Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Oliver Wolcott, Junior, 28 July 1795

From Oliver Wolcott, Junior

Philad. July 28. 1795

Dear Sir

You see that attempts are made to stir up a flame & convulse the country respecting the Treaty:1 though the actors hitherto are known to be a factious set of men & their followers generally a contemptible mob, yet from the systimatical manner in which they have proceeded and some curious facts which have recently come to my knowledge, I cannot but suspect foul play, by persons not generally suspected.

Every thing is conducted in a mysterious & strange manner by a certain character here;2 & to my astonishment, I am recently told that Mr. Rutledge has had a tender of the Office of Chief Justice.3 By the favour of heaven the Comn. is not issued, and now I presume it will not be—but how near ruin & disgrace has the Country been?

Cannot you come & attend the Supreme Court for a few days the next week?4 A bed at my house is at your command. If you cannot, pray drop me a line. Will you reply briefly to a few questions I lately stated5—I care not how briefly. Your ideas upon a system projected essentially by you, will enable me to proceed with less hesitation. Indeed I need some help. There is no Comptroller6 here as yet & now I have suffered an irreparable loss by the appointment of Mr. Kuhl to be Asst. Cashier of the Bank.7

Yours sincerely

Oliv. Wolcott.

Alexr. Hamilton Esqr.

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; copy, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford.

1For examples of opposition of residents of New York and other cities to the Jay Treaty, see the accounts in The [New York] Argus, or Greenleaf’s New Daily Advertiser, July 20, 27, 29, 1795.

2The “certain character” was Edmund Randolph. Although Wolcott at this time knew about the information that was to lead to Randolph’s resignation, he does not even hint at this knowledge in this letter. For Wolcott’s information concerning Randolph, see Wolcott to H, July 30, 1795, note 1.

3John Rutledge of South Carolina had been an associate justice of the Supreme Court from 1789 to 1791, and when this letter was written was chief justice of South Carolina. On July 1, 1795, Washington wrote to Rutledge that he planned to appoint him Chief Justice of the United States to succeed John Jay, who had resigned following his election as governor of New York (ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress). Because Congress was not in session, Rutledge served temporarily without Senate confirmation. On December 10, 1795, Washington submitted Rutledge’s name to the Senate, and on December 15, by a vote of 14 to 10 the Senate refused to “advise and consent” to the appointment of Rutledge (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 195–96). Rutledge’s defeat in the Senate may in large part be attributed to his opposition to the Jay Treaty. A New York newspaper reported as follows a speech which Rutledge made on the treaty in Charleston, South Carolina, on July 17, 1795: “Chief Justice Rutledge rose. He contended in the first instance, that the title was a perversion of terms; that it was stiled a treaty of amity, commerce and navigation, but in fact, it was an humble acknowledgement of our dependence upon his Majesty; a surrender of our rights and privileges, for so much of his gracious favour as he should be pleased to grant.

“That the first article securing friendship and peace to people of every degree, was extending favour to all those who were under banishment or amercement, which was improper.

“He adverted to the frequent inattention to the proper use of words throughout this puerile production. Diplomatic characters were generally particular in this respect, and it was inconceivable how such perversion of terms should take place. ‘His Majesty will withdraw his troops &c. within the boundaries assigned by the treaty of peace, &c.’

“Will, he contended, imply it as a favour? It should have been Shall withdraw his troops. It is not impossible to conceive it a matter of will, even in his most majesty. But the whole of this clause, he contended, was improperly understood.

“Mr. Jay should have demanded an unconditional relinquishment of those posts as a right; till which was granted, and until Lord Grenville had given orders to Lord Dorchester to that effect, open to be sent to our President, to be by him forwarded, he should not have opened his lips upon this treaty. It was prostituting the dearest rights of freemen, and laying them prostrate at the feet of royalty. ‘Assigned by the treaty of peace’ was an expression that ought not to have been admitted by one who knew the territory to have been fought for, to have been attained with our freedom, and who should have insisted upon the possession of it.

“He adverted to the tricks, easy to be discovered in every article and clause of the treaty that were put upon our envoy. But his admitting, that ‘it is uncertain whether the river Mississippi extends so far northward as the lake of the woods as to be intersected by a line drawn due west from the lake of the woods in the same manner mentioned in the treaty of peace,’ and whereas ‘doubts had arisen what river was truly intended under the name of the river St. Croix,’ are the grossest absurdities; particularly when assented to by a man who absolutely signed that treaty and had before him the maps that excluded both uncertainty and doubt. To be diplomatically chaste, it should have been, ‘as we are uncertain’ and whereas doubts have arisen with us’ &c.

“The appointment of the commissioners was a measure that could operate to the advantage of but one party, the British, in case it should be properly conducted, but he asserted that the chance was greatly against fairness, and he doubted not that it would be better than a direct relinquishment of all it was intended they should decide upon.

“After observing that he hoped a full discussion would not take place this day, he insisted that there was but one article or clause in the whole that had the appearance of reciprocity, or conferring advantage to the United States, and that was the one, allowing us the West India trade; deception, a trick, that was adding insult to injury.

“In pointing out the improprieties of negociations of any kind with England, the chief justice was led to the state of the French successes. He lavished the highest encomiums on that brave and heroic nation. The Alexanders, the Caesars, and the Charles of antiquity, gave place to a whole nation of heroes. Their deeds of heroism were great, but nobler ones were daily acted in all parts of France. As a nation they had conquered all her opposers. Holland owned her conquest; Prussia felt her energy, Germany retired from her arms, Spain was suing for peace, and the perfidious, the boasting, the assuming nation Great Britain, that had arrogated for ages, power never possessed, that assumed the sovereignty of the sea, and monopolized the commerce of the whole world, was hoping for peace upon whatever terms France might grant it. To negociate she could not hope. She was reduced to the last gasp, and were America to seize her by the throat, she would expire in agonies at her feet.

“One thing appeared to him right, it was justice, and he hoped his country would always maintain it—he alluded to the intent of the articles that secures to the British creditors their debts in the United States. Although he was well convinced that their interest in the funds bought at two or three shillings in the pound, is now worth twenty; tho’ the indent had been obtained by the soldier as the reward of his laborious services at the expense perhaps of life or limb, and that he parted with it thus depreciated, observing it to be the price he paid for his country’s freedom, yet he was for allowing them their just demand, but we ought not to bind ourselves to it by treaty.

“To take the power of deciding upon such causes from our state courts; to deny to trust the supreme court of the United States, and submit the causes to a few commissioners, was ridiculous and inadmissible.” (The [New York] Argus, or Greenleaf’s New Daily Advertiser, July 30, 1795.)

4H was serving as auxiliary counsel for the Government in the Carriage Tax case, which was scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court in its August term. See William Bradford to H, July 2; Edmund Randolph to H, July 21, 1795.

5For Wolcott’s questions, see Wolcott to H, June 18, 1795. H answered some, but not all, of these questions in H to Wolcott, June 22, 1795.

6Wolcott, who had been comptroller before his appointment as Secretary of the Treasury, had not been able to find a suitable individual who was willing to accept the position.

7Henry Kuhl had served as a clerk in the Treasury Department until his appointment as assistant cashier of the Bank of the United States. See H to Thomas Willing, April 5, 1795.

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