George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 23 March 1790]

Tuesday 23d. A full, & very respectable Levee to day—previous to which I had a conversation with the Secretary of State on the following points, viz—

First, with respect to our Captives in Algiers, in which, after detailing their situation—the measures he had taken for their relief and the train in which the business was in by means of a Genl. [ ] who is at the head of a religious society in France whose practice it is to sollicit aids for the relief of the unfortunate Christians in captivity among the Barbarians, it was concluded betwn. us, that it had better remain in that train a while longer. This person had been authorised to go as far as about £150 Sterlg. each, for the ransom of our Captives; but the Algerines demanding a much larger sum it was conceived that acceding to it might establish a precedent which would always operate and be very burthensome if yielded to; and become a much stronger inducement to captivate our People than they now have, as it is more for the sake of the ransom than for the labour, that they make Slaves of the Prisoners. Mr. Short was to be written to on this Subject, and directed to make enquiry of this General [ ] what his expectations of redemption are at present.

Second—He is of opinion, that excepting the Court of France, there is no occasion to employ higher grades in the Diplomatic line than Chargé des affaires; and that these, by the respectibility of their appointments, had better be at the head of their grade, than Ministers Plenipotentiaries by low Salaries at the foot of theirs. The reason of the distinction, in favor of a Minister Plenipo at Versailles, is, that there are more Ambassadors at that Court than any other and therefore that we ought in some measure to approximate our Representative and besides, its being a Court with which we have much to do.

Third—With respect to the appointment of Consels he refers to a letter on the nature of this business—the places where necessary—and the characters best entitled to appointmts. which he had written on the Subject, while in France, to the Secretary of Foreign affairs.

Fourth—That it might be advisable to direct Mr. Charmichael to Sound the Spanish Ministry with respect to the obstacles which had hitherto impeded a Commercial Treaty to see if there was any disposition in them to relax in their Territorial claims & exclusive right to the Navigation of the River Missisipi.

first: The Algerian captives were the 21 officers and men of two American ships—the Maria out of Boston and the Dauphin out of Philadelphia—that had been captured by Algerian corsairs off the coast of Africa in 1785. Fearing that the seamen, already held as slaves in Algiers, might be sold south into the interior of Africa, the United States government made several unsuccessful attempts to ransom them during the Confederation (ASP, Foreign Relations, description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends 1:100–104). By Dec. 1788 six of the captives were dead (Thomas Jefferson to Père Chauvier, 27 Dec. 1788, JEFFERSON [1] description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends , 14:395–97). Père Chauvier was the “Général et Grand Ministre” of the Order de La Sainte Trinité de la Redemption des Captifs, usually called the Mathurins. In 1786–88, while he was United States minister to France, Jefferson had discussed with members of the order the possibility that they might assist in redeeming the prisoners, and in Dec. 1788 he opened negotiations with Père Chauvier (JEFFERSON [1] description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends , 14:401–2). A recapitulation of Jefferson’s efforts on behalf of the captives is in his “Report on American Captives in Algiers,” 28 Dec. 1790 (JEFFERSON [1] description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends , 18:430–36).

William Short (1759–1849), a native of Surry County, Va., and a 1779 graduate of the College of William and Mary, accompanied Thomas Jefferson to Paris in 1784 where he served as his secretary and later as secretary of legation. When Jefferson returned to the United States, Short was left to represent the United States in France with the rank of chargé d’affaires (DE PAUW description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972–. description ends , 2:8–9).

second: GW was undoubtedly concerned with Jefferson’s opinion on diplomatic appointments because of discussion aroused by a bill for “providing the means of intercourse between the United States and foreign nations” (DE PAUW description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972–. description ends , 3:269). Introduced in Jan. 1790, the bill (House Bill No. 35) had engendered extensive and sometimes acrimonious debate on the appointment of American diplomats abroad and the manner in which they were to be paid. The bill involved constitutional questions as to whether the president should determine the rank and emoluments for diplomatic appointments or whether this was to be a function of Congress as had been the case during the Confederation (Annals of Congress description begins Joseph Gales, Sr., comp. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. description ends , 1st Cong., 2d sess., 1004–5, 1113, 1118–30, 1526; MACLAY description begins Charles A. Beard, ed. The Journal of William Maclay: United States Senator from Pennsylvania, 1789–1791. 1927. Reprint. New York, 1965. description ends , 248). On 31 Mar. 1790 “the committee to whom was re-committed the bill ‘providing the means of intercourse between the United States and foreign nations,’ presented an amendatory bill to the same effect, which was received and read the first time” (House Bill No. 52). See DE PAUW description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972–. description ends , 3:351. Debates in the House and Senate on the amended bill dragged on until the passage of “An Act providing the means of intercourse between the United States and foreign nations” (1 STAT. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 128 [1 July 1790]).

third: Jefferson’s letter to John Jay, 14 Nov. 1788, detailed Jefferson’s views on a consular establishment and suggested individuals who might fill consular posts in France (JEFFERSON [1] description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends , 14:56–66).

William Carmichael (c.1738–1795), of Queen’s County, Md., served in the Continental Congress 1778–79 and as John Jay’s secretary in Spain in 1779. In Sept. 1789 GW appointed him chargé d’affaires in Madrid.

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