From George Washington
[Philadelphia, June 3, 1793]
The question of admitting modifications of the debt of the US. to France, having been the subject of consultation with the heads of the Departments & the Attorney General, and an unanimous opinion given thereon which involves the enclosed propositions from the French Minister,1 you will be pleased, under the form of a report to me, to prepare what may serve as an answer, making it conformable to the opinion2 already given.3
LC, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress; Df, letterpress copy, in the handwriting of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress.
1. On May 22, 1793, Edmond Charles Genet wrote to Thomas Jefferson and enclosed copies of his instructions from the French republic “to solicit the American Government for the payment of the sums remaining due to France by the said States, tho’ all the terms stipulated for the reimbursement have not yet expired” (translation, RG 59, Notes from the French Legation in the United States to the Department of State, Vol. I, June 7, 1789–March 1, 1805, National Archives).
Genet’s letter reads in part as follows: “The Executive council of the French republic has learnt through my precedessor, the citizen [Jean Baptiste de] Ternant, the readiness with which the government of the US. of A. attended to the facilitation of the purchases which that minister was charged to make in the US. on account of the French republic, as also the acquittal of the draughts of the colonies for which imperious circumstances obliged it to provide. The Executive council, Sir, has charged me to express to the American government the acknolegement inspired by all the marks of friendship which it has given on this subject to the French nation; & to prove to it the reciprocity of our sentiments it has determined to give at once a great movement to the commerce of France with America, in drawing henceforth from the US. the greatest part of the subsistences & stores necessary for the armies, fleets, & colonies of the French republic.
“The Executive council has entrusted me with the direction of these great & useful operations, & has given me particular powers comprehended in the reports, & in the resolutions now inclosed, in virtue of which I am authorized by the council & by the national treasury of France to employ the sums of which the US. can effect the paiment (towards their debt to France) or those which I can procure on my personal draughts payable by the national treasury in purchasing provisions, naval stores, & in fulfilling other particular services, conformably to the orders which have been given to me by the ministers of the Interior, of war, of the Marine, & of foreign affairs.
“The government of the US. is too enlightened not to perceive the immense advantages which will result from this measure to the people of America, & I cannot doubt that, knowing the difficulties which different circumstances might oppose at this moment to the execution of the pressing commissions which have been given to me, if it should not facilitate to us still the receipt of new sums by anticipation, it will find in it’s wisdom & in the reports now inclosed, of the Minister of the public contributions of France, measures proper to answer our views, & to satisfy our wants.
“It does not belong to me to judge if the President of the US. is invested with powers sufficient to accede to our request, without the concurrence of the legislative body: but I will permit myself to observe to you, Sir, that the last anticipated payments, which took place, prove it, & that this question appears equally decided by the act of Congress which authorizes the Executive power not to change the order of the reimbursements of the foreign debt of the US. unless it shall find therein an evident advantage. Now what advantage more sensible can we offer to you, than that of discharging your debt to us with your own productions, without exporting your cash, without recurring to the burthensome operations of bankers? It is furnishing you at the same time with the means of paying your debts, & of enriching your citizens: in short it is to raise the value of your productions, & consequently of your lands, in establishing a necessary competition between us & a nation which has in a measure reserved with a great deal of art & of sacrifices, the monopoly of your own productions.…”
Translations of Genet’s instructions and various pertinent decrees of the French National Convention were transmitted by Jefferson to the President on May 27, and on May 30 Washington received from Jefferson “a Copy, in french, of Mr. Genet’s communication cn the subject of the debt, to be referred, if I shd. think proper, to the Secretary of the Treasury” (JPP description begins “Journal of the Proceedings of the President,” George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. description ends , 129–132, 134). On May 31 Washington “Returned to the Secretary of State the … copy of Mr Genet’s communication (which had been sent to me yesterday) with a request that he would prepare the draught of a letter for the Presidt. to send to the Secy of the Treasury with these communications from Mr. Genet” (JPP description begins “Journal of the Proceedings of the President,” George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. description ends , 135).
2. This is apparently a reference to the decision of the cabinet on William S. Smith’s proposals for the settlement of the United States debt to France. See H to Washington, March 1, 1793, note 1; “Cabinet Meeting. Opinion on Proposals Made by William S. Smith Relative to the French Debt,” March 2, 1793.
3. Jefferson’s draft of this letter concludes with the following sentence: “If however the instalments of the present year can be made a matter of accomodation, & it be mutual, their near approach may perhaps admit it within the spirit of the opinion given.”