George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 4 May 1793

From Thomas Jefferson

[Philadelphia] May 4. 1793.

Th: Jefferson having prepared a written opinion on the Question Whether Passports should be granted to vessels belonging to American citizens, but of foreign built, has the honor of inclosing it to the President as an explanation of the principles on which the affirmative was adopted yesterday.1

AL, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DLC:GW.

1In the enclosed opinion of 3 May, Jefferson argued that to protect the livelihood of American farmers, who depended on foreign and domestic shipping to haul their produce, the United States should issue passports, or sea letters, to all American-owned vessels, even if such ships had been built in foreign countries (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; printed 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 25:645–48). On this date Jefferson also sent a copy of the enclosed opinion to Tench Coxe, the commissioner of the revenue (see ibid., 650). The treaties of amity and commerce with France (1778), the Netherlands (1782), and Prussia (1785) each called for a different format to be followed in the drafting of passports (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 28–29, 85–88, 172–73). Because of the war in Europe, the issuance of passports in the French form was especially sensitive, but the cabinet soon declared that doing so would not violate the American neutrality policy (Jefferson’s Notes on a Cabinet Meeting, 6 May). Alexander Hamilton and Jefferson then decided that the collectors of the customs in the ports of the United States were the most appropriate officials to distribute the sea letters, and Hamilton informed them of this decision in a circular letter of 13–16 May (Coxe to Jefferson, 7 May, Jefferson to Hamilton, 8 May, Hamilton to Jefferson, 9 May, 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 25:670–71, 680–82, 695–96, and Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 14:442–47).

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