George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Timothy Pickering, 11 October 1796

Department of State Octr 11-12 1796.


Last Saturday I received from Colo. Monroe a letter dated the 24th of July, in which he refers to a former one, in which he transmitted copies of M. Delacroix letter to him & his answer, on the question, Whether the House of Representatives of the United States had passed a law to carry the British treaty into effect? At the same time Mr Monroe expressed his opinion that this letter originated with M. Delacroix, without any order from the Directory; because (as a prior letter had stated) a member of the Directory had informed him that their complaints would not be renewed. However, his letter of the 24th of July shows that he was mistaken, so far as their complaints respected the British treaty. I will endeavour, in an abridgement, to lay before you the essence of the complaint & the answer.

Mr Delacroix letter is dated the 7th of July. He begins by accounting for his delay in answering Mr Monroe’s letter of the 25th Ventose (March 15) because he had been daily hoping to see the departure of the new minister that the Executive Directory had proposed to send to the U. States. Then referring to their former complaints against the treaty between the U. States and Great Britain (for he is silent on all the other topics) he says that time had sufficiently ripened all the points which were then in discussion, and far from being weakened, "our complaints (says he) against the treaty of London, have, in our view, acquired new force." He then says that the opinion of the Executive Directory on this Subject has not changed. That it saw in that act, concluded in the midst of hostilities, a derogation from the friendship which united the U. States & the Republic; and in the stipulations which regarded the neutrality of the flag, an abandonment of the tacit engagement on this point which existed between the two nations, since the treaty of commerce of 1778. That the abandonment of principles consecrated by this treaty had made the more forcible impression on their minds, seeing that all the other treaties of the United States admit them; and that these principles are besides so generally acknowledged, that they form, at this time, the public law of all civilized nations. That hence the Executive Directory thinks itself authorized to regard the stipulations of the treaty of 1778, which concern the neutrality of the flag, as altered in their most essential parts, and thereby suspended; and that it would deem itself wanting in its duty if it did not modify a state of things which would not have been agreed to but on the condition of the most strict reciprocity.

Mr Monroe in his answer to M. de la Croix observes, That this complaint is founded on a supposed violation of the law of nations, and of our treaty with France, because in one article of the treaty of London we have admitted that our bottoms do not give protection to French goods. To prove that by this article we have neither violated the law of nations nor the treaty with France, Mr Monroe remarks, that the most eminent writers on the law of nations, and universal practice, where particular treaties do not stipulate the contrary, show the indisputable right of the powers at war to take the goods of their enemies in neutral ships; & asks, if such were not the acknowledged law of nations, why particular nations have entered into stipulations to renounce, as it respects themselves, the exercise of that right? "Is it presumable that any powers would form treaties to establish what was already established? or was it thought, when our treaty of 1778 was formed, that in this respect it made no change, or in other words stipulated nothing?"

Mr Monroe then denies that the law of nations on this point has undergone any change; and asserts that the new rule is obligatory on those only who have bound themselves by special treaties to observe it, in respect to one another; and that the reciprocity urged by M. De la Croix, really was to be found in a change of circumstances, when the party now at war should be at peace, and enjoy, in turn (the other being at war) the privilege of its flag, in trading with the enemy of that other. Mr Monroe also remarks, that the French Republic knew, thus in the last as well as in the present war, Great Britain uniformly opposed the principle, that free ships make free goods; and that in the present war, all the enemies of France had done the same, including some who were now its friends. Hence if it were even admitted that a majority of the civilized nations had a right to bind the minority, in this case, how was it to be done when the powers composing that majority had changed sides, and were now marshalled against the principle?

Mr Monroe in his letter to me, observes that he thought it expedient to attempt to divert the Directory from the Subject of its own complaints, "which it had uniformly & vehemently pressed of late," by presenting to it a list of ours, which before he had studiously avoided. He then mentions, that in violation of the treaty of 1778, as to this very point in question, 50 American vessels had been brought into French ports, and their cargoes taken from the proprietors, who yet remained unpaid. That without any reason assigned upwards of eighty other vessels had been embargoed at Bordeaux, for more than a year, for which the owners yet remained unpaid. That for supplies rendered to the French Islands—for innumerable spoliations made & still making—and for supplies furnished to the republic at home, immense sums were due to the American citizens; by which deprivation many of them were ruined. That he had forborne hitherto to bring these things into view, because it would have the appearance of recrimination, which he wished to avoid; and because he was disposed to yield every possible accomodation, in the present exigences of the Republic, which his duty would permit; and further, because he relied that the republic would do all the justice in its power to those suffering individuals.

