- Foreign Relations ( Continued )
- Cabinet Opinion
- Cabinet Opinion—hamilton and Knox
- Washington to John Jay, Chief-justice, and James Wilson, James Iredell, and William Patterson, Associate-justices, of the Supreme Court of the United States
- Questions Proposed to Be Submitted to the Judges of the Supreme Court of the United States
- Washington to the Heads of Departments and the Attorney-general
- No Jacobin 1
- Instructions to the Collectors of the Customs 2
- Cabinet Opinion.—hamilton to Washington 1
- Notes By Hamilton, to Frame Letter of Secretary of State to Gouverneur Morris, Minister At Paris (cabinet Paper.)
- Cabinet Opinion
- Hamilton to Washington
- Hamilton to Washington (cabinet Paper.)
- Hamilton to Washington (cabinet Paper.)
- Americanus (from the American Daily Advertiser .)
- Hamilton to Washington (cabinet Paper.)
- Hamilton to Washington (cabinet Paper.)
- Points to Be Considered In the Instructions to Mr. Jay, Envoy Extraordinary to Great Britain
- Hamilton to Jay (cabinet Paper.)
- Treaty Project
- Hamilton to Washington (cabinet Paper.)
- Hamilton to Washington (cabinet Paper.)
- Hamilton to Randolph (cabinet Paper.)
- Hamilton to Randolph (cabinet Paper.)
- Remarks On Lord Grenville’s Project of a Commercial Treaty, Made At the Request of E. Randolph, Esq., Secretary of State
- Hamilton to Washington (cabinet Paper.)
- Remarks On the Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation, Made Between the United States and Great Britain
- Supplementary Remarks
- Horatius 1
- No . I
- No . Ii
- No . Iii
- No . Iv
- No . V
- No . Vi
- No . Vii
- No . Viii
- No . Ix
- No . X
- No . Xi
- No . Xii
- No . Xiii
- No . Xiv
- No . Xv
- No . Xvi
- No . Xvii
- No . Xviii
- No . Xix
- No . Xx
- No . Xxi
- No . Xxii
- No . Xxiii 1
August 16, 1793.
The observations hitherto made have been designed to vindicate the Executive of the United States from the aspersions cast upon it by the Jacobin. Let us now examine what has been the conduct of the agents of France.
Mr. Genet, charged with the commission of Minister Plenipotentiary from the French Republic to the United States, arrived first at Charleston, South Carolina. Instead of coming immediately on to the seat of government, as in propriety he ought to have done, he continued at that place and on the road so long as to excite no small degree of observation and surprise. Here, at once, the system of electrifying the people (to use a favorite phrase of the agents of France) began to be put in execution. Discerning men saw, from this first opening of the scene, what was to be the progress of the drama. They perceived that negotiation with the constitutional organs of the nation was not the only means to be relied upon for carrying the points with which the representative of France was charged—that popular intrigue was at least to second, if not to enforce, the efforts of negotiation.
During the stay of Mr. Genet at Charleston, without a possibility of sounding or knowing the disposition of our government on the point, he causes to be fitted out two privateers, under French colors, and commissions to cruise from our ports against the enemies of France. Citizens of the United States are engaged to serve on board these privateers, contrary to the natural duties of humanity between nations at peace, and contrary to the positive stipulations of our treaties with some of the powers at war with France. One of these privateers makes a prize of an English vessel, brings her into the port of Charleston, where a Consul of France proceeds to try, condemn, and sell her; unwarranted by usage, by treaty, by precedent, by permission. It is impossible for a conduct less friendly or less respectful than this to have been observed. To direct violations of our sovereignty, amounting to a serious aggression, was added a dangerous commitment of our peace, without even the ceremony of previously feeling the pulse of our government. The incidents that attended Mr. Genet’s arrival here, previous to his reception, though justly subject to criticism, shall be passed over in silence. Breaches of decorum lose their importance when mingled with injuries and outrages.
