Conversation with George Hammond
[Philadelphia, July 1–10, 1794]
In obedience to your Lordship’s instructions, I endeavoured to ascertain immediately, as far as it was in my power, the probability of this government’s acceding to any propositions that have been or may be made to it by Sweden and Denmark, on the subject of becoming a party to the convention into which those powers have recently entered.1 For this purpose, I took an early opportunity of having a conversation with Mr. Hamilton; which in order to avoid any suspicion of the real object of my visit, I began upon ordinary topics, but afterward directed with an appearance of indifference, to this convention, which had been already printed in the American newspapers2 and which I treated as an impotent attempt on the part of Sweden and Denmark to acquire consideration, by a semblance of vigour that, in the event of opposition, they would be incapable of realizing. I then added that one of the American papers had contained an intimation of the probable accession of this country to this system, but I was persuaded that, as such a course would be inconsistent with its true interests, this was but an idle suggestion. Mr. Hamilton in answer with great seriousness and with every demonstration of sincerity, assured me—that my opinion was well founded—that, in the present conjuncture, it was the settled policy of this government in every contingency even in that of an open contest with Great Britain, to avoid entangling itself with European connexions, which could only tend to involve this country in disputes, wherein it might have no possible interest, and commit it in a common cause with allies, from whom in the moment of danger, it could derive no succour. In support of this policy, Mr. Hamilton urged many of the arguments advanced in your Lordship’s dispatch3—the dissimilitude between the political views, as well as between the general interests of the United States and those of the two Baltic powers—and the inefficiency of the latter, from their enfeebled conditions, either to protect the navigation of the former in Europe, or to afford it any active assistance, if necessary, in its own territory. Finding Mr. Hamilton thus prepared, it was merely necessary for me to dilate on the points that he only incidentally touched, and generally to confirm his reasoning by my own remarks. I could not discover whether, at the period of our conversation, this government had received, through Mr. Pinckney the Swedish propositions,4 but, from the readiness and precision of Mr. Hamilton’s observations, I scarcely entertain a doubt that the subject had previously engrossed much of his attention, and that the result of the deliberations of himself and of the other members of the American administration5 had been such as he stated it to have been.6
D, PRO: F.O. description begins Transcripts or photostats from the Public Record Office of Great Britain deposited in the Library of Congress. description ends , Series 5, Vol. 5.
1. This conversation has been taken from Hammond to Lord Grenville, August 3, 1794, Dispatch No. 18.
On May 10, 1794, Grenville sent two dispatches to Hammond. In the first he enclosed a “Convention between Denmark and Sweden, signed at Copenhagen the 27th of March last.” See Edmund Randolph to William Bradford, H, and Henry Knox, June 30. 1794. In his second dispatch Grenville wrote to Hammond that Lars D’Engestrom (von Engeström), the Swedish Minister to Great Britain, “communicated this proposition to Mr. [Thomas] Pinckney that the American government should accede to this convention and that the latter having requested that this proposal should be delivered to him in writing Mr. D’Engeiston accordingly delivered to him a note containing a communication of the convention itself and an invitation from the Swedish government to the United States for their accession to it.” Grenville instructed Hammond that “as this is a matter too important to admit of delay … you will exert yourself to the utmost to prevent the American government from acceding to the measure now proposed to them” (Mayo, Instructions to British Ministers description begins Bernard Mayo, ed., “Instructions to the British Ministers to the United States,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1936 (Washington, 1941), III. description ends , 54).
2. The convention was printed on June 28, 1794, in the [Philadelphia] Gazette of the United States and Daily Evening Advertiser.
3. Hammond is referring to Grenville’s dispatch of May 10, 1794. See note 1.
4. In an undated letter after April 30, 1794, Pinckney wrote to Randolph: “I send herewith a letter which I have received from the Minister Plenipotentiary of the King of Sweden at the Court, inviting us to become party to the Convention lately entered into between Sweden & Denmark for the protection of their Commerce. I likewise inclose my answer & a french copy of the articles of the convention …” (ALS, RG 59, Despatches from United States Ministers to Great Britain, 1791–1906, Vol. 3, November 29, 1791–May 4, 1797, National Archives).
6. Hammond’s estimate of the possibility of the United States adhering to the Armed Neutrality was as follows: “But even supposing, this not to be the disposition of this government, and that Mr. Hamilton, by his apparent frankness, was only endeavoring to remove any suspicions I might have formed; there is an insuperable obstacle to an early accession on the part of the United States to this convention: For by the second section of the second article of the Constitution of the United States, the President is expressly precluded from making treaties, unless two thirds of the Senators present concur in them. The Senate will not meet for business until the second week in November and the deliberation of that body are so slow, that a project of this nature, even if it included as many benefits as it presents disadvantages. would require many weeks of discussion. Upon the whole, my Lord, I conceive myself justified in inferring that the actual disposition of this government is adverse to the Swedish propositions, and that even if it were favorable to them, many months must elapse before its formal assent to them can be obtained, and more before its co-operation can be effected” (D, PRO: F.O. description begins Transcripts or photostats from the Public Record Office of Great Britain deposited in the Library of Congress. description ends , Series 5, Vol. 5).