Mr Monroe expresses his wish that he could say this affair was ended, and that we should never hear of it again: but "so deep founded has their discontent appeared to be and so vehement their desire to give us some signal proof of it," that it was then impossible to say what would be the result of their councils. At one time, he says, it was whispered that they meant to claim all their property taken in our vessels by the British—at another to suspend all payments to our citizens until satisfaction on their complaints was made—and again, that they would suspend those articles of our treaty of 1778, which the Minister said the Directory thought it their duty to modify. "But yet none of these things are done, nor have I (says Mr M.) any particular reason to presume they will be done, other than what appears from the general temper of the government;" and as both the government and nation, independently of the points in discussion, is friendly to us, "the probability is, that no such measure will be taken."

I notice the last observation of Mr Monroe, on account of the alarm excited among the merchants, by the publication from the London papers, of what is called an Official Note from the Minister for foreign affairs to M. Barthelemy in Switzerland. I went to see Mr Adet to-day: he has received no information concerning it. No letters have yet come to hand from Mr King; nor have I any information from London about it. Yet I received from Dr Edwards (whom you know) a letter dated there the 21st of August, in which he speaks of the political affairs and projects of France which had been the subjects of conversation in Paris; which he left the 7th of August. He says also that he has letters from Mr Monroe, who told him they contained the correspondence between him & the French government on the subject of some discontents, which he did not forward, because Mr M. desired him to deliver them himself. But if they contained any account of such an order of the Directory as the Official Note describes, I think Mr M. would have furnished him with duplicates & triplicates to forward by the first vessels. I think also that Dr Edwards could not have failed to mention, if it existed, an order so much more interesting than any thing detailed in his letter. Yet we have this evening, in Brown’s paper, an extract of a letter from Paris, dated August 2d (Dr E. was there till the 7th) in which the note to Barthelemy is mentioned as printed in a Paris Newspaper: but it recites particulars not noticed at all in the Official Note; and applies wholly to American vessels: Now it is not obvious to conceive for what purpose an order respecting only the commerce of the U. States should be transmitted to M. Barthelemy in Switzerland.

I have thought that some information to quiet the minds, or to regulate the conduct, of the merchants, on this state of things, would be proper; and will prepare something accordingly, on which I will consult the other Secretaries.

Governor Blount read me a letter to a friend of his, from Montflorence (Mr Skipwith’s chancellor) in which he says that M. Mangourit was to succeed Mr Adet. M. Mangourit was Consul at Charleston during Mr Genet’s administration. Governor Blount delivered to me a letter to him from Montflorence, who in case of a change in the consulate of the Paris department, begs the Governor to recommend him for the appointment; this letter I have the honour to inclose, for the sake of the other information it contains; altho’ it is in the spirit of the anonymous letters from him to the Messrs Blounts, which you saw last spring.

I also inclose letters from several gentlemen in Rhode Island, concurring in the recommendation of Benjamin Bourne Esqr. as the most suitable person in the state to succeed Mr Marchant in the office of District Judge; by Mr Olney’s letter I conclude it is to be understood that the office would be acceptable to Mr Bourne. He is eligible by the Constitution; the increase of the Salary of the District Judge of Rhode-Island having been made in the preceding Congress: but Mr Bradford cannot be constitutionally appointed. I wrote to Governor Fenner on this occasion: but Mr Foster’s letter, received this day, informs that the Governor was on a journey to Vermont. From that state no information has yet been received relative to the office of District Attorney. I have the honor to be, with the highest respect, Sir, your most obt servant

Timothy Pickering

Octr 12. Mr Wolcot just now informs me that Mr Ellery manifests his opinion that Mr Bourne is entitled to the preference of all the candidates for the office of District Judge.

DLC: Papers of George Washington.

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