Alexander Hamilton Papers

War Department Circular to the Governors of the States, 18 August 1794

War Department Circular
to the Governors of the States

Philadelphia August 18th 1794


The Secretary at War being absent from the Seat of Government,1 I am directed by the President to write to you2 on the Subject of those French privateers, fitted out in our ports which you have been heretofore informed were to be denied asylum within the United States, except upon the condition of being dismantled of their military equipments.3

The subsequent conduct of some of these Vessels is a matter of real embarrassment and dissatisfaction.4 By running from one port to another, they have in effect enjoyed the asylum, which it was intended to deny them, and have thereby placed the Government in the unpleasant situation not only of seeing itself trifled with but of being liable to the suspicion of connivance in an evasion of its positive assurances to Foreign powers.

It is inadmissible that such a state of things should continue. And therefore the President has come to a resolution to cause every such Vessel which since the promulgation of his instruction to refuse them asylum shall have been in a port of the United States so as to have had an opportunity to acquire a knowledge of that instruction and which shall hereafter be found in any Port or District of the United states to be deprived of her military equipments.

I have it in instruction from him to communicate this resolution to you and to request your effectual cooperation in carrying it into execution within the state of [Massachusetts].5

While the reasons which have been assigned beget a solicitude in the President that the measure may be punctually and completely executed, there are weighty considerations which induce him to wish that it may be found practicable to accomplish it in each case without bloodshed. To this end it will be useful that any force which may be employed for the purpose should be such as will controul a disposition to resist.

With perfect respect,   I have the honor to be   Sir   Your most obedient and humble servant

Alexander Hamilton

LS, to Samuel Adams, The Sol Feinstone Collection, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia; LS, to Joshua Clayton, The Free Library of Philadelphia; LS, to Arthur Fenner, Rhode Island State Archives, Providence; LS, to John Taylor Gilman, sold by Goodspeed’s Book Shop, Boston, Catalogue No. 496, Item 271; LS, to Samuel Huntington, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford; LS, to Henry Lee, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; LS, to Thomas Sim Lee, Hall of Records of Maryland, Annapolis; LS, to George Mathews, courtesy of the Trustees of the Boston Public Library; LS, to Richard Dobbs Spaight, Mr. Albert M. Greenfield, Philadelphia; LC, to Samuel Adams, Massachusetts State Archives, Boston; LC, to Thomas Sim Lee, RG 56, Miscellaneous Letters Sent, “Set K,” National Archives; LC, to Thomas Mifflin, Division of Public Records, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg; copy to Thomas Sim Lee, RG 56, Letters 2d Comptroller, 2d Auditor, Executive of Maryland and Georgia, 1789–1833, Maryland, National Archives; copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

3This is a reference to a War Department circular which Henry Knox had sent to the governors of the states on August 7, 1793. See “Cabinet Meeting. Opinion on the Fitting Out of Privateers in the Ports of the United States,” August 3, 1793, note 3.

5The material within brackets varies according to the governor to whom the circular was addressed.

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