Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Cabinet Opinion on Prizes and Privateers, 3 August 1793

Cabinet Opinion on Prizes and Privateers

That the Minister of the French Republic1 be informed that the President considers2 the UStates as bound pursuant to positive assurances,3 given in conformity to the laws of neutrality,4 to effectuate the restoration of, or to make compensation for,5 prizes which shall have been made of any of the parties at war with France subsequent to the fifth day of June last by privateers fitted out of their ports.

That it is consequently expected, that he will cause6 restitution to be made of all prizes7 taken and brought into our Ports subsequent to the abovementioned day by such privateers; in defect of which The President considers it as incumbent8 upon the UStates to indemnify the Owners of those prizes … the indemnification to be reimbursed by the French Nation.9

That10 besides taking efficacious measures to prevent the future fitting out of Privateers in the Ports of The UStates, they will not give asylum therein to any which shall have been at any time so fitted out,11 and will cause restitution12 of all such prizes as shall be hereafter brought within their Ports by any of the said Privateers.

That instructions be sent to the respective Governors in conformity to the above communication.13

The foregoing having been duely considered and being now unanimously approved they are submitted to The President of The United States. August 3. 1793.

Th: Jefferson
Alexander Hamilton
H Knox
Edm: Randolph

MS (DLC: Washington Papers); in Hamilton’s hand, signed by TJ, Hamilton, Knox, and Randolph; fourth paragraph added as a result of Cabinet discussion (see note 13 below); ellipsis in original; endorsed by Tobias Lear. Dft (DLC: Hamilton Papers); undated; entirely in Hamilton’s hand, unsigned; consists of heavily emended variant text of first three paragraphs only, the most significant emendations being noted below. PrC of Tr (DLC); in the hand of George Taylor, Jr.; at foot of text: “(Copy).” PrC of Tr (DLC: Washington Papers); in Taylor’s hand; at foot of text: “(Copy)”; on verso in ink: “Rules.” Recorded in SJPL under date torn away: “Opn of heads of dep. on compensn for prizes after June 5.”

This document consists of the Cabinet’s response to the diplomatic problems arising from Edmond Charles Genet’s defiance of the decision, announced in TJ’s letter to the French minister of the fifth day of June last, that all privateers commissioned by him in the United States were thenceforth to depart from American ports. Internal evidence in the draft suggests that Alexander Hamilton probably presented it in unrevised form to the Cabinet this day as a basis for discussion, and that he amended it while the Cabinet met, one of the key alterations deriving from TJ’s opposition to his proposed use of military force to secure restoration of the prizes brought into American ports by such privateers after 5 June 1793 (see note 11 below). At the behest of the Cabinet Hamilton also added the fourth paragraph to his fair copy of the opinion (see note 13 below). TJ submitted the signed document to the President on this day (Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 213; Notes of Cabinet Meeting on Neutrality, 3 Aug. 1793; Washington to TJ, 4 Aug. 1793).

1Dft: “Mr. Genet.”

2Preceding three words interlined here and in Dft.

3In Dft Hamilton first wrote “the UStates consider themselves bound in conformity to their assurances to the Minister of Great Britain” before altering the passage to read as above.

4Dft here reads: “founded on the principles of the neutrality they have declared.”

5Preceding three words interlined in Dft in place of “make indemnification <indemnify> for all.”

6Here in Dft Hamilton interlined “immediate.”

7Remainder of clause in Dft: “heretofore made by such privateers.”

8In Dft Hamilton first wrote “<they shall proceed to> it will <become the duty of the> in the opinion of the President be incumbent” before altering the passage to read as above.

9Clause interlined in Dft in place of “and will charge the amount of such indemnification against the debt which they owe to France.”

10Remainder of clause in Dft interlined by Hamilton in slightly variant form.

11In Dft Hamilton here canceled “within <such Ports> the same. And if any shall hereafter come in they will employ <military force> such means as shall be necessary and effectual to suppress or expel them.” For the source of this alteration, see Notes of Cabinet Meeting on Neutrality, 3 Aug. 1793.

12In Dft Hamilton here canceled “by the like means.”

13Hamilton inserted this paragraph after writing the next one or after the signatures were affixed. For the source of this addition, see Notes of Cabinet Meeting on Neutrality, 3 Aug. 1793.

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