Alexander Hamilton Papers
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From Alexander Hamilton to Timothy Pickering, [23 March 1798]

To Timothy Pickering

[New York, March 23, 1798]

My Dear Sir

I understand that the Senate have called upon the President for papers.1 Nothing certainly can be more proper; and such is the universal opinion here. And it appears to me essential that so much, as possibly can, be communicated. Confidence will otherwise be wanting—and criticism will ensue which it will be difficult to repel. The observation is that Congress are called upon to discharge the most important of all their functions & that it is too much to expect that they will rely on the influence of the Executive from materials which may be put before them. The recent examples of the British King are cited.2 Pray let all that is possible be done.

Yrs. truly

A Hamilton

T Pickering Es

ALS, Mr. Hugh Fosburgh, New York City; copy, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.

1On March 5, 1798, President John Adams sent the following message to Congress: “The first despatches from our envoys extraordinary, since their arrival at Paris, were received at the Secretary of State’s office at a late hour last evening. They are all in a character which will require some days to be deciphered, except the last, which is dated the 8th of January, 1798. The contents of this letter are of so much importance to be immediately made known to Congress, and to the public, especially to the mercantile part of our fellow citizens, that I have thought it my duty to communicate them to both Houses, without loss of time” (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, 150).

The dispatch from Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, John Marshall, and Elbridge Gerry, to which Adams refers, reads: “We embrace an unexpected opportunity to send you the ‘Redacteur’ of the 5th instant, containing the message of the Directory to the council of five hundred, urging the necessity of a law to declare, as good prizes, all neutral ships having on board merchandises and commodities, the production of England, or of the English possessions, that the flag, as they term it, may no longer cover the property. And declaring, further, that the ports of France, except in case of distress, shall be shut against all neutral ships, which, in the course of their voyage, shall have touched at an English port. A commission has been appointed to report on the message, and it is expected that a decree will be passed in conformity to it.

“Nothing new has occurred since our last, in date of the 24th ultimo. We can only repeat that there exists no hope of our being officially received by the Government, or that the objects of our mission will be in any way accomplished.” (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, 150–51.)

For the French decree of January 11, 1798, see H to Pickering, March 17, 1798, note 3.

On March 19, 1798, Adams sent the following message to Congress: “The despatches from the envoys extraordinary of the United States to the French Republic, which were mentioned in my message to both Houses of Congress, of the 5th instant, have been examined and maturely considered.

“While I feel a satisfaction in informing you that their exertions for the adjustment of the differences between the two nations have been sincere and unremitted, it is incumbent on me to declare that I perceive no ground of expectation that the objects of their mission can be accomplished on terms compatible with the safety, the honor, or the essential interests of the nation.

“This result cannot, with justice, be attributed to any want of moderation on the part of this Government, or to any indisposition to forego secondary interests for the preservation of peace. Knowing it to be my duty, and believing it to be your wish, as well as that of the great body of the people, to avoid, by all reasonable concessions, any participation in the contentions of Europe, the powers vested in our envoys were commensurate with a liberal and pacific policy, and that high confidence which might justly be reposed in the abilities, patriotism, and integrity of the characters to whom the negotiation was committed. After a careful review of the whole subject, with the aid of all the information I have received, I can discern nothing which could have insured or contributed to success, that has been omitted on my part, and nothing further which can be attempted, consistently with maxims for which our country has contended, at every hazard, and which constitute the basis of our national sovereignty.

“Under these circumstances I cannot forbear to reiterate the recommendations which have been formerly made, and to exhort you to adopt, with promptitude, decision, and unanimity, such measures as the ample resources of the country can afford, for the protection of our seafaring and commercial citizens; for the defence of any exposed portions of our territory; for replenishing our arsenals, establishing foundries, and military manufactures; and to provide such efficient revenue as will be necessary to defray extraordinary expenses, and supply the deficiencies which may be occasioned by depredations on our commerce.

“The present state of things is so essentially different from that in which instructions were given to the collectors to restrain vessels of the United States from sailing in an armed condition, that the principle on which those orders were issued has ceased to exist. I therefore deem it proper to inform Congress that I no longer conceive myself justifiable in continuing them, unless in particular cases, where there may be reasonable ground of suspicion, that such vessels are intended to be employed contrary to law.

“In all your proceedings it will be important to manifest a zeal, vigor, and concert, in defence of the national rights, proportioned to the danger with which they are threatened.” (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, 152.)

On March 20, 1798, “A motion was made [in the Senate], by Mr. [Joseph] Anderson [of Tennessee], as follows: Resolved, That the President of the United States be requested to lay before the Senate the instructions given to the American Commissioners at Paris; and, also, all communications he hath received from them relative to the object of their mission” (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 , VII, 525). On April 3 the Senate agreed that “further consideration” of Anderson’s motion “be postponed” (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 , VII, 535). In the meantime, the House had acted, for on April 2 it approved the folowing resolution: “Resolved, that the President of the United States be requested to communicate to this House, the instructions to and despatches from, the Envoys Extraordinary of the United States to the French Republic, mentioned in the Message of the 19th instant” (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 , VIII, 1370–71). On April 3 Adams sent copies of the instructions to and dispatches from the commissioners to both the House and the Senate (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 , VII, 535–36; VIII, 1374–75). The dispatches, which are a documentary history of the XYZ affair, are printed along with the instructions and Adams’s message 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, 153–68. Adams sent further material from Pinckney, Marshall, and Gerry to Congress on May 4 (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, 169–82).

2On November 3, 1797, for example, the King presented to both Houses of Parliament the “Papers respecting the Negotiation for Peace with France” (The Parliamentary History of England, XXXIII [London, 1818], 909–63).

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