This offensive commencement of his career was not made an objection to his reception; though it would probably have been so in any other country in the world. It has not been alleged either, that there was any want of cordiality in that reception. We shall see what return was made for this manifestation of moderation and friendship. Knowing, as we do, the opposition of the government to the practice of fitting out privateers in our ports, it cannot be doubted that an early opportunity was taken to make known its disapprobation to the French Minister; nor is it possible that the Executive of the United States can have neglected to remonstrate against so improper an exercise of consular jurisdiction as that which has been mentioned; yet we have seen that the practice of fitting out privateers has been openly persisted in. Their number has so increased, and their depredations have been so multiplied, as to give just cause of alarm for the consequences to the peace of this country. It is also matter of notoriety that the consuls of France have gone on with the condemnation of prizes; that one of them has had the audacity, by a formal protest to the District Court of New York, not only to deny its jurisdiction, but to arrogate to himself a complete and exclusive jurisdiction over the case.
The aggravating circumstances which attended the fitting out the Little Democrat at this port, under the very nose of the government; the means which were used to obtain a suspension of her progress until the return of the President to the seat of government; the refusal which those overtures met with; the intemperate and menacing declarations which they produced on the part of the French Minister—have been the subject of general conversation.
How much more there is in the case; what further contempt of the government may have succeeded the return of the President, can only be matter of conjecture. We know, however, that the Little Democrat proceeded to sea, and we conclude, from the known consistency of our Chief Magistrate, that this could not have been with his consent.
Prosecutions have been instituted and carried on, against some of our citizens for entering into the service of France. It is known that Mr. Genet has publicly espoused and patronized the practice, even, as it is asserted without contradiction, to the feeing of counsel for carrying on the defence of the guilty; and we see, but a few days since, an advertisement from the consul of France at Philadelphia, inviting to enter into her service, not only her own citizens, but all friends to liberty, including of course the citizens of the United States.
We read of cases in which one nation has raised men for military service in the dominions of another, with the consent of the nation in whose territories they were raised; but the raising of men, not only without the consent but against the will of the government of the country in which they are raised, is a novelty reserved for the present day, to display the height of arrogance on one side and the depth of humiliation on the other. This is but a part of the picture.
instructions to the collectors of the customs
August 4, 1793.
Sir:—It appearing that repeated contraventions of our neutrality have taken place in the ports of the United States, without having been discovered in time for prevention or remedy, I have it in command from the President, to address to the collectors of the respective districts a particular instruction on the subject.
It is expected that the officers of the customs in each district will, in the course of their official functions, have a vigilant eye upon whatever may be passing within the ports, creeks, inlets, and waters of such district, of a nature to contravene the laws of neutrality, and upon discovery of any thing of the kind, will give immediate notice to the Governor of the State, and to the attorney of the judicial district, comprehending the district of the customs within which any such contravention may happen.
To assist the judgment of the officers on this head, I transmit herewith a schedule of rules, concerning sundry particulars which have been adopted by the President, as deductions from the laws of neutrality, established and received among nations. Whatever shall be contrary to these rules will, of course, be to be notified as above mentioned.
There are some other points which, pursuant to our treaties, and the determination of the Executive, I ought to notice to you.
If any vessel of either of the powers at war with France should bring or send within your district a prize, made of the subjects, people, or property of France, it is immediately to be notified to the Governor of the State, in order that measures may be taken, pursuant to the 17th article of our treaty with France, to oblige such vessel and her prize, or such prize, when sent in without the capturing vessel, to depart.
No privateer of any of the powers at war with France, coming within a district of the United States, can, by the 22d article of our treaty with France, enjoy any other privilege than that of purchasing such victuals as shall be necessary for her going to the next port of the prince or state from which she has her commission. It she should do any thing beside this, it is immediately to be reported to the Governor and the attorney of the district. You will observe by the rules transmitted, that the term privateer is understood not to extend to vessels armed for merchandise and war, commonly called with us letters of marque, nor, of course, to vessels of war in the immediate service of the government of either of the powers at war.
No armed vessel which has been or shall be originally fitted out in any port of the United States by either of the parties at war, is henceforth to have asylum in any district of the United States. If any such armed vessel shall appear within your district, she is immediately to be notified to the Governor and attorney of the district, which is also to be done in respect to any prize that such armed vessel shall bring or send in. At foot is a list of such armed vessels of the above description, as have hitherto come to the knowledge of the Executive.
