Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Thomas Pinckney, 13 March 1793

From Thomas Pinckney

London 13 March 1793

Dear Sir

The printed copy of the Passport which I mentioned as being inclosed in my letter of the 11th. of last month not having been sent to me in time for that purpose I transmit it by this opportunity, and as Mr. Morris differs from me in opinion on this subject and his ideas may likewise prevail in America I here add extracts of my letters to him on this subject which contain my principal reasons for adopting this measure.

Our trade continues subject to great inconvenience both from our seamen being impressed under the idea of their being british subjects and from their entering voluntarily on board of the King’s Ships tempted by the present high bounties. I have had frequent conversations on this subject with Lord Grenville who always expresses himself to be sensible of the inconvenience to which we are subjected and desirous to apply a remedy but still nothing decisive is done. Our Consuls are permitted to protect from impressment such of our Seamen as are natives of America but no others, and the difficulty of determining by agreement who besides natives are to be considered as citizens of the U.S. will I fear, during the present generation at least, remain an obstacle to every other plan than that of letting the Vessel protect a given number of men according to her tonnage. I insist upon the terms of our act of Congress as the rule of discrimination and shew that in point of time it accords with an Act of their own relating to seamen.

I send herewith the transcript of a representation I made on the subject of British Officers detaining deserters from our Vessels under pretence of their being Englishmen and extorting the payment of their wages, on this last subject a question is now depending in the Court of Admiralty, the former remains without an answer from the Lords Commissioners of that department.

Lord Grenville having said that he wished me to have some conversation with Mr. Bond on account of his being particularly well acquainted with this subject, I told his lordship I had no objection to conversing with any person appointed by him on this subject—in a few days I received the inclosed note from Mr. Bond to which I sent the answer annexed in order to produce an explanation whereby neither more nor less than the proper degree of importance might be attached to the conference—when Mr. Bond came he said1 no commission to treat on the subject, we therefore agreed that it was to be considered altogether as an informal conversation. We discoursed at length upon the subject, but I do not find that we are nearer coming to a conclusion on the business than we were before—he appeared not to be prepared for the extent of the reciprocity which I contended should form the basis and pervade the whole of the transaction, for when he urged the point of our Seamen or at least their Captain in their behalf being furnished with testimonials of their being Americans before they left our Ports, I told him the inconveniencies arising from this procedure would be equally felt by both nations for that we should expect their seamen to be furnished with similar testimonials when they came to our ports to those they expected our mariners would bring to theirs; he asked in what instance it could become necessary (alluding I presume to our not being in the habit of impressing). I answered that unless we could come to some accomodation which might insure our seamen against this oppression measures would be taken to cause the inconvenience to be equally felt on both sides. I have not since seen Mr. Bond but find he is ordered out to America with the Title of Consul General for the middle and southern States.

I have lately heard from Mr. Morris who informs me that he has in his possession the paper on account of the absence of which I have suffered so much uneasiness and promises to return it by a Gentleman to whom I on sunday last sent a Passport to Calais; so that I am in hourly expectation of receiving it, and am happy to find that the mistake of sending both papers instead of one to Mr. Morris is likely to be attended with no worse consequence than what may arise from a short delay.

I inclose a letter sent to me by the Prussian Minister here to be forwarded from the King to his Consul at Philadelphia—you will oblige me by informing me of its delivery.

I likewise send herewith Mr. Vanderhorsts bond, the Law having left a latitude in the quantum of the security I have taken a middle term which I beleive will be equal to any property likely to come to his hands in this line, but I shall be glad of your instruction as to the sum in case of future occurrences of this nature.

An Armament is about to sail immediately for the West Indies destined as it is said to take possession of the French windward Islands in which attempt they are to be assisted by part of the inhabitants. I hope the French are convinced how much more beneficial it would be for them, for us to remain neuter than to interfere in the present disputes.

I have as yet received no official information of any of the belligerent powers having stopped our Vessels bound with grain going to the ports of their enemy; but I anxiously expect your instructions on this subject which I hope will meet the question in various points of view:’till I receive them I mean to contend for the amplest freedom of neutral bottoms. I have the honor to be with sentiments of the greatest respect Dear Sir Your most obedient and most humble Servt:

