George Washington Papers

Cabinet Opinion, 7 December 1793

Cabinet Opinion

[7 December 1793]

At a meeting of the heads of departments & Attorney Genl at the President’s on the 7th of Dec. 1793.

Mr Genet’s letter of Dec. 3. questioning the right of requiring the address of Consular commissions to the President was read. it is the opinion that the address may be either to the U.S. or to the President of the U.S. but that one of these shoud be insisted on.1

A letter from James King was read, dated Philadelphia Nov.

25. 1793. complaining of the capture of his schooner Nancy by a British privateer & carried into N. Providence, and that the court there has thrown the onus probandi on the owners, to shew that the vessel & cargo are American property. it is the opinion that mister King be informed that it is a general rule that the governmt should not interpose individually, till a final denial of justice has taken place in the courts of the country where the wrong is done; but that, a considerable degree of information being shortly expected relative to these cases, his will be further considered & attended to at that time.2

The Secretary of state informed the President that he had received a number of applications from mister Genet on behalf of the refugees of St Domingo who have been subjected to tonnage on their vessels & duties on their property on taking asylum in the ports of this country, into which they were forced by the misfortunes of that colony. it is the opinion that the Secretary of state may put the petitions into the hands of a member of the legislature in his private capacity to be presented to the legislature.3

Th: Jefferson

Edm: Randolph

Alexandr Hamilton

H. Knox.

DS, in Thomas Jefferson’s writing, DLC:GW.

1For Edmond Genet’s letter to Thomas Jefferson of 3 Dec., 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 , 27:479–80. Jefferson had informed Genet in a letter of 2 Oct. that “by our constitution all foreign agents are to be addressed to the President of the US.” When Genet questioned that view in a letter to Jefferson of 14 Nov. and failed to address the commissions of two vice-consuls according to those instructions, Jefferson returned the commissions with his second letter to Genet of 22 Nov., telling him that GW would “issue no Exequatur to any Consul or Vice consul not directed to him in the usual form” (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 , 27:175–76, 363–64, 414–15). Jefferson’s reply to Genet of 9 Dec. followed this cabinet opinion (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 , 27:500–502).

2King’s letter to Jefferson of 25 Nov. has not been identified. Jefferson’s reply to King of 7 Dec. was in accord with the cabinet opinion (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 , 27:491). James King (1751–1832) was a Philadelphia merchant.

3French minister Edmond Genet had written at least three letters to Jefferson supporting the remission of tonnage duties for the vessels of Saint Domingue refugees, 1 and 29 Oct. and 25 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 , 27:172–73, 280–82, 435). Jefferson approached William Vans Murray on this subject (see Jefferson to GW, 15 Dec.), and on 7 March 1794 Congress passed “An Act for the remission of the duties arising on the tonnage of sundry French vessels which have taken refuge in the ports of the United States” (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 , 1:342).

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