Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Oliver Wolcott, Junior, 30 July 1795

From Oliver Wolcott, Junior


Phila. July 30th. 1795

Dear Sir.

I have your Letter of the 28th: I will see the Secy of War this morning, and you may rely upon it, that the movement will be suspended.

The true state of things in this city is, that the Treaty was at first unpopular, the expectations of vain sanguine men, who considered this Country as all powerful & intittled to dictate, were not satisfied—every engine of faction was successfully set at work; at present there is more temper & moderation—the truth begins to prevail. I think we shall have no dangerous riots—but one month will determine the fate of our Country, so far as depends on ourselves—the extreme hazards of foreign war I do not take into account.

I dare not write & hardly dare think of what I know & believe respecting a certain character; whose situation gives him a decided influence.1 There has as yet nothing more passed between the Government & Mr. Hammond, than a verbal conference, in which the Presidents opinion respecting the merits of the Treaty has been declared to be like that of the Senate2—no written memorial has passed nor have any measures as relative to the ratification been adopted—the ratification of the President has moreover been connected with the repeal of some unknown order respecting Vessells bound with provisions to France3—though this was a condition improperly prescribed in my opinion, yet the circumstance might have been mentioned in a manner which would not be offensive and have assumed the form of a prudent precaution on the part of the President.

But what must the British Government think of the United States, when they find the Treaty clogged with one condition by the Senate, with another by the President—no answer given in a precise form, after forty days, no Minister in that Country4 to take up negociations proposed by ourselves, the Country rising into a flame, their Ministers house insulted by a Mob5—their flag dragged through the Streets as in Charleston & burnt before the doors of their Consul6—A driveller & fool appointed Chief Justice7—&c &c. Can they believe that we desire peace?

I shall take immediate measures with two of my Colleagues, this very day—they are firm & honest men.8 We will if possible, to use a French phrase save our Country. You must not think we have been to blame for the delay. We have been constantly amused by R—who has said that the President was determined to ratify9—the precise state of the business has never been communicated till within a few days—the affairs of his Dept. are solely conducted by himself. Feel no concern however, for I see a clue which I know will conduct us through every labyrnyth except that of War. On that point we must take our chance. It would be well if you or Mr. King10 or Gov. Jay11 could be here some time next week—provided too much speculation would not be excited.

Yrs. truly

Oliv. Wolcott.

A Hamilton Esqr.

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; copy, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford.

1The “certain character” was Edmund Randolph. If one excepts the mention of a “certain character” in Wolcott to H, July 28, 1795, this is the first reference in H’s extant correspondence to the events which led to Randolph’s resignation as Secretary of State on August 19, 1795.

Although the question of Randolph’s guilt or innocence has been discussed by successive generations of historians, the events leading to his resignation are not a subject of dispute and can be briefly stated. On March 28, 1795, an English frigate captured a French corvette carrying dispatches to France from Jean Antoine Joseph Fauchet, French Minister to the United States, including Fauchet’s Dispatch No. 10, dated October 31, 1794. The British Foreign Office sent Fauchet’s intercepted dispatches to George Hammond, British Minister to the United States (Lord Grenville to Hammond, May 9, 1795 [PRO: F.O. (Great Britain) description begins Public Record Office of Great Britain. description ends , 5/9]). On July 26, 1795, when George Washington was at Mount Vernon, Hammond read to Wolcott English translations of some parts of Dispatch No. 10 which appeared to indicate—or could be interpreted to mean—that Randolph had asked Fauchet for money as a price for influencing United States policy toward France. On July 28, Hammond gave Wolcott both a copy and the original of Dispatch No. 10. Wolcott showed Dispatch No. 10 to Secretary of War Timothy Pickering, who translated it in an altogether inadequate fashion. On July 29, both men showed these documents to Attorney General William Bradford. They then decided that Washington should be called back to Philadelphia as soon as possible, and Wolcott and Pickering even succeeded in inducing Randolph to write (without Randolph’s knowing why he was being asked to do so) to the President urging his immediate return (Randolph to Washington, July 31, 1795 [ALS, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives]). Washington arrived in Philadelphia on August 11. On the same day, Pickering informed him of the seemingly incriminating charges against Randolph, and Wolcott gave the President the intercepted dispatch and Pickering’s translation of it. On August 19, Washington, in the presence of Pickering and Wolcott, confronted Randolph with Fauchet’s Dispatch No. 10 and asked for an explanation. After a protracted interview, Randolph left feeling that the cross-examination to which he had been subjected was unfair, unjust, and improper. Randolph went directly to his office and wrote a letter of resignation, which was delivered to Washington on August 20 (ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress). On the same day, Washington wrote to Randolph accepting his resignation (ADfS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress).

