George Washington Papers

To George Washington from George Clinton, 8 September 1793

From George Clinton

New York 8th September 1793.


I have now the honor of transmitting to you, a Copy of a corespondence with the Minister of the Republic of France, relative to the two french Privateers, mentioned in your last as having arrived in this Port, and also respecting a British Brigantine lately sent in here as a Prize alledged to have been captured within the territoria⟨l⟩ Jurisdiction of the United States, by the Cerf a French Corvette.1 In ⟨the⟩ latter case I presume nothing more is expected of me, than to give notice to the French Consul of the allegations made respecting the circumstances of the capture. But as the measures proposed with respect to the privateers by the Minister cannot be considered as a direct compliance with your ⟨re⟩quisition in such cases, and yet as it may probably be deemed satisfactory I conceive it proper to suspend any further proceedings respecting them until I shall receive your advice on this Subject.2 I am &c.

G: C.

LB, N-Ar, Papers of George Clinton.

1It was Clinton’s last letter to GW (of 2 Sept.), not GW’s last letter to him, that mentioned the two French privateers.

Clinton’s letter to Edmond Genet of 3 Sept. stated GW’s determination that “the fitting out of Privateers or Cruisers by any of the Parties now at War in any of the Ports of the United States” was “incompatible with our present state of Neutrality,” and that the commanding officers of the Petite Democrat and Carmagnole “will receive your directions immediately to depart with their said vessels from this Port.” Clinton added, “it has been alledged to me that a British Brigantine called the William Tell lately sent into this Port as a Prize to the French Corvet the Cerf was captured within the Territorial Jurisdiction of the United States—It is therefore expected that the said Prize will remain in the Possession of the Consul of your Republic conformably to your Agreement with the General Government of the United States until the President shall have decided thereon” (DLC: Genet Papers).

Genet’s reply, the letter-book copy and draft of which are dated 6 Sept., informed Clinton that the Petite Démocrat, “taken by the Ambuscade, entered Philadelphia already armed,” while the Carmagnole “was indeed fitted out in the Ports of the United States ⟨in⟩ virtue of our treaties.” Genet claimed that he had already conformed “as much as was in my power” to GW’s decision “by advising the captains of those vessels, to deliver to me their commissions, for cruising against the enemies of my coun⟨try mutilated⟩ they have complied with my council, and henceforth the Petit Democrat and the Carmagnole, shall be employed as advice Boats. I have defended as long as I was able, the incontestible right of the Fren⟨ch⟩ Republic, to fit out armed vessels in the Ports of the United States, by virtue of the treaties of commerce and Alliance subsisting betwee⟨n⟩ the two Nations. It now belongs to my country to direct me what course I am finally to pursue. it belongs to the French nation ⟨to⟩ determine whether, to the sacrifices they have already made to you⟨r⟩ country, they ought to add that of renouncing a right, the Exerc⟨ise⟩ of which alarms the Politics of your government, and makes it a⟨ppre⟩hensive of being suspected of acting an underhand part, in ⟨the war ⟩ of Liberty. I heartily wish, Sir, that this mark of weakness may not draw on your Country those verry Calamities which it design⟨ed⟩ to ward off, and it is my further wish that this may be the only answer of my fellow Citizens, to the proceedings which have so long ⟨excited⟩ my complaints.” As for the William Tell, it would “remain in the possession of the consul of France in this Port until the President of the United States explains what he means by a line of protection by that territorial Jurisdiction so often apealed to by the agents of our Enemies, to cause our Prizes to be taken from us, even by our freinds,” but, Genet protested, “I think one ought not speak of protection and Jurisdiction until one is able to protect a⟨nd⟩ render effectual Justice to all” (LB, N-Ar: Papers of George Clinton; where that document is mutilated, text is supplied by translation from the draft, in French, in DLC: Genet Papers).

2This letter was received by GW on 14 Sept., and GW wrote Secretary of War Henry Knox on 16 Sept. to give directions about a proper answer. However, no reply was sent until 15 Nov., when Knox wrote Clinton that the “malady which lately raged in the city of Philadelphia” had “hitherto prevented an answer being given to your Excellencys letter of the 8th of September last to the President of the United States which with its enclosures were duly received”. Knox informed Clinton that withdrawal of the privateering commissions of the Petite Democrate and Carmagnole “was not the only measure which our neutrality requires of us,” and directed, “If therefore those vessels should again come into our ports, it is conceived to be our duty, that La petite Democrate should be reduced to her force at the time she was sent in as a prize to the Ambuscade, and the La Carmagnole should be entirely divested of her warlike equipments” (PHi: Conarroe Collection).

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