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George Washington to the Senate and the House of Representatives, [2 December 1793]

George Washington to the Senate and
the House of Representatives

[2 Dec. 1793]

Gentlemen of the Senate

As the present situation of the several nations of Europe, and especially of those with which the US. have important relations, cannot but render the state of things between them and us matter of interesting enquiry to the legislature, and may indeed give rise to deliberations to which they alone are competent, I have thought it my duty to communicate to them certain correspondences which have taken place.

The1 Representative and Executive bodies of France have2 manifested generally a friendly attachment3 to this country, have4 given advantages to our commerce and navigation, and have made overtures for placing these advantages on permanent ground. A decree however of the National assembly, subjecting vessels laden with provisions to be carried into their ports, and making enemy goods lawful prize in the vessel of a friend, contrary to our treaty, tho revoked at one time as to the US. has been since extended to their vessels also, as has been recently stated to us. Representations on this subject will be immediately given in charge to our minister there,5 and the result shall be communicated to the legislature.6

It is with extreme concern I have to inform you7 that the proceedings of8 the person whom they have unfortunately appointed their Minister Plenipy. here have breathed nothing of the friendly spirit of the nation which sent him. Their tendency on the contrary has been9 to involve us in war abroad,10 and discord and anarchy at home. So far as his acts, or those of his agents, have threatened our immediate commitment in the war,11 or flagrant insult to the authority of the laws, their effect has been counteracted by the ordinary cognisance of the laws, and by an exertion of the powers confided to me. Where their danger was not imminent, they have been borne with, from sentiments of regard to his nation, from a sense of their friendship towards us,12 from a conviction that they would not suffer us to remain long exposed to the action of a person who has so little respected our mutual dispositions, and, I will add, from a reliance on the firmness of my fellow-citizens in their principles of peace and order.13—In the mean time I have respected and pursued the stipulations of our treaties, according to what I judged their true14 sense; and have witheld no act of friendship which their affairs have called for from us, and which justice to others left us free to perform.—I have gone further. Rather than employ force for the restitution of certain vessels which I deemed the US. bound to restore, I thought it more15 adviseable to satisfy the parties by avowing it to be my opinion, that if restitution were not made, it would be incumbent on the US. to make compensation. The papers now communicated will more particularly apprize you of these transactions.

The vexations and spoliation understood to have been committed, on our vessels and commerce, by the cruizers and officers of some of the belligerent powers,16 appeared to require attention. The proofs of these however not having been brought forward, the description of citizens supposed to have suffered were notified, that on furnishing them to the Executive, due measures would be taken to obtain redress of the past, and more effectual provisions against the future. Should such documents be furnished, proper17 representations will be made18 thereon, with a just reliance on a redress proportioned19 to the exigency of the case.

The British government having undertaken, by orders to the Commanders of their armed vessels, to restrain generally our commerce in corn and other provisions to their own ports and those of their friends, the instructions now communicated were immediately forwarded to our minister at that court. In the mean time some discussions on the subject, took place between him and them. These are also laid before you; and I may expect to learn the result of his special instructions in time to make it known to the legislature during their present session.20

Very early after the arrival of a British minister here, mutual explanations on the inexecution of the treaty of peace were entered into with21 that minister. These are now laid before you for your information.22

On the subjects of mutual interest between this country and Spain,23 negociations and conferences are now depending. The public good requiring that the present state of these should be made known to the legislature in confidence24 only, they shall be the subject of a separate and subsequent communication.

