Edmund Randolph to William Bradford,
Alexander Hamilton, and Henry Knox
[Philadelphia, June 17, 1794]
The Secretary of State has the honor of informing the Secretaries of the Treasury and of war and the Attorney General, that subscriptions have been carried on in Boston and Norfolk, and the monies, arising therefrom have been tendered to the President for the relief of the Unhappy Citizens of the United States now in captivity in Algiers. Sometime ago the Citizens of Philadelphia were in motion upon a like occasion; and propounded to the President thro’ the Secretary of State, how far such measures might interfere with the operations of Government, and whether the Government desired these exertions.1 The answer was, that the steps, pursued by the President, were not to be disclosed on such an application, and that the money of individuals being at their own disposal, the President did not mean to check them in the subscribing of it, as they should think proper. It is suggested therefore, that the substance of the answer to Boston and Norfolk be, that the only connection, which the executive can have with the Algerine subject, is that, which is required by Law; and that it possesses no authority to appropriate private money to such objects.2
Copy, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives.
1. For information on the difficulties of the United States with Algiers, see Willink, Van Staphorst, and Hubbard to H, November 18, 1793, note 2; Thomas Jefferson to H, December 12, 1793; Henry Knox to H, April 21, 1794, note 1; George Washington to H, May 24, 1794, note 2.
On April 7, 1794, a committee appointed in Philadelphia by the “Trustees of the Algerine fund to collect Subscriptions for the relief of our Seamen Captives in Algiers” wrote to Randolph and asked him to give an opinion on the following questions:
“Whether any provision is made by Government to alleviate the situation of the Captives while in Bondage.
“Whether in the opinion of the Secretary the raising of a Sum of money by the Citizens of Philade. for the relief & emancipation of the Captives will interfere with the arrangements made by Government or impede the progress of any negotiation which may hereafter be entered into.…” (LS, RG 59, Despatches from United States Consuls in Algiers, 1785–1817, Vol. 1, April 4, 1785–November 8, 1795, National Archives.)
On May 18, 1794, Perez Morton of Boston sent a similar letter to Randolph informing him that $887.28 had been collected at a benefit for the relief of the captives in Algiers (ALS, RG 59, Despatches from United States Consuls in Algiers, 1785–1817, Vol. 1, April 4, 1785–November 8, 1795. National Archives).
On June 11, 1794, Washington “Put into the hands of the Secry of State a letter from Thos. Newton Junr dated Norfolk June 3 1794, on the subject of the application of a sum raised by subscription in that place for the relief of Amn. Captives in Algiers” (JPP description begins “Journal of the Proceedings of the President,” George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. description ends , 298).
2. H’s opinion, which is marked “Approved H Knox Wm Bradford,” is attached to Randolph’s letter and reads as follows:
“The Secretary of the Treasury agrees in the substance of what is proposed. The Answer may be
“‘That however great the interest which the President takes in the object of these contributions he is of opinion that he ought to decline any other agency concerning it than that which is provided for and prescribed by the Laws.’
“If these contributions have been set on foot by any political societies, a point which ought to be well understood, a mode of proceeding less respectful would be deemed adviseable. This is a matter in my opinion that would demand the utmost circumspection.
(Copy, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters. 1790–1799, National Archives.)
On June 19, 1794, Randolph wrote letters to Newton and to Morton in which he acknowledged their correspondence with him and incorporated H’s suggested paragraph almost verbatim (copies, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives).
On June 20, 1794, Randolph sent to Washington copies of his letter to Bradford, H, and Knox, H’s opinion, and the letters to Newton and Morton (ALS, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives).