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Resolution from the House of Representatives’ Journal (extract), April 4, 1792

Representative William Branch Giles of Virginia introduced a resolution to investigate the military failure. House investigators, led by Representative Thomas Fitzsimmons of North Carolina, were temporarily thwarted when President George Washington withheld certain sensitive documents. The president ultimately allowed them limited access. Their final report blamed the War Department for failing to properly equip and train the army.

Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Resolution from the House of Representatives’ Journal (extract), April 4, 1792

St. Clair’s Defeat

The first congressional investigation of the executive branch concerned an American Indian victory in the Northwest Territory. On November 4, 1791, an American Indian confederacy inflicted heavy casualties on United States troops led by Major General Arthur St. Clair. When the House requested documents from the War and State Departments to understand the cause of St. Clair’s defeat, President George Washington initially restricted their access, setting a precedent for executive privilege. After Washington relented, the House committee determined that inadequate equipment and training contributed to the U.S. failure.