Cabinet Meeting. Opinion on the Fitting Out
of Privateers in the Ports of the United States1
[Philadelphia, August 3, 1793]
That The Minister of the French Republic be informed that the President considers the UStates as bound pursuant to positive assurances; given in conformity to the laws of neutrality, to effectuate the restoration of, or to make compensation for, prizes which shall have been made of any of the parties at war with France subsequent to the fifth day of June last by privateers fitted out of their ports.
That it is consequently expected, that he will cause restitution to be made of all prizes taken and brought into our Ports subsequent to the abovementioned day by such prizes privateers; in defect of which The President considers it as incumbent upon The UStates to indemnify the Owners of those prizes—the indemnification to be reimbursed by the French Nation.
That besides taking efficacious measures to prevent the future fitting out of Privateers in the Ports of The UStates, they will not give asylum therein to any which shall have been at any time so fitted out, and will cause restitution of all such prizes as shall be hereafter brought within their Ports by any of said Privateers.2
That instructions be sent to the respective Governors in conformity to the above communication.3
The foregoing having been duely considered and being now unanimously approved they are submitted to The President of The United States4 August 3, 1793.
DS, in the handwriting of H, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress; ADf, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; letterpress copy, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress; copy, Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Library of Congress.
1. For background to this document, see “Cabinet Meeting. Proposed Rules Concerning Arming and Equipping of Vessels by Belligerents in the Ports of the United States,” July 29–30, 1793, and “Cabinet Meeting. Proposed Rules Governing Belligerents,” August 3, 1793.
In JCHW description begins John C. Hamilton, ed., The Works of Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1851–1856). description ends , IV, 467–68, this document is dated August 15, 1793.
In the “Anas” Jefferson described the cabinet’s discussion of the fitting out of privateers as follows: “We proceeded to consider what should be done as to the French privateers arrived in our ports, & their prizes taken since they were ordered away. Randolph recapitulated his old opinion. Hamilton proposed to suppress the privateers by military coercion & deliver the prizes to their owners. I proposed to require from Mr. Genet a delivery of the prizes to their owners, otherwise that, in consequence of the assurances we had given the British Minister, we should be bound to pay for them & must take credit for it with France, and to inform him that we would allow no further asylum in our ports to the sd privateers: (These were the Citoyen Genet, Sans Culottes, Vainqueur de la Bastile & Petite Democrate. The two last had been armed subsequent to the prohibition.) My proposn was agreed to with an addition that the governors should be notified that the privateers were no longer permitted to stay in our ports” (Ford, Writings of Jefferson description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (New York, 1892–1899). description ends , I, 255).
2. Jefferson informed Genet of this decision in a letter of August 7, 1793, using wording very similar to that of the cabinet opinion (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, I, 167).
3. On August 7, 1793, Knox sent a circular letter to the governors of the states listing the rules drawn up by the cabinet concerning belligerent ships in American ports. For H’s draft of these rules, see “Cabinet Meeting. Proposed Rules Concerning Arming and Equipping of Vessels by Belligerents in the Ports of the United States,” July 29–30, 1793. Knox requested that each governor “in your capacity as Commander in Chief of your Militia, would in the earliest stage possible, suppress all practices throughout the state … which shall be a violation of these regulations, or the neutrality of the United States …” (LS, to Thomas Mifflin, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg).