George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the United States Senate and House of Representatives, 5 December 1793

To the United States Senate and House of Representatives

United States [Philadelphia], Decemb. 5th 1793

Gentlemen of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives.

As the present situation of the several Nations of Europe, and especially of those with which the U.S. have important relations, cannot but render the state of things between them and us matter of interesting inquiry to the legislature, & may indeed give rise to deliberations to which they alone are competent, I have thought it my duty to communicate to them certain correspondences which have taken place.

The Representative and Executive bodies of France have manifested generally a friendly attachment to this Country; have given advantages to our commerce & navigation; and have made overtures for placing these advantages on permanent ground; a decree however of the National Assembly, subjecting vessels laden with provisions to be carried into their Ports, & making enemy goods lawful prize in the vessel of a friend, contrary to our Treaty, tho’ revoked at one time, as to the U.S. has been since extended to their vessels also, as has been recently stated to us—Representations on this subject, will be immediately given in charge to our Minister there, and the result shall be communicated to the legislature.1

It is with extreme concern I have to inform you that the proceedings of the person whom they have unfortunately appointed their Minister Plenipy here, have breathed nothing of the friendly spirit of the Nation which sent him. their tendency on the contrary has been to involve us in war abroad, & discord & anarchy at home. So far as his Acts, or those of his agents, have threatned our immediate commitment in the war, or flagrant insult to the authority of the laws, their effect has been counteracted by the ordinary cognisance of the laws, and by an exertion of the powers confided to me. Where their danger was not imminent, they have been borne with, from sentiments of regard to his Nation, from a sense of their friendship towards us,2 from a conviction that they would not suffer us to remain long exposed to the action of a person who has so little respected our mutual dispositions, and, I will add, from a reliance on the firmness of my fellow citizens in their principles of peace and order. In the mean time, I have respected and pursued the stipulations of our Treaties, according to what I judged their true sense; and have withheld no act of friendship which their affairs have called for from us, & which justice to others left us free to perform. I have gone further. rather than employ force for the restitution of certain vessels which I deemed the U.S. bound to restore, I thought it more adviseable to satisfy the parties by avowing it to be my opinion, that if restitution were not made, it would be incumbent on the U.S. to make compensation.3 The papers now communicated will more particularly apprize you of these transactions.4

The vexations and spoliation understood to have been committed, on our vessels and commerce, by the cruizers & officers of some of the belligerent powers, appeared to require attention, the proofs of these however not having been brought forward, the description of citizens supposed to have suffered were notified, that on furnishing them to the Executive, due measures would be taken to obtain redress of the past, and more effectual provisions against the future.5 Should such documents be furnished, proper representations will be made thereon, with a just reliance on a redress proportioned to the exigency of the case.

The British Government having undertaken, by orders to the Commanders of their armed vessels, to restrain generally our Commerce in Corn and other provisions to their own ports & those of their friends, the instructions now communicated were immediately forwarded to our Minister at that Court. In the mean time some discussions on the subject, took place between him & them. these are also laid before you; and I may expect to learn the result of his special instructions in time to make it known to the legislature during their present session.6

Very early after the arrival of a British Minister here, mutual explanations on the inexecution of the Treaty of peace were entered into with that Minister. these are now laid before you for your information.7

On the subjects of mutual Interest between this Country & Spain, negociations & conferences are now depending. The public good requiring that the present state of these should be made known to the legislature in confidence only, they shall be the subject of a separate & subsequent Communication.8

Go: Washington

DS, DNA: RG 46, Third Congress, 1793–95, Senate Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages; Df, in Thomas Jefferson’s writing, undated, and with numerous emendations, some of which are written on a slip of paper pasted over parts of the second and third paragraph on the first page, DLC: Jefferson Papers; Df (letterpress copy), in Jefferson’s writing but partially overwritten at a later date, dated in ink “Dec. 5. 93.,” and copied before the emendations noted above, DLC: Jefferson Papers; Df, in Jefferson’s writing with three sets of emendations, undated, and bearing the note, “this shews my original draught, and the alterations made in it at our council at the President’s Nov. 28. 93.,” DLC: Jefferson Papers; Df (letterpress copy), in Jefferson’s writing, undated, without note or most emendations, DLC: Jefferson Papers; Copy, DNA: RG 233, Third Congress, 1793–95, House Records of Legislative Proceedings, Journals; LB, DLC:GW; Copy (French translation), FrPMAE: Correspondence Politique, États-Unis, vol. 39.

