Alexander Hamilton Papers
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To Alexander Hamilton from James McHenry, 19 August 1797

From James McHenry

Philad. 19 Augt. 1797.

My dear Sir

I have received this morning your letter of the 17th inst.

Mr Jones1 is without your letter of the 4th to Mr Monroe, and the want of it delays the publication.

With respect to the papers inclosed to you by Mr. Tillery.2 I wrote to McKee3 on the 25th of July ulto.4

“I will state to you briefly the difficulty which prevents any final determination at present on the two propositions which respect the house of Panton Leslie & Co. and what I think that house may reasonably look forward to.”

“As the assumption of their Indian debts or compensation for them in land would require the consent of Congress, it would be to hazard a great deal too much to make any promise to them founded on its being obtainable. In a case so circumstanced it is proper that they should understand the difficulty and be convinced that the President has no authority to conclude such an engagement or make it binding on the U.S. In giving them this information you will mention how very sensible I am of the good offices which they have it in their power to render, and that whatever favour they can ask that can be granted by the President will not be refused. It would be easy I should conceive to afford them such indulgences as would greatly facilitate the effectual and prompt collection of their debts within our Indian nations and this is what I think they may ask and reasonably look forward to.”

“Considering how infinitely precious the friendship of the U.S. is to Spain I can only ascribe the late conduct of some of her officers to an influence which controuls their better judgment. War is not desired by the U.S. They will shun it if possible, and sure I am Spain ought carefully to avoid forcing them into it. My last accounts from Natches is up to the 19 May. Then every thing was seemingly quiet.”

Yours affectionately

James McHenry

P.S. There was no money in your letter.

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; ADf, James McHenry Papers, Library of Congress.

2James Tillary’s enclosures have not been found. See H to McHenry, August 17, 1797.

3John McKee was an agent of the Southern Indian Department. McKee’s activities in 1797 are described as follows by A. P. Whitaker: “In view of the meagerness of transportation facilities and the remoteness of the centers of population on the Atlantic seaboard from the Mississippi, the war party needed all the support it could get from the Western frontiersmen and the Southern Indians. One of the most important efforts made in this direction, and certainly the most singular, was the sending of John McKee to the headquarters of the Anglo-Spanish trading firm of Panton, Leslie and Company at Pensacola in 1797. Though the mission was regarded by some observers as a move in the Blount conspiracy, there is good reason to believe that it was in fact engineered by the Federalist war party in order to pave the way for the conquest of Florida by enlisting the services of Panton, Leslie and Company, whose influence was paramount among the Indian tribes on the Florida border. It is certainly not without significance that McKee … was under the orders of Secretary of War McHenry, and that Secretary of State Pickering was privy to the purpose of his mission.… The American government had known for nearly a decade that Panton, Leslie and Company was the chief agent of Spanish resistance to American influence among the Southern tribes within the limits which the United States claimed, and that, by stirring up the Indians to ravage the frontiers of Georgia and Tennessee, the company had stained its hands with the blood of American citizens. Yet high officials of the government were now offering the company facilities for collecting from these very Indian tribes the debts which were the most eloquent reminder of that long and cruel warfare” (The Mississippi Question, 1795–1803: A Study in Trade, Politics, and Diplomacy [New York and London, 1934], 125–26).

4AL, letterpress copy, James McHenry Papers, Library of Congress; ADf, James McHenry Papers, Library of Congress.

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