George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Jay, 18 December 1794

To John Jay

(private)

Philadelphia Decr 18th 1794.

My dear Sir,

Since writing to you by Mr Bayard—about the first of November1—I have been favored with your letters of the 13th of Septembr and 2d of October.2

As the sentiments contained in the first of these, respecting the communications of Mr Monroe to the National Convention of France, were also transmitted in a private letter from you to the Secretary of State, and replied to by him (both of which I have seen)3 I shall dwell no longer on that subject than just to observe—1st that considering the place in which they were delivered, and the neutral policy this country had resolved to pursue, it was a measure that does not appear to have been well devised by our Minister—2d Aware of this himself, & that his conduct would be criticised, he has assigned reasons for its adoption: a summary of which are, that the Navy officers, & Privateersmen of France, who had resorted to our Ports, and had been laid under such restrictions as neutral policy required, from us altho’ disagreeable to them had represented this country (and not without effect) as unfriendly to the French revolution; to do away wch he found himself necessitated to counteract them by strong assurances of the good dispositions of the people of these U. States towards that nation.4 And 3dly although I think with you that in order to accomplish this he has stepped beyond the true line, yet, under the then existing circumstances, the expression of such reciprocal good will, was susceptible of two views; one of which even in the pending state of the negotiation (by alarming, as well as offending the B: Ministry) might have no unfavorable operation in bringing matters to a happy & speedy result; than which nothing is more desirable, or can be more ardently wished for by the friends of peace & good order in this Ctry.

As the Secretary of State has written to you several times since the receipt of your statement of the Negotiation on the 13th of September, I shall add nothing to the observations which are contained in his letters, on the subject thereof.5

The business of the Session, hitherto, has been tranquil, and I perceive nothing at this time, to make it otherwise, unless the result of the Negotiation (which is anxiously expected by all) should produce divisions. As yet no details have been handed to Congress on this subject—indeed no communication of that business has been made to any body except those immediately about me in the Executive departmts.

A paragraph, of which the enclosed is a copy, is running through all our Gazettes; accompanied with a report that the United States are contemplated as Mediator between France & England.6 To ascertain by what authority the first was inserted, Bache, in whose paper it first appeared, has been called upon by the Secretary of State but no satisfactory answer has been obtained from him as yet.7 With respect to the other it seems to have originated on the other side of the Water, and is of a delicate nature, the very idea of which, under the present successes of the French Arms (admitting it should be agreeable to the other power) would, it is conceived, convey unpleasant sensations, and be viewed in an evil light by that nation, unless intimations to the contrary should first come from them.

The Virginia escheats of British property do not, as I am informed, stand upon the ground as related to you; but as I am not accurately enough read in the law respecting these escheats, to be precise in my recital of it, I will request the Secretary of State to give you the principles thereof.8

As I expected, and as you have been informed the result would probably be, so it has happened that, the Western Insurrection has terminated highly honorable for this country; which, by the energy of its laws, & the good dispositions of its citizens, have brought the rioters to a perfect sense of their duty without shedding a drop of blood. In the eyes of Foreigners, among us, this affair stands in a high point of respectability. With great truth I remain—Dr Sir Your Affectionate

Go: Washington

ALS, NNC: Jay Papers; ADf, DLC:GW; LB, DLC:GW; LB, DLC:GW. One of the two letter-book copies evidently was made before GW’s revisions to the draft, as it contains neither of the two additions reported in notes 7 and 8 and also uses the original, rather than the final, wording for many minor changes to the draft that have not been reported in the notes below.

1See GW to Jay, 1–4 November.

2GW probably was referring to Jay’s letter to him of 3 October.

3Jay’s private letter to Edmund Randolph of 13 Sept. informed him that, although Jay had omitted any mention in his public letter out of delicacy, “your Letter by Mr Munro, and his speech to the Convention is regarded here as not being consistant with the neutral Situation of the U.S.—an uneasy Sensation has thereby been made here in the public mind, & probably in that of the Cabinet” (DNA: RG 59, Despatches from U.S. Ministers to Great Britain). Randolph replied to Jay in a private letter of 12 Nov. in which he expressed “regret” at learning that his letter had created “any uneasy emotions in the Breast of the British Ministry,” but argued that he had always labored to avoid a rupture with Great Britain and that the British government, “if pure in their views,” would not be “checked in their spirit of Amity” when Jay’s mission, “instituted in the moment of the most aggravating injury and insult,” provided “the most striking example” of American amity. Moreover, Randolph concluded, the language he used in the letter had followed and was almost dictated by the House resolution that he was transmitting (NHi: Jay Papers).

For Randolph’s letters of 10 June to the Committee of Public Safety, and James Monroe’s speech of 15 Aug., see ASP 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 , Foreign Relations, 1:673–74.

4Monroe discussed his communications to the French convention in his letter to Randolph of 25 Aug. (DNA: RG 59, Despatches from U.S. Ministers to France; see also Papers of James Monroe description begins Daniel Preston et al., eds. The Papers of James Monroe. 5 vols. to date. Westport, Conn., and Santa Barbara, Calif., 2003–. description ends , 3:39–42).

5For a summary of Jay’s public letter to Randolph of 13 Sept., see Jay to GW, 13 Sept., n.1; for the full text and enclosures, see ASP 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 , Foreign Relations, 1:485–96. Randolph received that letter on 11 Nov. and replied the next day, raising a number of questions about the negotiations and promising a more detailed response later (ASP 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 , Foreign Relations, 1:501–2).

Randolph wrote Jay again on 3 Dec., reiterating his request that Jay not accept a stipulation against the U.S. use of privateers in case of war with Great Britain and his concern that the delay until 1796 of British relinquishment of the frontier forts and the stipulation for continued British trade with the Indians within U.S. borders might allow them “to perpetuate their ascendancy over them.” Randolph also raised concerns about the treatment in the negotiations of the issue of slaves carried off by the British (ASP 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 , Foreign Relations, 1:509).

Randolph’s main response was contained in his letter to Jay of 15 December. There Randolph argued in detail against Lord Grenville’s contention that the slaves carried off by the British had become British property prior to their departure and need not be returned, re-emphasized yet again GW’s “repugnance” to the proposed delay in the British relinquishment of forts, and questioned Jay’s “undertaking to pay the damages sustained by British creditors by lawful impediments.” He also raised questions about six of the seven articles in the proposed commercial treaty, suggesting, among other things, that its duration was too short (ASP 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 , Foreign Relations, 1:509–12).

6The enclosed clipping from the Aurora General Advertiser (Philadelphia) of 13 Dec. is with this letter in NNC: Jay Papers. It reported “from good authority” that Jay had requested from the French government “permission to communicate directly” with Monroe at Paris “by means of a packet … not being liable to search or examination. This demand is thought by some to be indicative of a desire in the British court of commencing a peace negociation with the French, in which Mr. Jay should be the mediator.”

7On the draft the previous sentence reads in part “no satisfaction has been obtained,” but GW inserted an asterisk at this point to reference the following note: “Since writing the above—an unsatisfactory explanation has been given.”

8For Randolph’s discussion of the Virginia escheats in his letter to Jay of 20 Dec., see Jay to GW, 13 Sept., n.4.

On the draft, GW initially put the complimentary close at this point, but he later inserted a symbol to reference a note in the left margin that begins “A paragraph to be added” and continued with a draft of the paragraph that follows in the ALS.

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