George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 1 April 1792

From Thomas Jefferson

[Philadelphia] April 1. 1792.

Th: Jefferson has the honor to present to the view of the President the subjects relative to Algiers, under their different aspects.1 on further consideration, & paying special attention to the circumstances of the present moment, which render expence an obstacle perhaps to what would be the best plan, he suggests others which would not be eligible under other circumstances, or for any length of time.2 if the President will be pleased to make his option of these plans, & determine whether to consult one or both houses, messages adapted to the case shall be prepared.3

AL, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; AL (letterpress copy), DLC: Jefferson Papers; LB, DNA: RG 59, George Washington’s Correspondence with His Secretaries of State; LB (photocopy), DLC:GW.

1Jefferson’s enclosed “Considerations on the subjects of Ransom, & Peace with the Algerines,” which he signed on this day, reads:

“I. The Ransom of our captive citizens, being 14. in number. for facts on this subject refer to the Reports of Dec. 28. 1790. on the same ransom, & on the Mediterranean trade, & to mister [William] Short’s letter of Aug. 24. 91. sent to the Senate. the probable cost will be 1500. doll. for the common men, & half as much more for officers, adding presents, duties & other expences, it will be little short of 40,000 D. this must be ready money, & consequently requires a joint, but secret vote of both houses. an Agent must be sent for the purpose.

“II. Peace, how best to be obtained?

“1. by war: that is to say by constant cruizes in the Mediterranean. this proved practicable by the experiment of M. de Massiac [and] by the Portuguese cruises. the co-operation of Portugal, Naples, Genoa, Malta could possibly be obtained. but the expence would be considerable. Vessels mounting 100. guns in the whole would probably be wanting on our part. these would cost in the outset 400,000 Doll. & annually afterwards 125,000 Doll. it may be doubted if this expence could be met during the pres[en]t Indian war. if it could, it is the most honourable & efficacious way of having peace.

“2. by paying a gross sum for a peace of 50. years. respectable opinions vary from 300,000 to 1,000,000 Doll. as to the first cost. then are to follow frequent occasional presents. & with all this, the peace will not be respected, unless we appear able to enforce it. and if able to enforce, why not rely on that solely? that same question recurs here. to wit Are we able to meet this expence at present?

“3. by tribute annually. the Dutch, Danes, Swedes & Venetians pay about 24,000 D. a year. we might perhaps obtain it for something less. if for ten or fifteen thousand dollars a year, it might be eligible.

“4. by a tariff for the ransom of the captives they shall take from us. if low, this might do for the present. The Agent to be sent for the purpose of ransom, might be authorised to treat. but should also make himself acquainted with their coast, harbour, vessels, manner of fighting &c.

“On either of these plans a vote of the Senate will be requisite. on the 1st or 2d the Representatives should be consulted; & perhaps on the 3d or 4th. it will be best to bring it on by a message from the President” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Jefferson earlier had forwarded to GW proposals concerning an international convention against Mediterranean piracy (see Jefferson to GW, 12 July 1790, source note and note 8). For the “experiment” of Claude-Louis, marquis de Massiac, see Lafayette to Jefferson, c.6 Mar. 1786, source note, 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 9:318–20.

2For the administration’s concern over funding peace with Algiers, see GW to Jefferson, 10 Mar., n.3, and Conversation with a Committee of the U.S. Senate, 12 Mar. 1792.

3On 10 April, Jefferson sent GW a draft of the president’s message to the Senate on purchasing peace with Algiers, which GW delivered on 8 May (third letter).

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