave, or especially after a refusal, it is not so easy to answer the question what notice ought to be taken of it.

The situation of our country is not like that of most of the nations in Europe. They have, generally, large numbers of inhabitants in narrow territories. We have small numbers scattered over vast regions. The country through which the Britons must pass from Detroit to the Mississippi is, I suppose, so thinly inhabited, and at such a distance from all the populous settlements, that it would be impossible for the President of the United States to collect militia or march troops sufficient to resist the enterprise. After the step shall have been taken, there are but two ways for us to proceed; one is war, and the other negotiation. Spain would probably remonstrate to the President of the United States; but whether she should or not, the President of the United States should remonstrate to the King of Great Britain. It would not be expected, I suppose, by our friends or enemies, that the United States should declare war at once. Nations are not obliged to declare war for every injury, or even hostility. A tacit acquiescence, under such an outrage, would be misinterpreted on all hands; by Spain as inimical to her, and by Britain as the effect of weakness, disunion, and pusillanimity. Negotiation, then, is the only other alternative.

Negotiation, in the present state of things, is attended with peculiar difficulties. As the King of Great Britain twice proposed to the United States an exchange of ministers, once through Mr. Hartley, and once through the Duke of Dorset, and when the United States agreed to the proposition, flew from it; to send a minister again to St. James’s, till that court explicitly promises to send one to America, is a humiliation to which the United States ought never to submit. A remonstrance from sovereign to sovereign cannot be sent but by an ambassador of some order or other; from minister of state to minister of state it might be transmitted in many other ways. A remonstrance, in the form of a letter from the American Minister of State to the Duke of Leeds, or whoever may be secretary of state for foreign affairs, might be transmitted through an envoy, minister plenipotentiary, or ambassador of the President of the United States at Paris, Madrid, or the Hague, and through the British ambassador at either of those courts. The utmost length that can be now gone, with dignity, would be to send a minister to the court of London, with instructions to present his credentials, demand an audience, make his remonstrance; but to make no establishment, and demand his audience of leave, and quit the kingdom in one, two, or three months, if a minister of equal degree were not appointed, and actually sent, to the President of the United States from the King of Great Britain.

It is a misfortune that, in these critical moments and circumstances, the United States have not a minister of large views, mature age, information, and judgment, and strict integrity, at the courts of France, Spain, London, and the Hague. Early and authentic intelligence from those courts may be of more importance than the expense; but, as the representatives of the people, as well as of the legislatures, are of a different opinion, they have made a very scanty provision for but a part of such a system. As it is, God knows where the men are to be found who are qualified for such missions, and would undertake them. By an experience of ten years, which made me too unhappy at the time to be ever forgotten, I know that every artifice which can deceive, every temptation which can operate on hope or fear, ambition or avarice, pride or vanity, the love of society, pleasure, or amusement, will be employed to divert and warp them from the true line of their duty, and the impartial honor and interest of their country.

To the superior lights and information derived from office, the more serene temper and profound judgment of the President of the United States, these crude and hasty thoughts concerning the points proposed are humbly submitted, with every sentiment of respect and sincere attachment, by his
Most obedient and most humble servant,

John Adams.


United States, August 27, 1790

Provided the dispute between Great Britain and Spain should come to the decision of arms, from a variety of circumstances (individually unimportant and inconclusive, but very much the reverse when compared and combined) there is no doubt in my mind that New Orleans and the Spanish posts above it on the Mississippi will be among the first attempts of the former, and that the reduction of them will be undertaken by a combined operation from Detroit.

The consequences of having so formidable and enterprising a people as the British on both our flanks and rear, with their navy in front, as they respect our western settlements which may be seduced thereby, as they regard the security of the Union and its commerce with the West Indies, are too obvious to need enumeration.

What, then, should be the answer of the executive of the United States to Lord Dorchester, in case he should apply for permission to march troops through the territory of the said States from Detroit to the Mississippi?

What notice ought to be taken of the measure, if it should be undertaken without leave, which is the most probable proceeding of the two?

Mr. Adams will oblige the President of the United States by giving his opinion in writing on the above statement.

George Washington.


August 26, 1790

Opinion respecting our foreign debt.

On consideration of the letter of our banker, of January 25th, 1790, the Secretary of the Treasury’s answer to it, and the draught of powers and instructions to him, I am of opinion, as I always have been, that the purchase of our debt to France by private speculators, would have been an operation extremely injurious to our credit; and that the consequence foreseen by our banker, that the purchasers would have been obliged, in order to make good their payments, to deluge the markets of Amsterdam with American paper of all sorts, and to sell it at any price, was a probable one. And the more so, as we know that the particular individuals who were engaged in that speculation, possess no means of their own adequate to the payments they would have had to make. While we must not doubt that these motives, together with a proper regard for the credit of the United States, had real and full weight with our bankers, towards inducing them to counterwork these private speculations; yet, to ascribe their industry in this business wholly to these motives, might lead to a too great and dangerous confidence in them. It was obviously their interest to defeat all such speculations, because they tended to take out of their hands, or at least to divide with them, the profits of the great operation of transferring the French debt to Amsterdam, an object of first-rate magnitude to them, and on the undivided enjoyments of which they might count, if private speculators could be baffled. It has been a contest of dexterity and cunning, in which our champions have obtained the victory. The manœuvre of opening a loan of three millions of florins, has, on the whole, been useful to the United States, and though unauthorized, I think should be confirmed. The measure proposed by the Secretary of the Treasury, of sending a superintendent of their future operations, will effectually prevent their doing the like again, and the funding laws leave no danger that such an expedient might at any future time be useful to us.

