Cabinet Meeting. Opinion on Furnishing
Three Million Livres Agreeably to the
Request of the French Minister1
[Philadelphia, February 25, 1793]
Feb. 25. 1793. The President desires the opinions of the heads of the three departments and of the Attorney General on the following question, to wit.
Mr. Ternant having applied for money equivalent to three millions of livres to be furnished on account of our debt to France at the request of the Executive of that country, which sum is to be laid out in provisions within the US. to be sent to France, Shall the money be furnished?
The Secretary of the Treasury stated it as his opinion that making a liberal allowance for the depreciation of assignats, (no rule of liquidation having been yet fixed)2 a sum of about 318,000 Dollars may not exceed the arrearages equitably due to France to the end of 1792. and that the whole sum asked for may be furnished, within periods capable of answering the purpose of mr Ternant’s application, without a derangement of the Treasury.
Whereupon the Secretaries of State & War & the Attorney General are of opinion that the whole sum asked for by mr Ternant ought to be furnished: the Secretary of the Treasury is of opinion that the supply ought not to exceed the abovementioned sum of 318,000. Dollars.
DS, in the handwriting of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress; DS, letterpress copy, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress.
“Qu. whether we should furnish the 3. millns of livres desired by France to procure provns?
“I was of opn we ot to do it, the one part as an arrearage (abt 318,000) the residue as an advance towards our payments to be made in Paris in Sep. & Nov. next.
“E. R. was for furnishing the whole sum asked but under such blind terms, that if the present French government should be destroyed & the former one reestablished, it might not be imputed to us as a proof of our taking part with the present, but might be excused under a pretext that we thought we might owe it. Knox of the same opn.
“Hamilton saw the combinn of powers agt France so strong as to render the issue very doubtful. He therefore was agt. going beyond the 318,000. D. understood to be in arrear.” (AD, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress.)
Jefferson’s account is printed in the “Anas,” Ford, Writings of Jefferson description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (New York, 1892–1899). description ends , I, 220.
2. The assignats or interest-bearing notes had been issued by the French government in 1789, which used as security confiscated church land. By 1791 the value of these notes had begun to depreciate, and by the end of the year they had fallen between twenty and thirty percent. Despite the decision of the United States not to take advantage of the depreciation of the assignats in repaying the debt owed to France (H to William Short, September 2, 1791), a major problem facing Short and his successor at Paris, Gouverneur Morris, was to reach some agreement with the French government on assigning a value to the assignats before payments could be made on the French debt.