Alexander Hamilton Papers
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From Alexander Hamilton to George Washington, 21 October 1799

To George Washington

N. York Oct. 21st. 1799

Dear Sir

On my return from Trenton, the day before yesterday, I found your private letter of the 13th. as well as yr. public letter of the 15th. instant.

The News papers have probably informed you that poor Avery is dead of yellow fever.1

The President has resolved to send the commissioners to France notwithstanding the change of affairs there.2 He is not understood to have consulted either of his Ministers; certainly not the Secy. of War or of Finance. All my calculations lead me to regret the measure. I hope that it may not in its consequences involve the United States in a war on the side of France with her enemies. My trust in Providence which has so often interposed in our favour, is my only consolation.

With great respect &c

General Washington

Copy, in the handwriting of Ethan Brown, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

2In February, 1799, John Adams had nominated William Vans Murray, Oliver Ellsworth, and William R. Davie as Envoys Extraordinary and Ministers Plenipotentiary to France to negotiate a new treaty with that country. Murray, as United States Minister Resident at The Hague, was in the Netherlands at the time of his nomination, and Adams had stipulated in a message to the Senate on February 25, 1799, that Ellsworth and Davie would not “embark for Europe, until they shall have received from the Executive Directory assurances, signified by their Secretary of Foreign Relations, that they shall be received in character; that they shall enjoy all the prerogatives attached to that character by the law of nations; and that a Minister or Ministers, of equal powers, shall be appointed and commissioned to treat with them” (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 317). In compliance with these terms, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord wrote to Murray on May 12: “Veuillez transmettre à vos collegues et acceptez vous même l’assurance franche et explicite, qu’il [Directoire Executif] recevra les Envoyés des Etats Unis dans le charactère officiel dont ils sont revêtur, qu’ils jouiront de toutes les prerogatives qui y sont attachées par le droit des gens et qu’un ou plusieurs Ministres seront duement autorisés à traiter avec eux” (copy, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, enclosed in Murray to Timothy Pickering, May 19, 1799 [ALS, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston]). A translation of Talleyrand’s letter 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, II, 243–44. On July 31, Pickering, who opposed the mission to France, sent Murray’s letter and its enclosure to Adams, along with the observation that Talleyrand’s letter did not “conform to the terms used in the instructions to M. Murray” (ALS, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston). Adams, however, wrote to the Secretary of State on August 6 reaffirming his intention to send the newly appointed ministers to France and requesting that Pickering prepare instructions for the diplomats and submit the document to the members of the cabinet for comments (LC, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston). See, for example, the observations of Oliver Wolcott, Jr., on the instructions, dated September 4, 1799 (Gibbs, Wolcott description begins George Gibbs, Memoirs of the Administrations of Washington and John Adams: Edited from the Papers of Oliver Wolcott, Secretary of the Treasury (New York, 1846). description ends , II, 357–61). Although Adams had refused to suspend the mission, Pickering, Wolcott, and James McHenry remained opposed to the proposed negotiations with the French, and in the President’s absence from the capital they worked to undermine his position. As early as July 10, Pickering had written to Murray explaining the reasons why he and others did not support the appointments of the ministers or the purpose of their mission (ALS, letterpress copy, partially in code and deciphered, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston). On September 10, after the Government had moved to Trenton because of the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, Pickering wrote to Adams (ALS, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston) and enclosed a draft of the instructions for the ministers (ADf, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston). On the following day, however, Pickering with the concurrence of Wolcott and McHenry recommended the suspension of the mission because of the news received from Murray concerning the coup d’état of June 18, 1799 (ALS, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston). For the changes in the French government as a result of the coup, see Rufus King to H, July 15, 1799, note 1. Although Adams was reluctant to travel to Trenton (see, for example, Adams to Pickering, September 16, 1799 [LC, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston]), Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert tried to convince the President that his presence was needed to overcome the opposition to the negotiations by members of his own party. On September 13, for example, Stoddert wrote to Adams: “… I have been apprehensive that artful designing men, might make such use of your absence from the seat of Government when things so important to restore Peace with one Country and to preserve it with another, were transacting, as to make your next election less honorable than it would otherwise be” (ALS, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston). See also Stoddert to Adams, August 29, 1799 (ALS, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston), and Adams to Stoddert, September 4, 21 (LC, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston). Adams finally yielded to the pressure and arrived in Trenton in mid-October.

