Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from George Washington, 19 August 1793

From George Washington

August 19th: 1793


I send, for the consideration and opinion of the Heads of the Departments and the Attorney General of the U.S. a communication from the Governor of Pennsylvania respecting the Privateer Citizen Genet—together with Copies of two letters from the French Consul to the Governor on the same subject, and a Report of two persons who had examined the Aforesaid Privateer by the Governor’s order.1

The Gentlemen will decide whether the circumstances reported respecting the unfitness of the said Privateer to proceed to sea, are such as would make it proper to depart from the rules already adopted, and2 allow a longer time for her to prepare to depart than is granted by the Governor—or whether the orders given by him on this head shall be executed.

It will be seen that this Subject requires dispatch—and the Secretary of War will inform the Governor of the result of your deliberations on this subject as soon as it is given.

Go: Washington

RC (DLC); in Tobias Lear’s hand, signed by Washington; at foot of text: “The Secretary of State”; endorsed by TJ as received 19 Aug. 1793. Dft (DNA: RG 59, MLR); entirely in Lear’s hand; with two significant variations noted below. FC (Lb in same, SDC); wording follows Dft. Recorded in SJPL. Enclosures: (1) Thomas Mifflin to Washington, Philadelphia, 19 Aug. 1793, stating that he is enclosing copies of Nos. 2 and 4, which he received in consequence of a letter he wrote to Dupont and communicated to Henry Knox on the 17th, and a copy of No. 3, which was prompted by the need to investigate allegations about the Citoyen Genet’s want of provisions, leakage, and poor rigging prior to ordering the ship peremptorily to depart; and that though No. 3 will give the President a chance to exercise any discretion he thinks proper, he himself does not think that it would be consistent with the instructions of 16 Aug. to grant the ship the eight-day indulgence requested by Dupont and therefore will order it this morning to leave port within twenty-four hours while allowing it to take on provisions (FC in PHarH: Governor’s Letterbook). (2) François Dupont to Mifflin, 17 Aug. 1793, stating that since the Citoyen Genet was without provisions and leaking, and its sails were torn up, he wishes the governor to ask the President to allow the ship to stay eight days in Philadelphia for repairs; and that he is astonished at the guards who have seized French ships, a practice that stands in sharp contrast to the favorable treatment the National Convention’s 9 May decree has extended to American ships vis-a-vis those of other neutral nations. (3) William Allen and John Justice to Mifflin, 17 Aug. 1793, stating that, having investigated the Citoyen Genet at his request, they find it to be so unseaworthy by virtue of battle damage that even the crew refuses to remain on it. (4) Dupont to Mifflin, 19 Aug. 1793, stating that, since the Citoyen Genet had been properly commissioned as a French privateer in Charleston and departed before the Proclamation of Neutrality became known there, and in view of French treaty rights and the poor condition of the ship, he hopes the President will allow it the time needed to make itself seaworthy in Philadelphia; that even without a treaty armed ships cannot be refused such a favor; and that he is not authorized to comply with his request to alter the ship but has transmitted it to the owners (RCs in same, Executive Correspondence; Nos. 2 and 4 in French).

Under the terms of a 16 Aug. 1793 circular letter from Henry Knox, the Citoyen Genet was one of five French privateers fitted out in the United States to which state governors were enjoined to deny asylum in American ports (Knox to Mifflin, 16 Aug. 1793, PHarH: Executive Correspondence; Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 221). The Cabinet agreed this day that the Secretary of War should inform Governor Mifflin that the President was willing to allow the Citoyen Genet to make itself seaworthy in Philadelphia, but only if it transformed itself from an armed privateer to an unarmed merchant ship, a decision of which Knox promptly informed Mifflin in a letter written by TJ’s chief clerk, George Taylor, Jr. (Knox to Mifflin, 19 Aug. 1793, PHarH: Executive Correspondence; Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 224). Mifflin immediately notified Dupont, the French consul in Philadelphia, of Washington’s offer, but before the Citoyen Genet could take advantage of it, the ship was attached by order of the United States District Court of Pennsylvania, apparently in response to a complaint by the owner or agent of one of the privateer’s prizes. Its privateering career was thus ended temporarily, though once the attachment was lifted it left port and resumed operations (Mifflin to Dupont, 19, 20 Aug. 1793, to the Captain of the Citoyen Genet, 20 Aug. 1793, to the Commander of Fort Mifflin, 20 Aug. 1793, and to Washington, 20, 21 Aug. 1793, in PHarH: Governor’s Letterbook; TJ to Edmond Charles Genet, 16 Sep. 1793; George Hammond to Lord Grenville, 17 Sep. 1793, PRO: FO 5/1; Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends , xv, 372–3; Woodfin, “Citizen Genet,” 607–8).

1Dft here adds “which were enclosed in the Governors letter to me.”

2Preceding seven words interlined in Dft.

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