George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 16 February 1793

From Thomas Jefferson

[Philadelphia] Feb. 16. 93.

Th: Jefferson has the honor to send to the President the copy of a Report he proposes to give in to the H. of Representatives on Monday on the subject of a Petition of John Rogers referred to him.1

The President will see by mister Hammond’s letter now inclosed, that he has kindled at the facts stated in Th: J’s report on commerce.2 Th: J. adds the draught of an answer to him, if the President should think that any answer should be given. it is sometimes difficult to decide whether indiscretions of this kind had better be treated with silence, or due notice. the former perhaps would be best, if it were not that his letter would go unanswered to his court, who might not give themselves the trouble of seeing that he was in the wrong.3 Th: J. will wait on the President immed⟨iately⟩.

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. The text within angle brackets is from the letterpress copy.

1For Jefferson’s receipt of this petition, see Jefferson to GW, 14 Feb. (second letter), n.4. According to Jefferson’s report of this date, Revolutionary War veteran John Rogers claimed that he “became entitled to Two thousand Acres of Lands on the North east side of the Tennissee at it’s confluence with the Ohio, and to 2400 Acres in different parcels, between the same River and the Missisippi, all of them within the former limit of Virginia, which lands were allotted to him under an Act of the Legislature of Virginia before it’s Deed of cession to the United States; that by the Treaty of Hopewell in 1786 the part of the country comprehending those Lands was ceded to the chickasaw Indians; and praying compensation for the same.” Jefferson concluded that “the locations of the Petitioner must be considered as made within the Indian Territory, and insusceptible of being reduced into his possession, till the Indian Right be purchased.

“That this places him on the same footing with Charles Russel and others, Officers of the same State, who had located their bounty Lands in like manner, within the Chickasaw lines, whose Case was laid before the House of Representatives of the United States at their last Session, and remains undecided on; and That the same and no other measure should be dealt to this Petitioner, which shall be provided for them” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Jefferson sent this report, with a brief cover letter, to the House on Monday, 18 Feb. (Jefferson to Theodore Sedgwick, 18 Feb. 1793, DLC: Thomas Jefferson Papers). The entire report is printed in 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 25:209–11.

2On 13 Feb., Jefferson had sent a circular letter to the British, Dutch, French, and Spanish foreign ministers, in which he enclosed extracts from a draft report on commerce that he was preparing for the House of Representatives (ibid., 184–89). Jefferson had enclosed a copy of this circular letter in his first letter to GW of 14 February. He had sent a draft of the report in his letter to GW of 10 Feb. (GW to Jefferson, 12 Feb., and note 2). In his reply to Jefferson of 15 Feb., British minister George Hammond enclosed a table of import duties “shewing the discrimination of duties upon certain articles imported into Great Britain from the United States and from all other foreign countries” (ibid., 201–2). Hammond objected to parts of the proposed report, and he wrote: “Of one assertion however, Sir, it is incumbent upon me to take some notice, as it refers to a transaction in which I was a party principally concerned and some particulars of which you appear to have either overlooked or forgotten. In reasoning upon the King’s proclamation, regulating the commercial intercourse between Great Britain and this country, you advert to an official notification, which I communicated to you in the month of April last. You then add, ‘It was privately believed, indeed, that the order of that court went further than their intention, and so we were, afterwards, officially informed.’ You will, I hope, Sir, recollect that in delivering to you that notification, I accompanied it with a formal assurance of my conviction that ‘it was not intended to militate against the order of the King in Council, regulating the commercial intercourse between the two countries.’ In that assurance the members of the executive government of the United States reposed entire confidence; under their sanction it was announced to the public, and in consequence thereof I have reason to imagine (from the best information I can collect) that the commerce of this country sustained no embarrassment or obstruction whatsoever. Whilst I am upon this subject, I must also recall to your recollection that, in your letter to the President of the 13th. April, which he communicated to the two houses of the legislature, you say, ‘The Minister moreover assured me verbally that he would immediately write to his court for an explanation, and in the mean time is of opinion that the usual intercourse of commerce between the two countries (Jersey and Guernsey excepted) need not be suspended.’ That explanation, approving the conduct I had held, and stating the views of his Majesty’s government in regard to the notification alluded to, I received from my Court whilst I was at New York, and transmitted to you by letter on the 3rd. of August last. And I must now beg leave to repeat the enquiry which I addressed to you verbally about six weeks ago: viz. whether you ever received that letter and whether you ever laid it before the two houses of the legislature, which (from the passage in your letter to the President above-cited) might be induced to expect some ulterior communication from me on so important a subject?” (ibid., 199–201). For additional background on Hammond’s letter of 15 Feb., see Jefferson to GW, 13 April 1792, and notes.

