Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to George Hammond, 16 February 1793

To George Hammond

Philadelphia Feb. 16. 1793.


I have duly recieved your letter of yesterday with the statement of the duties payable on articles imported into Great Britain. The Object of the Report, from which I had communicated some extracts to you, not requiring a minute detail of the several duties on every article, in every country, I had presented both articles and duties in groups, and in general terms, conveying information sufficiently accurate for the Object. And I have the satisfaction1 to find, on reexamining the expressions in the Report, that they correspond with your statement as nearly as generals can with particulars.2 The differences which any nation makes between our commodities and those of other countries, whether favorable or unfavorable to us, were proper to be noted: but they were subordinate to the more important questions What countries consume most of our produce? exact the lightest duties? and leave to us the most favorable balance?

You seem to think that in the mention made of your official communication of Apr. 11. 1792.3 that the clause in the Navigation act (prohibiting our own produce to be carried in our own vessels into the British European dominions) would be strictly inforced in future, and the private belief expressed at the same time that the intention of that court did not go so far, that the latter terms are not sufficiently accurate. About the fact it is impossible we should differ, because it is a written one. The only difference then must be a merely verbal one. For thus stands the fact.4 In your letter of Apr. 11. you say you have recieved by a circular dispatch from your court directions to inform this government that it had been determined in future strictly to inforce this clause of the navigation act. This I considered as an official notification. In your answer of Apr. 12. to my request of explanation, you say ‘in answer to your letter of this day, I have the honor of observing that I have no other instructions upon the subject of my communication than such as are contained in the circular dispatch of which I stated the purport in my letter dated yesterday. I have however no difficulty in assuring you that the result of my personal conviction is that the determination of his Majesty’s government to inforce the clause of the act &c. is not intended to militate against the Proclamation &c.’ This personal conviction is expressed in the Report as a private belief in contradistinction to the official declaration. In your letter of yesterday you chose to call it ‘a formal assurance of your conviction.’ As I am not scrupulous about words, when they are once explained, I feel no difficulty in substituting, in the Report, your own words ‘personal conviction’ for those of ‘private belief’ which I had thought equivalent. I cannot indeed insert that it was a formal assurance, lest some readers might confound this with an official one, without reflecting that you could not mean to give5 official assurance that the clause would be enforced, and official assurance at the same time of your personal conviction that it would not be enforced.

I had the honor to acknowledge verbally the receipt of your letter of the 3d. of August, when you did me that of making the enquiry verbally about six weeks ago:6 and I beg leave to assure you that I am with due respect, Sir your most obedt. & most humble servt

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); at foot of text: “Mr. Hammond M. P. of G. Britain.” PrC of Dft (DLC); at head of text in ink: “not sent”; enclosed in TJ to George Washington, 16 Feb. 1793, and subsequently amended (see below); recorded in SJPL as “not sent.” FC (Lb in DNA: RG 59, DL). Tr (Lb in PRO: FO 116/3). Tr (same, 5/1). Only the most significant differences between the PrC and the PrC of Dft are recorded below.

TJ this day submitted the Dft of this letter to Washington, who advised him to omit his reply to Hammond’s query as to whether the British minister’s letter of 3 Aug. 1792 had been laid before Congress “because it was a request which Mr. H. had no right to make.” TJ accepted the President’s advice and amended the letter accordingly (Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 55; see also note 6 below). In fact Hammond’s letter had not been submitted to Congress. For an explanation of the dispute that had arisen over the announcement of the British government’s intention to enforce the clause in the navigation act, see Hammond to TJ, 11 Apr. 1792, and note.

1Preceding three words interlined in place of “am happy” in PrC of Dft.

2Remainder of paragraph not in PrC of Dft.

3All the words from this point to the first comma are within parentheses in PrC of Dft.

4This sentence not in PrC of Dft.

5PrC of Dft: “could not give.”

6Here the PrC of Dft contains the following passage: “But to the remaining interrogatory Whether I ‘ever laid it before the two houses of legislature’? I will take my answer from an authority to which I am sure you will subscribe, and which is so replete with good sense, and it’s terms so well chosen, that I need seek nothing out of it. ‘I must therefore observe to you, Sir, that in my quality of Secretary of state to the United States, I cannot receive any communication on the part of a foreign minister but for the purpose of laying it before the President, and of taking his orders upon it; and that the deliberations of the two houses of legislature, as well as the communications, which it may please the President to make to them, relative to the affairs of this country, are objects entirely foreign from all diplomatic correspondence, and upon which it is impossible for me to enter into any discussion whatever with the ministers of other countries.’ I have the honor to be with great consideration Sir your most obedient & most humble servt.” In the margin alongside this passage TJ wrote lengthwise: “The Presidt. thought that it would be […], to avoid irritation.”

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