George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Edmund Randolph, 21 July 1794

From Edmund Randolph

Monday evening. [21 July 1794]

E. Randolph has the honor of submitting to the President the draught of the parts of the letter to Mr Hammond. The errors in writing will be corrected in the fair copy.1

AL, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DNA: RG 59, GW’s Correspondence with His Secretaries of State. The date is supplied from the docket on the AL, which agrees with the date on the letter-book copy.

1The draft, which presumably was for Randolph’s letter to British minister George Hammond of 23 July, has not been found. For the first part of that letter, which responded to Hammond’s complaints about the treatment of the officers of the British sloop of war Nautilus at Newport, R.I., see Randolph to GW, 18 July, n.1.

The second part of the letter addressed Hammond’s complaints about "the French privateers at New York which had been illegally fitted out in the river Delaware"—the Petite Démocrate and the Carmagnole. Randolph claimed that "From the date of the Presidents Proclamation to the breaking out of the unhappy malady in Philadelphia, the Executive was almost daily occupied in arrangements correspondent with an impartial conduct," and he quoted extensively from Secretary of War Henry Knox’s circular letter to the governors of 16 Aug. 1793 (see Knox to Tobias Lear, 17 Aug. 1793, n.1). He summarized the correspondence that took place with New York governor George Clinton upon the privateers’ arrival at New York, and GW’s decision that the Petite Démocrate "should be reduced to her original force which she bore when captured" and the Carmagnole should "be wholly deprived of her offensive qualities, or be denied an asylum." Although the Petite Démocrate had briefly sailed without the governor’s knowledge, both ships had been detained at New York for some time. "In the whole course of this proceeding," Randolph wrote, "we cannot discover the necessity of one exculpatory remark."

The third part of the letter addressed Hammond’s complaints about the enforcement of the embargo. As Randolph understood that issue, "you absolve our government from an express permission to the sailing of the French convoy; but argue an implied one, from the neglect to employ any coercive means." Randolph responded in general that "In its execution, the means were the same to all the world. If they have happened to be inefficacious with respect to the vessels of one belligerent party, it was not so intended; they might have been also inefficacious with respect to the vessels of another. If the coercive means, to which you refer, be Forts or a Navy, the insinuation of neglect is fully answered; because at that time, we were not provided with them. If the want of them be the ground of your observation, we are yet to learn, that it has been customary for one nation to complain, that the harbours of another are not as well defended, or its ships as numerous, as may accord with its own exigencies." He then considered the specific instances mentioned by Hammond: the sailing of a French convoy from Norfolk, Va., and the case of the snow Venus at that same port. In the former case, the collector at Norfolk may have allowed too much latitude to the French admiral or the admiral have taken advantage of the collector’s indecisive language, "But even if our own officers have erred, or have been negligent, or others should have broken through the embargo by force, government cannot be involved in suspicion, when it disavows and inquires, and asserts its rights." In the latter case, the ship had remained at Norfolk until the embargo had expired.

The fourth part of the letter concerned Hammond’s charge that "the aggressions of the State of Vermont are . . . unrepressed and continued." Here Randolph quoted extensively from a letter from Vermont governor Thomas Chittenden. Chittenden claimed that "every attention hath been paid by me to prevent all movements which tend to thwart the friendly negociations now taking place between the two powers; and I have the pleasure to say, that nothing hath hitherto transpired wherein I can think myself or any of the citizens of this State culpable," and he addressed specifically Hammond’s complaint about the capture of some officers who were in pursuit of a deserter. He conceded that British subjects were "taken into custody by a constable and agreeable to the civil laws of this State convicted of breaking the peace and accordingly fined. . . . But that they had any authority as such from the British nation to break the peace of this State within the known and acknowledged bound of the same did not appear from any credentials which they produced nor does it yet appear."

Having answered Hammond, Randolph briefly alluded to American concerns about Lord Dorchester’s speech to the Indians and pressed for a response to American complaints about British troops taking post at the rapids of the Maumee (see GW to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, 21 May, n.3). However, "Instead of wishing to outweigh your remonstrances by a comparison with the magnitude of ours . . . we have laid them aside, to confront accusations which you yourself in your letter of the 7th of June denominate ’merely collateral.’ In what they have terminated it is not for me to judge. But had they remained not diminished in the degree, in which they were first stated, the ardor for war must have been violent indeed if these circumstances could have caused it to burst forth" (DNA: RG 59, Domestic Letters).

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