Investigations a Part of Congress Almost from Start

By DiBacco, Thomas V. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 20, 1996 | Go to article overview

Investigations a Part of Congress Almost from Start


DiBacco, Thomas V., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Regardless of the partisan rancor over congressional probes, there is no arguing that such investigations are an integral part of the nation's history.

In 1792, just three years after the Constitution was ratified, Congress launched its first investigation, a probe of the biggest Indian victory ever over the U.S. Army. Indians killed 657 of 1,400 soldiers in an encounter in Ohio in late 1791, and Congress wanted to find out why the Army performed so miserably.

The House created a special investigating committee of seven members and requested records from Secretary of War Henry Knox on March 30, 1792. The next day President Washington convened his Cabinet to decide on the request, a meeting that continued into April 2.

Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson argued that only the president could be solicited for such records, not his department heads. Moreover, Jefferson contended, the president might release records "as the public good would permit and ought to refuse those the disclosure of which would injure the public."

In the end, only copies of the papers were sent to the House committee, which was in a rush to conclude its work before Congress adjourned in early May.

Unfortunately for the investigative committee, it met neither its deadline nor its goal of getting to the heart of the Army's debacle. Its 1793 report to the House was never acted on. It generally faulted the administration for mismanagement, including the fact that Knox spent too little on the Indian expedition - $575,906 of the congressionally authorized amount of $652,761. …

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