George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Thomas Sim Lee, 13 October 1793

To Thomas Sim Lee

Mount Vernon 13th Octobr 1793.


The Letter with which your Excellency was pleased to favor me, dated the 7th inst. was received on the 10th—& might have been acknowledged the next day; but I waited the arrival of Friday’s mail 1 in hopes that I should have had a report from the Secretary of War relatively to the Ship Roehampton. Disappointed in this, I am not able to give any opinion thereon, uninformed as I am of the specific articles of charge which have been exhibited by the British Consul. The French minister complains of the detention.2

With respect to the second case mentioned in your letter, & those of the British Consuls, I have only to observe that as these Gentlemen are not ignorant that the Custom-house officers in every port are instructed to keep a vigilant watch upon all armed vessels, and the presumption being that they also are not inattentive, there seems to have been no necessity for lodging a complaint unaccompanied with proofs.

It is scarcely possible to give instructions which will embrace every case minutely that may arise during the war—nor do I conceive it essential. Your Excellency will readily perceive by the communications which have been made to you, the principles upon which the General Government 3 act in the recess of Congress, respecting the belligerent powers. These principles are to adhere strictly to treaties, according to the plain construction & obvious meaning of them—and, regarding these, to act impartially towards all the Nations at war. Keeping these principles in view & observing the rules which are founded on them—with your disposition to do justice & to preserve this Country in peace—I persuade myself that you can be at no loss—that your decisions will always be right, & I hope they will always be prompt.4

Being removed from the public offices—intending when I left Philadelphia not to have been absent from that City more than fifteen or eighteen days, I brought no public papers of any sort (not even the rules which have been established in these cases) along with me—consequently am not prepared at this place to decide points which may require a referrence to papers not within my reach. but as I find cases are daily occuring which call for attention & decision, I have requested the Heads of Departments to attend at Philadelphia—or in its vicinity, by the 1st of next month, whither I shall go & be present myself.5 With great esteem & regard I am Sir, Your mo: obt humble Servt

Go: Washington

LS, MdAA: Brown Books; ADfS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DLC:GW.

1Friday was 11 October.

2For the French complaint, see Thomas Jefferson to GW, 3 Oct. (third letter), and n.1 to that document.

3At this point on the draft, GW initially wrote, “have established for its conduct,” but he struck those words out and replaced them with six words that follow on the LS.

4On 11 Nov. Secretary of War Henry Knox wrote a second response to Lee’s letter of 7 Oct., giving the governor a more detailed definition of what augmentations of force were unacceptable (MdAA: Brown Books).

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