Alexander Hamilton Papers

Cabinet Meeting. Opinion Respecting French Privateers, 17 June 1793

Cabinet Meeting. Opinion Respecting
French Privateers1

[Philadelphia] June 17, 1793.

At a meeting of the heads of departments at the President’s this day, on summons from him, a letter from mr Genet of the 15th. inst. addressed to the Secretary of state on the subject of the seizure of a vessel by the Govr. of New York as having been armed, equipped & manned in that port with a design to cruize on the enemies of France, was read, as also the draught of an answer prepared by the Secretary of state, which was approved.2

Read also a letter of June 14, from mr Hammond to the Secretary of state3 desiring to know whether the French privateers the Citizen Genet & Sans Culottes are to be allowed to return or send their prizes into the ports of the US. It is the opinion that he be informed that they were required to depart to the dominions of their own sovereign and nothing expressed as to their ulterior proceedings, and that in answer to that part of the same letter which states that the Sans Culottes has increased it’s force in the port of Baltimore & remains there in the avowed intention of watching the motions of a valuable ship now lying there, it be answered that we expect the speedy departure of those privateers will obviate the inconveniences apprehended, and that it will be considered whether any practicable arrangements can be adopted to prevent the augmentation of the force of armed vessels.

Th: Jefferson

H Knox   A Hamilton 

DS, in the handwriting of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.

2The letter from Edmond Charles Genet, French Minister to the United States, to Jefferson which was submitted to the cabinet was presumably the letter of June 14, 1793, rather that that of June 15. In his letter of June 14 Genet complained of the seizure of French vessels in New York and Philadelphia and enclosed statements from the French consul at New York concerning the seizure of the newly commissioned Republican (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, 152–53). Jefferson’s reply, dated June 17, informed Genet that the United States did not share Genet’s view that the French ships arming in United States ports were being equipped only for defense, for “the case in question, is that of a vessel armed, equipped, and manned, in a port of the United States, for the purpose of committing hostilities on nations at peace with the United States.” Such actions, Jefferson stated, were in the view of the Government incompatible with United States sovereignty (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, 154). In the Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress, there is a letterpress copy of another version of Jefferson’s reply to Genet’s letter of June 14, which is dated June 17 and marked by Jefferson “not sent.”

3On June 13, 1793, Jefferson advised George Hammond, British Minister to the United States, that it had been decided that cases of violation of American waters would be turned over to the courts for decision. Jefferson wrote: “I am therefore to desire you will be so good as to have the parties interested apprised without delay that they are to take measures as in ordinary civil cases for the support of their rights judicially. Should the decision be in favor of the jurisdiction of the court, it will follow that all future similar cases will devolve at once on the individuals interested to be taken care of by themselves, as in other questions of private property provided for by the laws” (ALS, letterpress copy, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress).

Hammond’s letter to Jefferson of June 14 expressed the British Minister’s satisfaction with the Government’s position, “from which I derive the firmest confidence that the measures taken by the executive government of the United States, to prevent a repetition of enterprizes similar to that which has been thus repressed at New York, will be equally efficacious in other parts of the Union.

“My satisfaction upon the occasion is however mingled with considerable regret, in consequence of authentic information which I have recently received, that not only one of the two privateers originally fitted out at Charleston named le Citoyen Genêt has … augmented its force in the port of Philadelphia; but that the other, named le Sans Culotte has increased its force also in the port of Baltimore, wherein it now remains in the avowed intention of watching the motions of a valuable British Ship now lying in the port of Baltimore, of following it out to sea, and of endeavoring to capture it. The consideration of these circumstances renders it in my opinion an act of indispensable duty in me to enquire of you, Sir, respectfully whether from the expression in your letter of the 5th inst—‘that the President has required as a reparation of their breach of respect to the United States that these vessels so armed and equipped shall depart from “your” ports.’ I am to deduce as a necessary inference that these vessels will not be allowed to return to the dominions of the United States, nor to send into any of their ports any prizes which they may happen to make, in the course of their future depredations on the subjects of the King my master.” (Copy, RG 59, Notes from the British Legation in the United States to the Department of State, Vol. 1, October 26, 1791–August 15, 1794, National Archives.)

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