George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Knox, 24 May 1793

From Henry Knox

War department May 24th1 1793


I have the honor to submit to your consideration the drafts of two letters to the Governors of the several Atlantic States which have been inspected and approved by the heads of the other departments and the Attorney General.2 I have the honor to be with the greatest respect Your most obedt Servant

H. Knox


1The War Department clerk originally wrote “23d” at this place on the manuscript, but someone changed the dateline before sending the letter. Both the letter-book copy and Tobias Lear’s docket on the back of the LS indicate that Knox’s letter was dated 24 May 1793.

2Knox’s first letter, dated 23 May, referred to the capture in Delaware Bay of the British ship Grange by the French frigate Embuscade and informed the governors that “the President of the United States confides the charge of interposing in all cases of hostility between the belligerent parties within the protection of your state to the governors” (Knox to Henry Lee, 23 May, Calendar of Virginia State Papers, description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds. Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts. 11 vols. Richmond, 1875–93. description ends 6:377). Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson already had communicated to the British minister the United States’ condemnation of the Grange incident (Jefferson to George Hammond, 15 May, Enclosure I of Tobias Lear to Jefferson, 15 May). Knox’s second letter, dated 24 May, criticized the French commissioning and arming of privateers at Charleston, S.C.: “The President deeming the toleration of such a practice to be inconsistent with the duties of neutrality and with the preservation of the peace of the nation, and the same not being required by any Treaty of the United States, he has concluded that effectual measures ought to be adopted and pursued to prevent a repetition of it.” Knox concluded his letter: “I am fully instructed by the President of the United States to signify to your Excellency in your capacity of commander-in-chief of the militia of your state his desire and request, that if the practice which has been mentioned should at any time occur in your state, you will effectually interpose to put a stop to it; and in order thereto, that you will detain any vessel in respect to which the proceeding shall take place, and will be pleased to notify him of the circumstances of the case, and the steps which you may have taken, to the end that he may give such further directions thereon as may appear proper” (Knox to Lee, 24 May, ibid., 379). Gov. William Moultrie of South Carolina, concerned about defending the port of Charleston, had requested such instructions from the federal government in his letter to GW of 26 April. For the decision-making process of GW and his cabinet in the case of the French privateers, see Alexander Hamilton’s Memorandum, 15 May, n.1. The issue of the privateers, as part of the greater question of American neutrality in the war between France and Great Britain, would continue to be a source of debate in GW’s administration (Cabinet Opinion, 17 June, 8 July, Hamilton and Knox to GW, 8 July, and the first and second Cabinet Opinions of 3 Aug. 1793). Pennsylvania governor Thomas Mifflin responded to Knox’s letters in his letter to GW of 25 May.

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