Alexander Hamilton Papers

Suggestions for a Commercial Treaty, [April-May 1794]

Suggestions for a Commercial Treaty1

[Philadelphia, April-May, 1794]

To follow the specification of Objects on a Commercial Treaty

This enumeration presents generally the objects which it is desireable to comprise in a Commercial Treaty; not that it is expected that one can be effected with so great a latitude of advantages.2

If to the actual footing of our commerce and Navigation in the British European dominions could be added the privilege of carrying directly from the UStates to the British West India Islands, in our own bottoms generally or of certain defined burthens, the articles which by the Act of the 28th of George 3d Chapt 6th may be carried thither in British Bottoms3 & of bringing from those Islands directly to the UStates in our bottoms of the like description, the articles which by the same Act may be brought from those Islands to the UStates in British bottoms4—this would afford an acceptable basis of a Treaty for a term not exceeding fifteen years; and it would be adviseable to conclude a Treaty upon that basis.5

But if a Treaty cannot be formed upon a basis as liberal as this, it is conceived that it would not be expedient to do any thing more than to digest the articles of such a one as the British Government shall appear willing to accede to; referring it here for consideration and further instruction previous to a formal conclusion.6

There are other points which it would be interesting to comprehend in a Treaty and which it is presumed would not be attended with difficulty. Among these is the admission of our commodities and manufactures generally into the European Dominions of G Britain upon a footing equally good with those of other foreign Countries.* At present only certain enumerated articles are admitted. But though this enumeration embraces all the articles which it is of present material consequence to us to export to those Dominions; yet in process of time an extension of the objects may become of moment. The fixing of the privileges which we now enjoy by toleration of the Company’s Governt. in the British East Indies,8 if any arrangement could be made with the consent of the Company for that purpose would also be a valuable item.9

The foregoing is conformed to the ideas in which the Secretary at War & Attorney General appeared to concur.

It is my opinion, that if an indemnification for the depredations committed on our Trade and the execution of those points of the Treaty of peace which remain unexecuted on the part of G Britain can be accomplished on satisfactory terms and it should appear a necessary mean to this end to combine a Treaty of Commerce for a short term on the footing of the statu quo, the conclusion of such a Treaty would be consistent with the interests of the UStates.


ADfS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

2The suggestions which H makes in this document are an amplification of the last section of “Points to be Considered in the Instructions to Mr. Jay, Envoy Extraordinary to G B,” printed as an enclosure to H to Washington, April 23, 1794, and should be compared with the final instructions sent to John Jay on May 6, 1794 (see H to Washington, April 23, 1794, note 13).

On May 6, 1794, Edmund Randolph wrote to Washington and discussed the question of including instructions to Jay to negotiate a commercial treaty: “The secretaries of the treasury and war department, being of opinion, that it is constitutional and expedient to impower Mr. Jay to conclude a treaty of commerce with Great Britain, the powers are drawn, conformably with these ideas.

“But as they entertain sentiments different from mine, and have committed them to paper, permit me to assign a few of the most operative reasons on my mind.

“1. To permit such a treaty to be signed by Mr. Jay, and transmitted for ratification, is to abridge the power of the senate to judge of its merits. For according to the rules of good faith, a treaty which is stipulated to be ratified ought to be so, unless the conduct of the minister be disavowed or punished.

“2. If he be permitted to sign a treaty of commerce, no form of expression can be devised to be inserted in it which will not be tantamount to a stipulation to ratify, or leave the matter as much at large, as if he had no such power.

“3. Though I believe the people of the U.S. desire a proper treaty of commerce with G. Britain; and we could enumerate so many articles, as to ensure their approbation, yet am I persuaded, that no man can undertake to say, that they would be contented with one or two articles only; as is proposed by the gentlemen.” (ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.)

Henry Knox’s opinion, mentioned in Randolph’s letter, has not been found.

For further information on H’s views on Anglo-American commerce, see “View of the Commercial Regulations of France and Great Britain in Reference to the United States,” 1792–1793.

