To George Washington
New York Octr. 17. 1790
I had the honor of receiving your letter of the 10th instant by the last post. It is certainly very possible, that motives, different from the one avowed, may have produced a certain communication; and in matters of such a nature, it is not only allowable, but the dictate of prudence, to receive suggestions with peculiar caution.
A British Packet arrived yesterday. The accounts, she brings, are all of a war-like aspect. I have extracted from an English paper the inclosed decree of the National Assembly of France;1 which though of a qualified tenor looks pretty directly towards the eventual supporting of Spain. The English papers hold it up as a decisive indication of a disposition to do so. And it is said in some of the letters which have been received that positive orders have been sent to Lord Howe2 to fight if he can find an opportunity. The papers announce a second fleet of fifteen sail of the line ready to rendezvous at Portsmouth to be under the command of Admiral Hood.3 Their destination unknown.
It is also mentioned that the Dutch Fleet had returned to the Texel; the Duke of Leeds having previously made a journey for an interview with the Dutch Admiral. This very mysterious circumstance is wholly unexplained.
A certain Gentleman,4 who called on me to day, informed me, that a Packet had sailed the 16 of August for Quebec, in which went passenger General Clarke.5 He added that the rumour in England was that Sir Guy Carleton6 was to return in her. He made no other communication.
The inclosed letter came to hand this day. I have had no opportunity of making any inquiry concerning the person recommended in it. If I can obtain any additional lights they shall be made known without delay.
The object suggested in your letter as preparatory to the Meeting of the Legislature shall engage my particular attention.7
The papers of the Departments of State and the Treasury and of the Commissioners for settling accounts are on their way to Philadelphia. On the 20th I propose with my family to set out for the same place.
I have the honor to be with the highest respect and truest attachment Sir Your most Obedient & most humble servant
The President of the United States
ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress; copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
1. This enclosure reads as follows:
“Thursday Afternoon Four O Clock
“The National Assembly deliberating upon the formal proposition of the King contained in the letter of his Minister of the 1st of August decrees—
“1st. That the King shall be prayed to make known to his Catholic Majesty, that the French Nation, in taking all the measures necessary to maintain peace, will observe the defensive and commercial engagements which his Government has contracted with Spain.
“2dly. Decrees moreover, that the King shall be prayed immediately to charge the Ambassador from France in Spain, to negotiate with the Ministers of His Catholic Majesty for the purpose and to the effect of strengthening by a National Treaty the ties and connections useful to the two Nations, and to fix with clearness & precision all the stipulations which shall not be intirely conformable to the views of a general peace and to the principles of Justice, which will ever be the policy of France.
“3dly. The National Assembly, taking into consideration the armaments of the different Nations of Europe, their progressive augmentation, the safety of the Colonies and of commerce, decrees that the King shall be prayed to give necessary orders that the squadrons in Commission may be augmented to forty five ships of the line with a proportionate number of frigates and small Vessels.” (AD, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.)
2. In May, 1790, the British government placed Richard, Earl Howe, in command of the Channel Fleet. Howe spent most of the subsequent month cruising the western approaches to the Channel from the Scilly Islands to Brittany.
3. Admiral Alexander Hood was fourth in command of the fleet at Portsmouth.
4. Presumably George Beckwith.
5. The British government had ordered Major General Alured Clarke from his post as Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica to the headquarters staff at Quebec.
6. Guy Carleton, Lord Dorchester, was Governor General of Canada.