Edmund Randolph to William Bradford,
Alexander Hamilton, and Henry Knox
Philadelphia December 9th. 1794
The Secretary of State begs the favor of the opinion of the Secretaries of the Treasury and of War, and of the Attorney General upon the inclosed Letter of Mr. Hammond, of the 9th. ultimo.1 The point on which your advice will be particularly interesting is, whether the government of the United States is bound to urge the payment requested?
LC, RG 59, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, Vol. 7, June 27–November 30, 1794, National Archives.
1. Although George Hammond’s letter of November 9, 1794, has not been found, it concerned the capture in 1793 of the “British Brig William Tell, taken by a french armed vesel, within a mile of … [the United States] shores … and brought into New York” (Thomas Jefferson to Edmond Charles Genet, September 9, 1793 [LC, RG 59, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, Vol. 5, February 4, 1792–December 31, 1793, National Archives]). The British, who demanded the payment of damages, maintained that “all Losses and Damages which may have been sustained by His Majesty’s Subjects by reason of the Capture of their Vessels and Merchandize, taken within the limits and jurisdictions of the States, and brought into their Ports, or taken by Vessels originally armed in Ports of the said States,… shall be compensated by the United States” (Lord Grenville to Hammond, March 7, 1794 [LC, 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]). See also Article 7 of the Jay Treaty in Miller, Treaties, II description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America (Washington, 1931), II. description ends , 252–53. In response to Hammond’s request for the payment of damages in his letter of November 9, Randolph replied on December 29, 1794: “I do myself the honor of informing you, that after mature consideration of your letter of the 9th ultimo, the President of the United States does not consider our Government as responsible to effect, beyond the ordinary course of judiciary process, the payment of the Damages in question; but he will use his endeavours by a representation to the French Republic thro’ our Minister there to procure such payment” (LC, RG 59, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, Vol. 8, December 6, 1794–October 12, 1795, National Archives). On December 30, 1794, Randolph wrote to James Monroe, United States Minister Plenipotentiary to France: “I do myself the honor of inclosing to you two Records, one in the case of the Brigantine Catharine belonging to … Citizens of the United States, the other in the case of the William Tell, belonging to a British Subject. You will perceive that they have both been unjustly seized by the French Ship of War L’Ambuscade, and that damages have been assessed accordingly. But there is no redress, unless the French Republic becomes responsible for the acts of its own public Cruizers. You will therefore be pleased to make such representations upon this subject as the nature of the affair will admit, and as existing circumstances may render proper. At the same time you will observe from the enclosed Letter which I wrote to Mr. Hammond, what the sense of our Government is, with respect to the compensation urged by him in his letter of the 9th. ultimo for the owners of the William Tell …” (LC, RG 59, Diplomatic and Consular Instructions of the Department of State, 1791–1801, Vol. 2, August 22, 1793–June 1, 1795, National Archives).