Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Theodore Sedgwick, 13 May 1800

From Theodore Sedgwick

Phila. 13 May 1800

Dear Sir

Yours of the 10th. I recd. yesterday. The events in the executive department1 you know. Their effects, on the federal party, are such as you can as well determine by reflection, as I could detail. Would to Heaven you was here, but it is too late.

There shall be a meeting of such men who remain here,2 and who can be perfectly confided in. I will inform you of the result. Every tormenting passion rankles in the bosom of that weak & frantic old man, but I have good reason for beleiving that Pickering & McHenry have been sacraficed as peace offerings.3 I am, at present, of opinion that no decided measures should be taken till I see you.

Ever & sincerely yours,

Theodore Sedgwick

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1These “events” were the resignation of of James McHenry as Secretary of War and the dismissal of Timothy Pickering as Secretary of State. For the resignation of McHenry, see McHenry to H, May 12, 1800, note 2; May 13, 1800. On May 10, 1800, John Adams wrote to Pickering: “As I perceive a necessity of introducing a change in the administration of the office of State, I think it proper to make this communication of it to the present Secretary of State, that he may have an opportunity of resigning, if he choses. I should wish the day, on which his resignation is to take place, to be named by himself. I wish for an answer to this letter on or before Monday Morning, because the nomination of a successor must be sent to the Senate, as soon as they sit” (LC, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston). Pickering refused to resign (Pickering to Adams, May 12, 1800 [ALS, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston]), and on May 12, 1800, Adams wrote to Pickering: “Divers causes & considerations, essential to the administration of the government in my judgment, requiring a change in the Department of State, you are hereby discharged from any further service as Secretary of State” (LC, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston).

2On May 16, 1800, the [Philadelphia] Aurora. General Advertiser reported: “CAUCUSES Were held on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings [May 13 and 14], at the lodgings of Mr. Jacob Read, near Mr. [William] Bingham’s, at which Timothy Pickering and Governeur Morris, were the most prominent characters—Mr. McHenry has very laudably given up the faction, and means to retire to the shades of tranquility and the pursuits of science, on his Estate in Maryland.

“A meeting exhibiting so much of the sombre and the dire—of aspects horrid and of minds dismayed, has been rarely seen saving in the sublime conceptions of Milton or Dante:—it was a conclave where Lucifer and Meloeb were indeed personified.

“We several weeks ago gave a dissection of the political parties which composed the Senate—at that period, few were aware of the importance of that display; at a future day we shall exhibit the parties by names, and shew the changes which have taken place, and endeavor to develope the causes of the recent dismission.

“The three parties are now known by their designations.

The Republicans,

The Adamites,

The Pickeronians.

“The latter party consists of those who have leagued with Hamilton—and are easily designated by their English connexions, by politics—education—secret views—family connexions—or the destitutions of real moral character.

“We candidly confess that we have had no communication concerning their proceedings, for several of those who were at the famous caucus at Mr. Bingham’s were not invited to Mr. Read’s.”

For information concerning the presidential campaign of 1800, see H to Theodore Sedgwick, May 4, 1800.

3Many Federalists opposed to Adams were convinced that he and Thomas Jefferson had become secret allies. Adams was supposed to have promised to make certain sweeping changes in personnel in the executive branch of the Government; Jefferson allegedly agreed to support the policies of the Adams administration, and according to some versions, to put off running for the presidency again until 1804. There were many other rumors concerning the nature of the alleged alliance, and one report even went so far as to state that Aaron Burr had served as Jefferson’s representative in the negotiations with Adams (Abigail Adams to John Adams, May 23, 1800 [ALS, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston]). The anti-Adams Federalists had no specific evidence to substantiate the existence of a deal or coalition, but they based their suspicions on three unrelated developments. First, the [Philadelphia] Aurora. General Advertiser on March 6 and May 9, 1800, contained reports which indicated that it knew in advance that Pickering would be dismissed. From this the anti-Adams Federalists concluded that if the leading organ of the opposition had such information, it must have been supplied by Jefferson or his political associates who in turn had been told the news by Adams. In the second place, because Jefferson had remained in Philadelphia longer than was his custom, the anti-Adams Federalists were convinced that he had stayed in the city to negotiate with the President. Finally, they were alarmed by reports that in April, 1800, Samuel Smith, a Republican member of the House of Representatives from Maryland, had made an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate with Adams.

