Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from George Hammond, 12 September 1793

From George Hammond

Philadelphia 12th September 1793


I have the honor of transmitting to you, a copy of an additional instruction, given by his Majesty’s order in council, to the Commanders of the British armed vessels, respecting the commerce of neutral nations with France in the article of grain, and also with regard to such French ports as may in the course of the war be blocked by the vessels of his Majesty, or of the other powers engaged in the war.

In communicating to you this paper, it is necessary for me to remark that, by the law of nations, as laid down by the most modern writers, it is expressly stated that all provisions are to be considered as contraband and as such liable to confiscation, in the case where the depriving an enemy of these supplies, is one of the means intended to be employed for reducing him to reasonable terms of peace. The actual situation of France is notoriously such as to lead to the employing this mode of distressing her by the joint operations of the different powers engaged in the war: And the reasoning, which in these authors applies to all cases of this sort, is certainly much more applicable to the present case, in which the distress results from the unusual mode of war employed by the enemy himself—in having armed almost the whole labouring class of the French nation, for the purpose of commencing and supporting hostilities against all the governments of Europe. But this reasoning is most of all applicable to the circumstances of a trade, which is now in a great measure entirely carried on by the actually ruling party of France itself; and which is therefore no longer to be regarded, as a mercantile speculation of individuals, but as an immediate operation of the very persons who have declared war, and are now carrying it on against Great Britain. On these considerations therefore the powers at war would have been perfectly justifiable, if they had considered all provisions as contraband, and had directed them as such to be brought in for confiscation.

But the present measure pursued by his Majesty’s government, so far from going to the extent, which the law of nations and the circumstances of the case would have warranted, only has prevented the French from being supplied with corn, omitting all mention of other provisions, and even with respect to corn, the regulation adopted is one, which, instead of confiscating the cargoes, secures to the proprietors, supposing them neutral, a full indemnification for any loss they may possibly sustain.

With respect to the rule that has been adopted relative to ports blockaded—it is conformable to the general law and practice of all nations, and the exception, there mentioned as to Denmark and Sweden, has reference to existing treaties with those powers, and cannot therefore give any just ground of umbrage or jealousy to other powers, between whom and Great Britain no such treaties subsist.

Before I conclude this letter, I deem it proper to express my hope that you, Sir, will perceive in the communication itself of this paper a proof of my willingness, to furnish this government with any intelligence that may be interesting to it, and thereby to anticipate the necessity of enquiries on the subject: And I cannot avoid farther adding my conviction1 that the explanation I have now given of this measure, will satisfactorily evince the propriety of recurring to it in the present instance. I have the honor to be, with Sentiments of great respect, Sir, Your most obedient humble Servant,

Geo. Hammond

RC (DNA: RG 59, NL); in a clerk’s hand, signed by Hammond; at foot of first page: “Mr Jefferson”; with notation by TJ: “seizure of corn on high seas”; endorsed by TJ as received 13 Sep. 1793 and so recorded in SJL. FC (Lb in PRO: FO 116/3). Tr (same, 5/1). Tr (DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 3d Cong., 1st sess.). Tr (Lb in DNA: RG 59, NL). Enclosure: Enclosure No. 1 listed at Thomas Pinckney to TJ, 5 July 1793. 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 , 110. Enclosed in TJ to George Washington, 15 Sep. 1793.

Hammond had recently received the additional instruction enclosed with a 5 July 1793 letter from Lord Grenville (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). With the exception of the final paragraph, his letter is taken almost verbatim from the British foreign minister’s dispatch.

1Preceding two words interlined.

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