Thomas Jefferson Papers

Report on Petition of John Mangnall, 14 November 1791

Report on Petition of John Mangnall

The Secretary of State, to whom was referred by the Senate of the United States, the petition of John Mangnall, has had the same under consideration, and thereupon makes the following Report.

He finds that Congress, on the application of the petitioner, resolved on the 27th. day of September, 1780, that the profit of the capture of the Dover cutter should be divided among the captors, and that the honorable Mr. Jay, their minister plenipotentiary at the Court of Madrid, should be instructed to endeavor to obtain for the said captors, the benefit intended by their resolve of October 14th. 1777.

That such instructions were accordingly sent by the Committee for foreign Affairs to Mr. Jay, who continued, during his residence there, to press the settlement of this claim, under very varying prospects, as to the result.

That after he came to the direction of the office for foreign affairs, he continued to press the same subject through our Chargé des Affaires at Madrid; and it has been since resumed, and urged in the strongest terms by the Secretary of State.

That as yet no information is received of what has been done, or is likely to be done.

That the circumstances of the country where this business has been to be transacted, have rendered the transmission and receipt of letters at all times difficult and precarious, and latterly in a remarkable degree: but still, that there will be no remission of endeavors to obtain justice for the petitioner and his associates.

As to so much of the said petition as prays, that the petitioner may be allowed a pension from the public until his claim shall be decided at the Court of Madrid, the Secretary of State observes, that in times of war, questions are continually arising on the legitimacy of capture, on Acts of piracy, on Acts of violence at sea, and in times of peace, on seizures for contraband, regular and irregular, which draw on discussions with foreign nations, always of long continuance, and often of results in which expedience, rather than justice, renders acquiescence adviseable; that some such cases are now depending between the governments of the United States, and of other countries; that a great number of applications might be made for pensions on the same ground with the present, both now and hereafter; that it is not known that the claims are just ‘till they are heard and decided on, and even when decided to be just, the government from which it is due, is alone responsible for the money: and he is therefore of opinion, that such pension ought not to be granted.1

Th: Jefferson
Nov. 14. 1791.

PrC (DLC); in clerk’s hand, except for signature and date; on verso in clerk’s hand: “Recorded and Examined”; report transmitted with TJ to the Senate, 14 Nov. 1791 (PrC in DLC); at foot of text: “The Vice president of the U.S. President of the Senate.” FC (DNA: RG 59, SDR); preceded by text of Senate resolution, attested by Samuel A. Otis, reading: “In Senate, November 3d: 1791. Ordered, That the petition of John Manghnal, this day presented and read, be referred to the Secretary of State, to report to the Senate thereon.” TJ submitted this report to Washington on 10 Nov. 1791, marking out the paragraph mentioned in textual note below (RC in DNA: RG 59, MLR; FC in DNA: RG 59, SDC: letter only, with note at foot: “NB. The Report above mentioned was on the petition of John Mangnall, and is filed with the Reports from the Secretary of State”). Lear acknowledged the receipt of the report on 11 Nov. 1791 stating that “the President conceives the Secretary’s Report on the Petition of John Mangnall contains what is right and proper on that subject” (PrC in same; FC in DNA: RG 59, SDC).

The Senate read a petition from John Mangnall on 2 Nov. 1791 asking for “compensation for certain losses sustained in the sea service during the late war” and on the following day asked TJ to report on it. TJ’s recommendation that Mangnall’s request for the payment of a pension be denied met with the approval of the Senate, which read the Secretary of State’s report this day and then ordered Mangnall’s petition to be tabled (JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, Gales, 1820–1821, 5 vols. description ends , i, 336, 340; Petition of John Mangnall to Senate and House of Representatives, 1 Nov. 1791, DNA: RG 59, MLR).

For an explanation of the Dover case, see TJ to William Carmichael, 11 Apr. 1791.

1In the report to the President on 10 Nov. 1791, TJ first wrote and then deleted a different version of the final paragraph: “As to so much of the petition as prays that a pension may be allowed him until the adjustment of his claim, it will rest with the wisdom of the Senate to decide on it’s reasonableness. The precedent will indeed be new, and may bring on other applications in similar cases to which the irregular conduct of officers, military and civil, have given rise, and will perpetually give rise. But if they shall percieve that the measure is right, the consequence that it will lead to repetitions in other cases equally right ought to be met.”

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