George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Edmund Randolph, 14 March 1794

From Edmund Randolph

Philadelphia March 14. 1794.


I did myself the honor of informing you the other day, that the House of Representatives would probably remit to my office the documents, which related to the vexations and spoliations on our trade; conceiving, that they were of a nature, purely executive.1 Yesterday the Senate, as if they meant to take up the subject in some shape or other, passed a vote, as I have heard, calling for an abstract, estimates of the value of the property injured &c. It is not understood, however, that this ought to arrest the proceedings of the President, if he should think a demand of compensation in behalf of each individual adviseable.2

You have already expressed your sense on that subject; and I shall begin immediately to prepare separate statements.

But, Sir, when I run over the long list of damage and confiscation, under which the citizens of the United States are now groaning; when I conjecture the amount of the mercantile capital, which must be lost to our country, already too deficient in that respect for it’s own independence; when I know, that many individuals will actually become bankrupts by this unexpected invasion of their fortunes; I consider the tardy modes of ordinary negotiation, as a refinement in torturing them with a hope, which, if ever fulfilled, will be accomplished only after a series of years. Nay more. If the government shall suspend it’s interposition, until all the expensive forms of the superior foreign courts shall be exhausted, it will, in many instances, produce no other effect, than to invite the possessors of a little remnant, to throw away even that also.

I must acknowledge, that the merchants, who have been impoverished by this highhanded rigor, seem to me to have a peculiar claim upon the most vigorous exertions of the executive. If the resolutions, proposed for adding 15000 men to the military establishment, should be carried; or a military countenance, for the purpose of defence, should be assumed by a proper modification of the militia, and a complete military apparatus; redress for past injuries will not be treated as hitherto: we shall not fear insults in our own borders, nor meet with it abroad, from an opinion of our impotence.3 Under such circumstances, I submit, Sir, to your consideration, whether it may not be expedient, to send to England some temperate, and sensible man, without a particle of the diplomatic character, who, under the particular instruction of Mr Pinckney, may manage the discussion of the respective claims. The compensation for his services cannot be an affair of consequence: he will be a solicitor only, to execute the drudgery which Mr Pinckney cannot perform; and there will be no danger of his contravening any view of our Minister, as he will be always under his command. Such a person will go charged with all the necessary information; so as to render delay, unnecessary, for the collection of proof.4

There is another serious mischief which is a branch of the preceding. A large number of American Sailors are now wandering on foreign shores, anxious, but unable to return home. They will, undoubtedly be swallowed up, in foreign service, from distress; and that service may possibly be hostile to us. Whether a feasible scheme can be adopted, for facilitating their escape, or any pecuniary aids can be prudently and legally contributed to this end, I shall not undertake to determine. But I beg leave to offer the enquiry, as at least proper for reflection.5 I have the honor, Sir, to be with great respect, & esteem, your most obedient Servant

Edm: Randolph

LS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DNA: RG 59, GW’s Correspondence with His Secretaries of State; LB, DNA: RG 59, Domestic Letters.

1For the submission of these documents to Congress, see GW to U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, 5 March.

2According to a 13 May resolution of the U.S. Senate, Randolph was ordered to provide “an abstract of the vexations and spoliations lately committed upon our commerce, and by whom, particularly noting the condemnations, as far as the documents in his office will enable him” (Annals of Congress description begins Joseph Gales, Sr., comp. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. description ends , 3d Cong., 1st sess., 69). Randolph enclosed the required abstract, which has not been identified, in his letter to the Senate of 20 May. In this letter, he wrote that as of his letter to GW of 2 March, “the cases of complaint against the British were thirty-two; against the French twenty-six; against the Spanish ten; and against the Dutch one. The propriety therefore of what that letter contains, will not be determined by the great list, which has been exhibited since. . . . The abstract would have been drawn in the first instance; had it not been intended to endeavour to settle the business by representations to the foreign Courts. Unless the Senate desire, that the papers be retained here, it is probable that many of them will be sent abroad” (DNA: RG 59, Domestic Letters; 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 , 1:461).

3In the first session of the Third Congress, there were several acts passed that were designed to bolster the defenses of the United States, including: “An Act to provide for the Defence of certain Ports and Harbors in the United States,” 20 March; “An Act to provide a Naval Armament,” 27 March; “An Act to provide for the erecting and repairing of Arsenals and Magazines, and for other purposes,” 2 April; and “An Act providing for raising and organizing a Corps of Artillerists and Engineers,” 9 May. The pending legislation referenced by Randolph probably became “An Act directing a Detachment from the Militia of the United States,” which authorized the president “to require of the executives of the several states, to take effectual measures, as soon as may be, to organize, arm and equip, according to law, and hold in readiness to march at a moment’s warning . . . eighty thousand effective militia, officers included” (Stat description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends . 1:345–46, 350, 352, 366–68).

4John Jay was appointed, not as an assistant to U.S. minister Thomas Pinckney, but as an “envoy extraordinary” to Great Britain (GW to U.S. Senate, 16 April [first letter]).

5On the problem of American sailors unable to return home, see Thomas Mendenhall to GW, this date, and GW to U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, 25 March, n.1.

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