Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Timothy Pickering, 30 January 1797

From Timothy Pickering

Philadelphia Jany. 30. 1797.1

Dear Sir,

I am sorry to have so long delayed an answer to your letter of the 23d. but we have been unusually occupied, and the decrees you referred to were not readily found: that of the 28th of May 1793 I have now discovered in a printed volume of the proceedings of the Convention for that month. So I now inclose you copies—2

1st of the decree of May 9th 1793, violating our treaty, by rendering neutral vessels laden with provisions liable to capture, as well as enemy’s property on board neutral vessels.

2d. of the decree of 23d May, repealing the former in respect to American vessels.

3d. of the decree of the 28th of May reversing the last decree.

4th. of the decree of July 1st 1793, repealing that of the 28th of May.

These appear to be all the decrees referred to in your letter: but there must have been a subsequent one alike violating our treaty,3 which Mr. Monroe forbore to ask the repeal of, lest, as he said, the French Government should demand a performance of the guarantee:4 yet the very claims in behalf of American merchants whose properties had been captured, were to be made by him on the principle that the decree in question was a violation of our treaty. After this matter was pressed upon him by Randolph (as well as I recollect) he urged the repeal, which was passed Jany. 4th 1795.5 If this decree and that which it repeals will be useful to you, copies shall be furnished.

It appears probable from the tenor of some of Gouv. Morris’s letters,6 that the decree of 9th May & 28th of the same month, were passed (at least the latter) to answer the views of the captors of certain vessels taken before the 9th of May—and that of May 28th specially to ennable the captors to hold the ship Lawrance.7

I am with great & sincere respect   Dr. Sir, your obt. servt.

T. Pickering

Alexander Hamilton Esq.

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1In JCHW description begins John C. Hamilton, ed., The Works of Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1851–1856). description ends , VI, 204, this letter is incorrectly dated June 30, 1797.

2For the French decrees listed by Pickering, see H to Pickering, January 23, 1797, note 1.

3The “subsequent” decree was dated July 27, 1793, and reinstated the decree of May 9, 1793 (Duvergier, Lois description begins J. B. Duvergier, Collection Complète des Lois, Décrets, Ordonnances, Réglemens, et Avis du Conseil-d’Etat, Publiée sur les Editions Officielles du Louvre; de L’Imprimerie Nationale, Par Baudouin; et Du Bulletin des Lois (Paris, 1824–1825). description ends , VI, 71). Under its authority numerous condemnations occurred.

4On September 15, 1794, James Monroe wrote to Secretary of State Edmund Randolph: “… I was not instructed to desire a repeal of the decree, and did not know but that it had been tolerated, from the soundest motives of political expedience. This Republic had declined calling on us to execute the guarantee, from a spirit of magnanimity, and a strong attachment to our welfare. This consideration entitled it to some attention in return. An attempt to press it, within the pale of the stipulation contained in the … articles of the treaty of Amity and commerce, might … create a disposition to call on us to execute that of the treaty of alliance” (LC, RG 59, Despatches from United States Ministers to France, 1789–1869, Vol. 4, August 5, 1794-October 21, 1796, National Archives).

5This decree is dated January 3, 1795, and reads: “Considering that since, and notwithstanding the notoriety with which … [the British] cabinet contrives to insult and violate the rights of neutral nations by causing their vessels charged with merchandise, destined for the ports of France, to be seized, yet the National Convention has enjoined it, by the seventh article of the law of the 13th of this month, upon all officers, civil and military, strictly to observe, in all their dispositions, the treaties which unite France with the neutral Powers of the ancient continent, as likewise with the United States of America, declaring all articles of a contrary import in any other law to be absolutely null and void.

“Fully, therefore, to carry into effect the said law, according to its true intent and meaning, it is hereby ordered:

“Art. 1. The Commission of Marine and of the Colonies shall notify, without delay, to all the commanders of armed vessels, divisions, and squadrons, the articles above mentioned of the law of the 13th of this month; and in consequence, that they are to consider the fifth article of the arrêt of the 25th Brumaire last, which authorized the seizure of merchandises belonging to an enemy, on board neutral vessels, until such enemy shall have declared French property on board such vessels free, as now null and void.

“Art. 2. The merchandises called contraband, though belonging to a neutral Power, shall continue subject to seizure.

“Art. 3. All arms, instruments, and munitions of war of every kind, horses, and their equipage, and all kind of merchandises and other effects, destined for an enemy’s port, actually blockaded or beseiged, shall be deemed contraband of war.” (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, III, 286.)

6See Gouverneur Morris to Thomas Jefferson, June 25, 1793; Morris to Pierre Henri Héléne Marie LeBrun-Tondu, June 19, 1793 (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, I, 366–68).

7Pickering was mistaken, for the ship in question was the Laurens. In a report to Congress dated February 27, 1797, he wrote: “… on the 28th of May, the Convention repealed their decree of the 23rd. The owners of a French privateer that had captured a very rich American ship, (the Laurens) found means to effect the repeal, to enable them to keep hold on their prize” (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, I, 748).

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