George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 13 April 1792

From Thomas Jefferson

Philadelphia Apr. 13. 1792.


I have the honor to lay before you a communication from Mr Hammond Minister Plenipotentiary of his Britannic Majesty covering a clause of a statute of that country relative to it’s commerce with this, and notifying a determination to carry it into execution henceforward.1 Conceiving that the determination announced could not be really meant as extensively as the words import, I asked and received an explanation from the Minister, as expressed in the letter & answer herein inclosed:2 and, on consideration of all circumstances, I cannot but confide in the opinion expressed by him, that it’s sole object is to exclude foreign vessels from the islands of Jersey & Guernsey. the want of proportion between the motives expressed & the measure, it’s magnitude & consequences, total silence as to the Proclamation on which the intercourse between the two countries has hitherto hung, & of which, in this broad sense, it would be a revocation, & the recent manifestations of the disposition of that government to concur with this in mutual offices of friendship & goodwill, support his construction. the Minister moreover assured me verbelly that he would immediately write to his court for an explanation & in the mean time is of opinion that the usual intercourse of commerce between the two countries (Jersey & Guernsey excepted) need not be suspended. I have the honor to be with sentiments of the most profound respect & attachment, Sir, your most obedient & most humble servant

Th: Jefferson

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; ALS (letterpress copy), DLC: Jefferson Papers; LS, DNA: RG 46, Second Congress, 1791–1793, Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages; LS (letterpress copy), DLC:Jefferson Papers; LB, DNA: RG 59, George Washington’s Correspondence with His Secretaries of State; LB (photocopy), DLC:GW.

Jefferson sent a draft of his letter to GW to Hammond this day “in a friendly way,” informing him that GW would probably lay the matter before Congress. Hammond replied, also on this day, that its contents were an accurate exposition of his views (Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 23:417–18). GW immediately transmitted Jefferson’s letter and its enclosures to Congress.

1George Hammond’s letter to Jefferson of 11 April 1792 reads: “I have received by a circular dispatch from my Court, directions to inform this Government that, considerable inconveniences having arisen from the importation of Tobacco in foreign vessels into the Ports of his Majesty’s Dominions, contrary to the Act of the 12th Charles 2d Chap. 18. Sect. 3d (commonly called the navigation Act) it has been determined in future strictly to inforce this clause, of which I take the liberty of enclosing to you a copy” (DNA: RG 46, Second Congress, 1791–1793, Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages). The enclosed copy of section 3 of the 1660 Navigation Act reads: “And it is further enacted by the authority aforesaid that no goods or Commodities whatsoever of the growth production manufacture of Africa, Asia or America, or of any part thereof which are described or laid down in the usual maps or charts of those places be imported into England Ireland or Wales Islands of Guernsey and Jersey or Town of Berwick upon Tweed in any other Ship or Ships Vessel or Vessels whatsoever but in such as do truly and without fraud belong only to the people of England or Ireland Dominion of Wales or Town of Berwick upon Tweed or of the lands Islands Plantations or Territories in Asia Africa or America to his Majesty belonging as the proprietors and right owners thereof and whereof the Master and three fourths at least of the mariners are English under the penalty of the forfeiture of all such goods and Commodities and of the Ship or vessel in which they were imported with all her Guns Tackle furniture ammunition and apparel one moiety to his Majesty his heirs and successors and the other moiety to him or them who shall seize inform or sue for the same in any Court of Record by Bill Information Plaint or other action wherein no Essoin [excuse for nonappearance in court] Protection or wager of Law shall be allowed” (DNA: RG 46, Second Congress, 1791–1793, Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages).

2The enclosed copy of Jefferson’s letter to Hammond of 12 April reads: “I am this moment favored with the letter you did me the honor of writing yesterday, covering the extract of a British Statute forbidding the admission of foreign Vessels into any Ports of the British Dominions with goods or commodities of the growth, production or manufacture of America. The effect of this appears to me so extensive as to induce a doubt whether I understand rightly the determination to inforce it, which you notify and to oblige me to ask of you whether we are to consider it as so far a revocation of the Proclamation of your Government regulating the Commerce between the two Countries, and that hence forth no articles of the growth, production, or manufacture of the United States are to be received in the Ports of Great Britain or Ireland in vessels belonging to the Citizens of the United States?” (DNA: RG 46, Second Congress, 1791–1793, Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages).

The enclosed copy of Hammond’s reply to Jefferson of 12 April reads: “In answer to your letter of this day, I have the honor of observing, that I have no other instructions upon the subject of my communication than such as are contained in the circular dispatch, of which I stated the purport in my letter dated yesterday. I have however no difficulty in assuring you, that the result of my personal conviction is, that the determination of his Majesty’s Government to inforce the clause of the Act of Navigation (a copy of which I transmitted to you) with respect to the importation of commodities in foreign vessels, has originated in consequence of the many frauds, that have taken place in the importation of Tobacco into his Majesty’s Dominions, in foreign vessels, and is not intended to militate against the Proclamation or Order of the King in Council, regulating the commercial intercourse between Great Britain and the United States, which, I have every reason to believe, still exists in full force, as I have not had the most distant intimation of its being revoked” (DNA: RG 46, Second Congress, 1791–1793, Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages).

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