Thomas Pinckney

RC (DNA: RG 59, DD); at foot of text: “The Secretary of State”; endorsed by TJ as received 5 May 1793 and so recorded in SJL. PrC (ScHi: Pinckney Family Papers). Tr (Lb in DNA: RG 59, DD). Tr (MHi: Timothy Pickering Papers); consists of second paragraph only. Enclosures: (1) Passport for captains of United States ships (printed form, in English and French, in DNA: RG 59, DD; Tr in Lb in same). (2) Extract of Pinckney to Gouverneur Morris, 5 Mch. 1793, defending his issuance of passports to American ships sailing from British ports on the grounds that they are required by the treaty of amity and commerce with France when either nation is at war and that it would be impractical to oblige such ships to obtain them in the United States; pointing out, with respect to Morris’s fears that the practice will be abused and will endanger ships without passports, that he has enjoined consuls to issue no passports without due examination of each ship’s register; stating that he cannot now stop providing such papers without casting doubts on the nationality of ships subsequently denied them and that this practice will not affect ships leaving French ports because of their clearances by French customhouses; and pressing Morris to find out whether the French government intends to honor the treaty and especially if it will require passports for American vessels leaving British ports. (3) Extract of Pinckney to Morris, 8 Mch. 1793, promising to communicate “to our friends in the City” Morris’s opinion that the French government will scrupulously observe all stipulations in the treaty, noting the importance for “our carrying Trade” of French compliance with the treaty provision that “free Ships shall make free Goods,” and observing that the conduct of the French will eventually convince everyone of their pure intentions but that in the interim the United States must pay for the incredulity of France’s enemies. (4) Pinckney to Lord Grenville, 31 Dec. 1792, stating that after the American ship Governor Bowdoin, Edward Dowse master, bound from China to Ostend and thence to Boston, was recently driven into Ramsgate by a storm, several seamen under contract to make the round trip from Boston deserted to H.M.S. Iphigenia, Captain Sinclair commander, who not only refuses to restore them but threatens to detain Dowse’s ship unless he pays their wages, which by their contract they forfeited by jumping ship; objecting to the detention by British naval officers of deserting sailors from American ships who claim to be British subjects because the British take advantage of the similarity of language and habits, and the failure of seamen to carry papers, to give more weight to the testimony of deserters than to their contracts, because in the absence of a convention defining citizenship precisely decisions on such a point ought not to be left to naval officers acting as judges in their own cases, because it can lead to violence, and because it is not practiced by Americans or by other countries against Americans; suggesting that deserters have no right to their wages because contracts made abroad are valid, a point Britain recognizes by a law encouraging the service of foreign seamen in its own merchant marine, and because by desertion seamen not only invalidate their contracts but greatly harm their employers; and urging that regulations be adopted to resolve this problem. (5) Phineas Bond to Pinckney, 22 Feb. 1793, stating that Grenville this morning directed him to confer with Pinckney regarding American seamen, “with a view to form some Arrangement that may be compatible with the Interest and Convenience of the navigation of Great Britain and the United States,” and suggesting that they meet early next week. (6) Pinckney to Bond, 24 Feb. 1793, congratulating him on his diplomatic appointment and inviting him to confer two days hence (Trs in same, in the hand of William A. Deas; Trs in Lb in same). (7) Consular bond of Elias Vanderhorst, 10 Oct. 1792 (see note to Vanderhorst to TJ, 10 Oct. 1792). Other enclosure not found.

On 6 May 1793 TJ sent this letter to the President, who returned it the same day (Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 129). In discussions with Lord Grenville on the subject of our seamen being impressed, Pinckney argued that Britain should recognize as American citizens not only natives, but individuals naturalized under our act of congress of 26 Mch. 1790, which required only two years’ residence, a span agreeing in point of time with a 1740 British law which naturalized foreign mariners who served for two years in British naval or merchant ships in time of war. Pinckney cited the same act in his enclosed representation to Grenville to argue that Britain sanctioned the legality of service by foreigners in its own ships and could thus not oppose its validity in the vessels of other nations. Nevertheless, until 1870 Britain continued to maintain that the allegiance of its citizens was inalienable and could not be voluntarily relinquished (Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Compiled from Authentic Materials, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. The first two volumes of the set cited here have “Compiled … by Joseph Gales, Senior” on the title page and bear the caption “Gales & Seatons History” on verso and “of Debates in Congress” on recto pages. The remaining volumes bear the caption “History of Congress” on both recto and verso pages. Those using the first two volumes with the latter caption will need to employ the date of the debate or the indexes of debates and speakers. description ends , ii, 2264; J. Mervyn Jones, British Nationality Law and Practice [Oxford, 1947], 64n, 75n, 80–3). The paper which had occasioned Pinckney so much uneasiness was a cipher he had inadvertently mailed to Gouverneur Morris (Pinckney to TJ, 31 Jan., 5, 10 Feb. 1793; Morris to Pinckney, 2 Mch. 1793, DLC: Pinckney Family Papers).

On this date Pinckney also wrote TJ a brief note informing him that “Mr. Marshalls return to America affords me a safe opportunity of conveying the inclosed correspondence which I mentioned in a former communication” (RC in DNA: RG 59, DD, at foot of text: “The Secretary of State,” endorsed by TJ as received 4 May 1793 and so recorded in SJL, which contains the notation “Sayer’s correspdce”; Tr in Lb in same). The enclosures are identified in note to Pinckney to TJ, 8 Sep. 1792.

1Thus in RC. Here in Tr “he had” is interlined.

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