George Washington: Representation: Local, State, National

LIBERTY LETTERS, GEORGE WASHINGTON, 1786

That representatives ought to be the mouth of their Constituents, I do not deny, nor do I mean to call in question the right of the latter to instruct them. It is to the embarrassment, into which they may be thrown by these instructions in national matters that my objections lie. In speaking of national matters I look to the federal Government, which in my opinion it is the interest of every State to support; and to do this, as there are a variety of interests in the union, there must be a yielding of the parts to coalesce the whole. Now a County, a District, or even a State might decide on a measure which, tho’ apparently for the benefit of it in its unconnected state, may be repugnant to the interests of the nation, and eventually to the State itself as a part of the confederation. If then, members go instructed, to the Assembly, from certain Districts, the requisitions of Congress repugnant to the sense of them, and all the lights which they may receive from the communications of that body to the Legislature, must be unavailing; although the nature and necessity of them, when the reasons therefor are fully expounded; which can only be given by Congress to the Assembly through the Executive, and which come before them in their legislative capacity, are as clear as the sun. In local matters which concern the District; or things which respect the internal police of the State, there may be nothing amiss in instructions. In national matters also, the sense, but not the Law of the District may be given, leaving the Delegates to judge from the nature of the case and the evidence before them.


Source: The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745–1799, 39 Volumes. Edited by John C. Fitzpatrick. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1931–44. Volume 29, p. 67. Letter: George Washington to Bushrod Washington, 15 November 1786. Spelling has been modernized in this selection by Steve Farrell and The Moral Liberal.


The Liberty Letters are researched, and edited (with occasional commentary) by Steve Farrell. Liberty Letters as a collective project, and individual letters when edited, or accompanied by our commentary and or introductory notes: Copyright © 2012 Steve Farrell and The Moral Liberal.