George Washington Papers

Cabinet Opinion on French Privateers and Prizes, 5 August 1793

Cabinet Opinion on French Privateers and Prizes

[Philadelphia, 5 August 1793]

At a meeting of the heads of departments & the Attorney general at the Secretary of state’s office Aug. 5. 1793.

The case of the Swallow letter of marque at New York, desired to be sent out of our ports, as being a privateer. it is the opinion that there is no ground to make any new order on the subject.1

The Polly or Republican, in the hands of the Marshal at New York, on a charge of having been armed in our ports to cruize against nations at peace with the U.S. it is the opinion there is no ground to make any new order in this case.2

The Little Democrat, the Vainqueur de la Bastille, the Citoyen Genet, & the Sans Culottes. a letter to be written to mister Genet as was determined on the 3d instant, and an instruction in conformity therewith be given to the governors. mister Hammond to be informed thereof & to be assured the government will effectuate their former resolution on this subject.3

The Lovely Lass, the Prince William Henry, & the Jane of Dublin, prizes to the Citoyen Genet. mister Genet to be written to as was agreed on the 3d inst.4

The brig Fanny and Ship William reclaimed as taken within the limits of our protection. as it is expected that the court of Admiralty may very shortly reconsider whether it will take cognisance of these cases, it is thought better to take no new measure therein for the present.5

The Schooner fitting out at Boston as mentd in a letter of mister Gore to mister Lear. the Governor of Massachusets to be written to suppress her.6

Mr Delaney’s letter of the 24th of July on the question whether duties are to be paid on prize goods landed for sale. it is the opinion the duties are to be paid.7

A letter from mister Genet of the 4th of Aug. informing the Secretary of state that certain inhabitants lately arrived from St Domingo are combining to form a military expedition from the territory of the U.S. against the constituted authorities of the said island. it is the opinion that the Governor of Maryland be informed thereof (because in a verbal communication to the Secretary of state mister Genet had named Baltimore as the place where the combination was forming) and that he be desired to take measures to prevent the same.8

Th: Jefferson
Alexandr Hamilton
H. Knox

The Secretary of State and Attorney General are of opinion that Mr Hammond be informed that measures are taking to procure restoration of the prizes the Lovely Lass The Prince William Henry and the Jane of Dublin, and in case that cannot be effected that Government will take the subject into further consideration.9

The Secretaries of the Treasury and of War are of opinion that Mr Hammond be informed that measures are taking to effect the restoration of the prizes The Lovely Lass, The Prince William Henry and the Jane of Dublin; that in case this shall not be effected the President considers it as incumbent upon the U. States to make compensation for those Prizes; and that prizes in similar circumstances which shall be hereafter brought into the Ports of the U. States will be restored.10

DS, DLC:GW; DS (letterpress copy), DLC: Jefferson Papers; Df, DLC: Jefferson Papers. The first nine paragraphs on the DS at DLC:GW are in Jefferson’s writing and the last two paragraphs are in Hamilton’s. Tobias Lear’s docket on the DS at DLC:GW reads “Opinion of the Heads of the Departments & Attorney General respecting the Swallow—Republican—Little Democrat—Vainqueur de la Bastille—Citizen Genet, Sans Culottes—and certain prizes—also respectg an expedition said to be planned among the french in Baltimore agt Hispaniola 5 Augt 1793.” The undated draft, which has been erroneously filed as Jefferson to George Hammond of 24 Aug., consists of variant texts of the last two paragraphs (see notes 9–10). GW received this opinion on 5 Aug. 1793 (JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 214).

1On French consul Hauterive’s protest against the continued presence of the Swallow, a British letter of marque, at New York’s harbor, see George Clinton to GW, 22 June 1793, and notes.

2On the conversion of the American sloop Polly into the French privateer Republican and its detention by state authorities at New York, see Clinton to GW, 9 June, and note 4, and Cabinet Opinion, 12 June, and note 3, and Henry Knox to GW, 18 June 1793, and note 1. Aquila Giles was the federal marshal for the District of New York.

3On the British brig Little Sarah, outfitted as the privateer Petite Démocrate and now at Philadelphia, see Cabinet Opinion, 8 July, and Jefferson’s Notes of 10 July enclosed in his first memorandum to GW of 11 July 1793. On the schooner Hector, now the French privateer Vainqueur de la Bastille and at Wilmington, N.C., see Richard Dobbs Spaight to GW, 24 June 1793, and note 1. On Edmond Genet’s commissioning of the Citoyen Genet and Sans Culotte at Charleston, S.C., see Hamilton’s Memorandum to GW of 15 May 1793, and note 1. For the letter informing Genet about the Cabinet Opinion on French Privateers of 3 August, see Jefferson to GW, 7 Aug. 1793 (first letter), and note 1. On 7 August Knox wrote the first of two circular letters to the governors of the Atlantic states. Knox informed them that in response to requests from “the Governors of several of the States for more precise rules to direct their conduct … the President of the United States has upon mature consideration thought proper to adopt the following regulations for the preservation of our neutrality, as deductions from the general Laws of Nations.” He then proceeded to list the eight rules of neutrality as set forth in the first cabinet opinion of 3 Aug. 1793. In his conclusion, Knox wrote: “The President has instructed me to request that your Excellency in your capacity as Commander in Chief of your militia, would in the earliest stage possible suppress all practices throughout” the applicable state “which shall be a violation of these regulations, or the neutrality of the United States so essential to the happiness of our Country” (Knox to Richard Dobbs Spaight, 7 Aug., Nc-Ar: Governors’ Papers). For the letter to Hammond, see Jefferson to GW, 7 Aug. 1793 (second letter), and note 1.

