From Rufus King
Lond. Dec. 19 1798
The same uncertainty continues to perplex us concerning the Recommencement of the war. One day we are told that Naples has really begun & that Austria is on the way to support her; the next, that Naples is kept back by Austria to whom the Directory have made the most Advantageous offers. It is certain that france feels the change that has within the last six months taken place in Europe and is extremely anxious to defeat the projected Coalition.1 Prussia observed & seems inclined to adhere to the same cautious policy that for some time has governed her administration.
Poor Spain is compleatly under the influence of the Directory, and however strange it may Seem the King who most cordially hates England shed tears and was inconsolable on the news of Nelsons victory. Portugal is threatened with a war with Spain unless she concludes a Peace on the Terms of the Directory.
There is great discontents in many of the french Departments, but still the Levy of the New Requisition proceeds. The Insurrection of Brabant extends itself,2 but tho it will give the Directory some trouble, cannot prove successful unless the war soon recommences. Mr. Grenville an Elder Brother of the Minister, has gone on a special mission to Berlin.3 He is said to be very clever, and has heretofore refused to go into the diplomatic course. Unless favorable circumstances of success exist, one wd. scarcely believe that the Minister would just now have employed his Brother. The french will lose all their Islands trade & influence in the mediterranean. Minorca has been taken by the English,4 Malta must fall. Corsica will probably expel the french, tho England will not again accept of their capricious allegiance. Zante, Cerigo & Cephalonia, & probably Corfu have fallen into the Hands of the Turks & Russians.5
A Report from Constantinople states that Buonaparte has been assassinated; tho probable, it wants Confirmation.6 Mr Pitt will be supported in the tax of 10. per C. on the income of the Nation;7 indeed the People appear firm & resolved to support the Govt. & the prosperity of their manufactures & Trade enable them to do so.
P. S. I make you my hearty congratulations on the Settlement of the Question of Rank.8
ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
1. This is a reference to the steps leading to the formation of the Second Coalition against France. On December 24, 1798, Russia and Great Britain formed an alliance to which Austria, Naples, Portugal, and the Ottoman Empire adhered.
2. On November 10, 1798, The [London] Times reported: “Private letters from Holland mention, that very serious disturbances have taken place in the Low Countries, in consequence of the Agents of the French Directory having attempted to enforce the last requisition in the Provinces in Brabant. In several places the French troops sent to enforce the requisition have been murdered. At Antwerp in particular, the Tree of Liberty has been cut down, and much blood has been spilt there. The people at Mechlin have shown the same opposition, and both towns have been declared in a state of siege. The greatest discontent prevails in Brabant and Flanders, the people being universally tired of the French Government.”
3. On December 6, 1798, The [London] Times announced the selection of Thomas Grenville for “an important mission to Berlin,” and on December 17 the same paper reported his departure for Berlin.
4. For the reports of the British capture of Minorca, see The [London] Times, December 6, 10, 1798.
5. On December 10, 1798, The [London] Times reported: “The following appears to be the general result of the intelligence received by the German and French papers:
“The Russian and Turkish fleets have taken the small Islands of Cerigo, or Cytherea, and also the Island of Zante.… Another division of these combined fleets went against Provera, which was taken after a short resistance, and the French garrison made prisoners.
“The above squadrons are understood to be about to form an attack on the Islands of Corfu and Cephalonia.”
This report was incorrect, for it was not until May 1799, that a Russian-Turkish fleet was able to conquer the Ionian Islands from the French.
6. On December 15, 1798, The [London] Times reported: “These letters [from Constantinople] state that General Buonoparte having been made acquainted with the intentions of the Arab Chief, Mourad Bay, who was marching towards Cairo, with a very considerable force to attack him, summoned a Council of War, to which some of the leading men among the natives, who professed friendship to his views, as well as all the superior of his own army were invited to attend.…
“Buonaparte having opened the business of the meeting, a Gentleman from Tripoli, who was present, drew a pistol and shot Buonaparte dead on the spot. The native officers followed the example of the Tripolitan Gentleman, by falling on the other French officers, all of whom were put to death.”
7. On December 4, 1798, The [London] Times reported: “Yesterday afternoon Mr. Pitt brought forward in the House of Commons, his new Plan of Finance, which … is to be a Tax upon Income, instead of upon Expenditures. The Assessed Taxes are to be altogether abolished; and in lieu of them, every Person is to contribute to the burthens of the State, according to his actual means and property. The parsimonious man will have to contribute in common with the man of more liberal principles and expenditure. The scale of contribution is to be similar to that which was last year adopted for the Assessed Taxes. The man enjoying 60 £ a year is to pay the 1-20th part of his income; and this proportion will rise gradually to an income of 200 £ when the contribution will be 1-10th part.” On December 12 the same paper stated: “We are led to believe that there will not be any serious opposition to the new Tax Bill on Income.” See King to H, November 9, 1798, note 7.