Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Theodore Sedgwick, 25 February 1799

From Theodore Sedgwick 1

Phila. 25. feby. 1799

Dear sir

The comee. to whom was refered the Prests. message, nominating Mr. Murray, had a free conversation with him on saturday evening, under the protestation that it should not be mentioned in the report nor considered as a precedent.2 During the conversation he declared, repeatedly, that to defend the executive against Oligarchic influence, it was indispensable, that he should insist, on a decision on the nomination; and he added, “I have on mature reflection made up my mind, & I will neither withdraw, nor modify the nomination.” He was, however, pleased to Let us know, that, if Murray was negatived, he would then propose a commission, two of the members of which should be Gentlemen within the U.S. That the commission should be joint; but, that by instructions, any two should be authorised to act—and that in no case should the Gentlemen be permitted to leave the country, untill the positive assurances mentioned in his message of the 21st. of June shall have been given.3 In consequence of these declarations at a meeting of the federal members, it was agreed to reject the nomination. I had already formed a report & was ready to make it when I was privately informed, that he wished I would postpone the report, as he was preparing a message on the subject. That is this moment delivered—is on the principles he had mentioned & the persons named are the Ch. Justice, Patrick Henry & Mr. Murray,4 This is every thing which, under the circumstances, could be done.5 I have written the above during debate. I hope it is intelligible. I am sincerely yours

Theodore Sedgwick

Pray is any thing done in my suit against Morris & Wadsworth? Let me know.6

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1For background to this letter, see Sedgwick to H, February 19, 22, 1799; Timothy Pickering to H, February 25, 1799.

2There is little agreement on what actually occurred at the conference. For Adams’s version of the meeting, which he wrote in 1809, see Adams, Works of John Adams description begins Charles Francis Adams The Works of John Adams (Boston, 1850–1856). description ends , IX, 248–50. For a quite different recollection of what took place, see Richard Stockton to Pickering, January 1, 1822 (ALS, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston).

3Sedgwick is referring to the following statement Adams made to Congress on June 21, 1798: “I will never send another Minister to France, without assurances that he will be received, respected, and honored as the representative of a great, free, powerful, and independent nation” (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, 2029).

4On February 25, 1799, Adams sent the following message to the Senate: “The proposition of a fresh negotiation with France, in consequence of advances made by the French government, has excited so general an attention, and so much conversation, as to have given occasion to many manifestations of the public opinion, from which it appears to me, that a new modification of the embassy will give more general satisfaction to the legislature, and to the nation, and perhaps better answer the purposes we have in view.

“It is upon this supposition, and with this expectation, that I now nominate,

“Oliver Ellsworth, Esq. Chief Justice of the United States;

“Patrick Henry, Esq. late Governor of Virginia;

“and William Vans Murray, Esq. our Minister resident at the Hague, to be Envoys Extraordinary and Ministers Plenipotentiary to the French Republic, with full powers to discuss and settle, by a treaty, all controversies between the United States and France.

“It is not intended that the two former of these gentlemen shall embark for Europe, until they shall have received from the Executive Directory, assurances, signified by their Secretary of Foreign Relations, that they shall be received in character; that they shall enjoy all the prerogatives attached to that character by the law of nations; and that a Minister or Ministers, of equal powers, shall be appointed and commissioned to treat with them.” (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 317.)

On February 27, 1799, the Senate approved the nominations of Ellsworth, Henry, and Murray (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 319). Henry, however, declined the appointment because of his “advanced age & encreasing debility” (Henry to Pickering, April 16, 1799 [ALS, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston]). In May, 1799, Adams decided to nominate William R. Davie, Federalist governor of North Carolina, to replace Henry (Adams to Pickering, May 8, 1799 [LC, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston]), and on June 1, 1799, Pickering sent Davie his commission (ALS, letterpress copy, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston). Because the Senate was not in session when Davie was appointed, it did not approve his appointment until December 10, 1799 (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 326, 327).

5On March 1, 1799, Robert Liston described these events to Lord Grenville as follows: “The President of the United States, after an interval of a few days and before the Select Committee of the Senate had come to any resolution respecting the nomination of Mr Murray as Minister Plenipotentiary to France, was prevailed upon by the advice and intreaties of his friends to send a second message to the Senate proposing a modification of the obnoxious step, which seems calculated in some degree to obviate the bad consequences that were apprehended from it.

“It was represented to Mr Adams that admitting the measure in itself to be wise and seasonable still the choice made of a negociator was liable to objections. That Mr Murray though a Gentleman of good parts and education and of amiable manners did not possess all that experience, firmness and dexterity, which appeared to be requisite for the conduct of such an important business at a distance which rendered it impossible to receive new instructions from home on the occurrence of any difficulty. The President has joined with him in a new nomination Mr Oliver Ellsworth, Chief Justice of the United States, and Mr Patrick Henry, late Governor of Virginia, Gentlemen of great respectability and distinguished talents.

“In the message first communicating the nomination of Mr Murray to the Senate, Mr Adams had mentioned that that Gentleman was not to leave the Hague until he (Mr Murray) did receive from the Executive Directory of France assurances that a Minister of equal rank had been appointed and empowered to treat with him—and from the professions made by M. de Talleyrand’s letter to the French Chargé d’affaires at the Hague and communicated to Mr Murray, there was little doubt that this condition would immediately be complied with at Paris. On nominating Mr Elsworth and Mr Henry the President said that they shall not embark for Europe until formal ministerial assurances shall be received here that they shall meet with a proper reception—a circumstance which will necessarily occasion considerable delay.

“It is also uncertain that either of the Gentlemen now designated will accept the Commission. By the time that a refusal from thence can be received, the Session of Congress (which ends on the 4th of this month) will be closed. And it is expected that after what has passed, Mr Adams may decline availing himself of his constitutional power to make a new appointment during the recess.

“The object of the friends of government, which is to defeat the measure altogether, may thus possibly be in effect obtained.” (PRO: F.O. [Great Britain] description begins Public Record Office of Great Britain. description ends 5/25A/96–97.)

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