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The Papers of George Washington
Presidential Series, Volume 14
1 September–31 December 1793
George Washington. Edited by David R. Hoth
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During the last four months of 1793, the period documented by volume 14 of the Presidential Series, George Washington and his administration remained chiefly involved with maintaining the neutrality of the United States. The activities of French privateers in American waters required the administration to respond to requests from state governors for guidance about implementing the neutrality policy and to complaints from British minister George Hammond about seizures of British ships. As a result, the administration had to decide on the extent of America’s territorial waters. Another threat to neutrality arose from reports of French-sponsored expeditions into Spanish Florida and Louisiana. These problems were made more difficult by the administration’s increasingly public poor relations with French minister Edmond Genet.

Other topics of interest include frontier defense and concerns about British retention of northwestern forts; news from Europe, including reports that a truce with Portugal would free corsairs from Algiers to attack American commerce; problems associated with the arrival of refugees from Saint Domingue; and the ubiquitous applications for appointments to federal office. The volume also records the preparation of Washington’s annual message—an extended process that involved input from each member of the cabinet.

The signature event of these four months, however, was the yellow fever epidemic at Philadelphia. Identified in August, the growing epidemic soon depopulated the city through departures and deaths. Perhaps speeded by the progress of the disease, Washington himself left the city on September 10, making a previously planned trip to Mount Vernon. Some questioned whether Congress could safely meet at the capital in December, and Washington sought advice about whether he had the constitutional power to alter the location at which Congress would convene and about where the government might move. Washington himself took lodgings at Germantown in November, and ultimately, the waning of the disease made action unnecessary.

Among personal matters, the management of Mount Vernon claimed much of Washington’s attention. He signed a contract with a new farm manager, William Pearce, and his letters to Pearce and to interim manager Howell Lewis convey information and advice. Moreover, in a letter to the English agriculturalist Arthur Young, he broached a proposal to rent out four of the five farms at Mount Vernon to immigrant farmers, describing his estate in considerable detail.

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