Edmund Randolph to William Bradford,
Alexander Hamilton, and Henry Knox
Philadelphia, April 5th. 1794.
The Secretary of State has the honor of inclosing for the consideration of the Secretaries of the Treasury and of War and the Attorney General of the United States, the papers in the case of the British Ship William, a prize to a French vessel of war.1 The Secretary of State is of opinion, that it is not proved, that she was taken within the protection of our Coasts, and therefore that she ought to be delivered up to the Captors.
LC, RG 59, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, Vol. 6, January 2–June 26, 1794, National Archives.
1. For information concerning the William, see H to Rufus King, June 15, 1793; Thomas Jefferson to H and Henry Knox, June 25, 1793, note 1; “Cabinet Meeting. Opinion on Vessels Arming and Arriving in United States Ports,” July 12, 1793; “Cabinet Meetings. Opinion Concerning Relations of the United States with Several European Countries,” November 1–22, 1793.
On November 10, 1793, Jefferson had informed the foreign ministers to the United States of procedures to be followed for the restitution of prizes alleged to have been captured within United States territorial waters. See “Cabinet Meeting. Opinion on Restoring the Brigs Conyngham and Pilgrim to the British,” March 27, 1794, note 1.
On January 23, 1794, Randolph wrote to George Hammond, the British Minister to the United States: “I had the honor of informing you … that I had received from the district attorney of Pennsylvania, certain depositions, taken in the case of the Ship William of Glasgow, captured by the french privateer Citizen Genet. As from the part which Mr. Consul [Phineas] Bond appears to have borne in the business … it is probable, that you are acquainted with the testimony, now received by me in favor of the Ship; let me beg the favor of you to say, whether any further testimony may be expected in her behalf, if not, I shall present the papers to the President for his immediate consideration” (LC RG 59, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, Vol. 6, January 2–June 26, 1794, National Archives).
Hammond replied on January 24, 1794, to Randolph as follows: “… I have the honor of informing you that I have no other testimony taken according to the mode prescribed in Mr Jefferson’s letter of the 10th November to offer on the subject of the ship William of Glasgow.… it is manifest that the Evidence adduced against the legality of the capture of the ship William, was regularly taken in strict compliance with the principles laid down in the Secretary of State’s letter. It farther appears that the depositions offered on the part of the captors were not taken, on due notice given to both parties, or conformably to the mode pointed out by Mr Jefferson’s letter, but were taken in the office of the consulate of France, and consequently can be regarded in no other light, than purely as ex parte testimony …” (copy, PRO:F.O. [Great Britain], 5/5).
On February 12, 1794, Bradford sent to Randolph his opinion on the papers concerning the William, which Randolph had submitted to him for his consideration. Bradford stated that the affidavits submitted by the French consul were not admissable because they had been made by officers of the capturing ship who were directly interested in the decision. For various reasons all but one of the papers submitted by the English consul were not “competent Evidence.” Bradford concluded: “The only affidavit which remains, is that of James Legget, the Master of the Ship William, at the time of her Capture. This appears to have been duly taken … and I am of opinion that, according to the usage & principles of the Court of Admiralty, he is a competent witness; but how far his credibility may be affected by his interest, is open for consideration.
“Having therefore such slender evidence to proceed upon I beg leave to request your opinion whether it is expected I should report upon the facts as they appear upon this single affidavit; and also to suggest for your consideration the propriety of communicating to the parties concerned the incompetency of the Evidence that is offered, before any further proceedings are had.” (ALS, RG 60, Letters from and Opinions of Attorneys General, 1791–1811, National Archives.)