Alexander Hamilton Papers
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To Alexander Hamilton from Rufus King, 8 June 1798

From Rufus King1

London June 8. 1798.

My dear Sir

Since writing you a day or two past,2 I have had the pleasure to receive your Letter by the Packet,3 and am rejoiced to find my hopes confirmed by your Opinion that we shall not be wanting to ourselves in our Conduct towards France.

Immediately on hearing of the proceedings of the Admiralty Judge of st. Domingo,4 I remonstrated to the Government against them, and was without delay answered that General Simcoe5 had no power to erect the Court, that the appointment of Judge Cumbauld was illegal, and all his Decrees void and that those who had unfortunately suffered by them, must as in the Martinique Cases6 apply for Satisfaction to the High Court of Admiralty in England. I expected, and so it was determined, that orders Should have been instantly dispatched to suppress the Court: this was omitted from the negligence of the officer to whom the duty belonged in the Admiralty—hence the continuation of the Court of St. Domingo. Orders have however at length been Sent to suppress the Court.7

The Instructions of the 25. of Jany. 1798,8 a copy of which was on the 7. Feby sent to the secretary of State,9 have been misrepresented or not understood; instead of enlarging the effect of them will, as it was intended it should be, to contract the Description of Cases in which the trade of neutrals will be liable to interruption. The order as it is called of the 6. Novr. 179310 authorized the Capture of all vessels carrying Supplies to, or laden with the produce of the French West Indies. The Instruction of the 8. of Jany 179411 revoked this order, and Substituted another in which the bona fide neutral Trade between the united States and the french west Indies was considered as legal, while that between the French west Indies and Europe was liable to interruption by the vessels being sent in for adjudication. The late Instruction of the 25. of January, which I have thought a point gained enlarges the rights and security of the Trade of Neutrals; for instead of former restraints, it is now admitted that a direct Trade by neutrals between their respective Countries and the French, Dutch and spanish West Indies, out and home, and likewise the direct voyage from those Colonies to any port in Great Britain, are lawful and not liable to interruption.

That the naval officers will often exercise their authority however limited in abuse, will continue to be the case so long as the military profession is disgraced by a sordid love of Gain, and so long as the System of the Admiralty Courts of England shall be so little satisfactory as they really are.

We are as you will naturally suppose extremely impatient to receive information from the medituranean. It appears certain that the Toulon Expedition sailed about the 19th. May.12 The force is variously reported. Buonaparte is supposed to be with the fleet, which is said to be 13 Ships of the Line as many frigates and nearly 400 Transports. All the naval characters agree that it is next to impossible that they can reach Ireland without Discovery. Indeed from the prevalence of the winds from the coast, a single ship would it is said be at this season, perhaps two months, in making her voyage from Toulon to Ireland. The Opinion that has most advocates is that the Expedition is against Portugal—that the Troops will be disembarked at Carthagina or Malaga in Spain, & that they will cross the mountains to Portugal. It is well understood that from the want of Subsistence they could not have marched thro Spain. But Portugal has no money, and all the Plunder that could be obtained wd. not defray the Expence of the Expedition! The enterprize would reduce Spain under the more complete controul of france: Cadiz wd. become a french Port, the English wd. be expelled from the Tagus, the Spanish fleet wd. be relieved as soon as the windy season arrives, and from the Tagus and Cadiz, the Expedition may go against the Brasils and the Treasure of So Amer. may be at the Disposal of the Directory. Besides that Country may be revolutionized on the french model, and this may prepare the way for the measures to be adopted towards us. Letters from Lord St. Vincents13 of the 19. May (when his fleet off Cadiz consisted of 25 sail of the Line in excellent condition) induce the belief that Sr. Roger Curtis would join him from the Greek Station by the 22. or 23d with 10 sail of the line. His orders are to leave a force to block up Cadiz and watch the Gut,14 and to proceed with the residue of the fleet to search for and fight the Toulon Fleet, and according to every thing that we know, there is great reason to expect that he will be in season to intercept them even shd. their object be Carthagina or Malaga.

Adieu!

R K

It is agt. every probability that the Toulon Expedition can pass the Gut without discovery.15

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; copy, New-York Historical Society, New York City.

