George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Gouverneur Morris, 3 July 1790

From Gouverneur Morris


Sir,London 3 July 1790

This Letter will accompany Copies of what I had the Honor to write on the first and twenty ninth of May. I have heard nothing since from the Duke of Leeds. On the tenth of June the King prorogued the Parliament, which was dissolved on the eleventh. The Elections will be compleated in about ten Days, and then the Ministers will feel themselves more at Liberty to avow their Intentions than they are at present. They will have a great Majority tho perhaps weaker by half a dozen than in the last House, but the immense patronage which must result from a War will soon overbalance that Difference. I was told on the tenth that the Duke of Leeds is to remove from the Office of Secretary of foreign Affairs & is to be succeeded by Lord Hawksbury formerly Charles Jenkinson.1 He is an able Man, strongly opposed to America & it is said from Inclination, but perhaps it is from the Desire to please his royal Master. Such an Appointment would look like a Bar to any friendly Communication with us, but I incline to think otherwise. He will a least be an efficient Minister, and whatever he agrees to will go smoothly thro the Cabinet, whereas the present Man is evidently afraid of committing himself by saying or doing any Thing positive. On the seventeenth of June I learnt a Conversation which had recently passed with Mr Grenville about the Posts,2 from the Complection of which I conclude that they are nearly determined to give them up. In the Course of that Conversation (in which the Minister was collecting Information from a Gentleman acquainted with the Country and its Trade) he said, that the Americans had made some Overtures for a commercial Treaty which might perhaps take Place and that he wished to be prepared in Case that Matter should be brought forward which appeared however to be uncertain. He mentioned at the same Time but meerly as Matter of common Report, that the Spaniards had agreed to give us the Navigation of the Mississippi—I am therefore confirmed in my Opinion that if they get engaged in a War they will be glad to form a friendly Connection with us.3 And as to the Contingency of War, I was informed on the twenty first of June that about three Weeks before that Period they had sent an Express over Land to India probably with Instructions to prepare for if not to commence Hostilities.4 This added to many other Circumstances leaves but little Room to doubt of their Intentions. Prussia has been arming and negotiating and seems as if desirous to gain Time till this Country can act.

The Fleet which lay at Spithead had sailed some Days since for Torbay, and is to be joined, it is said, by a Dutch Squadron who came forward in the Quality of Allies to great Britain.5 The Idea of calling upon an Ally to assist a British against a Spanish Fleet seems to be a little extraordinary. But it would not be extraordinary that a Dutch Squadron should go into the Baltic and assist the Swedes against Russia.

We are now so near the Moment when the Curtain is to be drawn up that I will not trouble you with my Conjectures about the Scenes which are to be displayed. France I am persuaded will not remain an idle Spectator.6 I am with perfect Respect Sir your most obedient & humble Servant

Gouv. Morris

ALS (duplicate), DLC:GW; LB, DLC: Gouverneur Morris Papers.

For the background to Morris’s mission to London as GW’s unofficial agent and his business with the British secretary of state for foreign affairs, Francis Osborne, fifth duke of Leeds, see GW to Morris (second letter), 13 Oct. 1789, Morris to GW, 22 Jan. (first letter), 7 April, and 1 May 1790. GW did not receive the above letter, nor that from Morris of 6 July, until the fourth week of September (see Tobias Lear to GW, 20 Sept. 1790 and note 2).

1The information given Morris by Daniel Parker, his dinner companion of 10 June, proved incorrect. In fact, Leeds continued as foreign secretary until the spring of 1791 when he was succeeded by William Wyndham Grenville, Baron Grenville. Charles Jenkinson, Baron Hawkesbury (1727–1808), was secretary at war under Lord North during the Revolutionary War and was appointed president of the council for trade and plantations in 1786. He retired from public life ten years later when he was created the first earl of Liverpool and did not serve at the foreign office as Parker had predicted (Morris, Diary of the French Revolution, description begins Beatrix Cary Davenport, ed. A Diary of the French Revolution by Gouverneur Morris. 2 vols. Boston, 1939. description ends 1:539, 552).

2On 17 June 1790 at London’s New York Coffee House, Morris heard of Grenville’s conversation about the northwestern posts still occupied by the British army in violation of the peace treaty (ibid., 542–43).

3On 2 July Parker gave Morris further information derived from a friend of the Spanish ambassador that confirmed the New York Coffee House assertions (ibid., 554; see also Hamilton to GW, 21 Sept. 1790 and notes 1 and 3).

4A Frenchman named Bouinville provided this news to Morris at breakfast on 21 June (ibid., 547).

5A Dutch fleet under Admiral Jan Hendrik van Kinsbergen left the Texel on 17 June and three weeks later joined the British fleet that had been assembled at Portsmouth in preparation for a naval war against Spain precipitated by the Nootka Sound controversy (Manning, “Nootka Sound Controversy,” description begins William Ray Manning. The Nootka Sound Controversy. Washington, D.C., 1905. In Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1904, pages 279–478. description ends 387; see also Alexander Hamilton to GW, 8 July 1790, source note, and David Humphreys to GW, 31 Oct. 1790).

6In December 1790 GW sent this with other official letters received from Morris to the secretary of state (see GW to Thomas Jefferson, 11 Dec. 1790, and Jefferson to GW, 15 Dec. 1790).

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