The report of the Secretary of the Treasury and the draught of instructions, present this plan to view: First, to borrow on the best terms we can, not exceeding those limited by the law, such a sum as may answer all demands of principal or interest of the foreign debts, due, or to become due before the end of 1791. (This I think he supposes will be about three and a half millions of dollars.) Second, to consider two of the three millions of florins already borrowed by our bankers as, so far, an execution of this operation; consequently, there will remain but about two and a half millions of dollars to be borrowed on the old terms. Third, to borrow no more as yet, towards completing the transfer of the French debt to Amsterdam, unless we can do it on more advantageous terms. Fourth, to consider the third million of florins already borrowed by our bankers, as, so far, an execution of the powers given the President to borrow two millions of dollars, by the act of the 12th of August. The whole of this appears to me to be wise. If the third million be employed in buying up our foreign paper, on the exchange of Amsterdam, by creating a demand for that species of paper, it will excite a cupidity in the monied men to obtain more of it by new loans, and consequently enable us to borrow more and on lower terms. The saving of interest, too, on the sum so to be bought, may be applied in buying up more principal, and thereby keep this salutary operation going.

I would only take the liberty of suggesting the insertion of some such clause as the following, into the instructions: “The agents to be employed shall never open a loan for more than one million of dollars at a time, nor open a new loan till the preceding one has been filled, and expressly approved by the President of the United States.” A new man, alighting on the exchange of Amsterdam, with powers to borrow twelve millions of dollars, will be immediately beset with bankers and brokers, who will pour into his ear, from the most unsuspected quarters, such informations and suspicions as may lead him exactly into their snares. So wonderfully dexterous are they in wrapping up and complicating their propositions, they will make it evident, even to a clear-headed man, (not in the habit of this business,) that two and two make five. The agent, therefore, should be guarded, even against himself, by putting it out of his power to extend the effect of any erroneous calculation beyond one million of dollars. Were he able, under a delusive calculation, to commit such a sum as twelve millions of dollars, what would be said of the government? Our bankers told me themselves that they would not choose, in the conduct of this great loan, to open for more than two or three millions of florins at a time, and certainly never for more than five. By contracting for only one million of dollars at a time, the agent will have frequent occasions of trying to better the terms. I dare say that this caution, though not expressed in the instructions, is intended by the Secretary of the Treasury to be carried into their execution. But, perhaps, it will be desirable for the President, that his sense of it also should be expressed in writing.


August 22, 1790

We have a right to the navigation of the Mississippi—1, by Nature; 2, by Treaty.

It is necessary to us. More than half the territory of the United States is on the waters of that river. Two hundred thousand of our citizens are settled on them, of whom forty thousand bear arms. These have no other outlet for their tobacco, rice, corn, hemp, lumber, house timber, ship timber.

We have hitherto respected the indecision of Spain, because we wish peace;—because our western citizens have had vent at home for their productions.

A surplus of production begins now to demand foreign markets. Whenever they shall say, “We cannot, we will not, be longer shut up,” the United States will be reduced to the following dilemma: 1. To force them to acquiescence. 2. To separate from them, rather than take part in a war against Spain. 3. Or to preserve them in our Union, by joining them in the war.

The 1st is neither in our principles, nor in our power. 2d. A multitude of reasons decide against the second. It may suffice to speak out one: were we to give up half our territory rather than engage in a just war to preserve it, we should not keep the other half long. 3d. The third is the alternative we must adopt.

How are we to obtain that navigation?

(A.) By Force.

I. Acting separately. That we can effect this with certainty and promptitude, circumstances decide.

Objection. We cannot retain New Orleans, for instance, were we to take it.

Answer. A moderate force may be so secured, as to hold out till succored. Our succors can be prompt and effectual. Suppose, after taking it, we withdraw our force. If Spain retakes it by an expedition, we can recover it by a counter-expedition, and so as often as the case shall happen. Their expedition will be slow, expensive, and lead to catastrophes. Ours sudden, economical, and a check can have no consequences. We should associate the country to our Union. The inhabitants wish this. They are not disposed to be of the Spanish government. It is idle in Spain to suppose our Western inhabitants will unite with them. They could be quiet but a short time under a goverment so repugnant to their feelings. Were they to come under it for present purposes, it would be with a view to throw it off soon. Should they remain, they would communicate a spirit of independence to those with whom they should be mixed.

II. Acting in conjunction with Great Britain, and with a view to partition. The Floridas (including New Orleans) would be assigned to us. Louisiana (or all the Western waters of the Mississippi) to them. We confess that such an alliance is not what we would wish. Because it may eventually lead us into embarrassing situations with our best friend, and put the power of two neighbors into the hands of one. L. Lansdowne has declared he gave the Floridas to Spain rather than the United States as a bone of discord with the House of Bourbon, and of re-union with Great Britain. Connolly’s attempt (as well as other facts) proves they keep it in view.

(B.) By Negotiation.

I. What must Spain do of necessity. The conduct of Spain has proved that the occlusion of the Mississippi is system with her. If she opens it now, it will be because forced by imperious circumstances. She will consequently shut it again when these circumstances cease. Treaty will be no obstacle. Irregularities, real or pretended, in our navigators, will furnish color enough. Perpetual broils, and finally war will ensue. Prudence and even necessity, imposes on us the law of settling the matter now, finally, and not by halves. With experience of the past and prospect of the future, it would be imbecility in us to accept the naked navigation. With that, we must have what is necessary to its use, and without which it would be useless to secure its continuance; that is, a port near the mouth to receive our vessels and protect the navigation. But even this will not secure the Floridas and Louisiana against Great Britain. If we are neutral, she will wrest those possessions from Spain. The inhabitants (French, English, Scotch, American) would prefer England to Spain.

II. What then had Spain better do of choice? Cede to us all the territory on our side of the Mississippi: on condition that we guarantee all her possessions on the Western waters of that river, she agreeing further, to subsidize us if the guarantee brings us into the war.

