Thomas Jefferson Papers

Notes on Conversations with John Beckley and George Washington, 7 June 1793

Notes on Conversations with
John Beckley and George Washington

June. 7. 93. Mr. Beckley, who is returned from N. York within a few days, tells me that while he was there Sr. John Temple, Consul genl. of the Northern states for Gr. Br. shewed him a letter from Sr. Gregory Page Turner a member of parliament for a borough in Yorkshire, who he said had been a member for 25 years, and always confidential for the ministers, in which he permitted him to read particular passages of the following purport ‘that the government were well apprised of the predominancy of the British interest in the US. That they considered Colo. Hamilton, Mr. King and Mr. W. Smith of S. Carolina as the main1 supports of that interest, that particularly they considered Colo. Hamilton and not Mr. Hammond as their effective minister here, that if the Antifederal interest [that was his term] at the head of which they considered Mr. Jefferson to be, should prevail, these gentlemen had secured an asylum to themselves in England.’ Beckley could not understand whether they had secured it *themselves, or whether they were only notified that it was secured to them. So that they understand that they may go on boldly, in their machinations to change the government, and if they should be overset and chuse to withdraw, they will be secure of a pension in England as Arnold Deane &c had. Sr. John read passages of a letter [which he did not put into Beckley’s hand as he did the other] from Ld. Grenville saying nearly the same things. This letter mentions to Sr. John that tho’ they had divided the Consul-generalship and given the Southern department to Bond, yet he, Sr. John, was to retain his whole salary. [By this it should seem as if, wanting to use Bond, they had covered his employment with this cloak.] Mr. Beckley says that Sr. John Temple is a strong republican.—I had a proof of his intimacy with Sr. John in this circumstance. Sr. John received his new Commission of Consul general for the Northern department, and instead of sending it thro’ Mr. Hammond, got Beckley to inclose it to me for his Exequatur. I wrote to Sr. John that it must come thro’ Mr. Hammond, inclosing it back to him. He accordingly then sent it to Mr. Hammond.

In conversation with the President to-day, and speaking about Genl. Greene, he said that he and Genl. Greene had always differed in opinion about the manner of using militia. Greene always placed them in his front: himself was of opinion they should always be used as a reserve to improve any advantage, for which purpose they were the finest fellows in the world. He said he was on the ground of the battle of Guilford with a person who was in the action and who explained the whole of it to him. That General Greene’s front was behind a fence at the edge of a large feild, thro which the enemy were obliged to pass to get at them; and that in their passage thro this they must have been torn all to peices if troops had been posted there who would have stood their ground; and that the retreat from that position was through a thicket, perfectly secure. Instead of this he posted the N. Carolina militia there, who only gave one fire and fell back, so that the whole benefit of their position was lost. He thinks that the regulars with their field pieces would have hardly let a single man get through that feild.

eod. die. [June 7.] Beckley tells me that he has the following fact from Govr. Clinton. That before the proposition for the present general government i.e. a little before, Hamilton concieved a plan for establishing a monarchical government in the US. He wrote a draught2 of a circular letter, which was to be sent to about persons, to bring it about. One of these letters in Hamilton’s handwriting is now in possession of an old Militia Genl. up the North river, who at that time was thought orthodox enough to be entrusted in the execution. This General has given notice to Govr. Clinton that he has this paper, and that he will deliver it into his hands and no one’s else. Clinton intends the first interval of leisure to go for it, and he will bring it to Philada. Beckley is a man of perfect truth as to what he affirms of his own knolege, but too credulous as to what he hears from others.3

* [In the margin:] Impossible as to Hamilton. He was far above that.

MS (DLC); entirely in TJ’s hand; written on same sheet as “Anas” entries for 10 and 12 June 1793; brackets in original; last sentence and note in margin added by TJ in a different ink at a much later date. Recorded in SJPL under 7–12 June 1793: “Notes. Ham. King. W. Smith. Sr Gregory Page Turner. Greene’s method of using militia—on plan to usurp govmt.” Included in the “Anas.”

