Alexander Hamilton Papers

Conversation with George Hammond, [10 June–6 July 1793]

Conversation with George Hammond1

[Philadelphia, June 10–July 6, 1793]

For this purpose,2 I waited on a very influential member of the American administration,3 who informed me that the fact was much as it had been communicated to the public, and that Mr. Genêt’s conduct was a direct violation of a formal compact, originally entered into with Mr. Ternant and subsequently confirmed by himself both in conversation and in writing, and on the faith of which the last payment of the installment due had been made: but notwithstanding the precise conditions of the contract, Mr. Genêt had not only refused payment of the bills in question, but had treated all the remonstrances of the government on the subject, with the utmost arrogance, and contempt. My informant farther said that this circumstance was extremely embarassing to the government, as it stood pledged to its own citizens that these bills should be paid. In consequence of which it would be under the necessity of anticipating as much of the installment due next September as would discharge these bills. Upon this, I took the liberty of remarking that Mr. Genêt’s conduct unworthy as it was, seemed to me to have originated in the design of entrapping the government into the last mentioned measure, as the best mode of remedying his failure in the proposition he had himself made to this government (the particulars of which have been stated in some of my former dispatches) to incline it to grant him some money in advance:4 for it was evident that he had occasion for a large sum to supply some urgent necessities, that he had directed to them the money he had received for other purposes, and had imagined that he should thereby compel the government to anticipate a part of the next installment, in order to fulfil its engagements to its own citizens, and that the disgrace attendant on his breach of contract would soon be forgotten after the claims of the merchants had been satisfied. Upon this account I thought it below the dignity of any government to be the dupe of such an artifice, or be forced by it into the abandonment of a system that it had wisely formed after the most mature deliberation. I also added that, however manifest the necessity of the measure might appear to those, who were not unacquainted with it, it might in others create a suspicion that the whole transaction had been concerted with Mr. Genêt, in order to afford this government a colourable pretext for partly gratifying the wishes, which the French government had expressed to effect an alteration in the mode of liquidating the debt oweing by the United States. These observations appeared to make some impression upon the Gentleman with whom I was conversing, and whom I again saw yesterday,5 when he acquainted me that in consequence of what had fallen from me, it had been determined to adhere to the resolution of not anticipating the next installment, and that the merchants, holding these bills, had been informed that they would not be paid until September next—the period, at which the installment would become due.…6 I have been informed, most confidentially and secretly,7 that he [Genêt] has lately delivered a memorial to the executive government, couched in language the most offensive and intemperate, and containing, the most pointed animadversions in the conduct of the government since his arrival, as well as some direct menaces. The President, is at present in the country, but he will return on Wednesday next, and I shall then endeavor to discover the light, in which he may regard this singular performance, and the consequent measures that he may think it expedient to pursue.

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 , Series 5, Vol. 1.

1This conversation has been taken from Hammond to Lord Grenville, July 7, 1793, Dispatch No. 16.

2Hammond described his reason for meeting H at an earlier point in his letter of July 7 to Grenville, when he wrote: “In the beginning of this year, Mr. [Antoine René Charles Mathurin de] Laforêt, the late Consul General of France, published, with the concurrence of Mr [Jean Baptiste de] Ternant, an advertisement, purporting that certain bills, drawn by the colonial government of Saint Domingo on the Minister of France in Philadelphia, would be paid this month, when due; and it was at the time universally understood that this notification was made, in consequence of a stipulation on the part of this government, that a certain portion of the sums arising from the installments of last year, should be appropriated to the payment of these particular bills, all of which were held by American citizens, and now amount to about ninety three thousand dollars. The functions of Mr. Ternant and Mr. Laforêt having ceased on the arrival of Mr. [Edmond Charles] Genet and on the appointment of a new Consul, these bills, part of which to the amount of forty-five thousand dollars had been previously accepted by Mr. Laforêt, were the week before last presented to Mr. Genêt, who premptorily refused to pay any of them.”

For information on these bills issued by the administration of Santo Domingo, see the introductory note to George Latimer to H, January 2, 1793; H to Ternant, January 13, 1793, note 2; Genet to H, June 3; H to Genet, June 4, 1793.

On June 18, 1793, Genet wrote the following letter to Jefferson: “I have examined the correspondence which has taken place between you and my predecessor, relatively to the requisition of funds which he has made on the Federal Government, to pay off certain drafts of the administrators of Saint Domingo, and to procure provisions for that colony. I pay due respect, sir, to the justness of the observations which you transmitted to the citizen Ternant, on the subject of this request. Forced from his circumspection by the pressing instances of the administrators of Saint Domingo, I conceive that this requisition must have embarrassed your government infinitely; and, under this view, I feel all the obligations we owe you, for having, as you yourself expressed it, less consulted prudence than friendship in yielding to it. You have with propriety remarked, sir, that the decree, which appropriated for the necessities of the colonies four millions from the debt of the United States to France, not being yet transmitted to the Federal Government, in the usual official form, should not have an application so positive, so determined as that which the commissioners of the administration of Saint Domingo had given it; and that it was probable the ministers of France had had recourse, in order to supply the wants of this colony, to operations of another nature than those which took place. In fact, sir, the drafts for the payment of which the commissioners of Saint Domingo, pressed by imperious circumstances, have, in some degree, obliged the citizen Ternant to demand funds of you, have neither been authorized by the National Convention, nor by the Executive Council; and I must even inform you, that I am forbidden to pay, out of the funds placed at my disposal, any other than those drafts which shall have been accepted by the consul La Forest, in virtue of orders from my predecessor. But, on my arrival here, I was informed that this consul had received orders from the minister plenipotentiary to register all drafts issued by the administration of Saint Domingo, and to pay them out of the new funds which the Federal Government had provisionally granted, on the basis of the decree of the 26th June, although it was not officialy notified. I have not thought proper, sir, to stop suddenly the payment of these drafts, in the hope that the mode of reimbursing your debt, which you at my request have laid before the President of the United States, would be adopted by him, and give me the means, first, to honor the drafts registered by my predecessor, the payment of which had been ordered by him; secondly, to provide, at the same time, for the urgent necessities of France and her colonies; but having been deceived in my expectation, by motives which are not for me to examine, I find myself deprived of the advantage of conciliating all interests, and constrained to obey only the empire of circumstances, which prescribe me to suspend the payment of the colonial drafts, and to employ the funds destined for their acquittal to the purchase of provisions for France and her colonies. This arrangement, sir, need not alarm either the bearers of the registered drafts, or those of the other drafts issued and not registered, of the administrators of Saint Domingo, and other colonies of the French republic. The nation will certainly fulfil towards them the engagements contracted by its agents. I know that they have destined particular funds for this purpose. I also know that the colonies have made contributions in kind to fulfil their obligations, and provide themselves for a part of their wants; and it is according to these ideas that I have determined to have inserted in the public papers the enclosed information, the intention of which is to calm inquietudes of the bearers of the drafts which I am obliged to set aside, and to encourage the citizens of the United States to continue to carry succor to their brothers the French republicans of the Antilles …” (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, 158).

Genet also sent to Jefferson an announcement, dated June 17, 1793, which he planned to insert in the newspapers to inform citizens who held bills drawn by the administration of Santo Domingo that these bills would not be paid until Genet had been authorized to discharge them (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, 158).

3In the postscript Hammond wrote in code: “The information relative to St. Domingo Bills, and to Mr. Genet’s Memorial was communicated to me by Mr. Hamilton.”

5July 6, 1793.

6See note 2.

7See note 3.

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