Should Great Britain possess herself of the Floridas and Louisiana, her governing principles are conquest, colonization, commerce, monopoly. She will establish powerful colonies in them. These can be poured into the Gulf of Mexico for any sudden enterprise there, or invade Mexico, their next neighbor, by land. Whilst a fleet co-operates along shore, and cuts off relief. And proceed successively from colony to colony.

With respect to us, if Great Britain establishes herself on our whole land-board our lot will be bloody and eternal war, or indissoluble confederacy. Which ought we to choose? What will be the lot of the Spanish colonies in the jaws of such a confederacy? What will secure the ocean against the monopoly?

Safer for Spain that we should be her neighbor, than England. Conquest not in our principles: inconsistent with our government. Not our interest to cross the Mississippi for ages. And will never be our interest to remain united with those who do. Intermediate chances save the trouble of calculating so far forward.

Consequences of this cession, and guarantee: 1. Every subject of difference will be removed from between Spain and the United States. 2. Our interest will be strongly engaged in her retaining her American possessions. 3. Spain will be quieted as to Louisiana, and her territories west of that. 4. She may employ her whole force in defence of her islands and Southern possessions. 5. If we preserve our neutrality, it will be a very partial one to her. 6. If we are forced into the war, it will be, as we wish, on the side of the House of Bourbon. 7. Her privateers will commit formidable depredation on the British trade, and occupy much of their force. 8. By withholding supplies of provision, as well as by concurring in expeditions, the British islands will be in imminent danger. 9. Their expenses of precaution, both for their continental and insular possessions, will be so augmented as to give a hope of running their credit down. In fine, for a narrow slip of barren, detached and expensive country, Spain secures the rest of her territory, and makes an ally where she might have a dangerous enemy.


New York, August 14, 1790

Hond Sir

Cong. not having closed their Session till the day before yesterday, and the weather being extremely hot, I have thought it necessary in order to avoid the danger of a bilious attack to which I am become very subject, to wait here a few weeks which will render the journey more safe, and afford me moreover the pleasure of Mr. Jeffersons company quite to Orange. This resolution puts it out of my power to be within the district by the time of the election, and makes it proper that I should intimate the cause of it to a friend in each County. The inclosed are part of the letters written for that purpose.1 I fear the time may be short for conveying them, but hope opportunities may be found. The letter which is not directed is meant for each one of the gentlemen in Louisa, as you and my brother A may think most proper Should the High Sheriff be not improper, perhaps it would be as well for you to address it to him. Perhaps also my brother Ambrose may find it convenient to be at the Election in Louisa. The Letter for Col: Pendleton will be best in the hands of my brother William who I presume will attend in Culpeper. Two of the letters being unsealed I refer to their contents, remaining your afft son.

N. B. I have recd. the letter for Mr Jos Chew &c.

United States, August 11, 1790

Gentlemen of the Senate:

Although the treaty with the Creeks may be regarded as the main foundation of the future peace and prosperity of the Southwestern frontier of the United States, yet in order fully to effect so desirable an object the treaties which have been entered into with the other tribes in that quartet must be faithfully performed on our parts.

During the last year I laid before the Senate a particular statement of the case of the Cherokees. By a reference to that paper it will appear that the United States formed a treaty with the Cherokees in November, 1785; that the said Cherokees thereby placed themselves under the protection of the United States and had a boundary assigned them; that the white people settled on the frontiers had openly violated the said boundary by intruding on the Indian lands; that the United States in Congress assembled did, on the 1st day of September, 1788, issue their proclamation forbidding all such unwarrantable intrusions, and enjoined all those who had settled upon the hunting grounds of the Cherokees to depart with their families and effects without loss of time, as they would answer their disobedience to the injunctions and prohibitions expressed at their peril.

But information has been received that notwithstanding the said treaty and proclamation upward of 500 families have settled on the Cherokee lands exclusively of those settled between the fork of French Broad and Holstein rivers, mentioned in the said treaty.

As the obstructions to a proper conduct on this matter have been removed since it was mentioned to the Senate on the 22d of August, 1789, by the accession of North Carolina to the present Union and the cessions of the land in question, I shall conceive myself bound to exert the powers intrusted to me by the Constitution in order to carry into faithful execution the treaty of Hopewell, unless it shall be thought proper to attempt to arrange a new boundary with the Cherokees, embracing the settlements, and compensating the Cherokees for the cessions they shall make on the occasion. On this point, therefore, I state the following questions and request the advice of the Senate thereon:

First. Is it the judgment of the Senate that overtures shall be made to the Cherokees to arrange a new boundary so as to embrace the settlements made by the white people since the treaty of Hopewell, in November, 1785 ?

Second. If so, shall compensation to the amount of _____ dollars annually, or of _____ dollars in gross, be made to the Cherokees for the land they shall relinquish, holding the occupiers of the land accountable to the United States for its value?

Third. Shall the United States stipulate solemnly to guarantee the new boundary which may be arranged?



