Presidential Series: Volume 13

DATE June – August 1793

Introduction

In the period covered by this volume, 1 June to 31 August 1793, GW focused his efforts as president on keeping the United States neutral during the war between France and Great Britain. Although he had asserted a position of neutrality for the United States in the Neutrality Proclamation of 22 April 1793 (Presidential Series, 12), GW now had to clarify exactly how his administration would maintain this stance. The greatest challenge came from the presence in U.S. ports of both British and French privateers and their prizes. Frequent correspondence with the state governors, especially Thomas Mifflin of Pennsylvania and George Clinton of New York, kept GW informed of the latest arrivals.

Cabinet members Alexander Hamilton (Secretary of the Treasury), Thomas Jefferson (Secretary of State), Henry Knox (Secretary of War), and Edmund Randolph (Attorney General) assisted GW in developing the administration’s neutrality position. During this time period the cabinet met frequently at GW’s behest, both with and without him, to discuss not only specific incidents but also general policy. These meetings generated a series of cabinet opinions, including that of 3 August 1793, in which the administration established eight rules regulating the presence of foreign privateers and prizes within U.S. ports and territorial waters. GW’s effort to solicit an opinion from the Supreme Court failed (Cabinet Opinion on Foreign Vessels and Consulting the Supreme Court, 12 July). The administration was also unsuccessful in its attempt to prosecute American citizens who volunteered for service on French privateers (Cabinet Opinion on French Privateers, 1 June).

The activities of Charles Edmond Genet, the French minister plenipotentiary to the United States, complicated the government’s efforts at maintaining neutrality and, according to some contemporaries, injected an undue foreign influence into American politics. His failure to cooperate with the administration’s directives concerning French privateers and prizes and his attempt to influence the American political process by appealing directly to the American people contributed to the cabinet’s decision to ask the French government for Genet’s recall (Cabinet Opinion on the Recall of Edmond Genet, 23 August). While some Americans opposed the neutrality policies of the administration, others did not, and GW received numerous letters of support from municipal and civic organizations in the maritime states. At the same time, an anonymous writer using the pseudonym Veritas strongly criticized GW’s presidency in letters to GW of 3 and 6 June, which first appeared in the Philadelphia newspapers.

Other issues of national concern included Hamilton’s requests for additional foreign loans, which GW approved on 8 August, and preparations for a peace treaty with hostile Indians in the Northwest Territory. GW also paid particular attention to the desire of the citizens of South Carolina and Georgia for a military expedition against the Cherokees, Creeks, and other southern Indians. In order to assess the situation, GW consulted with Henry Knox, Gen. Andrew Pickens, and William Blount, the governor of the Southwest Territory. He also reviewed reports sent by federal Indian agent James Seagrove before deciding against the use of force at this time (GW to William Moultrie, 28 August). As always, GW continued to receive letters of application for federal appointments. A vacancy in the Baltimore customs office produced nineteen applicants for the lucrative position (David Plunket to GW, 7 August).

In his private life, Washington continued his struggle to micromanage his Mount Vernon farms while living in Philadelphia, and the death in June of his estate manager, Anthony Whitting, provided additional anxiety as Washington searched for a replacement. He also continued his role as the patriarch of an extended family and at this time was particularly engaged in offering advice on estate management to Frances Bassett Washington, the widow of his nephew George Augustine Washington.

Jacket Essay

Volume 13 of the Presidential Series documents the period from 1 June through 31 August 1793, a time when Washington focused his efforts as president on keeping the United States neutral during the war between France and Great Britain. The greatest challenge came from the presence in U.S. ports of both British and French privateers and their prizes. Frequent correspondence with the state governors, especially Thomas Mifflin of Pennsylvania and George Clinton of New York, kept the president informed of the latest arrivals. The cabinet, consisting of Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of War Henry Knox, and Attorney General Edmund Randolph, met frequently at Washington’s behest, both with and without him. These meetings produced a series of cabinet opinions delineating America’s neutrality policy. An effort to solicit the Supreme Court for an opinion on regulations designed to enforce America’s neutrality policy, however, failed. The administration also was unsuccessful in its attempt to prosecute American citizens who enlisted for service on French privateers. At the same time, Charles Edmond Genet, the French minister plenipotentiary to the United States, failed to cooperate with the administration’s directives concerning French privateers and prizes. This fact, combined with his attempt to influence the American political process, led to the cabinet’s decision to ask the French government for Genet’s recall. While some Americans opposed the neutrality policies of the administration, others did not, and Washington received numerous letters of support from municipal and civic organizations in the Maritime states.

Other issues of national concern included Washington’s approval of additional foreign loans and the administration’s preparations for a peace treaty with hostile Indians in the Northwest Territory. The president also paid considerable attention to the desire of the citizens of South Carolina and Georgia for a military expedition against the Cherokees, Creeks, and other southern Indians. Washington, however, decided against the use of force at this time.

In his private life, Washington continued his efforts to manage his Mount Vernon farms while living in Philadelphia. The death of his estate manager in June provided additional anxiety as Washington searched for a replacement. He also continued his role as the patriarch of an extended family. He was particularly engaged in offering advice on estate management to Frances Bassett Washington, the widow of his nephew George Augustine Washington.


Christine S. Patrick, ed., The Papers of George Washington: Presidential Series volume 13, June – August 1793. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 2007.

Purchase from the University of Virginia Press.