Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from George Hammond, 30 October 1791

From George Hammond

Philadelphia 30th October 1791


As I am apprehensive that, in the short conversation, which I had with you yesterday at General Knox’s, I may have been misunderstood, I take the liberty of communicating to you in writing, the substance of what I then stated, as well as what I meant to have added, had I not been unwilling to trespass farther, at that time, on your attention.

With respect to the manner of presenting the credentials, with which I am charged by my Court, I have no other instructions, than those that I had the honor of mentioning to you on Thursday last. The interpretation of them, and any modification of them, which I may think it expedient to adopt, are necessarily left to my own discretion.

I hope, Sir, you will do me the justice to believe that I am not much inclined to magnify trifles, or to assign too great a degree of importance to matters of mere ceremony. In the present instance, I should consider your assurance of the disposition and determination of this government, to nominate a Minister to England, as a sufficient justification for me to present my credentials without delay, if my hesitation could have arisen from even the most remote doubt of the existence of that disposition. But the real point of etiquette, consistent with the dignity of both our Countries, appears to me to be this—that, although a strict conformity, in regard to time, in the respective appointment of Ministers by the two Governments, is rendered impossible by the circumstance of my prior arrival at the place of my destination, yet (and in this opinion I flatter myself you will concur with me) it is still in some measure practicable that the nomination of a Minister by this government may ostensibly keep pace with my actual appearance in a diplomatic character. The mode prescribed in my instruction (of delivering my letters of credence, “whenever I shall be informed that a Gentleman has been actually invested with a ministerial character to my Court, similar to mine, or has been nominated for that purpose”) seems to me exactly to meet this notion.

I must however, Sir, desire you to be persuaded that I am not solicitous to accelerate my public reception, and that I am perfectly willing to wait any time that may suit the President’s convenience. Whenever his Excellency shall have made his election—should it fall upon any Gentleman in the vicinity of this state, a few days, perhaps hours, would be sufficient, to learn his acceptance or refusal of the station offered him, and to afford the opportunity of making such a communication to me, as might enable me to comply literally with my instructions.—But should the case occur, which you, Sir, have suggested, of the President’s proposing the appointment to a Gentleman, who may be at a considerable distance from the seat of government, I shall, in that case, conceive myself fully justified in departing from my instructions so far, as to present my credentials, upon receiving an assurance, that the President has offered to a Gentleman, at a distance, a ministerial appointment to my Court, similar to that, with which I am invested in this Country.

I shall not enlarge farther upon this subject than to desire you, Sir, not to consider this letter as a formal communication, but rather as a friendly exposition of those sentiments, which I have before stated in conversation, and which I have thrown into this form, in order that we may clearly understand each other.—I have the honor to be, with great truth and respect, Sir, Your most obedient, humble Servant,

Geo. Hammond.

RC (DNA: RG 59, NL); at foot of text: “Honble Mr. Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 30 Oct. 1791 and so recorded in SJL. Tr (same).

This minor contretemps over the presentation of Hammond’s diplomatic credentials foreshadowed the often frustrating relationship TJ enjoyed with the British minister throughout the remainder of his tenure as Secretary of State. Soon after his arrival in Philadelphia on Oct. 21, Hammond informed TJ through Phineas Bond, the British consul, that he had been instructed by his government to delay presenting his credentials to the President until an American minister to Great Britain had either been nominated or appointed. TJ assured Bond that the President intended to nominate such a minister as soon as possible and repeated this assurance during a personal meeting with Hammond at the home of Secretary of War Knox the day before this letter was written. But TJ’s assurances were not enough for the punctilious Hammond. Hammond waited until TJ officially notified him on 10 Nov. that Washington had selected a nominee for the post of minister to the Court of St. James and then presented his credentials to the President on the following day, at which time, he later reported, “The President received me with the utmost politeness and respect, and assured me that I should find, not only in himself, but in every description of persons in this country, the sincerest alacrity to meet those friendly dispositions, which his Majesty has been pleased to express” (Hammond to Grenville, 23 Oct., 1, 16 Nov. 1791, PRO: FO 4/11, f. 93–4, 100–1, 142–3).

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