Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 28 April 1793

To James Madison

Philadelphia Apr. 28. 1793.

Dear Sir

Yours of the 12th. inst. is received, and I will duly attend to your commission relative to the ploughs. We have had such constant deluges of rain and bad weather for some time past that I have not yet been able to go to Dr. Logan’s to make the enquiries you desire, but I will do it soon. We expect Mr. Genest here within a few days. It seems as if his arrival would furnish occasion for the people to testify their affections without respect to the cold caution of their government. Would you suppose it possible that it should have been seriously proposed to declare our treaties with France void on the authority of an ill-understood scrap in Vattel 2.§.197. [‘toutefois si ce changement &c—gouvernement’] and that it should be necessary to discuss it?—Cases are now arising which will embarras us a little till the line of neutrality be fairly understood by ourselves, and the belligerant parties. A French frigate is now bringing here, as we are told, prizes which left this but 2. or 3. days before. Shall we permit her to sell them? The treaty does not say we shall, and it says we shall not permit the like to England? Shall we permit France to fit out privateers here? The treaty does not stipulate that we shall, tho’ it says we shall not permit the English to do it. I fear that a fair neutrality will prove a disagreeable pill to our friends, tho’ necessary to keep us out of the calamities of a war. Adieu, my dear Sir your’s affectionately

Th: Jefferson

RC (DLC: Madison Papers); at foot of text: “Mr. Madison”; brackets in original. PrC (DLC). Tr (DLC); 19th-century copy.

During the Cabinet meeting of 19 Apr. 1793, Alexander Hamilton had cited this ill-understood scrap in vattel, a noted eighteenth-century authority on international law, in support of his contention that the overthrow of the French monarchy justified the United States government in suspending or renouncing its treaties with France. For TJ’s interpretation of this passage from Vattel, see Opinion on the Treaties with France, Document IV in a group of documents on that subject at 28 Apr. 1793. See also Notes on Washington’s Questions on Neutrality and the Alliance with France, [6 May 1793].

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