1The first four paragraphs of this letter are in a clerk’s handwriting. King wrote the remainder of the letter.

5John Graves Simcoe, Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, was granted a leave of absence from December, 1796, to July, 1797, to command the British part of Santo Domingo. See H to King, May 1, 1798, note 3.

6Early in 1794 American ships had been seized and condemned by an illegal prize court set up at Martinique by Admiral Sir John Jervis, later earl of St. Vincent, and General Sir Charles Grey. On August 8, 1794, Lord Grenville wrote to George Hammond that John Jay had presented to him a complaint entitled “A general Statement of the Captains of American Vessels Seized at Martinique.” In the same letter he wrote: “… I have not hesitated to inform Mr. Jay, that, if the Allegations there made are true, the Proceedings therein mentioned are wholly Informal and void, there being no Vice Admiralty Court at Martinique constituted by His Majesty’s Authority, nor any Power in His Majesty’s Officers to erect such a Jurisdiction, so that the owners of all such Vessels will be entitled to their remedy in due course of Law, against all persons who may have acted under the sentences of a Tribunal not competent to hear or decide on those Causes, or indeed on any other” (Mayo, Instructions to British Ministers description begins Bernard Mayo, ed., “Instructions to the British Ministers to the United States,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1936 (Washington, 1941), III. description ends , 65). See also 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, 495–96; Moore, International Adjudications description begins John Bassett Moore, ed., International Adjudications; Ancient and Modern, History and Documents, Together with Mediatorial Reports, Advisory Opinions, and the Decisions of Domestic Commissions, on International Claims (New York, 1929–1936). description ends , IV, 48–62.

7Evan Nepean, Secretary of the Admiralty, to Simcoe, June 8, 1798 (PRO: Adm. description begins Public Record Office of Great Britain. description ends [Great Britain] 2/1066).

On June 8, 1798, King wrote to Timothy Pickering: “… You will long since have been informed that the appointment of Judge Cambauld was illegal, and that his decrees are void. It was natural to have expected, after the answer that I received from Lord Grenville on this Subject, that orders would have been immediately despatched to St Domingo to Suppress the Admiralty Court.… Altho’ I had repeatedly inquired, whether this order had been Sent, it is only a day or two Since I was informed that it had not been transmitted from a neglect in the officer of the Admiralty whose duty it was to have sent it; but that it Should be immediately dispatched” (LS, RG 59, Despatches from United States Ministers to Great Britain, 1792–1870, Vol. 7, January 9–December 22, 1798, National Archives).

9King to Pickering, February 7, 1798 (LS, RG 59, Despatches from United States Ministers to Great Britain, 1792–1870, Vol. 7, January 9–December 22, 1798, National Archives). Pickering enclosed an extract of this letter in Pickering to H, June 9, 1798.

10For this order, 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, III, 264.

11For this “Instruction,” 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, III, 264.

12See King to H, June 6, 1798, notes 1 and 2.

13On May 19, 1798, Admiral the Earl of St. Vincent wrote to Nepean: “By His Majesty’s hired Lugger the Valiant, which joined me this afternoon, I have received your letter of the 2d instant, enclosing Copy of the Orders of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty marked ‘Most Secret,’ to Rear Admiral Sir Roger Curtis, for proceeding with his squadron to join me, with their Lordships’ instructions to me on this head” (PRO: Adm. description begins Public Record Office of Great Britain. description ends [Great Britain] 1/397).

14This is a reference to the Straits of Gibraltar.

15On August 18, 1798, Pickering wrote to John Adams: “The Toulon fleet, consisting of 400 transports, convoyed by 13 sail of the line and as many frigates departed from Toulon the 19th of May: Lord St. Vincents was then off Cadiz with 25 sail of the line: Secret orders had been dispatched to Sir Roger Curtis to quit the Irish Station and join Lord St. Vincent with 10 sail of the line. This reinforcement probably joined Lord St. Vincent by the 22d. of May. And immediately after the junction Lord St. Vincents, leaving a sufficient force to block up Cadiz and watch the Gut of Gibraltar, was to enter the Mediterranean, to look for and fight the Toulon fleet which had Buonaparte on board” (Naval Documents. Quasi-War, February, 1797–October, 1798, 321–22).

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