Opinion on a Request for a Passport1
[Philadelphia, March 31, 1794]
I am of opinion that a passport ought to be granted, under the restrictions, proposed by the petitioners, [(viz) the vessel to be American in ballast & to have passports from the several foreign Ministers.]2
I am inclined to think that the Embargo extends to all vessels which are not in some degree or other considered as under the direction of the President of the U.S.3
D, in the handwriting of Edmund Randolph, H, and William Bradford and signed by Randolph, H, Henry Knox, and Bradford, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives.
1. On March 31, 1794, Louis Osmont, a merchant and shipowner of Philadelphia who had come from France to the United States in 1790, wrote to Randolph the following letter:
“The Kind attention you are pleased to pay to the Interest of the Citizens of the United States in general, Emboldens me in this Occurrence to beg of the executive power of the United States through your medium, a Favor, in which are concerned a Number of unfortunate Inhabitants, Planters or Merchants of the Island of Hispaniola, whom I am acting for as their Agent.
“A few days before the United States were pleased to lay an Embargo upon the Shipping, a Number of Inhabitants of Hispaniola, deprived of every Assistance here, determined upon sacrifising all they had left to return to their properties & homes; they agreed with me, & I engaged to them, that for & in consideration of certain Covenants between them & myself Specified, I should give them a passage to Hispaniola. In consequence of which I was about fitting out a Vessel to carry them; They are about Fifty in Number, have nothing left in this part of the World; what they have paid me for the Consideration to be paid here, the remainder being payable at Hispaniola, would not by any means be sufficient to support them one Week; their resources are at home, & they can no longer support themselves without Assistance or liberty to go with their Wives and Children now in distress, & take possessions again of their Properties; I myself should be a great sufferer, If I was to make void the Contract; They join themselves to me, Sir, to beg of the executive power of the United States to permit me to send out a Vessel for the only purpose of carrying them. I shall give full and sufficient Security to the United States (tho’ I have sworn fidelity & obedience to their Constitution and Laws) that I do represent you nothing but the truth. I shall take in no Cargo whatsoever, but the necessary Victuals for the Voyage, and the Vessell shall not go out, except We can obtain of all and every the Ministers of other Courts or Nations to the United States, a passport of such nature as can prevent any Insults from the Privateers, or Men of War of the Belligerent Powers.
“I shall further engage if required, to send those Passengers in a french Bottom, shall also transact the whole Business in any Shape you may think proper to prevent demands of the same sort from being asked upon the Grounds of this being granted.
“It is unnecessary, Sir, to say much on the consideration of the distressing Situation of the individuals I am now addressing to you for. I dare say the federal Government will find it a Justice not to keep those indigent Families far from their firesides, when no Assistance is either offered to them, or to be asked for them with any propriety; at the same time that it will be doing an Act that Corresponds with the principles of Equity, the foundations of this happy & respectable Governmt. They and myself will deem it an eminent Favor.” (ALS, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives.)
The cabinet opinion printed above appears at the bottom of Osmont’s letter to Randolph. Washington’s permission on Osmont’s request was necessary because of the embargo. See “Cabinet Meeting. Opinion on the Best Mode of Executing the Embargo,” March 26, 1794.
On March 31, 1794, Randolph wrote to Washington: “E. Randolph has the honor of submitting the enclosed application for a passport to the President, and whether if all the ministers of foreign nations here should assent, most of the objections will not be overcome” (AL, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives).
On April 1, 1794, Washington wrote to Randolph: “I think the United States will be benifited by granting the request of Louis Osmont—but, as applications have been, and probably will be frequent—I conceive it will be advisable to ascertain as nearly as may be the precise objects of the Embargo—and havg. so done to establish rules or principles that will meet cases as they shall occur which will save trouble at the same time that it will be a means of facilitating business” (ALS, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives).
On May 2, 1794, Washington “Signed passports for the following vessels to proceed to the West Indies in ballast to carry french passengers &c.… Mr Osmont—Ship America—Edwd. Rice Master Philadelphia” (JPP description begins “Journal of the Proceedings of the President,” George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. description ends , 290).
2. The first part of this sentence is in Randolph’s handwriting; the words within brackets are in H’s handwriting.
3. This sentence is in Bradford’s handwriting.