Alexander Hamilton Papers
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Conversation with George Hammond, [1–8 January 1792]

Conversation with George Hammond1

[Philadelphia, January 1–8, 1792]

Since my conversation with the Secretary of the Treasury, of which I had the honor of giving your Lordship an account in my dispatch No 13,2 I have lately had another interview with that Gentleman, in the course of which we entered into a loose and general discussion of some of the questions that are likely to become subjects of negociation between our two countries.

After some comments upon the different facts which Mr Jefferson had adduced as specific infractions of the definitive treaty on the part of Great Britain,3 Mr Hamilton expressed his conviction that the surrender of the posts was the only one which could produce any lengthy or difficult investigation. Upon this head he intimated that although he did not imagine this country would be easily induced to consent to a dereliction of any part of its territory acquired by the Treaty, it might perhaps still be possible to grant to his Majesty’s subjects such privileges and immunities in the respective posts as would protect and secure them in the undisturbed prosecution of the Fur Trade.4 Being in daily expectation of receiving your Lordship’s instructions upon this point, I did not venture to throw out any opinions for his consideration, and therefore thought it most prudent not to dwell upon the Subject. With respect to the Negroes,5 Mr Hamilton seemed partly to acquiesce in my reasoning upon this point,6 and added that this matter did not strike him as an object of such importance as it had appeared to other members of this government. As to the river St. Croix, he acknowledged his personal belief that our statement of its position would, upon inquiry, be found accurate.7

On communicating to him the nature of the abstract, which I am preparing, of the several contraventions of the treaty by this country,8 Mr Hamilton admitted their magnitude, and owned that they could not be vindicated upon any other principle than the inefficiency of the former Congress to enforce respect to its own regulations. Upon the subject of the British Creditors, which he considered as the chief ground of complaint on the part of Great Britain, he assured me that in all cases of this kind, which had been brought before the federal Courts, their determinations had been uniformly founded upon the treaty of peace, and had been consequently favorable to the British Creditors. He added that this principle would invariably guide all the future decisions of the federal Courts, and in proportion as their proceedings became more known and extended, the means of soliciting, and the certainty of obtaining, redress would be more obvious to the British Creditors in the presecution of their just demands. He thence inferred that this cause of complaint would be completely removed by the operation of the judiciary system.

In regard to other contraventions, in which from lapse of time and various causes, it might be impossible for this country to render substantial and individual justice, he concluded by saying that there appeared to him insurmountable difficulties in devising a mode of equivalent compensation either to the individual who had sustained the injury or to the nation at large, but he doubted not that this government would consent to any reasonable and practicable method of settling this point, if any such could be proposed.

In treating of the commercial arrangements between the two countries, Mr Hamilton readily admitted the importance of the British Commerce to the United States, and expressed his sanguine hopes that some system might be established mutually satisfactory to both countries. He did not fail to urge with much force and emphasis the anxiety of this country to obtain a small participation in the carrying trade with the West Indies, and the expediency of granting it; subject nevertheless to such restrictions and regulations as Great Britain might require to limit the size and tonnage of the vessels employed in the trade, and to prevent the ships of the United States from interfering in the exportation to Europe of the productions of the British West India Islands. I listened to him with attention, but studiously avoided dropping any hint which might incline him to entertain the belief that Great Britain would ever consent to any modification of the system which she has so steadily and advantageously pursued in relation to the carrying trade, and to the intercourse of other nations with her colonies.9

These were the principal topics of our conversation. In one part of it I took the liberty of inquiring of Mr Hamilton, when Mr Jefferson’s report, on the relative situation of the commerce of the United States with other powers, might be expected to appear.10 He answered that he believed, Mr Jefferson had, since my arrival in this country, abandoned his intention of making any such report.

D, PRO: F.O. description begins Transcripts or photostats from the Public Record Office of Great Britain desposited in the Library of Congress. description ends (Great Britain), Series 4, Vol. 14, Part I.

1This conversation has been taken from Hammond to Lord Grenville, January 9, 1792, Dispatch No. 3.

3After the exchange of several letters between Hammond and Jefferson following the presentation of the British minister’s credentials on November 11, 1791, Jefferson proposed to Hammond in a letter of December 15, 1791, that they begin negotiations “by specifying, on each side, the particular acts which each considers to have been done by the other, in contravention of the treaty.” In the same letter Jefferson discussed such British violations of the treaty as the retention of the western posts and the carrying off of American slaves at the end of the war. He also referred to the “difference of opinion” respecting the boundary between the United States and Canada in the area of the St. Croix River (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, 190).

