George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Cabinet, 3 August 1793

To the Cabinet

Philadelphia August 3d 1793

Gentlemen,

Fresh occurrences, but communicated through private channels, make it indispensable that the general principles which have already been the subject of discussion, should be fixed & made known for the government of all concerned as soon as they can be, with propriety.1

To fix rules on substantial and impartial2 ground, comformably to treaties and the Laws of Nations, is extremely desirable.3

The Virdict of the late Jury in the case of Henfield,4 & the decision of yesterday respecting the French Minister,5 added to the situation of Indian affairs6 and the general complexion of public matters, enduce me to ask your advice whether it be proper—or not—to convene the Legislature at an earlier period than that at which it is to meet, by Law? And if it be thought advisable, at what time?7

Go: Washington

ALS, DLC: Jefferson Papers; LB, DLC:GW; LB, DNA: RG 59, George Washington’s Correspondence with His Secretaries of State. Jefferson’s docket on the ALS reads “recd Aug. 3.”

1The information that GW received probably concerned recent activities by French and British privateers. The cabinet already had met on 29 July, 30 July, 1 Aug., and 2 Aug. to discuss the implementation of the U.S. neutrality policy during the continuing war in Europe (JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 210–13; GW to Cabinet, 29 July 1793, Cabinet Opinion, 23 Aug. 1793; Jefferson’s Notes, 29, 29–30 July, 1, 2 Aug. 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 , 26:579–81, 588, 598, 601–3; Hamilton’s Notes, 2 Aug. 1793, Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 15:159–62).

2The words “and impartial” do not appear on the letter-book copies.

3For the Treaty of Alliance and the Treaty of Amity and Commerce that the United States signed with France in 1778, 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. An authority on international law was Emmerich de Vattel’s three-volume work Le Droit des gens: ou, Principes de la loi naturelle, appliqués à la conduite & aux affaires des nations & des souverains (Neuchâtel, Switzerland, 1758). An English version was published in London in 1760 as The Law of Nations; or Principles of the Law of Nature: Applied to the Conduct and to the Affairs of Nations and Sovereigns. For the rules adopted by the Cabinet, see Cabinet Opinion on the Rules of Neutrality, and Cabinet Opinion on French Privateers, both 3 Aug. 1793.

4Mariner Gideon Henfield’s trial had been held at Philadelphia from 22 to 29 July 1793 during a special session of the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Pennsylvania. On Henfield’s arrest for serving aboard a French privateer, see Cabinet Opinion on French Privateers, 1 June 1793, and note 5. For the trial and Henfield’s acquittal on 29 July, see Federal Cases description begins The Federal Cases: Comprising Cases Argued and Determined in the Circuit and District Courts of the United States from the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Federal Reporter. 30 vols. St. Paul, 1894–97. description ends , 11:1105–22, and Edmund Randolph to GW, 21 Aug. 1793. See also James Wilson’s Charge to the Grand Jury, 22 July 1793, Documentary History of the Supreme Court description begins Maeva Marcus et al., eds. The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789–1800. 8 vols. New York, 1985-2007. description ends , 2:414–23.

5When the cabinet met on 2 Aug., it had already decided at its meeting the previous day to ask for the recall of Edmond Genet as France’s minister to the United States. The implementation of that decision was delayed until 23 Aug. (JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 212; Notes on a Cabinet Meeting, 1 Aug., 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 , 26:598; Cabinet Opinion, 23 Aug. 1793).

6GW was currently considering whether to authorize a military expedition against southern Indians who were hostile to the United States (Henry Knox to GW, 25 July, and enclosure, and GW to Knox and Andrew Pickens, 26 July). On the preparations for war in the Northwest Territory and the simultaneous efforts to conduct a peace treaty with the Indians there, see Henry Knox to GW, 7 June, and notes, and Knox to Tobias Lear, 19 July, and notes 1–2.

7For the cabinet members’ differing opinions about calling a special session of Congress, see Jefferson to GW, 4 Aug. (second letter), Hamilton to GW, 5 Aug., Knox to GW, 5 Aug. (first letter), and Randolph to GW, 5 Aug. 1793, and enclosure.

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