George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 28 August 1790

To John Hancock

New York Augt 28th 1790

Sir

Your favour of July 20. came safely to hand, together with the Memorial of Monsieur de Latombe of the 7th of June and the Resolve of the legislature of Massachusetts of the 24th of the same month. on considering the nature of the difficulties which have occurred in the execution of the Consular convention, they appeared to be such as could not be removed but by a legislative act. when these papers were recieved the session of Congress was already drawn so near to a close, that it was not thought expedient to propose to them the taking up at that time a subject which was new, & might be found difficult.1 it will remain therefore for2 consideration at their next meeting3 in December.4 With due consideration I have the honor to be Yr Excellency’s most Ob. St

G. W.

Df, in the hand of Tobias Lear, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DLC:GW; undated Df, in Thomas Jefferson’s hand (incomplete letterpress copy), DLC: Thomas Jefferson Papers. Only minor variations in punctuation and capitalization exist between the letter-book copy and the drafts; for differences between the drafts, see below.

For Létombe’s memorial and the resolve of the Massachusetts legislature, see GW to Jefferson, 26 July 1790 and notes. On 26 July 1790 GW gave Létombe’s memorial, the Massachusetts resolve, and other documents that had just arrived from Massachusetts to Jefferson, who had negotiated the Franco-American consular convention in 1788, to report on. The two men discussed soon after that what should be done about the recent difficulties in interpreting the consular convention, and Jefferson drafted, probably on 2 Aug. 1790, GW’s proposed reply to Governor Hancock. With only one minor exception, Lear faithfully copied the now lost original of Jefferson’s draft, reproducing his capitalization (or lack thereof), orthography, and even the deletions mentioned below. The president and secretary of state probably agreed on the wisdom of not immediately presenting such an explosive issue as the consular convention to a Congress that had just completed bitter battles over the assumption and residence bills, but both men were also occupied with other important matters. Only after the Creek treaty had been negotiated and signed, David Humphreys’s mission decided upon, and GW’s and Jefferson’s trip to Rhode Island completed did the president send off a reply to the Massachusetts governor concerning the consular convention. See also Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 17:451–52, 19:304.

On 26 Aug. 1790 Jefferson sent American chargé William Short at Versailles several documents concerning the droit d’aubaines, the French law by which the property of any deceased foreigner was confiscated by the state to the exclusion of any heirs, including an extract of the Merchants and Inhabitants of Massachusetts to GW, c.8 July 1790 (see Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 17:431–35).

1After this sentence follows a deletion that Jefferson made in his original draft before making a letterpress copy from it. Lear copied it and also crossed it out: “Monsieur Laforest, the Consul of France here, was spoken to on the subject, and concurred in the opinion.”

The language of Jefferson’s 30 Aug. 1790 letter on the subject to Antoine René Charles Mathurin de La Forest implies the two had recently discussed interpretation of the consular convention (see Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 17:475–76).

2Jefferson had written “their” after this word in his draft, which Lear failed to copy.

3GW brought up the general matter of Létombe’s memorial in his message, which Jefferson helped to draft, to the First Congress at the opening of its third session: “The Consular Convention too with his Most Christian Majesty has stipulated in certain cases, the aid of the national authority to his Consuls established here. Some legislative provision is requisite to carry these stipulations into full effect” (GW to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, 8 Dec. 1790). A Senate committee appointed on 1 Dec. 1790 reported on 7 Jan. 1791 an act encompassing not only the Franco-American consular convention but also the organization of the American consular establishment. The House of Representatives received the act on 28 Jan. 1791 but took no action on it until 2 Mar. 1791, when it amended the bill by removing the entire second section dealing with the consular establishment. The Senate persisted in its disagreement with the House amendment on 3 Mar. 1791, and the act for carrying into effect the consular convention between France and the United States never passed into law (DHFC, 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 4:486–87, 494–505). The consular convention of 1789 itself was abrogated in July 1798, to the general satisfaction of American public opinion during the Quasi-War with France (Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 18:99–100, 19:304–7).

4In Jefferson’s draft, the terminal punctuation had originally been a comma, which was followed by the words “when they.” Lear copied Jefferson’s change and erasure.

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