Cabinet Meeting. Proposed Rules Concerning
Arming and Equipping of Vessels by Belligerents
in the Ports of the United States1
[Philadelphia, July 29–30. 1793]
Rules proposed by Attorney Generalº
I concur in the rules proposed by the Attorney general as far as respects materials or means of annoyance furnished by us—and I should be for an additional rule that as to means or materials brought into this country & belonging to themselves they are free to use them.
D, in the handwriting of Edmund Randolph, Thomas Jefferson, and H, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
1. When it became evident that the justices of the Supreme Court were reluctant to render opinions upon the diplomatic problems facing the Washington Administration as a result of the European war (see “Draft of Questions to Be Submitted to Justices of the Supreme Court,” July 18, 1793), the cabinet had to formulate its own rules. Among the most pressing problems facing the United States was the arming of vessels by belligerents in American ports. Washington asked the members of the cabinet to consider this matter (Washington to H, Jefferson, Knox, and Randolph, July 29, 1793). On July 29 the President “Had a meeting with the Heads of Departments on the subject of the Jane. Some general principles were agreed upon, & the further consideration of the subject put off ’till tomorrow that all the treaties we have with foreign powers might be carefully examined” (JPP description begins “Journal of the Proceedings of the President,” George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. description ends , 189). For an account of the Jane, see “Cabinet Meeting. Opinion on Vessels Arming and Arriving in United States Ports,” July 13, 1793, note 4.
In the first version of this document the “Rules proposed by the Attorney General” are in Randolph’s handwriting, the “Rules Proposed by the Secretary of the Treasury” in H’s handwriting, and the final paragraph in Jefferson’s handwriting. The comments in the margin concerning cabinet agreement on the rules were written by H.
Jefferson’s account of the method by which the cabinet reached agreement on the rules in the first version is contained in a portion of the “Anas” for July 29, 1793, which he later struck out. This section reads as follows: “Knox agreed to the A. Genl. in toto, consequently they were establd. by the vote of three. Ham. proposed to put questions on all the proposns separately, & he took the paper and put questions on the 3. of the Atty Genl. which were agreed. He was going on with questions on his own proposns without askg. us distinctly but by a sort of a look & a nod, and noting in the margin. I observed I did not understand that opion, that we had agreed to the Atty Genl., proposns, he said it was to take a question on each distinctly. Knox observed that as we understood these rules to extend only to cases out of the treaty we had better express it. I agreed & proposed to add some such words as these ‘excepting always where the treaties shall have otherwise provided.’ Hamilton broke loose at this & pretended it was meant they should go to all cases. All of us bore testimony agt. this & that he himself had shewn that the present case was out of the treaties. He said he would rather specify the exceptions expressly, than leave them on the general terms I proposed; so it was agreed to take till tomorrow to examine the treaties & specify the exceptions if it could be done. While this was passing E. R. took the paper in his hand & read Ham’s original notes as above, and seeing that he had written ‘agreed’ opposite to his own (Ham’s) 1st. proposn, he observed to Knox so that I overheard him, that that had not been agreed, which was the truth. To his 3d. proposn we had all agreed in conversn, but it had not been agreed to add it to the rules. It was pretty evident from Ham’s warmth, embarrasmt. eagerness, that he wanted to slip in some thing which might cover cases we had not in contemplation” (Ford, Writings of Jefferson description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (New York, 1892–1899). description ends , I, 251–52).
A note in Jefferson’s handwriting in the Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress, states: “but it is not meant that these rules shall contravene, as of right they cannot, the provisions of the treaties of the US. and particularly the 17th. 18th. 19th. & 22d. articles of that with France, the 16th. 17th. & 22d. of that with the U. N. & the 9th. 18th. & 19th. of that with Prussia.” This provision was apparently suggested by Jefferson in a cabinet meeting on July 30. An entry in his “Anas” for that date states that the cabinet “Met at my office. I proposed to add to the rules a proviso that they should not be understood to contravene, as of right they could not, the provisions of the art. of our treaty with France, the of that with the U. N. or the of that with Prussia. Before Ham. & Kn. came into the room E. R. declared himself for a general reference, or a verbal quotn of the words of the treaties, & against all comments or substitution of new words. When they arrived, Ham. proposed a reference to the articles of the treaty by a description of the cases in shorter terms, which he proposed as equivelent to those of the treaty. E. R. said plumply & without one word of preface that he had been for a general reference to the treaties, but if the special descriptions would give more satisfaction, he would agree to it. So he & Hamilton drew their chairs together and made up the form: but it was agreed to be put off for more mature digestion” (Ford, Writings of Jefferson description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (New York, 1892–1899). description ends , I, 252).
For the final version of the rules, see “Cabinet Meeting. Proposed Rules Governing Belligerents,” August 3, 1793.