George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 17 April 1791

From Thomas Jefferson

Philadelphia Apr. 17. 1791.


I had the honor of addressing you on the 2d which I supposed would find you at Richmond, and again on the 10th which I thought would overtake you at Wilmington. the present will probably find you at Charleston.1

According to what I mentioned in my letter of the 10th the Vice-president, Secretaries of the Treasury & war & myself met on the 11th. Colo. Hamilton presented a letter from mister Short in which he mentioned that the month of February being one of the periodical months in Amsterdam, when from the receipt of interest and refunding of capitals, there is much money coming in there, & free to be disposed of, he had put off the opening his loan till then, that it might fill the more rapidly, a circumstance which would excite the presumption of our credit. that he had every reason to hope it would be filled before it would be possible for him, after his then communication of the conditions to recieve your approbation of them, & orders to open a second; which however should be awaited, according to his instructions; but he pressed the expediting the order, that the stoppage of the current in our favor might be as short as possible. we saw that if, under present circumstances, your orders should be awaited, it would add a month to the delay, and we were satisfied, were you present, you would approve the conditions & order a second loan to be opened. we unanimously therefore advised an immediate order, on condition the terms of the 2d loan should not be worse than those of the 1st—Genl Knox expressed an apprehension that the 6. nations might be induced to join our enemies; there being some suspicious circumstances; and he wished to send Colo. Pickering to confirm them in their neutrality. this he observed would occasion an expence of about 2000 dollars, as the Indians were never to be met empty-handed. we thought the mission adviseable. as to myself, I hope we shall give the Indians a thorough drubbing this summer, and I should think it better afterwards to take up the plan of liberal & repeated presents to them. this would be much the cheapest in the end, & would save all the blood which is now spilt: in time too it would produce a spirit of peace & friendship between us. the expence of a single expedition would last very long for presents. I mentioned to the gentlemen the idea of suggesting thro’ Colo. Beckwith, our knowlege of the conduct of the British officers in furnishing the Indians with arms & ammunition, & our dissatisfaction. Colo. Hamilton said that Beckwith had been with him on the subject, and had assured him they had given the Indians nothing more than the annual present, & at the annual period. it was thought proper however that he should be made sensible that this had attracted the notice of government. I thought it the more material, lest, having been himself the first to speak of it, he might suppose his excuses satisfactory, & that therefore they might repeat the annual present this year. as Beckwith lodges in the same house with mister Madison, I have desired the latter to find some occasion of representing to Beckwith that tho an annual present of arms & ammunition be an innocent act in time of peace, it is not so in time of war: that it is contrary to the laws of neutrality for a neutral power to furnish military implements to either party at war, & that if their subjects should do it on private account, such furnitures might be seised as contraband: to reason with him on the subject, as from himself, but so as to let him see that government thought as himself did.2

You know, I think, before you left us, that the British parliament had a bill before them, for allowing wheat, imported in British bottoms, to be warehoused rent-free. in order further to circumscribe the carrying business of the U.S. they now refuse to consider as an American bottom, any vessel not built here. by this construction they take from us the right of defining by our own laws what vessels shall be deemed ours & naturalized here; and in the event of a war, in which we should be neutral, they put it out of our power to benefit ourselves of our neutrality, by increasing suddenly by purchase & naturalization our means of carriage. if we are permitted to do this by building only, the war will be over before we can be prepared to take advantage of it. this has been decided by the Lords Commissioners of the treasury in the case of one Green, a merchant of New York, from whom I have recieved a regular complaint on the subject. I inclose you the copy of a note from mister King to Colo. Hamilton, on the subject of the appointment of a British minister to come here. I suspect it however to be without foundation.3

Colo. Eveleigh died yesterday. supposing it possible you might desire to appoint his successor as soon as you could decide on one, I inclose you a blank commission, which when you shall be pleased to fill up & sign, can be returned for the seal & counter-signature. I inclose you a letter from mister Coxe to yourself on the subject of this appointment, and so much of one to me as related to the same, having torn off a leaf of compliment to lighten & lessen my inclosures to you.4 should distributive justice give preference to a successor of the same state with the deceased, I take the liberty of suggesting to you mister Hayward, of S.C. whom I think you told me you did not know, and of whom you are now on the spot of enquiry.5 I inclose you also a continuation of the Pennsylvania debates on the bill for federal buildings. after the postponement by the Senate, it was intended to bring on the reconsideration of that vote. but the hurry at winding up their session prevented it. they have not chosen a federal Senator.6 I have the honour to be with the most profound respect & sincere attachment, Sir, your most obedient & most humble servt

