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To Alexander Hamilton from Timothy Pickering, 25 February 1799

From Timothy Pickering

(confidential)

Philaa. Feby. 25. 1799.

My dear sir,

This morning I have recd. your favour of the 21st.

We have all been shocked and grieved at the nomination of a minister to negociate with France. There is but one sentiment on the subject among the friends of their country and the real supporters of the President’s administration. Pains have been taken to ameliorate the measure by throwing it into a Commission:1 but the President is fixed: the Senate must approve or negative the nomination: in the latter event, perhaps he will name Commissioners. I beg you to be assured that it is wholly his own act, without any participation or communication with any of us. It is utterly inconsistent with his late nomination of Mr. King to negociate a commercial treaty with Russia,2 & of Mr. Smith to negociate a like treaty with the Porte:3 both these objects will now be defeated. It was by the proffered aid of Russia & Great Britain that we were induced to propose to negociate with the Porte.4 With respect to St. Domingo, the President will certainly do no act to encourage Touissaint to declare the island independent: but he will doubtless open the commercial intercourse when Dr. Stevens5 (Consul General) shall certify that privateering is at an end, so that agreeably to the 4th section of the act,6 the President may consider it safe & for the interests of the U. States to do it.

The foundation of this fatal nomination of Mr. Murray was laid in the President’s speech at the opening of Congress.7 He peremptorily determined (against our unanimous opinions) to leave open the door for the degrading and mischievous measure of sending another minister to France, even without waiting for direct overtures from her.

I am very truly & respectfully   yours

T. Pickering

Alexander Hamilton Esq

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; ALS, letterpress copy, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.

1See Theodore Sedgwick to H, February 19, 22, 1799.

2On February 6, 1799, John Adams nominated Rufus King, United States Minister Plenipotentiary to Great Britain, “to be a Minister Plenipotentiary, for the special purpose of negotiating … a treaty of amity and commerce between the United States and the emperor of all the Russias.” The Senate approved the nomination on February 7, 1799 (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 310).

King had been approached by Simon Woronzow, the Russian Minister to Great Britain, on November 9, 1798. On November 10, 1798, King wrote to Pickering: “The Russian envoy of his own accord yesterday observed to me that we have considerable trade in the Baltic and it appeared some what singular that no direct intercourse or correspondence had ever subsisted between our two governments.…

“I answered that I could perceive considerable advantage in a commercial treaty with Russia.… He then proposed that we should take an early opportunity of resuming this conversation and concluded by saying that by writing to our respective governments if the measure should be found adviseable they might authorise the treaty to be negociated here. I have thought it best to report this conversation, tho’ the subject is referred to another interview. Count Woronzow is a man of good principles and of great honor. I know not whether this intimation proceeds from himself or has been ordered by his court. I shall not fail to send you the result of our next conference.” (copy [deciphered], RG 59, Despatches from United States Ministers to Great Britain, 1792–1906, Vol. 7, January 9–December 22, 1798, National Archives.)

3On February 8, 1799, Adams nominated William Loughton Smith “Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of Portugal, to be Envoy Extraordinary Minister Plenipotentiary to the Sublime Ottoman Porte, with full power to negotiate a treaty of amity and commerce between the United States of America and the dominions and dependencies of the Sublime Porte.” The Senate approved the nomination on February 11, 1799 (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 311, 312).

4King was interested in securing a treaty of amity and commerce with the Ottoman Empire. He wished to open the territories of the empire to American commerce, and he also hoped that the United States would be able to secure the assistance of the Porte in making treaties with the Barbary states of North Africa which were theoretically subject to the authority of the Porte. As early as January 24, 1797, King wrote to Pickering: “In one or two conversations with the Turkish ambassador [Yusuf Agah Effendi] at this Court relative to a treaty of commerce, I should infer if reliance can be placed on his opinion, that there would not be much difficulty in our concluding a valuable treaty with that power” (ALS [deciphered], RG 59, Despatches from United States Ministers to Great Britain, 1792–1906, Vol. 5, August 10, 1796–December 28, 1798, National Archives). King elaborated on his meetings with the Turkish Minister in a letter to Smith on March 26, 1799: “Previously to the return to Constantinople of the Turkish Ambassador, whom I found here on my arrival, and who was a quiet good old man, I had several conversations with him upon the Subject of a commercial Treaty, and on his going, gave him a short memoir, drawn up chiefly with a view of shewing the advantages which such a Treaty would give to Turkey.

