Cabinet Meeting. Opinions on
Relations with France and Great Britain
[Philadelphia, December 7, 1793]
At a meeting of the heads of departments & Atty genl. at the President’s on the 7th. of Dec. 1793.
Mr. Genet’s ltre of Dec. 3.1 questioning the right of requiring the address of Consular commissions to the President was read. It is the opinion that the address may be either to the US. or to the President of the US. but that one of these should be insisted on.
A letter from James King was read, dated Philadelphia Nov. 25. 1793,2 complaining of the capture of his schooner Nancy by a British privateer & carried into N. Providence,3 and that the court there has thrown the onus probandi on the owners, to shew that the vessel & cargo are American property. It is the opinion that mr King be informed that it is a general rule that the governmt. should not interpose individually till a final denial of justice has taken place in the courts of the country where the wrong is done; but that, a considerable degree of information being shortly expected relative to these cases, his will be further considered and attended to at that time.4
The Secretary of state informed the President that he had received a number of applications from mr Genet on behalf of the refugees of St. Domingo5 who have been subjected to tonnage on their vessels & duties on their property on taking asylum in the ports of this country, into which they were forced by the misfortunes of that colony. It is the opinion that the Secretary of state may put the petitions into the hands of a member of the legislature in his private capacity to be presented to the legislature.
DS, in the handwriting of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.
1. ADf, Edmond C. Genet Papers, Library of Congress. See also “Cabinet Meetings. Opinions Concerning the Relations of the United States with Several European Countries,” November 1–22, 1793.
2. King was a Philadelphia sea captain. His letter has not been found.
3. New Providence Island, on which Nassau is located, is in the Bahamas.
4. See Jefferson to King, December 7, 1793 (ALS, letterpress copy, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress).
5. For background to this question, see Jefferson to H, September 12, 1793; H to Edmund Randolph, November 9, 1793; Randolph to H, November 15, 1793; H to Jefferson, November 30, 1793. On December 15, 1793, Jefferson wrote to Genet: “In answer to the several letters you have done me the honor of writing on the subject of tonnage and duties demanded at the Custom houses on the vessels & goods of the fugitives from St. Domingo, I have to inform you that the opinion being that the terms of the law did not authorise the Executive to dispense with those demands. I have taken the proper measures for having the subject submitted to the Legislature, who are competent to the giving an exception by passing a special law if they shall think the nature of the case calls for it” (ALS, letterpress copy, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress). In March, 1794, “An Act for the remission of the duties arising on the tonnage of sundry French vessels which have taken refuge in the ports of the United States” was passed. This act provided that “Whereas the disastrous situation of the town of Cape Francois, in the island of Hispaniola, compelled sundry vessels belonging to citizens of the French Republic, in the month of June last, to take refuge within the ports of the United States: and whereas they are liable by law to the payment of foreign tonnage, which, considering the necessity of their case, ought equitably to be remitted to them: Therefore … the duties on the tonnage, to which any of the vessels aforesaid are, or may have been liable, within any of the ports of the United States, be, and are hereby remitted: Provided neverthless, That the master, owner or consignee, of every such vessel shall make proof to the proper officer of the port in which such vessel may be, that the said vessel was compelled to leave the said island of Hispaniola, and to take refuge within the said port, by reason of the calamity aforesaid” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 342 [March 7, 1794]).