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To Alexander Hamilton from Rufus King, 7 May 1802

From Rufus King1

secret and Confidential

London May 7th. 1802.

Dear Sir

As I know of no measure from abroad, which is capable of such extensive and injurious effects as the cession of Louisiana and the Floridas to France, it has been a subject of my unremitted solicitude and attention from the moment of our first suspicions concerning it. Its importance was fully and repeatedly developed to the Ministers of this Country before the conclusion of the Preliminaries, and during the negotiation at Amiens;2 but no explanation was demanded of France, lest it should embarrass the conclusion of Peace.3

Mr. Pinkney4 absurdly enough is offering to purchase the Floridas of Spain, which has already disposed of them.5 Mr. Livingston can obtain no answer whatever to his repeated Notes upon this subject at Paris;6 while we learn for a certainty that an Expedition to be commanded by Bernadotte7 is already preparing in the Ports of France, and will go directly to the Mississippi, unless the bad state of the affairs of St Domingo8 should alter its destination.9 In these circumstances I have thought it prudent to ask this Government to explain itself upon this important measure, and I send you in entire confidence copies of my Letter and of the answer which I have received and transmitted to the Department of State.10

In Thornton’s last Dispatches, which I have seen, he reports a Conversation between him and the President in which the latter is represented to have said that this cession would inevitably change the political System of the United States in respect to their foreign Relations, inasmuch as it would lead to jealousies irritation and hostility: and, alluding to the north west boundary of the United States, suggested the expediency of an immediate settlement of it by an agreement to close the boundary by taking for that purpose the shortest line between lake superior and any part of the Mississippi.11

With sincere regards   I am, Dear sir,   Your obedient servant

Rufus King

LS, New-York Historical Society, New York City; LC, New-York Historical Society, New York City.

1For background to this letter, see William Constable to H, March 23, 1801. King was United States Minister to Great Britain.

In King’s “Memorandum of private Letters, &c., dates & persons from 1796 to Augt 1802,” owned by Mr. James G. King, New York City, King dates this letter “May 5, 1802,” and describes its contents as “Secret and confidential—Louisiana.”

3See King to Robert R. Livingston, January 16, 1802 (King, The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King description begins Charles R. King, ed., The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King (New York, 1894–1900). description ends , IV, 57–58).

On March 5, 1801, Thomas Jefferson appointed Livingston, who had been Chancellor of New York from 1777 to 1801, Minister Plenipotentiary to the Republic of France. He sailed for Europe on October 15, 1801, arrived in France on November 13, and was formally presented to Napoleon Bonaparte on December 6.

4Jefferson appointed Charles Pinckney of South Carolina Minister Plenipotentiary at Madrid in March, 1801 (Jefferson to Pinckney, March 17, 1801 [ALS, letterpress copy, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress]), and Pinckney sailed for Europe in July, 1801.

5On September 25, 1801, Secretary of State James Madison wrote to Pinckney, instructing him to cooperate with Livingston in an effort to dissuade Spain from ceding Louisiana to France and if possible to obtain the cession of the Floridas to the United States (LC, RG 59, Diplomatic and Consular Instructions of the Department of State, December 3, 1798-September 28, 1801, “Despatches to Consuls,” October 4, 1800-February 26, 1817, Vol. I, National Archives). Pinckney conducted negotiations for the purchase of the Floridas with Pedros Cevallos, the Spanish Secretary of State, until October, 1802, when Madison, having received confirmation of the fact that Spain had ceded Louisiana to France, instructed Pinckney to end the negotiation (Pinckney to Madison, April 20, July 6, August 15, October 10, 1802 [LS, RG 59, Despatches from United States Ministers to Spain, 1792–1825, Vol. 6, September 14, 1801–May 2, 1803, National Archives]; Madison to Pinckney, July 26, 1802 [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, 519]).

6See Livingston to King, March 10, 1802 (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 515).

7On May 8, 1800, Napoleon appointed Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte, a French general and officeholder under the Directory and Consulate, commander of the Army of the West. Under the terms of the Treaty of Amiens, the Army of the West was dissolved in April, 1802, and Bernadotte was recalled to Paris from Rennes, where he had been stationed.

8French forces under the command of Charles Victor Emmanuel Leclerc were attempting to regain control of Santo Domingo, the French colony which had achieved de facto independence under François Dominique Toussaint L’Ouverture.

9The expedition never materialized because Napoleon refused to comply with Bernadotte’s demands for men and supplies.

10See King to Madison, May 7, 1802, and its enclosures (LS, RG 59, Despatches from United States Ministers to Great Britain, 1791–1906, Vol. 10, January 9, 1802-July 30, 1803, National Archives).

11See Edward Thornton, British chargé d’affaires at Washington, to Robert Banks Jenkinson, Lord Hawkesbury, British Foreign Secretary, March 6, 1802 (ALS, PRO: F.O. description begins Public Record Office of Great Britain. description ends , 5/96–99).

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