George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Edmund Randolph, 9 July 1794

From Edmund Randolph

Philadelphia July 9. 1794

The secretary of state has the honor of inclosing to the President of the U.S. the opinions of the secretary of the treasury1 and of the attorney-general,2 upon the propriety of intrusting to Mr Jay eventual powers for some minister, who may concert with Denmark and Sweden a proper arrangement for the defence of neutral rights. Those gentlemen, as well as the secretary of war are against the measure.3 Unless therefore the President sees the subject, as strongly as it is impressed upon the mind of the secretary of state; he will probably let it rest for the present. The following observations are intended as answers to the objections, which have been made by the other gentlemen.

1. The powers are not proposed to be delivered at all events; but only at the discretion of Mr Jay, who is already required to sound.4 He can decide on the necessity of putting them into action. And why should a lesser confidence be witheld from him, in whom an immensely greater is placed? Why was the power of sounding the ministers of those courts delegated to him, if a good opening was not to be seized? What better opening can present itself, than a determined spirit of hostility in Great Britain, which, I presume, is the only condition upon which Mr Jay would be instructed to deliver the powers to the agent? Much time would be saved; especially as the project has already assumed shape from the treaty between Denmark & Sweden.5

2. It is therefore to be considered, what are the advantages and what the dangers, in case G. Britain should be resolved on hostility?

The advantages are expected to be these:

1. The Algerines will be inevitably turned upon us by Great Britain. Our little fleet in their cruises against them will probably be little able to make head against England if she is determined to crush it. But situations are easily conceived in which a full cooperation with the two northern powers may produce a better effect, more security and perhaps less expence to our ships, whether we contemplate the Algerines alone, or the British in conjunction with them.

2. If Spain, disgusted with England, or driven by necessity, should be inclined to make peace with France, she will feel a greater inclination to detach herself from England, when she finds that America is to cooperate.

3. If any Stress could be laid upon the honor of Russia, she too ought to be expected to come into the defence of neutrality. But this honor has probably too little influence; and therefore the accession of Russia, as it might be produced by the Union with America, can be counted upon, only a distant possibility.

4. G. Britain holds most of the islands. To what island, unless it be Danish or Swedish can our cruisers resort for occasional aids; and what an immense loss it will be, if we should omit to obtain every possible succour for our private ships of war, which are the only but a powerful substitute for our feeble navy?

5. Denmark and Sweden, when acting relatively to themselves only may be induced to cease from hostility against G. Britain; and indeed to content themselves with something short of war. Ought we not therefore to endeavour to prevent such a relaxation—we, who ought to multiply the enemies of our enemy?

6. But after all this is the main consideration:

G. Britain would have made war against us long ago, if it had not been for the successes of the French. If we go to war with G. Britain, we must still hope, that the French will be successful; because among many other reasons, we shall be relieved, in proportion as the French occupy her forces and her money. Now France has great expectations of succours of provisions from the vessels of Denmark, & Sweden. Without them, what may not be the consequence? Every encouragement therefore, which we can afford to those nations, by associating our private and public ships of war, will bind them faster; as they will readily anticipate the havoc, which we shall commit on British commerce.

As to the dangers of the measure proposed.

1. We are under no obligation to entangle ourselves with Denmark and Sweden further than may relate to the war; and if the terms offered by them be unacceptable, let them not be accepted.

2. If war should have actually taken place between the two northern powers and England, before fresh instructions could reach Mr Jay; still the instructions may be so worded, as to avoid the assumption of power, apprehended by the attorney-general: And he forgets, that the minister is not proposed to be sent on to the northern courts unless there appears to be a determined spirit of hostility in G. Britain against the U.S.

3. To be sure, if G. Britain should discriminate in our favor, either openly or secretly, it would be improper to form a league against her. But then Mr Jay will not deliver the powers, if she also makes compensation. Suppose the discrimination should be established in future; and no compensation be offered for past depredations. Even then, ought congress to be in a capacity of deciding on the aid, which they may expect, if they should be involved in a war from measures for procuring satisfaction to their plundered citizens.

Edm: Randolph.

ALS, DLC:GW; LB, DNA: RG 59, Reports of the Secretary of State to the President and Congress.

