James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 28 April 1793

From Thomas Jefferson

Philadelphia Apr. 28. 1793.

Dear Sir

Yours of the 12th. inst. is received, and I will duly attend to your commission relative to the ploughs. We have had such constant deluges of rain & bad weather for some time past that I have not yet been able to go to Dr. Logan’s to make the enquiries you desire, but I will do it soon. We expect mr. Genest here within a few days.1 It seems as if his arrival would furnish occasion for the people to testify their affections without respect to the cold caution of their government. Would you suppose it possible that it should have been seriously proposed to declare our treaties with France void on the authority of an ill-understood scrap in Vattel 2.§.197. (‘toutefois si ce changement &c—gouvernement’)2 and that it should be necessary to discuss it? Cases are now arising which will embarras us a little till the line of neutrality be fairly understood by ourselves, & the belligerant parties. A French frigate is now bringing here, as we are told, prizes which left this but 2. or 3. days before. Shall we permit her to sell them? The treaty does not say we shall, and it says we shall not permit the like to England? Shall we permit France to fit out privateers here? The treaty does not stipulate that we shall, tho’ it says we shall not permit the English to do it. I fear that a fair neutrality will prove a disagreeable pill to our friends, tho’ necessary to keep us out of the calamities of a war. Adieu, my dear Sir. Your’s affectionately

Th: Jefferson

RC (DLC); FC, Tr (DLC: Jefferson Papers).

1Edmond Charles Genet, French minister to the U.S., landed at Charleston on 8 Apr. and arrived in Philadelphia on 16 May.

2In a meeting on 19 Apr., the cabinet discussed whether or not the 1778 treaty with France was still valid, since the French government had changed from a monarchy to a republic. According to Jefferson’s “Anas,” Edmund Randolph said that the treaty remained valid, but on Hamilton’s “undertaking to present to him the authority in Vattel (which we had not present) and to prove to him that, if the authority was admitted, the treaty might be declared void, E. R. agreed to take further time to consider.” In the section from which Jefferson here quotes, Vattel observed: “However, if these changes [which have taken place within a state] are such as to render the alliance useless, dangerous, or unsatisfactory to him [the sovereign], he is at liberty to disclaim it; for he can say with good reason that he would not have entered into an alliance with that Nation if it had been under its present form of government.” On 22 Apr. Washington issued the Neutrality Proclamation, and on 28 Apr. Jefferson submitted to him a report on the French treaty which rebutted Hamilton’s arguments and the reference from Vattel (Ford, Writings of Jefferson description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (10 vols.; New York, 1892–99). description ends , 1:227, 6:217, 218–31; Vattel, Law of Nations [1916 ed.], 3:175; Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , 32:430–31).

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