New York, August 10, 1790

Dear Sir,

—This letter, with the very confidential papers it encloses, will be delivered to you by Mr. Barrett with his own hands. If there be no war between Spain and England, they need to be known to yourself alone. But if that war be begun, or whenever it shall begin, we wish you to communicate them to the Marquis de La Fayette, on whose assistance we know we can count in matters which interest both our countries. He and you will consider how far the contents of these papers may be communicated to the Count de Montmorin, and his influence be asked with the court of Madrid. France will be called into the war, as an ally, and not on any pretence of the quarrel being in any degree her own. She may reasonably require then, that Spain should do everything which depends on her, to lessen the number of her enemies. She cannot doubt that we shall be of that number, if she does not yield our right to the common use of the Mississippi, and the means of using and securing it. You will observe, we state in general the necessity, not only of our having a port near the mouth of the river (without which we could make no use of the navigation at all) but of its being so well separated from the territories of Spain and her jurisdiction, as not to engender daily disputes and broils between us. It is certain, that if Spain were to retain any jurisdiction over our entrepôt, her officers would abuse that jurisdiction, and our people would abuse their privileges in it. Both parties must foresee this, and that it will end in war. Hence the necessity of a well-defined separation. Nature has decided what shall be the geography of that in the end, whatever it might be in the beginning, by cutting off from the adjacent countries of Florida and Louisiana, and enclosing between two of its channels, a long and narrow slip of land, called the Island of New Orleans. The idea of ceding this, could not be hazarded to Spain, in the first step; it would be too disagreeable at first view; because this island, with its town, constitutes, at present, their principal settlement in that part of their dominions, containing about ten thousand white inhabitants of every age and sex. Reason and events, however, may, by little and little, familiarize them to it. That we have a right to some spot as an entrepôt for our commerce, may be at once affirmed. The expediency, too, may be expressed, of so locating it as to cut off the source of future quarrels and wars. A disinterested eye, looking on a map, will remark how conveniently this tongue of land is formed for the purpose; the Iberville and Amit channel offering a good boundary and convenient outlet, on the one side, for Florida, and the main channel an equally good boundary and outlet, on the other side, for Louisiana; while the slip of land between, is almost entirely morass or sandbank; the whole of it lower than the water of the river, in its highest floods, and only its western margin (which is the highest ground) secured by banks and inhabited. I suppose this idea too much even for the Count de Montmorin at first, and that, therefore, you will find it prudent to urge, and get him to recommend to the Spanish court, only in general terms, “a port near the mouth of the river, with a circumjacent territory sufficient for its support, well defined, and extraterritorial to Spain,” leaving the idea to future growth.

I enclose you the copy of a paper distributed by the Spanish commandant on the west side of the Mississippi, which may justify us to M. de Montmorin, for pushing this matter to an immediate conclusion. It cannot be expected we shall give Spain time, to be used by her for dismembering us.

It is proper to apprize you of a circumstance, which may show the expediency of being in some degree on your guard, even in your communications to the court of France. It is believed here, that the Count de Moustier, during his residence with us, conceived the project of again engaging France in a colony upon our continent, and that he directed his views to some of the country on the Mississippi, and obtained and communicated a good deal of matter on the subject to his court. He saw the immediate advantage of selling some yards of French cloths and silks to the inhabitants of New Orleans. But he did not take into account what it would cost France to nurse and protect a colony there, till it should be able to join its neighbors, or to stand by itself; and then what it would cost her to get rid of it. I hardly suspect that the court of France could be seduced by so partial a view of the subject as was presented to them, and I suspect it the less, since the National Assembly has constitutionally excluded conquest from the object of their government. It may be added, too, that the place being ours, their yards of cloth and silk would be as freely sold as if it were theirs.

You will perceive by this letter and the papers it encloses, what part of the ideas of Count d’Estaing correspond with our views. The answer to him must be a compound of civility and reserve, expressing our thankfulness for his attentions, that we consider them as proofs of the continuance of his friendly dispositions, and that though it might be out of our system to implicate ourselves in trans-Atlantic guarantees, yet other parts of his plans are capable of being improved to the common benefit of the parties. Be so good as to say to him something of this kind verbally, and so as that the matter may be ended as between him and us.

On the whole, in the event of war, it is left to the judgment of the Marquis de La Fayette and yourself, how far you will develop the ideas now communicated to the Count de Montmorin, and how far you will suffer them to be developed to the Spanish court.

I enclose you a pamphlet by Hutchins for your further information on the subject of the Mississippi; and am, with sentiments of perfect esteem and attachment, dear Sir, your most obedient, and most humble servant.


United States, August 7, 1790

Gentlemen of the Senate

I lay before you a treaty between the United States and the chiefs of the Creek Nation, now in this city, in behalf of themselves and the whole Creek Nation, subject to the ratification of the President of the United States with the advice and consent of the Senate.

While I flatter myself that this treaty will be productive of present peace and prosperity to our Southern frontier, it is to be expected that it will also in its consequences be the means of firmly attaching the Creeks and the neighboring tribes to the interests of the United States.

At the same time it is to be hoped that it will afford solid grounds of satisfaction to the State of Georgia, as it contains a regular, full, and definitive relinquishment on the part of the Creek Nation of the Oconee land in the utmost extent in which it has been claimed by that State, and thus extinguishes the principal cause of those hostilities from which it has more shall once experienced such severe calamities.

But although the most valuable of the disputed land is included, yet there is a certain claim of Georgia, arising out of the treaty made by that State at Galphinston in November, 1785, of land to the eastward of a new temporary line from the forks of the Oconee and Oakmulgee in a southwest direction to the St. Marys River, which tract of land the Creeks in this city absolutely refuse to yield.

This land is reported to be generally barren, sunken, and unfit for cultivation, except in some instances on the margin of the rivers, on which by improvement rice might be cultivated, its chief value depending on the timber fit for the building of ships, with which it is represented as abounding.

While it is thus circumstanced on the one hand, it is stated by the Creeks on the other to be of the highest importance to them as constituting some of their most valuable winter hunting ground.

I have directed the commissioner to whom the charge of adjusting this treaty has been committed to lay before you such papers and documents and to communicate to you such information relatively to it as you may require.



