Thomas Jefferson Papers

Notes on the Citoyen Genet and Its Prizes, 20 May 1793

Notes on the Citoyen Genet and Its Prizes

Qu. shall the Privateer fitted out at Charleston, and her prizes be ordered out of the ports of the US.?May 20. 93.

  • I. As Punishment.
    • explain circumstance which drove Genet into the Southern passage
      • induced him to land at Charleston
      • Fr. citizens solliciting commission to arm.—Governr. winking at it.
    • words of XXII. art. shall not be lawful for enemies of Fr. fit out privateers
      • Implication that it shall be lawful for French.
      • so understood universally. by every one here—by ourselves at Charleston—by Genet.
      • still true that is not expressly permitted—may be forbidden.
      • but till forbidden must be slight offence.
      • the Prohibition to be future, not Retrospective.
  • II. Right.
    • What Right to order away?
      • XVII. makes Lawful to enter with prizes and stay.
      • in whom is the Right to these privateers and prizes?
      • Fr. citizens retain fidelity in foreign country
        • have right to return to defence of country by sea or land.
        • may confer on that, associate, contribute money
        • may buy vessel with own money—man her themselves
        • on condition commit no hostility within limits of US.
        • as soon as out of limits themselves and vessel free as any other.
        • Fr. citizens ante-residents, on same footing as new visitants.
      • when take a vessel at sea, property transferred by laws of war.
        • this point understood at former conference.
        • for if not transferred should be given up.
        •    if right transferred then XVIIth. article authorises entry
        •     no half-way act justifiable.
      • obj. it is Punishment for the offence.
      • ans. no offence till forbidden.—looks only to future.
  • III. Policy of this Touchiness.
    • Minister newly arrived
    • First from the Republic
    • Popularity of French nation and cause.
    • Proposals he brings
      • no call of Guarantee
      • free trade to islands } by treaty
        to France
    • shall such a mission be received with reprimand?
    • and for whom. for England?
      •   for confederated princes?
      • our reward the Cyclops’ boon to Ulysses. last devoured. Od. ι. 369
    • are we playing the part England plaid? force France to attack us?
      • that we may take side with the Confederated princes?
      •  the party wishing that is very small.
  • [On verso:]
  • H. and K. were of opinion for giving up the prize, but if that could not
    • be, then to order away the privateer and prize; and if that could not
    • be, then to order away the privateer.
  • T.J. of opinion that neither could be given up or ordered away.
  • E.R. for ordering away the privateer and nothing more.
  • The President confirmed the last opinion and it seemed to be his own.

MS (DLC); entirely in TJ’s hand, with all but the final four paragraphs written on recto and the rest at another time on verso (see note below). Entry in SJPL: “Notes on proposn to order away a privateer fitted out at Charleston.” Included in the “Anas.”

This document consists of two sections evidently written at different times on 20 May 1793. The first part, containing all but the four paragraphs written on verso, consists of notes of points TJ planned to make at a Cabinet meeting on the subject of the Citoyen Genet, The privateer fitted out at Charleston by direction of the new French minister, Edmond Charles Genet, and the William and the Active, the British prizes it had brought to Philadelphia (see note to Opinion on the Restoration of Prizes, 16 May 1793). Since TJ did not date the second part, which consists of the notes on the Cabinet’s deliberations on this subject that he set down on verso—the only known record of this meeting—the tentative presumption is that this session took place on 20 May 1793. Soon thereafter TJ orally informed Genet of the President’s decision that French privateers commissioned in the United States had to be withdrawn from American ports in order to preserve

the nation’s neutrality, a determination he confirmed in writing for the French minister some two weeks later in response to Genet’s defense of the validity of his privateering commissions (Genet to TJ, 27 May 1793; TJ to Genet, 5 June 1793).

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