Thomas Jefferson Papers

Circular to American Merchants, 27 August 1793

Circular to American Merchants

Philadelphia August 27th: 1793.


Complaint having been made to the Government of the United States of some instances of unjustifiable vexation and spoliation committed on our merchant vessels by the privateers of the Powers at War, and it being possible that other instances may have happened of which no information has been given to the Government, I have it in charge from the President to assure the merchants of the United States, concerned in foreign commerce or navigation, that due attention will be paid to any injuries they may suffer on the high seas, or in foreign countries, contrary to the law of Nations, or to existing treaties; and that on their forwarding hither well authenticated evidence of the same proper proceedings will be adopted for their relief: the just and friendly dispositions of the several belligerent Powers afford well founded expectation that they will not hesitate to take effectual measures for restraining their armed vessels from committing aggressions and vexations on our citizens or their property.

There being no particular portion or description of the mercantile body pointed out by the laws for receiving communications of this nature, I take the liberty of addressing it to the merchants of New-York for the State of New York,1 and of requesting that thro’ them it may be made known to all those of their state whom it may concern. Information will be freely received either from the individuals aggrieved, or from any associations of merchants who will be pleased to take the trouble of giving it in a case so interesting to themselves and their country. I have the honor to be with great respect, Gentlemen, Your most obedt. servt.

Th: Jefferson

RC (CtY: Woolsey Family Papers); in a clerk’s hand, signed by TJ. PrC to Charleston merchants (DLC); in a clerk’s hand, with dateline and signature by TJ; at head of text in ink in the hand of George Taylor, Jr.: “copy this only once.” PrC to Savannah merchants (DLC); in a clerk’s hand, with dateline and signature by TJ; at head of text in ink by Taylor: “Duplte.” PrC to Boston merchants (DLC: TJ Papers, 92: 15809); in a clerk’s hand; undated and unsigned. PrC to Portsmouth merchants (same, 15807); in a clerk’s hand; undated and unsigned. FC (Lb in DNA: RG 59, DL); follows Charleston text; at head of text: “To—.” Enclosed in TJ’s first letter to George Washington, 26 Aug. 1793. The following list identifies recipients of this circular and those to whom it was entrusted by the covering letters recorded below:

New Hampshire. Portsmouth. John Langdon.
Massachusetts. Boston. Messrs. Russel Jones, Higgenson & Parsons Thos. Russel
Rhode Island. Providence. Messrs. Brown, Franks, Clarke, & Nightengale. John Brown
Connecticut. Hartford. Jeremiah Wadsworth.
New York New York. The Chamber of commerce Constable
New Jersey. Elizabethtown. Laurence, Dayton & Co. & Wm. Shute. Mr. Laurence
Pennsylvania. Philadelphia. Nixon, Fitzsimmons, Wilcocks, Swanwick, Nesbitt, Crawford, Ball, Gurney, Vanuxem, Miller, Waln, Stewart, Ralston.
Delaware. Wilmington. Jacob Broom
Maryland. Baltimore Messrs. Mc.Henry Gilmer & Sterrett. Mr. Mc.Henry
Virginia. Richmond The mayor of the City of Richmond.
North Carolina. Newbern. Messrs. Turner, Mc.Kinly, Sheppard, Mc.Carthy, Davis & Guion Mr. Turner mercht. Newbern N. Carolina
South Carolina. Charleston. The Chamber of commerce. delivd. to Mr. Butler
Georgia. Savannah. Messrs. Wayne, Cuningham, Mc.Readie & Hill do. to Mr. Butler

(PrC in DLC: TJ Papers, 92: 15812, in a clerk’s hand, undated; FC in Lb in DNA: RG 59, DL). The covering letters were of two types. In those sent to individuals, one of which was dated 27 Aug. 1793, TJ wrote: “I take the liberty of putting under cover to you the inclosed letter, and of asking the communication of it according to its superscription” (RC in Ct, in a clerk’s hand, signed and franked by TJ, and addressed by George Taylor, Jr.: “The Honorable Jeremiah Wadsworth Merchant Hartford Connecticut”; PrC of another RC in DLC: TJ Papers, 92: 15810, in a clerk’s hand, undated and unsigned; FC in Lb in DNA: RG 59, DL, undated, addressed “To ——”). In those sent to groups TJ wrote: “I take the liberty of requesting you to communicate the inclosed to the merchants of  ” (PrC in DLC: TJ Papers, 92: 15811, in a clerk’s hand, undated and unsigned; FC in Lb in DNA: RG 59, DL, undated, addressed “To ——”)

This initiative to gather evidence of depredations on American shipping by the European belligerent powers was probably triggered by the merchants of Philadelphia, who met in mid-August 1793 and appointed a standing committee of thirteen “to collect information respecting the capture or detention of vessels belonging to the citizens of the United States by the cruisers of the nations at war, and to lay the same before the President of the United States, with such representations as they may think necessary.” The thirteen names initially chosen match the Pennsylvania recipients of the circular given in the list above (Dunlap’s American Daily Advertiser, 13, 15 Aug. 1793; William F. Keller, “American Politics and the Genet Mission, 1793–1794” [Ph.D. diss., University of Pittsburgh, 1951], 306–7).

A draft of this letter was evidently “prepared by the Heads of Depmts.” prior to TJ’s submission of it on 26 Aug. 1793 to the President, who returned it with his approval the same day (Washington, Journal, description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends 231).

TJ received a brief acknowledgement of this circular in a letter of 31 Aug. 1793 from James Constable at New York, promising to present it to the next meeting of the Chamber of Commerce of that city and advising that the addressee, his brother William, “has been in Europe since the Year 1791, from whence he will return early next Spring” (RC in DNA: RG 59, MLR; mistakenly endorsed by TJ as a letter from John Constable received 3 Sep. 1793 and so recorded in SJL). The following missing letters probably also acknowledged receipt of the circular: Jacob Broom to TJ, Wilmington, 31 Aug. 1793, recorded in SJL as received 2 Sep. 1793; Thomas Russell to TJ, Boston, 15 Sep. 1793, recorded in SJL as received 2 Oct. 1793; and Russell “and others” to TJ, Boston, 15 Sep. 1793, recorded in SJL as received 2 Oct. 1793.

One method by which the merchants made known TJ’s letter was through publication in local newspapers (see, for example, the New-York Journal, & Patriotic Register, 7 Sep. 1793, where the circular is mistakenly dated 17 Sep. 1793; the Hartford American Mercury, 9 Sep. 1793; and the Portsmouth New Hampshire Gazette, 24 Sep. 1793). The Richmond merchants had the circular and TJ’s covering letter to the mayor printed for separate distribution (broadside in DLC: John Tyler Papers, filed with covering letter from John Barret, Benjamin Harrison, and J. Aaron to unnamed addressee, Richmond, 6 Sep. 1793).

1Relevant city and state substituted in other texts.

Index Entries