New York, August 2, 1790

Dear Sir,

—This letter will be delivered to you by Colonel Humphreys, whose character is so well known to you as to need no recommendations from me. The present appearances of war between our two neighbors Spain and England, cannot but excite all our attention. The part we are to act is uncertain, and will be difficult. The unsettled state of our dispute with Spain, may give a turn to it very different from what we would wish. As it is important that you should be fully apprized of our way of thinking on this subject, I have sketched, in the enclosed paper, general heads of consideration arising from present circumstances. These will be readily developed by your own reflections, and in conversations with Colonel Humphreys; who, possessing the sentiments of the executive on this subject, being well acquainted with the circumstances of the Western country in particular, and of the state of our affairs in general, comes to Madrid expressly for the purpose of giving you a thorough communication of them. He will, therefore, remain there as many days or weeks as may be necessary for this purpose. With this information, written and oral, you will be enabled to meet the minister in conversations on the subject of the navigation of the Mississippi, to which we wish you to lead his attention immediately. Impress him thoroughly with the necessity of an early, and even an immediate settlement of this matter, and of a return to the field of negotiation for this purpose; and though it must be done delicately, yet he must be made to understand unequivocally, that a resumption of the negotiation is not desired on our part, unless he can determine, in the first opening of it, to yield the immediate and full enjoyment of that navigation. (I say nothing of the claims of Spain to our territory north of the thirty-first degree, and east of the Mississippi. They never merited the respect of an answer; and you know it has been admitted at Madrid, that they were not to be maintained.) It may be asked, what need of negotiation, if the navigation is to be ceded at all events? You know that the navigation cannot be practised without a port, where the sea and river vessels may meet and exchange loads, and where those employed about them may be safe and unmolested. The right to use a thing, comprehends a right to the means necessary to its use, and without which it would be useless. The fixing on a proper port, and the degree of freedom it is to enjoy in its operations, will require negotiation, and be governed by events. There is danger, indeed, that even the unavoidable delay of sending a negotiator here, may render the mission too late for the preservation of peace. It is impossible to answer for the forbearance of our western citizens. We endeavor to quiet them with the expectation of an attainment of their rights by peaceable means. But should they, in a moment of impatience, hazard others, there is no saying how far we may be led; for neither themselves nor their rights will ever be abandoned by us.

You will be pleased to observe, that we press these matters warmly and firmly, under this idea, that the war between Spain and Great Britain will be begun before you receive this; and such a moment must not be lost. But should an accommodation take place, we retain, indeed, the same object and the same resolutions unalterably; but your discretion will suggest, that in that event, they must be pressed more softly, and that patience and persuasion must temper your conferences, till either these may prevail, or some other circumstance turn up, which may enable us to use other means for the attainment of an object which we are determined, in the end, to obtain at every risk.


New York, July 31, 1790

Hond Sir

I have recd your’s of the 9th inclosing a letter for Mr Chew which I shall forward as you desire.

As far as I have had an opportunity of inquiring I do not find that Coffee can be got here on terms that will make it worth while to prefer it to what can be got in Virginia. The price of brown sugar I have not yet learnt but will attend to your request on that subject

The funding bill has at length passed the two Houses with a qualified assumption of the state debts. of the federal debt are to bear an immediate interest of 6 per ct. and the remaining a like interest to commence in 1800, but in the mean time to be receivable for land. The indents & arrears of interest are funded at 3 per Ct of the state debts are funded at 6 per ct. & at 3 per Ct. The assumption was carried by a small majority in both Houses. Many who voted for it did so on a supposition that it was a lesser evil than to risk the effect of a rejection on the states which insisted on the measure. I could not bring myself to concur with them, but am sensible that there was serious danger of a very unfavorable issue to the Session from a contrary decision, and consider it as now incumbent on us all to make the best of what is done. The truth is that in a pecuniary light, the assumption is no longer of much consequence to Virginia, the sum allotted to her being about her proportion of the whole, & rather exceeding her present debt. She will consequently pay no more to the general Treasury than she now pays to the State Treasy. and perhaps in a mode which will be less disagreeable to the people, tho not more favorable to their true interests

The Ways & means are now under consideration. The impost will be made equal to the federal debt. The provision for the State debts will be put off till the next session. It will be likely to consist chiefly of duties on rum distilled in the U.S. and on a few imported articles that will best bear a further augmentation.

We expect that an adjournment will take place in about a week. I shall set out for Virginia as soon thereafter as I can pack up my books papers &c. which will detain me here some days. Mr. Jefferson wishes me to wait for his setting out and as his company will be particularly grateful & also convenient I am not sure that I shall resist the invitation, if he finds that he can be ready for the Journey within a reasonable time. I shd not hesitate, if I did not wish to be in Orange by the election, tho’ as an attendance cannot be given at more than one of the 8 Counties, it does not seem worth while to sacrifice much to that consideration.

July 15, 1790


—I have formed an opinion, quite satisfactory to myself, that the adjournment of Congress may be by law, as well as by resolution, without touching the Constitution. I am now copying fair what I had written yesterday on the subject & will have the honor of laying it before you by ten o’clock. The address to the President contains a very full digest of all the arguments urged against the bill on the point of unconstitutionality on the floor of Congress. It was fully combated on that ground, in the Committee of the whole, & on the third reading. The majority (a southern one) overruled the objection, as a majority (a northern one) had overruled the same objection the last session on the Susquehanna residence bill. So that two Majorities, in the two different sessions, & from different ends of the Union have overruled the objection, and may be fairly supposed to have declared the sense of the whole Union. I shall not lose a moment in laying before you my thoughts on the subject.

Opinion upon the question whether the President should veto the Bill, declaring that the seat of government shall be transferred to the Potomac, in the year 1790.

A bill having passed both houses of Congress, and being now before the President, declaring that the seat of the federal government shall be transferred to the Potomac in the year 1790, that the session of Congress next ensuing the present shall be held in Philadelphia, to which place the offices shall be transferred before the 1st of December next, a writer in a public paper of July 13, has urged on the consideration of the President, that the constitution has given to the two houses of Congress the exclusive right to adjourn themselves; that the will of the President mixed with theirs in a decision of this kind, would be an inoperative ingredient, repugnant to the constitution, and that he ought not to permit them to part, in a single instance, with their constitutional rights; consequently, that he ought to negative the bill.

