Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Oliver Wolcott, Junior, 17 November 1796

From Oliver Wolcott, Junior


Phila. Nov. 17. 1796

Dear sir

You must feel interested in knowing how our affairs stand with France, I give you a summary of them.

The Note to Colo. Pickering1 contains a summary of all the complaints of France since the commencement of the present War. They are as follows. That the Courts of the United States have taken Cognizance of Prizes to French Vessells. That the Treaty has been misconstrued, by permitting the admission of British Ships which have at some time made Prizes of French Vessells. Mr. Adets construction is that a B. Ship which at any time or in any place has made a Prize ought to be denied Asylum. Complaints are made of the proclamation of Neutrality & of the promptness with which the President requested Congress to enact Laws for preserving our Neutrality. The questions proposed by the President before Genets arrival are recited at length, & commented on as evidences of unfriendliness to France.

Lists of almost all the particular cases respecting privateers &ca are made out & the decisions of the Executive censured.

It is said that the Government has manifested partiality against France, by the alacrity which marked its conduct, in enforcing the Laws against them, & by tardiness in prosecuting the British.

That the American Government deceived France in respect to Mr Jays mission.

That the Treaty with G. B. is a violation of the Treaty with France, is equivalent to a Treaty of Alliances, & ought not have been made during the War.

A fulfillment of the 11th. article of our Treaty with France2 is required which stipulates that favours granted to other nations shall become common—this Mr. A. says will justify the French in taking British property on board of American Vessells, & in intending contraband as defined by the B. Treaty.

For these reasons, the commercial relations founded on Treaty are to be suspended untill the Government returns to itself. Nevertheless the French Nation regards the People as its friends.

The people in a declamatory rhapsody are directly addressed, in this ⟨style⟩ “O ye Americans”—an appeal is made to their passions; the injuries of the British during the last War are recounted, & the assistance of the French nation extolled; it is said that the suspension of the ministers functions is not to be regarded as an Act of hostility but of just resentment against the Government—when the Government returns to itself, the French will forget the injury.

France is said to be terrible to its enemies but magnanimous to its Friends, quick to resent injuries, but easily appeased.

The Executive & Mr. Jay are treated with personal indignity.3

On the whole this is by far the most bold attempt to govern this Country which has been made. It is necessary to come to issue. Measures to prevent any panick or depression of the public opinion are necessary. We have the right of the question, but whether we shall be overuled by force will partly depend on the spirit of the people, partly on the issue of the Campaign in Italy & Germany.4

I am ever yours

Oliv Wolcott Jr

Colo. Hamilton

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

1This is a reference to Pierre Auguste Adet’s reply to a letter from Timothy Pickering, dated November 1, 1796. See George Washington to H, November 3, 11, 1796. Adet’s reply, with numerous supporting documents, is dated November 15, 1796, and is printed in ASP, Foreign Relations, I, 579–667.

2Wolcott was mistaken, for he meant to refer to Article 2 of the Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce of 1778. That article reads: “The most Christian King, and the United States engage mutually not to grant any particular Favour to other Nations in respect of Commerce and Navigation, which shall not immediately become common to the other Party, who shall enjoy the same Favour, freely, if the Concession was freely made, or on allowing the same Compensation, if the Concession was Conditional” (Miller, Treaties, II description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America (Washington, 1931), II. description ends , 5).

3Adet’s protest contains several implied criticisms of Washington. Wolcott was probably referring to the following part of Adet’s letter in which both Washington and Jay were criticized: “These wrongs of the American Government towards the republic … will soon be aggravated by new ones. It was a little matter only to allow the English to avail themselves of the advantages of our treaty; it was necessary to assure these to them by the aid of a contract which might serve at once as a reply to the claims of France, and as peremptory motives for refusals, the true cause of which it was requisite incessantly to disguise to her under specious pretexts.

“Such was the object of Mr. Jay’s mission to London; such was the object of a negotiation, enveloped, from its origin, in the shadow of mystery, and covered with the veil of dissimulation. Could the executive directory have any other idea of it, on examining its issue; on seeing all the efforts made by the American Government to conceal the secret from every eye? …” (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, I, 581.)

4See Rufus King to H, November 30, 1796, notes 1 and 2.

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