Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Oliver Wolcott, Junior, 7 July 1800

From Oliver Wolcott, Junior

Washington July 7. 1800

Dear Sir (Private)

I have before me your favour of the 1st. instant. I have some knowledge of the circumstance referred to in Genl. Schuylers Letter.1 It is a fact that Mr. Shoemaker has either seen such a Letter from Mr. Jefferson as is described, or recd. such evidence that a Letter of the kind existed, as made a strong impression on his Mind. It has I know been proposed to make application to Mr. Smith’s son for the Letter, but I presume the idea has not been pursued. Mr. Rawle2 can I believe inform what Mr. Shoemaker can say.

I will readily furnish the Statement you desire from a firm conviction, that the affairs of this Govt. will not only be ruined, but that the disgrace will attach to the federal party, if they permit the reelection of Mr. Adams. I am however as yet unsettled3 and must previously arrange my papers and dispose of some urgent official business.

It is necessary to give a proper direction to the News Papers, which are at present filled with the most disgusting Nonsense. The cause of the federalists has declined, their system has been reversed, honest men have been calumniated and discredited, and no apology or explanation has been offered to the public. It will be extraordinary, if all these strange proceedings are permitted to be slurred over, by attributing them to State Necessity, the firmness of the President his independence of both Parties &ca. A few paragraphs exposing the folly of such publications, will produce an admirable effect; they will produce replies, which will gradually & very naturally lead to the public discussion, which has become inevitable.

I approve entirely of your writing to the President for an explanation of what he means by the frequent allusions to a British party or faction. Indeed any thing which decorum will permit, to render the present state of our affairs intelligible, is in my opinion proper.

Nothing is more disgusting to me, than the praise bestowed upon the Pr. for his wise & sincere pursuit of peace according to the example of Genl. Washington. A great number of public men, have heard the Pr. declare, that he did not believe that the Fr. Govt. was sincere in making what are called the overtures upon which the last mission was founded. Nay more the Pr. has declared that a Treaty was neither to be expected nor desired while Mr. Ellsworth & Mr. Davie were at Trenton last Autumn4 & after the instructions had recd. the Presidents sanction he said that the expulsion of the Envoys from France with circumstances of personal indignity, would be favourable to the Interests of the UStates.5 I shall ever believe that the last mission to France, was by the Pr. considered as a game of diplomacy & that it was his intention to gain popularity at home by appearing to be desirous of peace, while he exhibited his talents as a great Statesman, by outwitting the French in Negociation. The wisdom & cordiality of which Mr. Thomas speaks in his circular Letter,6 was in fact nothing but a sort of diplomatic skill, of which the President justly accuses his Secretaries of being unacquainted.

You may rely upon my cooperation in every reasonable measure for effecting the election of Genl. Pinckney. Mr. Carrol7 of this State is I believe right, but I wish you to write to him as soon as possible.

Adieu   I am truly yrs.

Oliv Wolcott.

A Hamilton Esq

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1For information on this paragraph and most of the people mentioned in it, see Philip Schuyler to H, May 28, 1800.

2William Rawle, a native of Philadelphia, was Samuel Shoemaker’s stepson. When Philadelphia was evacuated in 1778, he accompanied Shoemaker to New York, and three years later he went to England to study law at the Middle Temple. He returned to America in 1782 and in 1789 was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly. He was United States attorney for the District of Pennsylvania from 1791 to 1799.

3The offices of the Federal Government were moved from Philadelphia to Washington in June, 1800.

4For John Adams’s meeting with Oliver Ellsworth and William R. Davie, see H to George Washington, first letter of October 21, 1799, note 2. See also Theodore Sedgwick to H, February 25, 1799.

5On October 24, 1799, Timothy Pickering wrote to Washington: “The P. thinks the French Government will not accept the terms which the Envoys are instructed to propose: that they will speedily return: and that he shall have to recommend to Congress a declaration of war. Fallacious expectation! That Government will hardly hesitate about the terms, for we ask only what we have a clear right to insist on. And if we demand any thing unreasonable—the French Government, sooner than let the envoys return & hazard immediate war, would yield every thing; with an intention of disregarding its engagements, the moment the pressure of the combined powers should cease, or that peace were made with them. But as to the French negotiation producing a war with England—if it did, England could not hurt us!!! This last Idea was part of Mr. Ellsworth’s recital to Mr. Wolcott and me: I had not patience to hear more: but have desired Mr. W. to commit the whole recital to writing; which he promised to do …” (ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress; ALS, letterpress copy, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston). In his “Notes on the negotiations with France, written January, 1800,” Wolcott wrote: “While the plan of a negotiation was preparing, information was received of the overthrow of the Directory, and the reverses of the French fortunes in Europe. All men of reflection, with whom I have corresponded, concurred in opinion, that the mission ought to be suspended. The President certainly suffered an opinion to be entertained, that he would suspend the envoys, and that he would not require the officers of government to participate in the measure of negotiation without allowing them to explain their sentiments. The instructions were settled in concert; the business was finished at about 11 o’clock at night; the next morning at nine o’clock, the President ordered the envoys to prepare for immediate departure.

“Since it has been determined that the mission should proceed, the President has declared his opinion that no treaty will be formed; he even told envoys that it would not be injurious to the interests of the United States, if they should be treated with indignity!” (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 , II, 279.)

6After Congress had adjourned on May 15, 1800, John Chew Thomas, a Maryland Federalist and a member of the House of Representatives, wrote a circular letter to his constituents, which was dated May 28, 1800, and which he had printed (n.p., n.d.). In this letter he praised the President for having offered France the opportunity to make an honorable peace without jeopardizing the safety or independence of the United States.

7Charles Carroll of Carrollton.

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