4For British minister George Hammond’s request that the United States assist in “restitution” of the British brigs Lovely Lass and Prince William Henry to their rightful owners, see Hammond to Jefferson, 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 , 26:461–62. These two brigs currently were at Baltimore, and their captor, the French privateer Citoyen Genet, was sailing in nearby waters. For Hammond’s request for the restoration of the British brig Jane (of Dublin), now at Philadelphia, see Hammond to Jefferson, 30 July 1793, ibid., 584–85. For the decision to write the French minister Edmond Genet about the restoration of these three ships and others, see Cabinet Opinion on French Privateers, 3 Aug. 1793. On the letter to Genet informing him of this opinion, see Jefferson to GW, 7 Aug. 1793 (first letter), and note 1.

5Hammond claimed that the brig Fanny and the ship William (of Glasgow) were captured in American territorial waters. In an attempt to recover their ships, the owners of these two vessels filed suit in the U.S. District Court of Pennsylvania (Hammond to Jefferson, 5 June 1793, ibid., 199–201). On 21 June 1793, district judge Richard Peters ruled that the court did not have jurisdiction in the case of the William, and later this year he made the same ruling in the case of the Fanny (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 , 9:57–62, 17:943–48). According to Section 9 of “An Act to establish the Judicial Courts of the United States,” 24 Sept. 1789, the district courts had “exclusive original cognizance of all civil causes of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction” and “of all causes where an alien sues for a tort only in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States” (1 Stat description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends ., 77).

6In a letter to Tobias Lear of 6 Aug., Christopher Gore, the U.S. district attorney for Massachusetts, referred to the “little schooner, mentioned as a privateer in my letter of the 25th ult.,” which has not been identified (DLC: Tobias Lear Letters). In his letter to Lear of 28 July, in which he discussed the presence of French and British privateers at Boston and the problems of enforcing the administration’s neutrality policies, Gore wrote: “By the last mail, I informed you, that a privateer had been fitted by some frenchmen; had sailed from Boston; & was then cruising in the harbor—on thursday night [25 July], or early on friday morning, she returned to the wharf—The two americans, who were on board, have not yet been taken, tho’ the marshall [John Brooks] has a warrant for apprehending them” (DLC: Tobias Lear Papers). The Boston Gazette and the Country Journal of 29 July also described this ship: “The French Privateer which sailed from this port last Saturday night 7-night [20 July], returned on Thursday, and has landed her stores, it is said, by order of the French consul [Antoine Charbonnet Duplaine].” By 9 Aug., Knox had written a letter to Hancock “stating that information had been recd. of a privateer with a French Commission was fitting out at Boston, & desiring that he would take measures to prevent her sailing” (JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 216–17).

7The letter from Sharp Delany, the collector of customs at Philadelphia, to Alexander Hamilton of 24 July 1793, which has not been identified, stated that “the French agent had refused to pay the bonds which he had given for the duties on the French prizes.” After receiving this letter from Hamilton on 26 July, GW sent it to Jefferson “for his opinion” (ibid., 208).

8For Genet’s letter to Jefferson of 4 Aug. 1793, 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 , 26:612. Henry Knox wrote Thomas Sim Lee on 6 Aug. 1793 about the alleged military expedition and informed him that “the President of the United States deems the fitting out any Military expeditions from any of the ports of the United States as unlawful and therefore to be prevented.” In a second letter to Lee of the same date, Knox wrote: “Authentic information has been received that there are at this time two french Privateers fitting out at Baltimore, the one a Brig to mount fourteen Guns, and the other a Virginia Pilot boat. The President of the United States expresses his confidence that you will take immediate and effectual measures for the suppression of the said Vessels as privateers” (Md. Archives, 72:345). On the physical characteristics of the Sans Culotte and the Citoyen Genet, see Jackson, “The Consular Privateers description begins Melvin H. Jackson. “The Consular Privateers; an account of French Privateering in American waters, April to August, 1793.” American Neptune 22 (1962): 81–98. description ends ,” 83–84; New York Journal and Patriotic Register, 2 Aug. 1793.

9The draft paragraph written by Edmund Randolph reads: “To inform Mr Hammond, that measures are to procure restoration of the vessels; and in case, that cannot be effected, that government will take the subject into farther consideration.”

10The draft paragraph written by Alexander Hamilton reads: “That Mr Hammond be informed that measures are taking to effect the restoration of the Prizes The Lovely Lass the Prince William Henry and the Jane of Dublin that in case this shall not be effected The President considers it as incumbent upon the U. States to make compensation for those prizes; and measures will be taken for the immediate restitution of such Prizes as shall hereafter [be] brought into the U. States in similar circumstances.” For the version of this paragraph used in Jefferson’s letter to Hammond of 7 Aug., see Jefferson’s second letter to GW of 7 Aug., and note 1.

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