1Alexander Hamilton’s opinion, dated 8 July, reads: "The Secretary of the Treasury presents his Compliments to the Secretary of State—begs leave to inform him that his opinion on the question lately proposed respecting the instruction of Mr Jay eventually to establish by Treaty a concert with Sweden & Denmark—is against the measure. The United States have peculiar advantages from situation which would thereby be thrown into common stock without an equivalent. Denmark and Sweden are too weak & too remote to render a cooperation useful—and the entanglements of a Treaty with them might be found very inconvenient The Ustates had better stand upon their own ground.

"If a war on the question of neutral rights should take place common interest will probably secure all the cooperation which is practicable and occasional arrangements may be made. What has been already done in this respect appears therefore to be sufficient.

"This subject has varied in the impression entertained of it but the foregoing is the final result of full reflection." (DLC:GW).

2William Bradford’s opinion, dated 5 July, reads: "I have paid attention to the note of the 30th Ulto with which you have honored me: and altho’ my first impressions were in favor of the measure suggested, yet a further consideration of it has excited doubts of its expediency.

"Mr Jays instructions were to sound the Ministers of Denmark & Swed with a view of learning the disposition of their respective courts to support the rights of neutral navigation. The object of this seems to have been to ascertain how far we might depend upon their concurrence and aid, if it should become necessary for us to protect by force of arms, that freedom of Navigation which the universal law of Nations permits to neutral powers. In order to secure their cooperation and induce them to coincide with our views, it might have been necessary for the United states to have entered into strict Engagements & made a common cause with them, however inexpedient it might have been for this Country to involve herself in connections of this nature with the European powers. But this necessity cannot now arise. We know the determination of Sweden & Denmark. If circumstances shall demand it, America may co-operate with them, without any formal convention, and at the same time be at liberty to adopt such measures as future exigences may require.

"It is probable that before any instructions could reach Europe, the British Court will either have recognized the rights of neutral Navigation or that reprisals will have issued & war be commenced. In the first case, the general principle will no doubt extend itself to us: or, if a partial arrangement takes place between Great Britain & those two northern powers we cannot expect any cooperation from them. On the contrary, if war should take place in consequence of the determination of those powers to make reprisals, it will then be competent to the United States to cooperate in that war without embarrassing themselves with any formal engagements. How far the Executive could constitutionally engage that the United States should take part in a war actually begun may be doubtful: & as the event of Mr Jay’s negociation cannot be known long before the meeting of Congress, the subject (if a war should have taken place) would perhaps come more properly before that body, in whom the right of declaring War is vested.

"Mr Pinckney has intimated that there is a disposition in the British Court to make a real if not an avowed discrimination between the navigation of the U.S. and that of the northern European powers. If this should be actually made, it will be a question of much delicacy how far this country ought to interfere; the decision of which, the President, perhaps, ought not to delegate to any person whatsoever.

"Upon the whole I incline to think that the measure proposed is not expedient at present; but it is not, without some hesitation that I form this opinion" (DLC:GW).

3Henry Knox’s opinion, dated 2 July, reads: "There may be a state of things operating upon Denmark and Sweden essentially different from that operating upon America. States as well as individuals often have secret motives for their Conduct. I dread being linked in with the follies or vices of European powers. In my weak judgment, our bark is in a fair train of reaching her destined port unless by some error of our own she should be thrown out of her Course The mass of the people of England are now our friends, and they will probably prevent their government from making war upon us—But let us combine with the European powers the case will be different. National pride will be excited in England, to which Justice and even their own interests may be sacrificed.

"Independent of these considerations we have no naval force to support Sweden and Denmark. If we combine with them as an armed neutrality, and England should resent it, as she probably will may we not reasonably expect their vengeance wreaked upon our defenceless commerce, which at this moment I understand is lucrative and flourishing beyond all example? Can we expect protection from the Baltic? Upon the whole I am for waiting a little longer to see the reception of Mr Jay. I am not for entrusting such a momentous event which may lead to war even to the impulses of his discretion. Let him sound according to his former instructions and let us receive a report before we take any further steps lest we mar our present prospects" (DLC:GW).

4For Randolph’s instructions to John Jay of 6 May, 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 , 1:472-74. In section V, Jay was instructed to sound the ministers of Russia, Denmark, and Sweden about "the probability of an alliance" to support neutral rights, "if an entire view of all our political relations shall, in your judgment, permit the step."

5For discussion of the agreement between Denmark and Sweden, signed at Copenhagen on 27 March, see David Humphreys to GW, 28 June, n.1.

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