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To Alexander Hamilton from Rufus King, 14 July 1798

From Rufus King1

London July 14. 1798


Dear sir

I send you inclosed an interesting little piece addressed to Gallatin by a former Citizen of Geneva—if translated and published it may do good.2 We have no news from the mediterranean since the Capture of Malta,3 nor can we do more than conjecture the future destination of Buonaparte. Turin with its arsenals is possessed by a french army, so that Sardignia is at the feet of the Directory. The Emperor continues to recruit his armies and is now laying up Magazines in the Tyrol. His expences are said to be equal to those of an open war, and his Resources unequal to his present Expenditures. Prussia manifests no inclination to enter into a new coalition agt. france, and there are who suspect a more intimate connection between these Powers—in short the fate of Europe is as uncertain and difficult to understand as at any period of the war.

It is at least ten days since the spirited measures pursued in America, must have been known at Paris; we are therefore anxious to learn the Effect they have produced.4 They will be intirely disappointed and my conjecture is that contrary to their wishes, their Pride will drive them to declare war agt. us. On the 13 of June Gl. Pinckney was still at Lyons, his Daughter was much better and he flattered himself with the Expectation of being able to reach Bourdeaux and to embark by the middle of this month.5 On the 26 of June Mr. Gerry was at Paris, waiting say Letters from americans who are about him for the Ultimatum of the Directory.6 Letters are sent in every Direction by the americans at Paris, which say that the Directory hold a conciliatory language and that Mr. Gerry is in Hopes to procure terms which will be honorable & satisfactory to his Country. I thought it impossible that any future step of Mr. G. could exceed in —— & —— what had passed when he decided to separate from his Colleagues & remain at Paris—but I was mistaken—his answer to Talleyrand’s demands of the names of X. Y. and Z. place him in a more degraded light than I ever believed it possible that he or any other american could be exhibited.7

I send you Bellamy’s address8—it, as well as all that has been published serves to confirm the public detestation agt. the Directory. The american Dispatches9 have been circulated throughout Europe, and have every where done much good, and increased the Reputation of our Government.

Yrs &c


ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1King was United States Minister Plenipotentiary to Great Britain.

2When this letter was written, Albert Gallatin was a member of the House of Representatives from Pennsylvania.

On September 19, 1798, the following item appeared in the [New York] Commercial Advertiser: “We have lately received from England a Pamphlet, entitled, ‘The conduct of the French Government towards the Republic of Geneva,’ addressed to Mr. Gallatin, member of the House of Representatives of the United States, by D. Chauvet. The pamphlet contains a brief history of the conduct of France towards Geneva, from the first invasion of that little republic by Gen. [François de] Montesquiou[-Fezensac], about the year 1792, to its final subjugation and annexation to France, in the present year. It is too lengthy for a newspaper, and besides the general facts it contains, are fresh in the memories of most intelligent Americans.

“But the introductory address to Mr. Gallatin, is of too much importance not to merit insertion. It unfolds to that steady friend of France, the errors which he indulges in regard to the views of France, and assures him, that France is pushing towards universal dominion.”

David Chauvet’s letter to Gallatin, dated June 22, 1798, reads in part: “To whom could I, with more propriety, present the picture of the crimes of the French Directory towards the Republic of Geneva, than to one of my compatriots, to a Citizen of Geneva, who is at present, placed in a distinguished situation among the Representatives of the United States of America. Your success in your adopted country, doubtless, has not extinguished your affection for that which gave you birth, and in which your talents, received, in a liberal education, that development, to which you owe your elevation. The name of Geneva, awakens in you sentiments of gratitude and love, and the shameful persecutions which it hath suffered, cannot fail to excite your indignation.…