That is now to be considered:

Every man, and every body of men on earth, possesses the right of self-government. They receive it with their being from the hand of nature. Individuals exercise it by their single will; collections of men by that of their majority; for the law of the majority is the natural law of every society of men. When a certain description of men are to transact together a particular business, the times and places of their meeting and separating, depend on their own will; they make a part of the natural right of self-government. This, like all other natural rights, may be abridged or modified in its exercise by their own consent, or by the law of those who depute them, if they meet in the right of others; but as far as it is not abridged or modified, they retain it as a natural right, and may exercise them in what form they please, either exclusively by themselves, or in association with others, or by others altogether, as they shall agree.

Each house of Congress possesses this natural right of governing itself, and, consequently, of fixing its own times and places of meeting, so far as it has not been abridged by the law of those who employ them, that is to say, by the Constitution. This act manifestly considers them as possessing this right of course, and therefore has nowhere given it to them. In the several different passages where it touches this right, it treats it as an existing thing, not as one called into existence by them. To evince this, every passage of the constitution shall be quoted, where the right of adjournment is touched; and it will be seen that no one of them pretends to give that right; that, on the contrary, every one is evidently introduced either to enlarge the right where it would be too narrow, to restrain it where, in its natural and full exercise, it might be too large, and lead to inconvenience, to defend it from the latitude of its own phrases, where these were not meant to comprehend it, or to provide for its exercise by others, when they cannot exercise it themselves.

“A majority of each house shall constitute a quorum to do business; but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the attendance of absent members.” Art. 1, Sec. 5. A majority of every collection of men being naturally necessary to constitute its will, and it being frequently to happen that a majority is not assembled, it was necessary to enlarge the natural right by giving to “a smaller number than a majority” a right to compel the attendence of the absent members, and, in the meantime, to adjourn from day to day. This clause, then, does not pretend to give to a majority a right which it knew that majority would have of themselves, but to a number less than a majority, a right to which it knew that lesser number could not have of themselves.

“Neither house, during the session of Congress, shall, without the consent of the other adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other place than that in which the two houses shall be sitting.” Ibid. Each house exercising separately its natural right to meet when and where it should think best, it might happen that the two houses would separate either in time or place, which would be inconvenient. It was necessary, therefore, to keep them together by restraining their natural right of deciding on separate times and places, and by requiring a concurrence of will.

But, as it might happen that obstinacy, or a difference of object, might prevent this concurrence, it goes on to take from them, in that instance, the right of adjournment altogether, and to transfer it to another, by declaring, Art. 2, Sec. 3, that “in case of disagreement between the two houses, with respect to the time of adjournment, the President may adjourn them to such time as he shall think proper.”

These clauses, then, do not import a gift, to the two houses, of a general right of adjournment, which it was known they would have without that gift, but to restrain or abrogate the right it was known they would have, in an instance where, exercised in its full extent, it might lead to inconvenience, and to give that right to another who would not naturally have had it. It also gives to the President a right, which he otherwise would not have had, “to convene both houses, or either of them, on extraordinary occasions.” Thus substituting the will of another, where they are not in a situation to exercise their own.

“Every order, resolution, or vote, to which the concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of adjournment), shall be presented to the President for his approbation, &c.” Art. I, Sec. 7. The latitude of the general words here used would have subjected the natural right of adjournment of the two houses to the will of the President, which was not intended. They therefore expressly “except questions of adjournment” out of their operation. They do not here give a right of adjournment, which it was known would exist without their gift, but they defend the existing right against the latitude of their own phrases, in a case where there was no good reason to abridge it. The exception admits they will have the right of adjournment, without pointing out the source from which they will derive it.

These are all the passages of the constitution (one only excepted, which shall be presently cited) where the right of adjournment is touched; and it is evident that none of these are introduced to give that right; but every one supposes it to be existing, and provides some specific modification for cases where either a defeat in the natural right, or a too full use of it, would occasion inconvenience.

The right of adjournment, then, is not given by the constitution, and consequently it may be modified by law without interfering with that instrument. It is a natural right, and, like all other natural rights, may be abridged or regulated in its exercise by law; and the concurrence of the third branch in any law regulating its exercise is so efficient an ingredient in that law, that the right cannot be otherwise exercised but after a repeal by a new law. The express terms of the constitution itself show that this right may be modified by law, when, in Art. I, Sec. 4, (the only remaining passage on the subject not yet quoted) it says, “The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall be the first Monday in December, unless they shall, by law, appoint a different day.” Then another day may be appointed by law; and the President’s assent is an efficient ingredient in that law. Nay, further, they cannot adjourn over the first Monday of December but by a law. This is another constitutional abridgment of their natural right of adjournment; and completing our review of all the causes in the constitution which touch that right, authorizes us to say no part of that instrument gives it; and that the houses hold it, not from the constitution, but from nature.

A consequence of this is, that the houses may, by a joint resolution, remove themselves from place to place, because it is a part of their right of self-government; but that as the right of self-government does not comprehend the government of others, the two houses cannot, by a joint resolution of their majorities only, remove the executive and judiciary from place to place. These branches possessing also the rights of self-government from nature, cannot be controlled in the exercise of them but by a law, passed in the forms of the constitution. The clause of the bill in question, therefore, was necessary to be put into the form of a law, and to be submitted to the President, so far as it proposes to effect the removal of the Executive and Judiciary to Philadelphia. So far as respects the removal of the present houses of legislation thither, it was not necessary to be submitted to the President; but such a submission is not repugnant to the constitution. On the contrary, if he concurs, it will so far fix the next session of Congress at Philadelphia that it cannot be changed but by a regular law.

The sense of Congress itself is always respectable authority. It has been given very remarkably on the present subject. The address to the President in the paper of the 13th is a complete digest of all the arguments urged on the floor of the Representatives against the constitutionality of the bill now before the President; and they were overruled by a majority of that house, comprehending the delegation of all the States south of the Hudson, except South Carolina. At the last cession of Congress, when the bill for remaining a certain term in New York and then removing to Susquehanna or Germantown was objected to on the same ground, the objection was overruled by a majority comprehending the delegations of the northern half of the union with that of South Carolina. So that the sense of every State in the union has been expressed, by its delegation, against this objection South Carolina excepted, and excepting also Rhode Island, which has never yet had a delegation in place to vote on the question. In both these instances the Senate concurred with the majority of the Representatives. The sense of the two houses is stronger authority in this case, as it is given against their own supposed privilege.

