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Cabinet Meeting. Opinion on Expeditions Being Planned in Kentucky for the Invasion of the Spanish Dominions, [10 March 1794]

Cabinet Meeting. Opinion on Expeditions Being
Planned in Kentucky for the Invasion
of the Spanish Dominions

[Philadelphia, March 10, 1794]1

At a meeting of the heads of departments, and the attorney general at the President’s on the 10th. day of March 1794.

The intelligence from Kentucky, and the territory no. West of the Ohio, was laid before them; whereupon it was advised

1. that a proclamation issue against the expeditions, understood to be prepared in Kentucky, for the invasion of the Spanish dominions.2

2. that a representation be made to the governor of Kentucky, upon the subject of his conduct,3 and giving information under proper guards of the steps, which have been taken by government as to the Mississippi:

3. that a representation be also made to congress: and

4. that General Wayne be instructed to post if compatible with his other operations a body of troops at Massac,4 in order to intercept by force, if necessary, any body of men, which may descend the river for the purpose of the invasion aforesaid. From this fourth opinion the secretary of state dissents.5

Alexander Hamilton         Edm: RandolphH Knox

Wm Bradford

D, in the handwriting of Edmund Randolph, signed by William Bradford, H, Henry Knox, and Randolph, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.

1This document is dated March 10, 1793, in Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (New York, 1892–1899), VI, 198.

2See “Proposed Presidential Message to Congress Concerning Revocation of Edmond Charles Genet’s Diplomatic Status,” January 6–13, 1794, note 1.

On March 12, 1794, The [Philadelphia] Pennsylvania Gazette published the following notice: “Cincinnati, January 25, George R. Clark Esq; Major General in the armies of France and commander in chief of the French Revolutionary Legions on the Mississippi River. Proposals, For raising volunteers for the reduction of the Spanish posts on the Mississippi, for opening the trade of the said river, and giving freedom to the inhabitants, &c.

“All persons serving in the expedition to be entitled to one thousand acres of land; those that engage for one year, will be entitled to two thousand acres; if they serve two years or during the preesnt war with France, they will have three thousand acres of any unappropriated land that may be conquered. The officers in proportion, pay, &c. as other French troops. All lawful plunder to be equally divided agreeable to the custom of war. All necessaries will be provided for the enterprize, and every precaution taken to cause the return of those, who wish to quit the service, as comfortable as possible, and a reasonable number of days allowed them to return, at the expiration of which time their pay will cease. All persons will be commissioned agreeable to the number of men they bring into the field. Those that serve the expedition will have their choice of receiving their lands or one dollar per day.…”

The newspaper commented: “Notwithstanding the foregoing publication, we learn that as soon as it was known that an expedition down the Mississippi would be contrary to the wishes of the Federal government, as a neutral nation, the people of Kentucky very generally refused to lend their aid in such proceedings.”

For George Washington’s proclamation of March 24, 1794, against the expeditions, See “Cabinet Meeting. Opinion on a Proclamation Against Forces to Be Enlisted in Kentucky for the Invasion of Spanish Territory,” March 18–19, 1794.

3Because of complaints from the Spanish commissioners, Josef de Viar and Josef Jaudenes, Thomas Jefferson had written to Governor Isaac Shelby of Kentucky on August 29, 1793 (LC, RG 59, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, Vol. 5, February 4, 1792–December 31, 1793, National Archives). On October 5, 1793, Shelby had replied that he knew of no expeditions being launched in Kentucky, but that he would do everything in his power to counteract the alleged plans (ALS, RG 59, Letters from Governors of States, 1790–1812, National Archives). On November 6, 1793, Jefferson informed Shelby that French agents with money and commissions for the expedition had left Philadelphia on the Kentucky stagecoach on October 2, 1793 (LC, RG 59, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, Vol. 5, February 4, 1792–December 31, 1793, National Archives). On January 13, 1794, Shelby replied to Jefferson as follows: “After the date of my last letter to you I received information that a Commission had been sent to General Clarke with powers to name and Commission other officers, and to raise a body of men, no steps having been taken by him (as far as has come to my knowledge) to carry this plan into execution, I did not conceive it was either proper or necessary for me to do any thing in the business. Two French men [Auguste Lachaise and Charles Delpeau] … have lately come into this State I am told they declare publickly they are in daily expectation of receiving a supply of money, and that as soon as they do receive it they shall raise a body of men and proceed with them down the river. Whither they have any sufficient reason to expect to get such a supply, or any serious intention of applying it in that manner if they do receive it, I can form no opinion. I judged it proper as the President had directed you to rite to me on this subject, to give you this information that he may be apprised as fully as I am of the steps which have been and are now taking here in this matter. If the President should hereafter think it necessary to hold any further Communication with the Executive of this State on this Subject I wish him to be full and explicit as to the part which he wishes and expects me to Act. that if what is required of me should in my opinion be within my Constitutional powers and in the line of my duty I may hereafter have it in my power to shew that the steps which I may take were not only within my legal powers, but were also required by him.

