Alexander Hamilton Papers
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To Alexander Hamilton from Rufus King, 3 August 1793

From Rufus King1

New York Saturday 3d. Augt. 1793.

The french fleet from the Chesapeak arrived here yesterday, and are in the north river above the Battery.2 The Ambuscade also arrived last Evening and her accounts, confirmed by those of many Spectators of the combat, have no doubt of the Flight of the English Frigate.3

(You will have seen in our news papers, an invitation for a meeting in the Fields to address Mr. Genest who is daily expected here.4 This business originated with M. Smith Gelston, Osgood, B. Livingston, Nicholson,5 and others of like political Character; between two & three Hundred Persons assembled, and I am told, they were generally antifederal. Nicholson was in the Chair, an Address was produced, & adopted, and a Committee of thirty or Forty Persons appointed to present it.)6 These Gentlemen will not be stopped by Trifles, they already affirm that the Cause of France is that of america, that it is time to distinguish its friends from its Enemies, that in respect to the rumour of Mr. Genest’s appeal to the People from the Decision of the Executive the people are competent Judges of their own Interest & obligations, that there can be no Danger to them from the free exercise of their Judgment on so great & interesting an Occasion. True it is that their Decision may displease men in high Authority, but that will not prove their Judgment to have been erroneous. Nay some of these Gentlemen go further, and not only excuse, but applaud, the Decree of the french Convention, which not only contravenes our Treaty of commerce, but grossly violates the best established Rules in the law of Nations.7 In short my friend, unless the Executive will quickly & vigorously exercise its powers in checking the influence of Mr. Genest, it may experience the mortification of seeing them perish in its hands. Our Chamber of Commerce will on Tuesday pass Resolutions, approving the Proclamation8 &c, and we are resolved to try the Citizens for the like Purpose. But this is altogether wrong. We have with great Trouble established a Constitution which vests competent powers in the hands of the Executive—it is the duty of that department to see that the Laws are executed, & the peace and order of the Community preserved. It was never expected that the executive should sit with folded Arms, and that the Government should be carried on by Town Meetings, and those irregular measures, which disorganize the Society, destroy the salutary influence of regular Government, and render the Magistracy a mere pageant.

This decree of the french Convention has thrown the mercantile people into the greatest embarrassments—insurance on american Vessels & Cargoes cannot be made without paying war Premiums. I am told that where four & five per Cent was given, Eighteen & twenty are now required.

Adieu   yours &c

R King.

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1King was United States Senator from New York.

3The Embuscade, a heavily armed French frigate, had met and routed the British ship Boston off Sandy Hook on August 1, 1793 (The [New York] Daily Advertiser, August 2, 1793).

4The following notice appeared on July 31, 1793, in The Daily Advertiser: “Citizen Genet, Minister Plenipotentiary from the Republic of France, being shortly expected in this City, a meeting of the Citizens of New-York is requested in the Fields to morrow at twelve o’clock, to express their sense on the propriety of addressing him on so interesting an occasion.”

5Melancton Smith, David Gelston, Samuel Osgood, Brockholst Livingston, and James Nicholson were prominent New York Republicans.

6The meeting in the Fields was held on August 1, 1793. The “Address” and Genet’s reply are printed in The Daily Advertiser, August 8, 1793.

7On May 9, 1793, the National Convention passed the following decree:

“Art. I. Ships of war and privateers are authorized to seize and carry into the ports of the republic, merchant vessels which are wholly or in part loaded with provisions, being neutral property, bound to an enemy’s port, or having on board merchandise belonging to an enemy.

“Art. II. Merchandise belonging to the enemy is declared a lawful prize, seizable for the profit of the captor. Provisions being neutral property, shall be paid for at the price they would have sold for at the port where they were bound.

“Art. III. On every occasion, neutral vessels shall be immediately released the moment the provisions found on board are landed, or the seizure of the merchandise shall be effected. The freight shall be settled at the rate paid by the charterers; a proper compensation shall be granted for the detention of the vessels by the tribunals, who are ready to adjudge the prizes.

“Art. IV. These tribunals shall cause to be made out, within three days after the judgment has been given, a copy of the manifest of the provisions and goods found on board, to the Minister of Marine, and another copy to the Minister for Foreign Affairs” (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, 244).

A fifth article of the decree stated: “La présente loi, applicable à toutes les prises qui ont été faites depuis la déclaration de guerre, cessera d’avoir son effet dès que les puissances ennemies auront déclaré libres et non saissables, quoique destinés pour les ports de la République, les comestibles qui seront propriétés neutres, et les marchandises chargées sur des navires neutres qui appartiendront au gouvernement ou aux citoyens français” (Archives Parlementaires description begins Archives Parlementaires de 1787 à 1860 (Paris, 1868– ). description ends , LXIV, 364).

On May 14, 1793, Gouverneur Morris protested the application of the decree to American shipping (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, 364), and on May 23 the decree was declared inoperative in the case of American vessels (Archives Parlementaires description begins Archives Parlementaires de 1787 à 1860 (Paris, 1868– ). description ends , LXV, 238). On May 28, however, the National Convention suspended the May 23 decree and referred the question to committee (Archives Parlementaires description begins Archives Parlementaires de 1787 à 1860 (Paris, 1868– ). description ends , LXV, 489). Finally, on July 1, another decree was passed stating that American vessels “are not comprised in the dispositions of the decree of the ninth of May, conformably to the sixteenth article of the treaty concluded the 6th of February, 1778” (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, 371). The May 9 decree was published in American newspapers in early August, but apparently news of the later modifications by the National Convention had not reached the United States when King wrote this letter. On July 27, 1793, the decrees again encompassed American shipping (Archives Parlementaires description begins Archives Parlementaires de 1787 à 1860 (Paris, 1868– ). description ends , LXIX, 582).

8These resolutions are printed in The Daily Advertiser, August 7, 1793. For the text of Washington’s neutrality proclamation, see John Jay to H, April 11, 1793, note 1.

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