Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from George Washington, 29 October 1795

From George Washington

(Private & confidential)

Philadelphia 29th. Oct. 1795.

My dear Sir,

A voluminous publication is daily expected from Mr. R——. The paper alluded to in the extract of his letter to me, of the 8th. instt. and inserted in all the Gazettes, is a letter of my own, to him;1 from which he intends (as far as I can collect from a combination of circumstances) to prove an inconsistency in my conduct, in ratifying the Treaty with G. Britain, without making a rescinding (by the British government) of what is commonly called the Provision order,2 equally with the exception of the 12th. article, by the Senate,3 a condition of that ratification. Intending thereby to shew, that my final decision thereon, was the result of party-advice; and that that party was under British influence. It being a letter of my own which he asked for, I did not hesitate a moment to furnish him therewith; and to authorise him to publish every private letter I ever wrote, and every word I ever uttered to him, if he thought they wd. contribute to his vindication: But the paper he asked for, is but a mite of the volume that is to appear; for without any previous knowledge of mine, he had compiled every official paper (before this was asked) for publication; the knowledge of which can subserve the purposes he has in view; and why they have not made their appearance before this, I know not, as it was intimated in the published extract of his letter to me, that nothing retarded it but the want of the paper then applied for, which was furnished the day after my arrival in this city—where (on the 20th. instt) I found his letter, after it had gone to Alexandria & had returned.

I shall now touch upon another subject, as unpleasant as the one I have just quitted. What am I to do for a Secretary of State?4 I ask frankly, & with solicitude; and shall receive kindly, any sentiments you may express on the occasion. That there may be no concealment; & that the non-occupancy of the office until this time may be accounted for (I tell you in confidence that) Mr. Paterson of New-Jersey; Mr. Thos. Johnson of Maryland; Genl Pinckney of So. Carolina; and Mr Patrick Henry of Virginia; in the order they are mentioned, have all been applied to and refused.5 Would Mr King accept it?6 You know the objections I have had to the nomination, to office, any person from either branch of the Legislature; and you will be at no loss to perceive, that at the present crisis, another reason might be adduced against this appointment.7 But maugre all objections, if Mr. King wd. accept, I would look no further. Can you sound, and let me know soon, his sentiments on this occasion. If he should seem disposed to listen to the proposition—tell him candidly, all that I have done in this matter; that neither he, nor I, may be made uneasy thereafter from the discovery of it; he will, I am confident perceive the ground upon which I have acted in making these essays; and will, I am persuaded, appreciate my motives. If he should decline also, pray learn with precision from him, what the qualifications of Mr. Potts. the Senator8 are—and be as diffusive as you can with respect to others, and I will decide on nothing until I hear from you—pressing as the case is.

To enable you to judge of this matter with more lights still; I add, that Mr Marshall9 of Virginia has declined the Office of Attorney General, and I am pretty certain would accept of no other: And I know that Colo. Carrington10 would not come into the War department (if a vacancy should happen therein). Mr. Dexter,11 it is said, would accept the Office of Attorney General. No person is yet absolutely fixed on for that office. Mr. Smith12 of So. Carolina would, sometime ago, have had no objection to filling a respectable office under the Genl. government; but what his views might lead to, or his abilities particularly fit him for, I am an incompetent judge: and besides, on the ground of popularity, his pretensions would, I fear, be small. Mr. Chase13 of Maryland is, unquestionably, a man of abilities; and it is supposed by some, that he wd. accept the appointment of Attorney General. Though opposed to the adoption of the Constitution, it is said he has been a steady friend to the general government since it has been in operation. But he is violently opposed in his own State by a party, and is besides, or to speak more correctly has been; accused of some impurity in his conduct.14 I might add to this catalogue, that Colo Innis15 is among the number of those who have passed in review; but his extreme indolence renders his abilities (great as they are said to be) of little use. In short, what with the non-acceptances of some; the known deriliction of those who are most fit; the exceptionable draw backs from others; and a wish (if it were practicable) to make a geographical distribution of the great officers of the Administration, I find the selection of proper characters an arduous duty.

