George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Alexander Hamilton, 4 April 1791

To Alexander Hamilton

Mount Vernon April 4th 1791

Dear Sir,

Your letter of the 27th Ult. came duly to hand. For the information contained in it—and for the notes which accompanied the same, I thank you.

Every expedient, as I believe you know, is in operation to avert a War with the hostile Indian tribes—and to keep those who are in treaty with us in good temper; but I am nearly thoroughly convinced that neither will be effected, or, if effected, will be of short duration while land jobbing and the disorderly conduct of our borderers is suffered with impunity; and whilst the States individually are omitting no occasion to interfere in matters which belong to the general Government.

It is not more than four or five months since the Six Nations or part of them were assured (through the medium of Colo. Pickering) that thence forward they would be spoken to by the Government of the United States only and the same thing was repeated in strong terms to the Cornplanter at Philadelphia afterwards. Now, as appears by the extract from Mr King, the Legislature of New York are going into some negotiations with these very people. What must this evince to them? Why, that we pursue no system, and that our declarations are not to be regard. To sum the whole up in a few words—the interferences of States, and the speculations of Individuals will be the bane of all our public measures.1 Sincerely & Affectionately I am Yrs

Go: Washington

ALS, DLC:GW; LB, DLC:GW. There are minor variations between the two texts.

1For the frontier defensive measures of the Pennsylvania and New York legislatures, see Samuel Powel to GW, 19 Mar., Alexander Hamilton to GW, 27 Mar. and note 2, and Henry Knox to GW, 31 Mar. 1791 and notes 1 and 3.

Hamilton replied from Philadelphia on 10 April: “It is to be lamented that our system is such as still to leave the public peace of the Union at the mercy of each state Government. This is not only the case as it regards direct interferences, but as it regards the inability of the National Government in many particulars to take those direct measures for carrying into execution its views and engagements which exigencies require. For example—a party comes from a County of Virginia into Pennsylvania and wantonly murders some friendly Indians—The National Government instead of having power to apprehend the murderers and bring them to justice, is obliged to make a representation to that of Pennsylvania: That of Pennsylvania again is to make a requisition of that of Virginia. And whether the murderers shall be brought to Justice at all must depend upon the particular policy and energy and good disposition of two state Governments, and the efficacy of the provisions of their respective laws—And the security of other States and the money of all is at the discretion of one. Those things require a remedy but when it will come—God knows. From present appearances a pretty general Indian war is not a little to be apprehended—But there is now nothing for it, but to encounter it with vigour—and thus far in my Department the provisions are adequate” (DLC:GW).

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