Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to George Washington, 19 November 1792

To George Washington1

Treasury Department November 19th 1792


I have carefully reflected on the application of Mr. Ternant, for an additional supply of money for the use of the Colony of St Domingo on account of the Debt due to France;2 which I regard more and more as presenting a subject extremely delicate and embarrassing.

Two questions arise   1   as to the ability of the UStates to furnish the money, which is stated at about 326000 Dollars,3 in addition to the sum remaining of the 400000 Dollars some time since promised   2   as to the propriety of doing it on political considerations.

With regard to ability, I feel little doubt that it will be in the power of the Treasury to furnish the sum; yet circumstanced as we are, with the possibility of more extensive demands, than at present exist, for exigencies of a very serious nature, I think it would not be desireable to be bound by a positive stipulation for the intire amount.

With regard to the propriety of the measure on political considerations more serious difficulties occur.

The late suspension of the King, which is officially communicated, and the subsequent abolition of Royalty by the Convention, which the News papers announced with every appearance of authenticity,4 essentially change for the moment the condition of France.

If a restoration of the King should take place, I am of opinion, that no payment which might be made in the Interval would be deemed regular or obligatory. The admission of it to our credit would consequently be considered as matter of discretion, according to the opinion entertained of its merit and utility. A payment to the newly constituted power, as a reimbursement in course, or in any manner, which would subject it to be used in support of the change, would doubtless be rejected.

An advance, however, to supply the urgent necessities of a part of the French Empire struggling under the misfortune of an insurrection of the nature of that which has for some time distressed and now exposes to the danger of total ruin by Famine the colony of St Domingo is of a different complexion. Succours furnished in such a situation, under due limitations, would be so clearly an act of humanity and friendship, of such evident utility to the French Empire, that no future government could refuse to allow a credit for them without a disregard of moderation and Equity. But the claim for such credit would not be of a nature to be regularly and of course valid; consequently would be liable to be disputed.

The condition in which the Colony has lately placed itself by espousing the last change which has been made in France,5 operates as a serious difficulty in the case and may be made a ground of objection to any aid which may be given them.

There is even a question whether there be now any organ of the French nation which can regularly ask the succour—whether the Commission to Mr. Ternant be not virtually superseded.

It is also an objection (in the view of regularity and validity) to the supply asked, that the Decree of the National Assembly, on which it is founded, contemplated a negotiation between the Executive Power in France and our Minister there.6 The Channel has not been pursued and no substitute has been provided. The business wants organisation in every sense.

From these premisses I deduce, that nothing can be done without risk to the United States—that therefore as little as possible ought to be done—that whatever may be done should be cautiously restricted to the single idea of preserving the colony from destruction by Famine—that in all communications on the subject care should be taken to put it on this footing & even to avoid the explicit recognition of any regular authority in any person.

Under these cautions and restrictions (but not otherwise) I beg leave to submit it as my opinion, that succours ought to be granted; notwithstanding the degree of risk which will attend it. That they should be effected by occasional advances without previous stipulation, and with only a general assurance that the United States disposed to contribute by friendly offices to the preservation of an important portion of the French empire and to that of French Citizens from the calamity of Famine will endeavour from time to time as far as circumstances shall permit to afford means of sustenance.

According to a statement of M. Dela Foret7 the provisions desired to be shipped in the course of November would amount to 83.800 Dollars including the total supply of Fish & Oil. Towards this he computes the application of 50000 Dollars out of the remainder of the 400000 Dollars heretofore promised which would leave a deficiency of 38.800 Dollar. This sum or in round numbers 40000 Dollars can be engaged to be furnished—and in December if no future circumstances forbid a further sum can be engaged to be supplied payable at a future short period. It will be proper that the most precise measures should be taken to ascertain from time to time the investment of the monies supplied in purchasing and forwarding provisions from this Country to the Colony in question.

It has been heretofore understood that the ballance of the sum some time since stipulated was to be furnished; which accordingly has been and is doing.8

Engagements for supplies have been entered into upon the basis of that stipulation & payments to as great if not a greater amount are becoming due in which the Citizens of the UStates are materially interested.