Pickering was certain that he had been dismissed because of a bargain between Adams and Jefferson, and on May 27, 1800, he wrote to John Pickering: “From the information of many gentlemen, it appeared that this act of the President gave a very general shock to the federalists, and excited much public resentment. The Jacobins had known the plan several days before. It was spoken of at some of their tables; and ⟨published⟩ in the Aurora; with this difference, that I was to ‘resign’, and General Marshall to succeed me. This, and many other circumstances, prove incontestibly that the change has been made in concert with Mr. Jefferson. The latter remained in town till within a day of the close of the session of Congress, always before, he left town from one to two weeks prior to the rising of Congress. He was seen going into the Presidents on the morning on which I refused to resign—and it is said at many other times the preceeding week. Some of Mr. Jefferson’s party (one in the House, the other in the Senate) I am assured, said there was a coalition. I was well informed that Mr. Jefferson wrote to General Marshall (who was on his way to Virginia) urging him to accept the office of Secretary of State. His answer is not yet recd …” (ALS, letterpress copy, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston). See also Pickering to Timothy Williams, May 19, 1800 (ADfS, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston); Pickering to Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, May 25, 1800; Pickering to Benjamin Goodhue, May 26, 1800 (both copies in Pickering’s handwriting, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston); Pickering to Rufus King, May 28, 1800 (King, The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King description begins Charles R. King, ed., The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King (New York, 1894–1900). description ends , III, 248–49); Pickering to Timothy Pickering, Jr., June 27, 1800 (ALS, letterpress copy, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston); George Cabot to King, May 28, 1800 (King, The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King description begins Charles R. King, ed., The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King (New York, 1894–1900). description ends , III, 249–50).

Samuel Smith’s unsuccessful attempt to confer with Adams is described in a letter which Benjamin Stoddert wrote to Adams on October 27, 1811. In this letter Stoddert stated: “A Day or two before the New York election [for which the polls closed on May 1, 1800], in which Col [Aaron] Burr exerted himself with so much success as to produce a result that disappointed every body—and at a moment when members of Congress, & all about the Govt believed that City would be entirely Federal, Genl Smith & a Senator of high standing, called on me at my office, & expressed their satisfaction with most of your measures, though disapproving of some, which they seemed disposed either to ascribe to the influence of others, than to you, and signified a desire to have a Friendly interview with you, & asked my opinion if such an interview would be agreeable. My reply in substance was, that I would not doubt it—but that I would speak to you on the subject, & let them know.

“It so happened that I did not speak to you before the result of the New York election was known in Phila. This result afforded Mr Jefferson a prospect of the Presidential chair, he seemed not to have had before. But for this result, I question whether it would not have been decided about that time by his Friends, to suspend his pretensions, for four years longer, and that their support, if from no other motive, for the chance of having influence in your admn. should be given to you. If I never afterward mentioned to you my visit from the Genl & the Senator, it was because I thought I perceived, that their views had changed, with the change of prospect occasioned by the result of the New York election. They spoke to me no more—and I am very confident they avoided you.” (ALS, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.)