4On July 3, 1792, Hammond wrote to Lord Grenville further elaborating on this point: “In my informal conversations upon this matter, as well with the two ministers [Jefferson and Knox] mentioned in the former part of this letter as with Mr Hamilton, all those Gentlemen have uniformly expressed the utmost readiness, on the part of this government to consent to any conditions with respect to the Posts on the Lakes, which Great Britain may deem essential to the security of any interests commercial or political, which might be considered as likely to be affected by the cession of those posts. For this purpose they would enter into any precise stipulations, by which the number of the troops to be stationed in the forts (if they were suffered to exist) might be limited. They would also enter into any engagements with Great Britain for fixing and ascertaining the nature and extent of the military force to be mutually maintained on the respective shores of the Lakes, and of the naval force on the Lakes themselves. And farther they would consent to any measures which the government of Canada might think necessary to the security and protection, of the persons and property of British Subjects engaged in the fur-trade, in the prosecution of their commerce either on the lakes, or in the communications between the different lakes” (PRO: F.O. description begins Transcripts or photostats from the Public Record Office of Great Britain desposited in the Library of Congress. description ends , Series 4, Vol. 16, Part I).

5The American slaves carried off at the conclusion of the war by the British army.

6Hammond’s “reasoning upon this point” is described in a letter which he wrote to Lord Grenville on December 19, 1791: “I shall state that the letter (and I firmly believe the spirit) of the treaty of peace cannot be supposed to apply to any other description of Negroes than such as were the actual property of the inhabitants of the United States, at the period of the cessation of hostilities—that, of the Negroes, carried away from New York, under the permission and protection of Lord Dorchester, part may be presumed to have been captured during the war, and were consequently booty acquired by the rights of war: But that the principal part of them had fled to the British lines, in consequence of proclamations issued by the British Commanders in Chief (who were at the time in the exercise of legal authority in the Country) which promised to them freedom upon their joining the British army—and that this description of Negroes, thus emancipated, had acquired indefeasible rights of personal liberty, of which the British government was not competent to deprive them, by reducing them again to a state of slavery, and to the domination of their ancient masters” (PRO: F.O. description begins Transcripts or photostats from the Public Record Office of Great Britain desposited in the Library of Congress. description ends , Series 4, Vol. 11).

7Concerning the boundary question, Samuel Flagg Bemis states: “The famous northeastern boundary dispute, arising over the doubtful identity of the River St. Croix,—stipulated as the boundary between the United States and New Brunswick, and from the source of which the line was to run north to the ‘highlands of Nova Scotia,’—arose soon after the treaty had been ratified. The river is indicated on Mitchell’s Map, used by the negotiators, but there proved to be no stream in that vicinity commonly called the St. Croix. The United States maintained that the Magaguadavic was the river really meant by the treaty. Great Britain asserted that it was the Schoodiac, nine miles west of the Magaguadavic. The disputed area comprised between 7,000 and 8,000 square miles at this time” (Jay’s Treaty, a Study in Commerce and Diplomacy [New York, 1923], 96, note 11).

8See note 3. On December 19, 1791, Hammond wrote to Jefferson that he was preparing “an abstract of the circumstances that appear to me contraventions, on the part of the United States, of the fourth, fifth, and sixth articles” of the treaty of peace (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, 193). Hammond’s abstract was not sent to Jefferson until March 5, 1792. It 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, I, 193–200.

9In Hammond’s “Particular Instructions” he had been informed that the anticipated request of the Americans to trade with the British West Indies on the same basis as before the American Revolution should not “be admitted even as a Subject of Negociation” (Mayo, Instructions to British Ministers description begins Bernard Mayo, ed., “Instructions to the British Ministers to the United States, 1791–1812,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1936 (Washington, 1941), III. description ends , 12).

10On February 23, 1791, the House of Representatives requested Jefferson to report to Congress on “the nature and extent of the privileges and restrictions of the commercial intercourse of the United States with foreign nations, and such measures as he shall think proper to be adopted for the improvement of the commerce and navigation of the same” (Journal of the House, I description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington, 1826), I. description ends , 388). In a letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, dated February 23, 1793, Jefferson explained the delay in presenting his report: “The report was accordingly prepared during the ensuing recess ready to be delivered at their next session.… It was thought possible at that time, however, that some changes might take place in the existing state of Things, which might call for corresponding changes in measures. I took the liberty of mentioning this in a letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, to express an opinion that a suspension of proceedings thereon for a time, might be expedient, and to propose retaining the Report ’till the present session …” (letterpress copy, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress). Jefferson then requested a second postponement, to which the House agreed (Journal of the House, I description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington, 1826), I. description ends , 718). The report in final form was not delivered to Congress until December 16, 1793 (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, 300–04).

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