"President Jefferson by Proclamation" French Spoliation Broadside
More than four decades after the United States agreed to settle the claims of its citizens against France incurred during the Quasi-War, the Rhode Island General Assembly urges Congress to resolve these long-standing claims by Rhode Islanders and other Americans. The U.S. government had agreed to settle the claims in exchange for being released from the provisions of the 1778 Treaty of Alliance and to end the destructive Quasi-War with France. Settling these issues in 1800-1801 paved the way for the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803. However, those American citizens affected never recovered their losses, and only some of their heirs ever recovered—after waiting more than a century.
RHODE ISLAND. Report of House committee on French spoliation claims and related Resolutions, Printed Document Signed by Henry Bowen, Secretary, January 1844. 2 pp., 11" x 16.25" Some holes on folds affecting sixteen lines of small text on each page; some staining.
"The Committee to whom were referred the resolutions of the Legislature of Connecticut, in relation to claims for French spoliations, communicated to this House by his Excellency the Governor, have had the subject under consideration according to the order of the House, and respectfully submit the following Report:
"The claims of our citizens upon the general government for French spoliations prior to the Convention of 1800, are, in effect, but claims for that just compensation which the Constitution of the United States expressly provides for all whose property is taken for public use." (p1/c1)
"The claims in question are for captures and confiscations of some six or seven hundred vessels and their cargoes, under the authority of certain decrees issued by France, between 1793 and 1800, in a war in which we were neutrals." (p1/c1)
"on the 21st of December, 1801, President Jefferson, by proclamation, announced the Convention to be finally ratified. Our government then renounced and released to France the claims of the individual citizens of the United States who held and owned these claims as their private property; receiving as a consideration therefor a renunciation and release on the part of France of all her claims, individual and national, for counter indemnities, up to the date of the Convention, and of all the obligations of the treaties from that time forward." (p1/c3)
"These reports have, in several instances in the Senate, been accompanied by bills appropriating a sum for the payment of the claims, and providing a Board of Commissioners to investigate them. One of these bills, reported by Mr. [Daniel] Webster, passed the Senate, upon a full discussion in 1834. But in the House of Representatives, where changes of membership are more frequent, and where the pressing mass of ordinary business is almost beyond the capacity of the body, there has not yet been found a time for a full discussion and definitive action." (p2/c2)
"Resolutions urgently advising a provision for the satisfaction of these claims had, in 1841, been passed and forwarded to Congress by the Legislatures of eight States of this Union, viz: Rhode-Island, Maryland, Connecticut, New-Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Delaware and Alabama. Of these, Rhode-Island took the lead in 1832 and was followed by Maryland in 1836." (p2/c3)
"In 1841 the number of claimants who had memorials before Congress, without including those who petitioned prior to 1827, was 1011. Of these twenty-six were citizens of Rhode-Island, and claiming large amounts." (p2/c3)
"Resolved, That prior to the Convention between the United States and France, in 1800, there were large and just claims due from France to citizens of the United States, for spoliations on their commerce, which claims were asserted as just by the Government of the United States, and were not rejected by France." (p2/c3)
"Resolved, That this was such an appropriation of private property to public use, as in the opinion of this Assembly, entitles the said citizens to just compensation from the government of the United States." (p2/c3)
"Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions and the accompanying Report be transmitted by the Secretary, to each of our Senators and Representatives in Congress: and that they be requested to use their exertions in procuring a just indemnification to said citizens." (p2/c3)
The United States and France entered into the Convention of 1800 to end the undeclared naval Quasi-War and to terminate the 1778 Treaty of Alliance that promised mutual military support and obligated the United States to defend French possessions in the Caribbean against British aggression. As part of this agreement, the U.S. government agreed to compensate its own citizens for the claimed damages of $20 million.
Despite this agreement and repeated investigations by congressional committees, it was not until 1885 that Congress established a Court of Claims to consider these damages. Between 1891 and 1905, Congress appropriated a total of nearly $4 million for the settlement of the French spoliation claims in four separate acts. The Attorney General announced the final disposition of all French spoliation cases on the docket of the Court of Claims in December 1915. He reported that the Court of Claims had considered 6,479 cases and allowed claims in 1,853 of them for a total of $7.15 million.
Secretary of State Timothy Pickering estimated in January 1799, long before the period covered by the claims came to an end, that American citizens had lost more than $20 million in French depredations on American commerce. More than a century later, Congress appropriated just over a third of that amount to settle remaining claims. All of the citizens who bore the initial loss and many of their heirs never received any compensation for the actions of French vessels in the 1790s.
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