The story of how Randolph was forced from the Government has been told many times, and the above chronology has been taken from the standard accounts and the sources used in such accounts. Pickering’s version is in Charles W. Upham, The Life of Timothy Pickering (Boston, 1873), III, 216–19. For Wolcott’s recollections of what took place, see his undated “Notes relative to Fauchet’s Letter” (ADS, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford). This document is printed in Gibbs, Wolcott description begins George Gibbs, Memoirs of the Administrations of Washington and John Adams: Edited from the Papers of Oliver Wolcott, Secretary of the Treasury (New York, 1846). description ends , I, 232–33. See also the relevant portions of Wolcott’s letter to John Marshall, June 9, 1806 (Gibbs, Wolcott description begins George Gibbs, Memoirs of the Administrations of Washington and John Adams: Edited from the Papers of Oliver Wolcott, Secretary of the Treasury (New York, 1846). description ends , I, 243–46). On December 18, 1795, Randolph presented his own defense in a narrative with relevant documents which was printed as a pamphlet entitled A Vindication of Mr. Randolph’s Resignation (Philadelphia: Printed by Samuel H. Smith, No. 118, Chesnut Street, 1795). Randolph’s biographer also defends the Secretary of State’s relations with Fauchet (Moncure D. Conway, Omitted Chapters of History Disclosed in the Life and Papers of Edmund Randolph, Governor of Virginia, First Attorney-General, United States Secretary of State [New York, 1889], 270–357). A recent and thorough-going defense of Randolph may be found in Irving Brant, “Edmund Randolph, Not Guilty!” The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., VII (April, 1950), 179–98. Perhaps the most balanced account, which also is generally sympathetic to Randolph, is given by Ashworth and Carroll, in Freeman, Washington description begins Douglas Southall Freeman, George Washington (New York, 1948–1957). Volume VII of this series was written by John Alexander Carroll and Mary Wells Ashworth. description ends , VII, 265–98, 635–36. Fauchet’s Dispatch No. 10 is printed in French in Turner, “Correspondence of French Ministers,” description begins Frederick J. Turner, ed., “Correspondence of the French Ministers to the United States, 1791–1797,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1903 (Washington, 1904), II. description ends 444–55.

Although much has been made of the fact that Pickering’s translation was inaccurate and accordingly unfair to Randolph (for example, see Brant, “Edmund Randolph, Not Guilty!” 193), it is impossible to ascertain if that particular translation is still extant or which one of the extant translations it may have been. Nor have scholars been able to agree on the number, location, and character of these extant translations. Ashworth and Carroll state that there are four translations by Pickering in the Pickering Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston (Freeman, Washington description begins Douglas Southall Freeman, George Washington (New York, 1948–1957). Volume VII of this series was written by John Alexander Carroll and Mary Wells Ashworth. description ends , VII, 281, note 82); actually there are only two manuscript translations (and only one in Pickering’s handwriting) and one printed version in the Pickering Papers. Irving Brant writes: “Pickering’s translation of the Fauchet Dispatch No. 10 is in the Hamilton Papers (L.C.) under its date October 31, 1794” (Brant, “Edmund Randolph, Not Guilty!” 183, note 5). Brant, however, is mistaken, for the MS in question was not in Pickering’s handwriting but in the handwriting of Henry Kuhl, a clerk in the Treasury Department. Conway refers to a “fair copy, in vol. 3 of the Pickering MSS.” (Conway, Edmund Randolph, 336, note 1); but this translation was in Pickering’s handwriting, and at some undetermined time after Conway had completed his research this copy was transferred to Volume 52 of the Pickering Papers.