“I am so ignorant of the true causes of the differences between the parties in America, that I shall be cautious of pronouncing a hasty judgment on them. But if you have supposed, that you see in the French the true friends of liberty; if you have taken the declarations of the Directory, for the principles of their conduct; if you imagine that they are the protectors of weakness, and the defenders of the interests of mankind; if you judge them by your own wishes, and if you measure your hopes by their promises, read the following pamphlet—See how they have dissolved a small State, whose independence they were bound by most solemn treaties to respect. Following them into the complication of their infamous intrigues. This is not a great and dazzling point of political interest—It is no Cromwell who usurps a throne—it is a forger, who compels a feeble man, with a knife at his throat, to sign away to him all his estate, and afterwards boast of the legitimacy of his title. I know not Sir, what direct consequence you will draw in relation to the politics between France and America; but you will see at least, that you must, in regard to France, count for nothing, justice, generosity, and the most sacred engagements, and that in the employment of means, she is most audacious, the most perfectly indifferent to morality, the most oblique and deceptious of all that ever disgraced the most scandalous and iniquitous reign of royalty,—Yes out of the political range of the French Directory, Machiavel himself appears a prodigy of virtue, and the cabinet of Philip 2d the sanctuary of good faith.…” ([New York] Commercial Advertiser, September 19, 1798.)

On October 27, 1798, Secretary of State Timothy Pickering wrote to John Adams: “The original French of Chauvets letter to Galatin, exhibiting the perfidy and violence of France in subverting the Swiss Republic, I rec’d from Mr. King. It appeared to me so important a detail of facts at the present moment, I put it into the hand of a son [Robert Hunt] of Mr. Abraham Hunt, whom I found at leisure, to translate. It has been faithfully done. I encouraged the printer here to give it to the public in a pamphlet. To-day I recd. some copies, & have the honor to inclose a couple” (ALS, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston). The pamphlet is entitled The Conduct of the Government of France Towards the Republic of Geneva. Translated from the French. By a Citizen of Trenton (Trenton: Printed by G. Craft, October, 1798).

4In a postscript dated July 15, 1798, to a letter dated July 12, 1798, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord wrote to Elbridge Gerry: “A circumstance, sir, of infinite importance, has delayed the despatching of this letter. I do not know how it happens that at every step towards a reconciliation a cause of irritation intervenes, and that the United States always give rise to it. Some days since different advices were successively received by the Executive Directory. It seems that, hurried beyond every limit, your Government no longer preserves appearances. A law of the 7th of last month authorizes it to cause every French vessel of war to be attacked, which may have stopped or intended to stop American vessels. A resolution of the House of Representatives suspends, from the 13th of this month, all commercial relations with the French republic and its possessions. Several plans of a law have been proposed for banishing the French and sequestrating French property” (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, II, 220).

Talleyrand’s reference to the “law of the 7th of last month” is mistaken concerning the date. He was referring to “An Act more effectually to protect the Commerce and Coasts of the United States” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 561 [May 28, 1798]).

The reference to the “resolution of the House of Representatives” concerns House action on what eventually became “An Act to suspend the commercial intercourse between the United States and France, and the dependencies thereof” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 565–66 [June 13, 1798]). The date on which this bill was to go into effect was July 1, 1798, rather than July 13, as stated by Talleyrand. For the House action on this bill, see Annals of Congress description begins 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 (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , VIII, 1854–55, 1859–66. For an explanation of the contents of Talleyrand’s final sentence, see H to Pickering, June 7, 1798, note 6.

5Following the XYZ affair, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and John Marshall demanded and received their passports. Marshall embarked for the United States, but Pinckney, because of the illness of his daughter, had to remain in France. On July 18, 1798, he left Paris for the south of France (King to Pickering, May 11, 1798 [copy, RG 59, Despatches from United States Ministers to Great Britain, 1791–1906, Vol. 7, January 9–December 22, 1798, National Archives]). See also Gerry to Talleyrand, April 4, 20, 1798 (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, II, 209).

6For Gerry’s correspondence with Talleyrand after the departure of Marshall and Pinckney from Paris, see ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, II, 208–22. See also Gerry to Pickering, October 1, 1798 (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, II, 204–08).

7On May 30, 1798, Talleyrand wrote to Gerry and requested the names of the agents designated as “W.X.Y.Z.” in the printed editions of the dispatches of the United States envoys to France. On the following day Gerry refused to name the agents. Talleyrand, however, persisted in his request, and on June 3, Gerry agreed to supply the names (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, II, 210–11). For the identities of “W.X.Y.Z.,” see “The Stand No. V,” April 16, 1798, note 28.

9For the publication of the XYZ dispatches, see Pickering to H, April 9, 1798, note 1.

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