Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Pierre Billet, 21 February 1793

To Pierre Billet

Philadelphia, February 21st. 1793.


A petition signed by a number of persons at Post Vincennes, of whom you are first named, has been presented to the President of the United States, complaining 1st. of duties imposed on all merchandize which raise them to exorbitant prices with you: and 2. that you are not permitted to sell or trade in any thing but on paying immense sums. The President has had this petition under consideration, and I am1 charged by him to observe that if by the Duties complained of, you mean those imposed by the Spanish Government on supplies through the Missisippi, these are not subject to alteration by this Government. Relief from this must depend on the result of negotiations with Spain on behalf of our Western citizens for the free navigation of the Missisippi: but if by these duties is meant the impost paid on foreign importations on their entrance into our Atlantic ports, this depends on the Legislature of the United States, who would probably see great doubt and difficulty in taking off the imposts from those particular Articles of importation which are sent forward to your settlement.

As to the second Complaint, it is supposed to have in view the regulations established by the Legislature for the Indian trade. Some regulations were found to be necessary; those established were the result of the best information which could be obtained but might still be revised by the Legislature if it can be shewn that hardship and injustice result from any particular part of them: But such proofs should be brought forward and well articulated. In the mean time these regulations do not prohibit the disposal of any thing which is of the produce of your farms, the President will at all times feel peculiar happiness in contributing to relieve your settlement from any well-founded grievances. After desiring you to communicate this to your fellow petitioners, I subscribe myself Sir, Your most humble servant

PrC (DLC); in the hand of George Taylor, Jr., with additions in ink in TJ’s hand; unsigned; at foot of first page in ink in TJ’s hand: “Mr. P. Billet.” FC (Lb in DNA: RG 59, DL). Enclosed in TJ to George Washington, 22 Feb. 1793.

On 30 Jan. 1793 Tobias Lear wrote a brief note transmitting to the Secretary of State “two petitions from Sundry Inhabitants of Post Vincennes, which the President requests the Secretary will take into consideration and report to him his opinion of what ought to be done respecting them” (RC in DLC, endorsed by TJ as received 30 Jan. 1793; PrC in DNA: RG 59, MLR; FC in Lb in same, SDC). See also Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 39–40. The first of these petitions, addressed to President Washington, dated 5 Oct. 1792 and signed by Billet and twenty-eight other French residents of Post Vincennes in the Northwest Territory, set forth the complaints described above by TJ (DNA: RG 59, MLR; in French). On the petition TJ wrote the following undated note: “Genl. Sinclair knows of no duties on the merchandize of the petitioners, unless they mean either our own Impost, or the duties imposed by the Spaniards down the river. By the paiment of these immense sums on the sales and bargains, he knows nothing which can be meant but that they are not allowed to trade with the Indians but on taking out a license which costs 100.D.” For the second petition on which the President solicited TJ’s opinion, see TJ to Paul Gamelin, 21 Feb. 1793.

For the regulations established by the legislature in 1790 requiring all those trading with the Indians to obtain a license, see Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Compiled from Authentic Materials, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. The first two volumes of the set cited here have “Compiled … by Joseph Gales, Senior” on the title page and bear the caption “Gales & Seatons History” on verso and “of Debates in Congress” on recto pages. The remaining volumes bear the caption “History of Congress” on both recto and verso pages. Those using the first two volumes with the latter caption will need to employ the date of the debate or the indexes of debates and speakers. description ends , ii, 2301–3.

1Word written in the margin in ink by TJ.

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