“I have great doubts even if they do attempt to carry their plan into execution (provided they manage their business with prudence) whither there is any legal Authority to restrain or punish them at least before they have Actually Accomplished it. for if it is lawfull for any one Citizen of this State to leave it, it is equally so for any number of them to do it. It is also Lawfull for them to carry with them any quantity of provisions, arms, and Amunition, and if the Act is lawfull in itself there is nothing but the Perticular intention with which it is done that can possibly make it unlawfull, but I know of no law which inflicts a punishment on intention only, or any Criterion by which to decide what would be sufficient evidence of that intention. if it was a proper Subject of legal censure.

“I shall upon all Occasions be averse to the exercise of any power which I do not consider myself as being clearly and explicitly invested with, much less would I assume a power to exercise it against men who I Consider as friends and bretheren, in favour of a man whom I view as an enemy and a tyrant.

“I shall also feel but little inclination to take an active part in punishing or restraining any of my fellow Citizens for a supposed intention only to gratify or remove the fears of a minister of a prince who openly withholds from us an invaluable right, and who secretly instigates against us a most Savage and cruel enemy.

“But what ever may be my private Opinion as a man, as a friend of liberty, An American Citizen, and an Inhabitant of the Western Waters, I shall at all times hold it as my duty to perform whatever may be Constitutionally required of me as Governor of Kentucky by the President of the United States.…” (ALS, RG 59, Letters from Governors of States, 1790–1812, National Archives.)

After reviewing the Jefferson-Shelby correspondence, Randolph on March 29, 1794, wrote to Shelby: “… After the impression made by your letter of the 5th of October 1793, you will naturally conclude how difficult it was to reconcile it with your last, of the 13th. of January 1794.

“As the Constitution and Laws of the United States are to govern the conduct of all, so cannot it be well imagined that the President intended to impose upon your Excellency, any departure from them. You were asked to prefer peaceable means of coercion, and for that purpose to consult those who were learned in the laws of your State, to designate legal process.… what government can be so destitute of the means of self defense, as to suffer, with impunity its peace to be drawn into jeopardy by hosilities, levied within its territory against a foreign nation.…

“You intimate a doubt, Sir, whether the two Frenchmen La Chaise and Delpeau, can be restrained or punished, before they have actually accomplished their plan, and assign as a reason for the doubt, that any number of your Citizens may lawfully leave your State, and carry with them any quantity of provisions, arms and ammunition. Hence you conclude that these acts, being lawful, a particular intention cannot render them unlawful, and that no criterion exists for deciding such an intention. If there be no peculiarity in the laws of Kentucky, and it be allowable to reason from general principles, or an analogy to the practice of other States; we might expect from a candid revision of these sentiments, that a contrary result would arise in your mind. That foreigenrs should meddle in the affairs of a government, where they happen to be, has scarcely ever been tolerated, and is often severely punished. That foreigners should point the force of a nation against its will to objects of hostility, is an invasion of its dignity, its tranquillity and even safety. Upon no principle can the individuals, on whom such guilt shall be fixed, bid the government to wait, as your Excellency would seem to suppose, until their numbers shall defy the ordinary animadversions of law; and until they are incapable of being subdued, but by force of arms. To prevent the extremity of crimes is wise and humane; and steps of precaution have therefore been found in the laws of most societies.