Although Smith had spoken in confidence to Stoddert, some of his contemporaries soon knew about his proposal to the Secretary of the Navy. At the very least, Smith had told his brother Robert about it, and the latter, who was a prominent Maryland Republican and state legislator, had told others. Some years after these events Pickering went to considerable trouble to collect and publish statements indicating that in 1800 Robert Smith and others had known the gist of Samuel Smith’s conversation with Stoddert (Pickering, Letters Addressed to the People of the United States of America, on the Conduct of the Past and Present Administrations of the American Government, Towards Great Britain and France [London: Reprinted for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, Paternoster-Row, 1811], 31–37; Pickering, A Review of the Correspondence between the Hon. John Adams, Late President of the United States, and the Late Wm. Cunningham, Esq. Beginning in 1803, and Ending in 1812 [Salem: Cushing and Appleton, 1824], 89–93). But the information supplied by Pickering is largely irrelevant, for the important facts are that Adams did not learn of Smith’s proposals until 1811 (Adams to Stoddert, October 15, 1811; Adams to Samuel Smith, November 25, December 13, 1811; Adams to Robert Smith, November 25, December 6, 1811 [all letterbook copies, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston]), and no evidence has been found even to suggest that Jefferson had authorized Smith to act on his behalf.

The Federalist press ignored reports of a bargain between Jefferson and Adams until June 2, 1800, when The [Trenton] Federalist; or New-Jersey Gazette under the heading of “CORRECT INFORMATION” wrote: “The extraordinary events of our Federal Cabinet, have employed much conjecture, and led to many rash conclusions. It is asked, has Mr. Adams forsaken his friends, his supporters, and even his own principles? Unthinking and weak partizans of the administration, ascribe all to a dereliction of system—but it is not so: John Adams is yet the friend of order, the lover of his country, and the firm advocate of American honor and independence: His conduct, at this crisis, is evidently the result of a political arrangement with Mr. Jefferson—an arrangement of the most mysterious and important complexion. Mr. Adams perceiving that his re-election would be doubtful, and desirous, if possible, to devise a scheme, which might reunite the American people in the bonds of mutual confidence and friendship, conceived the project of bringing over Mr. Jefferson to the adoption of a political plan, which should, on the one hand put down the oligarchy of the present councils, and on the other, effectually disappoint the ambitious and disorganizing views of the Demagogues and Democrats. It is not proper to enter far into the particulars of this scheme: Let it suffice to observe, that the two chiefs have come to an agreement, on certain fixed equivalents, to produce a common interest, which shall place them again in the seats of magistracy, and produce a neutralization of the two great contending parties. Mr. Adams, as a pledge on his part, has made, and will make further, sacrifices of those who have become obnoxious to the opposition—On the other hand, Mr. Jefferson has agreed to a declaration of the most solemn nature, and attested beyond a possibility of denial, to support the great and leading measures of the existing and preceding administration; to discard, in case of his election, those violent partizans of opposition, who expect from him the highest favours; in particular [Albert] Gallatin, [Wilson Cary] Nicholas, [William B.] Giles, [Aaron] Burr; all the Livingstons, and many others, by name, are proscribed; and many federalists are positively secured from removal, and many others selected for promotion—Mr. Hamilton will be secretary of state, if he chooses &c. &c. Such is the outlines of this famous coalition. It is certainly, however meant, a visionary project. It can never succeed—it will end in the disappointment, if not disgrace, of these great politicians—the people will never submit to such a bargain and sale. It is not to be doubted, Mr. Adams, in this affair, has been actuated by pure motives—but he is completely betrayed—Jefferson, will never stand to the bargain, nor will Mr. Adams gain one vote with that party. In short, the people will have nothing to do with this scheme; they will yet support Mr. Adams, even against himself; and, fixing their election on him and General Pinckney, disappoint the artifices of the Virginia Philosopher, and his greedy satelites. Procul, O procul este profani!” Among Federalist papers reprinting this article were The NewYork Gazette and General Advertiser, June 5, 1800, and The [Hartford] Connecticut Courant, June 9, 1800. It was also reprinted in the [Philadelphia] Aurora. General Advertiser, June 7, 1800, which also wrote: “… It [the report from The [Trenton] Federalist] is a naked and unsubstantiated assertion, destitute of all proof, and the facts stated to have existence, are so heterogeneous, incongrous, and so completely deficient in wisdom and design, that it is impossible to conceive that any two men of common sense would ever form such a project.” In the Letter from Alexander Hamilton, Concerning the Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, Esq. President of the United States, October 24, 1800, H hints at a connection between Pickering’s dismissal and “the opposition party,” but then adds that this was a “mere conjecture.”

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