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From Alexander Hamilton to James McHenry, 1 June 1796

To James McHenry

New York June 1. 1796

My Dear Mc.

I am told the Executive Directory have complained of Mr. Parish our Consul at Hamburgh.1 Perhaps the complaint may be ill founded but perhaps also he was indiscreet in giving colour for it. Admit too that he is a good man. Yet we must not quarrel with France for pins and needles. The public temper would not bear any umbrage taken where a trifling concession might have averted it. Tis a case for temporising, reserving our firmness for great and necessary occasions. Let Mr. Paris[h] be superseded, with a kind letter to him. I do not write to Pickering or the President because I am not regularly possessed of the information. But I hope you will attend to the matter, even if at the expense of being a little officious.

Yrs. truly

A Hamilton

James Mc.Henry Esq

ALS, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California; copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1John Parish, an English merchant, was appointed United States vice consul at Hamburg on June 8, 1790, and consul at the same city on February 20, 1793 (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 49, 50, 130, 131). On July 6, 1795, James Monroe wrote to Timothy Pickering that Parish was reportedly “unfriendly to America; … absolutely unfriendly to France and the French Revolution … [and] an agent of England …” (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, 718). On December 22, 1795, Monroe wrote to Pickering that the French government had asserted that Parish was “granting passports for France to British subjects, equipping the emigrants, and acting in all cases as the English agent” and that “he not only equipped the emigrants, but did it in American bottoms, with a view of protecting them under our flag” (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, 728).

On May 31, 1796, Pierre Auguste Adet, the French Minister to the United States, transmitted to Pickering a request of the Directory that Parish be removed as consul at Hamburg. Adet’s letter reads: “The executive directory has just sent me the order to demand formally of the government of the United States, the recall of Mr. Parish, the American consul at Hamburgh. I hasten to fulfill its intentions, and to state the motives on which the demand of my government is grounded. I think this cannot be done in a better manner, than by transmitting to you an extract of the dispatch which I have received on that subject.

“‘The executive directory is informed, that Mr. Parish is not only the avowed agent of England for the fitting out of the French emigrants; but that in his quality of American consul he gives passports for France to Englishmen, under the title of Anglo-Americans. A conduct so reprehensible must needs excite the indignation of both governments. It is the extreme of perfidy; since, under the seal of an alliance we cherish, it accredits among us the spies of England.

“‘The French Republic at war with an enemy, more to be dreaded because of his intrigues, than redoubtable by his arms, has in vain taken every precaution which a legitimate defence commands. The agents of the cabinet of St. James introduce themselves on our territory, sow there the seeds of disturbance and sedition; and the consul of a friendly power does not blush to abuse his character in order to favor Englishmen in France, by rendering himself guilty of the crime of forgery.’

“I shall not allow myself the liberty of adding a single reflection to that extract; It would be to insult the government of the United States, if I were to say more on that subject, in order to induce it to avenge that infringement upon the faith of treaties, that violation of the guarantee of nations.” (Monroe, A View of the Conduct of the Executive description begins James Monroe, A View of the Conduct of the Executive, in the Foreign Affairs of the United States, Connected with the Mission to the French Republic, During the Years 1794, 5 & 6 (Philadelphia: Printed by and for Benjamin Franklin Bache, 1797). description ends , 367–38.)

On June 2, 1796, Pickering replied to Adet: “I have now Sir, the honor to inform you, that in consequence of a letter from Mr. Monroe, received the last autumn, suggesting some complaints against Mr. Parish, an inquiry was directed to be made, in order to ascertain how far they were founded, and whether any really exceptionable conduct of his required a change in the consulate at Hamburg. The information expected from the proposed inquiry has not been received. But some facts have otherwise become known, which altho’ they do not impeach the integrity of Mr. Parish, or derogate from his mercantile reputation, yet in an officer of the United States, they deserve to be noticed.

“Mr. Parish is not, nor ever was a citizen of the United States. He is a foreign merchant, of great eminence, established at Hamburg. He had been particularly friendly to the United States, especially at the commencement of their Revolution.… The United States could not expect that a man of such extended correspondence in trade would confine his agency to the affairs of the United States alone.…

As a merchant, then, Mr. Parish would naturally consider himself at liberty to transact, for any body, any business of the kind usually intrusted to the management of a merchant. And hence we may account for his agency for Great Britain, as mentioned in your letter. But the other information given to the Directory, that Mr. Parish, as an American Consul, gives passports to Englishmen, under the title of Anglo-Americans, for the purpose of introducing into the French Territory, emissaries of the British Court, imports a crime of so deep a die, as may well justify an opinion that the persons who gave the information were in an error.… Desirous, however, of maintaining a course of action as impartial as his principles, the President has for some time contemplated a change in the Consulate at Hamburg, and proposes to supply the place of a foreigner by an American citizen. This change will be made as soon as a fit character shall present to succeed Mr. Parish.” (Copy, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.)

On June 2, 1796, Pickering wrote to Parish informing him of his dismissal and stating: “… The President will endeavor to fill the place with an American citizen” (LC, RG 59, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, Vol. 9, October 12, 1795–February 28, 1797, National Archives). On July 18, 1796, Pickering wrote to George Washington recommending his nephew, Samuel Williams, of Salem, Massachusetts, as Parish’s replacement (ALS, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives). On December 21, 1796, Washington nominated Williams to the post at Hamburg, and the Senate confirmed the nomination the following day (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 217).

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