“Nor is this offence of foreigners expiated or lessened by an appeal to a presumed right in the citizens of Kentucky to inlist under such banners, without the approbation of their country. In a government instituted for the happiness of the whole, with a clear delineation of the channels, in which the authority derived from them, must flow, can a part only of the citizens wrest the Sword from the hands of those Magistrates, whom the whole have invested with the direction of the military power? They may, it is true, leave their country, they may take arms and provisions with them, but, if these acts be done, not on the ground of mere personal liberty, but of being retained in a foreign service for purposes of enmity against another people, satisfaction will be demanded, and the State, to which they belong, cannot connive at their conduct, without hazarding a rupture. The evidence of a culpable intention is perhaps not so difficult as your Excellency imagines; it is at least a familiar inquiry in penal prosecutions; and ought not to be an objection to your interference on this occasion. But here suffer me to repeat, that the President wishes you to do nothing more, than the laws themselves permit. Let them have their free course by such instructions, as you may think adequate and adviseable, and I trust that they will prove competent to rescue the United States from a painful altercation with a foreign Sovereign.…

“Thus far have I addressed your Excellency upon the constitutional and legal rights of the government, which perhaps are in strictness the only topics, belonging to the present occasion. But, as it may not be known, that the navigation of the Mississippi has occupied the earliest labours of the Executive, and has been pursued with an unremitted sincerity, I will lay such a sketch of the pending negotiation, as may be communicated, consistently with the respect due to the nation in treaty with us and the rules observed in such cases.…

“Let this communication then be received, Sir, as a warning against the dangers, to which these unauthorized schemes of war may expose the United States, and particularly the State of Kentucky. Let not unfounded suspicions of tardiness in government prompt individuals to rash efforts, in which they cannot be countenanced, which may thwart any favorable advances of their cause; and which by seizing the direction of the military force, must be repressed by law, or they will terminate in anarchy. Under whatsoever auspices of a foreign Agent, these commotions were at first raised, the present Minister plenipotentiary of the French Republic has publicly disavowed, and recalled the commissions, which have been granted.

“I cannot therefore doubt, that when your Excellency shall revise this subject, you will come to this conclusion, that the resentments, which you profess as a private man, a friend to liberty, an American Citizen, and an inhabitant of the western waters, ought not to interfere with your duty, as Governor of Kentucky; and that on the other hand, the contemplation of those several characters, under which you have considered yourself, ought to produce a compliance with those measures, which the President of the United States has consigned to your discretion and execution.” (LC, RG 59, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, Vol. 6, January 2–June 26, 1794, National Archives.) This letter is printed in 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, 456–57.

Randolph enclosed in this letter to Shelby copies of the first, second, and ninth sections of “An Act to provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 264–65 [May 2, 1792]).

4On March 31, 1794, Knox wrote to Major General Anthony Wayne: “The late intention of some restless people of the frontier settlements, to make hostile inroads into the dominions of Spain, renders it indispensable that you should immediately order as respectable a detachment as you can, to take post at Fort Massac…” (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, 458).

5On March 11, 1794, Randolph wrote to George Washington: “My reasons against the instruction advised to be given to General Wayne to post a body of regular troops at Massac, and by force if necessary, to prevent the party of Kentuckey citizens, who are supposed to meditate an invasion of the Spanish dominions, from proceeding, are the following:

“1. Those troops were raised, and destined by law exclusively for other purposes.

“2. The law of the land, and not an army is to be resorted to for the punishment of Citizens of the United States, who may be charged with crimes; Regular proof too ought to precede punishment.

“3. The sense of a Committee at least of the Senate appears to be the same, because a Bill is actually depending before them for giving the power to the President, to use military force on such an occasion. This would not have been necessary if the power existed already.

“4. The present case is not an invasion from a foreign nation in the grammatical, legal or constitutional import.

“5. If it be an insurrection, the President is restricted by a Law of May 2d 1792, from interposing even with militia, except upon the application of the legislature or executive of Kentuckey.

“6. The Marshals and their deputies have the same power as Sheriffs to call out the posse comitatus.

“7. If a combination to obstruct the laws be too powerful, the President cannot draw forth even the Militia, but upon a notification from a Judge of the Supreme or District Courts.

“8. If the blood of the Citizens of Kentuckey should be shed under the order, now advised, it will I fear terminate in a revolt of that country, and a separation from the Union, and

“9. The probability is, that the attempt which was begun, is at an end for the present, and it is at any rate better to wait and see what power Congress may give, than to hazard so doubtful an one on so critical an occasion.” (LC, RG 59, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, Vol. 6, January 2–June 26, 1794, National Archives.)

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