Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to James Wilkinson, [3 August 1799]

To James Wilkinson1

[New York, August 3, 1799]2

General Hamilton presents his Compliments to General Wilkinson3& sends him at foot heads for conversations which it is proposed to have; in order to call the attention of G W to the several points. Most of them have no doubt been topics of communication with the War Department but the freedom & particularity of conversation will yield additional lights & lead perhaps to a correct system for the management of our Western Affairs in their various relations.


1. The disposition of our Western Inhabits. towards the UStates & foreign powers.
2. The disposition of the Indians in the same aspect.
3. The disposition of the Spaniards in our Vicinity. Their strength in numbers & fortifications.
4 The best expedients for correcting or controuling hostile propensities in any or all these quarters including.
5 The best defensive disposition of the Western army; embracing the Country of Tenessee & the Northern & N Western Lakes and having an eye to œconomy & discipline.
6 The best mode (in the event of Rupture with Spain) of attacking the two floridas. The troops Artillery &c. requisite.
7 The best plan for supplying the Western army with provisions transportation forage &c.
8 The best arrangement of Command so as to unite facility of Communication with the sea board & the proper combination of all the parts under the General commanding the Western Army.

ADf, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1At the head of this letter H wrote: “April 15. 1799

April 20

April 25

May 24. 1799.”

This list contains the dates on which Wilkinson had written to H.

2In JCHW description begins John C. Hamilton, ed., The Works of Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1851–1856). description ends , V, 247, and HCLW description begins Henry Cabot Lodge, ed., The Works of Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1904). description ends , VII, 75, this letter is dated April 15, 1799.

3Wilkinson had left New Orleans en route to New York City on June 25, 1799 (Wilkinson to H, July 3, 1799), and arrived in New York on August 2, 1799 (Wilkinson to Timothy Pickering, August 2, 1799 [ALS, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, January 1, 1799–December 27, 1800, National Archives]).

During the two days after his arrival in New York, Wilkinson met twice with H. In his memoirs Wilkinson gave the following account of their conversations: “I immediately called on the General and left my card: he returned my visit the next morning, and at our meeting shewed some sensibility, for which I respected his heart, and remunerated him without loss of time, by observing to him, ‘that considering my superior rank during the revolution, and my subsequent military services, it might be presumed there would be some opposition to his command in my mind; but that however tenacious of rank, whatever might be my professional pride, and I acknowledged an ample share of it, I should be vain and weak indeed, did I oppose my pretensions or my talents to his, that I believed the course he had run, and the services he had rendered, gave him a title to the appointment he had received, and that I should take his orders with satisfaction;’ he was affected, and laying his right hand on his breast replied, ‘upon my word, General Wilkinson, I admire this frankness, and shall not shew myself unworthy of the example; I have not experienced the same obliging concession from other quarters;’ he was proceeding, when a messenger required his presence in court, which was then sitting; and having appointed the next afternoon for an interview, we parted.

“I waited on the General agreeably to appointment, and opened the conversation by observing, ‘that in obedience to his order of the 12th February, I presented myself to receive his commands, but before entering on business, I considered it a matter of propriety towards him and of duty to myself, to remark, that my ignorance of his personal sentiments, and my knowledge of the secret slanders by which, I had been assailed during his administration of the treasury department, enjoined the utmost circumspection on my part; I therefore begged leave to premise, that should the objects for which I had been recalled from the Mississippi require formal reports, I hoped he would apprise me, whether I should confine myself to strict official forms, or might add such political facts and reflections as appeared to me essential to his information. That in the last case relying on his confidence, I should bare my bosom to him, and than in the first he would find me dumb to all but specific objects of professional duty;’ he answered, ‘I have no objection General Wilkinson to indulge your desire, nor will I hesitate to tell you, Sir, that I sent for you, to borrow the information which I have in vain sought for elsewhere; estranged from military pursuits, since the revolution, my faculties have been directed to different objects; you know how easy it is for a soldier to forget the mechanical parts of his profession, which is my case; I have grown rusty in military affairs, and have in reality forgotten much of what I learnt in the war of the revolution, and wish to avail myself of your knowledge; you therefore cannot be too diffuse in your communications; I am not a man of professions, but on a further acquaintance, I think, you will find something here, (laying his hand on his breast) trustworthy; in the mean time, I will barely say, that whenever you desire confidence you have only to intimate it.’ A long desultory conversation ensued, chiefly respecting our south-western country, of which he appeared to have formed a just estimate, remarking it was ‘a treasure worth cherishing;’ at taking leave, I observed to him, ‘well, Sir, having fatigued you with my prattle, I now propose to visit an old friend whom I have not seen for several years, I know you are twain in politics, but I hope there is no disagreement between you, which might render the renewal of my acquaintance with him indecorous to my superior officer;’ he asked me if it was ‘Lamb,’ meaning Colonel [John] Lamb, I replied in the negative, and named Colonel [Aaron] Burr. ‘Little Burr,’ said he, ‘Oh no, we have always been opposed in politics but always on good terms, we sat out in the practice of the law at the same time, and took opposite political directions, Burr beckoned me to follow him, and I advised him to come with me; we could not agree, but I fancy he now begins to think he was wrong and I was right.’” (Wilkinson, Memoirs of My Own Times [Philadelphia, 1816], I, 437–39.)

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