George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 19 August 1792

From Thomas Jefferson

Monticello Aug. 19. 1792.

Sir

I was yesterday honored with your’s of the 13th inst. covering the Governor of Vermont’s of July 16. I presume it cannot now be long before I shall receive his answer to the two letters I wrote him from Philadelphia on the same subject.1 I now inclose letters received by yesterday’s post from mister Hammond, mister William Knox, and mister Paleske, with answers to the two latter.2 should these meet your approbation, you will be so good as to seal and let them go on under the cover to mister Taylor, who will have them co⟨nvey⟩ed according to their address. should you wish an alteration of them, it shall be made on their being returned.3 the Prussian treaty is, I believe, within four years of it’s expiration. I suspect that personal motives alone induce mister Palaske to press for a convention which could hardly be formed & ratified before it would expire; and that his court cannot lay much stress on it.4 mister Hammond’s former explanations of his notification of the 12th of April, having been laid before Congress, may perhaps make it proper to communicate to them also his sovereign’s approbation of them.5 I have the honor to be with sentiments of the most perfect respect & attachment, Sir, your most obedt & most humble servt

Th: Jefferson

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; ALS (letterpress copy), DLC: Jefferson Papers; LB, DNA: RG 59, Domestic Letters; LB, DNA: RG 59, George Washington’s Correspondence with His Secretaries of State; LB (photocopy), DLC:GW.

1Conflicting jurisdictional claims by Vermont and Canada over the town of Alburg, Vt., were the focus of this correspondence with Gov. Thomas Chittenden. For background on this dispute, see Chittenden to GW, 16 June, 16 July, GW to Jefferson, 23 July, and Jefferson to GW, 30 July 1792. Jefferson’s letters to Chittenden of 9 and 12 July are in 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 24:200, 218–19.

2In his letter to Jefferson of 3 Aug. from New York, George Hammond, minister from Great Britain, wrote: “I have received a dispatch from my Court, communicating to me his Majesty’s entire approbation of my conduct, relative to my conversations and explanatory correspondence with you, on the subject of the circular notification which I transmitted to you on the 12th of April.

“Having obtained this sanction to the sentiments, which I expressed to you upon those occasions, it is necessary for me at present only to add that that notification was then, and is now, intended to apply solely to Merchant-vessels strictly foreign; under which denomination ships belonging to Citizens of the United States cannot be generally comprehended, so long as the Kings proclamations, regulating the commercial intercourse between Great Britain and this country, shall continue in force, and assign to the ships of the latter those distinctions, which they now possess” (DNA: RG 59, Notes from the British Legation; see also Hammond to Jefferson, 12 April 1792, 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 23:418).

William Knox, consul at Dublin, reported in a letter to Jefferson of 28 May that despite recent concessions from Parliament, the Irish Catholics “think any thing less than a participation in the elective franchise, will not relieve them from the numerous inequalities under which they labour.” He noted that twenty-eight American ships carrying over 12,000 hogsheads of flaxseed had arrived in Dublin since 1 Jan. and that this cargo sold “at more than the ordinary price” due to increased linen manufacture in Ireland. Knox warned Jefferson that American ships carrying tobacco were subject to seizure if they attempted to enter any Irish port or even if they appeared off the coast, and he asked Jefferson “to request the President of the United States to excuse my returning to America, at least for a few months” (DNA: RG 59, Despatches from Consular Offices: Dublin). On 19 Aug., Jefferson wrote Knox that his letter had been communicated to GW and that “as the Consulships of the U.S. have no salaries or perquisites for the support of those who hold them . . . the government does not expect that the office should so far tie the holder to a constant presence at his residence as would be inconsistent with that business by which he is supported.” Knox was therefore free to return home for a short time (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 24:308). He left Ireland on 22 July and arrived in Philadelphia on 15 Sept. (William Knox to Jefferson, 18 Sept. 1792, ibid., 389). Knox never resumed his consular post, and Jefferson recorded Knox’s resignation in a “Memorandum on Consuls and Consular Appointments,” 15 Feb. 1793 (ibid., 25:202–4).

Charles Gottfried Paleske of Philadelphia, who had been commissioned the Prussian consul general in the United States on 14 Aug. 1791 and served until 1801, announced his appointment to Jefferson in a letter dated 2 Jan. 1792 and sent a certified copy of his commission two days later (DNA: RG 59, Notes from Foreign Consuls in the United States). Paleske wrote Jefferson on 9 Aug. that the king of Prussia had instructed him to request “that agreable to the existing treaty of comerce, His consul-general be acknowledged, as belonging to a most favoured nation, with which the United States have formed a treaty of comerce, and that the privileges and immunities, due to a consul general of the most favoured nation be also granted to the consul general of His Prussian Majesty, as due conformable to treaty.” Paleske asked “that comissioners be appointed by the United States, as speedily as possible, to regulate by particular convention, the functions of the consuls and vice consuls of the respective nations” (DNA: RG 59, Notes from Foreign Consuls in the United States). For previous suggestions from Paleske concerning commercial and diplomatic relations between the United States and Prussia, see Paleske to Jefferson, 19 June 1792, in 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 24:99–101.

Jefferson replied to Paleske on 19 Aug.: “Treaties of the U.S. duly made & ratified, as is that with his Prussian Majesty, constitute a part of the law of the land, and need only promulgation to oblige all persons to obey them, and to entitle all to those privileges which such treaties confer. that promulgation having taken place, no other act is necessary, or proper, on the part of our government, according to our rules of proceeding, to give effect to the treaty. this treaty however has not specified the privileges or functions of consuls; it has only provided that these ‘shall be regulated by particular agreement.’ to the proposition to proceed as speedily as possible to regulate these functions by a convention, my absence from the seat of government does not allow me to give a definitive answer. I know in general that it would be agreeable to our government, on account of the recent changes in it’s form, to suspend for a while the contracting specific engagements with foreign nations, until something more shall be seen of the direction it will take, and of it’s mode of operation, in order that our engagements may be so moulded to that as to ensure the exact performance of them which we are desirous ever to observe. should this be the sentiment of our government on the pre⟨sen⟩t occasion, the friendship of his Prussian majesty is a sufficient reliance to us for that delay which our affairs might require for the present: and the rather as his vessels are not yet in the habit of seeking our ports, and for the few cases which may occur for some time, our own laws, copied mostly in this respect from those of a very commercial nation, have made the most material of those provisions, which could be admitted into a special convention, for the protection of vessels, their crews, and cargoes coming hither. we shall on this however, and every other occasion, do every thing we can to manifest our friendship to his Prussian majesty, & our desire to promote commercial intercourse with his subjects” (DLC: Jefferson Papers).

3GW returned the enclosed letters from Hammond, Knox, and Paleske to Jefferson on 3 Sept., and although GW said in his cover letter to Jefferson that he did not “perfectly comprehend an expression in the one to Mr Palaske,” he forwarded Jefferson’s answers to Knox and Paleske to George Taylor, Jr., chief clerk in the State Department (ALS, DLC: Jefferson Papers; ADfS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DNA: RG 59, George Washington’s Correspondence with His Secretaries of State; LB [photocopy], DLC:GW).

4The Prussian Treaty of Amity and Commerce of 10 Sept. 1785 was due to expire on 8 Aug. 1796, ten years after the exchange of ratifications (see Miller, Treaties, description begins Hunter Miller, ed. Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America. Vol. 2, 1776-1818. Washington, D.C., 1931. description ends 2:162–84).

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