George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Mifflin, 20 August 1793

From Thomas Mifflin

Phil: 20 Aug. 1793.


Inclosed I transmit, for your information, copies of a letter to the French Consul, informing him of the necessity of the departure of the Citizen Genet within 24 hours; of a letter intimating to him agreably to your desire, that she would be allowed to repair as a merchantman, on condition of dismissing her arms & other military equipments, and of his answer, just received, upon these subjects.1

Late last night, however, I recd a letter from the Officer commanding at Mud-Island, informing me, that the Privateer was attached by a process issuing out of the District Court, and that the Marshall was, likewise, charged with a writ against her Captain. In this situation I thought it expedient to take the opinion of the Att. Gen: of Pena. as to the proper & legal mode of proceeding; & upon his recommendation I now submit the subject to your decision, with all the documents relating to it.2 I am, Sir, Yr most obedt Hble ser.

Tho. Mifflin

DfS, PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790–99; LB, PHarH: Executive Letter-Books.

1On the detention of the Citoyen Genet at Mud Island, see Mifflin to GW, 19 Aug. (second letter), and notes. Mifflin’s first letter to Françoise Dupont of 19 Aug. ordered this privateer to depart within twenty-four hours (PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790–99). Mifflin wrote a second letter to Dupont of 19 Aug. after receiving a letter from Henry Knox of that same date reporting on that day’s cabinet decision about the Citoyen Genet. For that decision and Knox’s letter, see GW to Thomas Jefferson, 19 Aug., n.3. After first retracting the order contained in his earlier letter, Mifflin closely copied Knox’s letter before ending it with a request that Dupont “favor me with an immediate declaration, whether the terms proposed are accepted. If it is, I shall chearfully rely upon your engagement: if it is not, the vessel must depart within the limited time.” In his reply to Mifflin of 19 Aug., written in French, Dupont made the argument that since the Citoyen Genet had been outfitted as a privateer in Charleston, S.C., before GW’s Neutrality Proclamation of 22 April 1793 became known there, the Citoyen Genet and its crew should be exempted from any orders to depart American waters. Dupont claimed that France, as an ally of the United States, deserved better treatment for its ships. Moreover, he could not acquiescence to U.S. demands regarding the disarmament of this privateer since this was a decision for the owners of the vessel to make (both, PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790–99).

2The letter from William Linnard to Mifflin, Mifflin’s letter to John Donaldson, Pennsylvania’s attorney general, and Donaldson’s reply, all 19 or 20 Aug., have not been identified. In his first letter to Linnard of 20 Aug., written at 8 a.m., Mifflin wrote: “The case of the Citizen Genet privateer is of so much importance, that I think it expedient to take the opinion of the Att. Gen., as to the proper & legal steps to be pursued. You will be pleased, therefore, to shew this letter to the Marshalls officer, & request him not to attempt to remove the vessel till I have obt[aine]d such opinion; assuring him at the same time that the utmost respect will be pd to the civil auth[orit]y under wc he acts” (PHarH: Executive Correspondence). GW received Mifflin’s letter and its seven enclosures on 20 Aug. (JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 225–26). At GW’s behest, Knox then wrote Mifflin and New York State governor George Clinton on 20 Aug. that regarding “the restoration of prizes made after the 5th of August instant, from any of the belligerent parties by certain French Privateers fitted out in the United States, I beg leave to observe that this interposition of the Executive was rendered necessary by our Courts having hitherto declined to take cognizance of such cases, But as in the instance of American Citizens, and other Neutrals, there has as yet appeared no objection in the Courts to interpose, I am instructed by the President to inform you (in order to prevent any misconstruction of what has been already communicated to your Excellency) that he wishes their cases to be brought before the judicial tribunals—He will afterwards take into consideration any representation which may be made to him” (PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790–99; N-Ar: Papers of George Clinton). Knox wrote almost identical letters to the other northern maritime governors on this date (Knox to Josiah Bartlett, Nh-Ar). He also included these instructions in a circular letter to the southern maritime governors of 21 Aug. (see Knox to GW, 27 Aug. 1793, n.1).

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