Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from George Washington, 27 May 1798

From George Washington

Mount Vernon 27th of May 1798.

My dear Sir,

Yesterday, brought me your Letter of the 19th. instant.

You may be assured, that my Mind is deeply impressed with the present situation of our public affairs, and not a little agitated by the outrageous conduct of France towards the United States; and at the enemical conduct of its partisans among ourselves, who aid & abet their measures: You may believe further from assurances equally sincere, that if there was any thing in my power, which could be done with consistency to avert, or lessen the danger of the Crisis, it should be rendered with hand and heart.

The expedient however, which has been suggested by you, would not, in my opinion, answer the end which is proposed. The object of such a tour could not be veiled by the ostensible cover to be given to it; because it would not apply to the state of my health, which never was better; and as the measure would be susceptible of two interpretations, the enemies to it—always more active & industrious than friends—would endeavour, as much as in them lay, to turn it to their own advantage, by malicious insinuations; unless they should discover that the current against themselves was setting too strong, & of too serious a nature for them to stem; in which case the journey would be unnecessary, and in either case, the reception might not be such as you have supposed.

But, my dear Sir, dark as matters appear at present, and expedient as it is to be prepared at all points, for the worst that can happen; (and no one is more disposed to this measure than I am)—I cannot make up my mind, yet, for the expectation of open War; or, in other words, for a formidable Invasion, by France. I cannot believe, although I think them capable of any thing bad, that they will attempt to do more than they have done; that when they perceive the spirit, & policy of this country rising into resistance; and that they have falsely calculated upon support from a large part of the People thereof, to promote their views & influence in it, that they will desist, even from those practices; unless unexpected events in Europe, or their possession of Louisiana & the Floridas, should induce them to continue the measure. And I believe further, that although the leaders of their party, in this country, will not change their sentiments, that they will be obliged nevertheless to change their plan, or the mode of carrying it on; from the effervescence which is appearing in all quarters, and the desertion of their followers, which must frown them into silence—at least for a while.

If I did not view things in this light, my mind would be infinitely more disquieted than it is; for if a crisis should arrive when a sense of duty, or a call from my Country, should become so imperious as to leave me no choice, I should prepare for the relinquishment, and go with as much reluctance from my present peaceful abode, as I should do to the tombs of my Ancesters.

To say at this time, determinately, what I should do under such circumstances, might be improper, having once before departed from a similar resolution;1 but I may declare to you, that as there is no conviction in my breast that I could serve my country with more efficiency in the command of the Armies, it might Levy, than many others, an expression of its wish that I should do so, must, some how or other, be unequivocally known, to satisfy my mind that, notwithstanding the respect in which I may be held on account of former services, that a preference might not be given to a man more in his prime. And it may well be supposed too, that I should like, previously, to know who would be my coadjutors, and whether you would be disposed to take an active part, if Arms are to be resorted to.

Before this letter can get to your hands, you will have seen the Resolutions & proposed Address from the Citizens of Charleston, in South Carolina.2 Their proceedings will, I am persuaded, give the ton to other parts of that State. Two or three very good Addresses have already appeared from No. Carolina; one with the Signature of a late Governor thereof, Spaight.3 All the upper, most populous, and hardy yeomanry of this State, have come, & are coming forward, with strong Addresses to the Executive, and assurances of Support. The Address from Norfolk4 (I do not mean the impertinent one from Magnien’s Grenadier Company)5 is a good one. The middle counties of this State, with two or three exceptions, have hitherto been silent; they want leaders; but I shall be much mistaken if a large majority of them do not forsake, if they have heretofore been with, those who have pretended to speak their Sentiments. As to the Resolutions which were entered into at Fredericksburgh, it is only necessary to point to the Manager of them;6 & add, that the meeting was partial. From Georgia, no developement of the public sentiment has yet made its appearance; but I have learnt from a very intelligent Gentleman just returned from thence, where he has been sometime for the benefit of his health; travelling, going & returning, slowly, and making considerable halts, that the people of that State, as also those of South & North Carolina, seem to be actuated by one spirit, and that, a very friendly one to the General Government. I have likewise heard, that the present Governor of the first (Georgia)7 professes to be strongly attached to it. These disclosures, with what may yet be expected, will, I conceive, give a different impression of the sentiments of our people to the Directory of France, than what they have been taught to believe; while it must serve to abash the partizans of it for their wicked, & presumptive information.

Your free communication on these political topics, is so far from needing an apology, that I shall be much gratified, & thankful to you, for the continuation of them; & I would wish you to believe that with great truth and sincerity, I am always

Your Affectionate friend, & Obedt Sert.

Go: Washington

Alexr. Hamilton Esqr.

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; ALS, letterpress copy, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.

