To Oliver Wolcott, Junior
[New York, June 26, 1796]
I learn from a Gentleman of character that a prize brought into Boston by a French Privateer is about to be sold.1 This being in direct breach of our Treaty with G Britain2 how does it happen? Though no particular law passed, the Treaty being the law of the land, Our custom houses can & ought to prevent the entry & sale of prizes, upon Executive instruction. If any thing is wanting to this end for god sake, My Dr. Sir, let it be done & let us not be disgraced.3
ALS, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford; copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
1. On July 14, 1796, Pierre Auguste Adet wrote to Timothy Pickering: “The consul at Boston has just informed me that [Benjamin Lincoln] the collector of customs there has prevented the unlading and sale of the prizes carried into that port by two French privateers. The consul has ineffectually complained to him. The collector founds his refusal upon a letter which he says he received from you” (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, 653). On July 19, Pickering replied that the behavior of the collector at Boston was justified on the ground that “… as soon as provision was made on both sides to carry into effect the treaty between the United States and Great Britain, it behoved the Government of the former to countermand the permission formerly given to French privateers to sell their prizes in our ports. Such sales, you have seen, the United States had always a right to prohibit; and by the above mentioned stipulation this right became a duty” (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, 654).
2. Article 24 of the Jay Treaty stipulated: “It shall not be lawful for any Foreign Privateers (not being subjects or Citizens of either of the said Parties) who have Commissions from any other Prince or State in Enmity with either Nation, to arm their Ships in the Ports of either of the said Parties, nor to sell what they have taken, nor in any other manner to exchange the same …” (Miller, Treaties, II description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America (Washington, 1931), II. description ends , 262).
3. In the Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, is a fragment of a letter in H’s handwriting which has been attached to the letter printed above. This fragment reads: “Considering what is going on & may go on in the West Indies it appears to me essential that the President should be empowered to lay embargoes in the interval between the present & the next session of Congress.
“Yrs. truly A. Hamilton.”
In JCHW description begins John C. Hamilton, ed., The Works of Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1851–1856). description ends , VI, 135, and in George Gibbs, Memoirs of the Administrations of Washington and John Adams: Edited from the Papers of Oliver Wolcott, Secretary of the Treasury (New York, 1846), I, 363, this fragment is incorrectly printed as a postscript to the letter printed above.