Although the situation is admittedly confused, the extant translations made in 1795 appear to be as follows:

a) Pickering translation. In Volume 52, 361–84, of the Pickering Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, is a complete translation in Pickering’s handwriting. This is the translation which Conway mistakenly calls a “fair copy” and which was originally in Volume 3 of the Pickering Papers. It may be the translation which Wolcott showed to Washington on August 11. In any event, it is the only translation in Pickering’s handwriting which has been found.

b) Washington’s extracts. In the George Washington Papers, Library of Congress, there is a document in Washington’s handwriting entitled “Copious extracts from the Intercepted letter of Mr. Fauchet to the Commr. of the Department of exterior relations; dated at Phila. 31st October 1794.” This document consists of paraphrases and extracts. Washington obviously took the material in it from the translation by Pickering. The extracts are similar in many respects to the Pickering translation described above.

c) Translation in a clerk’s hand. This translation, which is in Volume 51, 163–78, of the Pickering Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, is in an unknown handwriting. This document is endorsed “Fauchets Letter translation with Colo. A. Hamilton’s corrections.” The few corrections may have been by H, but they do not appear to be in his handwriting. This may have been the version which H said he would correct. See H to Pickering, November 20, 1795.

d) Translation in Hamilton Papers. This translation in the Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress, is in the handwriting of Henry Kuhl, a clerk in the Treasury Department. Wolcott endorsed H to Wolcott, October 30–November 12, 1795, as follows: “Oct. 30. & Nov. 12. ansd. 13th Nov. & sent on Copy of Fr—— Letters by Mr. Kuhl translated.” As mentioned above, Brant incorrectly attributes this translation to Pickering. This translation is in more literate English than any of the others.

e) George Taylor’s translation. When Randolph was preparing his Vindication, he asked his friend, George Taylor, Jr., chief clerk of the State Department, to prepare a translation. The printed version of this translation may be found in Randolph’s Vindication, 41–48. Taylor’s version, following the publication of the Vindication on December 18, 1795, was reprinted in several newspapers. See, for example, the [Philadelphia] Gazette of the United States, December 21, 1795; [New York] American Minerva; an Evening Advertiser, December 22, 1795; or The [New York] Argus, or Greenleaf’s New Daily Advertiser, December 24, 1795.

H played no part in the events leading to Randolph’s resignation, but subsequently he did not hesitate to offer his advice to Pickering, Wolcott, and Washington on the desirability of publishing Dispatch No. 10 and the appropriate way for the Washington Administration to react to Randolph’s efforts to defend himself. See Wolcott to H, September 26, November 16, 1795; H to Washington, October 16, 1795; H to Wolcott, October 30–November 12, 1795; Pickering to H, November 17, December 14, 1795; and H to Pickering, November 20, 1795. In addition, as noted above, Wolcott did send one translation of Dispatch No. 10 to H, which is now in the Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress, and Pickering asked him to correct a translation of the dispatch.

2This sentence and much of the remainder of this paragraph deal briefly—and at times somewhat inaccurately—with the factors concerning Washington’s decision to ratify the Jay Treaty. The Senate gave its consent to the treaty on June 24, 1795, but in doing so the Senate also suspended part of Article 12 and provided for a supplementary article. See H to Rufus King, June 11, 1795, notes 2 and 3. Washington, then, was faced with the problem of whether to ratify the treaty or to resubmit it to the Senate with the supplementary article. See Washington to H, July 13, 1795, note 6. The problem was made even more complicated by the fact that the British had recently begun to capture cargoes of grain in American ships sailing to France. For the British order in council of April 25, 1795, calling for these seizures, see Washington to H, July 7, 1795, note 3.

