George Washington Papers

Memorandum from Thomas Jefferson, 26 July 1793

Memorandum from Thomas Jefferson

[Philadelphia] July 26. 1793.

Note given to the Presidt1

Mr Genet’s declaration to the President at his reception, that France did not wish to engage the U.S. in the present war by the clause of guarantee, but left her free to pursue her own happiness in peace, has been repeated to myself in conversation, & to others, and even in a public answer, so as to place it beyond question.2

Some days after the reception of mister Genet (which was May 17.) I went to his house on business.3 the Attorney Genl went with me to pay his first visit. after he withdrew, Mr Genet told me mister Ternant had delivered him my letter of May 15. on the 4. memorials of mister Hammond:4 he said something first of the case of the Grange, and then of the vessels armed at Charleston. he said that on his arrivel there he was surrounded suddenly by Frenchmen full of zeal for their country, pressing for authority to arm with their own means for it’s assistance, that they would fit out their own vessels, provide every thing, man them, and only ask a commission from him: that he asked the opinion of Govr. Moultrie on the subject, who said he knew no law to the contrary, but begged that whatever was to be done, might be done without consulting him, that he must know nothing of it &c. that hereupon he gave commissions to the vessels: that he was of opinion he was justified not only by the opinions at Charleston but by our treaties.5 I told him the President had taken f⟨u⟩ll advice on the subject, had very maturely considered it, and had come to the decision expressed in my letter.6 he said he hoped the President has not so absolutely decided it, but that he would hear what was to be said against it. I told him I had no doubt but that the President, out of respect to him & to his country, would receive whatever he should have to urge on the subject, and would reconsider it with candour. he said he would make it his business to write me a letter on the subject, that he thought the arming the privateers was justifiable, but that if the President should finally decide otherwise, tho’ he could not think it would be right, yet he must submit: for that assuredly his instructions were to do whatever would be agreeable to us. he shewed indeed by his countenance, his manner & words that such an acquiescence would be with reluctance; but I was & am persuaded he then meant it.7

Mr Genet called at my office on Tuesday was sennight or fortnight (say July 16th or 9th) but I think it was Tuesday was sennight, I know it was on a Tuesday because he went from thence to the President’s.8 he was summing up to me the strength of the French naval force now arrived.9 I took that occasion to observe to him that having such great means in his hands, I thought he ought not to hesitate in abandoning to the orders of the government the little pickeroons which had been armed here unauthorised by them, & which occasioned so much embarrasment & uneasiness, that certainly their good dispositions must be worth more than the trifling services these little vessels could render. he immediately declared that having such a force in his hands he had abandoned every idea of further armament in our ports, that these small objects were now beneath his notice & he had accordingly written to the Consuls to stop every thing further of that kind: but that as to those which had been fitted out before, their honour would not permit them to give them up, but he wished an oblivion of every thing which had past, and that in future the measure so disagreeable to the government should not be pursued, tho he thought it clearly justified by the treaty. I told him the government was of a different opinion, that both parties indeed had equal right to construe the treaty, that consequently he had done his duty in remonstrating against our construction, but that since the government remained finally persuaded of the solidity of it’s own construction, & had a right to act accordingly within their own limit⟨s⟩, it was now his duty, as a diplomatic man to state the matter to his government, to ask & await their orders, & in the mean time to acquiesce, & by no means to proceed in opposition within our limits. it was at the same time he informed me that he had sent out the Little Democrat, to obtain intelligence of the state of the coast, & whether it was safe for the fleet to proceed round from Norfolk to New York.10

AD, DLC: Jefferson Papers; AD (letterpress copy), DLC: Jefferson Papers.

1Jefferson added this phrase at a later date. It is in a different ink and not present on the letterpress copy. This memorandum was probably written in response to GW’s letter to Jefferson of 25 July 1793.

2For the clause of guarantee, see Article 11 of the 1778 Treaty of Alliance between France and the United States (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 , 39–40).

