Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from John Lamb, 29 November 1794

From John Lamb1

New York 29. November 1794


I acknowledge the receipt of your favour of the 22d. instant respecting the articles, seized on board the French Ship the Favorite; and agreeably to your directions, have ordered them to be restored.2

At the time the seizure was made the Favorite, having been totally dismantled, her crew sent on board other ships of war, and her sails, rigging, and other materials, having been sold at public auction, she was considered as a Hulk, otherwise the event would not have taken place.

With respect to the charge, That the officers of the Customs had pulled down the national flag on board of the abovementioned vessel, and hoisted another in its place; it is groundless; as will appear by the papers transmitted to the Secretary of State by Mr. Harrison, the District Attorney.

I am with great respect Sir &c.

John Lamb.

Copy, RG 46, Fourth Congress, 1795–1797, Message of President re relations with France, National Archives.

1Lamb was collector of customs at New York.

2On September 23, 1794, Jean Antoine Joseph Fauchet, the French Minister to the United States, wrote to Edmund Randolph: “Une nouvelle violation et de la souveraineté de la République Française et des traités que vous avez contractés avec elle, vient d’avoir lieu à New-York. Des hommes, de la douane je suppose, se sont transportés à bord de la Favorite vaisseau de guerre Français, et se sont permis d’enlever des effets appartenans à la République: un des exécuteurs de cet ordre, outrageant pour la Nation que je représente, a osé menacer d’un coup de sabre l’officier chargé de hisser notre pavillon pour la fête du 21 Septembre. Ses menaces se sont terminées par hisser celui de la douane. Celui-là a été respecté par les Français, mais le nôtre a été insulté d’une manière sanglante. Je demande justice contre les auteurs de cette infraction aux loix des nations. C’est à un Gouvernement libre que je m’adresse; je l’obtiendrai …” (Correspondence of the French Ministers with the United States Government, part 1, 25–26). A translation of this letter is printed in 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, 598–99.

Randolph on September 25, 1794, requested Richard Harison, the United States attorney for the District of New York, to investigate Fauchet’s charges (LC, RG 59, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, Vol. 7, June 27–November 30, 1794, National Archives). Harison replied to Randolph on October 17 as follows: “Upon the whole It appears that the officers of the Customs made the seizure … by express orders from the Collector given under an Idea that the Ship Favorite was used for promoting a species of Commerce forbidden by Law.… But from the Evidence it is apparent That there has been no Intentional Disrespect manifested … towards the Flag minister or Citizens of the French Republic” (LS, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives). On November 17, 1794, Randolph wrote to Fauchet: “… [The President] has thought proper to instruct me to inform you, that on the faith, which he always reposes in your assertions, he takes these points for granted: that the Favourite is a public vessel of war, bearing the Commission of the French Republic: and that no contravention of the act prohibiting the exportation of military Stores, was meditated, in the application of those, which were found on board.

“The President highly disapproves that a public vessel of war belonging to a foreign nation, should be searched by Officers of the Customs, upon a suspicion of illicit commerce. The propriety of representing such a suspicion to the Consul of that nation, or the commander of the vessel will not be controverted, this being a course respectful and customary. A general instruction will therefore be given to pursue this course; with the view, that, if it should be ineffectual, the government of the United States may adopt those measures, which the necessity of the case, and their rights may require.

“A particular instruction founded on the same principles will be also forwarded to the Collector of New York; with this addition, to discontinue the prosecution against the property, and restore what may be within his power or command.…

“An insult to the French flag will not be tolerated by the President, whensoever he can prevent or punish it. But the depositions, do not place this subject in so clear a light, as to prove its existence, or designate the culpable person. It is the President’s purpose therefore to cause the Officers of the Customs to be admonished to respect your flag, and if this be not satisfactory, and you are still persuaded, that an insult has been committed, I shall be ready to concur in any arrangement, which may be convenient, for the full examination of such other witnesses as may be produced.” (LC, RG 59, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, Vol. 7, June 27–November 30, 1794, National Archives; copy, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford.) This letter is printed in 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, 599.

On November 21, 1794, Randolph sent to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., his letter of November 17 to Fauchet and requested Wolcott “to send from the department of the treasury, the general and particular instructions, therein mentioned…” (ALS, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford; LC, RG 59, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, Vol. 7, June 26–November 30, 1794, National Archives). Wolcott, who was in charge of the Treasury Department during H’s absence with the militia army in western Pennsylvania, wrote to Lamb on November 22, 1794: “… in consequence of the Letter of the Secretary of State, you are instructed to discontinue the prosecution and to restore the property which may be in your power or command.

“You are also informed that public Vessels of War belonging to foreign nations are not to be searched by the Officers of the Customs upon a suspicion of illicit Commerce—instead of this course, where just causes of suspicions arise, it will be proper to represent the same, to the Consul of the Nation or the Commander of the Vessell. If this mode should however prove ineffectual a representation to the proper Department of Government ought instantly to be made.…

“You will be pleased to cause the flags of all nations to be treated with respect, as far as may be in your power; all insults or neglects which may be misconstrued are to be avoided.…” (ADf, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford; copy, Connecticut Historical Society.) H endorsed the draft of Wolcott’s letter to Lamb: “The rule with regard to not searching appears to me right—but the officers should be cautioned to increase their vigilance in other ways over such vessels. AH. A circular to the effect should go. AH.”

On February 7, 1795, Randolph sent Fauchet a copy of Lamb’s letter to H (LC, RG 59, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, Vol. 8, December 6, 1794–October 12, 1795, National Archives).

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