George Washington Papers

Cabinet Opinion on Foreign Vessels and Consulting the Supreme Court, 12 July 1793

Cabinet Opinion on Foreign Vessels and Consulting the Supreme Court

[Philadelphia] July 12. 1793.

At a meeting of the heads of the departments at the President’s on summons from him, and on consideration of various representations from the Ministers Plenipotentiary of France & Great Britain on the subject of vessels arming & arriving in our ports, and of prizes1 it is their opinion that letters be written to the said Ministers informing them that the Executive of the U.S., desirous of having done what shall be strictly comformeable to the treaties of the U.S. and the laws respecting the said cases has determined to refer the questions arising therein to persons learned in the laws:2 that as this reference will occasion some delay, it is expected that in the mean time the Little Sarah or Little Democrat the Ship Jane and the ship William in the Delaware, the Citoyen Genet & her prizes the brigs Lovely Lass & Prince William Henry, and the brig Fanny in the chesapeake do not depart till the further order of the President.3

That letters be addressed to the Judges of the Supreme court of the U.S. requesting their attendance at this place on Thursday the 18th instant to give their advice on certain matters of public concern which will be referred to them by the President.4

That the Governor be desired to have the ship Jane attended to with vigilance, and if she be found augmenting her force and about to depart, that he cause her to be stopped.5

Th: Jefferson
Alexandr Hamilton
H. Knox

DS, in Thomas Jefferson’s writing, DLC:GW; copy, in Thomas Jefferson’s writing, DLC: Jefferson Papers. Tobias Lear’s docket on the receiver’s copy reads: “Opinions of the Heads of the Departments on the subject of vessels arming & arriving in our ports &c. & to submit the matter to the Judges of the Supreme Court 12 July 1793.” Jefferson’s heading on the copy reads: “Copy of a minute given to the President.”

1On 11 July GW called for a cabinet meeting at 9 a.m. the following day (JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 191). For the letters from Edmond Genet and George Hammond on the subject of privateers and prizes, see those enclosed in Jefferson’s two memorandums to GW of 11 July (first and second) and a third memorandum of 11–13 July 1793.

2In the letters of 12 July that Jefferson wrote to Genet and Hammond, he copied or paraphrased most of the first paragraph of this opinion, including the intention to consult “persons learned in the laws” and the expectation that the various ships mentioned below should “not depart” until GW’s “ultimate determination shall be made known” (Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 37 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends , 26:487–88). On 13 July, Jefferson presented GW with copies of these letters and Hammond’s reply to Jefferson of 13 July, in which the British minister voiced his “surprize at the requisition” of the U.S. government (ibid., 496–97; JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 196).

3On the British brig Little Sarah, now outfitted as the privateer Petite Démocrate, see Jefferson’s Notes of 10 July enclosed in his first memorandum to GW of 11 July. On the British privateer Jane, see Thomas Mifflin to GW, 5, 10 July. On the British ship William, which the French schooner Citoyen Genet had captured, see Mifflin to GW, 22 June, GW to Knox, 23 June. All these ships, except the Citoyen Genet, were currently at the port of Philadelphia, as was the British brig Fanny, which the French schooner Sans Culotte had seized (George Hammond to Jefferson, 26 June, Jefferson to Genet, 29 June, Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 37 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends , 26:378–79, 399). The Citoyen Genet also had seized the British brigs Lovely Lass and Prince William Henry. All three ships were presently at the port of Baltimore (Hammond to Jefferson, 10 July, ibid., 461–62).

4In a circular letter to the justices of the Supreme Court of 12 July, Jefferson wrote that the “President of the United States, being desirous of asking the advice of the Judges of the Supreme Court of the United States, on certain matters of great public concern, requests your attendance at this place on Thursday the 18th. instant” (ibid., 488). Jefferson submitted his letters to Chief Justice John Jay and Justice William Paterson for GW’s approval on 13 July, and GW returned them on 15 July (JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 196, 198). Justices James Iredell and James Wilson were already scheduled to attend a special session of the Circuit Court for the district of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia on 22 July (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 , 2:414). By 18 July, Jay and Paterson were at Philadelphia; Justices John Blair and William Cushing did not make the journeys from their respective homes in Virginia and Massachusetts (GW to Jefferson, 18 July). For the questions submitted to the justices, see Jefferson to GW, 18 July, and notes.

5In response to his instructions, Pennsylvania governor Thomas Mifflin wrote Master Warden Nathaniel Falconer on 13 July: “You will be pleased to use the utmost vigilance, in attending to the proceedings, in respect to the Ship Jane; and give me notice upon the first appearance of an attempt to augment her force. I wish, likewise, that you would ascertain the time intended for her departure; and when it is probable she will leave the wharff at which she now lies.” Falconer replied to Mifflin later on 13 July to assure the governor that he would give the matter his “greatest attention.” He also noted: “There is at this time a report about the Wharves, that the ship Jane has heavyer Guns in the Hold, than those on her Decks, and that they are getting Carriages made for them Here” (both letters, PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790–99). For Falconer’s later confirmation of the new gun carriages, see Mifflin to GW, 27 July 1793 (first letter), n.1.

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