Th: Jefferson

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; ALS (fragment, letterpress copy), DLC: Thomas Jefferson Papers; ALS (fragment, letterpress copy), MHi: Thomas Jefferson Papers; copy, in Jefferson’s hand, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DLC:GW.

1GW did not receive and acknowledge this letter until after his return to Virginia. See GW to Jefferson, 17 June.

2For the meeting between John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Jefferson, and Henry Knox on 11 April, see Jefferson to GW, 10 April and note 1.

3William Green, a New York merchant, complained to Jefferson on 21 Jan. that his brig Rachel, built in France, had been denied access to British ports on the grounds that it was not an American vessel. It was detained from 22 Oct. to 24 Dec. 1790 while a final decision was pending in the case (see Thomas Paine to GW, 21 July 1791 and note 5). The enclosed extract of Rufus King’s note on prospective British ministers to the United States was similar to that forwarded to GW by Hamilton on 11 April.

4The enclosed letter of 16 April 1791 from Tench Coxe to GW reads: “It is with the greatest hesitation that I contribute to the unpleasing circumstances, that are obtruded on your mind by too numerous applications for public office. The decease of the Comptroller of the Treasury having created the necessity of an appointment, I most humbly beg leave to present myself to your consideration. The relation which exists between the offices of the Treasury and the respectful solicitude for the honor of your countenance, which is felt by every good citizen, and which is anxiously desired by every faithful Servant of the public will be received, I hope Sir, in apology for this step. Honor and Emolument may be generally deemed the inducements to these applications, but I trust I do not deceive myself in the belief that these considerations do not influence me more decidedly than a sincere desire to evince the highest respect for the government of the United States and for the peculiar character of their Chief Magistrate” (DLC:GW). Jefferson also enclosed a leaf from a letter Coxe had addressed to him in the evening of 16 April: “The vacancy produced in the Treasury department by the death of the Comptroller has occasioned me to take the liberty of making this communication to you. It will not appear unnatural, that a person in my situation should be led, by the relation the offices of the Treasury bear to each other, to entertain a wish for the appointment, and I should, at as early a moment as decorum permitted, have done myself the honor to make that desire known to you. But Mr Hamilton having led me this afternoon into a free conversation on the subject I find it proper to be more early in this communication than it was my intention to have been. There appear to be circumstances, which originated at the time of Mr Wolcotts appointment to his present office, that operate to restrain the Secretary of the Treasury from moving in favor of any other person, & this information he gave me unasked. he entertains an opinion, also, that the relation between the office of the Comptroller and Auditor creates a kind of pretension in the latter to succeed the former. He however added in a very kind and flattering way his opinion, that he should see as many public advantages resulting from the appointment of myself as any other person, and that he would by no means advise my declining to apply to the President. The Station you fill in the Government together with the impressions I feel concerning” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Jefferson retained the remaining two leaves of the letter, in which Coxe asked him either to transmit his application to GW “with your opinion on the subject” or to “commit it to the fire.” Jefferson did neither but simply passed Coxe’s application on to GW without comment.

5Thomas Hey ward (1746–1809), former South Carolina legislator who had supported ratification of the federal Constitution in the state ratifying convention of 1788, received no appointment from GW.

6The enclosed printed report on the Pennsylvania debates over the construction of buildings to house the federal government has not been found. Sen. William Maclay’s term ended with the close of the First Congress, and Pennsylvania Federalists in the upper house of the legislature under the new state constitution of 1790 insisted that U.S. senators should be elected by concurrent vote of the two houses; the lower house favored a joint vote. The impasse was not resolved until February 1793 when the state senate finally agreed to a joint vote, which resulted in the election of Albert Gallatin who sat from December 1793 until 28 Feb. 1794 when his election was declared void on the grounds that he had not been an American citizen for a sufficient period.

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