Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Edmond Charles Genet, 29 October 1793

From Edmond Charles Genet

A New york le 29 8bre 1793 l’an 2e De la R. F.


J’ai l’honneur De vous envoyer une copie De la lettre qui a été ecrite au consul De La republique française à Newyork par le directeur Des douanes De cette ville. Cette lettre contient le refus notifie par Mr. hamilton à ce directeur De faire la remise du droit de tonnage reclamée par les capitaines du convoi français. Je vous envoye cette notification ainsi que des observations que m’a adressé1 à ce Sujet le consul français de newyork, et le procès verbal de l’assemblée tenue par les capitaines marchands. Je vous enverrai Successivement les depêches que je recevrai Sans doute bientôt Sur le même objet de norfolk et de baltimore. J’aurois eu bien de la Satisfaction, Monsieur a pouvoir annoncer à la convention nationale dont toutes les lois ont été jusqu’ici favorables à votre commerce, La concession de ce leger avantage en faveur du notre. C’est avec bien du regret que je me verrai contraint de l’instruire que toutes les reclamations officielles que je vous ai faites en vertu de Ses lois et des ordres du conseil executif, pour obtenir De vous une juste reciprocité en faveur De notre commerce, n’ont eu jusqu’ici aucun Succès.

Dft (DLC: Genet Papers); in Jean Baptiste Cassan’s hand, unsigned, with revision by Genet; above salutation: “Le citoyen genet à Mr jefferson.” FC (same); in English. Recorded in SJL as received 4 Nov. 1793. Enclosures: (1) Benjamin Walker to Alexandre Maurice d’Hauterive, New York Custom House, 20 Oct. 1793, advising, in his capacity as Naval Officer and at the request of the ailing Collector of Customs, that by order of the Secretary of the Treasury the French merchant ships which had entered port from Saint-Domingue were to be considered in the same light as any other vessel entering “not in distress” and were therefore subject to the tonnage duty; that by law the duty had to be paid within ten days of entry and prior to clearing for departure and that bond had to be given for landing their cargoes in France or wherever they were bound; and that he takes this method of informing him to avoid delay, having been told by the chancellor of the consulate this afternoon when he came to communicate this news in person that Hauterive was too busy (RC in same). (2) [Hauterive], “Observations on the Decision of Mr. Hamilton relative to the reclamation of the Captains of the trading vessels which have taken refuge in the harbours of the United States,” 21 Oct. 1793, stating that Hamilton’s decision requiring the French merchant ships from Saint-Domingue to pay tonnage duties was contrary to the letter and the spirit of Articles 26 and 19 of the 1778 treaty of commerce between France and the United States, in the former case because it confounded these ships—which had left port hurriedly bound for France with cargoes of colonial goods, were compelled to enter American ports in “shattered condition,” without papers, provisions, and water, at vast expense, and had no intention of employing their cargoes for speculative purposes—with vessels not in distress, and in the latter case because French ships forced to enter American ports “by any urgent necessity” were to enjoy protection, friendship, and assistance; that although the latter article mentions only the purchase of provisions and departure without impediment, a right enjoyed by vessels of all nations, it must be interpreted as conferring a distinction in favor of French trading vessels as claimed by the French captains; that the decision was also in violation of section 37 [i.e. 38] of the 1790 Tonnage Act exempting vessels forced by weather or any other necessity to enter an American harbor for which they were not bound and authorizing them to sell part of their cargoes to defray their local expenses free of all duties but storage; that the purchase and consumption of provisions in port by these ships not only repays the hospitality given to them but sufficiently rewards those inclined to “take advantage of other people’s distress”; and that the American government should be dissuaded from aggravating with “an unexpected rigour” and a narrow spirit of fiscal policy the distress of French trade “by nobler sentiments, by the impression of that generous humanity so natural to every true American.” (3) Proceedings of a meeting of “The Captains of commercial Vessels assembled extraordinarily at the Consulary house under the sanction and presidency of Citizen Hautrive Consul of the French Republic,” n.d., claiming an exemption from the tonnage duties on substantially the same grounds as those advanced in No. 2, asserting that the rigorous severity of enforcement stood in stark contrast to the fraternal reception given to the French by the American people, and adopting three resolutions calling for their “Complaints and reclamations” to be sent to the National Convention with an account of the damages sustained from the duties so that it could provide compensation, and for Genet to forward an extract from these proceedings to the Convention for the vindication of the rights of the French nation (Trs in same; in English; with No. 3 bearing the names of nine signatories and certified by Hauterive).

For the mistaken contention, advanced in Enclosures Nos. 2–3, that section 38 of the 1790 Tonnage Act exempted from duties the cargo of the French merchant ships that had been forced by the slave revolt on Saint-Domingue to put in at American ports, see Hamilton to TJ, 30 Nov. 1793.

1Altered by Genet from “ainsi que la lettre que m’a ecrite.”

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