George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Alexander Hamilton and Henry Knox, 5 August 1794

From Alexander Hamilton and Henry Knox

Philada August 5. 1794.


The draft of a proclamation and that of an instruction to the Commissioners being both prepared, we take the liberty to suggest that we think a meeting tomorrow morning at such hour as may be convenient to the President, may be adviseable.1 The Secretary of State & Attorney General being out of town we cannot consult them, but we will engage the attendance of the Attorney General provisionally by Nine o’Clock & if the President concludes on the Meeting at that hour, he can have the Secy of State apprised of it. We have the honor to be &c.

A. Hamilton

H. Knox.


1The draft of the proclamation has not been identified. For the final version, see Proclamation, 7 August.

A draft of the instructions, largely in the writing of State Department clerk George Taylor, Jr., with revisions by Edmund Randolph, is in DLC: Pennsylvania Whiskey Rebellion Collection. The draft is dated 7 Aug., but it evidently was available for discussion by 5 Aug., as on that date Taylor initialed a document, endorsed "Instructions to quiet or to repress insurgents at Pittsburgh &c.," that reads: "E. Randolph says the instructions enclosed were drawn by him, not as his own sentiments but as those of the President, there being some things in them which do not accord with his opinion" (DLC: Pennsylvania Whiskey Rebellion Collection).

Knox and Hamilton signed the draft. Knox wrote only "Approved," but Hamilton wrote more extensive comments: "It seems to be intended that the measure of calling out the Militia be kept back until the case of failure in compromise. This appears to me neither candid nor dignified. They should be apprised exactly of what has been done & left to act accordingly.

"Perhaps a question may arise about the duties of former years. I think they may be told on this point that the Executive will forbear to enforce any thing concerning the former years if they will fairly comply for the present year. This compliance ought to be an unequivocal condition of any promise on the part of the Govt.

"But on further & mature reflection my judgment is against the measure of commissioners till the force called out has rendezvoused."

Randolph’s revisions on the draft reflect Hamilton’s comments. The LS of the instructions is dated 7 Aug. (PHi: Gratz Collection), but the copy in DNA: RG 59, Domestic Letters is dated 5 Aug., as was the copy submitted to Congress on 20 Nov. (ASP, Miscellaneous Letters, 1:86-87). The commissioners, "or any one or more" of them, were "authorized and appointed forthwith to proceed to the scene of the insurrection and to confer with any bodies of men or individuals with whom you shall think proper to confer, in order to quiet and extinguish it. There is reason to believe that a collection of discontented individuals, will be found at Mingo Creek on the fourteenth instant, and as the object of their assembling, is undoubtedly to concert measures relative to this very subject, it is indispensably necessary, that you should press thither with the utmost expedition."

The commissioners were to "state the serious impressions which their conduct has created in the mind of the Executive, and to dilate upon the dangers attending every Government where laws are obstructed in their execution"; to inform the insurgents that GW had been granted power "to call out the militia to suppress the insurrection," but he would find it "painful . . . to exercise such a power" and wished "to render it unnecessary"; and to "explain" their appointment "in a language . . . most conciliatory, but reconcileable to the self respect which this Government ought to observe."

Whether to proceed further was left to the commissioners’ judgment, but in any negotiations they were to declare that GW was "bound to consider" the excise law "as much among the laws which he is to see executed as any other" and that he could make no "stipulation" about repeal of the law, that "being a subject consigned by the Constitution to the Legislature." He would, however, grant an amnesty for past actions on condition that "satisfactory assurances be given that the laws be no longer obstructed in their execution by any combinations directly or indirectly, and that the offenders against whom process shall issue for a violation of, or an opposition to the laws shall not be protected from the free operation of the law. Nothing will be inforced concerning the duties of former years if they will fairly comply for the present year." To insurgents’ complaints of "the hardship of being drawn to the federal Courts at a distance," the commissioners could reply that state courts would be used when it could be done "without inconvenience to the United States or danger of their being frustrated in the object of the suits and prosecutions . . . but the choice of Jurisdictions must always depend upon the discretion of the United States." The commissioners were also to make it known that orders for the militia had been issued and "every thing is prepared for their movements," but that action would be suspended until the commissioners’ return.

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