The period is approaching, indeed is already come, for selecting the proper subjects for my communications to Congress at the opening of the next Session16—and the manner of treating them merits more than the consideration of a moment. The crisis, and the incomplete state in which most of the important affairs of this country are, at present, make the first more difficult and the latter more delicate than usual.

The Treaty with G. Britain is not yet concluded. After every consideration, however, I could bestow on it (and after entertaining very serious doubts of the propriety of doing it, on account of the Provision order)17 it has been ratified by me: what has been, or will be done by the governmt. of G. Britain relative to it, is not now and probably will not be known by the meeting of Congress: Yet, such perhaps is the state of that business, as to make a communication thereof to the Legislature necessary: whether in the conciser form, or to accompany it with some expression of my sense of the thing itself, & the manner in which it has been treated, merits deep reflection. If good would flow from the latter, by a just & temperate communication of my ideas to the community at large, through this medium; guarded so as not to add fuel to passions prepared to blaze—and at the same time so expressed as not to excite the criticisms, or animadversions of European Powers, I would readily embrace it. But I would, decidedly, avoid every expression which could be construed a deriliction of the powers of the President with the advice and consent of the Senate to make Treaties; or into a shrinking from any act of mine relative to it. In a word, if a conciliatory plan can be assimilated with a firm, manly & dignified conduct in this business, it would be desirable; but the latter I will never yield. On this head it may not be amiss to add, that no official (nor indeed other) account have been received from France of the reception of the Treaty with G. Britain, by the National Convention. Perhaps it is too soon to expect any.

Our negociations with Spain, as far as accts. have been recd. from Mr Pinckney18 (soon after his arrival there, but after a conference with the Duke de la Alcudia19 on the subject, before, however, the Peace between France & that Country was publicly known)20 stands upon the same procrastinating—trifling—undignified (as it respects that government)—and insulting as it relates to this country ground as they did at the commencement of them. Under circumstances like these, I shall be at a loss (if nothing more decisive shall arrive between this and the Assemblying of Congress) what to say on this subject, especially as this procrastination & trifling, has been accompanied by encroachments on our territorial rights. There is no doubt of this fact, but persons have, nevertheless, been sent both by Govr. Blount & Genl. Wayne, to know by what authority it is done.21 The conduct of Spain (after having herself, invited this negotiation, and throughout the whole of its progress) has been such that I have, at times, thought it best to express this sentiment at once in the Speech, and refer to the proceedings. At other times, to say only, that matters are in the same inconclusive state they have been; and that if no alteration for the better, or a conclusion of it should take place before the Session is drawing to a close, that the proceedings will be laid fully before Congress.

From Algiers no late accts. have been received; and little favorable, it is to be feared, is to be expected from that quarter.22

From Morocco, the first communications, after our Agent arrived there, none were pleasing, but the final result, if any has taken place is yet unknown and are more clouded.23

Our concerns with the Indians will tell well. I hope, & believe, the Peace with the Western Indians will be permanent;24 unless renewd difficulties with G. Britain shd. produce (as it very likely would do) a change in their conduct. But whether this matter can be mentioned in the Speech with propriety before it is advised & consented to by the Senate,25 is questionable.—and nothing, I am sure, that is so, & is susceptible of caval or criticism, will escape the annonymous writers (if it should go unnoticed elsewhere). It will be denominated by these gentry a bolster. All the hostile Indians to the Southward have renewed the treaties of Amity & friendship with the United States; & have given the best proof, in their power of their sincerity—to wit—a return of Prisoners & property; and Peace prevails from one end of our frontier to the other. Peace also had been produced between the Creeks & Chickasaws by the intervention of this government,26 but something untoward & unknown here, has occasioned a renewal of hostilities on the part of the Creeks.27

The Military establishment is of sufficient importance to claim a place in the general communication, at the opening of the Session; and my opinion is, that circumstanced as things are at present, & the uncertainty of what they may be next year, it would be impolitic to reduce it, but whether to express any opinion thereupon, or leave it entirely to their own decision may be considered.