This paragraph was incorporated verbatim in Jay’s instructions. See H to Washington, April 23, 1794, note 13.

3This statute stipulated “that no Goods or Commodities whatever be imported or brought from any of the Territories belonging to the said United States of America, into any of his Majesty’s West India Islands … except Tobacco, Pitch, Tar, Turpentine, Hemp, Flax, Masts, Yards, Bowsprits, Staves, Heading-boards, Timber, Shingles, and Lumber of any Sort; Horses, Neat Cattle, Sheep, Hogs, Poultry, and Live Stock of any Sort; Bread, Biscuit, Flour, Peas, Beans, Potatoes, Wheat, Rice, Oats, Barley, and Grain of any Sort.…” The act further provided that these enumerated articles could be sent to the British West Indies only “by British Subjects, and in British-built Ships, owned by his Majesty’s Subjects and navigated according to Law” (28 Geo. III, C. 6 [1788]).

4The British statute states that “… it shall be lawful to export from any of the said West India Islands to … the … United States, any Goods … not now … prohibited … and also Sugar, Melasses, Coffee, Cocoa Nuts, Ginger, and Pimento … [but] no … Commodities … shall be so exported, except by British Subjects, and in British-built Ships, owned by his Majesty’s Subjects …” (28 Geo. III, C. 6 [1788]).

5Except for minor word changes, this paragraph was incorporated in Jay’s instructions. See H to Washington, April 23, 1794, note 13.

6Except for minor word changes, this paragraph was incorporated in Jay’s instructions. See H to Washington, April 23, 1794, note 13.

7By the proclamation of April, 1792, most American goods, except those whose importation was prohibited by law, were allowed entry into all British ports in both British- and American-built ships. Special provision was made for the importation of tobacco, snuff, and rice (The London Gazette, April 10 to April 14, 1792).

In the Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress, is the following undated document in H’s handwriting which may have been prepared for the cabinet’s discussions:

“Committee of Privy Council on Ships
I Consider our foreign Tonnage &c as at least unfriend[l]y
II State an annual decrease of exportations to the UStates ending in 1789 of £ Stg 97.113
III Ships of the UStates pay extra light money except in the Port of London
IV Assert that we are in the British Islands on the footing of every other Nation
V Acknowlege that all port charges in G Britain are much in favour of British vessels
Note The tendency of Indian Wars &c to increase the duties on British Manufactures
VI Think Northern members most friend[l]y to Commercial restrictions


The Privy Council report which H is summarizing is entitled A Report of the Lords of the Committee of Privy Council, Appointed for all Matters relating to Trade and Foreign Plantations, on the Commerce and Navigation between his Majesty’s Dominions, and the Territories belonging to the United States of America (London, 1791) in Nathaniel Atchenson, ed., Collection of Interesting and Important Reports and Papers on the Navigation and Trade of Great Britain, Ireland, and the British Colonies in the West Indies and America, with Tables of Tonnage and of Exports and Imports, &c. &c. &c. (Printed by Order of “The Society of Ship-Owners of Great Britain.” And Sold by J. Stockdale, Piccadilly: J. Butterworth, Fleet-Street: and J. and J. Richardson, Cornhill, 1807), 45–140.

8Throughout the seventeen-eighties the directors of the British East India Company were aware of the increasing volume of American trade with India. This “clandestine trade” enabled Americans, with the aid of the French at Mauritius, to carry goods for British subjects from India to Europe by way of the United States and to bring Indian goods into British territory illegally. In 1792, following the outbreak of war in Europe, British officials attempted to prevent this circuitous trade by insisting that American trade with India be direct and for the sole purpose of supplying the American demand for Indian goods.

9Except for minor word changes, this paragraph was incorporated in Jay’s instructions. See H to Washington, April 23, 1794, note 13.

Authorial notes

[The following note(s) appeared in the margins or otherwise outside the text flow in the original source, and have been moved here for purposes of the digital edition.]

* Note   This is now the case though a general impression to the contrary has prevailed. See Procla of 1792.7

Index Entries