Alexander Hamilton Papers

Conversation with George Hammond, [31 March 1792]

Conversation with George Hammond1

[Philadelphia, March 31, 1792]2

In consequence of the information and instructions, contained in your Lordship’s dispatch No 2, I waited upon Mr Hamilton on Saturday last, and, in the course of a general conversation on several matters, I took occasion to enquire of him, as if accidentally, whether the object of the commission, assigned to Messrs Short and Carmichael, was really such as it had been publicly stated to be;3 (and as I mentioned to your Lordship in my dispatch No 8)4 viz. “to negociate a treaty or convention with the court of Spain, relative to the navigation of the Mississippi.” Mr Hamilton answered in the affirmative, and added that this and other points of a similar nature had been subjects of frequent disagreement and discussion between the two governments; but he now hoped that they were in a train of being adjusted to their mutual satisfaction.

I then said, that I must take the liberty of reminding him that a free participation in the navigation of the Mississippi was secured to Great Britain by treaty,5 as well with the Court of Spain as with the United States, and I trusted that, whatever might be the result of this negociation, this government would not consent to any stipulations which might militate against her rights and interest in this or any other respect. Mr Hamilton assured me that this government was far from entertaining any such intention, as neither their interest nor inclination would prompt them to adopt any measures which might affect the rights, to which I had alluded.

In this place I must remark that I am rather inclined to believe this declaration of Mr Hamilton to be sincere. For, from combining it with some accidental observations, that he fomerly threw out on the subject of the Mississippi, in one of our earliest conversations,6 I am led to infer that this government esteems the participation of Great Britain in the navigation of that river, as an object of benefit, rather than disadvantage, inasmuch as it involves the two countries in one common connexion of interest against any attempt of the Court of Spain, to exclude both or either of them from the navigation of that river, at any future period.

As I did not wish to manifest to Mr Hamilton too great a degree of anxiety upon this subject, I did not press it much farther. But in another part of our conversation, upon my affecting to speak lightly of the general politics of the Court of Spain, he said, with some degree of quickness, that “it is indeed very singular that they have never proposed any thing which has not been clogged by some strange absurd impediment or other”. I cannot pretend to conjecture to what he immediately alluded, but I presume that this sentiment had some sort of reference to the present discussions.

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

1This conversation has been taken from Hammond to Lord Grenville, April 5, 1792, Dispatch No. 15.

2Hammond informed Grenville that he “waited upon Mr Hamilton on Saturday last.” Since Hammond’s letter was written on April 5, 1792, a Thursday, “Saturday last” was March 31, 1792.

3For an account of the mission of William Carmichael and William Short, see “Notes on Thomas Jefferson’s Report of Instructions for the Commissioners to Spain,” March 1–4, 1792, note 1.

Grenville’s Dispatch No. 2, dated January 5, 1792, stated: “Lord St. Helens’ [the British Ambassador to Spain] having communicated to me the confidential Information which His Excellency had received from Mr. Carmichael, respecting a Negotiation actually going on for a Treaty of Alliance between Spain and the United States of America, I think it necessary, ir order that You may be apprized of this Circumstance, to transmit to You an Extract of his Letter on this Subject, and to desire that You will be very assiduous in watching the Progress of such Negotiation and that You will acquaint me with all the Particulars You may be able to learn concerning it; but You will take no public Steps to counteract any arrangements which may be concerted between the two Countries, any further than by expressing to the American Ministers your Persuasion that they will enter into no engagement with the Court of Madrid, which may be prejudicial to the interests of Great Britain” (Mayo, Instructions to British Ministers description begins Bernard Mayo, ed., “Instructions to the British Ministers to the United States,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1936 (Washington, 1941), III. description ends , 21–22).

In the extract referred to by Grenville, dated November 25, 1791, “St Helens stated that Carmichael, through Anthony Merry of the British Embassy, had informed him that Count Florida Blanca had suddenly expressed a desire to accommodate differences with the United States, had admitted the American navigation and boundary claims, but had insisted upon certain articles intended to serve as the basis of a regular treaty of alliance between the United States and Spain. Carmichael told Merry that he would forward these Spanish proposals for an alliance to his government, but intended to delay sending them as long as he decently could. Carmichael said that he much preferred a connection between the United States and Great Britain, and, since Hammond’s mission to America seemed to indicate that such a connection might be in view, he had thought it fitting to apprise Lord St. Helens of the state of his negotiations with Spain” (Mayo, Instructions to British Ministers description begins Bernard Mayo, ed., “Instructions to the British Ministers to the United States,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1936 (Washington, 1941), III. description ends , 22, note 11).

4Hammond’s Dispatch No. 8 to Grenville was dated February 2, 1792 (MS Division, New York Public Library).

5Article VIII of the treaty of peace (1783) between the United States and Great Britain provided that “the Navigation of the River Mississippi, from its source to the Ocean shall forever remain free and open to the Subjects of Great Britain and the Citizens of the United States” (Miller, Treaties, II description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America (Washington, 1931), II. description ends , 155).

6If H and Hammond discussed the Mississippi question “in one of our earliest conversations,” Hammond did not forward these remarks to Grenville, for they are not in any of his dispatches to Grenville of 1791 or 1792.

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