Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, 26 November 1791

To George Washington

Questions to be considered of.

I. As to France.

Shall it be proposed to M. de Ternan, to form a treaty, ad referendum, to this effect. ‘The citizens of the U. S. and of France, their vessels, productions and manufactures shall be received and considered, each in all the dominions of the other, as if they were the native citizens, or the ships; productions or manufactures of that other. And the productions of the sea shall be received in all the dominions of each as if they were the productions of the country by the industry of whose citizens they have been taken or produced from the sea. Saving only as to the persons of their citizens, that they shall continue under those incapacities for office, each with the other, which the Constitution of France, or of the U.S. or any of them, have or shall establish against foreigners of all nations without exception.’

If not, Shall a treaty be proposed to him, ad referendum, in which the conditions shall be detailed on which the persons ships, productions and manufactures of each shall be received with the other, and the imposts to which they shall be liable be formed into a tariff?

Shall the Senate be consulted in the beginning, in the middle, or only at the close of this transaction?

II. As to England.

Shall Mr. Hammond be now asked Whether he is instructed to give us any explanations of the intentions of his court as to the detention of our Western posts, and other infringements of our treaty with them?

Shall he be now asked whether he is authorised to conclude, or to negotiate, any commercial arrangements with us?

Th: Jefferson
Nov. 26. 1791

RC (DNA: RG 59, MLR); addressed: “The President of the U. S.”; docketed by Washington: “Questions to be considered of in the Negotiations with the French and British Ministers”; noted in SJPL: “[1791. 26 Nov.] heads of consultn. treaty with France.—do. Engld.” PrC (DLC). Tr (DNA: RG 59, SDC).

The question of whether to begin negotiations with the British and French ministers on commercial treaties was yet another part of the continuing struggle between TJ and Alexander Hamilton to direct the course of American foreign policy. Hamilton initiated this phase of the conflict on 7 Oct. 1791 by discussing commercial relations between France and the United States with Ternant while the President and the Secretary of State were absent from the nation’s capital. Hamilton noted America’s interest in expanding its trade with the French West Indies and sought to ascertain whether the French minister was authorized to carry out a 2 June 1791 decree of the National Assembly calling for the negotiation of a new treaty of commerce with the United States. Ternant, who lacked such authority, drew Hamilton’s attention to the considerable commercial concessions France had already made to the United States in the West Indies and then repeated familiar complaints about the unfairness of American tonnage duties to French shipping. Hamilton defended the tonnage duties, but noted that all commercial difficulties between the two countries could be eliminated through a new trade treaty, an objective he ardently professed to favor. After Ternant pointedly observed that continued American adherence to the French alliance was an essential precondition for a new commercial treaty, the Secretary of the Treasury brought the conversation to a close by assuring the French minister that the United States would never agree to a treaty of commerce with Great Britain unless it received a share of the carrying trade with the British West Indies (Ternant to Montmorin, 9, 24 Oct. 1791, Turner, CFM description begins Frederick J. Turner, “Correspondence of French Ministers, 1791–1797,” American Historical Association, Annual Report, 1903, II description ends , p. 57–62).

Having thus laid the groundwork for commercial negotiations with the French minister, Hamilton met with the President after his return to Philadelphia and convinced him that TJ and Ternant should arrange the terms of a new treaty of commerce with France and then submit them to the French government. TJ strongly disagreed with Hamilton’s proposed course of action, arguing that it would bind the United States while leaving France free to accept or reject the American terms, but Washington overruled him and ordered him to proceed with the projected treaty. The President then sent him the following brief note: “As the meeting proposed to be held (at nine o’clock tomorrow morning) with the heads of the Great Departments, is to consider important subjects belonging (more immediately) to the Department of State—The President desires Mr. Jefferson would commit the several points on which opinions will be asked to Paper, and in the order they ought to be taken up.” TJ thereupon prepared the draft treaty contained in the letter printed above, which was designed to grant a reciprocal right of naturalization to American and French citizens with respect to trade (Washington to TJ, 25 Nov. 1791; RC in DLC; not recorded in SJL; FC in DNA: RG 59, MLR; headed: “To the Secretary of <the Treasury> State”; Tr in DNA: RG 59, SDC; see also TJ to John Adams, with enclosure, 28 July 1785, for a similar plan of treaty; Memoranda of Conversations with President, 11 Mch.-9 Apr. 1792).

