Front Page Titles (by Subject) CONVENING CONGRESS: hamilton to washington 1 - The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition), vol. 8
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CONVENING CONGRESS: hamilton to washington 1 - Alexander Hamilton, The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition), vol. 8 
The Works of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge (Federal Edition) (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). In 12 vols. Vol. 8.
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hamilton to washington1
October 24, 1793.
Sir:—I arrived at my house yesterday evening, where I found your letter of the 14th instant; having previously received that of the 25th of September, by the circuitous route of Albany, the evening before my departure from New York.
As to the right of the President to convene Congress out of the ordinary course, I think it stands as follows—“;he may on extraordinary occasions convene both houses of Congress or either of them.” These are the words of the Constitution. Nothing is said as to time or place—nothing restrictive as to either; I therefore think they both stand on the same footing. The discretion of the President extends to place as well as time. The reason of the thing as well as the words of the Constitution would extend it to both. The usual seat of the government may be in possession of an enemy, it may be swallowed up by an earthquake.
I know of no law that abridges in this respect the discretion of the President—if a law could abridge a constitutional discretion of either branch.
But the doubt with me is whether the “extraordinary occasion” mentioned in the Constitution be not some unforeseen occurrence in the public affairs, which renders it advisable for the public service to convene Congress at some time different from that which the Constitution or some law has established; in other words, to anticipate their ordinary meeting, to have a special session for a special object of public business out of the pre-established course.
I doubt, therefore, whether the circumstance of a contagious disease existing at the seat of government be a constitutional ground for convening Congress at another place, but at the same time they had premeditated.
And I know that there are respectable opinions against the power of the President to change the place of meeting in such a case, so as I think to render it inexpedient to take the step.
But the President may recommend a meeting at some other place, as a place of preliminary rendezvous for the members of the two houses, that they may informally concert what further the exigency may require, and my present opinion inclines in favor of such a measure.
The question then would be, what place is the most eligible. Obvious reasons render it desirable that it should be as near Philadelphia as may consist with the motive for naming such a place—to wit, the safety of the members. 1. Innovation upon the existing arrangement with regard to the seat of government ought to be avoided as much as possible. 2. Congress may think it necessary for regularity to go within the limits of the city (though but for an hour), to give legality by some summary act to another place of meeting; and with this view it will be convenient to meet at no great distance from the city. 3. The place recommended may influence the place of session. The President and heads of departments ought to be near Congress, but they cannot be long remote from their offices, and a removal of the public offices for one session would be in many ways an evil. Lastly, the less the President in such cases departs from the pre-established course, the less room there will be for cavil.
All these reasons would operate in favor of Germantown, if competent only to the momentary accommodation of Congress. Mr. Peters and some other gentlemen affirm that it is. I have myself great doubt on the point, and I have not had time to examine, but I cannot help paying deference to the opinion of those who assert its competency.
There is, however, another consideration not unworthy of attention. Experience seems to decide satisfactorily that there would be due safety at Germantown; but it is very probable this would not appear to be the case to the members generally. The alarm appears to be greatest in proportion as you go furthest from the seat of the disease. Yet I should hope the President’s recommendation, stating the fact as evidenced by experience, would appease the apprehensions of the parties concerned.
If Germantown should not be found adequate, on the score of accommodation, Trenton, Reading, Lancaster, and Wilmington are the places which present themselves to choice as most eligible; nothing more northerly or southerly ought to be thought of. A place in Pennsylvania will best please the Pennsylvanians. They would be very jealous of Trenton, and they would have some, though less, jealousy of Wilmington; Lancaster would afford better accommodation than Reading. Wilmington would, I apprehend, be the most agreeable of these places to Congress.
But I am, upon the whole, of opinion that it will be best to make Germantown do, if possible. It will be time enough to decide when you arrive, and the interval will be employed to examine the ground.
Mrs. Hamilton and myself are very sensible to the obliging interest you have manifested on our recovery. Exercise and northern air have restored us beyond expectation. We are very happy that Mrs. Washington and yourself escaped.
I have the honor to remain, etc.
hamilton to washington
November 3, 1793.
Sir:—Not having been in condition to attend you yesterday, and (though free from fever) yet not being well enough to go abroad immediately, I have concluded to submit to you by a line the result of my further reflections on the subject of my last letter.
I believe it will be altogether safe for the ensuing session of Congress to be held at Philadelphia, and that the good of the public service requires it, if possible. Under the existing prospect, I do not think it would be advisable for the President to give the business a different direction by any preliminary step. But as the apprehensions of distant members will probably be too much alive, it is desirable they should, if possible, be brought in the vicinity of Philadelphia some days beforehand, to examine and judge for themselves. It is likely they will then be satisfied that they can safely sit in the city. If otherwise, their sentiments concerning another place can be collected, as a guide to the President. To effect this end, I would advise that circular-letters be written (say by the Attorney-General, the Secretary of State not being here) to the respective members, informally recommending to them, as on the part of the President, to repair to Germantown and its vicinity some days, not more than a week, prior to the day for the meeting of Congress, giving the reasons for this recommendation.
I prefer this to any public act, because there is an inconvenience in giving any sort of formality to an unauthoritative proceeding.
An objection to the proceeding is, that the remote Southern members cannot be reached in time. But the answer to this is, that they will probably come forward, of course, to some neighboring State—New York, Delaware, or Maryland,—and letters for them may be lodged in each.
With true respect and attachment, I have the honor to be, etc.
This is an opinion as to the power of the President to convene Congress at some place other than that to which they had adjourned. The cause of the inquiry was the presence of yellow fever in Philadelphia.