Cabinet Decision. Rules for Departure from
United States Ports of Ships of Belligerent Nations1
[Philadelphia, June 16, 1794]
When any Vessel, whether of war or merchandize, public or private, belonging to any belligerent nation, shall depart from the United States, beyond the jurisdictional line of the United States, on the Ocean; and a Vessel of War whether public or private, belonging to another of the belligerent nations, being adverse, shall at the time of the departure of the first mentioned vessel, be within such jurisdictional line, the last mentioned Vessel of war shall not sail beyond such jurisdictional line, until the expiration of twenty-four hours, after the departure of the first mentioned Vessel.
If any vessel of war belonging to a belligerent nation shall sail, contrary to the foregoing rule, she shall be deemed to have violated the laws of nations, and the government of the United States will take measures for causing to be restored any prize, taken by her, and brought within the power of the United States.
This Rule shall commence forthwith and shall be notified to all the foreign Ministers, residing near the United States.
Approved June 16th. 1794
Copy, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives; LC, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, Vol. 6, January 2–June 26, 1794, National Archives.
1. On February 25, 1794, George Hammond, the British Minister to the United States, had written the following letter to Edmund Randolph: “Particular reasons render it expedient for me to request you to inform me whether the principle which is generally understood to be established by the law of nations—that in the case of Ships of war belonging to different powers in a state of hostility with each other and being in neutral ports the space of twenty four hours should be allowed to vessels departing from such ports previously to their being followed by vessels in the service of a power with which the sovereign of the vessels so first departing may be engaged in war—be intended to be recognized by this government” (ALS, 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; copy, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives).
On June 18, 1794, Randolph wrote to the ministers in the United States of France, Holland, Great Britain, and Spain enclosing “the determination of the President of the United States, as to the sailing of the vessels of war of any of the belligerent Nations from the United States … with a hope, that you will cause it to be promulgated among the Ships of War, whether public or private, belonging to your nation” (copy, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives).
On June 18, 1794, Hammond wrote to Randolph: “I had the honor of receiving your letter of this date inclosing the President’s determination.… But when I reflect that you have never even acknowledged the receipt of a letter which I addressed to you on the 25th of February, and in which I requested you to inform me whether or not ‘this principle was intended to be recognized by this government,’ and that, in consequence of the refusal of this government to establish some principle of this nature at that period his Majesty’s frigate Daedalus and some British merchant vessels were detained in the port of Norfolk, from the beginning of February to the 19th of May last, by the presence of a superior French force, which was not restrained during that interval from instituting a regular succession of cruizers from that port, I do not now esteem it incumbent upon me to comply with your requisition of promulating the President’s actual determination to the Commanders of his Majesty’s ships of war or other armed vessels until I shall learn the pleasure of my Court upon the subject.
“I cannot however avoid adding, that it is a circumstance too singular to be overlooked, that the determination of the government on this point should not be announced to me until the very day on which intelligence has been received here of the arrival of a British squadron in an American port.” (ALS, 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; copy, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives.)
Randolph replied to Hammond on June 19, 1794, as follows: “I am this moment honored by your letter of yesterday’s date, acknowledging the receipt of the rule, adopted by the President.… It is true, Sir, that on the 27th of February last, I received your letter of the 25th of the same month.… This letter, was immediately submitted to the President, and altho’ he did not hesitate on the propriety of the principle, yet the manner of executing it in Europe being unknown here, and the circumstances of our ports being very peculiar it was thought necessary to consult not only those persons, who were bound by the Constitution or by law to give him their opinions, but others also more conversant in the subject from practice. Inquiries were immediately set on foot, but still the information obtained was unsatisfactory. I took the liberty of asking most of the diplomatic gentlemen in this city, whether they possessed any written document in which the practice upon the principle was delineated, and I am much deceived if I did not make the same request from you. Certain however it is, that no gentleman could furnish me with anything very accurate. From these causes, the mode remained under consideration, but was never out of view, no mode was approved until the 16th instant.… To this date, Sir, you will undoubtedly advert, because your candor must induce you to admit, that, as the intelligence ‘of the arrival of a British Squadron in an American Port,’ was received on the very day, on which the above decision of the government was announced to you, that is, on the 18th instant, the conclusion, for which you seem to be prepared in the close of your last letter ought to be dismissed. Nor will you deem it unimportant to the removal of the misconception, into which you may have fallen, to be informed, that the rule was not adopted at the instance of any foreign minister, whose nation is at war with Great Britain; but it was particularly brought into discussion on the 13th instant by the Minister of the United Netherlands, an associate with Great Britain against the Republic of France.…
“Not having a right to urge you to promulgate the President’s determination to the commanders of British Ships of war, I shall only observe, that the intimation to that effect in my letter of yesterday was intended for their accomodation; as you must be sensible, that the rule will operate, whether it be communicated thro’ the channel requested or not.” (LC, RG 59, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, Vol. 6, January 2–June 26, 1794, National Archives; copy, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives.)
Hammond wrote to Randolph on the same day stating “that as you have not stated to me any principle whatsoever, relative to the sailing from ports of the United States of the vessels of nations hostile to each other, that can have dictated the President’s determination on this point of the 16th curt.… which ought not to have operated with equal force on the 25th of February last—I do not esteem it incumbent upon me to recede from the resolution, which I have formed,… until I shall learn the pleasure of my Court upon the subject” (ALS, 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; copy, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives).
In a dispatch to Lord Grenville, dated June 27, 1794, Hammond reported his correspondence with Randolph (ALS, PRO: F.O. description begins Transcripts or photostats from the Public Record Office of Great Britain deposited in the Library of Congress. description ends [Great Britain], 5/5), and on August 8, 1794, Grenville replied to Hammond in part as follows: “… And as the interval which will have elapsed before you receive this Dispatch appears to have allowed sufficient time for giving to His Majesty’s Ships being now superior in those Seas the means of availing themselves of that superiority without being controuled by the effect of the New Regulation in the same manner as the French did before it was issued, it is the King’s Pleasure that you should not any longer delay to recommend to the Commanders of His Majesty’s Ships of War, to pay due regard to a regulation reasonable in itself and the impartial execution of which would never have been disputed by His Majesty” (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 , 64).