George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Timothy Pickering, 2 February 1799

From Timothy Pickering


Philadelphia Feby 2 1799


Your last letters to be forwarded to Europe I expect will proceed next week. The three for England I shall put under cover to Mr King and send them by the British packet which is to sail next Wednesday or Thursday.1

I have the honor to inclose copies of the Presidents communications to Congress on the 18th & 21st of January, concerning French affairs.2 In my report, I had noticed (in as gentle terms as possible) Mr Gerry’s conduct, as wrong in principle, and in many particulars very reprehensible: but these (contrary to my wishes) were omitted. There was one omission which I deemed important to retain, as it was the text of my observations on Mr Gerry’s strange opinion of the sincerity of Talleyrand in his talks of negociation prior to the arrival of the Envoys dispatches in Europe. For your own eye, I have inserted in the copy of my report now inclosed, the passages referred to, as I had written them. It was this absurd but mischievous opinion which suggested to me the necessity of making a report on those communications: I call it mischievous, because many will read and respect that opinion without examining and discovering that it is without foundation. Mr Gerry’s whole letter is calculated to apologize for his improper conduct—so improper as to be inexcusable—and of this he is apparently conscious; and hence his laboured but weak attempt to justify it.

The report as it now is, will wound his feelings; but the direct application of my remarks, and of divers other passages omitted, were the smallest censures which I thought his conduct merited. My letter of June 25, prefixed to his papers, he will first see in print—for he left France before it could have arrived.3 I have the honor to be, with great respect, Sir, your most obt Servt

Timothy Pickering

ALS, PPRF; ALS (letterpress copy), MHi: Pickering Papers.

1The three letters to England were to Bryan Fairfax, to John Sinclair, both 20 Jan., and to Bartholomew Dandridge, 25 Jan.; the letter to Europe was to John Quincy Adams, 20 Jan., enclosing one to James Washington of the same date.

2Elbridge Gerry remained in Paris until August 1798, though the other two American envoys, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and John Marshall, had departed in April. On the day of his arrival back in America, 1 Oct. 1798, Gerry sent to Secretary of State Pickering a report of his activities in Paris during these months, to which he attached copies of his correspondence with French officials, mainly with Talleyrand. On 18 Jan. 1799 President Adams conveyed to Congress Gerry’s report with its supporting documents “relative to our affairs with France.” The whole is printed in Annals of Congress description begins Joseph Gales, Sr., comp. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. description ends , 5th Cong., 3d sess., 3464–531. Three days later, on 21 Jan., Adams laid “before Congress a Report of the Secretary of State, containing his observations on some of the documents” submitted by Gerry and sent to Congress on 18 January (ibid., 3531–58; see also Pickering to GW, 24 Jan., n.3). The copies of the documents that Pickering sent to GW have not been found.

3When Adams submitted to Congress on 18 Jan. Elbridge Gerry’s report of 1 Oct. 1798, he included Pickering’s letter to Gerry of 25 June 1798 as the first document for Congress to consider. In his letter to Gerry in France, which Gerry never received, Pickering wrote: “It is presumed that you will consider the instructions of the 23d of March [to the three envoys] . . . as an effectual recall; lest, however, by any possibility, those instructions should not have reached you, and you should still be in France, I am directed by the President to transmit to you this letter, and to inform you that you are to consider it as a positive letter of recall” (ibid., 3464–65).

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