George Washington Letter to Thomas Jefferson Concerning the Constitutional Convention, May 30, 1787
On May 30, 1787, just days after being unanimously elected president of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, George Washington wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson, who was serving as the minister to France. Jefferson was informed on the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention through letters from the delegates, particularly Washington and James Madison. Jefferson was generally in support of the Constitution, despite the lack of a bill of rights. His approval was sought, and his opinions used in attempts to influence others, especially during the Virginia ratification debates in 1788.
This letter from Washington covered suggestions for a French fur trade businessman and information about the Society of the Cincinnati, but ended by expressing Washington's feelings on the current desperate state of the national government and the need to remedy it. Even more than Jefferson's opinion, Washington's view carried a great deal of weight. This is the reason why Washington later refused to be a delegate to the Virginia ratifying convention. He believed that his moral influence, rather than any participation as an active delegate would be most beneficial to the Federalist cause. Moreover, anticipating that he would become the first president of the United States under the new constitution once ratified, Washington wanted avoid future accusations of self-promotion.
1. Where was Thomas Jefferson? Why was he not at the Convention?
2. What was Washington's opinion of the Articles of Confederation?
1. Why did Washington and Jefferson's opinions carry so much weight with their contemporaries? If either of them was against the Constitution, do you think that it would have been ratified? Why or why not?
Kaminski, John P., and Gaspare J. Saladino, eds. The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, Vol 10: Ratification of the Constitution by the States: Virginia, Vol. 3. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1993.