Cabinet Meeting. Opinion on Vessels
Arming and Arriving in United States Ports
[Philadelphia, July 12, 1793]
July 12, 1793. At a meeting of the heads of the departments at the President’s on summons from him, and on consideration of various representations from the Ministers Plenipotentiary of France & Great Britain on the subject of vessels arming & arriving in our ports,1 and of prizes it is their opinion that letters be written to the said Ministers informing them that the Executive of the US., desirous of having done what shall be strictly conformeable to the treaties of the US.2 and the laws respecting the said cases has determined to refer the questions arising therein to persons learned in the laws: that as this reference will occasion some delay, it is expected that in the mean time the Little Sarah or Little Democrat the Ship Jane and the ship William in the Delaware, the Citoyen Genet & her prizes the brigs Lovely Lass & Prince William Henry, and the brig Fanny in the chesapeake do not depart till the further order of the President.
That letters be addressed to the Judges of the Supreme court of the US. requesting their attendance at this place on Thursday the 18th. instant to give their advice on certain matters of public concern which will be referred to them by the President.3
That the Governor be desired to have the ship Jane attended to with vigilance, and if she be found augmenting her force and about to depart, that he cause her to be stopped.4
DS, in the handwriting of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.
2. A letter book copy of this letter, dated July 12, 1793, may be found in RG 59, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, Vol. 5, February 4, 1792–December 31, 1793, National Archives.
3. See “Draft of Questions to Be Submitted to Justices of the Supreme Court,” July 18, 1793. H had earlier opposed referring matters concerning some aspects of neutrality to the courts because “the whole is an affair between the Governments of the parties concerned—to be settled by reasons of state, not rules of law” (H to George Washington, May 15, 1793).
4. The Jane, a British vessel, had docked at Philadelphia early in July, 1793. Although the French legation in Philadelphia maintained that the Jane had been issued a letter of marque to prey upon French shipping and carried a complement of sixteen guns, Philadelphia officials were at first convinced that her visit to Philadelphia was for the purpose of picking up a cargo for Jamaica (Pennsylvania Archives, 4th ser. [Harrisburg, 1900], IV, 254–55). On July 5, 1793, François Dupont, French consul at Philadelphia, complained to Governor Thomas Mifflin that the Jane was mounting additional guns and piercing portholes for them and had purchased fittings for her armaments in Philadelphia (ALS, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg). On July 9, 1793, Genet sent similar information to Jefferson (letterpress copy, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress). Mifflin submitted Dupont’s complaint in a letter to Henry Knox, dated July 6, requesting instructions (Df, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg). On July 13 Mifflin instructed the master warden of the port of Philadelphia “to use the utmost vigilance in attending the proceedings, in respect to the Ship Jane, and give me notice upon the first appearance of an attempt to augment her force.” The warden was also ordered to ascertain when the Jane intended to leave port (Mifflin to Nathaniel Falconer, July 13, 1793, [LC, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg]). The Jane again became the subject of discussion at a cabinet meeting on July 30, 1793, when the Philadelphia port officials were ordered to examine the preparations the ship was making for sea. On August 1 “The Collector, Surveyor & Warden of the Port of Philada. reported that they had examined the Ship Jane & found several augmentations to her force, & an increase of hands. The British minister was requested to have her reduced to the state in which she entered the Port” (JPP description begins “Journal of the Proceedings of the President,” George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. description ends , 190). On August 2 “A Letter from the British Consul to the Secy of War was read, stating that the alterations of the Jane were no other than replacing four old Gun carriages with as many new & opening two new port holes where the round house of the Ship before stood—& that no Seamen had been added except British subjects, & requesting, for sundry reasons wch. he assigned, that these might be permitted—but it was not complied with except as to the men, if a satisfactory certificate should be produced that they were really British subjects. Another Letter from the Governor was handed in, informing that the Jane was on the point of sailing, and that he should cause her to be stopped at Mud-Fort unless otherwise directed. The Secy. of War was to inform him that she had complied with the requisites of Government, (if he should be so certified by the Collector &c.) & that she was at liberty to depart with proper clearances” (JPP description begins “Journal of the Proceedings of the President,” George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. description ends , 191–92).