If John Beckley’s record of his conversation with Sir John Temple is accurate, Temple probably overstated the prominence of Sir Gregory Page Turner, who had represented Thirsk, a borough in Yorkshire, for only eight years and was evidently an administration backbencher of somewhat independent views rather than a ministerial confidante (Lewis Namier and John Brooke, The House of Commons 1754–1790, 3 vols. [New York, 1964], iii, 244). Grenville’s brief official dispatch of 8 Mch. 1793 notifying Temple of his effective demotion resulting from the division of the consul-generalship (PRO: FO 5/2) did not mention nearly the same things as Turner’s letter, though the possibility cannot be excluded that Grenville did make such comments in a private missive. For Temple’s exchange with TJ relating to his new exequatur, see TJ to Temple, 13 May 1793, and note.

There is no credible evidence that Alexander Hamilton had ever conceived a plan for establishing a Monarchical Government in the US. or circulated one, in the way recorded here, around the time of the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, when such schemes were in the air. Nevertheless, TJ’s record of the story told to Beckley by Governor George Clinton of New York, a longstanding political foe of Hamilton’s, is the only extant documentary evidence of the rumor prior to 1804, when the charge resurfaced during that year’s bitter New York gubernatorial campaign. According to Clinton’s later recollection, around 1787 William Malcom, the old Militia Genl., showed him an unsigned and unaddressed copy of a circular letter which had been sent from Connecticut proposing the second son of George iii, Frederick Augustus, Prince Bishop of Osnabrück and Duke of York and Albany, as the monarch of a United States transformed into a parliamentary government led by an Anglo-American aristocracy, enlarged to include Canada and Nova Scotia, given part of the British navy, and tied to Britain by a perpetual treaty of offensive and defensive alliance (Louise B. Dunbar, A Study of Monarchical Tendencies in the United States from 1776 to 1801 [Urbana, Ill., 1922], 76–98; Clinton to Hamilton, 29 Feb., 6 Mch. 1804, Syrett, Hamilton, description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends xxvi, 202–3, 209–10).

Clinton’s conversation with Beckley was probably prompted by an equally unlikely variation of the story—one involving a clerk in Hamilton’s law office allegedly seen preparing for distribution to the southern states in the spring or summer of 1787 a letter received from John Adams endorsing British overtures to the same effect—that had been recently related to the governor by Pierre Van Cortlandt, Jr., a law student of Hamilton’s from 1784 to 1786 who was the son of a staunch Republican and later became Clinton’s son-in-law (Van Cortlandt to [Clinton?], 27 Feb. 1804, Jacob Judd, ed., Van Cortlandt Family Papers, 4 vols. [Tarrytown, N.Y., 1976–81], iii, 152–4; Syrett, Hamilton, description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends xxvi, 197n). This revelation apparently moved Clinton sometime after his conversation with Beckley to inspect the letter held by Malcom, only to find that it was not in the handwriting of Hamilton or his clerk, but rather was “a Copy of the original Copy only” (Clinton to Van Cortlandt, 7 Mch. 1804, Judd, Van Cortlandt Family Papers, iii, 160–1).

Despite the lack of trustworthy evidence of Hamilton’s personal involvement in this implausible scheme, Clinton and Van Cortlandt continued to tell the story to friends. Hamilton had long been aware that a rumor to this effect was circulating, but he was unable to identify a source for it until 1804, when he denounced the story as a slanderous fabrication and vigorously sought to identify its originator, an effort in which he was only partially successful before his death at the hands of Aaron Burr later that year (same, 142–6, 152–4, 157–8, 160–1, 165; Memorandum of Nathaniel Pendleton, [ca. 25–27 Feb. 1804], Hamilton to Clinton, 27 Feb., 2, 7, 9 Mch. 1804, James Kane to Hamilton, 28 Feb. 1804, Syrett, Hamilton, description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends xxvi, 196–202, 208–9, 211–12). It was sometime after this that TJ added his comments about Beckley and Hamilton.

1Word interlined in place of “material.”

2Word written on top of “plan,” erased.

3Sentence interlined at a later date.

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