The purchasing within and exporting from the United States, by way of merchandise, articles commonly called contraband, being generally warlike instruments and military stores, is free to all the parties at war, and is not to be interfered with. If our own citizens undertake to carry them to any of those parties, they will be abandoned to the penalties which the laws of war authorize. You will be particularly careful to observe and to notify, as directed in other instances, the case of any citizen of the United States who shall be found in the service of either of the parties at war.
In case any vessel shall be found in the act of contravening any of the rules or principles which are the ground of this instruction, she is to be refused a clearance until she shall have complied with what the Governor shall have decided in reference to her. Care, however, is to be taken in this, not unnecessarily or unreasonably to embarrass trade or to vex any of the parties concerned.
In order that contraventions may be the better ascertained, it is desired that the officer who shall first go on board any vessel arriving within your ****district, shall make an accurate survey of her then condition as to military equipment, to be forthwith reported to you; and that, prior to her clearance, a like survey be made, that any transgression of the rules laid down may be ascertained.
But as the propriety of any such inspection of a vessel of war in the immediate service of the government of a foreign nation, is not without question in reference to the usage of nations, no attempt is to be made to inspect any such vessel, till further order on the point.
The President desires me to signify to you his most particular expectation, that the instructions contained in this letter will be executed with the greatest vigilance, care, activity, and impartiality. Omissions will tend to expose the government to injurious imputations and suspicions, and proportionably to commit the good faith and peace of the country—objects of too much importance not to engage every proper exertion of your zeal.
With consideration, I am, Sir, etc.,
- 1. The original arming and equipping of vessels in the ports of the United States, by any of the belligerent parties, for military service, offensive or defensive, is deemed unlawful.
- 2.Equipments of merchant vessels, by either of the belligerent parties, in the ports of the United States, purely for the accommodation of them as such, are deemed lawful.
- 3.Equipments in the ports of the United States, of vessels of war in the immediate service of the government of any of the belligerent parties, which, if done to other vessels, would be of a doubtful nature, as being applicable either to commerce or war, are deemed lawful, except those which shall have made prize of the subjects, people, or property of France, coming with their prizes into the ports of the United States, pursuant to the 17th article of our treaty of amity and commerce with France.
- 4.Equipments in the ports of the United States, by any of the parties at war with France, of vessels fitted for merchandise and war, whether with or without commissions, which are doubtful in their nature, as being applicable either to commerce or war, are deemed lawful, except those which shall have made prize, etc.
- 5.Equipments of any of the vessels of France, in the ports of the United States, which are doubtful in their nature, as being applicable to commerce or war, are deemed lawful.
- 6.Equipments of every kind, in the ports of the United States, of privateers of the powers at war with France, are deemed unlawful.
- 7.Equipments of vessels in the ports of the United States, which are of a nature solely adapted to war, are deemed unlawful, except those stranded or wrecked, as mentioned in the 18th article of our treaty with France, the 16th of our treaty with the United Netherlands, the 9th of our treaty with Prussia, and, except those mentioned in the 19th article of our treaty with France, the 17th of our treaty with the United Netherlands, the 18th of our treaty with Prussia.
- 8.Vessels of either of the parties, not armed, or armed previous to their coming into the ports of the United States, which shall not have infringed any of the foregoing rules, may lawfully engage or enlist therein their own subjects or citizens, not being inhabitants of the United States; except privateers of the powers at war with France, and except those vessels which shall have made prize, etc.
cabinet opinion.—hamilton to washington
August 5, 1793.
I doubt the expediency of specially convening the Congress at this time, for the following reasons:
The Constitution requires that an extraordinary occasion should exist as the basis of the exercise of the power of the President to convene the Legislature.
It is not perceived that any circumstance now exists which did not exist months ago, of sufficient force to constitute an extraordinary occasion.
The war in Europe existed then, as it does now. Indian affairs are not understood to be at this time in a worse, if in so bad a posture as they have been for a considerable time past.
Some additional incidents have indeed fallen out—the decision with regard to Mr. Genet’s recall, the verdict of the jury in the case of Henfield, the supposed decree of the National Convention affecting our treaty of commerce with France.
But, with regard to the first, it would be only a reason for the measure as far as the circumstance may be supposed likely to produce a war with France. According to ordinary calculations, such a consequence ought not to be looked for; and the prudence is very questionable of manifesting by any public act that the Executive did look for it.
