Volume 9: Sept. 1791 – Feb. 1792

In the period covered by volume 9, the fall and winter of 1791-92, Washington was busy dealing with a host of issues. Over forty letters to and from Washington concern the problems arising from Pierre L’Enfant’s high-handedness as designer of the Federal City and his insistence that he receive his authority from Washington directly, not from the Commissioners for the District of Columbia.

Washington’s nomination in late December 1791 of Thomas Pinckney, Gouverneur Morris, and William Short as ministers at London, Paris, and The Hague, respectively, set off a firestorm of congressional controversy about the meaning of the “advice and consent” provision of the Constitution. Although Washington was ultimately successful in securing the appointment of his nominees, the practical meaning of the constitutional provision remained to be settled.

Finally, in the wake of Gen. Arthur St. Clair’s defeat on 4 November 1791, Washington tried to get Congress to increase the size of the army and rally popular support for yet another expedition against the hostile Indian tribes on the northwest frontier. To do so, he instructed Secretary of War Henry Knox in January 1792 to prepare for publication a report revealing the causes of the Indian war and the administration’s efforts to pacify the frontier region. Washington’s preface to this publication, a letter to Knox asking him to make the government’s case to the American people, represents an early presidential effort to guide public opinion and win support for a controversial policy.

Mark A. Mastromarino and Jack D. Warren, eds., The Papers of George Washington: Presidential Series volume 9, September 1791 – February 1792. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 2000.

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