Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Theodore Sedgwick, 19 February 1799

From Theodore Sedgwick

Philadelphia 19th. Feby. 1799

My dear sir

The President yesterday, sent the Senate a nomination of Mr Murray1 to be appointed Minister plenipy. to the french republic, accompanied by a letter, from Talleyrand to the Secy. of the french legation at Amsterdam.2 By this letter it appears, that for some time, communications have been made to Mr. Murray, of the friendly dispositions of the french Govt. towards this Country, & it contains assurances that any minister from America will be received & treated with the respect due to the Representative of a great powerful & independent nation. I have neither time nor inclination to detail all the false & insidious declarations it contains. This measure, important & mischievous as it is, was the result of presidential wisdom without the knowledge of, or any intimation to, any one of the administration. Had the foulest heart & the ablest head in the world, been permited to select the most embarrassing and ruinous measure, perhaps, it would have been precisely, the one, which has been adopted. In the dilemma to which we are reduced, whether we approve or reject the nomination, evils only, certain, great, but in extent incalculable, present themselves. This would be true was Mr. Murray the ablest negotiator in christendom—but with all his virtues he is feeble and guarded, credulous & unimpressive. I have not yet decided ultimately what I shall do. At present the nomination must be postponed.3

I am much obliged to you for the copy you sent me of the report4—it is excellent. I have made the best use of it in my power. I am with sincerity your friend

Theodore Sedgwick

Genl Hamilton

LS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1William Vans Murray, a Maryland lawyer and Federalist politician, was a member of the House of Representatives from 1791 to 1797. In March, 1797, he was appointed “Minister resident of the United States of America, to the United Netherlands” (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 228).

In his message to the Senate nominating Murray to be Minister Plenipotentiary to France, John Adams stated: “If the Senate shall advise and consent to his appointment, effectual care shall be taken, in his instructions, that he shall not go to France without direct and unequivocal assurances, from the French government, signified by their Minister of Foreign Relations [Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord], that he shall be received in character; shall enjoy the privileges attached to his character by the law of nations; and that a Minister of equal rank, title, and powers, shall be appointed to treat with him, to discuss and conclude all controversies between the two Republics by a new treaty” (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 313).

2Talleyrand’s letter, which is dated September 28, 1798, and is addressed to “Citizen [Louis André] Pichon, Secretary of Legation of the French Republic near the Batavian Republic,” reads: “I have received successively, Citizen, your letters of the 22d and 27th Fructidor (8th and 13th of September). They afford me more and more reason to be pleased with the measure you have adopted, to detail to me your conversations with Mr. Murray. These conversations, at first merely friendly, have acquired consistency, by the sanction I have given to them by my letter of the 11th Fructidor [August 28]. I do not regret that you have trusted to Mr. Murray’s honor a copy of my letter: it was intended for you only, and contains nothing but what is conformable to the intentions of government. I am thoroughly convinced that should explanations take place, with confidence between the two Cabinets, irritation would cease; a crowd of misunderstandings would disappear; and the ties of friendship would be the more strongly united, as each party would discover the hand which sought to disunite them.

“But I will not conceal from you that your letters of the 2d and 3d Vendemiaire [September 23 and 24], just received, surprise me much. What Mr. Murray is still dubious of, has been very explicitly declared, even before the President’s message to Congress, of the 3d Messidor [June 21] last, was known in France. I had written it to Mr. [Elbridge] Gerry, namely, on the 24th Messidor [July 12] and 4th Thermidor [July 22]; I did repeat it to him before he sat out. A whole paragraph of my letter to you, of the 11th Fructidor, of which Mr. Murray has a copy, is devoted to develop still more the fixed determination of the French government. According to these bases, you were right to assert, that, whatever Plenipotentiary the government of the United States might send to France to put an end to the existing differences between the two countries, would be undoubtedly received with the respect due to the representative of a free, independent, and powerful nation.

“I cannot persuade myself, Citizen, that the American government need any further declarations from us, to induce them, in order to renew the negotiations, to adopt such measures as would be suggested to them by their desire to bring the differences to a peaceable end. If misunderstandings on both sides have prevented former explanations from reaching that end, it is presumable that those misunderstandings being done away, nothing henceforth will bring obstacles to the reciprocal dispositions. The President’s instructions to his Envoys at Paris, which I have only known by the copy given you by Mr. Murray, and received by me the 21st Messidor, (9th July) announce, if they contain the whole of the American government’s intentions, dispositions which could only have added to those which the Directory has always entertained; and, notwithstanding the posterior acts of that government—notwithstanding the irritating and almost hostile measures they have adopted—the Directory has manifested its perseverance in the sentiments which are deposited both in my correspondence with Mr. Gerry, and in my letter to you of the 11th Fructidor; and which I have herein-before repeated in the most explicit manner. Carry, therefore, Citizen, to Mr. Murray the most positive expressions, in order to convince him of our sincerity, and prevail upon him to transmit them to his government.…” (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 313–14.)

A copy in French and a translation of Talleyrand’s letter were enclosed in Murray to Adams, October 7, 1798 (ALS, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston).

3In describing the reaction to Murray’s nomination, Robert Liston, the British Minister to the United States, wrote to Lord Grenville, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, on February 22, 1799: “The federal party were thunderstruck with this step which to say the least of it appears to have been at the same time precipitate and unseasonable. It was taken by Mr Adams without the advice, indeed without the knowlege, of the Secretary of State or the other members of the Administration, and without consultation with any of his own political friends. It was not only of a nature to be generally obnoxious to the support of government, and calculated to damp the ardour of the nation, which he himself had contributed so much to raise, but it had a particular tendency to check those measures of energy which were at the moment under the consideration of the House of Representatives, and to prevent that assembly from placing the Country in the respectable state of waiting preparation which would have been highly expedient even if a pacifick negotiation had been previously resolved on.

“This unfavourable effect was indeed felt in the Lower House. A Bill was under debate for the encouragement of the armed Ships of the United States by granting a premium on every gun taken from the French. An opposition Member of the Senate the moment the message of the President communicating his nomination of a Minister to France was received hastened to the House of Representatives, and imparted the intelligence to his friends. The consequence was that a man of some weight (Mr Josiah Parker of Virginia) who is an adherent to the popular party but is not accustomed in certain leading questions to support the Administration, rose and stated that although he had been all along an advocate for measures of that nature, and for the one before the House in particular, he would now oppose it, since the news he had just heard convinced him it was no longer necessary. The question was accordingly lost.

“The first idea among the federal members of the Senate was to refuse their sanction to the nomination of Mr Murray. The appearance however of a scission among the branches of the executive power was afflicting to the more moderate and patriotick members; and after a long consultation upon the subject in a general meeting of the friends of government it was resolved to avoid an immediate decision, to refer the consideration of the measure to a select committee (which, as the members are chosen by ballot, would of course consist of federal men) and by the delay of a few days to give the President time to reflect on what he had done, and to listen to the remonstrances of his friends—in hopes that he may finally be brought to withdraw the nomination—or so to modify the appointment as to render the measure less obnoxious and less mortifying to the feelings of those who have a regard for the honour of the Country.” (PRO: F.O. [Great Britain] description begins Public Record Office of Great Britain. description ends 5/25A/93–94.)

4This report, which has not been found, concerned the case of Thomas Morris and James Wadsworth v William Bacon. See Sedgwick to H, February 4, 1798; H to Sedgwick, January 25, 1799.

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