It would be as tedious, as it is unnecessary, to take up and discuss one by one, the objections proposed in the paper of July 13. Every one of them is founded on the supposition that the two houses hold their right of adjournment from the constitution. This error being corrected, the objections founded on it fall of themselves.

It would also be work of mere supererogation to show that, granting what this writer takes for granted (that the President’s assent would be an inoperative ingredient, because excluded by the constitution, as he says), yet the particular views of the writer would be frustrated, for on every hypothesis of what the President may do, Congress must go to Philadelphia. 1. If he assents to the bill, that assent makes good law of the part relative to the Patomac; and the part for holding the next session at Philadelphia is good, either as an ordinance, or a vote of the two houses, containing a complete declaration of their will in a case where it is competent to the object; so that they must go to Philadelphia in that case. 2. If he dissents from the bill it annuls the part relative to the Patomac; but as to the clause for adjourning to Philadelphia, his dissent being as inefficient as his assent, it remains a good ordinance or vote, of the two houses for going thither, and consequently they must go in this case also. 3. If the President withholds his will out of the bill altogether, by a ten days’ silence, then the part relative to the Potomac becomes a good law without his will, and that relative to Philadelphia is good also, either as a law, or an ordinance, or a vote of the two houses; and consequently in this case also they go to Philadelphia.


July 12, 1790

Heads of consideration on the conduct we are to observe in the war between Spain and Gt. Britain and particularly should the latter attempt the conquest of Louisiana & the Floridas.

The dangers to us, should great Britain possess herself of those countries.

She will possess a territory equal to half ours, beyond the Missisipi.

She will reduce that half of ours which is on this side the Missisipi.

by her language, laws, religion, manners, government, commerce, capital.

by the possession of N. Orleans, which draws to it ye dependence of all ye waters of Misspi.

by the markets she can offer them in the gulph of Mexico & elsewhere.

She will take from the remaining part of our States the markets they now have for their produce by furnishing those markets cheaper with the same articles, tobo. rice. indigo. bread. lumber. naval stores. furs.

She will have then possessions double the size of ours, as good in soil & climate.

She will encircle us compleatly, by these possessions on our land board, and her fleets on our sea-board.

instead of two neighbors balancing each other, we shall have one, with more than the strength of both.

Would the prevention of this be worth a War?

consider our abilities to take part in a war.

our operations would be by land only.

how many men should we need to employ?— their cost?

our resources of taxation & credit equal to this.

Weigh the evil of this new accumulation of debt against the loss of markets, & eternal expence & danger from so overgrown a neighbor.

But this is on supposition that France as well as Spain shall be engaged in the war.

for with Spain alone the war would be unsuccessful, & our situation rendered worse.

No need to take a part in the war as yet—we may chuse our own time.

Delay gives us many chances to avoid it altogether.

In such a choice of objects, Gr. Britain may not single out Louisiana & the Floridas.

she may fail in her attempt on them.

France and Spain may recover them.

if all these chances fail, we should have to re-take them. the difference between retaking, & preventing, overbalanced by the benefits of delay.

Delay enables us to be better prepared.

to obtain from the allies a price for our assistance.

Suppose these our ultimate views, What is to be done at this time?

1. as to Spain?

if she be as sensible as we are, that she cannot save Louisiana and the Floridas, might she not prefer their Independance to their Subjection to Gr. Britain?

Does not the proposition of the Ct. d’Estaing furnish us an opening to communicate our ideas on this subject to the court of France, and thro’ them to that of Madrid? And our readiness to join them in guaranteeing the independance of those countries?

this might save us from a war, if Gr. Britain respects our weight in a war.

and if she does not, the object would place the war on popular ground with us.

2. As to England? say to Beckwith

‘that as to a Treaty of commerce, we would prefer amicable to adversary arrangements, tho’ the latter would be infallible, and in our power: that our ideas are that such a treaty should be founded in perfect reciprocity: and wd. therefore be it’s own price:

that as to an Alliance, we can say nothing till it’s object be shewn, & that it is not to be inconsistent with existing engagements: that in the event of a war between Gr. Britain & Spain we are disposed to be strictly neutral: that however we should view with extreme uneasiness any attempt of either power to seize the possessions of the other on our frontier, as we consider our own safety interested in a due balance between our neighbors’ [it might be advantageous to express this latter sentiment, because if there be any difference of opinion in their councils, whether to bend their force against North or South America, or the islands (and certainly there is room for difference) and if these opinions be nearly balanced, that balance might be determined by the prospect of having an enemy the more, or less, according to the object they should select].


July 8, 1790

Memorandum of the Substance of a Communication made on Thursday, the Eighth of July, 1790, to the Subscriber, by Major Beckwith, as by Direction of Lord Dorchester

Major Beckwith began by stating that Lord Dorchester2 had directed him to make his acknowledgments for the politeness which had been shown in respect to the desire he had intimated to pass by New York in his way to England; adding that the prospect of a war between Great Britain and Spain would prevent or defer the execution of his intention in that particular. He next proceeded to observe, that Lord Dorchester had been informed of a negotiation commenced on the other side of the water, through the agency of Mr. Morris, mentioning, as the subscriber understood, principally by way of proof of Lord Dorchester’s knowledge of the transaction, that Mr. Morris had not produced any regular credentials, but merely a letter from the President directed to himself; that some delays had intervened, partly on account of Mr. Morris’ absence on a trip to Holland, as was understood; and that it was not improbable these delays and some other circumstances may have impressed Mr. Morris with an idea of backwardness on the part of the British ministry. That his lordship, however, had directed him to say that an inference of this sort would not, in his opinion, be well founded, as he had reason to believe that the cabinet of Great Britain entertained a disposition not only toward a friendly intercourse, but toward an alliance, with the United States. Major Beckwith then proceeded to speak of the particular cause of the expected rupture between Spain and Britain, observing it was one in which all commercial nations must be supposed to favor the views of Great Britain. That it was therefore presumed, should a war take place, that the United States would find it to be their interest to take part with Great Britain rather than with Spain.

