Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Thomas Jefferson, 1 June 1793

From Thomas Jefferson

Philadelphia June 1. 1793


I have the honor to inclose you the following portion of a Draught of a letter to M. Genet in answer to his ⟨– – –⟩.1

do. to order away the privateers fitted out in our ports.2
do. to Messrs Carmichael & Short on the letter of Viar & Jaudenes.3
do. to Viar & Jaudenes in answer to their letter.4
with these are all the preceding letters respecting the same subject.

The ideas are in the form approved by Genl. Knox, Mr. Randolph & myself and we have agreed to meet at my office on Monday at 12 oclock to consider of any alterations which you would wish to impose on my giving them my signature.

I also inclose two other papers for your signature; the third which relates to the letters of Genl Williams5 which is merely in the form of a memorandum to which no signature was thought to be requisite.

I have the honor to be with great respect Sir

Th: Jefferson

The Secretary of the Treasury

ALS, letterpress copy, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress.

1Jefferson’s letter to Edmund Charles Genet, June 1, 1793, reads as follows: “I have to acknolege the receipt of your Note of the 27th. of May on the subject of Gideon Henfield, a citizen of the US. engaged on board an armed vessel in the service of France. It has been laid before the President & referred to the Attorney general of the US. for his opinion on the matter of law, and I have now the honour of inclosing you a copy of that opinion. Mr Henfield appears to be in the custody of the civil magistrate, over whose proceedings the Executive has no controul. The act with which he is charged will be examined by a jury of his countrymen, in the presence of judges of learning & integrity, and if it is not contrary to the laws of the land, no doubt need be entertained that his case will issue accordingly. The forms of the law involve certain necessary delays; of which however, he will assuredly experience none but what are necessary. It will give me great pleasure to be able to communicate to you that the laws (which admit of no controul) on being applied to the action of mr Henfield, shall have found in them no cause of animadversion” (ADf, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress).

The last sentence in this draft was eventually deleted since both H and Randolph took exception to it. In a note on the reverse side of the draft Jefferson wrote: “E.R. objected to it as conveying a wish that the act might not be punishable, and proposed it should be ‘it will give me a great pleasure to be able to communicate to you that on his examination he shall be found to be innocent.’ It was done. The letter with this alteration was sent into the country to Colo. Hamilton, who found the clause, even as altered, to be too strong & proposed it should be omitted. It was therefore struck out altogether.”

This letter concerns the celebrated Henfield case. Gideon Henfield, an American citizen and a native of Salem, Massachusetts, had signed as a crew member on the French privateer Citizen Genet at Charleston, South Carolina. Upon the arrival of the French ship at Philadelphia in May, 1793, Henfield was arrested by order of William Rawle, United States attorney for the District of Pennsylvania, for breach of United States neutrality. He was tried at Philadelphia in July, 1793, at a special session of the Circuit Court of the United States with the prosecution maintaining that an American citizen did not have the right to engage in a hostile action against a friendly power. The case quickly became a cause célèbre. Henfield was represented by three prominent Republican lawyers, Peter S. Duponceau, Jared Ingersoll, and Jonathan Dickinson Sergeant. On July 29, 1793, he was acquitted.

2This enclosure was a draft of Jefferson to Genet, June 5, 1793 (ADf, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress).

3Jefferson to William Carmichael and William Short, May 31, 1793 (LS, letterpress copy, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress). This letter concerns a letter of May 25, 1793, from the Spanish attachés to the United States, Josef de Jaudenes and Josef de Viar, to Jefferson (letterpress copy, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress).

4This was a draft of Jefferson to Jaudenes and Viar, June 5, 1793 (ADf, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress), which was written in reply to Jaudenes and Viar to Jefferson, May 25, 1793.

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