2d Dft (DLC: TJ Papers, 95: 16278–9); entirely in TJ’s hand; undated, but begun sometime after the Cabinet meeting of 28 Nov. 1793 and completed before it was enclosed in TJ to Washington, 2 Dec. 1793 (first letter); consisting of three pages on which, in order to facilitate the President’s review, TJ copied his language from Dft as it stood after Cabinet review and then, canceling lightly, entered substitute language and other emendations (see notes 2, 4, and 20 below), some of them lacking in the PrC (see notes 1, 3, 4, and 7 below), with the first page having a small slip bearing substitute language pasted on so as to create a flap replacing parts of the second and third paragraphs seamlessly (see notes 1 and 10 below). PrC (same, 16308–10); dated in ink by TJ at head of text: “Dec. 5. 93.”; consisting of text prior to attachment of small slip to first page of 2d Dft and lacking salutation and some emendations in the text replaced by the slip; partially overwritten in a later hand. Dft (same, 16272–3); entirely in TJ’s hand, with his subjoined note written at a different time: “This shews my original draught, and the alterations made in it at our council at the President’s Nov. 28. 93.”; undated, but written between 23 and 28 Nov. 1793 and bearing three sets of emendations: those present in the PrC and therefore made prior to the submission to the Cabinet on 28 Nov. 1793 (see notes 13, 15, and 23 below), those probably made at the 28 Nov. 1793 Cabinet meeting (see notes 4, 11–14, 17, 19–21, and 24 below), and those presumably added on 1 or 2 Dec. 1793 (see notes 4, 16, 18, 20, and 22 below). PrC (same, 95: 16274–5, 91: 15611, 95: 16276); undated; lacks subjoined note and most of the emendations in Dft; partially overwritten in a later hand. Recorded in SJPL under 5 Dec. 1793. The text Washington sent to Congress, which was addressed to the “Gentlemen of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives,” followed TJ’s final draft with only insignificant differences in spelling, punctuation, and capitalization, and one minor variation in wording (DNA: RG 46, 3d Cong., 1st sess.; Fitzpatrick, Writings description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, Washington, D.C., 1931–44, 39 vols. description ends , xxxiii, 170–3).

With this presidential message, the first of three on foreign affairs drafted by TJ for the first session of the third Congress that began on 2 Dec. 1793, Washington disclosed the startling news that his administration had requested France to recall its minister plenipotentiary, Edmond Charles Genet, for repeated failures to respect American neutrality and sovereignty as well as manifold lapses in diplomatic decorum. In preparing the message, TJ sought to preserve cordial ties with France, but the evolution of the drafts reveals that his efforts to shield the French cause were first diluted by Cabinet opposition and then weakened more seriously by the arrival of news of actions taken by France which undercut American neutral rights.

On 23 Nov. 1793, when Washington and the Cabinet considered an outline of topics for the President’s annual address to Congress that had been consolidated by Attorney General Edmund Randolph from their earlier outlines and drafts, they decided to reserve the thorniest issues involving American relations with France, Great Britain, Spain, and the Barbary states for special messages. With respect to France, Randolph’s notations indicate that the Cabinet advised the President to inform Congress of Genet’s invocation—in his 30 Oct. 1793 letter to TJ—of the clause in the 1778 treaty of alliance with France guaranteeing its possessions in America, French proposals for a new commercial treaty, Genet’s ministerial conduct, proposed compensation for certain prizes captured by French armed vessels, and the maritime jurisdiction of the United States. The President was also counseled to touch on British retention of certain posts on the American frontier in defiance of the Treaty of Paris and British interception of American vessels carrying provisions to France or French-occupied ports under the 8 June 1793 additional instructions of George III to the commanders of British warships and privateers. At this meeting the Cabinet assigned the task of preparing the messages to the Secretary of State (Notes of Cabinet Meetings on Edmond Charles Genet and the President’s Address to Congress, [18 Nov. 1793]; Notes of Cabinet Meeting on the President’s Address to Congress, 21, 23 Nov. 1793; Materials for the President’s Address to Congress, [ca. 22 Nov. 1793], and note; Randolph, “Heads of Matter, to be communicated to congress, either in the speech, or by message, as collected from the notes of the President, and the other gentlemen,” DLC: Washington Papers; Thomas Pinckney to TJ, 5 July 1793, and note).

TJ composed the initial draft of the message on France and Great Britain between 23 and 28 Nov. 1793. He adopted the indirect course of transmitting relevant documents on the newly-defined limit on American maritime jurisdiction with papers relating to French prizes without explicitly mentioning the subject, and he omitted mention altogether of Genet’s attempt to induce the United States to honor the guarantee clause in the treaty of alliance. The core of the draft was devoted to balancing the revelation of Genet’s misdeeds by highlighting France’s generally friendly behavior toward the United States and emphasizing British violations of the Treaty of Paris and American neutral rights.