“Upon the coming of the present ambassador [Ismail Ferruh Effendi], who is a more intelligent man, who showed his exact knowledge by saying, when I was first presented to him, that he was glad to see a man who came from the Country of Diamonds and of Gold!!! I took an early occasion to renew the conversation with him, but with more caution, as I was unable to discover his Sentiments.” (LC, New-York Historical Society, New York City.)

On November 10, 1798, after the defeat of the French fleet by the English at Aboukir Bay and the entry of Turkey on September 2, 1798, into the war against France as Britain’s ally, King wrote to Pickering: “… I cannot but think the present a favorable moment, not only for the extension of our trade in the Mediterranean but for the conclusion of a commercial treaty with the Porte. Speaking upon this subject to Lord Grenville he assured me that we might with confidence rely upon their good offices and influence at Constantinople in any arrangements we may be inclined to make there.

“The Russian envoy of his own accord yesterday observed to me … that they stood well at this moment with the porte with whom we might have an interest in making a commercial treaty and that he had no reason to doubt that the Emperor would be inclined not only to form a commercial treaty with us but moreover to afford us his influence in concluding one with the Porte.

“I answered that I could perceive considerable advantage in a commercial treaty with Russia and that it would undoubtedly be an object of importance to extend and establish our trade in the Levant.” (copy [deciphered], RG 59, Despatches from United States Ministers to Great Britain, 1792–1906, Vol. 7, January 9–December 22, 1798, National Archives.)

6“An Act further 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 613–16 [February 9, 1799]).

7This is a reference to Adams’s Second Annual Address, which he delivered to Congress on December 8, 1798 (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 , IX, 2420–24).

H, George Washington, Tobias Lear, and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney “entered the Hall, and took their places on the right of the Speaker’s Chair” to hear Adams’s speech (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 , IX, 2420).

The relevant sections of Adams’s address read: “The course of the transactions in relation to the United States and France, which have come to my knowledge during your recess, will be made the subject of a future communication. That communication will confirm the ultimate failure of the measures which have been taken by the Government of the United States towards an amicable adjustment of differences with that Power. You will, at the same time, perceive that the French Government appears solicitous to impress the opinion that it is averse to the rupture with this country, and that it has, in a qualified manner, declared itself willing to receive a Minister from the United States, for the purpose of restoring a good understanding. It is unfortunate for professions of this kind that they should be expressed in terms which may countenance the inadmissible pretension of a right to prescribe the qualifications which a Minister of the United States should possess.…

“Hitherto, therefore, nothing is discoverable in the conduct of France which ought to change or relax our measures of defence; on the contrary, to extend and invigorate them, is our true policy. We have no reason to regret that these measures have been thus far adopted and pursued; and, in proportion as we enlarge our view of the portentous and incalculable situation of Europe, we shall discover new and cogent motives for the full development of our energies and resources.

“But, in demonstrating by our conduct that we do not fear war, in the necessary protection of our rights and honor, we shall give no room to infer that we abandon the desire of peace. An efficient preparation for war can alone insure peace. It is peace that we have uniformly and perseveringly cultivated, and harmony between us and France may be restored at her option. But to send another Minister, without more determinate assurances that he would be received, would be an act of humiliation to which the United States ought not to submit. It must, therefore, be left to France, if she is indeed desirous of accomodation, to take the requisite steps. The United States will steadily observe the maxims by which they have hitherto been governed. They will respect the sacred rights of embassy. And with a sincere disposition on the part of France to desist from hostility, to make reparation for the injuries heretofore inflicted on our commerce, and to do justice in future, there will be no obstacle to the restoration of a friendly intercourse.…” (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 , IX, 2421–22.)

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