George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, 4 August 1793

To Thomas Jefferson

Phila. Augt 4th 1793.


If the heads of Departments and the Attorney General, who have prepared the eight rules which you handed to me yesterday, are well satisfied that they are not repugnant to treaties, or to the Laws of Nations; and moreover, are the best we can adopt to maintain Neutrality; I not only give them my approbation, but desire they may be made known without delay for the information of all concerned.1

The same expression will do for the other paper, which has been subscribed as above, & submitted to my consideration for restoring, or making restitution of Prizes under the circumstances therein mentioned.2

It is proper that you should be informed that the Minister of France intends to leave this City for New York tomorrow;3 and not amiss, perhaps, to know that in mentioning the seasonable aid of hands which the Ambuscade received from the French Indiaman, the day preceeding her meeting the Boston, he added that Seamen would no longer be wanting, as he had now 1500 at his command. This being the case (altho’ the allusion was to the Subject he was then speak⟨i⟩ng upon) some of these Me⟨n⟩ may be emp⟨l⟩oyed in the equipment of other Privateers than those now in existence, as the right of fitting out such, in our Ports is asserted in unequivocal terms.4

Was the propriety of convening the Legislature at an earlier day than that on which it is to assemble by Law, considered yesterday?5 The late decree of the National Convention of France—dated the 9th of May—authorising their ships of War & Armed Vessels to stop any Neutral Vessels loaded in whole, or part with Provisions, and send them into their Ports, adds another motive for the adoption of this measure.6

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ALS, DLC: Jefferson Papers; ALS (letterpress copy), DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DNA: RG 59, George Washington’s Correspondence with His Secretaries of State. The text in angle brackets is from the letterpress copy. Jefferson’s docket on the receiver’s copy reads “recd Aug. 4.”

1For the eight rules, see Cabinet Opinion on the Rules of Neutrality, 3 Aug. 1793. On the treaties that the United States had with France, Great Britain, and other nations, see Miller, Treaties description begins Hunter Miller, ed. Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America. Vol. 2, 1776-1818. Washington, D.C., 1931. description ends , 3–244. The other reference is to Emmerich de Vattel’s three-volume work The Law of Nations; or Principles of the Law of Nature: Applied to the Conduct and to the Affairs of Nations and Sovereigns (London, 1760). These rules were contained in Henry Knox’s first circular letter of 7 August to the maritime governors (Knox to Thomas Mifflin, 7 Aug., PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790–1799; Knox to Richard Dobbs Spaight, 7 Aug. Nc-Ar: Governors’ Papers).

3On Edmond Genet’s visit to New York City, see Rufus King to Alexander Hamilton, 3 Aug. 1793, Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 15:172–74, and notes 4, 6.

4Any written account of a recent conversion between GW and Genet has not been identified. For Genet’s earlier boasting about the strength of the French naval forces, see Jefferson’s memorandum to GW of 26 July 1793. The frigate Embuscade routed the British frigate Boston in an early-morning encounter off Sandy Hook, N.J., on 1 Aug. 1793 (Daily Advertiser [New York], 2 Aug. 1793). Genet’s 1500 men is probably a reference to the recent arrival at New York City of a French naval squadron from Saint Domingue (Jefferson’s Memorandum to GW, 26 July 1793, and note 9).

5On the question of calling a special session of Congress, see GW to Cabinet, 3 Aug. 1793. For the conflicting opinions held by cabinet members, see Jefferson to GW, 4 Aug. 1793 (second letter), Hamilton to GW, 5 Aug., Knox to GW, 5 Aug. (first letter), and Randolph to GW, 5 Aug. 1793; see also Jefferson’s Notes of Cabinet Meeting on Neutrality, 3 Aug. 1793, 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 , 26:607–8.

6Article I of the decree passed by the French National Assembly on 9 May 1793 reads: “Ships of war and privateers are authorized to seize and carry into the ports of the republic, merchant vessels which are wholly or in part loaded with provisions, being neutral property, bound to an enemy’s port, or having on board merchandise belonging to an enemy” (ASP, Foreign Relations, description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends 1:244). The letter-book copy of GW’s letter to Jefferson incorrectly gives 19 May as the date of this decree.

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