From Rufus King
London Sep. 10. 1796
I received this morning a Letter from Mr. Monroe dated Paris August 28.1 of which the following is an extract—“As soon as the order of this Government, as notified by the minister of foreign Affairs2 to Barthelemi3 the present Ambassador at Basle appeared in the Papers,4 for it was never notified to the foreign ministers here, I applied for information whether orders were issued for the Seizure of neutral vessels, stating Equally as the motive of my application a report apparently well authenticated, that one of our vessels had been lately taken near our own coast,5 and was informed that no such order was issued, and further that none such would be, in case the British did not seize our vessels. I am happy to give you this information, because I flatter my self the Knowledge of this fact may be useful in respect to our commerce with the Country in which you reside.” I have in a former Letter6 told you that the British Government deny that any order has been lately issued, or that any order exists, authorising the seizure of neutral Cargoes bound to the french ports as was alledged to be the case in the Letter from the french Minister of for. Affairs to Barthelemi. The foregoing Extract is all I know from Mr. Monroe respecting the Resolution of the french Government communicated by their Minister of for. Affairs to their Ambassador at Basle. You will have seen the Letter to Barthelemi, which is undoubtedly authentic, and you now have what mr. Munroe reports as the result of his Application on the Subject. I make no comments nor inferences—you have the Materials and can make your own interpretations.
Very sincerely Yrs
ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
1. James Monroe’s letter was written in reply to the following letter from King to Monroe, August 11, 1796: “… a few days since a paper was published in the English Gazettes, purporting to be a letter from the Directory to Mr. Barthelemi, in which the French government announces their intention to stop the cargoes of all neutral vessels bound to the English ports, and assigns as the cause and justification of this measure a recent order of the British government to stop the cargoes of all neutral vessels bound to French ports …” (King, The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King description begins Charles R. King, ed., The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King (New York, 1894–1900). description ends , II, 78). Monroe’s letter of August 28 is printed in Monroe, A View of the Conduct of the Executive description begins James Monroe, A View of the Conduct of the Executive, in the Foreign Affairs of the United States, Connected with the Mission to the French Republic, During the Years 1794, 5 & 6 (Philadelphia: Printed by and for Benjamin Franklin Bache, 1797). description ends , 364.
2. Charles Delacroix.
3. François (later Marquis de) Barthélemy was French Ambassador to Switzerland until his election to the Directory in 1797.
4. Delacroix’s letter of August 7, 1796, to Barthélemy reads: “The French government is informed that the English, after having stopped, during the war, under the most frivolous pretexts, every neutral vessel, have just given the most positive orders to the commanders of their ships of war, to seize, indiscriminately, all the cargoes which they may suppose to be destined for the French.
“Whatever injury France may have sustained from this conduct, she has, nevertheless continued to give the only example of the most inviolable respect for the law of nations, which constitutes the pledge and security of their civilization. But, after having long tolerated the offence of this Machiavelian system of policy, she at length finds herself compelled, by the most urgent motives, to have recourse to reprisals against England.
“The Executive Directory, therefore, orders all the political agents of the French Republic to inform the different governments, that the squadrons and privateers of the Republic will act against the ships of every country, in the same manner in which those governments suffer the English to act against them.
“This measure ought not to surprise them, since it would be very easy to demonstrate that it is imperiously prescribed by necessity, and is only the effect of a lawful defence. If these powers had known how to make their commerce respected by the English, we should have had no occasion to have recourse to this afflicting extremity.
“They will recollect, that the French Republic, ever generous, proposed to all the belligerent powers to respect commerce; but that this proposition, honourable to the government which made it, and dictated by the most perfect philanthropy, was rejected with pride, by a government accustomed to treat with contempt the most sacred laws of humanity, &c.” (Debrett, A Collection of State Papers description begins John Debrett, A Collection of State Papers, Relative to the War against France Now carrying on by Great-Britain and the several other European Powers, Containing Authentic Copies of Treaties, Conventions, Proclamations, Manifestoes, Declarations, Memorials, Remonstrances, Official Letters, Parliamentary Papers, London Gazette Accounts of the War, &c. &c. &c. Many of which have never before been published in England (London: Printed for J. Debrett, opposite Burlington House, Piccadilly, 1794–1797). description ends , V, 76.)
5. On August 15, 1796, Monroe wrote to Timothy Pickering: “I lately received an account from England of the capture of one of our vessels upon our coast, on the point of entering one of our ports, taken by a french privateer, upon a presumption she had English property on board, as she was cleared out of that country. Although this report was not so well authenticated nor accompanied with the necessary details to enable me to act officially on it, yet … I communicated it immediately to the Minister of Marine asking him whether such orders were given. He appeared astonished at the report and declared that none such were issued …” (LC, RG 59, Despatches from United States Ministers to France, 1789–1869, Vol. 4, August 15, 1794–October 21, 1796, National Archives). This is a reference to the seizure of an American ship, the Mount Vernon, by the Flying Fish, a French privateer. See Oliver Wolcott, Jr., to H, June 14, 17, 1796.
6. Letter not found.
7. Angelica Church, H’s sister-in-law.
8. Thomas Pinckney, whom King had succeeded as United States Minister Plenipotentiary to Great Britain.