After several meetings with his cabinet, Adams on October 16 instructed Pickering to prepare and deliver to the ministers the instructions “as corrected last evening” and to direct them to sail for Europe by November 1, 1799 (LC, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston). The text of the final instructions 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, II, 301–06. During Adams’s stay in Trenton, H met with the President to express his opposition to the mission. In 1809 Adams gave the following account of this meeting: “Mr. Hamilton, who had been some time in town and had visited me several times, came at last to remonstrate against the mission to France. I received him with great civility, as I always had done from my first knowledge of him. I was fortunately in a very happy temper and very good humor. He went over the whole ground of the victories of Suwarrow [Aleksandr Vasilyevich Suvarov] and Prince Charles, and the inflexible determination of the two imperial courts, in concert with Great Britain, to restore the house of Bourbon to their kingdon. That there was no doubt the enterprise was already accomplished, or at least it would be, before the end of the campaign. That Mr. Pitt was determined to restore the Bourbons. That the confidence of the nation in Mr. Pitt was unbounded. That the nation was never so united, and determined to support Mr. Pitt and his resolution to restore the monarchy of France. His eloquence and vehemence wrought the little man up to a degree of heat and effervescence like that which General [Charles] Knox used to describe of his conduct in the battle of Monmouth, and which General [Henry] Lee used to call his paroxysms of bravery, but which he said would never be of any service to his country. I answered him in general, as I had answered the heads of departments and Judge Ellsworth—but to no purpose. He repeated over and over again the unalterable resolution of Mr. Pitt and the two imperial courts, the invincible heroism of Suwarrow and Prince Charles, and the unbounded confidence of the British empire in Mr. Pitt, with such agitation and violent action, that I really pitied him, instead of being displeased. I only added, that I differed with him in opinion on every point, and that instead of restoring the Bourbons, it would not be long before England would make peace. I treated him throughout with great mildness and civility; but after he took leave, I could not help reflecting in my own mind on the total ignorance he had betrayed of every thing in Europe, in France, England, and elsewhere …” (Correspondence of the Late President Adams. Originally Published in the Boston Patriot. In a Series of Letters [Boston: Published by Everett and Munroe, 1809], 29–30).

Abigail Adams described the meeting between H and Adams in a letter to her sister, Mary Cranch, on December 30, 1799: “I think every days experience must convince the people of the propriety of sending the Envoys at the time they went. After the President had received the Letter from Talleyrand containing the assureances from the Directory which he requir’d, he would not allow it, to be made a question whether they should proceed tho he knew certain persons set their faces against it as far as they dared. Gen’ll. Hamilton made no secret of his opinion. He made the P[residen]t a visit at Trenton, and was perfectly sanguine in the opinion that the Stateholder would be reinstated before Christmass and Louis the 18th upon the Throne of France. I should as soon expect, replied the P[resident], that the sun, moon & stars will fall from their orbits, as events of that kind take place in any such period, but suppose such an event possible, can it be any injury to our Country to have envoys there? It will be only necessary for them to wait for new commissions. And if France is disposed to accommodate our differences, will she be less so under a Royall than a Directorial Government? Have not the Directory Humbled themselves to us more than to any Nation or Power in contest with her? If she proves faithless, if she will not receive our Envoys, does the disgrace fall upon her, or upon us? We shall not be worse off than at Present. The people of our own Country will be satisfyed that every honorable method has been try’d to accommodate our differences. At the period the envoys went, France was loosing ground. She was defeated, and the combined powers appeard to be carrying victory with them. If they had been detained untill now, how mean and despicable should we have appeard? Reports have been circulated that the British Minister remonstrated: However dissagreable the measure might be to him, he is too old a minister, and understands the nature of his Mission too well, to have ventured upon any such step. As an independent Nation, no other has a Right to complain, or dictate to us, with whom we shall form connections, provided those connections are not contrary to treaties already made” (Stewart Mitchell, ed., New Letters of Abigail Adams, 1788–1801 [Boston, 1947], 224–25).

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