George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 13 January 1793

From Thomas Jefferson

[Philadelphia] Sunday Jan. 13. 93.

Th: Jefferson has the honor to send to the President a sketch which he has submitted to a gentleman or two in the legislature on the subject of Indian purchases.1

he sends him also two letters recd last night from mister Gouverneur Morris. the correspondence referred to in one of them, is in French, and being improper to go into the hands of a clerk, Th: J. is translating it himself for the use of the President. it is lengthy, and will require a good part of to-day to do it.2

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

1Jefferson’s enclosure reads: “Be it enacted &c. that no person shall be capable of acquiring any title, in law or equity, to any lands beyond the Indian boundaries & within those of the U.S. by purchase, gift, or otherwise, from the Indians holding or claiming the same: and that it shall be a misdemeanor in any person, punishable by fine & imprisonment at the discretion of a jury, to obtain, accept, or directly or indirectly to treat for, any title to such lands from the said Indians or any other for them. But where any such Indians shall of their own accord desire to sell any part of their lands, and it shall be deemed the interest of the U.S. that a purchase shall be made, the same shall be done by treaty or convention, to be entered into by the President of the U.S. & ratified by two thirds of the Senate according to the constitution: to enure to the use of the states respectively, where the said lands lie within the limits of any state, they paying the price, and to the use of the U.S. where such lands lie within any territory ceded to them by particular states” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). James Madison was probably one of those congressmen who received a copy of this enclosure since he introduced a modified version of Jefferson’s memorandum as an amendment to a bill on Indian trade currently under consideration (see 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 , 2d Cong., 2d sess., 827; Madison Papers, description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds. The Papers of James Madison, Congressional Series. 17 vols. Chicago and Charlottesville, Va., 1962–91. description ends 14:441–42). Congress incorporated Jefferson’s idea to impose criminal penalties on those who attempted to purchase Indian lands without proper authorization, but with modifications to his wording, in “An Act to regulate Trade and Intercourse with the Indian Tribes,” approved on 1 Mar. 1793 (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 329–32).

2The two letters Jefferson had received recently from Gouverneur Morris were dated 19 and 27 Sept. 1792 (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 24:404–5, 419–22). The letter of 19 Sept. contained copies, in French, of Morris’s letters to the French minister of foreign affairs, Pierre-Henri-Hélène-Marie Lebrun, of 20 Aug., 1 Sept., and 17 Sept. 1792 and of Lebrun’s letters to Morris of 30 Aug., 8 and 16 Sept. 1792, all of which Jefferson translated for GW and delivered to him later on this date (see JPP, description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends 18). Morris, in his letter to Lebrun of 20 Aug., complained that the seal on a recently received letter “has been opened by authority of the government” and asked Lebrun “to prevent such violations.” Lebrun responded to Morris’s complaint on 8 Sept., assuring him that he had “communicated” Morris’s displeasure to the mayor of Paris and that “there was not the smallest intention to fail in respect to your person or to the character with which you are invested.” On 30 Aug., Lebrun wrote Morris that, the suspension of the king notwithstanding, the United States was obligated to provide the previously agreed upon $800,000 debt payment to the relief of the French colony of Saint Domingue. Morris replied on 1 Sept. that, as he had observed previously, he had “never been authorised to meddle” in the arrangements made for the repayment of the American debt to France. He did, however, review the United States’s current financial agreements with France and concluded that “the result is, that in every state of the case, the reimbursements, hitherto due, are all paid.” In addition, because of the tone of Lebrun’s letter of 30 Aug., Morris requested his passport to leave France. Lebrun wrote Morris on 16 Sept. asking him to remain in Paris and to wait for “new instructions from your constituents; in short continue to treat, without interruption or delay, the affairs which interest the two people.” On the following day Morris agreed in writing to do so, but he renewed his request for a passport. For a summary of the contents of these enclosures, see ibid., 12–16. Letterpress copies of Jefferson’s translations of the Morris-Lebrun correspondence are in DLC: Jefferson Papers. Also enclosed were brief extracts (in French) from the Journal des débats et des décrets (Paris) for 15 Sept. 1792, in which Claude-Louis Masuyer (1759–1794), a representative for Saône-Loire in the Legislative Assembly and subsequent National Convention, called for the restoration of law and order in Paris, and for 16 Sept. 1792, in which Jean-Marie Roland de La Platière (1734–1793), minister of the interior, denied any responsibility for the recent spate of unauthorized arrests in Paris (DNA: RG 59, Despatches from U.S. Ministers to France). For background on recent political events in France, see Morris to GW, 23 Oct. 1792, and source note.

The letter from Morris to Jefferson of 27 Sept. contained two enclosures: an extract of a letter from William Short to Morris of 7 Sept. 1792, in which Short asked Morris to join with him and Thomas Pinckney in requesting the Austrian government to release Lafayette “in the name of the U.S. as a citizen thereof,” and an extract of Morris’s answer to Short of 12 Sept. 1792, stating Morris’s opposition to this proposal (both are in DNA: RG 59, Despatches from U.S. Ministers to France). See also Morris’s letter to GW of 23 Oct. 1792, and note 1, for Morris’s mention of these letters to GW.

On 15 Jan. 1793 Tobias Lear wrote Jefferson: “If the Secretary of State has not already sent to the Secretary of the Treasury the letters from Mr G. Morris, relative to the French debt, the President will thank the Secretary to send them to him (the President) as he expects to see the Secretary of the Treasury this morning and will give them to him” (DLC: Jefferson Papers). Morris’s letter of 19 Sept. and its enclosures were returned to GW on this date and “put into the hands” of Alexander Hamilton. GW and Hamilton then discussed the contents of these documents and several other letters relative to the repayment of the American debt to France and the conduct of William Short, the U.S. minister to The Hague who also oversaw the financing and repayment of the American debt (see ibid., 18–21).

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