From John Tyler
Richmond June 1st. 1809
Having received a communication from our Consul in Cuba enclosing a proclamation of the Intendant or Governor of that Island,1 by which it appears that all the French people who had adopted that Country were expelled therefrom; and having also received a letter from William Vaughn Esquire, a Magistrate of the Borough of Norfolk, informing me of many of those unfortunate people having arrived at the port of Norfolk in great distress, accompanied by some domestic servants, which is all the visible property they have with them; consequently I laid the subject before the board; whereupon the laws of our State as well as those of the United States were examined and of course some difficulties occured. The great laws of huminity and hospitality seemed to us superior to the rigid policy which forbids any slave to be brought into the United States; which policy could not embrace a subject so extraordinary and distressing. We know well that if they had been driven in by stress of weather, no law would have been so construed as to prevent their reception for purposes of relief. Surely this is a much stronger case and calls for the interposition of Legislative aid. Until this is done, or finally rejected, the Executive having these objects of charity permission to remain in Norfolk with their Slaves giving security that they will not sell them within the limits of the State, until the next session of our assembly or until Congress may act thereon. The Advice of Council, and letter before referred to, are communicated to our members of the Senate who will furnish you with them when you may please to require it.2 It is with great respect and deference therefore, that we lay the subject before you, not doubting your inclination to take such steps as you may think most condusive to a just determination. I have the honor to be with Sentiments of high respect Your most Obt. Humble Servant
Letterbook copy (Vi: Executive Letterbook).
1. For details of the intendant’s proclamation, see Maurice Rogers to Tyler, 28 Apr. 1809, CVSP description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts (11 vols.; Richmond, 1875–93). description ends , 10:55.
2. Senators William Branch Giles and Richard Brent became active in their support for Tyler’s position, despite their first reaction that “the disposition of the slaves in question belongs exclusively to the tribunals of Virginia.” Clearly, JM took a different view from the senators, for they added: “After proceeding thus far with this communication, we thought proper not to close it until the views of the President in relation to the co-operation of the Government of the U. S. with that of Virginia in affording redress to these unfortunate exiles … could be obtained, and the result of an interview and consultation with him has been to present the subject to the consideration of Congress. This is done this morning.” On 14 June, Giles reported from committee a bill “for the remission of certain penalties and forfeitures” of the 1807 act prohibiting the importation of slaves. On 19 June he moved a resolution requesting the president to submit to the Senate information on a French offer to repatriate the Cuban exiles and their slaves. In a 20 June message to the Senate, JM forwarded a letter from the French minister. The bill, which became law on 28 June, authorized the president to remit the penalties of the 1807 act, provided the injured party was “forcibly expelled from the island of Cuba.” JM granted several such remissions (Giles and Brent to Tyler, 10 June 1809, CVSP description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts (11 vols.; Richmond, 1875–93). description ends , 10:58–60; Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 11th Cong., 1st sess., 36, 39, 40; Louis-Marie Turreau to Robert Smith, 10 June 1809 [DNA: RG 59, Notes from the French Legation]; U.S. Statutes at Large description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America … (17 vols.; Boston, 1848–73). description ends , 2:549; Executive Order, 29 July 1809 [DNA: RG 59, Presidential Pardons and Remissions]).