Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Jean Baptiste Ternant, 20 March 1793

To Jean Baptiste Ternant

Philadelphia March 20th. 1793.


I have to acknowledge the receipt of your note of the 6th. instant, on the claim of an inheritance of lands in North Carolina, supposed to have devolved from M. Giroud on Monsr. Preau, a Citizen of France, by virtue of the 11th. article of our treaty of Commerce. I have not received any letter on the subject from the President or Trustees of the University of North Carolina, or any other person. Indeed I could hardly expect to receive such a letter, as it would be quite improper in the Executive to give an opinion on the subject. It is purely a question of property which must be decided by the tribunals of the Country, who alone in litigated cases are competent to expound the laws of the land, among which, and of a paramount nature, is the treaty in question. To these tribunals therefore Mr. Preau must appeal, and I can refer him to them with the more satisfaction from my entire confidence that he will receive at their hands the most perfect justice. I am with great and sincere esteem, Sir your most obedient & most humble Servant.

PrC (DLC); in a clerk’s hand, unsigned; at foot of text: “The Minister of France.” FC (Lb in DNA: RG 59, DL).

Ternant’s note of the 6th, recorded in SJL as received the same day, has not been found. Evidently Preau was seeking to recover escheated lands in North Carolina which the state had granted to the University of North Carolina under an act of 21 Dec. 1789. In December 1792 he had petitioned the University, whose trustees decided to defer action and ask “some of our members in Congress” to obtain a ruling from the Secretary of State on whether Article 2 of the 1778 treaty of commerce with France, which gave French subjects rights of inheritance in the United States, applied to real as well as personal property (R. D. W. Connor and others, eds., A Documentary History of the University of North Carolina, 1776–1799, 2 vols. (Chapel Hill, 1953), i, 45–7, 182, 186–7; Miller, Treaties description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and other International Acts of the United States of America, Washington, D.C., 1931–48, 8 vols. description ends , ii, 11–12). There is no evidence that TJ was ever consulted in this matter by representatives of the University and the ultimate fate of Preau’s appeal is unknown.

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