Whether a report from the Secretary of the Treasury relative to Fiscal matters, particularly on the loans of money—and another from the Secretary of War respecting the Frigates—Arsenals—Military Stores directed to be provided; and the train, in wch. the Trade with the Indians is, agreeably to the several Acts of Legislature may not be proper—and to be referred to in the Speech.

Having desired the late Secretary of State to note down every matter as it occurred, proper either for the speech at the opening of the Session or for messages afterwards—the enclosed paper contains every thing I could extract from that Office. Aid me I pray you with your sentiments on these points & such others as may have occurred to you relative to my communications to Congress.

With affectionate regard I am always Yours

Go: Washington

Colo. A. Hamilton

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1For information on this exchange of letters between Edmund Randolph and Washington, see H to Washington, October 16, 1795, note 5.

3On June 24, 1795, the Senate agreed to a conditional ratification of the Jay Treaty with the stipulation that Article 12 be partially suspended and a supplementary article added to the treaty. See H to Rufus King, June 11, 1795, notes 2 and 3, and Washington to H, July 13, 1795, note 5.

4After the resignation of Randolph as Secretary of State on August 19, 1795, Washington appointed Secretary of War Timothy Pickering as Acting Secretary of State. For the events leading to Randolph’s resignation, see Wolcott to H, July 30, 1795, note 1.

5Ashworth and Carroll state that Washington’s offer to William Paterson, associate justice of the Supreme Court, was oral, but they furnish no evidence to substantiate this statement (Freeman, Washington description begins Douglas Southhall Freeman, George Washington (New York, 1948–1957). Volume VII of this series was written by John Alexander Carroll and Mary Wells Ashworth. description ends , VII, 300). For Washington’s offers to the other individuals mentioned in this sentence, see Washington to Thomas Johnson, August 24, 1795 (ADfS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress); Washington to Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, August 24, 1795 (ADfS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress); and Washington to Patrick Henry, October 9, 1795 (ADfS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress). Johnson’s letter declining the position is dated August 29, 1795 (ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress); Pinckney’s letter is dated September 16, 1795 (ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress); and Henry’s letter is dated October 16, 1795 (ALS, photostat, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress).

6Senator Rufus King of New York.

7Washington is presumably referring to King’s public defense of the Jay Treaty and his close personal association with Jay.

8Richard Potts was a member of the Maryland House of Delegates from 1779 to 1780 and from 1787 to 1788. He was a member of the Continental Congress in 1781 and 1782, and in 1788 served as a delegate to the Maryland Ratifying Convention. From 1789 to 1791 he was the United States attorney for the District of Maryland, and from 1791 to 1793 chief judge of the fifth judicial circuit of Maryland. He was elected to the United States Senate on January 10, 1793, upon the resignation of Charles Carroll of Carrollton.

9Washington offered the position of Attorney General to John Marshall on August 26, 1795 (ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress). Marshall declined the offer on August 31, 1795 (ALS, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives).

10Edward Carrington. On October 9, 1795, Washington asked Carrington whether he would accept the position of Secretary of War, if Pickering were moved to the State Department (ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress; LC, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress). Carrington refused the appointment on October 13, 1795 (ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress).

11Timothy Pickering had recommended Samuel Dexter, a Massachusetts lawyer, for the position of Attorney General in a letter to Washington on September 21, 1795 (ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress). Dexter had been a member of the House of Representatives from March 4, 1793, to March 3, 1795. On September 27, 1795, Washington rejected this proposal because Dexter had been defeated recently for re-election to the House of Representatives (Washington to Pickering [ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress]).

