Presidential Series: Volume 15

DATE 1 January – 30 April 1794

Introduction

In the period covered in this volume, 1 Jan. through 30 April 1794, Washington continued to focus his efforts as president on preventing the United States from becoming entangled in the continuing war between France and Great Britain. Of particular concern was French and British interference with American shipping, despite U.S. claims of neutral rights. In an attempt to address this problem temporarily, Congress declared a thirty-day embargo on all ships and vessels in American ports. Washington and members of his cabinet quickly set out to enforce this resolution (Cabinet Opinion on Enforcing the Embargo, 26 March).

The administration also continued its efforts to implement the rules and regulations established by a series of earlier decisions regarding the presence of foreign privateers and their prizes in American ports, including those set forth in the two cabinet opinions reached on 3 Aug. 1793 (Presidential Series, 13). Particularly troublesome was the case of the Aimée Marguerite, a former British sloop seized by the French and converted to a privateer, and the ownership of a chest containing gold and silver taken by this privateer from a Spanish brig. The privateer and the stolen money were subsequently seized and held at Wilmington, N.C., while a resolution was reached (Richard Dobbs Spaight’s first two letters to GW of 8 Feb.).

The threat of U.S. involvement in the European war led Congress to pass legislation designed to increase the military strength of the United States. As a result, Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox directed the construction of coastal fortifications, the creation of an American navy, and the establishment of federal arsenals and magazines (Henry Knox to GW, 10 April). The war also produced an exodus of refugees to the United States from the French colony of Saint Domingue and a subsequent federal program of monetary relief, which the administration oversaw (Edmund Randolph’s first letter to GW of 27 Feb.).

Problems in the diplomatic sphere persisted during this time period. Although the United States already had requested the recall of Edmond Genet, the French minister plenipotentiary, in August 1793 (Cabinet Opinion on the Recall of Edmond Genet, 23 Aug., Presidential Series, 13), Washington debated whether Genet’s current activities warranted an immediate revocation of his diplomatic privileges (Alexander Hamilton’s Proposed Presidential Message to Congress, 6-13 January). News of Genet’s recall by the French government, however, made this move unnecessary, and in late February, Washington officially received credentials from Genet’s replacement, Jean-Antoine-Joseph Fauchet (Randolph to GW, 22 Feb.). French complaints about Gouverneur Morris, the U.S. minister to France, prompted Washington to begin a search for the proper person to replace him (GW to John Jay, 29 April).

The question of neutral rights, the threat of an Indian war in the Northwest Territory, British retention of military posts in American territory, and a desire for a favorable trade agreement prompted Washington to appoint John Jay an envoy extraordinary to Great Britain in order to resolve these issues (GW’s first letter to the U.S. Senate of 16 April). At the same time, other U.S. diplomats continued their efforts to reach an understanding with Spain over the right of free navigation of the Mississippi River by Americans, Indian unrest in the Southwest Territory, and the boundary between Georgia and Florida, as well as the attainment of a commercial treaty between the two nations (Randolph to GW, 7 Jan.).

Washington maintained his oversight of the development of the Federal City in the District of Columbia through his correspondence with the commissioners for the district. To his dismay, two of the three original commissioners had sent him their intentions to resign. Although he persuaded them to remain for a few more months, he started a search for suitable replacements (GW to David Stuart, 20 Jan.). He also made arrangements to purchase additional lots in the new Federal City (GW to the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, 14 March).

As was common throughout his presidency, Washington received personal appeals for various types of assistance from strangers in the United States and overseas, including a series of letters concerning a scam being perpetrated in several German towns by someone claiming to be a representative from the United States (Johann Benjamin Erhard to GW, 27 Jan.). Washington unsuccessfully made his own personal appeal for a favor on 15 Jan. when he wrote King Frederick William II of Prussia asking for the release of the Marquis de Lafayette from prison.

In an effort to manage his Mount Vernon farms while residing in Philadelphia, Washington regularly sent detailed instructions to William Pearce, his newly hired estate manager. Of particular concern was the implementation of a five-year plan of crop rotation designed by Washington in 1793 and the acquisition of a sufficient supply of buckwheat and other seed for spring planting (GW to Pearce, 12 Jan.).

Washington continued to be a benefactor for his extended family, particularly his sister, Betty Washington Lewis, and his orphaned niece, Harriot Washington, promising a mule to the former and sending money and clothing to the latter (GW to Pearce, 30 March; Harriot Washington to GW, 9 February). He also directed the refurbishment of his house in Alexandria, Va., for Frances Bassett Washington, the widow of his nephew, George Augustine Washington (GW to Pearce, 12 Jan.).

Jacket Essay

Volume 15 documents the period from 1 January through 30 April 1794, a time when Washington continued to focus his efforts as president on preventing the United States from becoming entangled in the continuing war between France and Great Britain. Of particular concern was French and British interference with American shipping, despite claims of neutral rights by the United States. Congress reacted to this problem in late March by declaring a thirty-day embargo on all ships and vessels in American ports, and the Washington administration enforced this resolution, as well as a series of earlier Cabinet decisions regarding the presence of foreign privateers and their prizes in American ports.

The threat of U.S. involvement in the war led Congress to pass legislation designed to increase the military strength of the United States. As a result, Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox directed the construction of coastal fortifications, the establishment of federal armories, and the creation of an American navy. The European war also produced an exodus of refugees to the United States from the French colony of Saint Domingue and a subsequent federal program of monetary relief, which the administration oversaw.

The question of neutral rights, the threat of an Indian war in the Northwest Territory, British retention of military posts in American territory, and a desire for a favorable trade agreement prompted Washington to appoint John Jay an envoy extraordinary to Great Britain in order to resolve these issues. At the same time, other U.S. diplomats continued their efforts to reach an understanding with Spain over the right of free navigation of the Mississippi River by Americans, Indian unrest in the Southwest Territory, and the boundary between Georgia and Florida, as well as to obtain a commercial treaty between the two nations.

In an effort to manage his Mount Vernon farms while residing in Philadelphia, Washington regularly sent detailed instructions to William Pearce, his newly hired estate manager. Of particular concern was the implementation of a five-year plan of crop rotation designed by Washington in 1793 and the acquisition of a sufficient supply of buckwheat and other seed for spring planting. Washington continued to be a benevolent benefactor for his extended family, particularly his sister, Betty Washington Lewis, and his orphaned niece, Harriot Washington. He also directed the refurbishment of his house in Alexandria, Va., for Frances Bassett Washington, the widow of his nephew George Augustine Washington, and he made arrangements to purchase lots in the new Federal City.


Christine S. Patrick, ed., The Papers of George Washington: Presidential Series volume 15, 1 January – 30 April 1794. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 2009.

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