George Washington Papers

Cabinet Opinion on Relations with France and Great Britain, 7 September 1793

Cabinet Opinion on Relations with France and Great Britain

Sep. 7. 1793.

At a meeting at the Presidents

A circular letter from the Secretary of state to the Consuls & Vice Consuls of France, informing them that their Exequaturs will be revoked if they repeat certain proceedings, also one to mister Genet covering a copy of the letter of the Secretary of state to mister Gouverneur Morris desiring the recall of mister Genet, were recd & approved.1

A letter from the Governr of Georgia to the Secy of state dated Aug. 21. 1793 was read, communicating the demand by the Vice Consul of France in Georgia of certain individuels under prosecution in a court of justice. it is the opinion that he be answered that the law must take it’s course.2

A Memorial from mister Hammond dated Sep. 6. complaining of the capture of the British brig the William Tell by the French brig le Cerf, within the limits of the protection of the U.S. and the refusal of the French minister & Consul to have the prize delivered into the hands of a marshal charged with process from a court to arrest her, was recd. it is the opinion that a letter be written to mr Genet calling for evidence in the cases of the vessels heretofore reclaimed & not yet finally decided on, & which were permitted to remain in the hands of the French Consuls in the meantime, informing him that the letter of June 25. was not intended to authorize opposition to the officers, or orders, of courts respecting vessels taken within the limits of our protection. that therefore the brig William Tell ought to be delivered into the hands of the officer charged to arrest her, and that in the event of the court’s deciding that it has no jurisdiction of the case, as in that of the ship William whereon the letter of June 25. was written, she may again be replaced in the Consul’s hands till the Executive shall have decided thereon.3

A letter from Lt Govr Wood dated Aug. 29. stating that the French vessel the Orion was arrived in Norfolk & had brought in the Sans Culottes as a prize, and doubting whether from the particular circumstances of this prize she came within the generel orders heretofore given. it is the opinion that the situation of the Sans culottes is the same in respect to England & France as any other French vessel not fitted in our ports, and therefore that the Orion is within the 17th article of our treaty & the rules heretofore given on the subject.4

A Memorial from mister Hammond dated Sep. 4 was recd complaining of the long stay of a French fleet in New-York, that a regular succession of them appears to be appointed for cruizing on the coasts, that a jurisdiction over prizes is exercised by the French Consuls, and desiring to be informed whether it be the intention of the Executive to permit this indefinitely. it is the opinion that mister Hammond be informed that effectual measures are taken to put an end to the exercise of admiralty jurisdiction by the French Consuls, that the French have by treaty a right to come into our ports with their prizes, exclusively, that they have also a right by treaty to enter our ports for any urgent necessity, that this right is exclusive as to privateers but not so as to public vessels of war and has therefore not been denied to British ships of war nor has the Executive as yet prescribed to either any limits to the time they may remain in their ports.5

A letter from mister Bordman at Boston dated Sep. 4 was recd complaining of the capture of the schooner Flora an American vessel by the Roland, one of the illicit privateers. it is the opinion he must seek redress in the courts of law.6

The draught of a letter to mister Pinckney on the Additional instructions of the court of St James’s dated June 8. 93 was read and approved.7

A Question was proposed by the President Whether we ought not to enquire from mister Hammond if he is prepared to give an answer on the subject of the inexecution of the treaty? it is the opinion that it will be better to await the arrival of the next packet, then to make the application to mister Hammond, and if he be not prepared to answer, that mister Pinckney be instructed to remonstrate on the subject to the British court.8

Th: Jefferson

H. Knox.

Edm: Randolph

DS, in Thomas Jefferson’s writing, DLC:GW; Df (partial), in Jefferson’s writing, DLC: Jefferson Papers. The Df is a slightly different version of the last sentence of the fifth paragraph.

1Jefferson’s circular of this date to the consuls and vice-consuls noticed that “they claim, and are exercising, within the United States a general admiralty jurisdiction, and in particular assume to try the validity of prizes, and to give sentence thereon as Judges of Admiralty; and moreover that they are undertaking to give Commissions within the United States, and to enlist, or encourage the enlistment of men, natives or inhabitants of these States, to commit hostilities on nations with whom the United States are at peace.” He then gave notice, “in charge from the President of the United States . . . that if any of them shall commit any of the acts beforementioned, or assume any jurisdiction not expressly given by the Convention between France and the United States, the Exequater of the Consul so transgressing, will be immediately revoked, and his person be submitted to such prosecutions and punishments as the laws may prescribe for the case” (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 , 27:51).

