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affirm, that it has been, and will continue to be, while I have the honour to preside in the government, my constant endeavour to harmonize with the other branches thereof, as far as the trust delegated to me by the people of the United States, and my sense of the obligation it imposes, to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, will permit. “The nature of foreign negotiations require caution, and their success must often depend on secrecy; and even when brought to a conclusion, a full disclosure of all the measures, demands, or eventual concessions which may nave been proposed or contemplated, would be extremely impolitick; for this might have a pernicious influence on future negotiations, or produce immediate inconveniences, perhaps danger and mischief to other persons. The necessity of such caution and secrecy was one cogent reason for vesting the power of making treaties in the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, the principle on which that body was formed, confining it to a small number of members. “To admit then a right in the House of Representatives to demand and to have as a matter of course, all the papers respecting a negotiation with a foreign power, would be to establish a dangerous precedent. “It does not occur that the inspection of the papers asked for, can be relative to any purpose under the cognizance of the House of Representatives, except that of an impeachment, which the resolution has not expressed. I repeat that I have no disposition to withhold any information which the duty of my station will permit, or the publick good shall require to be disclosed; and in fact, all the papers affecting the negotiation with Great Britain were laid before the Senate, when the treaty itself was communicated for their consideration and advice. “The course which the debate has taken on the rosolution of the house, leads to some observations on the mode of making treaties under the Constitution: of the United States. “Having been a member of the General Convention, and knowing the principles on which the Col.sti. tution was formed, I have ever entertained but one opinion upon this subject; and from the first establishment of the government to this moment, my conduct has exemplified that opinion. That the power of making treatics is exclusively vested in the President, by and with the consent of the Senate, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur ; and that every treaty so made, and promulgated, thenceforward becomes the law of the land. It is thus that the treaty making power has been understood by foreign nations; and in all the treaties made with them, we have declared, and they have believed, that when ratified by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, they became obligatory. In this construction of the Constitution, every House of Representatives has heretofore acquiesced ; and until the present time, not a doubt or suspicion has appeared to my knowledge, that this construction was not the true one. Nay, they have more than acquiesced ; for until now, without controverting the obligations of such treaties, they have made all the requisite provisions for carrying them into effect. “There is also reason to believe that this construction agrees with the opinions entertained by the State Conventions, when they were deliberating on the Constitution; especially by those who objected to it, because there was not required in commercial treaties, the consent of two thirds of the whole number of the members of the Senate, instead of two thirds of the Senators present; and because in treaties respecting territorial, and certain other rights and claims, the concurrence of three fourths of the whole number of the members of both houses respectively, was not made necessary. “It is a fact declared by the General Convention and universally understood that the Constitution of
the United States was the result of a spirit of amity and mutual concession. And it is well known, that under this influence, the smaller states were f *mitted to an equal representation in the Senate with the larger states; and that this branch of the government was invested with great powers; for on the equal participation of those powers, the sovereignty and political safety of the smaller states were deemed essentially to depend. “If other proofs than these and the plain letter of the Constitution itself be necessary to ascertain the point under consideration, they may be found in the journals of the General Convention which I have deposited in the office of the Department of State. In these journals it will appear, that a proposition was made, that no treaty should be binding on the United States, which was not ratified by a law; and that the proposition was explicitly rejected. “As therefore it is perfectly clear to my understanding that the assent of the House of Representatives is not necessary to the validity of a treaty: as the treaty with Great Britain exhibits in itself all the objects requiring legislative provision; and on these the papers called for can throw no light; and as it is essential to the due administration of the government, that the boundaries fixed by the Constitution between the different departments should be preserved; a just regard to the Constitution, and to the duty of my office, under all the circumstances of this case, forbid a compliance with your request.” A resolution moved in the House to make the necessary appropriations to carry the British treaty into effect excited among the members the strongest emotions of human nature, and gave rise to speeches highly argumentative, eloquent, and animated. The debate was protracted until the people assumed the subject In their respective corporations, meetings were holden, the strength of parties was fully tried, and it clearly
appeared that the great majority were disposed to rally around the Executive. Innumerable petitions were presented to Congress praying them to make the re quisite appropriations. Unwilling to take upon themselves the consequences of resisting tie publick will, Congress made the ap propriations. It was not in the administration of the government only, that General WASHINgtoN found it necessary to exercise great caution and prudence. The convulsions of France and the political divisions of the United States, rendered it expedient that he should be circumspect in his personal friendships, and in the exercise of benevolent offices towards individual characters. A sincere friendship had been formed between him and the Marquis La Fayette. This friendship was not disturbed by those vicissitudes in France, which occasioned the exile and foreign imprisonment of that nobleman. These rather increased the sensibility, and strengthened the attachment of the President towards the unfortunate Marquis. But on account of the state of parties in France and America, interpositions in his favour were privately made. The American Ministers at Foreign Courts were directed in an unofficial manner to exert themselves to obtain his liberation, or to render his confinement less oppressive. A confidential agent was sent to Berlin to solicit his liberty; but before he reached his place of destination, the King of Prussia had surrendered the Marquis to the Emperor of Germany. Mr. Pinckney, then at the Court of London, was directed to intimate the wishes of the President to the Austrian Minister at that Court, and to solicit the influence of the British Cabinet in favour of the illustrious prisoner. Disap pointed in the expected mediation of Great Britain, the President addressed the following letter imms diately to the Emperor of Germany.
“It will readily occur to your Majesty that occasions may sometimes exist, on which official considerations would constrain the Chief of a nation -o be silent and passive in relation even to objects which affect his sensibility, and claim his interposition as a man. Finding myself precisely in this situation at present, I take the liberty of writing this private letter to your Majesty, being persuaded that my motives will also be my apology for it. “In common with the people of this country, I retain a strong and cordial sense of the services rendered to them by the Marquis La Fayette; and my friendship for him has been constant and sincere. It is natural, therefore, that I should sympathize with him and his family in their misfortunes, and endeavour to mitigate the calamities they experience, among which his present confinement is not the least distressing. “I forbear to enlarge on this delicate subject. Permit me only to submit to your Majesty's consideration, whether his long imprisonment, and the confiscation of his estate, and the indigence and dispersion of his family, and the painful anxieties incident to all those circumstances, do not form an assemblage of sufferings, which recommend him to the mediation of humanity 2 Allow me, sir, on this occasion, to be its organ; and to entreat that he may be permitted to come to this country on such conditions, and under such restrictions as your Majesty may think it expedient to prescribe. “As it is a maxim with me not to ask, what under similar circumstances, I would not grant, your Majesty will do me the justice to believe, that this request
appears to me to correspond with those great princi- .
ples of magnanimity and wisdom, which form the basis of sound policy and durable glory.” This letter was sent to Mr. Pinckney, and was by him transmitted through the Austrian Minister to the Emperor. From this period the Marquis was treated