Conversation with George Hammond1
[Philadelphia, August 21–30, 1793]
The additional instruction to British Ships of war and privateers, which your Lordship has been pleased to communicate to me, had reached this country two or three weeks antecedently to the arrival of the packet,2 and had excited considerable alarm both in the merchants and in the members of the government.3 A day or two after the receipt of it, I had a conversation with Mr. Hamilton, who regarded it as a very harsh and unprecedented measure, which not only militated against the principal branch of the present American exports but from the exception, in one case, in favor of Denmark and Sweden, appeared to be peculiarly directed against the commerce and navigation of the United States. For these reasons it would be incumbent upon this government, to make a representation on the subject to the Court of London. In the mean time, he earnestly desired me, if I received any exposition of it from your Lordship, to state it to the American administration, as a timely explanation might remove the unfavorable impressions it had made. In my answer I defended it, as well as I was able, on the ground of expediency, and of its not being contrary to the Law of nations, and on the conviction that the exception in favor of Denmark and Sweden arose solely from the stipulations of particular treaties. I however perceived that he was not convinced by my reasoning.
D, PRO: F.O. description begins Transcripts or photostats from the Public Record Office of Great Britain deposited in the Library of Congress. description ends , Series 5, Vol. 1.
1. This “conversation” has been taken from Hammond to Lord Grenville, September 17, 1793, Dispatch No. 19.
2. Hammond is referring to the packet Queen Charlotte, which arrived in New York on September 10, 1793.
3. This is a reference to the British order in council of June 8, 1793, ordering commanders of British armed vessels to “stop and detain all vessels loaded wholly or in part with corn, flour, or meal, bound to any port in France, or any port occupied by the armies of France … in order that such corn, meal, or flour, may be purchased on behalf of his Majesty’s Government, and the ships be released after such purchase.…” The order in council also provided for the seizure by British warships of all ships “whatever be their cargoes, that shall be found attempting to enter any blockaded port, and to send the same for condemnation, together with their cargoes, except the ships of Denmark and Sweden, which shall only be prevented from entering on the first attempt, but on the second shall be sent in for condemnation likewise” (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, 240).
Lord Grenville transmitted this order in council to Hammond in a letter dated July 5, 1793, and instructed the British Minister that, in his communication with the United States Government on the subject, he should “not fail to remark that by the law of Nations as laid down by the most modern Writers, particularly by Vattel, it is expressly stated that all provisions are to be considered as Articles of contraband, and as such liable to confiscation, in the case where the depriving an Enemy of these Supplies is one of the means intended to be employed for reducing him to reasonable terms of peace … That by the present measure, so far from going to the utmost extent which the law of Nations, and the circumstances of the case would have warranted, this Government has only prevented the French from being supplied with Corn, omitting all mention of other provisions, and particularly of Rice, an article so material in the scale of the commerce of America; and that even with respect to Corn, the rule adopted is one which instead of confiscating the cargoes secures to the Proprietors, supposing them neutral, a full indemnification for any loss they may possibly sustain. With respect to the rule about Ports blockaded, it is conformable to the general law and practice of all Nations, and the exception there mentioned as to Denmark and Sweden has reference to Our existing treaties with those Powers, and cannot therefore give any just ground of umbrage or jealousy to those Powers with whom We have no such treaties” (Mayo, Instructions to British Ministers description begins Bernard Mayo, ed., “Instructions to the British Ministers to the United States,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1936 (Washington, 1941), III. description ends , 40–42).