Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from John Steele, 17 [September] 1793

From John Steele1

Salisbury [North Carolina] 17th. [September]2 1793


Apologies are always unpleasant, and if they were not, I am vain enough to hope that you wou’d consider one for this intrusion, superfluous.

To a delicate and cultivated mind it is painfull to write or speak of One’s self, to me it is peculiarly so, and nothing cou’d have surmounted my reluctance on this occasion, but the perfect respect which I feel for your character, and an entire confidence in the generosity of your disposition.

A great mind scarcely capable of doing wrong itself readily overlooks the weaknessess and imperfections of another, and it is a characteristic, not the least amiable, of such a mind, to inspire respectfull confidence while it represses, even the appearance of impertinence.

Without trespassing further upon your time give me leave to inform you, that I am extreemly desirous to be employed in some respectable situation by the Executive of the united States, and to solicit your interference in my favor is the principal object of this letter.

Disclaiming any sort of vanity which might be supposed to spring up in a young mans mind from such a reflection, I am conscious that at the next elections I could be placed in either house of Congress. But this would not suit my circumstances, still less my disposition. Some reasons on this head I have detailed in a letter to Mr. Coxe, which he is at liberty to shew you if required.

Diffidence respecting a voluntary offer of my services to a government in which I am scarcely known, and living in a state unfavorably situated, deterred me from making this application sooner; but such scruples have at length given way to a conviction that I coud be instrumental in promoting the public interest, and perhaps never more essentially than during the next sessions of Congress.

That I possess the disposition to be so, need not be added. To support a constitution which has cost the best people in the Union so much pains to establish, to counteract the nefarious designs of its enemies, and to rally round the Federal government as a Standard where our most precious interests are well secured, is the duty of men who possess talents, property, reputation, or influence. Of this, if ever I doubted, my doubts have been removed by late political occurrences, none of which are more alarming to the friends of systematic and stable government, than the unwise, indecent, and poisonous opposition, to the declaration of neutrality. The decided and patriotic part which the President took on that subject, has raised him some enemies here as well as in Philada. but it has encreased the veneration and love of all the sober minded, welwishers of National prosperity. Our state elections are over, I have accepted a seat in the Assembly, Colo. Davie3 whom you have often heard me speak of, is also in, and if there can be a necessity for such a measure, or if it wou’d be even satisfactory, I am sure the Legislature woud express in decided terms an approbation of the wisdom which dictated that Proclamation. Though I am sure that success woud attend such a motion through both houses, yet I cannot help questioning the propriety of an individual state interfereing at all, either to approve or censure the administration of the general Government.

No step shall be taken in relation to it without due deliberation, and advice wou’d not be unacceptable. Neutrality is the wish of every good man in this State who has sense enough to know his country’s solid interest, and the President may be assured of this, without our troubling him to answer a profusion of addresses.

If you will take the trouble to read the latter part of the inclosed,4 you will percieve in fewer words than I cou’d express it, what we think of a certain man and some of his transactions in the diplomatic line. Such a consummate instance of Jacobine impudence, must forever remain unparalelled in the annals of this country.

I have the honor to be,   Sir   With perfect respect   Your most humble Servant

Jno. Steele

Colo. Hamilton

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1Steele, a leading North Carolina Federalist, had served in the state House of Commons in 1787 and 1788 and as North Carolina commissioner to the Cherokee and Chickasaw Indians from 1788 to 1790, and represented his state in the First and Second Congresses.

2Steele dated this letter “17th March 1793.” When Steele wrote “March” he obviously made a mistake, for in the course of the letter he refers to the “unwise, indecent, and poisonous opposition to the declaration of neutrality.” Washington’s proclamation was issued on April 22, 1793. See John Jay to H, April 11, 1793, note 1. The letter probably was written on September 17, 1793. The evidence for that assumption is found in the following facts: In his letter to H, Steele, in speaking of his application for a Federal job, stated that “Some reasons on this head I have detailed in a letter to Mr. Coxe, which he is at liberty to shew you if required.” On November 19, 1793, Tench Coxe wrote to Steele: “I trust that the great derangement of the public business produced by the malady in this city will excuse to you some apparent inattention to your letter of the 17th Sept. I put that inclosed into the hands of the Secretary of the Treasury and I have since had a conversation with him on the Subject.” Coxe then discussed Steele’s qualifications for a Federal appointment (H. M. Wagstaff, ed., The Papers of John Steele [Raleigh, 1924], I, 101).

Coxe’s draft of this letter may be found in the Papers of Tench Coxe in the Coxe Family Papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

3William R. Davie, a North Carolina lawyer and one of his state’s leading Federalists.

4Although Steele does not indentify the enclosure, at the top of the MS the following note appears in an unidentified handwriting: “See pamphlet of Gen. Eustace in French.” This notation is presumably a reference to Le Citoyen des États-Unis d’Amérique. Jean-Skey Eustace Général … à ses Frères d’Armes (Paris: De l’Imprimerie du Cercle Social, 1793). John-Skey Eustace had served in the American Revolution as an aide-de-camp at various times to Major Generals Charles Lee, John Sullivan, and Nathanael Greene.

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