To Alexander Hamilton
Philadelphia May 8. 1793.
I had wished to have kept back the issuing passports for sea vessels, till the question should be decided Whether the treaty with France should be declared void, lest the issuing the Passport prescribed by that treaty might be considered as prejudging the question. The importunities however of the owners obliging me to give out a few, I had them printed in the Dutch form only. Not then having sufficiently considered on the best mode of distributing them, I took the liberty, as an expedient of the moment, of sending 7. (the number of vessels then waiting in this port) to Mr. Delaney, asking the favor of him to fill them up and deliver them for me. Application for another parcel coming, and the applicant not being able to wait himself till I could send them to be signed by the President, he desired I would lodge them with Mr. Coxe on whom it would be convenient for him to call for them. I did so: and afterwards sent a second parcel of a dozen, which were pressingly requested.
The President having now decided that the French passport may also be issued, it is at this time in the press, and the whole instrument compleat, with the two passports, sea-letters, and certificates in it’s final form, will be ready for signature tomorrow. It has therefore now become necessary to determine on the ultimate channel of distributing them. I am not the judge whether the task of distribution might interfere too much with the other duties of the collectors of the customs. If it would not, their position seems best accomodated to that distribution. I took the liberty therefore to-day of proposing to the President that, if you should think there would be no inconvenience in charging them with the distribution, the blanks might be lodged with them; of which he approved: and I have now the honor of submitting that question to you. If you find no inconvenience in it, I will send 500 blanks, as soon as they shall be signed, either to your office or to that of the Commissioner of the revenue, whichever you shall prefer, to be forwarded to the collectors of the different ports; and from time to time afterwards will keep up a supply. Should it however, in your opinion, interfere too much with the other duties of those officers, I will submit to the President the depositing them with the deputy marshals appointed or to be appointed in every port. I will ask the favor of your answer, as the applications are numerous and pressing, and I am unwilling to be further troublesome to the gentlemen who have hitherto been so kind as to fill up and deliver them for me till some arrangement could be made which might relieve me personally from a business with the details of which I was not acquainted. I have the honor to be with great respect, Sir, Your most obedt & most humble servt
PrC (DLC); at foot of first page: “The Secretary of the Treasury.”
The documents issued by governments to protect neutral ships in wartime were uniformly identified as “Sea Letters or Passports” in American commercial treaties with France, the Netherlands, and Prussia, and both terms were used interchangeably by TJ, Washington, and others at this time to describe what the Secretary of State in this letter more precisely called the the whole instrument compleat, with the two passports, sea-letters, and certificates. But even TJ’s description reflects the ambiguity in nomenclature which reigned at the time (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, 23–4, 80–2, 172–3; TJ to Sharp Delany, 30 Apr. 1793; Tench Coxe to TJ, 4, 7 May 1793; Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 122, 138). See also Moore, Digest description begins John B. Moore, A Digest of International Law, Washington, D.C., 1906, 8 vols. description ends , ii, 1045–69.
The document being readied by the Department of State actually consisted of two sections. The first—a proclamation that permission had been granted to a ship to leave a given American port after it had been visited and its captain had sworn to the ship’s American ownership—was signed by the President and counter-signed by the Secretary of State, and was sometimes referred to as the “passport” or “sea letter” in its own right. Below it was a certification of the captain’s oath by the mayor or magistrate of the port; this certificate followed the wording of the “Form of the Sea-Letter” appended to the 1782 Dutch treaty and the sea letters granted by the Confederation Congress to ships bound for the East Indies and China before 1789 (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, 86–7; JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, D.C., 1904–37, 34 vols. description ends , xxvi, 58–9). For an example of the less obsequious form of the certificate used between 1789 and the outbreak of war in 1793, see the “sea letter” issued for the ship Fair American on 23 Nov. 1791 (printed form with blanks filled in a clerical hand, Mrs. Frank B. Crowninshield, Montchannin, Delaware, 1954; signed by Washington, countersigned by TJ).
Three different forms of this composite document were issued successively. Between 29 Apr. and 14 May 1793 Washington signed a total of 109 passports printed in parallel columns in Dutch and English, but by 10 May he was signing passports in French, Dutch, and English (Washington, Journal, 122, 123, 128, 133, 136, 137, 138). At first the Dutch and English forms were printed on one side of the document and the English and French forms on the other. Since the French and Dutch treaties both contained appendices giving the forms to be followed in making out passports, as well as one for sea letters in the Dutch case (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, 28–9, 85–8), this design allowed the language called for in both treaties to be given almost verbatim (passport for schooner Amazon, 23 Sep. 1793, printed form with blanks filled in a clerical hand, in NjP: Andre deCoppet Collection; in Dutch and English on one side and English and French on the other; signed by Washington, countersigned by TJ; lacks certificate). See also Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends , xiv, 443–5n, for the text of a Dutch-English part of a complete 18 June 1793 passport of the same type. However, by June 1793 the two-sided passport had been replaced by a single-sided passport containing French, English, and Dutch versions in parallel columns, with the English and Dutch texts following the form given in the Dutch treaty and the French text following that prescribed in the French treaty (passport for brig Polly, 24 Aug. 1793, printed form with blanks filled in a clerical hand, in MeB; in parallel columns of French, English, and Dutch; signed by Washington, countersigned by TJ). See also TJ to Gouverneur Morris, 13 June 1793. This format continued into TJ’s presidential administration, by which time a fourth column in Spanish had been added in accordance with the Pinckney Treaty of 1795 with Spain (passport for schooner Lucy, 14 July 1801, printed form with blanks filled in a clerical hand, in MH; in French, Spanish, English, and Dutch parallel columns; signed by TJ, countersigned by James Madison). See also 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, 332–4, 339–43.