Thomas Jefferson Papers

Edmund Randolph’s Opinion on the Case of Gideon Henfield, 30 May 1793

Edmund Randolph’s Opinion on the Case of Gideon Henfield

The Attorney general of the United States has the honor of submitting to the Secretary of State the following Opinion on the Case of Gideon Henfield, as represented by the Minister of France.

1. It may well be doubted, how far the Minister of France has a right to interfere. Henfield is a citizen of the United States; and it is unusual at least, that a foreign Power should interfere in a Question, whether as a citizen, a man has been guilty of a Crime? Nor can an authority be derived from Henfield being under the protection of the french Republic; because being still a citizen, he is amenable to the laws, which operate on citizens, and the very act, by which he is said to have been taken under such protection, is a violation of the sovereignty of the United States. If he be innocent, he will be safe in the hands of his countrymen: if guilty, the respect, due by one Nation, to the decrees of another, demands, that they be acquiesced in.

2. But Henfield is punishable; because treaties are the Supreme law of the land; and by treaties with three of the powers at war with France, it is stipulated, that there shall be a peace between their subjects, and the citizens of the United States.

3. He is indictable at the common Law; because his conduct comes within the description of disturbing the Peace of the United States.

Edm: Randolph
May 30. 1793.

MS (DLC); in the hand of George Taylor, Jr., with signature and date by Randolph; endorsed by TJ as received 30 May 1793. PrC of Tr (DNA: RG 59, MLR); in a clerk’s hand. PrC of another Tr (DLC); in a clerk’s hand. Tr (DLC: Genet Papers). Tr (NNC: Gouverneur Morris Papers). Tr (PRO: FO 97/1). Tr (DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 3d Cong., 1st sess.). Tr (DLC: John Trumbull Letterbook). Tr (DLC: Genet Papers); in French. Tr (same); in French; draft translation of preceding Tr. Tr (AMAE: CPEU, xxxvii); in French. Printed in Message, description begins A Message of the President of the United States to Congress Relative to France and Great-Britain. Delivered December 5, 1793. With the Papers therein Referred to. To Which Are Added the French Originals. Published by Order of the House of Representatives, Philadelphia, 1793 description ends 25–6. Enclosed in TJ to Edmond Charles Genet, 1 June 1793, TJ to Gouverneur Morris, 13 June and 16 Aug. 1793, and TJ to Thomas Pinckney, 14 June 1793.

For the case of Gideon Henfield as represented by the Minister of France, see Memorial from Edmond Charles Genet, 27 May 1793, and note. The treaties with three of the powers at war with France were the 1782 treaty of amity and commerce with the Netherlands, the 1783 peace treaty with Great Britain, and the 1785 treaty of amity and commerce with Prussia (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, 59–88, 151–83).

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