George Washington Papers
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From George Washington to the United States Senate and House of Representatives, 12 May 1794

To the United States Senate and House of Representatives

United States 12 May 1794.

Gentlemen of the Senate, and of the House of representatives.

As the letter, which I forwarded to Congress on the 15th day of April last, from the Minister plenipotentiary of his britannic majesty to the Secretary of State, in answer to a memorial of our minister in London, related to a very interesting subject, I thought it proper not to delay its communication.1 But since that time the Memorial itself has been received, in a letter from our Minister, and a reply has been made to that answer by the Secretary of State. Copies of them are, therefore, now transmitted.2

I also send the copy of a letter from the Governor of Rhode Island, enclosing an Act of the Legislature of that State, impowering the United States to hold lands within the same for the purpose of erecting fortifications;3 and certain papers, concerning patents for the donation lands to the ancient settlers of Vincennes upon the Wabash.4

Go: Washington

LS, DNA: RG 46, Third Congress, 1793-95, Senate Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages; copy, DNA: RG 233, Third Congress, House Records of Legislative Proceedings, Journals; LB, DLC:GW. The first paragraph of the letter and the documents associated with that paragraph are printed as a seemingly complete message in ASP, Foreign Relations 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 , 1:448-54.

1George Hammond’s letter to Edmund Randolph of 11 April defended the British right "to detain, and even seize" provisions transported on American ships bound for France as "consonant to the law of nations" and "even recognized by the stipulations of particular treaties" (see ASP, Foreign Relations 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 , 1:432-33 or 449-50).

2Thomas Pinckney wrote Randolph on 28 Jan.: "Lord Grenville having told me that he would send the answer to my memorial on the grain trade to Mr Hammond to be by him stated to you I inclose a Copy of that Representation that you may have them both before you at the same time."

The memorial protested the British order in council of 8 June 1793 as authorizing "measures which must materially injure the United States and abridge the rights to which as a neutral nation they are intitled." In particular, Pinckney was concerned with the instruction "which permits all vessels laden wholly or in part with corn, flour or meal, bound to any Port in France to be stopped and sent into such Port as may be most convenient to be purchased by Government, or to be released only on condition of security being given by the master that he will proceed to dispose of his cargo in the Port of some country in amity with his Majesty." That instruction was "in opposition to the law of nations" because "when two nations are at war, those who chuse to live in peace retain their natural right to pursue their agriculture, manufactures and other ordinary vocations; to carry the produce of their industry for exchange to all nations belligerent or neutral, as usual; to go and come freely without injury or molestation." The restriction that "implements of war" should not be supplied was accepted, but "it clearly appears that corn, flour and meal are not of the class of contraband." Moreover, the order "tends directly to draw the United States from that state of peace in which they wish to remain for it is an essential character of neutrality to furnish no aids (not stipulated by previous treaty) to one party which are not furnished with equal readiness to the other. If the United States permit corn to be sent to Great Britain & her friends they are equally bound to permit it to France, to restrain it would lead to war with France; & between restraining it themselves & acquiescing in the restraint by her enemies is no difference." The United States would thus be forced to "either shut to themselves all the Ports of Europe where corn is in demand or make themselves parties in the war."

Randolph’s letter to Hammond of 1 May offered a detailed refutation of Hammond’s justifications of the 8 July 1793 orders as given in his letters to Randolph of 11 April 1794 and to Thomas Jefferson of 12 Sept. 1793. Randolph pointed out that "For many years more than a century has Great Britain been in the habit of allowing in her commercial treaties, a free scope, even in the season of war, to the means of human subsistence," and that "All the Major Nations of Europe, and in addition to these, Denmark and Sweden have followed the same practice in their treaties." He cited various authorities to support the view that this practice was in accord with the law of nations. He rejected Hammond’s contention that by exempting some provisions, including rice, and by "assuring to the neutral proprietors even of cargoes of corn, a full indemnification, instead of confiscating them," Great Britain had significantly moderated the effect of her order. Ultimately, Randolph concluded, "To be persuaded, as you wish, that the instructions of the 8th of June 1793. are in a conciliatory spirit, is impossible. And be assured Sir, that it is a matter of sincere regret to learn the intention of Your Government to adhere to them" (DNA: RG 46, Third Congress, 1793-95, Senate Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages; see also ASP, Foreign Relations 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 , 1:448-54).

3The act, passed at the March session, granted to the United States title "to the Lands on which the Fortification on Goat Island, in the Township of Newport, stands" and authorized "Newport, or any other Town, or any Individual person," with the governor’s consent to sell land for fortifications to the United States. In case of a disagreement on price, the governor was to appoint three persons to appraise the land "and upon payment of the value thereof at such appraisement, or upon the tender thereof being refused, the Fee and Property of such Lands shall vest in the United States." In addition to enclosing the act, Rhode Island governor Arthur Fenner reported in his letter to Randolph of 25 April that the legislature had passed an act "ratifying the proposed Amendment of the Constitution, respecting the suability of States" (DNA: RG 46, Third Congress, 1793-95, Senate Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages).

4These papers included copies of letters from Winthrop Sargent to Randolph of 3 Jan. and 19 April 1794 and letters from Attorney General William Bradford to Randolph of 25 March and 29 April 1794 (DNA: RG 46, Third Congress, 1793-95, Senate Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages).

As secretary of the Northwest Territory, Sargent informed Randolph "that considerable inconveniences accrue to the inhabitants of Vincennes upon the Oubashe river by a delay of the Patents for the Donation lands to the ancient settlers." Noting that the governor was uncertain "wheth<e>r those Patents are to be issued by the ge<n>eral government or himself," he asked for an opinion from Randolph.

Randolph evidently submitted the question to Attorney General Bradford, who responded that neither the governor nor the president had been given explicit authority to issue patents on the tracts created by a congressional resolution of 20 June 1788 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 34:247-52). "If therefore patents are thought necessary to confirm the titles which the individuals have acquired by allotment & residence, agreeably to the provision of the resolve of 20th June 1788—it remains with Congress to direct by whom they shall be issued."

In his second letter Sargent observed that Bradford had "taken up the Business in a view only of the people upon the Mississipi and passed over those of the Oubashe who seem unconditionally to be entitled to Patents for their several proportions, as the same has long since been allotted to them agreeably to order of Congress." Summarizing Bradford’s opinion, he added, "If Sir, Congress shall not take this subject into consideration during the present Session very many of the Citizens in the Government North west of the Ohio must suffer injury by the delay."

Bradford’s second letter took note that his first letter had not concerned those who were eligible for donation lands "laid out under the resolve of Congress of the 29th Augt 1787 [1788; see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 34:472-73]. These persons, however are in the same situation of the former so far as relates to a confirmation of their rights" (the copy in Senate records is now incomplete; for the full text of this opinion, see the ALS in DNA: RG 60, Letters from and Opinions of the Attorneys General).

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