At a cabinet meeting on 23 Nov., it was agreed that Jefferson would prepare a draft of this message. At a meeting on 28 Nov., Jefferson agreed to make several alterations to his first draft in the face of cabinet members’ objections, and he made additional changes after receiving Gouverneur Morris’s reports critical of France (see Jefferson’s Notes of Cabinet Meetings, 23 and 28 Nov., 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 , 27:428, 453–56; and Jefferson to GW, 30 Nov.). Jefferson enclosed his final draft (the one with the pasted alterations) in his first letter to GW of 2 December. The DS sent by GW to Congress followed Jefferson’s final draft with only minor variations. Significant differences between Jefferson’s first draft and the message sent by GW to the U.S. Congress are noted below. For the text of Jefferson’s final draft and a more detailed treatment of the draft variations, 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 , 27:474–79).

This document was printed in the General Advertiser (Philadelphia), 6 Dec., and other newspapers.

1In Jefferson’s first draft, this paragraph originally read, “The several Representative & Executive bodies in France have uniformly manifested the most friendly attachments to this country, have shewn particular favor to our commerce & navigation, & as far as yet appears have given just & ready redress of the wrongs to our citizens & their property irregularly taken on the high seas, & carried into their ports.” Criticism by Hamilton and others, along with the information contained in Morris’s dispatches, forced Jefferson to revise this paragraph.

A French decree of 19 Feb. had opened French colonial ports to American ships, provided that produce carried by such ships be charged the same duties as borne by French vessels, and suggested negotiations with Congress for mutual reductions in duties (ASP, Foreign Relations description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends , 1:147). For discussion of the French decree of 9 May and the subsequent alterations, see Thomas Jefferson to GW, 30 Nov., n.2). GW’s information about the re-extension of that decree to U.S. vessels came from Gouverneur Morris’s letter to Jefferson of 25 June (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 , 26:363–69).

2At this point Jefferson’s first draft contains the phrase “& favors, ancient & recent.” Jefferson replaced that phrase with “towards us” in response to Alexander Hamilton’s objections to the draft presented at the cabinet meeting of 28 November. The phrase remained, however, in the letterpress copy.

3For this decision, which was communicated in letters of 7 Aug. from Jefferson to French minister Edmond Genet and British minister George Hammond (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 , 26:633–35), see the cabinet opinions of 3 and 5 August.

4For the enclosed documents, certified by Jefferson as authentic copies on 4 Dec., see ASP, Foreign Relations description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends , 1:142–88.

5This notification was given by a circular letter of 27 Aug. from Jefferson to various American merchants, which was widely reprinted in the newspapers (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 , 26:767–69).

6Jefferson’s original rendition of the preceding paragraph, prior to several corrections made at the behest of the cabinet, read, “The undertaking to restrain generally our commerce of corn & other provisions to their own ports & those of their friends by an express order of their government, being an infraction of our natural rights, unfounded in reason, inconsistent with the candor of our conduct towards them & excused by no want of these articles themselves, the representations on that subject now communicated were forwarded to our minister at their court. by these you will percieve that we may expect final information thereon in time for the legislature to consider whether any provision will be necessary on their part for securing an indemnification to our agriculture & commerce for the losses sustained by this interception of their produce.” For the documents enclosed, see ASP, Foreign Relations description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends , 1:239–43.

7For these documents, see ASP, Foreign Relations description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends , 1:188–238.

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