The caution which is deemed necessary has reference not only to the safety of the UStates in a pecuniary respect but to the consideration of avoiding a dangerous commitment, which may even prove a source of misunderstanding between this Country and the future Government of the French Nation. From all that is hitherto known there is no ground to conclude that the Governing Power by the last advices will be of long duration.

ADf, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; copy, with the closing in H’s handwriting, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress; LC, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress; copy, RG 233, Messages from the President, Second Congress, National Archives.

1For earlier plans to defray the cost of supplies for Santo Domingo by using payments on the debt owed to France which the United States had incurred during the American Revolution, see Jean Baptiste de Ternant to H, September 21, 1791, February 21, March 8, 10, 1792; H to Ternant, September 21, 1791, February 21, March 8, 11, 12, 1792; William Short to H, December 28, 1791, January 26, March 24, April 22, 25, May 14, June 28, August 6, 1792; H to Short, April 10, 1792. See also Gouverneur Morris to H, November 2, 1792, note 4.

3This figure was given by Antoine René Mathurin de La Forest in a statement of Santo Domingan needs, dated November 12, 1792, and entitled “Etat des subsistances et approvisionnemens nécéssaires, pour les troupes employées à St. Domingue, pendant les mois de Décembre 1792, Janvier et Fevrier 1793, etabli d’après celui addressé par les administrateurs, calculé pour 4 mois à commencer de Novembre” (letterpress copy, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress).

4The letter which Morris wrote to Jefferson on August 16, 1792, concerning the suspension of the King was endorsed by Jefferson as having been received on October 24, 1792 (ALS, RG 59, Despatches from United States Ministers to France, 1789–1869, June 17, 1792–March 7, 1794, National Archives). An account of proceedings in the Convention concerning the abolition of the monarchy appeared in the November 21, 1792, issue of the [Philadelphia] Gazette of the United States.

5H is presumably referring to the defeat of Jean Jacques Pierre Desparbès at the end of October, 1792, and the victory of the commissioners sent from France with the support of the “Amis de la Convention nationale” (Saintoyant, La Colonisation Française pendant la Révolution description begins J. Saintoyant, La Colonisation Française pendant la Révolution, 1789–1799 (Paris, 1930). description ends , II, 120–21). The [Philadelphia] National Gazette and [Philadelphia] Gazette of the United States contain only brief reports of these events. The November 17, 1792, issue of the National Gazette contains the following account: “Considerable disturbances have recently happened in Cape-François; in which the patriotic party have been prevalent. One officer of the counter-revolution party was put to death, and about fifty other obnoxious persons shipped off to take their trial in old France, on a charge of having fomented the rebellion of the negroes, in concert with the anti-revolutionists in the mother-country.”

6H is referring to a decree passed by the Legislative Assembly on June 26, 1792. See Morris to H, September 25, 1792, note 8.

7See note 3. La Forest’s statement concludes with a “Résumé général” which reads as follows: “Les fonds nécéssaires pour alimenter St. Domingue jusqu’au ler. Mars 1793 se montent par l’état sy-joint à 178,310 Piastres. En admettant que les traités de l’administration posterieure à l’advertissement mis dans les gazettes le 8 Aout, et qui se montent en total à 140,000 dollars, ne soient acquittées que jusqu’à concurrence du 8. Sepe. et seulment pour fourniture de comestibles faite par les citoyens des Etats unis, ou leurs correspondans, il y en resultera que sur les 100,000 dollars du payement echéant au ler. Xbre., il y en aura seulement 50,000. d’employé à la solde des traites, et que le reste servira aux achats actuels … cy … 50,000 Piastres. La Trésorerie des Etats Unis auroit donc encore à pourvoir au payement de 128,310 aux epoques fixées dans l’etat cy-joint pour les envoys d’ici a St. Domingue.

“Pe. Me.

“Complement des 4,000,000livre tournois tournois– 326,000 Piastres
environ à payer comme cy-dessus 128,310
difference restant à acquitter 197,690.”

(Letterpress copy, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress.)

8See Ternant to H, June 26, August 22, October 8, November 15, 1792.

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