George Washington Papers

Cabinet Opinion on French Privateers, 3 August 1793

Cabinet Opinion on French Privateers

[Philadelphia] August 3. 1793

That The Minister of the French Republic be informed that the President considers the U. States as bound pursuant to positive assurances,1 given in conformity to the laws of neutrality,2 to effectuate the restoration of, or to make compensation for,3 prizes which shall have been made of any of the parties at war with France subsequent to the fifth day of June last by privateers fitted out of their ports.4

That it is consequently expected, that he will cause restitution to be made of all prizes taken and brought into our Ports subsequent to the abovementioned day by such privateers; in defect of which The President considers it as incumbent upon The U. States to indemnify the Owners of those prizes—the indemnification to be reimbursed by the French Nation.5

That besides taking efficacious measures to prevent the future fitting out of Privateers in the Ports of The U. States, they will not give asylum therein to any which shall have been at any time so fitted out,6 and will cause restitution of all such prizes as shall be hereafter brought within their Ports by any of the said Privateers.7

That instructions be sent to the respective Governors in conformity to the above communication.8

The foregoing having been duely considered and being now unanimously approved they are submitted to The President of The United States.9

Th: Jefferson
Alexandr Hamilton
H. Knox
Edm: Randolph.

DS, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW; Df (in Alexander Hamilton’s writing), DLC: Hamilton Papers; copy (letterpress copy in George Taylor, Jr.’s writing), DLC: Jefferson Papers; copy (letterpress copy in George Taylor, Jr.’s writing), DLC:GW. The originals of the letterpress copies have not been identified. Tobias Lear’s docket on the receiver’s copy reads “Opinion of Communications to be made to the French & British Ministers respecting French privateers fitted out in Ports of the U.S. and respectg prizes taken by them.”

The cabinet held a series of meetings in order to define in more detail the administration’s neutrality policy in relation to foreign vessels in U.S. ports. On the discussions among Hamilton, Knox, Jefferson, and Randolph of 29, 30 July, 1, 2, 3 August that produced this opinion, see Jefferson’s Notes of Cabinet Meeting on Neutrality, 29 July, Notes on Treaties and Neutrality, 29–30 July, and Notes of Cabinet Meeting on Neutrality, 30 July, 3 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, 607–8; JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 210–13. See also the Cabinet Opinion on the Rules of Neutrality, 3 Aug. 1793.

1On the draft, Hamilton first wrote: “That Mr Genet be informed That the U. States consider themselves bound in conformity to their assurances to the Minister of Great Britain” before altering the text to read as above. For assurances given to George Hammond, see Jefferson to Hammond, 13 June 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 , 26:270–71.

2The preceding phrase does not appear on the draft; instead Hamilton wrote “founded on the principles of the neutrality they have declared.”

3On the draft, Hamilton struck out “indemnify for all” and replaced it with the preceding three words.

4On 5 June 1793, Jefferson wrote the newly arrived French minister, Edmond Genet, that GW “was of opinion that the arming and equipping” of privateers in U.S. ports “was incompatible with the territorial sovereignty of the United States” and that “the armed vessels of this description should depart” from American ports (ibid., 195–97). On 7 Aug. 1793, Jefferson informed Genet of the administration’s current expectations (Jefferson to GW, 7 Aug. 1793 [first letter], and note 1).

5On the draft, Hamilton struck out “and will charge the amount of such indemnification against the debt which they own to France” and replaced it with the preceding nine words.

6At this point on the draft Hamilton first wrote “and if any such shall hereafter come in they will employ military force to suppress or expel them.” He then struck out “military force” and inserted “such means as shall be necessary and effectual” before striking out the modified phrase from “and if” to “expel them.”

7For the administration’s decisions respecting specific privateers and prizes, see the Cabinet Opinion of 5 Aug. 1793.

8Hamilton added this sentence and the following paragraph on the receiver’s copy. In his first circular letter to the state governors of 7 Aug. 1793, Knox listed the eight rules of neutrality established by the cabinet on 3 August and requested that the governors use the state militias to “suppress all practices … which shall be a violation of these regulations, or the neutrality of United States” (Knox to Richard Dobbs Spraight, 7 Aug. 1793, Nc-Ar: Governors’ Papers; Knox to Thomas Mifflin, 7 Aug. 1793, PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790–99; JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 216; Cabinet Opinion on the Rules of Neutrality, 3 Aug. 1793).

9GW wrote Jefferson on 4 Aug. 1793 that he approved this opinion.

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