Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Harrison, [23 November 1779]

To Benjamin Harrison

[23 November 1779]


There is reason to believe that the appointment of a Consul to reside in this State on the part of his most Christian majesty either has been already or will shortly be made. I must submit to the general Assembly the expediency of considering whether our Laws have settled with precision the prerogatives and jurisdiction to which such a person is entitled by the usage of nations; and putting the Office on the footing they wou’d wish it to rest. The enclosed memorial from a Subject of the same prince is also perhaps worthy the Attention of the Assembly. The expediting judiciary proceedings wherein foreigners are concerned, who come to make only a short stay among us, seems expedient for the preservation of a good understanding with them and for the encouragement of Commerce. The Executive received from Congress some time ago copies of the several proceedings which had taken place between a Subject of the crown of Portugal and the Commander of an American privateer; a part owner of the privateer being a Citizen of this State. They were accompanied by some resolutions of congress desiring that the executive would so far interpose as to have reparation made to the foreigner whose vessel had been taken, pyratically as they supposed, and to have the Offenders proceeded against criminally. The case with all the documents transmitted was submitted to the Attorney General for his opinion which he has lately given us, and I now inclose it. From that you will perceive that if the act complained of were piracy or should any future act of piracy be committed by any of our Citizens, there is no judicature within this State before which it could be tried. Whether the establishment of such a judicature may not be necessary for the preservation of peace with foreign nations is now submitted to the legislature. I have the honour to be with the greatest respect,

Th: Jefferson

RC (Vi); in a clerk’s hand and signed by TJ; addressed to Harrison as Speaker. Docketed: “Governors Letter Novr: 23d. 1779. 1st. to appoint Consul & ascertain his powers. 2. respecting privateer phœnix & her case stated by the Atto. General. Refd. to the Whole on State of the Commonwealth.”

Appointment of a consul: The Chevalier D’Anmours was appointed on 27 July 1779, but his commission was not received until shortly after this letter was written (see R. H. Lee to TJ, 6 Sep. 1779; D’Anmours to TJ and enclosure, 7 Nov. 1779; TJ to Benjamin Harrison, 8 Dec. 1779). The enclosed memorial was probably a copy of an unsigned MS (DLC: TJ Papers, 4: 569–70), “Observations concerning the appointment of a Consul of france in Virginia,” dated “Philadelphia July 31. 1779,” and docketed “Observations of the Minister of France on the subject relating to a Consul in Virginia.” The enclosure has not been printed here because the Act passed by the Assembly, cited hereafter, and TJ’s Proclamation concerning Consuls, 30 Dec. 1779, follow closely the “Observations.” As a result of TJ’s recommendation, the General Assembly passed, 24 Dec. 1779, an Act for the protection and encouragement of the commerce of nations acknowledging the independence of the United States of America (Hening, description begins William W. Hening, The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia description ends x, 202–3). For the opinion of the attorney general, also enclosed, see Edmund Randolph to TJ, 13 Nov. 1779.

Index Entries