George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Alexander Hamilton, 2–6 December 1790

To Alexander Hamilton

[c.2–6 December 1790]1

Dear Sir—(Private)

Your indisposition has prevented me from giving you as much trouble in making my communications to Congress as otherwise, I might have done.

The article of your Notes which respect the loan in Holland, I am somewhat at a loss to frame into a paragraph for the Speech, and therefore pray your assistance.2

I had got it as pr the enclosed, but upon a revision, it does not appear right.3 Be so good therefore as to new model, and let me have it (if convenient to you) this afternoon4 with the sums expressed where necessary. I am Sincerely Yrs

G. W——n

ALS, DLC: Alexander Hamilton Papers.

Before he left Mount Vernon for Philadelphia on 22 Nov. 1790, GW wrote to each of his department secretaries, as well as to Chief Justice John Jay, soliciting suggestions for his address to the opening of the third session of the First Congress (see GW to Henry Knox, 2 and 19 Nov. 1790, and GW to John Jay, 19 Nov. 1790). The address was presented on 8 Dec. 1790 (see GW to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, 8 Dec. 1790).

1The editors of the Hamilton Papers supplied the conjectural date of 2–6 Dec. 1790, apparently on the basis of the timing of Hamilton’s “usual fall-cold.” The letter’s cover was addressed by GW, “Private Colo. Hamilton,” and bears a “Decr 1790” docket in a later hand. Hamilton wrote to William Seton on 3 Dec. 1790 that his illness continued but “with some abatement,” and on 7 Dec. 1790 Hamilton wrote to Peter Anspach that he was “but just recovering” (Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 7:190, 199).

2In response to GW’s 10 Oct. 1790 request that “you . . . revolve in your mind not only such matters (if there be any) as may be proper for me to lay before Congress in your own Department, but such others of a general nature as may happen to occur to you” (see Hamilton to GW, 30 Sept. 1790, n.3), Hamilton gave GW several pages of notes. GW’s copy has not been found, but Hamilton’s retained draft, which he endorsed “Notes of objects for consideration of President Decr 1. 1790,” reads:

“Suggestions of topics for Annual Message

“I Confidence that measures for the further support of public Credit and for the payment of the interest and gradual extinguishment of the principal of the public debt will be pursued with zeal & vigour. And that as one mean to this a plan for the sale of the Western lands will be adopted, which will give them the effects intended, appropriating them to the sinking fund, while it will extend the Agriculture of the U. States.

“II Felicitation on the success of the measures hitherto adopted for the support of public Credit witnessed by the rise of American Stock not only in the United States but in Europe. The public Credit cannot but acquire additional energy, when it is known that the revenues hitherto in activity have been more productive than was calculated upon: A proof not only of the resources of the Country but of the patriotism & honor of the Mercantile & Marine citizens of the U. States. The punctuality of the former in discharging their obligations has been exemplary.

“III Information that a loan of 3000000 of florins has been effected in Holland, the terms and the disposition of which (as far as any has been made) the Secretary of the Treasury has been directed to explain.

“IV Growing conviction in the Minds of the great body of the People of the Utility and benefits of the National Government. It is not to be doubted that any symptom of discontent which may have appeared in particular places respecting particular measures will be obviated by a removal of the misapprehensions which may have occasioned them.

“V Expedition against the Indians and Motives to it.

“VI disturbed situation of Europe particularly of the great Maritime Powers—The precautions of a prudent circumspection on the part of the United States ought not to be neglected.

“VII almost total interruption of our Mediterranean Trade from the dread of Piratical depredations—great importance of opening that trade, & the expediency of considering whether protection cannot be afforded to it.

“IX symptoms of greater population than was supposed; a further proof of progressive strength and resources.

“X Remark on the abundance of Harvests affording an assurance of internal plenty and the means of easy payment for foreign supplies” (DLC: Hamilton Papers). In numbering his suggestions Hamilton skipped “VIII.”

3As early as 1786 rumors reached the United States that the French government, desperately in need of funds, was considering the possibility of selling to speculators the debt the United States owed for France’s aid during the American Revolution. See the memorial of Willink, Van Staphorst & Hubbard, the U.S. bankers in Amsterdam, enclosed in Thomas Jefferson to John Jay, 12 Nov. 1786, in Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 10:520–23. By early 1790 attempts by speculators to acquire the debt had made considerable headway, since it was evident that the United States was not in a financial position to begin the payment of the principal on the French debt. Willink, Van Staphorst & Hubbard wrote to Hamilton in January 1790, describing the attempts at speculation in the debt and announcing that, in view of the critical situation, they had already opened a loan in Amsterdam for three million florins as an emergency measure to begin payments to France (Willink, Van Staphorst & Hubbard to Hamilton, 25 Jan. 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 6:210–18). When Hamilton received word of the loan in late April or early May 1790, he gave qualified approval, since, as he said, the former services of the bankers kept him from apprehension “that a sanction to the step you have taken, would form an inconvenient precedent for the future” (Hamilton to Willink, Van Staphorst & Hubbard, 7 May 1790, ibid., 6:409–10). Congressional approval of the negotiations was not actually received until August 1790 when Congress passed “An Act making Provision for the [payment of the] Debt of the United States” authorizing GW to borrow “on behalf of the United States, a sum or sums, not exceeding in the whole twelve millions of dollars; and that so much of this sum as may be necessary to the discharge of the said arrears0 and instalments, and (if it can be effected upon terms advantageous to the United States) to the paying off the whole of the said foreign debt, be appropriated solely to those purposes” (1 Stat. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 138–44 [4 Aug. 1790]). See also “An Act making Provision for the Reduction of the Public Debt,” ibid.186–87 (12 Aug. 1790). The contract for the loan was dated 12 Nov. 1790 and provided that the loan would be reimbursed within fourteen years, in five annual payments of 600,000 guilders each, beginning 1 Feb. 1800. The bankers received a 4½ percent commission on this loan (Bayley, National Loans, description begins Rafael A. Bayley. The National Loans of the United States, from July 4, 1776, to June 30, 1880. 1881. Reprint. New York, 1970. description ends 22–23; William Short to Hamilton, 2 Dec. 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 , 7:176, n.3).

The undated enclosure in GW’s hand reads: “In pursuance of the authority granted for negociating a loan not exceeding [ ] application was made in Holland, and I have the pleasure to inform you, that a sum equal to [ ] dollars has been subscribed. This loan, which shews by its success the confidence placed in the U. States, cannot fail by its intended application to give additional support to the public credit. The terms of it, with the disposition as far as made, the Secretary of the Treasury is directed to communicate” (DLC: Hamilton Papers).

4GW originally wrote and then canceled “evening.”

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