Jefferson’s letter to Genet of this date complained of Genet’s failure to restrain the consuls, but its primary purpose was to inform Genet that “the acts which you have thought proper to do, and to countenance, in opposition to the laws of the land, have rendered it necessary in the opinion of the President to lay a faithful statement of them before the government of France, to explain to them the reasons and the necessity which have dictated our measures,” which “has accordingly been directed to be done” in Jefferson’s letter to Gouverneur Morris of 16 August. Jefferson added that the executive would “admit the continuance of your functions so long as they shall be restrained within the limits of the law” (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 , 27:52–53).

For the letter to Morris, which detailed the administration’s dissatisfaction with Genet and directed Morris to “Lay the case then immediately before his government,” 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 , 26:697–715. For the approval of that document, see Cabinet Opinion, 23 Aug., and notes.

2For Gov. Edward Telfair’s letter to Jefferson concerning the case of Capt. Joseph Riviere and his lieutenants of the French privateer Anti-George, and Jefferson’s reply of 9 Sept., 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 , 26:736–37, 27:73–74. John Brickell had requested their release as the vice-consul of France at Savannah, but Jefferson’s reply denied that Brickell had any such standing. Brickell was probably John Brickell (1749–1809), a physician and amateur botanist. For a report of the men’s trial in November, at which they were found not guilty, see the Georgia Gazette (Savannah), 5 December.

3British minister George Hammond’s memorial is printed in 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 , 27:44–46. The William Tell, out of Dominica, was taken on 29 Aug. and sent to New York. Jefferson’s letter to Genet of 25 June, which said that “vessels suggested to be taken within the limits of the protection of the united States” by French privateers “should be detained under the orders of yourself or of the Consuls of France in the several ports, until the Government of the united States shall be able to inquire into and decide on the fact” (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 , 26:358), was Genet’s authority for his refusal to deliver the William Tell to the marshal. For the 21 June decision of the U.S. District Court of Pennsylvania that it lacked jurisdiction in the similar case of the British ship William, seized by the French privateer Citoyen Genet and brought to Philadelphia, 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 , 9:57–62. Jefferson wrote to Genet, as indicated, on 9 Sept. (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 , 27:67–69).

4For the letter from Virginia lieutenant governor James Wood to Jefferson, 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 , 26:787. Jefferson here mistakenly calls the Orion a “French vessel,” but it was a British warship. Article 17 of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between France and the United States (1778) forbade American ports from offering refuge to foreign ships that had captured French vessels, confiscated their cargoes, or detained French citizens (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 , 16–17). The French privateer Sans Culotte, however, had been ordered to depart American ports (see the cabinet opinions on French privateers of 1 and 17 June). On the “rules” to which Jefferson is referring, transmitted to the state governors by a circular letter from Henry Knox of 7 Aug., see Cabinet Opinion on the Rules of Neutrality, 3 August.

5For Hammond’s memorial of 4 Sept., 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 , 27:30–32. The exclusive rights of French privateers derived from articles 17 and 22 of the 1778 Treaty of Amity and Commerce, while article 19 gave French ships the right to enter for any urgent necessity (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 , 16–20). Jefferson addressed these issues in his letter to Hammond of 9 Sept., which also pointed out that the French fleet docked at New York since early August had brought refugees from Saint Domingue and was no threat to British commerce (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 , 27:70–72).

6The letter from William Bordman, probably Capt. William Bordman, Jr., who chartered ships and sold goods from an office at No. 10 Butler’s Row in Boston, has not been identified. Jefferson’s summary journal of letters indicates that the letter was actually dated 29 Aug. and received on 4 Sept. (DLC: Jefferson Papers; see also 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 , 27:50). For discussion of the Roland, see Cabinet Opinion, 31 Aug., and n.2 to that document. The Flora, a schooner from Nova Scotia, was advertised for condemnation at Boston on 23 Aug. (Independent Chronicle: and the Universal Advertiser [Boston], 26 Aug). The Columbian Centinel (Boston), 18 Sept., reported that the ship would be returned to her owners “by order of the Supreme Executive of the United States.”

7Jefferson’s letter to Thomas Pinckney, the U.S. minister to Great Britain, 7 Sept., protested new British rules governing the treatment of neutral merchant vessels sailing to nations unfriendly to Great Britain. The protest was “provisionally written only,” as the copy of the rules of 8 June discussed in the cabinet meeting of 31 Aug. had not been authenticated (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 , 27:55–59).

8Jefferson had written Hammond on 19 June 1793, requesting a reply to his letter of 29 May 1792 regarding the nonexecution of the 1783 Treaty of Paris (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 , 26:322, 23:551–613). With GW’s approval, Jefferson again wrote Hammond on 13 Nov. to request a reply (see Record of Cabinet Opinions, 22 Nov., and 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 , 27:353).

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