The second is a matter which, under the circumstances, seems not of sufficient weight. The judges who tried the case were united in their opinion of the law. The jury are universally believed in this city to have been selected for the purpose of acquittal, so as to take off much the force of the example, and to afford no evidence that other juries would pursue the same course.
The supposed decree of the National Convention is an important consideration; but its authenticity is not yet out of question, and it could hardly be acted upon till that was ascertained. And, indeed, it will deserve examination, whether the Executive would not itself be competent to whatever it would be prudent to do in the case.
The objections to the measure at this time are, that unless there are reasons of sufficient force now for adopting it, which did not exist before, the taking the step now would impeach the omitting of it hitherto, and would expose the Executive to much criticism and animadversion; that the meeting of Congress could scarcely be accelerated for more than a month, allowing, as ought to be done, due time for the knowledge of the call to diffuse itself throughout the United States, for the members to prepare for coming, and for the distant ones to perform the journey. Sufficient time ought to be given for a full house. A month is so short a period as not to form a material object, and as consequently to bring into greater question the propriety of acting upon grounds not much if any thing stronger than existed when a call would have produced a considerable acceleration. In proportion to the shortness of the period gained would be the public anxiety and alarm at the measure. It would be construed into an indication that something very extraordinary and urgent had occurred, and abroad as well as at home much speculation would be excited. This consideration, which was always a weighty objection to anticipating the meeting of Congress by a special call, has now a great additional force for the reason just assigned.
notes by hamilton, to frame letter of secretary of state to gouverneur morris, minister at paris
- I.—Explanation of fitting out privateers in Charleston, put on footing of there being no law.
- II.—Letter persisting in objection to it.
- III.—Reclaims Gideon Henfield.
- IV.—Very moderate answer, that courts will do right.
- V.—Concerning sloop Republican.
- 1.Issuing commissions a mere consular act.
- 2.Insists on right of arming for defence.
- 3.Speaks of treaty permitting to enter.
- 4.Armed to equip themselves.
- 5.France always in practice of issuing commissions.
- 6.Will give orders to consuls to take precautions to respect our territory—political opinions of President.
- 7.Insists on right of arming vessels—abandonment unworthy its friends.In waiting until representatives of sovereign had resolved to adopt or reject.
- VI.—Complaint of proceedings of District Court against the William—persons labor secretly to have misunderstood.
- VII.—Letter concerning debt—accomplish internal system—since the federal government without consulting Congress.
- VIII.—Awkwardness—Governor avails himself of political opinions.
- IX.—Letter—opinions, private and public, of President—on s’est empressé je ne scais sous quelle influence, des impressions étrangères—complains of obstruction to consular jurisdiction.
- X.—Letter concerning sloop William requiring relinquishment.
- XI.—Letter concerning another vessel in same situation.
- XII.—Letter concerning Little Democrat—letter on account of the state to augment the marine of France—commission, etc.
- I.—Blamed in a conversation the judicial proceedings of the consul—ought only to have made a ministerial inquiry.
August 31, 1793.
At a meeting of the Heads of Departments and Attorney-General, at the President’s, on the 31st day of Aug., 1793, a letter from Mr. Gore to Mr. Lear, dated Boston, Aug. 24th, was read, stating that the Roland, a privateer fitted out at Boston, and furnished with a commission under the government of France, had sent a prize into that port, which, being arrested by the marshal of the district by process from a court of justice, was rescued from his possession by Mr. Du Plaine, Consul of France, with an armed force from one of the ships of his nation. It is the opinion, that the attorney of the district be instructed to institute such prosecution as the laws will authorize against the said Du Plaine, and to furnish to the Government of the United States authentic evidence of the facts before mentioned, thereon; if it shall appear that the rescue was made by the said Du Plaine, or his order, it is the opinion that his Exequatur should be revoked; also, that the attorney of the district be desired to furnish copies of his applications or other correspondence with the Governor of Massachusetts relative to the several privateers and prizes which have been the subject of his letters to Mr. Lear.
