Volume 18: Apr. – Sept. 1795


International issues occupied much of GW’s attention in Volume 18 of the Presidential Series, which covers 1 April to 30 Sept. 1795. David Humphreys resumed his mission to Algiers in early April with detailed instructions to oversee treaty negotiations with several rulers of North Africa—particularly to secure peace with Algiers and the release of captured American citizens there, and to renew an existing peace agreement with Morocco. Successful arrangements were made by James Simpson with the new ruler of Morocco in August and by Joseph Donaldson, Jr., with the dey of Algiers in September. During the intervening months, GW continued to monitor developments in European affairs. Thomas Pinckney traveled to Spain to restart stalled negotiations over use of the Mississippi River. The fall of the Netherlands to France and the creation of the pro-French Batavian Republic there in early 1795 prompted new diplomatic concerns. Periodic violations of American neutrality by commanders of British ships continued to spark controversy in the United States.

GW’s biggest worries concerned ratification of the Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation with Great Britain (the Jay Treaty), finalized on 19 Nov. 1794. GW maintained an official silence about the document as the administration prepared to submit the treaty to a special Senate session that began on 8 June. The Senate approved the treaty under condition that Article XII, which concerned trade with the British West Indies, be renegotiated. That qualification left GW unclear as to whether he must resubmit to the Senate the entire document with the renegotiated article, or whether the resolution authorized him to approve the agreement as qualified by that body. GW found the issue of ratification complicated by reports of a new British order in council dated 25 April, which authorized confiscation of ships carrying provisions to France and French-controlled ports.

As GW considered ratification, the treaty met with public resentment and disapproval when it appeared in print in late June and early July. Individuals using pseudonyms such as “Juricola,” “Valerius,” “Belisarius,” and “Portius” wrote public letters to GW as part of an extensive newspaper campaign against the agreement. A wave of anti-treaty meetings produced petitions to GW from residents of nearly every state—from New Hampshire to Georgia and west to Kentucky—which overwhelmed a smaller number of pro-treaty meetings and letters. While GW desired objective opinions from informed men of ability, the newspaper letters and petitions raised the question of whether citizens at large possessed the right to direct presidential action. GW held firm against permitting such efforts to influence his final decision to ratify the treaty on 14 Aug., but he keenly felt the intensity of treaty opposition and the criticism of his presidency.

Amid the furor over the treaty, GW was faced with having to replace key federal officials. John Jay resigned as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court on 29 June. GW appointed John Rutledge of South Carolina to that position, but controversy over the appointment arose with reports of Rutledge’s derogatory speech against the Jay Treaty in late July. After David Rittenhouse resigned as director of the U.S. Mint, GW appointed Henry William DeSaussure of South Carolina, who served only a brief time before he, too, left office. In mid-August, Secretary of State Edmund Randolph resigned after GW confronted him over a document that was written in 1794 by French minister Jean-Antoine-Joseph-Fauchet and later intercepted by the British. GW believed the document incriminated Randolph in private dealings with the French that appeared to undermine American foreign policy. Randolph’s subsequent effort to vindicate his conduct produced a number of letters and documents in August and September. Only a few days after Randolph resigned, Attorney General William Bradford died from a sudden illness.

Western concerns also demanded GW’s attention. Following Gen. Anthony Wayne’s defeat of the northwestern Indians at the 1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers, GW oversaw detailed instructions to Wayne for negotiations with tribal chiefs that culminated in the Treaty of Greenville on 3 August. GW continued to withhold approval of the Georgia legislature’s decision to sell the state’s territorial claims, which extended to the Mississippi River, to private land companies. He did, however, agree to federal participation in a treaty negotiation between Georgia and the Creek Indians over lands claimed by both parties. When Chickasaw and Choctaw chiefs visited GW in Philadelphia during July and August, he turned aside their request for federal assistance in their war against the Creeks.

Other issues of note between April and September 1795 included initial steps toward the purchase of land for a federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. Also, Italian sculptor Giuseppe Ceracchi’s failure to create a national monument to the American Revolution resulted in several letters to GW during May as the artist sought to recoup his monetary losses. During the spring, the last of the militia forces that had responded to the 1794 insurrection in western Pennsylvania were disbanded. In June, petitioners advocated GW’s pardon of John Mitchell and Philip Vigol (Weigle), convicted of treason for participating in the insurrection. GW issued stays of execution for the two men in June, but he did not include them in his 10 July proclamation of amnesty. Throughout the six-month period, GW continued to oversee progress of the Federal City and issues that faced the city’s Board of Commissioners.

Amid the turmoil of international and domestic affairs, GW kept track of his private economic concerns. He purchased stock in banks, sold part of his Virginia property, and worked to sell his lands in Western Pennsylvania and Ohio. GW made three trips to Mount Vernon in April, July, and September, and supplemented his visits with meticulous letters to manager William Pearce about crops, construction, and slave activities.

The volume also chronicles relations between GW and the family of Marquis de Lafayette. In April the Marquise de Lafayette informed GW that her son George Washington Motier Lafayette would travel to the United States to escape the political upheaval in France. His arrival in August created a personal dilemma for GW, who desired to receive the young man but expressed concern about the international repercussions of such an action.

Carol S. Ebel, ed., The Papers of George Washington: Presidential Series volume 18, 1 April – 30 September 1795. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 2015.

Purchase from the University of Virginia Press.