Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Thomas Pinckney, 28 August 1793

From Thomas Pinckney

London 28th. August 1793

Dear Sir

Having in my former communications related the conduct of this Government to the neutral powers with the reasons assigned by Lord Grenville for this conduct which reasons as far as they concern enemy’s property on board of neutral Vessels his lordship informed me he had directed Mr. Hammond to represent fully to our Government I have only to add that from subsequent conversations there does not appear any probability of the British Government relinquishing this point. These measures are attended for the present with greater inconvenience and consequent irritation to our citizens on account of the Court of Admiralty having as yet given no decision on the freight, demurrage &c. to be allowed to the Vessels brought in. On this subject I have made repeated applications (for although I am convinced of the respect due to the proceedings of the Judiciary of every nation, yet if in any case a delay of justice may be deemed equivalent to a denial it certainly may in the case of Vessels circumstanced as many of ours are) and the Court of Admiralty having adjourned to the 4th. of September without any decision on these points I reiterated my representation to the Secretary of State, who appeared to be surprized at the farther procrastination and I am from circumstances inclined to think that he will endeavor to accelerate this business at the time to which the Court stands adjourned.

As I thought it right that the evidence of our opposition to the measures pursued here should not rest merely on official conversations I took an opportunity of bringing forward the discussion in writing so far at least as to amount to an authentic document of our claim with some of the reasons in support of it, at the same time that I endeavor’d so to guard it, as to leave our Government unembarrassed in any line they might think proper to pursue. I enclose a copy of what passed on this subject.1 […]2 regiments are to embark in a short [time?] on a [secret?] expedition. They are to be commanded by Sir Charles Grey with Generals Stuart and [Dunda]s under him. Their destination is generally thought to be for the West Indies. You will observe in the news papers the Note delivered by the Russian Minister to the Court of Sweden from whence it appears that though they pursue the same line of conduct to the neutral powers they ground their conduct on a different principle, from what this country assigns as the reason for theirs. Thirty cases containing 9 tons, 11 hundred weight and 16 pounds of sheet copper for the Mint, price (including expences) £1230.1s Stg. were sent by the Pigou the remainder will follow shortly. I hope the quality and price will in some measure compensate the delay that attended the conclusion of this contract. I have deferred forwarding my account for want of those of the Consuls. I shall however wait no longer for them than till the sailing of the next Vessels. I transmit herewith a letter received from Mr. Digges & remain with sentiments of sincere respect Dear Sir Your faithful & obedient Servant

