Extract from Rufus King to Alexander Hamilton
New York 11th Apr. [i.e., ca. 9 Apr. 1791]
Mr. Elliot, who, it has been said, was appointed, will not come to America; owing, say his friends here, to a disinclination on his part, that has arisen from the death of his eldest, or only son. Mr. Seaton yesterday read me an extract of a letter from London, dated Feb. 2. and written as he observed by a man of information, which says ‘Mr. Fraser is appointed Plenipotentiary to the U. S. of America, and will go out as soon as it is ascertained here that a correspondent character is appointed in America.’ Although Mr. Elliot might not have been altogether adequate to the appointment, yet he would not have been a bad choice: it is questionable whether we can say even as much as that for Mr. Fraser, who is probably the gentleman lately resident with the Hanse towns, and formerly Consul at Algiers, and who is said to be a wrong-headed impetuous man. Should the information be correct, the appointment is not only unpromising, but it is also a pretty strong proof of the misguided opinions of the British administration concerning this country. Yours most sincerely,
Tr (DNA: RG 59, MLR); entirely in TJ’s hand. The recipient is not identified except in TJ’s covering letter to Washington. The letter from which this passage was extracted has not been found, but it is clear that TJ erred in dating it the 11th. It was on that day that Hamilton himself sent the same extract to Washington and made it available to TJ (Hamilton to Washington, 11 Apr. 1791, Syrett, Hamilton description begins The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett and others, New York, 1961–1979, 27 vols. description ends , viii, 277). Hence King’s letter presumably was dated about two days earlier. TJ’s transcript of the extract varies in a few minor details from that sent by Hamilton to Washington.
It seems clear that when the Cabinet met at TJ’s house on the 11th Hamilton laid before the group the extract from a letter he had just received from Rufus King. It is not so clear why he should have disclosed information which proved to be incorrect and which contained King’s allusion to the misguided opinions of the British ministry. A plausible explanation for this would seem to be that Hamilton was keenly aware of the view held by Washington which he made manifest in transmitting to the Senate at the close of the session the report on Gouverneur Morris’ mission (see Editorial Note and group of documents at 15 Dec. 1790). TJ’s concurring attitude had long since been made evident to Hamilton and others. The revelation of King’s assessment may therefore have been made as a gesture of agreement that did not exist. While TJ told Washington he thought the news of the appointment of a minister was without foundation, Hamilton gave no opinion when he transmitted the extract to Washington. He did say, however, that nothing else had happened other than what his official dispatch contained (the dispatch dealt with the call of the Cabinet meeting to discuss the revision of Short’s instructions; Hamilton to Washington, 10 Apr. 1791, Syrett, Hamilton description begins The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett and others, New York, 1961–1979, 27 vols. description ends , VIII, 269). But much was happening during the week of the 11th of April in which the hand of the Secretary of the Treasury was felt—the meeting of the Cabinet with the hidden object of assisting Robert Morris to make a purchase of Indian lands, the projection of plans for a nationally supported manufacturing establishment, and the sanctioning if not the prompting of Tench Coxe’s candidacy for the office of Comptroller.
For comment on Andrew Elliot and others who were being reported as chosen or under consideration for appointment as minister to the United States, see Editorial Note and group of documents at 15 Dec. 1790.