Alexander Hamilton Papers
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From Alexander Hamilton to Oliver Wolcott, Junior, 20 April 1796

To Oliver Wolcott, Junior

New York April 20. 1796

Dr. Sir

I have received your letter of the 18th. instant.1 The money paid me for you shall be placed to your Credit in the Office of Discount & Deposit as you desire.

The British Ministry are as great fools, or as great rascals, as our Jacobins—else our Commerce would not continue to be distressed as it is by their Cruisers, nor would the Executive be embarrassed as it now is by the new proposition.2

Not knowing the precise form of that proposition, I cannot have an opinion what is right on the part of the Executive. But if I understand it, it ought to be sufficient for the Executive to declare that the article in the Treaty with the Indians can never operate nor will be permitted to operate in contravention of the Treaty with G Britain.3 It relates to a right reserved for our benefit which we can and will wave & being in a Treaty of subsequent date, it naturally gives way to another of prior date with which it is consistent. The Executive ought to be careful about admitting the propriety of a new condition though it ought to be ready to give all due satisfaction. It should not even shun a new explanatory article if reasonable in itself—but should agree to it upon the strength of its own reasonableness not as a new condition foreign to the Treaty. This affair requires great caution. But as I said I do not know enough to give advice worth much.

Yet the Government must take care not to appear pusyllanimous. I hope a very serious remonstrance has long since gone against the wanton impressment of our seamen. It will be an error to be too tame with this overbearing Cabinet.

Our City is in motion against the plan of the Majority in the House of Representatives with regard to the Treaty. The current appears to be strong with us. The papers will tell you the measures in contemplation.4

But I was sorry to learn that a proper qualified communication was not made to the House of Representatives of the late communication from the British Agent. The Executive may hereafter be blamed for withholding so important a fact. Yet not knowing the whole affair I cannot judge well on this point more than on the other.

Yrs

A Hamilton

Oliver Wolcott Esq

ALS, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford; copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1Letter not found.

2The “new proposition” of the British government was made by Phineas Bond to Timothy Pickering. On March 26, 1796, Bond wrote to Pickering: “The undersigned, His Britannic Majesty’s chargé des affaires, has the honor of representing to the Secretary of State of the United States, that the King his master has been informed that a treaty was concluded on the 3d of August last [actually August 7, 1795], between the United States and certain tribes of Indians, living on the northwestern frontier of those States, which treaty appears to His Majesty to contain certain stipulations repugnant to the due execution of the provisions of the treaty between His Majesty and the United States of America, signed at London, on the 19th of November, 1794, and particularly that, by the eighth article of the said treaty between the United States and the Indians above-mentioned, it is agreed that no person shall be admitted to reside among, or to trade with, those tribes of Indians, unless they be furnished with a licence for that purpose from the Government of the United States; and that any person, so trading without such licence, shall be delivered up by the Indians to a superintendent appointed by the Government of the United States, to be dealt with according to the laws of the United States: whereas the third article of the treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation, concluded between His Majesty and the United States, expressly provides, ‘that it shall, at all times, be free to His Majesty’s subjects and to the citizens of the United States, and also to the Indians dwelling on either side of the boundary line, freely to pass and repass, by land or inland navigation, into the respective territories and countries of the two parties on the continent of America, (the country within the limits of the Hudson’s Bay Company only excepted) and to navigate all the lakes, rivers, and waters, thereof, and freely to carry on trade and commerce with each other.’

“The undersigned is directed to state that the King his master is fully persuaded that the said Indian treaty was concluded in consequence of instructions given by the Government of the United States at a time when that Government had not yet been apprised of the terms and stipulations of the treaty entered into by the respective plenipotentiaries, at London, on the 19th of November, 1794. Even if any doubt could arise on this subject in His Majesty’s mind, His Majesty, in claiming the full execution of the said last mentioned treaty, would rely, with the utmost confidence, on the justice and good faith of the Government of the United States, and on the universally admitted rule of the law of nations, that no stipulations of existing treaties can be superseded by any engagements subsequently concluded by one of the parties with another State or nation; but when the particular circumstances connected with this important subject, and the influence which they may have on the lives and properties of so many, both of His Majesty’s subjects, and of the citizens of the United States, are fairly and impartially considered, His Majesty can entertain no doubt that the Government of the United States will be equally anxious with himself that all possible misconstruction or doubt on this point, on the part either of His Majesty’s subjects, or of the citizens of the United States, and still more on the part of the Indians, should be completely and authentically removed: and that this may be done with as little delay as possible, in order that less time may be left for the effect of any misrepresentations, which evil designing persons may have labored to impress on the minds of those, whose situation renders them peculiarly liable to such impressions. His Majesty trusts, therefore, that the Government of the United States will readily agree in the propriety of an explanation, which, under the circumstances above stated, appears to be of such indispensable necessity; and the undersigned is directed to propose, on His Majesty’s part, that an article should, for that purpose, be added to the treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation, between His Majesty and the United States, so as to form a part thereof, conformably to the provisions contained in the 29th article of that instrument, by which it shall be declared that no treaty, subsequently concluded by either party with any other State or nation, whether European or Indian, can be understood, in any manner, to derogate from the rights of free intercourse and commerce secured by the aforesaid treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation, to the subjects of His Majesty and to the citizens of the United States, and to the Indians on both sides of the boundary line; but that all the said persons shall remain at full liberty freely to pass and repass into the countries on either side of the said boundary line, and to carry on their trade and commerce with each other, freely, and without restriction, according to the stipulations of the third article of the said treaty, which stipulations are, by the said treaty, declared to be permanent.

“If this measure, which appears to His Majesty conformable to the principles of justice and good faith, and indispensably required by the circumstances of the case, should meet the approbation of the Government of the United States, the undersigned is instructed and authorized to arrange the terms of such article, with any person who may be appointed by the Government of the United States for the purpose, and to conclude and sign the same, subject to the ratification of the King his master: his Majesty being always desirous to take the earliest and most effectual means of removing any cause of uneasiness between the two Governments, and to maintain with the United States the most uninterrupted harmony and good understanding.” (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, 551–52.)

3Article 8 of the Treaty of Greenville reads: “Trade shall be opened with the said Indian tribes; and they do hereby respectively engage, to afford protection to such persons, with their property, as shall be duly licensed to reside among them, for the purpose of trade, and to their agents and servants; but no person shall be permitted to reside at any of their towns or hunting camps, as a trader, who is not furnished with a licence for that purpose, under the hand and seal of the superintendent of the department northwest of the Ohio, or such other person as the President of the United States shall authorize to grant such licences, to the end, that the said Indians may not be imposed on in their trade. And, if any licensed trader shall abuse his privilege by unfair dealing, upon complaint and proof thereof, his licence shall be taken from him, and he shall be further punished according to the laws of the United States. And if any person shall intrude himself as a trader, without such licence, the said Indians shall take and bring him before the superintendent, or his deputy, to be dealt with according to law. And, to prevent impositions by forged licences, the said Indians shall, at least once a year, give information to the superintendent, or his deputies, of the names of the traders residing among them” (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Indian Affairs, I, 562–63).

For Article 3 of the Jay Treaty, see “Remarks on the Treaty … between the United States and Great Britain,” July 9–11, 1795, note 8.

4See H to Rufus King, April 15, 18, 20, 1796.

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