A letter from Mr. Maury, Consul of the United States at Liverpool, dated July 4, 1793, was read, covering an authenticated copy of certain additional instructions from the Court of St. James to the commanders of their ships of war, dated June 8, 1793, permitting them to stop the vessels of neutral nations laden with corn, flour, or meal, and bound to any port of France, and to send them into British ports; from thence they are not to be permitted to proceed to the port of any country not in amity with Great Britain. Thereupon, it is the opinion that Mr. Pinckney be provisionally instructed to make representations to the British Ministry on the said instruction as contrary to the rights of neutral nations, and to urge a revocation of the same, and full indemnification to any individuals, citizens of these States, who may in the meantime suffer loss in consequence of the said instruction. Also, that explanations be desired by Mr. Pinckney of the reasons of the distinction made in the 2d article of the said instructions between the vessels of Denmark and Sweden and those of the United States attempting to enter blockaded ports.
Information having been also received through the public papers of a decree, passed by the National Assembly of France, revoking the principle of free ships making free goods, and enemy ships making enemy goods, and making it lawful to seize neutral vessels bound with provisions to any other country, and carry them into the ports of France, there to be landed and paid for; and also of another decree excepting the vessels of the United States, from the operation of the preceding decrees, it is the opinion that Mr. Morris be provisionally instructed, in case the first mentioned decrees have passed and not the exceptions, to make representations thereon to the French Government, as contrary to the treaty existing between the two countries, and the decree relative to provisions, contrary also to the law of nations; and to require a revocation thereof and full indemnification to any citizens of these States who may, in the meantime, have suffered loss therefrom, and also in case the said decrees and the exceptions were both passed, that then a like indemnification be made for losses intervening between the dates of the said decrees and exceptions.
A letter from the Governor of Georgia, of the 13th instant, covering the proceedings of a Council of War, relatively to an expedition against certain towns of the Creek Nation, was communicated for consideration.
It is the opinion that the Governor of Georgia be informed that the President disapproves the measure as unauthorized by law, as contrary to the present state of affairs and to the instructions heretofore given, and expects that it will not be proceeded in; that, requiring the previous consideration of Congress, it will be submitted to them at their ensuing session, if circumstances shall not then render it unnecessary or improper; that the Governor of South Carolina be also informed that the co-operation desired of him by the Governor of Georgia is not to be afforded; and that the agent for procuring supplies of provisions for the service of the United States in Georgia, be instructed that no provisions are to be furnished on their account for the purpose of the said expedition.
hamilton to washington
November 23, 1793.
The Secretary of the Treasury presents his respects to the President. He regrets extremely that the state of his health does not permit him to attend the President to-day. He has the honor to inclose a report on two of the letters to Mr. Genet, and would have embraced the third, respecting the protested bills, if it had been in his power. But no inconvenience can in this case ensue, as the supposed mistake with regard to the funds already promised has been adjusted, and the inclosed report embraces and answers the question of advance upon a future fund. The report would have been more full and precise, if my situation had permitted; but my frame is so disordered as almost to unfit me for business.
hamilton to washington
November 23, 1793.
The Secretary of the Treasury, upon two letters from the Minister Plenipotentiary of France to the Secretary of State, severally bearing date the 11th and 14th of November inst., respectfully reports to the President of the United States as follows:
The object of these letters is, to procure an engagement that the bills which the minister may draw upon the sums which, according to the terms of the contracts respecting the French debt, would fall due in the years 1794 and 1795, shall be accepted on the part of the United States, payable at the periods stipulated for the payment of those sums respectively.
The following considerations are submitted, as militating against the proposed arrangement:
- 1.According to the view entertained at the Treasury of the situation of the account between France and the United States, adjusting equitably the question of depreciation, there have already been anticipated payments to France, equal or nearly equal to the sums falling due in the course of the year 1794.
- 2.The provision by law for discharging the principal of the French debt, contemplates only loans. Of those which have been hitherto made, the sum unexpended is not more than commensurate with a payment which is to be made on the 1st of June next, upon account of the capital of the Dutch debt. It is possible that a fund for this payment may be derived from another loan; but it is known to the President that, from advices recently received, full reliance cannot be placed on this resource, owing to the influence of the present state of European affairs upon the measures of the United States for borrowing. It need not be observed, that a failure in making the payment referred to would be ruinous to the credit of the United States.