12William Loughton Smith of South Carolina was a member of the House of Representatives.

13Samuel Chase, chief justice of Maryland.

14This is apparently a reference to the fact that in 1778 Chase had used information obtained as a member of the Continental Congress to join with others in an attempt to effect a corner on flour. See “Publius Letter, I,” October 16, 1778; “Publius Letter, II,” October 26, 1778; “Publius Letter, III,” November 16, 1778.

15James Innes of Virginia, a veteran of the American Revolution, was a member of the Virginia Assembly from 1780 to 1782 and from 1785 to 1787. He was elected attorney general of Virginia in 1786.

16Congress was scheduled to convene on December 7, 1795.

18Washington nominated Thomas Pinckney Envoy Extraordinary to Spain on November 21, 1794, and the Senate agreed to his appointment on November 24, 1794 (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 163, 164).

Washington is referring to Pinckney’s letter to Edmund Randolph, dated July 21, 1795, a copy of which was enclosed in Pickering to Washington, October 5, 1795 (ALS, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives). Pinckney’s letter is printed in 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, 534–35. See also Pickering to Pinckney, October 9, 1795 (LC, RG 59, Diplomatic and Consular Instructions of the Department of State, 1791–1801, Vol. 3, June 5, 1795–January 21, 1797, National Archives).

19Manuel de Godoy, Duque de Alcudia, a member of the Consijo de Estado.

20This is a reference to the Treaty of Basel, July 22, 1795. See H to Wolcott, October 3, 1795, note 6.

21William Blount, governor of the Southwest Territory, and Major General Anthony Wayne.

On September 3, 1795, Wayne wrote to Pickering: “I have this moment received the enclosed information by express from Post Vincennes, which comes so well Authenticated as not to leave a doubt of the Spaniards being in possession of the Chickasaw bluffs.…

“I have therefore thought it expedient to reinforce the Garrison of Massac & to endow it with Six Months supplies of Provision & Ammunition, in addition to what is now on hand;

“If my information is right, (& I have no reason to doubt it,) the place that the Spaniards have now taken possession of, is the same spot on which Lieut Wm Clark landed & deliver’d the supplies sent from Fort Washington in the year 1793 for the use of the Chickasaw Nation & called the Chickasaw Cliffs … near the River Margot, as marked in Hutchin’s Map & within the South Western Territory.…

“This being an Aggression of a very high & serious nature, I esteem it my duty to dispatch a flag immediately to the Spanish Commandant to demand by what authority & by whose Orders he has thus invaded the Territory of the United States of America.” (Richard C. Knopf, ed., Anthony Wayne: A Name in Arms; Soldier, Diplomat, Defender of Expansion Westward of a Nation; the Wayne-Knox-Pickering-McHenry Correspondence [Pittsburgh, 1960], 453–54.)

On November 12, 1795, Wayne wrote to Pickering: “I have the honor to transmit a copy of a letter from His Excellency Manuel Gayose de Lemos, Governor of Upper Louisiana, in answer to my letter of the 10th. of September last, addressed to the General or Officer Commanding the Spanish troops & Armament at the Chickasaw bluffs, a copy of which I had the honor to enclose you on the 19th of the same month.…

“The enclosed Copy of Lieut Wm Clarks report (who was the bearer of my flag) together with the affadavits taken by His Excellency Govr [Arthur] St Clair upon the same subject will best demonstrate the Views & intention of the Spaniards by this aggression—which probably by this period is extended further.” (Knopf, Wayne, 471.)

Although Arthur Preston Whitaker states in The Spanish-American Frontier, 1783–1795 (Lincoln, Nebraska, 1927), 215, that both Blount and Wayne made “vigorous protests” against the Spanish occupation of Chickasaw Bluffs, no evidence of Blount’s protest has been found.