Although TJ’s draft was approved during a cabinet meeting held on this day, he was also instructed to add a section to the treaty dealing more specifically with trade duties and manufacturing bounties. TJ thus prepared a somewhat modified version of his original treaty proposal; as he noted several months later, it called for “exchanging the privileges of native subjects, and fixing all duties forever as they now stood.” TJ’s proposal aroused the opposition of Hamilton, who maintained that these duties were already too low. As a result, the Secretary of the Treasury submitted a new tariff of duties to Washington that proposed significant increases in the rates on French goods (Memoranda of Conversations with President, 11 Mch.-9 Apr. 1792; Tariff of duties, undated, but written before 9 Dec. 1791; DLC: Hamilton Papers; text in Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–1979, 26 vols. description ends , xiii, 409–10; an undated summary by TJ of Hamilton’s tariff is in DLC: TJ Papers, 72: 12597; see also Washington to TJ, 9 Dec. 1791).

TJ sharply disagreed with Hamilton’s suggested increases during a discussion of the tariff at a cabinet meeting in the middle of December 1791. He remarked later that their adoption would have been equivalent to asking the French “to give us the privileges of native subjects, and we, as a compensation, were to make them pay higher duties” (Memoranda of Conversations with President, 11 Mch.-9 Apr. 1792). But TJ was even more offended when Hamilton went on to suggest that, in addition to negotiating a new treaty of commerce with Ternant, TJ also begin negotiations with George Hammond for a commercial treaty with Great Britain. Although Washington at first favored this suggestion, TJ resolutely opposed it. He suspected that Hamilton wanted to maneuver him into offering less favorable terms to Ternant than to Hammond so as to frustrate his negotiations with the French and thus pave the way for the conclusion of a commercial treaty with Great Britain that would inevitably destroy the American alliance with France. Nor was TJ’s suspicion unjustified. Unbeknownst to him, Hamilton had told George Beckwith in February 1791 that an Anglo-American treaty of commerce would definitely lead to the dissolution of the French alliance, and in December 1791 he revealed to Hammond that he was at work on a report designed to demonstrate that Britain’s system of commercial regulations was more favorable to the United States than that of France (Conversation with George Beckwith, 16 Feb. 1791; Conversation with George Hammond, 15–16 Dec. 1791; View of the Commercial Regulations of France and Great Britain, [1792–1793], Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–1979, 26 vols. description ends , viii, 43, x, 374, xiii, 411–36).

Ultimately, TJ prevailed upon Washington by the end of 1791 to reject Hamilton’s proposal for simultaneous commercial negotiations with Ternant and Hammond and to rely instead on the American minister in Paris to solicit overtures from the French government for a new commercial treaty—the position TJ had favored all along. Hamilton did not object. He had failed to elicit any assurance from Hammond that the British government was prepared to grant the United States a share of the British West Indian carrying trade, a concession Hamilton regarded as a sine qua non of any Anglo-American commercial agreement (TJ to William Short, 24 Nov. 1791, 5 Jan. 1792; Proposed Treaty of Commerce with France, [26 Nov. 1791]; TJ to Hamilton, 23 Dec. 1791; TJ to Washington, 23 Dec. 1791; Conversation with George Hammond, 1–8 Jan. 1792, Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–1979, 26 vols. description ends , x, 495–6; TJ to Gouverneur Morris, 10 Mch. 1792; Memoranda of Conversations with President, 11 Mch.-9 Apr. 1792; George F. Zook, “Proposals for a New Commercial Treaty between France and the United States, 1778–1793,” South Atlantic Quarterly, viii [1909], 267–83).

Index Entries