Our Secretary for Foreign Affairs has transmitted to you Copies of a Letter to him from our Minister at the Court of London of the 4th Day of March, 1786, And of the Papers mentioned to have been enclosed with it. We have deliberately and dispassionately examined and Considered the several facts & Matters urged by Britain as infractions of the Treaty of Peace on the Part of America, and we regret that in some of the States too little attention appears to have been paid to the Public Faith Pledged by that Treaty.
Not only the obvious dictates of Religion, Morality, and National Honor, but also the first principles of good policy demand a Candid and punctual Compliance with engagements Constitutionally and fairly made.
Our National Constitution having committed to us the management of the National concerns with foreign States and Powers, it is our duty to take care that all the rights which they ought to enjoy within our Jurisdiction by the Laws of Nations, and the faith of Treaties remain inviolate, and it is also our duty to provide that the
In this Sovereignty they cannot severally participate except by their Delegates nor with it have concurrent jurisdiction, for the 9th Article of Confederation most expressly conveys to us the Sole and exclusive right & power of determining war & peace and of entering into Treaties and alliances, &c.
When therefore a Treaty is Constitutionally made, Ratified and Published by us, it immediately becomes binding on the whole Nation and Superadded to the Laws of the Land without the intervention of State Legislatures. Treaties derive their obligation from being Compacts between the Sovereignty of this, and the Sovereignty of another Nation; whereas, the Laws or Statutes derive their force from being Acts of a Legislature Competent to the passing of them. Hence it is clear that Treaties must be implicitly received and observed by every member of the Nation, for as State Legislatures are not competent to the making of such compacts or Treaties, so neither are they competent in that capacity Authoritatively to decide on, or ascertain the construction or the sense of them. When doubt arises respecting the Construction of State Laws it is not unusual nor improper for the State Legislatures by explanatory or declaratory Acts to remove those doubts, but the case between Laws & Compacts or Treaties is in this widely different for when doubts arise respecting the sense and meaning of a Treaty they are so far from being Cognisable by a State Legislature that the United States in Congress Assembled, have no authority to settle & determine them. For as the Legislature only which constitutionally passes a Law has power to revise and amend it, so only the Sovereigns who are parties to the Treaty have power by mutual consent & posterior Articles to correct or explain it. In Cases between Individuals all doubts respecting the meaning of a law are in the first instance mere judicial Questions and are to be heard and decided in the Courts of Justice having cognizance of the Causes in which they arise, & whose duty
Surely the Treaties so formed are not afterwards to be Subject to such Alterations as this or that State Legislature may think expedient to make and that too without the Consent of either of the parties to it, that is in the present Case without the Consent of all the United States who Collectively are parties to this treaty on the one side, & his Brittanic Majesty on the other; were the Legislatures to pass and exercise such powers we should soon be involved as a Nation in Anarchy & Confusion at home, and in disputes which would probably terminate in hostilities and war with the Nations with whom we may have formed treaties; instances would then be frequent of Treaties fully executed in one State and only partly executed in another one of the same Article being executed in one Manner in one State and in a different manner or not at all in another
We mean to Act with the most Scrupulous regard to Justice and Candor towards Great Britain & with an equal degree of delicacy, Moderation & decision towards the States who have given occasion to these discussions. For these reasons we have in general terms Resolved, “That all such Acts or Parts of Acts as may be now existing in” any of the States repugnant to the Treaty of Peace ought to “be forthwith repealed as well to prevent their Continuing to be regarded as Violations of that Treaty as to avoid the disagreeable Necessity there might otherwise be of raising & discussing Questions touching their Validity & obligations.” Although this Resolution applies strictly only to such of the States as have passed the exceptionable Acts alluded to, Yet to obviate all future disputes and Questions, as well as to Remove those which now exist; we think it best that every State without exception should pass a law on the subject.
We have therefore “Resolved, That it be recommended to the several States to make such repeal rather by describing than reciting the said Acts, and for that purpose to pass an Act declaring in general terms that all such Acts & parts of Acts repugnant to the treaty of Peace between the United States and His Britannic Majesty, or any article thereof shall be and thereby are repealed, and that the courts of Law & Equity in all cases and questions cognizable by them respectively, and arising from or touching the said Treaty shall decide and
Be pleased Sir, to lay this letter before the Legislature of your State without delay. We flatter ourselves they will concur with us in opinion that Candor and justice are as necessary to true Policy as they are to sound Morality and that the most Honorable way of delivering ourselves from the embarrassment of mistakes is fairly to correct them. It certainly is time that all doubts respecting the Public faith be removed and that all questions & differences between us & Great Britain be amicably and finally settled. The States are informed of the reasons why his Britannic Majesty still continues to occupy the frontier post which by the Treaty he agreed to evacuate and we have the strongest assurances that an exact Compliance with the Treaty on our part shall be followed by a punctual performance of it on the part of Great Britain.
It is important that the Several Legislatures should, as soon as possible, take these Matters into Consideration and we request favour of you to transmit to us an Authenticated Copy of such Acts & proceedings of the Legislature of your State as may take place on the subject and in pursuance of this Letter.
By Order of Congress.