Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Edmond Charles Genet, 1 June 1793

To Edmond Charles Genet

Philadelphia June 1. 1793.


I have to acknowledge the receipt of your Note of the 27th. of May on the subject of Gideon Henfield, a citizen of the United States, engaged on board an armed vessel in the service of France. It has been laid before the President, and referred to the Attorney General of the United States, for his opinion on the matter of law, and I have now the honor of enclosing you a copy of that opinion. Mr. Henfield1 appears to be in the custody of the civil magistrate, over whose proceedings the Executive has no controul.2 The act with which he is charged will be examined by a Jury of his Countrymen, in the presence of Judges of learning and integrity, and if it is not contrary to the laws of the land, no doubt need be entertained that his case will3 issue accordingly. The forms of the law involve certain necessary delays; of which, however, he will assuredly experience none but what are necessary.4 I have the honor to be, with sentiments of perfect Esteem and respect, Sir, Your most obedient and Most humble servant

Th: Jefferson

P.S. After writing the above I was honored with your note on the subject of Singleterry on which it is in my power to say nothing more than in that of Henfeild.

PrC (DLC); in the hand of George Taylor, Jr., except for correction in ink, signature, and postscript by TJ; at foot of text: “M. Genet Minister plenipotentiary of France.” Dft (DLC); entirely in TJ’s hand, unsigned; lacks postscript and varies in other respects from PrC (see notes below); note written on verso by TJ at a later date: “A clause stood in the original draught in these words. ‘It will give me great pleasure to be able to communicate to you &c.—animadversion’ (see it still legible on the other side). E.R. objected to it as conveying a wish that the act might not be punisheable, and proposed it should be ‘it will give me great pleasure to be able to communicate to you that on his examination he shall be found to be innocent.’ <The letter with this> It was done. The letter with this alteration was sent into the country to Colo. Hamilton, who found the clause, even as altered, to be too strong and proposed it should be omitted. It was therefore struck out altogether. See his letter of June 3.” PrC of Tr (DLC); in a clerk’s hand. Tr (NNC: Gouverneur Morris Papers). PrC of another Tr (DNA:RG 59, MD); in a clerk’s hand. Tr (DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 3d Cong., 1st sess.). PrC (PRO: FO 97/1). FC (Lb in DNA: RG 59, DL). Tr (DLC: Genet Papers). Tr (DLC: John Trumbull Letterbook); misdated 6 June 1793. Tr (DLC: Genet Papers); in French. Tr (same); in French; draft translation of preceding Tr; docketed and initialed by Genet. Tr (AMAE: CPEU, xxxvii); in French. Entry in SJPL: “Th:J. to Genet on Henfield’s case. qu. if printed?” Printed in Message, 25. Enclosure: Edmund Randolph’s Opinion on the Case of Gideon Henfield, 30 May 1793. Enclosed in TJ to Gouverneur Morris, 13 June and 16 Aug. 1793, and TJ to Thomas Pinckney, 14 June 1793; altered draft enclosed in TJ to Alexander Hamilton, 1 June [1793], and Hamilton to TJ, 3 June 1793.

Although it is clearly dated 1 June 1793, the final version of this letter could not have been completed before 4 June 1793. TJ laid a draft of the letter before a Cabinet meeting held in his office on 1 June 1793 that the President and the Secretary of the Treasury were unable to attend. Attorney General Edmund Randolph and Secretary of War Henry Knox approved the substance of the draft, though in response to Randolph’s suggestion TJ altered a sentence as recorded below in note 4. On the same day TJ sent the altered draft to Hamilton, whose further revisions, contained in a 3 June letter TJ received on the following day, are also reflected in the PrC as described in notes 3 and 4 below (Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 159).

1In Dft TJ here canceled “being in the.”

2In Dft TJ began the next sentence with “He will” and then canceled the words.

3In Dft TJ first wrote the remainder of the sentence as “have the favorable issue you desire” and then, in response to a suggestion by Alexander Hamilton, altered it to read as above (see Hamilton to TJ, 3 June 1793).

4As explained above, at this point in Dft TJ first wrote “It will give me great pleasure to be able to communicate to you that the laws (which admit of no controul) on being applied to the actions of Mr. Henfeild, shall have found in them <nothing> no cause of animadversion.” Then, in response to an objection by Edmund Randolph, he lined out everything after “that” and interlined “on his examination he shall be found to be innocent.” Finally, at the insistence of Alexander Hamilton, he eliminated the entire sentence.

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