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word before tracing briefly the subsequent fate of the Jay treaty, and that is, to know exactly why the President signed it. The answer is fortunately not difficult. There was a choice of evils. When Washington determined to send a special envoy, he said: “My objects are, to prevent a war, if justice can be obtained by fair and strong representations (to be made by a special envoy) of the injuries which this country has sustained from Great Britain in various ways; to put it into a complete state of military defense; and to provide eventually such measures for execution as seem to be now pending in Congress, if negotiation in a reasonable time proves unsuccessful.” From these views he never varied. The treaty was not a perfect one, but it had good features and was probably, as has been said, the best that could then be obtained. It settled some vexed questions, and it gave us time. If the United States could only have time without making undue sacrifice, they could pass beyond the stage when a foreign war with its consequent suffering and debt would endanger our national existence. If they could only have time to grow into a nation, there would be no difficulty in settling all their disputes with other people satisfactorily, either by war or negotiation. But if the national bonds were loosened, then all was lost. It was in this spirit that Washington signed the Jay treaty; and although there was much in it that he did not like, and although men were bitterly divided about the ratification,
a dispassionate posterity has come to believe that he was right at the most difficult if not the most perilous crisis in his career.
The signature of the treaty, however, did not put an end to the attacks upon it, or upon the action of the Senate and the Executive. Nevertheless, it turned the tide, and, as Washington foresaw, brought out a strong movement in its favor. Hamilton began the work by the publication of the letters of “Camillus." The opposition newspapers sneered, but after Jefferson had read a few numbers he begged Madison in alarm to answer them. His fears were well grounded, for the letters were reprinted in newspapers throughout the country, and their powerful and temperate arguments made converts and strengthened the friends of the administration everywhere. The approaching surrender of the posts gratified the western people when they at last stopped to think about it. The obnoxious provision order was revoked, and the traders and merchants found that security and commerce even under unpleasant restrictions were a great deal better than the uncer. tainty and the vexatious hostilities to which they had before been exposed. Those who had been silent, although friendly to the policy of the government, now began to meet in their turn and send addresses to Congress; for in the House of Representatives the last battle was to be fought.
That body came together under the impression of the agitation and excitement which had been
going on all through the summer. There was a little wrangling at the opening over the terms to be employed in the answer to the President's message, and then the House relapsed into quiet, awaiting the formal announcement of the treaty. At last the treaty arrived with the addition of the suspending article, and the President proclaimed it to be the law of the land, and sent a copy to the House. Livingston, of New York, at once moved a resolution, asking the President to send in all the papers relating to the negotiation, and boldly placed the motion on the ground that the House was vested with a discretionary power as to carrying the treaty into execution.' On this principle the debate went on for three weeks, and then the resolution passed by 62 to 37. A
great constitutional question was thus raised, for there was no pretense that the papers were really needed, inasmuch as committees had seen them all, and they contained practically nothing which was not already known.
Washington took the request into consideration, and asked his cabinet whether the House had the right, as set forth in the resolutions, to call for the papers, and if not, whether it was expedient to furnish them. Both questions were unanimously answered in the negative. The inquiry was largely formal, and Washington had no real doubts on the point involved. He wrote to Hamilton: “I had from the first moment, and from the fullest conviction in my own mind, resolved to resist the
principle, which was evidently intended to be eso tablished by the call of the House of Representatives; and only deliberated on the manner in which this could be done with the least bad conse
His only question was as to the method of resistance, and he finally decided to refuse absolutely, and did so in a message setting forth his
He said that the intention of the constitutional convention was known to him, and that they had intended to vest the treaty-making power exclusively in the Executive and Senate. On that principle he had acted, and in that belief foreign nations had negotiated, and the House had hitherto acquiesced. He declared further that the assent of the House was not necessary to the validity of treaties; that they had all necessary information; and “as it is essential to the due administration of the government that the boundaries fixed by the Constitution 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."
The question was a difficult one, but there could be no doubt as to Washington's opinion, and the weight of authority has sustained his view. From the practical and political side there can be little question that his position was extremely sound. In a letter to Carrington he gave the reasons for his action, and no better statement of the argument in a general way has ever been made. He wrote:
“No candid man in the least degree acquainted with the progress of this business will believe for a moment that the ostensible dispute was about papers, or whether the British treaty was a good one or a bad one, but whether there should be a treaty at all without the concurrence of the House of Representatives. This was striking at once, and that boldly, too, at the fundamental principles of the Constitution ; and, if it were established, would render the treaty-making power not only a nullity, but such an absolute absurdity as to reflect disgrace on the framers of it. For will any one suppose that they who framed, or those who adopted, that instrument ever intended to give the power to the President and Senate to make treaties, and, declaring that when made and ratified they should be the supreme law of the land, would in the same breath place it in the power of the House of Representatives to fix their vote on them, unless apparent marks of fraud or corruption (which in equity would set aside any contract) accompanied the measure, or such striking evidence of national injury attended their adoption as to make a war or any other evil preferable ? Every unbiased mind will answer in the negative.
“ What the source and what the object of all this struggle is, I submit to my fellow-citizens. Charity would lead me to hope that the motives to it would be pure. Suspicions, however, speak a different language, and my tongue for the present shall be silent.”
No man who has ever held high office in this country had a more real deference for the popular will than Washington. But he also had always a keen sensitiveness to the dignity and the prerogo