The acceptance of the bills of the Minister of France would virtually pledge the only fund of which there is, at present, a certainty for accomplishing that payment; and as this is a matter of strict obligation directly affecting the public credit, it would not appear advisable to engage that fund for a different object, which, if the ideas of the Treasury are right with regard to the state of our account with France, does not stand upon a similar footing.
It would be manifestly unsafe to presume upon contingencies, or to enter into engagements to be executed at distant periods, when the means of execution are uncertain.
But, as there appears to be a difference of opinion between the Minister of France and the Treasury, with regard to the state of the account between the two countries, it is necessary that something on this head should be ascertained. With this view, the Secretary of the Treasury will proceed, without delay, to make arrangements for the adjustment of the account.
Secretary of the Treasury.
hamilton to washington
January 4, 1794.
The Secretary of the Treasury, to whom was referred, by the President of the United States, a letter from the Minister of the French Republic to the Secretary of State, dated the 21st of December last, respectfully makes the following
The Minister observes, that it results from the report of the Secretary of the Treasury that upon an accidental error the interests of the French Republic and the character of its representative were compromised by a refusal to accept drafts delivered to the agents by whom they were supplied, for sums due to the republic; adding to this observation the further one, that it seems to him that a like measure merited the most serious attention, and that he knows not by what name to call the negligence which was committed in this respect.
This asperity of remark might, it would seem, have been prevented by a due attention to circumstances and facts. It was stated in the report to which the Minister refers, that the error in question was the mere mistake of the clerk charged with registering his drafts as they were presented at the Treasury. It will not be alleged that this was not the proper business of a clerk; and all that could be expected from the Head of the Department, or the officer having in his place the principal direction, is, that there should have been due care in selecting the person to whose immediate agency the duty was intrusted. To this point there was no want of attention. The clerk selected had been long tried in public business, and has a well-established reputation for fidelity and accuracy. This officer is himself persuaded that in the instance which occasioned the demur no error was committed, and firmly believes that the convenience of parties had produced an alteration in the bill after it was noted by him; but this surmise of his has been rejected, and it has been taken for granted and admitted that there was a mistake on his part, though, as no mark was set upon any bill presented and noted, that admission was founded on considerations in which candor and delicacy governed. No palliation of the mistake will be attempted to be drawn from topics connected with any derangement of the course of business resulting from the late calamitous condition of the city of Philadelphia, nor from the absence of the Secretary of the Treasury from the seat of government, for the recovery of his health, when the incident deemed so exceptionable took place.
The hesitation about the registering of the bills which appeared to have been overdrawn, was a mere consequence of the first mistake.
The main object of the registry of the bills was to ascertain, for the satisfaction of holders, that there were funds in the Treasury subject to the payment of them; and to secure to those holders a priority, in the event of there being an overdrawing. It was, therefore, a matter of course that the registry should cease as soon as itself showed that the amount of the bills presented equalled the amount of the fund destined for satisfying them. Being the proper and regular guide to the officers of the Treasury, they could not but be expected to follow it.
All that could be asked (if a mistake happened) was, that the consequences of it should be corrected as soon as the mistake was discovered; and this was in fact done. Nor did more than a week elapse before the drafts, which had been suspended on account of the mistake, were recognized and admitted.
But it is suggested by the Minister, that though the error was rectified, the injury which it occasioned has not been cured. That event, it is asserted, has furnished to the ill-disposed, and to the enemies of the French Republic, a powerful means of hurting its cause, by alarming the merchants and ruining the credit of its agents. If this assertion were better founded than it is, it would only afford room to regret the consequence of an involuntary error. But, whatever injury the credit of France in this country, or of her agents, may have sustained, it is to be traced to other sources; more adequate causes can be assigned for it. The assertion which has been made calls for a specification of those causes.
The first of them was, the disappointment of our citizens in not receiving payment of bills to a large amount, furnished to them by the administration of St. Domingo, with assurances of being paid here by the agents of France; at the same time that it was known that these agents had obtained from the Government of the United States funds adequate to such payment, which had been applied to other objects. In mentioning this circumstance, it is only intended to note the fact and its effects, not to question the propriety of the application which was made of the funds.
