Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Timothy Pickering, 25 March 1798

From Timothy Pickering

Philaa. March 25. 1798.

Dr. Sir

The inclosed1 I wrote last evening for your information. This morning I received your open letter of the 23d. As soon as a vessel shall be dispatched for France with letters of recall to our envoys, I presume the President will communicate their letters to Congress—whether demanded or not. If the envoys or any of them should be found in France (of which there is a bare possibility) they are to demand their passports and return—unless they shall have concluded a treaty, or are actually in treaty with persons vested with equal powers, and that the treaty proceeds with candour on the part of the French Government.2 This vessel will probably sail the ensuing Thursday.

What shall we say to the British Government? You hint at nothing. The opposition party have often insinuated that a treaty offensive & defensive has doubtless been already concluded with Great Britain—a friend of mine yesterday told me that he was asked if such a treaty had not arrived. The truth is, that not one syllable has been written to Mr. King or any one else upon the subject. I confess it to have been for some time my opinion that provisional orders should be sent to Mr. King. Mr. King in one of his latest letters desires to be particularly instructed.3 The dispatch boat4 may be diverted to go from France to England with such instructions (which will be in cypher) or may go directly to Falmouth, and there may ascertain whether our Envoys are or are not in France.

Your ideas communicated on this subject, and on the facts stated in the inclosed, will be highly acceptable to me: I wish to receive them on Wednesday.

Very truly & respectfully yours

T. Pickering

Alexander Hamilton Esq

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; ALS, letterpress copy, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.

1This enclosure was the first of two letters which Pickering wrote to H on March 25, 1798.

2On March 23, 1798, Pickering wrote to Pinckney, Marshall, and Gerry: “… the President presumes that you have long since quitted paris and the French dominions: yet actuated as you were with an ardent desire to preserve peace, which you knew would be so grateful to your country; and having for this object manifested unexampled patience, and submitted to a series of mortifications; as you also proposed to make one more direct attempt, subsequent to the date of your last letter, to draw the French Government to an open negotiation; there is a bare possibility that this last effort may have succeeded: The President, therefore, thinks it proper to direct

“1. That if you are in treaty with persons duly authorized by the Directory, on the subjects of your mission, then you are to remain and expedite the completion of the treaty, if it should not have been concluded. Before this letter gets to hand, you will have ascertained whether the negotiation is or is not conducted with candour on the part of the French Government: and if you shall have discovered a clear design to procrastinate, you are to break off the negotiation, demand your passports and return. For you will consider that suspense is ruinous to the essential interests of your country.

“2. That if on the receipt of this letter, you shall not have been received, or, whether received or not, if you shall not be in treaty with persons duly authorized by the Directory, with full and equal powers, you are to demand your passports and return.

“3. In no event is a treaty to be purchased with money, by loan or otherwise. There can be no safety in a treaty so obtained. A loan to the Republic would violate our neutrality: and a douceur to the men now in power might by their successors be urged as a reason, or as a precedent for further and repeated demands.” (LC, RG 59, Diplomatic and Consular Instructions of the Department of State, 1791–1801, Vol. 4, February 1, 1797-November 30, 1798, National Archives.)

3On January 9, 1798, Rufus King wrote to Pickering: “If, as now I believe, our Mission to France shall totally fail, it will be very important in guiding my opinions and conduct, that I should be early and fully possessed of the views of our Government …” (King, The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King description begins Charles R. King, ed., The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King (New York, 1894–1900). description ends , II, 270).

4On December 14, 1800, Pickering sent to H a copy of the second paragraph of the letter printed above. On the copy Pickering placed an asterisk after “dispatch boat” and wrote: “The ‘dispatch boat’ was the U. S. brig. Sophia, then going to France with orders to the envoys relative to their return.”

Index Entries