Major Beckwith concluded with producing a letter, signed “Dorchester,” which letter contained ideas similar to those he had expressed, though in more guarded terms, and without any allusion to instructions from the British cabinet. This letter, it is now recollected, hints at the non-execution of the treaty of peace on our part.

On the subscriber remarking the circumstance that this letter seemed to speak only the sentiments of his lordship, Major Beckwith replied, that whatever reasons there might be for that course of proceeding in the present stage of the business, it was to be presumed that his lordship knew too well the consequence of such a step, to have taken it without a previous knowledge of the intentions of the cabinet.

Major Beckwith afterwards mentioned that Lord Dorchester had heard with great concern of some depredations committed by some Indians on our western frontier; that he wished it to be believed that nothing of this kind had received the least countenance from him; that, on the contrary, he had taken every proper opportunity of inculcating upon the Indians a pacific disposition towards us; and that, as soon as he had heard of the outrages lately committed, he had sent a message to endeavor to prevent them; that his lordship had understood that the Indians alluded to were banditti, composed chiefly or in a great part of Creeks or Cherokees, over whom he had no influence, intimating at the same time that these tribes were supposed to be in connection with the Spaniards.

He stated, in the next place, that his lordship had been informed that a Captain Hait, in our service, and a Mr. Nimble, and indeed some persons in the treaty at Fort Harman, had thrown out menaces with regard to the posts on the frontier, and had otherwise held very intemperate language; which, however, his lordship considered rather as effusions of individual feelings than as the effects of any instruction from authority.

A. Hamilton.


New York, July 4, 1790

Dear Sir,—

You will find by one of the Gazettes herewith sent, that the bill fixing the permanent seat of Government on the Potowmac, and the temporary at Philadelphia, has got through the Senate. It passed by a single voice only, Izzard and Few having both voted against it. Its passage through the House of Representatives is probable, but attended with great difficulties. If the Potowmac succeeds, even on these terms, it will have resulted from a fortuitous coincidence of circumstances which might never happen again.

The provision for the public debt has been suspended for some time in the Senate by the question relating to the seat of Government. It is now resumed in that House, and it is to be hoped will soon be brought to an issue. The assumption sleeps, but I am persuaded will be awakened on the first dawn of a favorable opportunity. It seems, indeed, as if the friends of the measure were determined to risk everything rather than suffer that finally to fail.

We hear nothing further of the controversy between England and Spain.

New York, June 27, 1790

Dear Doctor,

—I have duly received your favor of May 21 and thank you for the details it contains. Congressional proceedings go on rather heavily. The question for assuming the state debts, has created greater animosities than I ever yet saw take place on any occasion. There are three ways in which it may yet terminate. 1. A rejection of the measure which will prevent their funding any part of the public debt, and will be something very like a dissolution of the government. 2. A bargain between the Eastern members who have it so much at heart, & the middle members who are indifferent about it, to adopt those debts without any modification on condition of removing the seat of government to Philadelphia or Baltimore. 3. An adoption of them with this modification that the whole sum to be assumed shall be divided among the states in proportion to their census; so that each shall receive as much as they are to pay; & perhaps this might bring about so much good humour as to induce them to give the temporary seat of government to Philadelphia, & then to Georgetown permanently. It is evident that this last is the least bad of all the turns the thing can take. The only objection to it will be that Congress will then have to lay & collect taxes to pay these debts, which could much better have been laid & collected by the state governments. This, tho’ an evil, is a less one than any of the others in which it may issue, and will probably give us the seat of government at a day not very distant, which will vivify our agriculture & commerce by circulating thro’ our state an additional sum every year of half a million of dollars. When the last packet left England there was a great appearance of an immediate rupture with Spain. Should that take place, France will become a party. I hope peace & profit will be our share. Present my best esteem to Mrs. Gilmer & my enquiring neighbors.


New York, June 22, 1790

Dear Sir,—

The pressure of business as the session approaches its term, the earlier hour at which the House of Representatives has for some time met, and the necessity of devoting a part of the interval to exercise, after so long a confinement, have obliged me to deny myself the pleasure of communicating regularly with my friends. I regret much that this violation of my wishes has unavoidably extended itself to the correspondences on which I set the greatest value, and which, I need not add, include yours. The regret is the greater, as I fear it will not be in my power to atone for past omissions by more punctuality during the residue of the session. In your goodness alone I must consequently look for my title to indulgence.

The funding and Revenue systems are reduced by the discord of opinions into a very critical state. Out of this extremity, however, some effective provision must, I think, still emerge. The affair of the State debts has been the great source of delay and embarrassment, and, from the zeal and perseverance of its patrons, threatens a very unhappy issue to the session, unless some scheme of accommodation should be devised. The business of the seat of Government is become a labyrinth, for which the votes printed furnish no clue, and which it is impossible in a letter to explain to you. We are endeavoring to keep the pretensions of the Potowmac in view, and to give to all the circumstances that occur a turn favorable to it. If any arrangement should be made that will answer our wishes, it will be the effect of a coincidence of causes as fortuitous as it will be propitious. You will see by the papers inclosed that Great Britain is itching for war. I do not see how one can be avoided, unless Spain should be frightened into concessions. The consequences of such an event must have an important relation to the affairs of the United States. I had not the pleasure of seeing Col. Hoomes during his momentary stay in New York, but had that of hearing that he gave a very favorable account of your health.

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