In a letter or memorandum dated July 12, Randolph proposed a way out of Washington’s dilemma. Under this arrangement, Randolph would inform Hammond that the President was prepared to sign the treaty without submitting the new version of Article 12 to the Senate, but that he would not sign it as long as the British order in council of April 25, 1795, remained in effect (Randolph to Washington, July 12, 1795 [ALS, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives]). The President approved this plan, and on July 13 Randolph stated the proposal to Hammond. The British Minister’s reaction was less than satisfactory. In describing the interview, Randolph wrote: “… Mr. Hammond asked me, if it would not be sufficient to remove the order out of the way; and after the ratification to renew it? I replied with some warmth, that this would be a mere shift, as the principle was the important thing. He then asked me, if the President was irrevocably determined not to ratify, if the provision-order was not removed?” (Randolph, Vindication description begins [Edmund Randolph], A Vindication of Mr. Randolph’s Resignation (Philadelphia: Printed by Samuel H. Smith, No. 118, Chesnut Street, 1795). description ends , 31–32). On July 15, Washington left Philadelphia for Mount Vernon without having taken action on the treaty. On his return to Philadelphia on August 11 he was immediately informed of Randolph’s alleged machinations with Fauchet (see note 1 above). In addition, Hammond, who had been recalled, was leaving Philadelphia on August 15 for New York to sail for England. If the President approved the treaty before that date, it would not only enable the British Minister to deliver the ratified treaty to his superiors in London, but it would also reassure him that his mission to the United States had been successful. Accordingly, Washington agreed to a letter to Hammond, which had been drawn up by Randolph and which stated that “the President … has after duly appreciating the importance of closing all differences determined to ratify the treaty in the manner advised and consented to by the Senate.” Although, in the letter to Hammond, Randolph did not make the rescinding of the order in council a condition for the President’s ratification, he did write: “But the undersigned is charged to declare that the sensibility of the President has been greatly excited by understanding that various captures have been lately made of American vessels laden with provisions, in consequence of a recent order said to have been issued under the authority of his Britannic majesty” (Randolph to Hammond, August 14, 1795 [LC, RG 59, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, Vol. 8, December 6, 1794–October 12, 1795, National Archives]).

Washington accordingly signed the form of ratification on August 14, 1795; Great Britain ratified the treaty on October 28, 1795; ratifications were exchanged at London on October 28, 1795; and the treaty was proclaimed on February 29, 1796 (Miller, Treaties, II description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America (Washington, 1931), II. description ends , 245).

Before leaving for England, Hammond wrote to Lord Grenville on August 14, 1795: “… I have desired Mr Jay and Mr Hamilton to meet me at New York (with whom I have not yet had any opportunity of conversing) and from whom I shall receive more accurate and substantial information on several points than from any other quarter” (ALS, PRO: F.O. [Great Britain] description begins Public Record Office of Great Britain. description ends , 5/9). No evidence has been found that Hammond met with Jay and H immediately before his departure from the United States.

3For this order, see note 2 and Washington to H, July 7, 1795, note 3.

4This is a reference to the fact that Thomas Pinckney, while United States Minister Plenipotentiary to Great Britain, had also been appointed Envoy Extraordinary to Spain and that when this letter was written he was in Spain rather than England. See Washington to H, July 7, 1795. In nominating Pinckney for the Spanish mission, Washington had stated: “It is believed that, by his temporary absence from London, in the discharge of these new functions, no injury will arise to the United States” (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 163).

5On July 26, 1795, opponents of the Jay Treaty held a meeting in Philadelphia. After the meeting, according to Wolcott (who was present “for the purpose of observing the proceedings”), “The Treaty was thrown to the populace, who placed it on a pole; a company of about three hundred then proceeded to the French Ministers house, before which some ceremony was performed. The mob then went before Mr. Hammonds house & burnt the Treaty with huzzas & acclamations. The same was done before Mr. [Phineas] Bonds & Mr. [William] Binghams houses” (Wolcott to Washington, July 26, 1795 [ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress]). For an account of the meeting, see [Philadelphia] Gazette of the United States, July 12, 1795. For the events following the meeting, see Wolcott to Mrs. Oliver Wolcott, Jr. (Gibbs, Wolcott description begins George Gibbs, Memoirs of the Administrations of Washington and John Adams: Edited from the Papers of Oliver Wolcott, Secretary of the Treasury (New York, 1846). description ends , I, 218), and Hammond to Lord Grenville, August 14, 1795 (ALS, PRO: F.O. [Great Britain] description begins Public Record Office of Great Britain. description ends , 5/9).

6The Jay Treaty had already been publicly burned in Charleston. Then on July 14, 1795, Bastille Day, French citizens and others in Charleston used the occasion to demonstrate against the British and the treaty. It was at this time that the British flag was dragged through the streets and burned before the house of the British consul, Benjamin Moodie. See the [Philadelphia] Aurora. General Advertiser, July 29, 30, 1795.

7For John Rutledge’s appointment as Chief Justice of the United States, see Wolcott to H, July 28, 1795, note 3.

8This is a reference to the decision of Pickering, Bradford, and Wolcott to inform Washington of what they considered Randolph’s disloyalty. See note 1.

9For Washington’s ratification of the Jay Treaty and Randolph’s part in the proceedings, see note 2.

10Rufus King.

11John Jay.

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