Article 2, Section 2, Clauses 2 and 3

Document 21

George Washington to Alexander Hamilton

31 March 1796Writings 35:6--8

My dear Sir: I do not know how to thank you sufficiently, for the trouble you have taken to dilate on the request of the House of Representatives for the Papers relative to the British Treaty; or how to apologize for the trouble (much greater than I had any idea of giving) which you have taken to shew the impropriety of that request.

From the first moment, and from the fullest conviction in my own mind, I had resolved to resist the principle wch. was evidently intended to be established by the call of the House of Representatives; and only deliberated on the manner, in which this could be done, with the least bad consequences.

To effect this, three modes presented themselves to me: 1. a denial of the Papers in toto, assigning concise, but cogent reasons for that denial; 2. to grant them in whole; or 3. in part; accompanied with a pointed protest against the right of the House to controul Treaties, or to call for Papers without specifying their object; and against the compliance being drawn into precedent.

I had as little hesitation in deciding that the first was the most tenable ground, but from the peculiar circumstances of this case It merited consideration, if the principle could be saved, whether facility in the provisions might not result from a compliance. An attentive examination however of the Papers and the subject, soon convinced me that to furnish all the Papers would be highly improper; and that a partial deliver of them would leave the door open for as much calumny as the entire refusal, perhaps more so, as it might, and I have no doubt would be said, that all such as were essential to the purposes of the house, were withheld.

Under these impressions, I proceeded, with the heads of Departments and the Attorney General, to collect materials; and to prepare an answer, subject however to revision, and alteration, according to circumstances. This answer was ready on Monday, and proposed to be sent in on Tuesday but it was delayed until I should receive what was expected; not doing it definitively on that day, the delivery of my answer was further postponed till the next; notwithstanding the anxious solicitude which was visible in all quarters, to learn the result of Executive decision.

Finding that the draft I had prepared, embraced most, if not all the principles which were detailed in the Paper I received yesterday; though not the reasonings. That it would take considerable time to copy the latter, and above all, having understood that if the Papers were refused a fresh demand, with strictures might be expected; I sent in the answer wch. was ready; reserving the other as a source for reasoning if my information proves true.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 4, Article 2, Section 2, Clauses 2 and 3, Document 21
The University of Chicago Press

The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745--1799. Edited by John C. Fitzpatrick. 39 vols. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1931--44.

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