George Washington Papers

Cabinet Opinion on the United States Debt to France, 25 February 1793

Cabinet Opinion on the United States Debt to France

[Philadelphia] Feb. 25. 1793.

The President desires the opinions of the heads of the three departments and of the Attorney General on the following question, to wit.

Mr Ternant having applied for money equivalent to three millions of livres to be furnished on account of our debt to France at the request of the Executive of that country, which sum is to be laid out in provisions within the U.S. to be sent to France, Shall the money be furnished?1

The Secretary of the Treasury stated it as his opinion that making a liberal allowance for the depreciation of assignats, (no rule of liquidation having been yet fixed) a sum of about 318,000 Dollars may not exceed the arrearages equitably due to France to the end of 1792. and that the whole sum asked for may be furnished, within periods capable of answering the purpose of mister Ternant’s application, without a derangement of the Treasury.

Whereupon the Secretaries of State & War & the Attorney General are of opinion that the whole sum asked for by mister Ternant ought to be furnished: the Secretary of the Treasury is of opinion that the supply ought not to exceed the abovementioned sum of 318,000. Dollars.2

Th: Jefferson

Alexandr Hamilton

H. Knox

Edm: Randolph.

DS, in Thomas Jefferson’s writing, DLC:GW; D (letterpress copy), DLC: Jefferson Papers; Df (letterpress copy; incomplete; illegible), DLC: Jefferson Papers.

1On this request from the French minister to the United States and for the development of the views contained in this opinion, see Jefferson to GW, 8 Feb., nn.1–2.

2GW, who was present at this meeting, agreed with the majority and directed Jefferson to inform Ternant of his decision. GW’s executive journal, his letter to Jefferson of 26 Feb., and Hamilton’s letter to Ternant of 26 Feb. all indicate that the president granted his approval on 26 Feb., but Jefferson’s letter to Ternant bears the date of this cabinet meeting (JPP, description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends 70; Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 14:166; 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 25:264). GW may have delayed giving his final approval until Jefferson confirmed that Lebrun, the French foreign minister, had indeed given Ternant permission to receive the payment (Jefferson to GW, 25 Feb. [first letter]). A brief but more detailed description of the cabinet members’ opinions can be found in Jefferson’s Notes on Cabinet Opinions, 26 Feb., ibid., 273. Despite this decision, the subject of the U.S. debt to France would continue to occupy GW’s administration (Hamilton to GW, 1 Mar., Cabinet to GW, 2 Mar., Jefferson to GW, 30 May, GW to Hamilton [second letter], 3 June, Hamilton to GW, 5 June; JPP, description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends 148–49, 151–53, 155, 159). Although it is not mentioned in this summary, the cabinet also briefly discussed at this meeting the propriety of accepting Edmond Genet as the new French minister to the United States (Jefferson’s Notes on the Opinions regarding the Reception of Edmond Genet, 30 Mar.).

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