Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Rufus King, 17[–18] April [1796]

From Rufus King1

[Philadelphia] Monday Morning 17[–18]. Ap. [1796]2

In general I agree in the Course you recommend.3 Separate Bills will be reported to the House this morning, providing for the Sp. Ind. & Alg. Treaties—they will pass the H. and be sent to the Senate by the middle of the week.4 I percive no impropriety in adding to the first of these Bills recived by the Senate, and in succession to each of them if requisite, a Provision for the Br. Treaty. Such amendment, if recd. in the House before they take a Question, it is beleived would have influence.

The Merchants & traders Petition is signed with unexampled unanimity.5 Baltimore have prepared a similar petition wh. will be very generally signed. Genl. Smith, who is now there, writes that the Treaty has gained many Friends, that they are next to unanimous in favor of its execution, that Annapolis is likewise unanimous, & that he thinks that Nine tenths of the State are for carrying it into Effect.6 He adds that a memorial has been drawn up and signed by most of the respectable People in Baltimore, approving the Presidents Conduct in refusing the Papers; that he thinks a counter memorial could be obtained, but that he has discouraged it, seeing the necessity of unanimity at the present Crisis. He returns tomorrow or next Day & will be zealous for the execution of the Treaty.

Van Cortland7 will leave this place on Wednesday. Would it not be well to prepare a Reception for him which may return him in favor of the Treaty. His Friends may be induced to act upon his Mind, which balances, so as to decide it.

Adieu

R King

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1This letter concerns the efforts of supporters of the Jay Treaty both in and out of the Government to secure adoption by the House of Representatives of legislation for the implementation of that treaty. For an account of the struggle in the House over this legislation, see the introductory note to H to George Washington, March 7, 1796.

2As Monday fell on April 18, King was mistaken in dating this letter April 17. In JCHW description begins John C. Hamilton, ed., The Works of Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1851–1856). description ends , V, 630, this letter is incorrectly dated “1795.”

4See H to King, April 15, 1796, note 6. The bills for carrying into effect the treaties with Spain and the northwest Indians were introduced in the House on April 18 and passed on April 20 (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, 1025, 1094–95). The bill to appropriate funds for implementing the Algerian treaty was introduced on April 20 and passed on April 22 (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, 1095, 1140).

5The petition of Philadelphia merchants, which was drawn up at a meeting on April 15, 1796, “at the Coffee-House,… at twelve o’clock, John Nixon, Esq. in the chair,” reads: “That they have waited, with anxious expectation, to see the necessary measures adopted by your honorable House, for carrying into operation the Treaty concluded between the United States and Great-Britain, and are now seriously alarmed least the measures should be further delayed or entirely omitted.

“Under that impression, they deem it incumbent on them to represent, That property of the Merchants of the United States, amounting, upon a moderate computation, to more than five millions of dollars, has been taken from them by the subjects of G. Britain, the restitution of which, they verily believe, depends, in a great measure, upon the completion of the Treaty on our part.

“Independent of this immense sum, they have embarked the principal part of their remaining fortunes in vessels and adventures, the safety of which will, as they apprehend, be materially affected by a refusal or neglect on the part of the United States to comply with stipulations so solemnly entered into. Besides their particular interests as Merchants and Traders, they feel an interest, in common with their fellow-citizens of other descriptions, in the preservation of Peace, on which the prosperity of this country depends; and they should deem themselves wanting in that spirit and independence which ought ever to characterize freemen, if they forbear, on so interesting an occasion as the present, to express their wishes and expectations. They, therefore, with all due respect for the Representatives of the people of the United States, beg leave to recommend, that no partial considerations of policy may influence their decision on this important question; but that the Faith, the Honor, and the Interest of the Nation, may be preserved by making the necessary provisions for carrying the Treaty into fair and honorable effect.” ([Philadelphia] Gazette of the United States, April 16, 1796.) The petition was received by the House of Representatives on April 20 and read on April 21, 1796 (Journal of the House description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington, 1826). description ends , II, 518). Ten committee members were also appointed at the meeting in Philadelphia to correspond with merchants in other towns and cities of the United States and with the western counties of Pennsylvania. The committee members were: Thomas FitzSimons, Joseph Ball, Walter Stewart, George Latimer, Samuel Sterett, Israel Whelen, Robert Waln, Joseph Anthony, Samuel Breck, and Francis Gurney (Gazette of the United States, April 18, 1796).

6Samuel Smith, a Baltimore merchant who had been appointed a brigadier general of militia in 1794, was a Democratic member of the House of Representatives. He initially opposed the appropriations for the Jay Treaty, but on April 22, 1796, he announced that he would support the treaty because “it would tend to restore harmony and unanimity to our public measures” (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, 1157). See also Rufus King to H, April 20, 1796.

7Philip Van Cortlandt was a Republican member of the House of Representatives from New York, who first opposed and then supported the implementation of the Jay Treaty by the House. On March 24, 1796, he voted in favor of Edward Livingston’s resolution that the papers concerning the negotiation of the treaty should be laid before the House (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, 759). He continued to vote with the Livingston faction on the question of whether or not Washington’s refusal should be referred to a Committee of the Whole (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, 762), and he supported Thomas Blount’s resolutions of April 6 (H to Washington, March 7, 1796, note 21; 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, 771), concerning implementation of the treaty (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, 1291). It was suggested at the time that his defection came less from any new-found conviction concerning the treaty’s merits than from the wish to placate his Westchester constituents. See John Beckley to DeWitt Clinton, April 11, 1796 (ALS, Columbia University Libraries).

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