George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Mifflin, 14 April 1794

From Thomas Mifflin

Philadelphia: 14th April 1794.


A body of about 120 Seamen, who declared to me that they were British subjects, deprived of employment in consequence of the Embargo, having paraded with colours flying through the streets of the City, and intending (as several respectable Citizens informed me) to address Congress, and yourself, for relief, I deemed it incumbent upon me to take proper precautions for preventing any outrage upon the occasion; and, accordingly, ordered out a party of the Militia. The present cause of apprehension being removed, it is only necessary to communicate to you, that, for a short time, a small guard from the Militia will be stationed at the State-house; and to assure you I shall ever be prompt, on the first symptoms of riot or disorder, to interpose with all my constitutional power, for preserving the public peace, and the dignity of the Government inviolate.1

It may be proper, by this opportunity to submit to your consideration, the memorial whch I had recd, previously to the occurrence above mented, from a number of Sailors, founded on the same cause of complaint.2 As I have promised that an answer shall be given on the day after tomorrow, I wish to be apprised of your sentiments on the subject.3 With perft respt, I am yr Excys. most obt humble Servt

Thos. Mifflin.

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

1The embargo of 26 March was “laid on all ships and vessels in the ports of the United States . . . for a term of thirty days” (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 . 1:400). According to an article in the 15 April issue of the General Advertiser (Philadelphia), “Yesterday a number of sailors made a procession throughout the streets of this city to remind the inhabitants that they are out of employment.

Mifflin’s second set of orders of 14 April to Josiah Harmar, the adjutant general of the Pennsylvania militia, reads: “In consequence of the riotous appearance of a considerable body of British seamen, I gave you a parol order, this day, for drafting a party from the Militia: but as the seamen have dispersed, you will dismiss all the party . . . except twelve men from the Artillery, and twenty five from the Infantry, who are to be stationed, with two field-pieces at the State House, until further orders (PHarH: Executive Letter-Books). The Pennsylvania State House, known today as Independence Hall, is located at 520 Chesnut Street.

2The enclosed memorial has not been identified.

3Henry Knox’s letter to Mifflin of 15 April reads: “The President of the United States has instructed me to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of yesterday informing him of the measures you had been pleased to adopt for the preservation of the police of the City and also transmitting a memorial addressed to you by a number of Sailors who being out of employ pray for relief.

“If the distresses of the Petitioners are as great, and are owing to the cause stated, and even if it should appear upon full investigation that they are really proper objects for a general provision there are no public funds at the disposal of the President of the United States which could be appropriated to their subsistence” (PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790–99).

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