George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, 9 December 1791

To Thomas Jefferson

[Philadelphia] Friday Morning [9 December 1791]1

Dear Sir,

Yesterday afternoon Colo. Hamilton was desired, as soon as the Tariff was ready, to let it be known. Enclosed is his answer.2 Say whether the meeting shall be tomorrow, or on Monday morning?3 Yours sincerely

Go: Washington

ALS, DLC: Thomas Jefferson Papers.

1Jefferson endorsed this undated note as having been received on 9 Dec. 1791.

2The enclosed answer of Alexander Hamilton has not been positively identified. It might have been a copy of Hamilton’s undated proposed tariff provisions on French imports (see Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 13:409–10n). In late November Hamilton discussed with the chevalier de Ternant terms of a possible commercial treaty with France, which initiative GW subsequently approved. The president then requested Jefferson to draft the treaty proposals, and the secretary of state “prepared a plan of treaty for exchanging the privileges of native subjects and fixing all duties for ever as they now stood,” as Jefferson described in his Anas. Hamilton, however, balked, as Jefferson claimed, because “he said that many articles here would bear to be raised and therefore he would prepare a tariff,” which he then did (Memoranda of Consultations with the President, 11 March–9 April 1792, 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 , 23:258–65).

3No written reply from Jefferson has been found. At the subsequent meeting he expressed opposition to Hamilton’s proposals, which, Jefferson later remarked, amounted to raising duties on the French 20 to 50 percent as compensation for their giving “us the privileges of native subjects” (ibid.). Jefferson ultimately prevailed upon GW to allow William Short to make overtures directly to the French government regarding a new commercial treaty, rather than attempt to open negotiations with Ternant. Jefferson later stated his belief that Hamilton had originally proposed the commercial treaty with France in order to obtain GW’s authorization for corresponding negotiations with British minister George Hammond (see ibid.).

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