Cabinet Opinions on the Roland and Relations
with Great Britain, France, and the Creek Indians
[Philadelphia, 31 August 1793]
At a meeting of the Heads of departments & Attorney General at the President’s on the 31st day of Aug. 1793.1
A letter from mister Gore to mister Lear, dated Boston Aug. 24. was read, stating that the Roland, a privateer fitted out at Boston & furnished with a commission under the government of France, had sent a prize into that port, which being arrested by the Marshal of the district by process from a court of justice, was rescued from his possession by M. du Plaine Consul of France with an armed force from one of the ships of his nation, it is the opinion that the Attorney of the district be instructed to institute such prosecution as the laws will authorize against the said du Plaine; and to furnish to the government of the U.S. authentic evidence of the facts beforementioned, whereon if it shall appear that the rescue was made by the said Duplaine, or his order, it is the opinion that his Exequetur should be revoked. also that the Attorney of the district be desired to furnish copies of his applications or other correspondence with the Governor of Massachusets relative to the several privateers & prizes which have been the subjects of his letters to mister Lear.2
A letter from mister Maury Consul of the U.S. at Liverpool dated July 4. 1793. was recd, covering an inauthenticated copy of certain Additional instructions from the court of St James’s to the Commanders of their ships of war dated June 8. 1793. permitting them to stop the vessels of neutral nations laden with corn, flour or meal & bound to any port of France, & to send them into British ports, from whence they are not to be permitted to proceed to the port of any country not in Amity with Gr. Britain whereupon it is the opinion that mister Pinckney be provisionally instructed to make representations to the British ministry on the said instruction as contrary to the rights of neutral nations, and to urge a revocation of the same, and full indemnification to any individuals, citizens of these states, who may in the mean time suffer loss in consequence of the said instruction. Also that explanations be desired by mister Pinckney of the reasons of the distinction made in the 2d article of the sd instructions between the vessels of Denmark & Sweden & those of the U.S. attempting to enter blockaded ports.3
Information having been also received thro’ the public papers of a decree passed the National assembly of France revoking the principle of free ships making free goods & enemy ships enemy goods, and making it lawful to seize neutral vessels bound with provisions to any other country & to carry them into the ports of France, there to be landed & paid for, & also of another decree excepting the vessels of the U.S. from the operation of the preceding decrees, it is the opinion that mister Morris be provisionally instructed, in case the first mentioned decrees have passed & not the exceptions, to make representations thereon to the French government as contrary to the treaty existing between the two countries & the decree relative to provisions contrary also to the law of nations & to require a revocation thereof and full indemnification to any citizens of these states who may in the mean time have suffered loss therefrom, & also in case the said decrees & the exceptions were both passed that then a like indemnification be made for losses intervening between the dates of the sd decrees & exceptions.4
A Letter from the Governor of Georgia of the 13 instant covering the proceedings of a Council of War relatively to an expedition against certain towns of the Creek Nation was communicated for consideration.5
It is the opinion that the Governor of Georgia be informed that the President disapproves the measure as unauthorised by law as contrary to the present state of affairs and to the instructions heretofore given and expects that it will not be proceeded in—that requiring the previous consideration of Congress it will be submitted to them at their ensuing session, if circumstances shall not then render it unnecessary or improper: that the Governor of South Carolina be also informed that the cooperation desired of him by the Governor of Georgia is not to be afforded; and that the Agent for procuring supplies of provisions for the service of the United States in Georgia be instructed that no provisions are to [be] furnished on their account for the purpose of the said expedition.6
DS, DLC:GW. The first four paragraphs are in Thomas Jefferson’s writing and the last two paragraphs are in Alexander Hamilton’s writing. GW docketed this document as “Opinion, 31st August 1793 respectg the French Consul at Boston and measures proper to be taken thereupon.”
1. For GW’s decision to call this cabinet meeting, see JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 234–35.
2. The Roland was a 27-ton, American-built sloop, “equipped & furnished within the port of Boston & Charlestown,” Mass. (Christopher Gore to John Hancock, 3 Aug. 1793, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Gore, the U.S. district attorney for Massachusetts, first mentioned the Roland in a letter to Tobias Lear of 4 Aug.: “On friday evening [2 Aug.] I heard that a vessel lately own’d by citizens of the United States, had been fitted out as a privateer at Hingham [Mass.], and was then at anchor in Nantasket road,” a shipping channel in the Boston harbor. The following day, Gore sent Thomas Melvill, the surveyor of the port, to examine the ship. Melvill “reported that she was equipped for a privateer, & had on board guns balls, and other implements of war.” Gore personally presented his “memorial” of 3 Aug. to Gov. John Hancock, informing him of the situation and asking him to prevent this privateer from sailing (DLC: Tobias Lear Papers; see also Gore to Rufus King, 4 Aug. 1793, King, Life and Corresponence of King, 1:490–93). According to Gore’s letter to Lear of 6 Aug., James Sullivan (1744–1808), the state attorney general, advised Hancock that “the fitting out, and equipping the privateer in an American port was contrary to the law of nations, and a breach of our neutrality … [and] his Excellency shoud take her into custody and detain her till the secretary of the Commonwealth [John Avery, Jr.; 1739–1806] had informed the Secretary of State of his doings herein, and his readiness to deliver her over to the order of the President.” Hancock, however, failed to take any action, and the privateer “sail’d from Nantasket” on 6 Aug. (DLC: Tobias Lear Papers).
