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Cabinet Meeting. Opinion Respecting Certain French Vessels and Their Prizes, [5 August 1793]

Cabinet Meeting. Opinion Respecting
Certain French Vessels and Their Prizes

At a meeting of the heads of departments & the Attorney general at the Secretary of state’s office Aug. 5. 1793.

The case of the Swallow letter of marque at New York,1 desired to be sent out of our ports, as being a privateer. It is the opinion that there is no ground to make any order on the subject.

The Polly or Republican,2 in the hands of the Marshal at New York,3 on a charge of having been armed in our ports to cruize against nations at peace with the US. It is the opinion there is no ground to make any new order in this case.

The Little Democrat, the Vainqueur de la Bastille, the Citoyen Genet, & the Sans Culottes.4 A letter to be written to mr Genet as was determined on the 3d. instant, and an instruction in conformity therewith be given to the governors. Mr Hammond to be informed thereof & to be assured the government will effectuate their former resolution on this subject.

The Lovely Lass, the Prince William Henry, & the Jane of Dublin, prizes to the Citoyen Genet. Mr Genet to be written to as was agreed on the 3d. inst.

The brig Fanny and Ship William reclaimed as taken within the limits of our protection.5 As it is expected that the court of Admiralty may very shortly reconsider whether it will take cognisance of these cases, it is thought better to take no new measure therein for the present.

The Schooner fitting out at Boston as mentd. in a letter of mr Gore to mr Lear.6 The Governor of Massachusets7 to be written to to suppress her.

Mr. Delany’s letter of the 24th. of July8 on the question whether duties are to be paid on prize goods landed for sale. It is the opinion the duties are to be paid.

A letter from mr Genet of the 4th. of Aug.9 informing the Secretary of state that certain inhabitants lately arrived from St. Domingo are combining to form a military expedition from the territory of the US. against the constituted authorities of the sd island. It is the opinion that the Governor of Maryland10 be informed thereof (because in a verbal communication to the Secretary of state mr Genet had named Baltimore as the place where the combination was forming) and that he be desired to take measures to prevent the same.

Th: Jefferson

Alexander Hamilton

H Knox

The Secretary of State and Attorney General are of opinion that Mr. Hammond be informed that measures are taking to procure restoration of the prizes the Lovely Lass The Prince William Henry and the Jane of Dublin, and in case that cannot be effected that Government will take the subject into further consideration.

The Secretaries of the Treasury and of War are of opinion that Mr. Hammond be informed that measures are taking to effect the restoration of the prizes The Lovely Lass, The Prince William Henry and the Jane of Dublin; that in case this shall not be effected the President considers it as incumbent upon the UStates to make compensation for those Prizes; and that prizes in similar circumstances which shall be hereafter brought into the Ports of UStates will be restored.11

DS, in the handwriting of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress; DS, letterpress copy, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress.

3Aquila Giles.

4These French privateers had been armed in United States ports. On June 5, 1793, Jefferson had informed Genet that the United States considered the arming of vessels as privateers in American ports a violation of United States neutrality, that all such vessels were ordered from American ports, and that in the future such armament was prohibited (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, I, 150). In spite of this notification, in July the Little Sarah was armed as a privateer in Philadelphia and sent out to prey on British shipping (see “Cabinet Meeting. Opinion on the Case of the Little Sarah,” July 8, 1793), and other French privateers fitted out in the United States returned to American ports with their prizes. On July 12 Jefferson wrote to Genet and George Hammond that in view of the fact that several of these privateers and their prizes were in American ports at that time, the President intended to submit the matter for opinion “to persons learned in the laws. As this reference will occasion some delay, he will expect from both parties, that, in the mean time, the Little Sarah, or Little Democrat, the ships Jane and William, in the Delaware, the Citoyen Genet, and her two prizes, the Lovely Lass and Prince William Henry, and the brig Fanny in the Chesapeake, do not depart, until his ultimate determination shall be made known” (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, I, 163). Several privateers, however, left port and continued to take prizes along the coast of the United States. As a result of the decisions reached by the cabinet on August 3 (“Cabinet Meeting. Opinion on the fitting Out of Privateers in Ports of the United States,” August 3, 1793), on August 7 Jefferson informed Genet that the United States would expect the French government to make restitution for prizes taken by the privateers and, if France failed to do so, “the President considers it as incumbent upon the United States to indemnify the owners of those prizes. The indemnification to be reimbursed by the French nation” (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, I, 167).

6Christopher Gore was United States attorney for the District of Massachusetts. Although his letter to Tobias Lear has not been found, it was apparently dated August 4, 1793, and informed Lear that the sloop Roland, built and formerly owned by American citizens, was being fitted out in Boston as a French privateer to cruise against British shipping along the coast of the United States (Gore to Lear, August 24, 1793 [ALS, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives]).

7John Hancock was serving his ninth term as governor of Massachusetts at this time.

8Letter from Sharp Delany not found. An entry in JPP description begins “Journal of the Proceedings of the President,” George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. description ends for July 26, 1793, states that Delany had informed H that “the French agent had refused to pay the bonds which he had given for the duties on the French prizes” (JPP description begins “Journal of the Proceedings of the President,” George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. description ends , 188).

9ADf, Edmund C. Genet Papers, Library of Congress.

10Thomas Sim Lee.

11The last two paragraphs of this document are in the handwriting of H. In this instance the opinion of H and Knox prevailed. On August 7, 1793, Jefferson wrote to Hammond informing him that restitution would be made (letterpress copy, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress). In the Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress, is a document in the handwriting of Randolph, H, and Jefferson, which contains another version of the last two paragraphs of the document printed above. There are few and insignificant differences in wording between the two versions.

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