Thomas Jefferson Papers

Cabinet Memorandum on French Privateers, [1 June 1793]

Cabinet Memorandum on French Privateers

[1 June 1793]

On the letters and papers from Genl. Williams and Colo. Smith.

It is the opinion that the writers be informed that1 with respect to vessels armed and equipped in the ports of the US. before notice to the contrary was given, the President is taking measures for obliging them to depart from the ports of the US. and that all such equipments in future are forbidden: but that as to the prizes taken by them, no power less than that of the legislature can prohibit their sale.—That as the Attorney General is to pass through Baltimore shortly, it is better that this answer be given verbally by him, any2 other gentleman being free to do the same in writing in his private capacity. Also that they be informed that3 measures are taken for punishing such citizens as have engaged in hostilities by sea against nations at peace with the US.

MS (DLC); entirely in TJ’s hand, unsigned; undated, but probably drafted on 1 June 1793 (see note below); notation added at foot of text by TJ at a later date: “May. [about the end of the month] 1793.” Recorded in SJPL under 24 May 1793: “Opn on equipments in ports of US.—on selling prizes here.” Enclosed in TJ to Alexander Hamilton, 1 June [1793], and Hamilton to TJ, 3 June 1793.

Despite TJ’s notation on the manuscript and his entry in SJPL, which were undoubtedly made years later, the Secretary of State evidently prepared this document for a Cabinet meeting that he held on 1 June 1793 with Attorney General Edmund Randolph and Secretary of War Henry Knox to consider the letters and papers submitted to the President by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton relating to concerns that had arisen in Maryland over the threat to American neutrality posed by the sale in American ports of prizes captured by French privateers fitted out in the United States, and to report to the President their opinion on what action the federal government should take in the matter (for the documents and the antecedents to the meeting, see Randolph to TJ, 31 May 1793, and note). Although Randolph and Knox approved the memorandum in its final form at the meeting—hence the conjectural date assigned above—the President and the Secretary of the Treasury were unable to attend. Hamilton signified his approval two days later, and Washington’s sanction can be inferred from a letter the Attorney General wrote to him describing a conversation with Congressman Samuel Smith in Baltimore on the “subject of his letter to Colo. Hamilton” (see descriptive note above; Randolph to Washington, 11 June 1793, DLC: Washington Papers).

The notice forbidding the fitting out of foreign privateers in American ports was implied in Washington’s Proclamation of Neutrality and made explicit in TJ’s letters of 15 May 1793 to George Hammond and Jean Baptiste Ternant. TJ announced the measures for obliging the privateers to depart from American ports in his 5 June 1793 letters to Hammond and Edmond Charles Genet. Randolph planned to pass through Baltimore shortly on a trip to Virginia undertaken at the President’s behest to gauge public reaction to the Washington administration’s neutrality policy (for his reports to the President, see Randolph to Washington, 11 and 24 June 1793, DLC: Washington Papers; see also John J. Reardon, Edmund Randolph: A Biography [New York, 1974], 232–4). For the measures taken against American citizens engaged in hostilities by sea, see TJ to William Rawle, 15 May 1793, and Memorial from Genet, 27 May 1793, and note.

Samuel Smith wrote a letter to TJ of 1 Aug. 1793 that is recorded in SJL as received from Baltimore on 7 Aug. 1793, but has not been found.

1TJ here canceled “the President is taking.”

2Word added and remainder of sentence interlined.

3TJ here canceled “orders.”

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