1Washington is referring either to his reversal of his decision not to be a candidate for a second term as President (see the introductory note to H to Washington, May 10, 1796) or to his decision to come out of retirement and accept the Presidency in 1789 (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (Washington, 1904–1937). description ends , XXV, 837–38; Washington to John Landon, April 14, 1789 [GW description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington (Washington, 1931–1944). description ends , XXX, 284–85]).

2The resolutions of the “Citizens of Charleston” are dated May 5, 1798 (D, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston; Gazette of the United States, and Philadelphia Daily Advertiser, May 24, 1798). The “address” from the citizens of Charleston has been dated in a later handwriting “[May? 1798].” This address reads in part: “… your memorialists feel themselves irresistibly impelled to make a full, Solemn and explicit declaration of the sincere attachment to the Constitution and Government of the United States; and of their fixed resolution to maintain and support them against All foreign encroachment & domination at the hazard of their Lives & fortunes … and they submit, to the discretion of the Government, the measures essential to the attainment and Security of these great objects” (DS, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston; Gazette of the United States, and Philadelphia Daily Advertiser, June 15, 1798).

3This “address,” which is dated May 3, 1798, was from the citizens of New Bern, North Carolina. It is printed in the Gazette of the United States, and Philadelphia Daily Advertiser, May 22, 1798. Richard Dobbs Spaight was governor of North Carolina from 1792 to 1795.

4The “address” from the citizens of Norfolk, Virginia, is dated May 10, 1798, and is printed in the Gazette of the United States, and Philadelphia Daily Advertiser, May 19, 1798.

5This address, which was prepared at a “meeting of Capt. Bernard Magnien’s Company of Grenadiers, at … Portsmouth [Virginia] the 5th of May, ’98,” reads in part: “That we view with extreme concern, the attempts that are evidently making by men high in authority, to widen the breach between the United States and the French Republic, by holding up to the good people of these states, the late unworthy propositions of certain unauthorized persons at Paris, as the act of the French government, when, in reality, the face of the dispatches cannot warrant any such conclusions.

“That we cannot but view the man, or set of men, as inimical to the Rights of the People and the sound principle of their self-government, who shall endeavour, by any false colouring, to give the stamp of authenticity to that which is in itself extremely doubtful and problematical: and who shall, by such means, strive to involve us in all the calamities of war with the most powerful Republic on earth.

“That without reference to our well founded complaints, or to occurances fresh in the memory of us all, nothing can be more abhorrent to our feelings, than the idea of being by such a war driven into an alliance with a nation which is at present unhappily under the guidance of the most foul and corrupt government upon earth.” (Gazette of the United States, and Philadelphia Daily Advertiser, May 16, 1798.)

For the debate in the House of Representatives on this address, see 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 , VIII, 1707–24.

6The “manager” was John F. Mercer, a former Republican member of the House of Representatives from Maryland, who had played a prominent role in opposing H’s fiscal policies in 1792. See the introductory note to H to Mercer, September 26, 1792. See also David Ross to H, October 16, 1797. On April 10, 1798, “At a numerous Meeting of the Freeholders and other inhabitants of Spotsylvania County” in Fredericksburg, Virginia, it was resolved: “… We heartily depricate any measure which may be so offensive, as to close the door of reconciliation, and mar all future prospects of accomodation; in this view, whilst we doubt the constitutionality of that part of the President’s message, which permits armed vessels to be cleared, we trust that as the constitution has given the Power of Declaring War to Congress alone, the Representatives of the People will not be influenced in their deliberations by a personal consideration, but by those only, which involve the Happiness and Dearest Interests of their Country.

“… That Peace with France, upon any terms, less than an abandonment of our Rights as a Free People, is preferable to a Connection with England upon terms, that would embark our Interests and Happiness in the same bottom with her’s, and eventually subject us to the same Despotism, Corruption and Bankruptcy, under which she is now labouring.

“… That viewing the calamities which will ensue from a War with France, we are led to apprehend the aid that such an event would afford to the unremitted exertions of the Enemies of Republicanism, in the United States, before our government is matured, and its principles permanently established, by a liberal and correct construction of its Constitution, and fearfully to anticipate, that it would give additional and unconstitutional weight to Executive Influence, always most prompt and active to acquire Power in the time of War.

“… That to an enlightened People, every information ought to be afforded by those in Power, which can ameliorate the unhappy difference, that subsists between America and her Sister Republic; that if there be just cause for War they may be convinced of it and not pressed into measures, which can never be effectual, without unanimity; but must expose our Country to all the misfortunes that usually befal a divided People, and finally end in all the horrors of a Civil War and consequent Despotism.” ([Fredericksburg] Virginia Herald, April 14, 1798.)

7James Jackson was governor of Georgia from January 12, 1798, to March 3, 1801.

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