Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Edmond Charles Genet, 5 June 1793

To Edmond Charles Genet

Philadelphia 5 June 1793.


In my letter of May 15th: to M. de Ternant, your predecessor, after stating the answers which had been given to the several memorials of the British Minister of May 8th: it was observed that a part remained still unanswered of that which respected the fitting out armed vessels in Charleston to cruise against nations with whom we were at peace.

In a conversation which I had afterwards the honor of holding with you, I observed, that one of those armed vessels, the Citizen Genet, had come into this Port with a prize; that the President had thereupon,1 taken the case into further consideration, and after mature consultation and deliberation was of opinion that the arming and equipping vessels in the Ports of the United States to cruise against nations with whom they are at peace, was incompatible with the territorial sovereignty of the United States; that it made them instrumental to the annoyance of those nations, and thereby tended to compromit their peace, and that he thought it necessary as an evidence of good faith to them, as well as a proper reparation to2 the Sovereignty of the Country,3 that the armed vessels of this description should depart from the ports of the United States.

The letter of the 27th. instant, with which you have honored me, has been laid before the President, and that part of it which contains your observations on this subject has been particularly attended to. The respect due to whatever comes from you, friendship for the french nation, and justice to all, have induced him to reexamine the subject, and particularly to give to your representations thereon, the consideration they deservedly claim. After fully weighing again however all the principles and circumstances of the case, the result appears still to be4 that it is the right of every nation to prohibit acts of sovereignty from being exercised by any other within its limits; and the duty of a neutral nation to prohibit such as would injure one of the warring powers: that the granting military commissions within the United States by any other authority than their own5 is an infringement on their Sovereignty, and particularly so when granted to their own6 citizens, to lead them to commit7 acts contrary to the duties they owe their own country; that the departure of vessels thus illegally equipped, from the Ports of the United States, will be but an acknowledgment of respect analogous to the breach of it, while it is necessary on their part, as an evidence of their faithful neutrality. On these considerations Sir, the President thinks that8 the United States owe it to themselves, and to the nations in their friendship, to expect this act of reparation, on the part of vessels marked in their very equipment with offence to the laws of the land, of which the law of nations makes an integral part.

The expressions of very friendly sentiment which we have already had the satisfaction of receiving from you leave no room to doubt that the conclusion of the President, being thus made known to you these vessels will be permitted to give no further umbrage by their presence in the Ports of the United States.9 I have the honor to be with sentiments of perfect esteem and respect Sir, Your most obedient & Most humble servant

PrC (DLC); in a clerk’s hand, unsigned; at foot of first page: “Mr. Genet, Minister Plenipotentiary of France.” Dft (DLC); undated and unsigned text written entirely in TJ’s hand between 28 and 31 May 1793, with final paragraph added in a different ink and subsequently canceled at Edmund Randolph’s suggestion, and note of explanation added lengthwise in margin by TJ (see note 9 below); date added later in the hand of George Taylor, Jr.; only the most significant emendations have been noted below. PrC (DLC); with date added in ink by TJ; lacks one emendation (see note 2 below), final paragraph, and marginal note; note by TJ in ink at head of text, possibly added at a later date: “[r]ough prepared & approved <May 31>.” Tr (NNC: Gouverneur Morris Papers). PrC of another Tr (DNA: RG 59, MD); in a clerk’s hand. PrC of another Tr (PRO: FO 97/1); in a clerk’s hand. Tr (DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 3d Cong., lst sess.). FC (Lb in DNA: RG 59, DL). Tr (DLC: Genet Papers). Tr (DLC: same); in French. Tr (same); in French; draft translation of preceding Tr; revised, docketed, and initialed by Genet. Tr (AMAE: CPEU, xxxvii); in French. Recorded in SJPL. Printed in Message description begins A Message of the President of the United States to Congress Relative to France and Great-Britain. Delivered December 5, 1793. With the Papers therein Referred to. To Which Are Added the French Originals. Published by Order of the House of Representatives, Philadelphia, 1793 description ends , 22–3. Enclosed in TJ to Gouverneur Morris, 13 June and 16 Aug. 1793, and TJ to Thomas Pinckney, 14 June 1793.

This letter reiterating the federal government’s ban on the fitting out of French privateers in American ports, a critical point of conflict between the Washington administration and the French minister, underwent careful review by the President and the Cabinet before being dispatched. TJ first solicited the views of the Attorney General on Genet’s letter of the 27th. instant defending this practice and then wrote a draft reply that drew heavily on Randolph’s advice (see note 4 below). After making a press copy, TJ submitted the draft itself to the Attorney General for review, but not before adding a new concluding paragraph, which he subsequently expunged in light of Randolph’s suggestion that it was too sympathetic to France (Randolph to TJ, 31 May 1793; note 9 below). Later the same day he submitted a text of the letter to Washington and was authorized to lay it before the Cabinet (Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 156, 157). In the absence of the President and the Secretary of the Treasury, the Cabinet could not make a final decision on TJ’s letter when it met on 1 June, though the Attorney General and the Secretary of War did signify their general approval. Two days later, after receiving a text of the letter from TJ, Hamilton also gave his approval. Which text TJ submitted to the President and the Cabinet—the emended draft or the press copy without the offending paragraph—remains unclear (Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 159; TJ to Hamilton, 1 June [1793]; Hamilton to TJ, 3 June 1793).

1In Dft TJ here canceled “fully considered of the case, and after mature consult.”

2Preceding two words—the first initially written in the plural—interlined in Dft in place of “<assertion> vindication of.” In PrC of Dft the second interlined word is lacking and “of” is not canceled.

3Word interlined in Dft in place of “US.”

4The text from this point through “owe their own country” is adapted to a large extent from points made in Memorandum from Edmund Randolph, printed under 28 May 1793.

5Preceding seven words interlined in Dft.

6Word interlined in Dft.

7In Dft TJ first wrote “for the <commi> purpose of committing” before amending the passage to read as above.

8In Dft TJ here canceled “he owes it to.”

9At this point in Dft, in response to Edmund Randolph’s suggestion, TJ canceled the following paragraph: “The assurance conveyed in your letter of the friendship and attachment of your nation gives very sincere pleasure and is as sincerely returned on the part of our country. That these may continue long and firm, no one more ardently wishes than he who has the honor to be with sentiments of great esteem & respect Sir your mo. obedt. & mo. humble servt.” With reference to this cancellation TJ added the following note in the margin of the Dft: “’The sentiments expressed in your letter of the friendship and attachment of your nation give very sincere pleasure, and are sincerely returned on the part of our country. That these may continue long and firm no one more ardently wishes than he who has the honor to be &c.’ This letter being communicated to E.R. he disliked this concluding sentence as <hardly n> scarcely neutral. I therefore struck it out.”

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