Another and a far more powerful cause was, the refusal of the present Minister to pay certain bills, which had had the positive sanction of his predecessor; diverting from that destination funds which were understood to have been appropriated to it—and this, too, in contravention of his own arrangement with the Treasury.
These bills had, like those first mentioned, been drawn by the administration of St. Domingo. But they had in addition been virtually accepted by the late Consul of France, in concert with its then Minister, and in conformity with an understanding between the latter and this government.
The arrival of the present Minister devolved upon him the disposal of the unfurnished residue of the fund which had been promised to his predecessor. An early opportunity was taken to intimate to him the reliance of the government, that the bills accepted as above and unpaid, would be satisfied by him out of that residue. He gave, without hesitation, a correspondent assurance, and on the third of June last addressed to the Secretary of the Treasury, a letter in the following terms, viz.: “I pray you to put hereafter in the disposition of Citizen Bournonville, Secretary of Legation of the Republic, the funds destined to the acquittal of the drafts of the colony of St. Domingo, according to the order of payment settled between you and my predecessor.”
A part of these funds was accordingly put into the hands of Mr. Bournonville, in expectation that they would be applied as had been agreed. And upon the inquiries of some of the holders of the bills at the Treasury, in whom apprehensions had been excited, they were assured that they need not entertain any, as it was the known intention of the present Minister to fulfil the engagements of his predecessor; and that funds had been furnished to him for taking up the bills which were falling due.
The Minister afterwards deemed it necessary to change the destination of these funds, as he announced in his letter of the 18th of June to the Secretary of State, and in fact refused payment of the bills.
This measure, of a nature destructive to credit, had the effect which was to have been anticipated.
The very expedient of registering at the Treasury the drafts of the Minister, was rendered necessary by a pre-existing bad state of credit. It engaged the Treasury to nothing more than to secure to those who presented bills a preference against others to whom subsequent drafts might be given, overrunning the fund for payment; and was devised to facilitate to the Minister an auxiliary means of credit of which he stood in need.
These unquestionable truths demonstrate that there is no room to impute to the consequences of the mistake which was committed, any deficiency of credit which may have embarrassed the operations of the Minister.
But it is a further truth, that if his credit has suffered by the refusal of the Treasury to admit his drafts, it is chiefly to be referred to the draft for 20,000 dollars predicated upon the fund to be at the disposal of France in January, which was finally refused, because not authorized by any previous arrangement between the government and the Minister.
The temporary demur about other bills speedily abandoned and explained, could not have had an influence bearing any proportion to that of the ultimate refusal of the above-mentioned bill.
As far as this refusal may have had a prejudicial operation, it is imputable wholly to the irregularity of having drawn the bill, not only without the consent of the government, but even contrary to an intimation from it; in a case, too, in which it was free to refuse.
That it was with the consent of the government, will not be pretended. The letter from the Secretary of the Treasury to the Minister, of the 24th of July, accompanying his former report on the subject, excludes all plea of constructive or implied consent.
That it was contrary to an intimation from the government, results from the following facts:
The Minister, by a letter of the 14th June to the Secretary of State, communicates the intention of giving to those who should furnish him with suplies, “delegations” or assignments of the debt to France in payment; desiring as a prerequisite to this operation, that the Treasury should be instructed to come to a speedy adjustment with him, of the account of the debt from the United States to France.
To this suggestion the Secretary of State, by a letter of the 19th of June (after assuring him that instructions would be given for the settlement of the account), replied as follows: “In the meantime, what is further to be done will doubtless be the subject of further reflection and inquiry with you, and particularly the operation proposed in your letter will be viewed under all its aspects. Among these we think it will present itself as a measure too questionable both in principle and practicability, too deeply interesting to the credit of the United States, and too unpromising in its result to France to be found eligible to yourself. Finally, we rest secure that what is of mutual concern will not be done but with mutual concert.“
Without mutual concert, without even an intervening consultation for that purpose, the Minister thought proper to issue his “delegations” or drafts upon a fund not embraced by any previous arrangement; and he now makes it matter of complaint that these “delegations” were not registered. Was it to have been expected that the Treasury should become the passive instrument of a measure so irregular—so unwarrantable?
