Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Timothy Pickering, 9 February 1799

From Timothy Pickering1


Philadelphia Feby. 9. 1799.

Dear Sir,

The law prohibiting intercourse with the French Dominions is renewed, and extended to the 3d of March 1800.2 The material variation from the former law3 consists in the authority given to the President to open the intercourse with any part of those dominions when the safety and interest of the U. States will admit of it. This authority is comprised in the 4th section, a copy of which I inclose.4

I suppose every body understands the main object of this provision is to open the commercial intercourse with St. Domingo. Toussaint’s agent, Mr. Bunel,5 and our Consul, Mr. Meyer6 who accompanied him at Toussant’s request, will now speedily return to the Cape, where Toussaint is impatient to receive them, with information of the views and determination of our government.7

The President sees the immense advantages of the commerce of that Island, and will undoubtedly give to the act as liberal a construction as will be politically expedient. Toussaint, if certain of our commerce, will, Meyer assures me, declare the whole island of St. Domingo independent; confident in his power to defend it, provided we will allow of a free commercial intercourse, by which the islanders may exchange their productions for the supplies our vessels will carry to them. This act of independence I fully expect; & I persuade myself that Great Britain will consent to share in it; and that Genl. Maitland has made some arrangement with Toussaint for that purpose.8

Under these circumstances, my great anxiety is, That Toussaint & his Chief9 may fix on a practicable & efficient plan for administering the government of the Island, and settling the right of succession to the Chief command (it cannot be a republic)—and establishing a simple plan of Finance that shall insure to him the means of supporting an army, & the government. If you can turn your attention to this subject & favour me with your ideas of the most eligible schemes, I shall be very much obliged. To what we advise, Toussaint would listen.


T. Pickering.

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

1For background to this letter, see Rufus King to H, January 21, 1799, notes 5 and 7.

2“An Act further to suspend the Commercial Intercourse between the United States and France, and the dependencies thereof” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 613–16 [February 9, 1799]).

3“An Act to suspend the commercial intercourse between the United States and France, and the dependencies thereof” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 565–66 [June 13, 1798]).

4Copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

5Joseph Bunel had arrived in Philadelphia on December 19, 1798 ([Philadelphia] Aurora. General Advertiser, December 28, 1798).

6George Washington had nominated “Jacob Mayer, a native citizen of Pennsylvania, to be Consul of the United States at the port of Cape François and its dependencies in the Island of St. Domingo” on May 30, 1796, and the Senate had confirmed the nomination the next day (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 213).

7François Dominique Toussaint L’Ouverture hoped to secure some modification of the act of June 13, 1798. See note 3. As Pickering indicates in the first paragraph of the letter printed above, Toussaint was partially successful in attaining this objective. For Toussaint’s proposals for the resumption of trade between Santo Domingo and the United States, see Toussaint to John Adams, November 6, 1798 (LC, RG 59, Consular Letters, Cape Haytien, Vol. I, National Archives).

8This is a reference to Thomas Maitland’s secret treaty with Toussaint. See King to H, January 21, 1799, note 7.

9This is a reference to Benoit Joseph Rigaud.

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