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Journal of Senator William Maclay of Pennsylvania, August 22, 1789

Senator William Maclay of Pennsylvania noted in his journal the tension between President George Washington and the Senate regarding the treaty. Rather than discuss the treaty, the Senate referred the matter to a committee, angering Washington, who hoped for early approval. Subsequent presidents forwarded treaties to the Senate until President Woodrow Wilson hand-delivered the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

William Maclay Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Journal of Senator William Maclay of Pennsylvania, August 22, 1789

President Washington Seeks Advice and Consent

The Constitution empowers the president to negotiate treaties but requires the Senate’s advice and consent for their ratification. In 1789 President George Washington negotiated the first U.S. treaty with a foreign nation, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of the southeastern states. When Washington visited the Senate to obtain its advice and consent, it became clear that the president and Senate had different understandings of what that procedure entailed. It would be 130 years before another president personally presented a treaty to the Senate.

President George Washington and the First Congress (1789-91) had to establish procedures to fulfill their constitutional duties. In 1790 Washington experimented, unsuccessfully, with visiting the Senate in person to consult over an Indian treaty.