According to Gore’s letter of 24 Aug., Lear’s letter to Gore of 18 Aug., which has not been found, “announced to me that the President of the United States was pleased to approbate my conduct.” Gore wrote that on 20 Aug. he received news that the Roland had brought a prize, the English schooner Greyhound, into port. Alexander Brymer and Andrew Blecher, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, owned the schooner, and their friends and relatives, who lived in Boston, “sued out a writ of replevin.” Samuel Bradford, the deputy federal marshal, served the writ and took possession of the Greyhound on 21 Aug., but later that evening Antoine Charbonnet Duplaine, the French vice-consul, and John Jutau (Juttau; c.1750–1821), his chancellor, reclaimed the ship with an armed force and moved her “within command” of the guns of the French frigate Concorde. Gore then asked Thomas Amory, Jr., “to go on board the french frigate, & state to the Captain [Lewis-Guillaume-Felix Laumosne] that his conduct was improper which he did—but the Capt. said he acted by the orders of the Consul & woud not permit her to depart without the Consul gave leave, or the Governor directed it—Mr Amory who was Counsel for the plaintiffs in replevin then sent for Genl [John] Brooks the Marshall, who made a like application to the Capt. & to the Vice Consul—& was a like unsuccessful—I then wrote a letter to the Vice Consul demanding as attorney for the United States a removal of the armed men & his other obstructions to the laws of the U.S.—to this I receivd no reply.” Gov. John Hancock was informed of the situation, but his apparent response was to leave Boston for “a few days” at Concord. Despite the governor’s inaction, the French withdrew their armed men from the Greyhound on 24 Aug., and Bradford “immediately weighed anchor, & brought the schooner to the wharf, where she will probably remain till the President or the Governor shall choose otherwise to order” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; see also a copy of the writ of replevin, 21 Aug. 1793, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).
Thomas Jefferson wrote Gore on 2 Sept. that GW wanted him to “immediately institute such a prosecution against” Duplaine “as the laws will warrant” and gather “the best evidence it shall be in your power to procure, under oath or affirmation,” of the events in Gore’s letter of 24 August. “I am also instructed,” Jefferson continued, “to ask the favor of you to communicate copies of any memorials, representations or other written correspondence which may have passed between the Governor and yourself with respect to the privateers and prizes which have been the subject of your letters to Mr. Lear” (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 , 27:13–14). Gore included information about the presence of other privateers in the Boston harbor in his earlier letters to Lear of 25 and 28 July (see Cabinet Opinion, 5 Aug. 1793, and note 6). For the documents that Gore sent in response to GW’s request, see his letter to Jefferson of 10 Sept. 1793, and source note (ibid., 79–82). For GW’s revocation of Duplaine’s exequatur, see GW to Duplaine, 10 Oct. 1793.
3. Jefferson enclosed the letter from James Maury of 4 July 1793, and its copy of the British orders, in his letter to GW of 30 Aug. 1793. He sent these provisional instructions to Thomas Pinckney, the U.S. minister to Great Britain, in a letter of 7 Sept. 1793, which the cabinet approved at a meeting of the same date (ibid., 27:55–59; Cabinet Opinion, 7 Sept. 1793).
4. The French decree of 9 May was published in the 14 Aug. issue of the Pennyslvania Gazette (Philadelphia). It authorized the seizure of neutral ships carrying provisions to an enemy port, while that of 23 May exempted the United States (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, 377–78). Before Jefferson could send instructions to Gouverneur Morris, the U.S. minister to France, he received on 5 Sept. Morris’s letter of 20 May 1793. Morris informed Jefferson of the first decree and described his protests to the French government (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 , 26:68–71). For the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the United States and France, 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 , 3–34.
5. For Edward Telfair’s letter to Knox of 13 Aug., see Knox to GW, 29 Aug. 1793, and note 1; see also JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 234.
6. For Jefferson’s description of the discussion at this meeting concerning the proposed expedition against the Creek Indians, see his Notes on Cabinet Meetings, 4 Sept. 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 , 27:32–34). For previous instructions to avoid a war with the Indians and a reminder that an offensive war must be approved by Congress, since the Constitution gave the power to declare war to the legislative branch, see Cabinet Opinion, 29 May 1793. Knox informed Telfair and South Carolina governor William Moultrie of GW’s objections to the proposed expedition in separate letters of 5 Sept. 1793 (ASP, Indian Affairs, 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 1:365–66). Knox’s letter to David Allison has not been identified.