George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, 25 March 1792

To Thomas Jefferson

[Philadelphia] March 25th 1792.

The President of the United States has attentively considered the “Project of a Convention with the Spanish Provences” which was submitted to him by the Secretary of State, and informs him that the same meets his approbation.1 The President, however, thinks it proper to observe, that in perusing the beforementioned Project some doubts arose in his mind as to the expediency of two points mentioned therein. The one relative to instituting a civil, instead of a criminal process against Forgerers; who, generally, if not always, are possessed of little property.2 The other, respecting the unlimited time in which a person may be liable to an Action.3

By expressing these quæries the President would not be understood as objecting to the points touched upon;4 he only wishes to draw the Secretary’s further attention to them, & if he should, upon reconsideration, think it right for them to stand upon their present footing the President acquiesces therein.5

AL, DLC: Jefferson Papers; Df (in the writing of Tobias Lear, with emendations in GW’s hand), DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DNA: RG 59, George Washington’s Correspondence with His Secretaries of State; LB (photocopy), DLC:GW. The changes that GW made to the draft are given in notes 2, 3, and 5.

1For Jefferson’s projected extradition treaty with Spain, see Jefferson to GW, 22 Mar., n.1.

2In Lear’s draft GW added this clause above the line.

3At this place in the draft, GW struck out the following two paragraphs: “In regard to the first, Altho’ from a well intentioned principle of lenity a civil, instead of a criminal process might be desireable against persons accused of the high crime of forgery; Yet, might not instances occur in which, from the enormity of the crime or from some peculiar circumstances atten⟨ding it⟩ a criminal process would be highly proper, and that a serious detriment might accrue to the Government from having given up the right of instituting such a process?—And would not the recovery of damages against the culprit, in all cases, be inadequate to the injury sustained by the prosecuting party, and especially, as those who may be guilty of such crimes are generally persons destitute of sufficient property to make good the damages they have done?

“In regard to the second point. Would not a limitation of the time between the flight & the commencement of the Action (letting the time extend far enough to take in every supposeable case) be a piece of attention due to the unfortunate (for there may be some of that description among fugitives) by releiving them from solicitude & perhaps vexatious prosecutions after a certain period?—And would not such a limitation prevent an endless litigation, without depriving the Creditor of that right of prosecution to which he is justly entitled?”

4In the copy of the proposed treaty that Jefferson sent to William Carmichael and William Short on 24 April, Jefferson heeded GW’s suggestion of limiting the period of time, by altering the text to read: “If the time between the flight and the commencement of the action exceed not [ ] years, it shall be counted but as one day under any act of limitations” (see Jefferson to GW, 22 Mar., n.1.; Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 23:331–32).

5At this place in the draft, the following passage is deleted: “The Secy will receive herewith for his consideration an Estimate of the Post Master Genl for carrying the Mails, (which the President requests him to take into consideration).” GW apparently presented Timothy Pickering’s expense estimate of 22 Mar. (DLC: Jefferson Papers) to Jefferson in another manner, as the secretary of state commented on it in a letter to the postmaster general of 28 Mar. (see Jefferson to Pickering, 28 Mar., Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 23:347–48).

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