22James Monroe described the Algerine situation as follows: “About the last of June or beginning of July 1795, Colonel [David] Humphreys, then resident minister of the United States at Lisbon, arrived at Paris with a view to obtain of the French government its aid, in support of our negociations with the Barbary powers.… After some delays … arrangements were taken for pursuing those negociations under the care of Joel Barlow, and with the full aid of France. At the moment however when Mr. Barlow was upon the point of embarking with our presents, &c. intelligence was received that a Mr. [Joseph] Donaldson, whom Col Humphreys had left at Alicante with a conditional power, but in the expectation that he would not proceed in the business till he heard further from him, had passed over to Algiers and concluded a treaty with that regency, and of course without the aid of France …” (A View of the Conduct of the Executive, xxxi–xxxii).

Barlow, a Connecticut poet and statesman, arrived in Europe in 1788 as European agent for the Scioto Company. In 1795 Humphreys named him consul to Algiers.

Joseph Donaldson, Jr., was nominated, on June 12, 1795, by George Washington “Consul of the United States for the ports of Tripoli and Tunis, and for other places as shall be nearer to the said ports than to the residence of any other Consul or Vice-Consul of the United States within the same allegiances.” The Senate confirmed the appointment on June 13, 1795 (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 179–81).

Humphreys rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel during the American Revolution, and he served as an aide-de-camp to Washington from 1780 to 1783. From 1784 to 1786 he was Secretary of the “Commission for Negotiating Treaties of Commerce with Foreign Powers” (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (Washington, 1904–1937). description ends , XXVII, 375). In 1791 he was named “Minister resident from the United States to her most faithful Majesty the Queen of Portugal” (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 75).

23On March 30, 1795, Washington wrote to the Emperor of Morocco: “Being desirous of establishing and cultivating peace and harmony between our nation and his Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Morocco, I have appointed David Humphreys, one of our distinguished citizens, a commissioner plenipotentiary, giving him full power to negotiate and conclude a treaty of amity and commerce with you. And I pray you to give full credit to whatever shall be delivered to you on the part of the United States by him, and particularly when he shall assure you of our sincere desire to be in peace and friendship with you and your people” (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, 525). Humphreys, on May 21, 1795, empowered James Simpson, American consul at Gibraltar, to conduct the negotiations (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, 525–26). The negotiations were concluded on September 14, 1795, and the Emperor wrote to Washington in part: “Your care to preserve our friendship is very agreeable to us, and you will experience the like from us, or more, because you were faithful to our father, who is in glory” (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, 526–27).

24Washington is referring to the treaty signed with the northwestern Indians at Greenville in the Northwest Territory on August 3, 1795. For the text of the treaty, see Clarence E. Carter, ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States (Washington, 1934– ), II, 525–35.

25Washington submitted the treaty to the Senate on December 9, 1795, and the Senate agreed to its terms on December 22 (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 193, 197). Washington announced the ratification of the treaty on December 22 (Carter, Territorial Papers, II, 534).

26On September 20, 1795, James Seagrove, United States Indian agent, wrote to Timothy Pickering: “I am happy in being able to inform you that by letters which I received last evening from Georgia, I am advised that a treaty of peace is actually concluded between the Creek and Chicasaw Indians comformable to my desire and injunctions on the Creek Chiefs at our late meeting. My Deputies had this desirable business concluded at a full meeting in the Creek nation since the Chiefs returned home after our conference in Georgia. My letters inform that a Copy of the Treaty was forwarded to me by a vessel from Savannah to this place which may be hourly expected—as soon as it arrives I shall have the honor of presenting it to you.

“I think it cannot fail to be pleasing to the President of the United States to see his wish of not only establishing peace between his own Citizens and the numerous savage tribes in the Southern department is happily concluded, but that also, through his mediation, … war hath ceased between the Creeks and Chickasaws and which threatened the destruction of thousands of unfortunate people.…” (Copy, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.)

27This is a reference to murders committed by citizens of Georgia on hunting parties of the Creeks.

Index Entries