Alexander Hamilton Papers

Conversation with George Beckwith, 19[–20] January 1791

Conversation with George Beckwith1

Philadelphia January 19th. [–20] 1791

Mr. Beckwith. I take the liberty of speaking very freely to you on every subject, and upon this principle give me leave to remark, that I was sorry to observe a certain warmth of expression in one paragraph of the address of Your House of Representatives, in reply to The President’s speech, which respected your commerce and navigation.2

Mr. —— You know perfectly, that we have different opinions with us, as I have frequently told you; there is a Party which retaining those prejudices that were produced by the civil war, think nothing good can come from Great Britain, and that our obligations to France are never to be forgotten, and you are no stranger to the opinions of the gentleman who drew up that address.3 There are also worthy individuals with us, who are led to believe that by going into regulations which might cramp your trade to this country, that is, by advocating a system for a discrimintion of duties, in favor of nations with whom we have treaties, it would lead to the attainment of a commercial treaty with England which they wish; and there is likewise a party, who from every circumstance, are convinced, that you are the nation with whom we can trade to the greatest advantage: from these discordant sentiments it is difficult not to do something on this subject, and I think in the course of the present Sessions we shall adopt in a degree the idea furnished by your Navigation Act, the effect of which will be to restrain your shipping from being the carriers to our Markets of other produce or manufacture than that of your own dominions (in all parts of the world) or of carrying from hence, excepting to your possessions, either at home or abroad; we shall have no prohibited articles: from the returns in my office, these regulations will not be of any consequence to the shipping of Great Britain.

The Fifty Cents (or half dollar) a ton, on foreign tonnage operates as an equivalent for the light money we pay; the ten per Cent difference in the duties on imports in foreign bottoms, is “as you once remarked” confessedly in our favor.

Philadelphia January 20th.

Mr. Beckwith. I am so strongly disposed to believe favorably of our good dispositions towards the States that I wish to know whether the arrival of the December packet from England, may not have caused some alteration in the ideas you held out yesterday.

Mr. —— We learn by many private letters from London received last night that your administration have declared their intention of appointing a minister to this country, and a gentleman’s name is also mentioned4 it is a circumstance which I am glad of in many respects, it will, I hope, pave the way for a future good understanding, and put an end to the suggestions of that party with us, who wishing well to a French interest, take every occasion to insinuate that we are held in no consideration by the English government.

Upon the subject of commerce and navigation, which I mentioned to you yesterday, I think, I can assure you that nothing will take place during the present Session, to the injury of your trade.

D, PRO: F.O. description begins Transcripts or photostats from the Public Records Office of Great Britain deposited in the Library of Congress. description ends , Vol. 12, Part I.

1This document was enclosed in Beckwith to William Wyndham Grenville, January 23, 1791.

2Washington, in his message of December 8, 1790, to Congress, recommended “such encouragements to our own navigation as will render our commerce and agriculture less dependent on foreign bottoms.” In reply to this recommendation, the House of Representatives informed the President that “it will be incumbent on us to consider in what mode our commerce and agriculture can be best relieved from an injurious dependence on the navigation of other nations, which the frequency of their wars renders a too precarious resource for conveying the productions of our country to market” (Journal of the House, I description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington, 1826). description ends , 332, 335).

3James Madison was chairman of the committee which prepared the address of the House of Representatives. Other members of the committee were Fisher Ames of Massachusetts and Thomas Tudor Tucker of South Carolina.

4To whom the “private letters” were sent has not been determined. The “gentleman’s name” mentioned as Minister to the United States was presumably Elliot. A correspondent of Beckwith’s wrote on February 10, 1791, that “if the intelligence concerning Mr. Elliot shall prove true, His Lordship thinks it may be well for you to wait his arrival …” (Henry Motz to Beckwith, printed in Brymner, Canadian Archives, 1890 description begins Douglas Brymner, ed., Report on Canadian Archives, 1890 (Ottawa, 1891). description ends , 168–69). According to Samuel Flagg Bemis Elliot “might possibly have been Thomas Elliot who was seeking an appointment in October, 1791” (Jay’s Treaty, 62). In the correspondence of John Graves Simcoe, governor of Upper Canada, however, Elliot is identified as Andrew Elliot (E. A. Cruikshank, The Correspondences of John Graves Simcoe, with Allied Documents Relating to His Administration of Upper Canada [Toronto, 1923–1931], I, 21, 48; V, 163).

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