3The enclosed draft, dated 16 Feb., reads: “I have duly recieved your letter of the 15th with the statement of the duties payable on articles imported into Great Britain. the Object of the Report from which I had communicated some extracts to you, not requiring a minute detail of the several duties on every article, in every country, I had presented both articles & duties in groups, & in general terms, conveying information sufficiently accurate for the Object. and I have the satisfaction to find, on reexamining the expressions in the Report, that they correspond with your statement as nearly as generals can with particulars.

“You seem to think that in the mention made of your official communication of Apr. 11. 1792. (that the clause in the Navigation act prohibiting our own produce to be carried in our own vessels into the British European dominions would be strictly inforced in future) and the private belief expressed at the same time that the intention of that court did not go so far, that the latter terms are not sufficiently accurate. about the fact it is impossible we should differ, because it is a written one. the only difference then must be a merely verbal one. in your letter of Apri[l] 11. you say you have received, by a circular dispatch from your court, directions to inform this government that it had been determined in future strictly to inforce this clause of the navigation-act. this I considered as an official notification. in your answer of Apr. 12. to my request of explanation, you say ‘in answer to your letter of this day, I have the honor of observing that I have no other instructions upon the subject of my communication than such as are contained in the circular dispatch of which I stated the purport in my letter dated yesterday. I have however no difficulty in assuring you that the result of my personal conviction is that the determination of his Majesty’s government to inforce the clause of the act &c. is not intended to militate against the Proclamation &c.’ this personal conviction is expressed private belief in the Report, as opposed to the official declaration. in your letter of yesterday you chuse to call it ‘a formal assurance of your conviction.’ as I am not scrupulous about words when they are once explained, I feel no difficulty in substituting in the Report your own words ‘personal conviction’ for those of ‘private belief’ which I had thought equivalent. I cannot indeed insert that it was a formal assurance, lest some readers might confound this with an official one: without reflecting that you could not give official assurance that the clause would be enforced, & official assurance also of your personal conviction that it would not be enforced, at the same time.

“I had the honor to acknolege verbally the receipt of your letter of the 3d of August, when you did me that of making the enquiry verbally about six weeks ago. but to the remaining interrogatory Whether I ‘ever laid it before the two houses of legislature’? I will take my answer from an authority to which I am sure you will subscribe, & which is so replete with good sense, & it’s terms so well chosen, that I need seek nothing out of it. ‘I must therefore observe to you, Sir, that in my quality of Secretary of state to the United States, I cannot receive any communication on the part of a foreign minister, but for the purpose of laying it before the President, and of taking his orders upon it; & that the deliberations of the two houses of legislature, as well as the communications, which it may please the President to make to them, relative to the affairs of this country, are objects entirely foreign from all diplomatic correspondence, and upon which it is impossible for me to enter into any discussion whatever with the ministers of other countries’” (DLC: Thomas Jefferson Papers). In the margin alongside the last paragraph, Jefferson wrote, “The President thought that it would be best omitted to avoid irritation.” GW’s executive journal indicates that GW thought Hammond’s question was one “which Mr. H. had no right to make” (JPP, description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends 55). All of the last paragraph except the first sentence was omitted from the final version (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 25:206–8). Hammond’s letter of 3 Aug. had not been submitted to Congress.

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