To Rufus King1
New York April 15. 1796
A letter by yesterday’s Post from our Friend Ames2 informed me that the Majority (57 concurring) had resolved in a private Meeting to refuse appropriations for the Treaty.3 A most important crisis ensues. Great evils may result unless good men play their card well & with promptitude and decision. For we must seize and carry along with us the public opinion—& loss of time may be loss of everything.
To me our true plan appears to be the following (I presuppose that a certain communication has been made).4
I The President ought immediately after the House has taken the ground of refusal to send them a solemn Protest. This protest ought to contain reasons in detail against the claim of the House in point of Constitutional right and ought to suggest summarily but with solemnity and energy the danger to the interests & Peace of the Country from the measures of the House—the certainty of a deep wound to our character with foreign Nations & essential destruction of their confidence in the Government concluding with an intimation that in such a state of things he must experience extreme embarrassment in proceeding in any pending or future negotiations which the affairs of the UStates may require inasmuch as he cannot look for due confidence from others nor give them the requisitite expectation that stipulations will be fulfilled on our part.
A copy of this protest to be sent to the Senate for their information. The Senate by resolutions to express strongly their approbation of his principles, to assure him of their firm support & to advise him to proceed in the execution of the Treaty on his part in the confidence that he will derive from the virtue & good sense of the people, constitutionaly exerted, eventual & effectual support—& may still be the instrument of preserving the Constitution the Peace & the Honor of the Nation.
Then the Merchants to meet in the Cities & second by their resolutions the measures of the President & Senate further addressing their fellow Citizens to cooperate with them. Petitions afterwards to be handed throughout the U States.
The President to cause a confidential communication to be made to the British stating candidly what has happened; his regrets, his adherence nevertheless to the Treaty, his resolution to persist in the Execution as far as depends on the Executive & his hope that the faith of the Country will be eventually preserved.
I prefer that measures should begin with a Protest of the President—as it will be in itself proper & there will be more chance of success if the Contest appears to be with him & the Senate auxiliaries than in the reverse.
But in all this business celerity decision & an imposing attitude are indispensable. The Glory of the President, the safety of the Constitution, the greatest interests depend upon it. Nothing will be wanting here. I do not write to the President on the subject.
An idea has come from Cooper5 of an intention in our friends in the House of Representatives to resist the execution of the other Treaties, the Spanish & Algerine, unless coupled with the British.6 But this will be altogether wrong & impolitic. The misconduct of the other party cannot justify in us an imitation of their principles. Tis best I think that the first course should be given to the other Treaties. Or at most if a feint of opposition is deemed adviseable it ought to be left to the Senate by postponement &c. But even this is very delicate & very questionable.
Let us be Right, because to do right is intrinsically proper & I verily believe it is the best means of securing final success & let our adversaries have the whole glory of sacrificing the interests of the Nation.
P.S. If the Treaty is not executed the President will be called upon by regard to his character & the public good to keep his post till another House of Representatives has pronounced.
Rufus King Esq
ALS, New-York Historical Society, New York City.
1. This letter concerns the debate in the House of Representatives concerning the implementation of the Jay Treaty. For a discussion of this protracted controversy, see the introductory note to H to George Washington, March 7, 1796.
2. Fisher Ames’s letter to H has not been found.
3. On the evening of April 2, 1796, Republicans in the House held a caucus (John Beckley to James Monroe [?], April 2, 1796 [ALS, MS Division, New York Public Library]) to consider the President’s refusal to make available to the House the papers relating to the negotiation of the Jay Treaty. See the introductory note to H to Washington, March 7, 1796. Little is known about this caucus, but long after the event Albert Gallatin wrote the following about two Repubican caucuses in the seventeen-nineties: “… The first was after the House had asserted its abstract right to decide on the propriety of making appropriations necessary to carry a treaty into effect, whether such appropriations should be made with respect to the treaty with England of 1794. The other was in the year 1798, respecting the course proper to be pursued after the hostile and scandalous conduct of the French Directory. On both occasions we were divided; and on both the members of the minority of each meeting were left to vote as they pleased, without being on that account proscribed or considered as having abandoned the principles of the party” (Henry Adams, ed., The Writings of Albert Gallatin [New York, 1879], III, 553). On April 7, the House adopted by a vote of 57 to 36 two resolutions which had been introduced by Thomas Blount of North Carolina on the previous day (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States: with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , V, 781). For the text of the Blount resolutions, see H to Washington, March 7, 1796, note 21.
4. This is apparently a reference to a letter from Phineas Bond, British chargé d’affaires in the United States, to Timothy Pickering, March 26, 1796. Bond requested that an article be added to the Jay Treaty invalidating certain parts of the treaty concluded at Greenville in the Northwest Territory between the United States and the Northwest Indians on August 7, 1795 (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, 551–52). See H to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., April 20, 1796.
5. William Cooper, the founder of Cooperstown, was one of the largest landholders in New York State. H served as his attorney in many of Cooper’s land transactions (see Goebel, Law Practice description begins Julius Goebel, Jr., ed., The Law Practice of Alexander Hamilton: Documents and Commentary (New York and London, 1964– ). description ends , forthcoming volumes). In 1791 Cooper became a judge of Otsego County. From 1795 to 1797 and from 1799 to 1801 he was a Federalist member of the House of Representatives.
6. If Cooper wrote to H about this proposal, his letter has not been found.
The Treaty of Friendship, Limits, and Navigation between Spain and the United States was signed at San Lorenzo el Real, near Madrid, on October 27, 1795 (Miller, Treaties, II description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America (Washington, 1931), II. description ends , 318). The Treaty of Peace and Amity with Algiers was signed at Algiers on September 5, 1795, and consented to by the Senate on March 2, 1796 (Miller, Treaties, II description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America (Washington, 1931), II. description ends , 275). On April 13, 1796, Theodore Sedgwick, a Federalist member of the House of Representatives from Massachusetts, proposed the following resolution: “… That provision ought to be made by law for carrying into effect, with good faith, the Treaties lately concluded between the Dey and Regency of Algiers, the King of Great Britain, the King of Spain, and certain Indian tribes Northwest of the Ohio” (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States: with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , V, 940). This attempt to maneuver the House into passing appropriations for the Jay Treaty was, however, unsuccessful. On April 14, Sedgwick’s resolution was defeated, and on the same day separate agreements were made to carry into effect all the treaties except for that with Great Britain (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States: with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , V, 969, 974–75).