From Edmund Randolph
Philadelphia October 23. 1794
This moment the merchants have addressed a letter to me, requesting the appointment of an agent to prosecute their appeals in England.1 I have put it into the hands of a transcriber, that a copy may be forwarded to you to morrow; when I shall take the liberty of adding some remarks.
The commissioners of the fœderal city have entered into an arrangement with Mr Greenleaf, and have inclosed me a copy of it, without one explanatory line.2 Mr Scott is removing to George Town immediately in consequence of the stimulus, which I sent him by letter3—Dr Thornton and his family are housekeepers there.
General Knox and Mr Bradford have approved a letter to Mr Fauchet, and a circular one to the governors; in order that, wheresoever the courts have jurisdiction, the governors may not interpose in the case of French prizes.4
I have also written to Mr Hammond, insisting, that our citizens, found on board of French privateers shall not be tried as pirates; and assuring him, that we will prosecute them according to law.5 I have the honor sir to be with the highest respect yr mo. ob. serv.
ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DNA: RG 59, Domestic Letters; LB, DNA: RG 59, GW’s Correspondence with His Secretaries of State.
1. The letter from committee chairman Thomas FitzSimons to Randolph was dated 22 October. FitzSimons informed Randolph that the merchants meeting of 21 Oct. wished “that persons be appointed for obtaining ‘the proofs in the W. Indies, and for entering claims and appeals if it should be found necessary, and also for prosecuting those claims in Europe, that they trust the whole business will be prosecuted at the expence of government, and that the claimants will furnish such documents as they may be possessed of to the persons appointed.’” The meeting believed that Lord Grenville’s communication to John Jay was “nothing more than an extension of the time for entering appeals, and a distant expectation of some compensation from government in case the aggressors shall be unable.” Under those conditions, “a great proportion of the sufferers would rather abandon their claims than encounter so certain an expence for so uncertain a remedy.” Only those “who have large property” could afford to pursue their claims. The merchants were “unwilling to concur in any measures that would bind them to a general contribution,” but if the government would “take upon itself the prosecution of the claims,” they would, “at their expence, obtain the proceedings of the courts” (Aurora General Advertiser [Philadelphia], 25 Nov.).
Randolph wrote FitzSimons on this date to request that the committee meet with him on 24 Oct. (DNA: RG 59, Domestic Letters).
2. On 18 Oct. the commissioners executed two documents with James Greenleaf: a “Certificate in fee simple … for eight hundred and fifty seven Lots & three thousand, three hundred and fifty three square feet in the City of Washington averaging and accounting five thousand two hundred and fifty five Square feet to a lot, which lie and are contained in the Squares that fell to the public in the foregoing Division with Mr Notley Young” and a “Power of Attorney … to negotiate a Loan or Loans in Europe on behalf of the Commissioners not exceeding three hundred thousand Dollars” (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings, 1791–1802). Their letter to Randolph of that date explained their reasons for granting the deed to Greenleaf, but did not discuss the power of attorney (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Sent, 1791–1802).
4. Randolph’s letter to Jean-Antoine-Joseph Fauchet of 22 Oct. replied to Fauchet’s complaint of 17 Oct. (see Randolph’s private letter to GW of 18 Oct., n.5), explaining that “the extent of the United States imposes the necessity of substituting the agency of the Governors in the place of an instantaneous action in the federal executive, and therefore general rules alone can be provided.” The government had “no power to demand” the bond that Fauchet proposed, so that all that Randolph could do “with propriety” was send a letter to the governors (DNA: RG 59, Domestic Letters; see also ASP 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 , Foreign Relations, 1:589).
Randolph’s circular to the governors of 22 Oct. described Fauchet’s complaint and made the suggestion stated in this paragraph (DNA: RG 59, Domestic Letters; see also ASP 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 , Foreign Relations, 1:589–90).
5. Randolph’s letter to British minister George Hammond of this date protested against any British decision to try as pirates American citizens found aboard French privateers. Randolph noted that U.S. courts deemed such men to be criminals, but argued at length that the offense did not constitute piracy (DNA: RG 59, Domestic Letters).