When the Cabinet considered the draft on 28 Nov. 1793, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton immediately objected to it “in toto,” arguing that the contrast TJ had drawn between the two belligerents was tantamount to “a declaration of war” on Great Britain. Even though TJ toned down some of the language commending France and chastising Britain, Hamilton then attempted, with the support of Secretary of War Henry Knox, to undermine TJ’s effort to maintain a balance between French and British transgressions by proposing that British violations of the peace treaty and interference with American trade be dealt with in a separate and secret communication to Congress, inasmuch as these matters were still under negotiation. Although Randolph supported mention of these issues in the message, he favored withholding from Congress altogether the documents on British trade violations. To TJ’s great relief, however, the President took the unusual step of overruling a majority of his advisors and insisted that papers on British as well as French abuses be communicated with the message (Notes of Cabinet Meeting on the President’s Address and Messages to Congress, 28 Nov. 1793).

At this juncture, the arrival of news from Europe led to a weakening of the language, still generally favorable to France, that emerged from the Cabinet meeting. On 28 and 30 Nov. 1793 TJ received dispatches from the American ministers to Great Britain and France containing the unwelcome tidings that France had reversed itself and decided not to honor its treaty obligations to respect the neutrality of American ships carrying enemy property or bringing neutral merchandise to enemy ports (Gouverneur Morris to TJ, 25 June 1793, and note; Thomas Pinckney to TJ, 27 Sep. 1793, and note). TJ submitted both letters to Washington and advised him that he now intended to modify the part of the message crediting France with “just and ready redress” of illegal depredations. The President approved the suggestion the following day and asked TJ to reconsider the desirability of making public the papers relating to Britain in light of Hamilton’s continuing insistence that the United States enjoyed greater commercial benefits from that nation (TJ to Washington, 30 Nov. 1793; Washington to TJ, 1 Dec. 1793).

On 2 Dec. TJ accordingly sent Washington a new draft that introduced French infringements on American neutral trade and included a reworked paragraph on spoliation indicating that more than one of the warring powers had been involved in ravaging American shipping. Despite the setback to his efforts to depict England as the principal culprit in disrupting American trade, the forceful arguments in TJ’s covering letter ultimately persuaded the wavering President that the message should discuss British as well as French misbehavior and enclose unconditionally documents relative to both nations. Three days later Washington sent Congress the message as TJ had finally reworked it (TJ’s first letter to Washington, 2 Dec. 1793; Washington to TJ, with Jefferson’s Note, 2 Dec. 1793; JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., Gales, 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends , ii, 7–8; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1826, 9 vols. description ends , 11, 9–10).

For the papers now communicated on American relations with France and on British interference with our Commerce in corn and inexecution of the treaty of peace, see ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Foreign Relations, i, 142–88, 188–243, respectively; see also note to Genet to TJ, 16 May 1793, on the publication of the papers by order of the House of Representatives. The sets of documents transmitted to Congress were apparently collated at a Cabinet meeting on 4 Dec. 1793 (Bartholomew Dandridge, Jr., to TJ, 4 Dec. 1793). On that day TJ also prepared certifications of these documents, with that for his correspondence with Genet reading: “Department of State—to wit. I hereby certify, That the preceding Copies and translations, beginning with a letter of May 22d. 1793, and ending with one of November 29th. 1793, are from originals, or from authentic copies in the Office of the Department of State. Given under my Hand this fourth day of December 1793. Th: Jefferson” (MS in DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 3d Cong., 1st sess., in the hand of George Taylor, Jr., signed by TJ). TJ’s certification of the documents on Great Britain varied only in vouching for “Copies beginning with a Letter of Novr. 29th., 1791, and ending with one of Septr. 25th. 1793, and the paper it inclosed” (MS in same, in Benjamin Bankson’s hand, signed by TJ). For the description of citizens who were notified of the need to furnish documentation to the executive concerning maritime depredations, see Circular to American Merchants, 27 Aug. 1793, and note. The separate and subsequent communication on Spain is printed under 14 Dec. 1793.

1Text on small slip begins with this word. In text underneath TJ here canceled “several.” Emendation not in PrC.

2In text underneath the small slip TJ here canceled “uniformly.” He had circled this word in the Dft after making its PrC.

