George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 3 July 1792

From Thomas Jefferson

[Philadelphia] 3 July 1792. Submits “to the President a letter to mister Van Berckel on the subject of the infraction of the privileges of his house by a constable.”1

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

1For Dutch minister Franco Petrus Van Berckel’s letter to Jefferson of 25 June complaining about the invasion of his residence and the arrest of his domestic servant Frederic Gitt by the Philadelphia constable Elihu Meeker and Attorney General Edmund Randolph’s letter to Jefferson of 26 June giving his opinion of the matter, see 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 24:125–29. The letter to Van Berckel that Jefferson submitted to GW on this date is dated 2 July 1792. While admitting that “There could be no question but that this was a breach of [diplomatic] privilege,” Jefferson informed Van Berckel that “from the circumstance of your Servant’s not being registered in the Secretary of State’s office, we cannot avail ourselves of the more certain and effectual proceeding which had been provided by an act of Congress for punishing infractions of the law of nations.” Taking his cue from Randolph, therefore, Jefferson asked Van Berckel whether he preferred to settle the matter “By a warrant before a single magistrate to recover the money paid by the Servant under a process declared void by law” or “to indict the officer in the Supreme Court of the United States, with whom it would rest to punish him at their discretion” (ibid., 149–50). For Van Berckel’s response, which enclosed a list of his domestic servants and left the decision about what to do in Jefferson’s hands, see ibid., 157–58. Meeker was indicted by a grand jury at the Pennsylvania circuit court on 11 Oct. 1792. Fearful that Meeker’s punishment would exceed the seriousness of the offense, however, Van Berckel shortly thereafter asked that the prosecution be dropped (Marcus and Perry, Documentary History of the Supreme Court, description begins Maeva Marcus et al., eds. The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789–1800. 8 vols. New York, 1985-2007. description ends 2:320).

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