Thursday, June 8, 2017

The 1st Congressional inquiry

It’s not new for Congress to investigate issues that stimulate public inquiry.

The first congressional committee inquiry was formed to look into what was called St. Clair’s Defeat.

In November 1791, General Arthur St. Clair led a contingent of nine-hundred troops into the Ohio frontier. They were ambushed by local Indians, and most were killed or wounded. A House committee wanted to know who was to blame.

Like the committees of today, they asked for documents about the failed mission of St. Clair.

President George Washington was asked for his papers about the Ohio expedition, and he wondered if he had the right to refuse. He and his cabinet debated the issue. They decided that he should submit documents that were for the public good, but refuse any that would injure the public.

What that did was establish the principle of executive privilege.

President Washington did eventually give the requested documents to Congress.

To finish the story, Congress concluded that the blame lay with the War and Treasury departments. St. Clair was exonerated.

Not much has changed in Washington over the centuries, except maybe the lack of civility.

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