3Preceding four words altered from “the most friendly attachments” in text underneath the small slip. Emendation not in PrC.

4In text underneath the small slip TJ reworked the remainder of the sentence—altered from “given particular advantages” after the PrC was made—from “shewn particular favor to our commerce and navigation and as far as yet appears, have given just and ready redress of the wrongs to our citizens and their property irregularly taken on the high seas, and carried into their ports.” He made the necessary cancellations lightly for the purpose of presentation to Washington, having copied both sentence endings from the Dft, where the reworked one given in the text printed here, containing two minor variations, was inserted in the margin and the original ending was altered at the 28 Nov. 1793 Cabinet meeting by TJ’s interlineation of “as far as yet appears have.”

5On the small slip TJ first wrote “also, as we learn very recently. To the representations made on the subject by our minister, others will be immediately given him in special charge,” and then revised the passage to read as above.

6Preceding two sentences lacking from text underneath the small slip and from earlier versions.

7In text underneath the small slip TJ first copied “But it is with extreme concern I am obliged to add” from Dft and then revised the phrase to read as above. Emendation not in PrC.

8The preceding two words appear only on the small slip. Text underneath and all other texts: “line of conduct pursued by.”

9The preceding nineteen words appear only on the small slip. The text underneath and all other texts read “has been widely different from theirs, it’s direct tendency having been,” except that Dft ends with “tendency being.”

10Text on small slip ends with the first syllable of this word.

11In Dft TJ canceled “without” here, and “within” at the end of the next clause. Emendations not in PrC.

12Preceding two words added in margin of Dft in place of “and favors, ancient and recent.” Emendation not in PrC.

13In Dft TJ here canceled “and on the continuance of that confidence which they have so long reposed in me, and which could not be withdrawn in a case where I can have no views but to pursue their best interests, according to the best of my <abilities and> judgment.” Except for the cancellation of bracketed words, emendation not in PrC.

14Word interlined in Dft in place of “real.” Emendation not in PrC.

15In Dft TJ here canceled “expedient.”

16In Dft TJ first wrote, with respect to the British, “committed by their cruizers and officers, on our vessels and commerce,” and then revised the phrase to read as above. Emendation not in PrC.

17Word interlined in Dft. Emendation not in PrC.

18Word interlined in Dft in place of “forwarded to the British government.” Emendation not in PrC.

19In Dft TJ first wrote “that their measure of redress will be proportioned,” then altered the phrase to read “on a redress measured in proportion,” and finally revised it to read as above. Emendations not in PrC.

20TJ interlined this paragraph in place of one that he lightly canceled for purposes of presentation to Washington: “The undertaking to restrain generally our commerce of corn and other provisions to their own ports and those of their friends, by an express order of the British government, has been the subject of the representations now communicated. These were forwarded to our minister at their court; and we may expect final information thereon in time to make the same known to the legislature during their present session.” TJ had copied both paragraphs from the Dft, the interlined one being there inserted in the margin. In the Dft he had originally written the canceled paragraph as follows: “The undertaking to restrain generally our commerce of corn and other provisions to their own ports and those of their friends by an express order of their government, being an infraction of our natural rights, unfounded in reason, inconsistent with the candor of our conduct towards them, and excused by no want of these articles themselves, the representations on that subject now communicated, were forwarded to our minister at their court. By these you will perceive that we may expect final information thereon in time for the legislature to consider whether any provision will be necessary on their part for securing an indemnification to our agriculture and commerce for the losses sustained by this interception of their produce.” After making the PrC, and most likely at the 28 Nov. 1793 Cabinet meeting, TJ substituted “in favor of” for “for securing an indemnification to” and then reworked the paragraph before copying it to the 2d Dft and canceling it there.

21Word interlined in place of “between the Secretary of state and.” The same emendation is in Dft but lacking in its PrC.

22In Dft this paragraph appeared two paragraphs earlier; in the margin next to it TJ wrote: “to come in below.” Emendation not in PrC.

23In Dft TJ first wrote “Some subjects of mutual interest existing between this country & Spain also, whereon,” and then revised the phrase to read as above.

24Preceding two words interlined in Dft. Emendation not in PrC.

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