Thomas Pinckney

RC (DNA: RG 59, DD); written partly in code (see note 1 below); at foot of text: “The Secretary of State”; with penciled note by TJ beneath last four words preceding coded section: “copy so far only”; endorsed by TJ as received 4 Nov. 1793 and so recorded in SJL. PrC (ScHi: Pinckney Family Papers). Tr (Lb in DNA: RG 59, DD); lacks coded section. Tr (DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 3d Cong.,1st sess.); extract consisting of everything preceding coded section. Enclosures: (1) Pinckney to Lord Grenville, 22 July 1793, stating that in conformity to Grenville’s desire he was enclosing a memorandum on the American ship Eliza and a note on two other vessels, which together covered only a small part of the American ships brought into various British ports; that it was unnecessary to add to what he had personally mentioned to him on this subject; and that he relied on Grenville to prevent any needless aggravation of the inconveniences arising from what the United States government will assuredly regard as infringements of neutral rights. (2) Grenville to Pinckney, 31 July 1793, stating that he had directed inquiries to be made into the cases of the ships mentioned by Pinckney, but apprehends that they were currently insusceptible to government interference because they were all being legally adjudicated; that he would always strive to prevent as far as possible any inconveniences to American citizens resulting from the war in which the European maritime powers were engaged; that the steps taken by Britain, so far from being violations of neutral rights, were more favorable on that subject than the law of nations as established by the most modern and approved writers; and that the rule laid down here was particularly attentive to American commerce in the instance he had previously pointed out—an allusion, Pinckney explained in a subjoined note, “to Rice not being included in the prohibition.” (3) Pinckney to Grenville, [13 Aug. 1793], stating, in response to No. 2, that the United States regarded as violations of neutral rights those measures “which contravene the principle that free ships make free goods, and which prevent certain articles of Provision the Produce of the United States from being carried in their own Vessels to the unblockaded Ports of France”; that whatever doubts may once have existed, this principle had been accepted by a considerable majority of European maritime powers during the past twenty years, as witnessed by their practice in the last years of the Revolutionary War, the stipulations made in their treaties with the United States, and Britain’s own commercial treaty with France; that Britain benefitted as much from trade with the United States as with France; that it was contrary to reason for a neutral country to be debarred from intercourse with either of two contending belligerent powers in cases not immediately related to military operations; that belligerents had no right to seize enemy property in neutral territory (a doctrine adopted by the United States government in effecting the release of the Grange); that this principle also applied to neutral ships, as evidenced by the American practice during the late war of freeing British cargoes captured on such ships; that most of the same arguments applied with equal force to the practice of intercepting and bringing into British ports American provision ships bound for France; that the existence of lower prices in France than in Britain for the prohibited articles meant that the British could not adduce a well founded hope of reducing the French to famine as a legitimate justification for their blockade; that for lack of security American seamen brought into British ports as a result of this practice were exposed to hazards they otherwise would have avoided; that the blockade adversely affected America’s principal export, grain, and deprived Americans of needed French imports; that it subjected Americans to unusually harsh treatment by their British captors, made them susceptible to bribery, and threatened to disrupt friendly relations between the two countries; and that although he could easily offer other arguments, he would conclude by stressing that the United States sought no exemptions to which it was not entitled by reason and that it stood ready to reciprocate for any attentions to its commerce (Trs in DNA: RG 59, DD, at head of texts: “(Copy)”; Trs in Lb in same; Trs in DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 3d Cong., 1st sess.; with date of No. 3 supplied from PrC in ScHi: Pinckney Family Papers). Other enclosures printed below. Letter and Enclosures 1–3 printed in Message, 112–15. Letter and enclosures enclosed in TJ to George Washington, 5 Nov. 1793.

Reasons assigned by Lord Grenville: see Mayo, British Ministers, description begins Bernard Mayo, ed., “Instructions to the British Ministers to the United States 1791–1812,” American Historical Association, Annual Report, 1936 description ends 40–2. The note of 30 July 1793 from Notbeck, the Russian chargé d’affaires in Stockholm, to Fredrik Sparre, the grand chancellor of Sweden, announced that in consequence of an agreement with Great Britain, Catherine the Great was sending a fleet of 25 ships of the line and some frigates to cruise in the “North and East seas” in order to cut off French trading ships and provide protection against French privateers. The commander of this fleet was authorized to capture all French ships, regardless of the flag they flew, and to compel neutral vessels bound to France either to turn back or to enter a neutral port. In justification of these measures, Notbeck denied that Catherine was departing from her well-known support of the maritime rights of neutral nations in wartime and cited “the usurpers of the Government in France,” who “after having subverted all order, after having imbrued their murderous hands in the blood of their King, have declared themselves, by a solemn decree, the friends and protectors of all those who should commit the same horrors and excesses against their own Government in other States; and they have not only promised them succours and every assistance, but even attacked, by force of arms, most of the adjacent Powers” (London Chronicle, 29–31 Aug. 1793). In contrast, the British government justified its own blockade of France on the ground that depriving an enemy nation of provisions was a legitimate means of forcing it to agree to reasonable peace terms (Mayo, British Ministers description begins Bernard Mayo, ed., “Instructions to the British Ministers to the United States 1791–1812,” American Historical Association, Annual Report, 1936 description ends , 41)

On 31 Aug. 1793 Pinckney wrote a brief letter to TJ stating that, at the request of “Baron de Raigersfeld Secretary to the Imperial Mission at this Court,” he was introducing Mr. and Mrs. William Payne Georges, “who purpose passing the winter in America,” so that through his good offices “they will meet with that reception in our Society to which they are intitled by their own merits as well as by the very respectable recommendation of the Baron” (RC in DLC; at foot of text: “Mr. Jefferson”; endorsed in part by TJ as “private”; recorded in SJL as received 9 Dec. 1793).

1The next three sentences are written in code, the text being deciphered in part by the Editors using partially reconstructed Code No. 16.

2Undeciphered code 497.

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