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Conversation with George Beckwith, [25–30 September 1790]

Conversation with George Beckwith1

[New York, September 25–30, 1790]2

… 7.3   23.4 is a man of capacity, but apt at particular times to give himself up too much to the impressions of his own mind.

From the Duke of Leed’s5 reply to 23.’s first application6 I confess I did not think favorably of the prospect, although it was far from being conclusive. The June packet brought us accounts of his interviews with Mr. Pitt,7 and from 23.’s own detail of what passed, there was a something in his conduct on that occasion, which I confess I do not altogether approve.

[Beckwith]   “It strikes me as possible that 23 has been occasionally out of England, has he been in France?”

[Hamilton]   Not that I know of, and if 23. has cultivated an intimacy with the Ministers of any other power in Europe, or has caused suspicion on that ground with respect to France, or elsewhere, he has had no authority, for so doing; it occurs to me, that he was very intimate with Monsr. de La Luzerne the Ambassador of France now in London,8 when he was Minister in this country, possibly from that circumstance he may have been more frequently there, than prudence ought to have dictated,9 and the knowledge of this circumstance may have produced a greater reserve on the part of Your administration; these ideas strike me, although I have no grounds to go upon.

[Beckwith]   “Do You wish to have a West India Island?”10

[Hamilton]   I answer without hesitation No, we do not, it is not in our contemplation. We wish the liberty of trading in that quarter, at least this is decidedly my own opinion, we should consider the Sovereignty of a West India Island as a burthen. Our territories are already very extensive, and I can assure You, the idea of having possessions further to the northward than our present boundaries would be esteemed an incumbrance, with an exception to the Forts. On that score therefore I cannot foresee any solid grounds for a national difference with You; to the southward the case is very different. We look forward to procuring the means of an export for our western country, and we must have it. We cannot suffer the navigation of the Missisippi to remain long in its present state. That country is at this moment ready to open it if they met with the smallest encouragement, and undoubtedly we look forward to the possession of New Orleans.

[Beckwith]   “Since my arrival here I have made it a point to preserve the strictest silence with respect to (23) yet I have more than once had occasion to hear his name mentioned by his relations and their acquaintances; it came out in their conversations that 23 is greatly liked in London, that he is frequently with the French Ambassador Monsieur de la Luzerne, and with Mr. Fox,11 who had expressed himself to be greatly pleased with his character and company.”

[Hamilton]   Yes, it is so reported; I believe it in some measure to be true; I am the more inclined to be of this way of thinking from extracts of letters, which I have seen of 23., in which he throws out, that such and such were Mr. Fox’s opinions on particular subjects, and from the former intimacy, which subsisted here between 23 and Monsieur de la Luzerne, as well as from Mr. Fox’s line of politics during the war, his general character, and from my knowledge of 23 himself.

I do not question this gentleman’s sincerity in following up those objects committed to his charge, but to deal frankly with You, I have some doubts of his prudence; this is the point in which he is deficient, for in other respects he is a man of great genius, liable however to be occasionally influenced by his fancy, which sometimes outruns his discretion.

[Beckwith]   “Mr. Fox is a very able man, very generally respected, and his character as a statesman is known in the world; but professing every possible respect for Mr. Fox, and for Monsieur de la Luzerne likewise, it is for Your consideration, how far a gentleman in 23. situation ought to form intimacies with persons in public political situations, excepting they are in administration.”

[Hamilton]   I am quite of Your opinion, and this amongst other causes led me to remark, that it is greatly desirable, that this negotiation should be transferred to our seat of Government. However we have no reason on the whole to question Mr. Pitt’s good dispositions towards us, on the contrary he seemed personally disposed to grant us more, than other members of Your Cabinet thought advisable for Your general commercial interests.

D, Public Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario.

1In October, 1789, Beckwith had been sent to the United States by Lord Dorchester, Governor General of Canada, as an unofficial minister of the British Government. This document was enclosed in Lord Dorchester to William Wyndham Grenville, November 10, 1790.

2Beckwith did not state the date on which he held this conversation with H. As H, in reporting to Washington the gist of the conversation on September 30, wrote that the conversation “lately” had been held, it has been dated “September 25–30, 1790.”

37 was the code number for H.

423 was the code number for Gouverneur Morris, the representative of the United States in England.

5Francis Osborne, Duke of Leeds, was the British Foreign Minister.

6On March 29, 1790, the morning after his arrival in London, Gouverneur Morris called on the Duke of Leeds. He presented the Duke with a copy of Washington’s letter authorizing Morris to converse with the British Ministry on the fulfillment of the peace treaty and the possibility of a commercial alliance (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, I, 122). In his reply on April 28, the British Minister stated that Great Britain was unwilling to fulfill her treaty obligations until the United States had demonstrated that it too was willing to abide by the treaty. With respect to a commercial treaty, he informed Morris that “it is the sincere wish of the British Government to cultivate a real and bona fide system of friendly intercourse with the United States; and that every measure which can tend, really and reciprocally, to produce that object, will be adopted with the utmost satisfaction by Great Britain” (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, I, 123).

7Gouverneur Morris’s account of his interview with the British Prime Minister is printed in ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, I, 123–25.

8Anne César, Marquis de La Luzerne.

9While in London, Morris often dined with La Luzerne and frequently visited him at his house. As H must have known, Morris had informed the French Minister of his instructions because, as Morris wrote Washington on April 7, 1790, “the thing itself cannot remain a secret; and by mentioning it to him, we are enabled to say with truth, that, in every step relating to the treaty of peace, we have acted confidentially in regard to our ally” (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, I, 123).

10Beckwith explained what he meant by this question in a letter to Dorchester enclosing his conversation with H. The United States, he stated, might side against Spain in any war between Spain and England because of a desire to secure possession of New Orleans. Even if the United States did take “an active part against Spain,” Beckwith said that it was not likely it would try to secure a West Indian island (Dorchester to Grenville, November 10, 1790, Public Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario).

11Charles James Fox, leader of the Parliamentary opposition.

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