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Tag: Henry Knox

The Senate irritates the President

This post continues our celebration of the 225th anniversary of the First Congress.

The Constitution gives the President the “power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties.”

George Washington, portrait. (National Archives Identifier 532860)

George Washington, portrait. (National Archives Identifier 532860)

This first time the President attempted to seek that advice occurred in August 1789 when first President George Washington sent a message to the Senate asking “to advise with them” on a treaty with the Southern Indians (at that time the United States treated Indian tribes as foreign nations).

On August 22, 1789, Washington arrived at Federal Hall in New York City (then the capital) with Secretary of War Henry Knox, and they proceeded to read aloud a series of documents related to the various Southern Indian tribes.

The incident was not recorded in the Senate Executive Journal, but Senator William Maclay of Pennsylvania kept a diary and documented what transpired: apparently the noise from the Manhattan traffic below drowned out the reading of the documents.

As a result, the Senate decided to appoint a committee rather than debate the issue in front of the President, which caused great consternation to Washington.

(Henry Knox (3/4 length). National Archives Identifier 532928)

(Henry Knox (3/4 length). National Archives Identifier 532928)

After regaining his composure, Washington agreed to come back to receive the Senate’s advice. Shortly thereafter, however, Washington decided that all future dealings with the Senate … [ Read all ]

Taking the Constitution for a Test Drive

Today’s Constitution Day guest post was written by Jim Zeender, senior registrar in exhibits at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

The Constitution of the United States turned 226 this year and continues to be the oldest and longest-serving written constitution in the world. It consists of exactly 4,543 words and has been amended only 27 times.

At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention in September 1787, the attendees had various opinions on the result of the Convention. Benjamin Franklin has probably been quoted most often from his speech that day, “I confess that I do not entirely approve this Constitution at present, but Sir, I am not sure I shall never approve it.”

Independence Hall

Exterior of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where the Constitution was signed. (National Archives Identifier 518208)

John Adams was not present in Philadelphia.  He was in London, serving as the U.S. envoy to Great Britain. Adams received a copy of the new constitution from Massachusetts delegate Elbridge Gerry, and he later praised the Convention’s work in a letter to Jefferson, who was in Paris.

It seems to be admirably calculated to preserve the Union, to increase Affection, and to bring us all to the same mode of thinking. They have adopted the Idea of the Congress at Albany in 1754 of a President to nominate officers and a Council to Consent: but

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In their own words: President George Washington

Washington at his inauguration in New York, April 30, 1789 (National Archives, 148-CCD-92C)

This is the first part of a series, written by Jim Zeender, devoted to letters written by the Founding Fathers in their own words and often in their own hand.

As a registrar in the Exhibits Division of the National Archives for over 25 years, I have had the good fortune to work with many dedicated professionals at the National Archives. It has been a privilege to have access to the holdings, including the rarest of the rare. However, I always return to my favorites, the letters of the Founding Fathers.

Some of the most revealing letters come in a series of records blandly called Miscellaneous Letters in Record Group 59, General Records of the Department of State. Thanks to the irregularities of early recordkeeping, personal and official correspondence were sometimes mixed. These are draft letters or short notes with crossouts and annotations that illuminate the thoughts and work habits of the authors. The letters usually have to do with policy issues, but the topics are sometimes private and political. From the 1789 to early 1820s, there are hundreds of letters written by Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe.

In the official files of the early U.S. Government, we expect to find letters and memos on the subjects facing a youthful country: diplomacy, … [ Read all ]