3For Edmond Genet’s presentation to GW on 18 May 1793 of his credentials as the new French minister to the United States, see JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 143. See also Jefferson to GW, 18 May 1793 (second letter).

4For Jefferson’s letter of 15 May to Ternant, Genet’s predecessor, see 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 , 26:42–44. For the British minister George Hammond’s memorial of 2 May and his four memorials of 8 May, protesting the activities of French privateers and the French purchase of military supplies for export to France, see ibid., 25:637–40, 683–87. Jefferson presented these memorials to GW on 2 and 8 May. The cabinet discussed the British complaints in its meetings of 14 and 15 May and apparently requested Jefferson to write a letter to Ternant clarifying the American position of neutrality (JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 125, 131, 140–41; Tobias Lear to Jefferson, 14 May [first letter], and note 1, and Memorandum from Alexander Hamilton to GW, 15 May, and note 1).

5The frigate Embuscade had captured the British ship Grange in Delaware Bay on 25 April (Hammond to Jefferson, 2 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 , 25:637–40). Shortly after his arrival at Charleston, S.C., on 8 April 1793, Genet commissioned four ships as new French privateers (Memorandum from Hamilton to GW, 15 May, 1793, and note 1). For South Carolina governor William Moultrie’s initial position on Genet’s activities, see Moultrie to GW, 26 April 1793. For the administration’s subsequent instructions to Moultrie, see Henry Knox’s circular letters to the state governors of 23 and 24 May in note 2 of Knox to GW, 24 May 1793. For Genet’s prior instructions from the French government to commission privateers in the United States, see Turner, Correspondence of the French Ministers description begins Frederick J. Turner, ed. Correspondence of the French Ministers to the United States, 1791–1797. Washington, D.C., 1904. In Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1903, vol. 2. description ends , 2:207–9, 211. For the Treaty of Alliance and the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, both 1778, between the United States and France, 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 , 3–44.

6For GW’s approval of Jefferson’s letter to Ternant of 15 May, see JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 140–41.

7Genet justified the arming of privateers in a letter to Jefferson of 27 May 1793 (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 , 26:124–29). For Genet’s instructions, see Turner, Correspondence of the French Ministers description begins Frederick J. Turner, ed. Correspondence of the French Ministers to the United States, 1791–1797. Washington, D.C., 1904. In Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1903, vol. 2. description ends , 2:202–7.

8GW held a weekly levee on Tuesday afternoons (Bowling and Veit, Diary of William Maclay description begins Kenneth R. Bowling and Helen E. Veit, eds. The Diary of William Maclay and Other Notes on Senate Debates. Baltimore, 1988. description ends , 21). Genet later described this visit in a letter to Jefferson of 4 July 1797 (DLC: Genet Papers; translation, Meade Minnigerode, Jefferson, Friend of France, 1793; The Career of Edmond Charles Genet, Minister Plenipotentiary from the French Republic to the United States, as Revealed by His Private Papers, 1763–1834 [New York, 1928], 413–27).

9A fleet of French warships and over one hundred merchant ships, carrying approximately ten thousand refugees from the revolution in Saint Domingue, had recently arrived in American waters. This fleet anchored first in the Chesapeake Bay, and many refugees sought assistance at Norfolk, Va., before the merchant ships dispersed to various American ports and the warships proceeded to New York City’s harbor (Turner, Correspondence of the French Ministers description begins Frederick J. Turner, ed. Correspondence of the French Ministers to the United States, 1791–1797. Washington, D.C., 1904. In Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1903, vol. 2. description ends , 2:224–26, 233–35, 238–39; Henrat, Fonds Marine Campagnes description begins Philippe Henrat. Fonds Marine Campagnes (Opérations; Divisions et Stations navales; Missions Diverses). Inventaire de la sous-série Marine BB. Paris, 2000. description ends , 53–54; Henry Knox to Tobias Lear, 25 July 1793, and note 1).

10Jefferson added this sentence at a later date. It is in a different ink and not present on the letterpress copy.

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