Thomas Jefferson Papers

Memorial from George Hammond, with Jefferson’s Notes, 8 May 1793

Memorial from George Hammond, with Jefferson’s Notes

The Undersigned, his Britannic Majesty’s Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States of America, has the honor of representing to the Secretary of State that he has received information from various respectable quarters that a considerable quantity of arms and military accoutrements, which an agent of the French government has collected and purchased in this country, is now preparing to be exported from New York to France.

The secrecy, with which a transaction of this nature is generally conducted, has rendered it impossible for the Undersigned to procure precise proof of it. Entertaining however no doubt of the existence of the fact, he esteems it his duty to lay it immediately before the executive government of the United States, which he trusts will deem it more expedient (if any measures for the purpose can be devised) to prevent the execution of this contravention of the President’s proclamation than to expose vessels belonging to its citizens to those dangers and difficulties which may result from the circumstance of their carrying articles of the description above mentioned.

    8th May 1793.

Geo. Hammond

[Notes by TJ:]

expressions of our desire that no aids of arms or other contreband goods should be furnished by our citizens
but that such are the difficulties of interfering that we must leave it on
H. and J. pro.
R. reluctant
K. contre
the footing of the L. of nations, by abandoning private adventurers to the external penalty, and at the same time, that all the belligerent parties shall have equal liberties on this subject.
disdain responsibility for acts of citizens
government has reported in proclamation it’s abandonment of individuals

RC (DNA: RG 59, NL); in the hand of Edward Thornton, signed by Hammond; at foot of first page: “The Secretary of State”; with subjoined penciled notes by TJ; endorsed by TJ as received 8 May 1793 and so recorded in SJL. FC (Lb in PRO: FO 116/3). Tr (same, 115/2). Tr (same, 5/1). PrC of Tr (DLC); in the hand of George Taylor, Jr. PrC of Tr (DNA: RG 59, MD); in Taylor’s hand. Tr (Lb in same, NL). Tr (DLC: Genet Papers). Tr (same); in French. Tr (AMAE: CPEU, xxxvii); in French. Enclosed in TJ to Jean Baptiste Ternant, 15 May 1793, TJ to Gouverneur Morris, 13 June 1793, and TJ to Thomas Pinckney, 14 June 1793.

William Stephens Smith, the son-in-law of Vice President John Adams, was the agent of the french government referred to by Hammond. Sir John Temple, then the British consul general stationed in New York City, had recently informed Hammond that a French agent there was seeking to procure 50,000 stand of arms for France, but Temple identified him as Smith only in a subsequent letter to the British foreign minister (Temple to Hammond, 23 Apr. 1793, to Lord Grenville, 24 Apr. 1793, PRO: FO 5/2). Hammond himself had been aware for some time of Smith’s arms-purchasing activities in New York City for the French government (Hammond to Grenville, 7 Mch., 2 Apr. 1793, same, 5/1). In writing the above memorial to TJ, as Hammond subsequently explained to the British foreign minister, “I was well aware that it could not operate to the prevention of these arms from being exported, but I judged it proper to obtain from this government a formal and explicit assurance that it would not protect its citizens in these proceedings: And I further thought that the knowledge of the circumstance of my having communicated the fact might induce the persons concerned in the project, if not to abandon it, at least perhaps to postpone its execution” (same to same, 17 May 1793, same). For the outcome of Hammond’s complaint, see TJ to Hammond, and TJ to Jean Baptiste Ternant, both 15 May 1793.

TJ’s subjoined notes consisted of points to be included in the sections of his 15 May 1793 letters to Hammond and Ternant on the official attitude of the United States government toward arms purchases by American citizens for a belligerent power. Internal evidence clearly shows that the Cabinet considered the issues recorded in these notes during its deliberations on the drafts of the letters to the British and French ministers, which apparently took place between 13 and 15 May 1793. Hammond himself, who was regularly informed of Cabinet proceedings by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, claimed that the Cabinet pondered TJ’s letter to him for three days, and other evidence suggests that two of these meetings took place on 14 and 15 May 1793 (Hammond to Grenville, 17 May 1793, PRO: FO 5/1; Henry Knox to Washington, 16 May 1793, DLC: Washington Papers; Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 132, 137).

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