George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Alexander Hamilton, 17 October 1790

From Alexander Hamilton

New York Octr1 17. 1790.


I had the honor of receiving your letter of the 10th instant by the last post.2 It is certainly very possible, that motives, different from the one avowed, may have produced a certain communication; and in matters of such nature, it is not only allowable, but the dictate of prudence, to receive suggestions with peculiar caution.

A British Packet arrived yesterday.3 The accounts she brings, are all of a war-like aspect. I have extracted from an English paper the inclosed decree of the National Assembly of France; which though of a qualified tenor looks pretty directly towards the eventual supporting of Spain.4 The English papers hold it up as a decisive indication of a disposition to do so—And it is said in some of the letters which have been received that positive orders have been sent to Lord Howe to fight if he can find an opportunity.5 The papers announce a second fleet of fifteen sail of the line ready to rendezvous at Portsmouth to be under the command of Admiral Hood.6 Their destination unknown.

It is also mentioned that the Dutch Fleet had returned to the Texel; the Duke of Leeds having previously made a journey for an interview with the Dutch Admiral. This very mysterious circumstance is wholly unexplained.

A certain Gentleman, who called on me to-day, informed me, that a Packet had sailed the 16 of August for Quebec, in which went passenger General Clarke.7 He added that the rumour in England was that Sir Guy Carleton was to return in her. He made no other communication.8

The inclosed letter came to hand this day.9 I have had no opportunity of making any inquiry concerning the person recommended in it. If I can obtain any additional lights they shall be made known without delay.

The object suggested in your letter as preparatory to the Meeting of the Legislature shall engage my particular attention.

The papers of the Departments of State and the Treasury, and of the Commissioners for settling accounts are on their way to Philadelphia. On the 20th I propose with my family to set out for the same place. I have the honor to be with the highest respect and truest attachment Sir Your most Obedient & most humble servant

Alexander Hamilton

ALS, DLC:GW; LB, DLC: Hamilton Papers.

1Hamilton originally wrote “August,” which he deleted and replaced with this superscription.

2For GW’s 10 Oct. 1790 letter to Hamilton, see Hamilton to GW, 30 Sept. 1790, n.3.

3The packet was the Prince William Henry (New-York Daily Gazette, 18 Oct. 1790).

4The enclosed “Decree of French National Assembly” in Hamilton’s hand reads: “Thursday Afternoon Four OClock.

“The National Assembly deliberating upon the formal proposition of the King contained in the letter of his Minister of the 1st of August decrees.

“1st That the King shall be prayed to make known to his Catholic Majesty, that the French Nation, in taking all the measures necessary to maintain peace, will observe the defensive and commercial engagements which his Government has contracted with Spain.

“2dly Decrees moreover, that the King shall be prayed immediately to charge the Ambassador from France in Spain, to negotiate with the Ministers of His Catholic Majesty for the purpose and to the effect of strengthening by a National Treaty the ties and connections useful to the two Nations, and to fix with clearness & precision all the stipulations which shall not be entirely conformable to the views of a general peace and to the principles of Justice, which will ever be the policy of France.

“3dly The National Assembly, taking into consideration the armaments of the different Nations of Europe, their progressive augmentation, the safety of the Colonies and of commerce, decrees that the King shall be prayed to give necessary orders that squadrons in Commission may be augmented to forty five ships of the line with proportionate number of frigates and small Vessels” (DLC:GW).

5Richard Howe, Earl Howe (1726–1799), was appointed commander of the Channel fleet in May 1790 and cruised for a month after the Spanish fleet was reported at sea in August 1790. His fleet of thirty-five ships of the line returned to Spithead on 14 Sept. 1790 without engaging the Spanish.

6Alexander Hood, viscount Bridport, (1727–1814), at this time a vice-admiral, was appointed second in command of the Channel fleet in February 1793.

7This gentleman was most likely Lord Dorchester’s agent, British major George Beckwith. Maj. Gen. Alured Clarke (c.1745–1832), who had been lieutenant governor of Jamaica from 1782 to 1790, was stationed at Quebec from June 1791 to June 1793.

8According to documents in the Canadian Archives, Beckwith made other communications to Hamilton at this time, questioning the secretary of the treasury about the administration’s policy on New Orleans, peace with the Indians in the Northwest Territory, British-American relations in the event of an Anglo-Spanish war, and federal judicial protection of British creditors (see Hamilton’s Conversation with Beckwith, 15–20 Oct. 1790, in Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 7:111–15).

9The enclosed letter of John Langdon to Hamilton has not been found (see GW to Hamilton, 26 Oct. 1790, and Hamilton to GW, 26 Oct. 1790).

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