But the Minister, in justification of the step, makes two observations:
- 1.That as the 300,000 livres due the 1st of January are the interest of the loan of 600,000 made by France to the United States in 1783, the reimbursements of which are not to commence till 1797, he can see no motive that could arrest the payment of the interest of that sum at the epoch stipulated, as long as there was due to France an equivalent.
- 2.That supposing the payments, which have been made by the Treasury, to exceed the amount of the sums due, he has always been firmly convinced that these advances (to which the urgent wants of France had forced a recourse) would be applied to the extinction of the debt taken in totality; a measure perfectly agreeing with the clause inserted in the different contracts which expresses that the United States might, if they judged proper, liberate themselves sooner than the epoch fixed by those contracts.
These observations admit of obvious answers. It is affirmed on our part, and the Minister seems himself to be sensible of its truth, that our payments hitherto exceeded the sums demandable by the terms of our contracts. It may be taken for granted, that this is the case beyond the amount of the interest of the 600,000 accruing in January. The United States are at liberty to consider the excess as an anticipation of the capital of the loans; but they are not bound to do so. They have an option to do that, or to set it off against the interest accruing on the unpaid residue of the debt. The universal course of business will justify them in the latter, and their contracts say nothing to the contrary. Not having declared a different option, they were free to pursue that alternative, and consequently, as has been said, to refuse the drafts of the Minister, predicated upon the January interest.
The circumstance which he notices, of the reimbursements of the 600,000 loan not commencing till 1797, cannot affect this conclusion. These reimbursements so postponed, relate to the capital of the debt; and that postponement of course cannot bring into question the propriety of setting off against the interest annually payable, sums advanced beyond those which were antecedently due.
The conviction of the Minister, that the advances which might have been made would be deferred toward the final extinction of the debt, could be no rule to the Treasury, as long as it had not been authorized by any assurance from the government, or when it was recollected, that the propriety of a mutual previous concert, about whatever was not a matter of course, was indicated to him, not only by the reason of the thing, but by unequivocal declarations.
In fact, whether the course on which he declares himself to have relied, could have been pursued or not, depended on circumstances; that is, on the means which should exist of making intermediate payments, and postponing the advances to an ulterior arrangement; a point at this moment unascertained, from causes which have heretofore been disclosed.
But the Minister not only hazarded his credit, by drawing, without a previous arrangement, the bill for 20,000 dollars, payable out of the January interest; he hazarded it likewise by actually overdrawing the funds placed at his disposal in September and November last; so that if no mistake had occurred at the Treasury, he might have been exposed by his own conduct to consequences which, in that respect, happened by accident.
The Secretary now proceeds to the demands contained in the memorial of the Minister. These are:
- 1.That the state of the account of the United States with France be presented with the least possible delay.
- 2.That the sums, which may have been advanced to France, beyond those which were demandable on the terms of the contracts, be applied to the extinction of the debt taken in totality.
- 3.That, provisionally, and until the state of the account can be determined, the Secretary of the Treasury be authorized to register the “delegations” or drafts which the minister shall have occasion to issue, to the extent of five millions turnois.
With regard to the first point, the account is now in a course of adjustment between the Comptroller, on the part of the Treasury, and Mr. Bournonville on the part of the Minister. There are some points which require a mutual adjustment before they can be fixed definitively. A correct view of the account cannot be presented till these points are settled. This done, it shall be immediately laid before the President.
With regard to the second point, the Secretary is of opinion that a determination concerning it cannot now be made. The adoption of the Minister’s proposition would amount to an agreement to pay the accruing instalments at the periods stipulated in the contracts, though the advances which have been made should exceed them. But such an agreement cannot safely be entered into, because it is now problematical whether the Executive will be possessed in time of funds which can be applied to that purpose, without neglecting objects of positive obligation and essential to our credit, as has been already explained and communicated.
With regard to the third point, the answer to the second is an answer to this also. If rightly understood, this proposition depends upon the second. It appears necessary, first, to ascertain what is to be paid, and when it is to be paid, before any sanction can safely be given to the proposed “delegations” or drafts. This presupposes a settlement of accounts, and a further view of our pecuniary prospects.
All of which is humbly submitted.
(From the American Daily Advertiser.)