George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Timothy Pickering, 8 February 1799

From Timothy Pickering

Philadelphia February 8. 1799


It will give you additional pleasure to learn that such is the increased and increasing respectability of the U. States among the European powers—that from being viewed with indifference & even contempt, our friendship and commerce are courted.

The Russian minister at London has suggested to Mr King that a Commercial treaty with the U. States would be agreeable to the Emperor Paul; and added, That this would be a favourable time to negociate a commercial treaty with the Ottoman Porte; and that Russia would afford to the U. States all its aid to accomplish it. Lord Grenville has given the like assurance of aid on the part of Great Britain.1

In consequence of these overtures, Mr King has just been appointed to negociate at London a Commercial treaty with Russia:2 and Mr Smith has been this day nominated to negociate a commercial treaty with the Porte. The former will create no expense; and the latter very little expence, besides the presents customary and indispensable in treating with the Eastern Powers; but which a few voyages of our vessels up the Levant will abundantly compensate. These presents I cannot ascertain. Mr Liston informs me that a new British minister to the Porte gives in presents £3000 sterling among the various officers. Ours must be accompanied with Treaty presents: but I conclude from the best information attainable here, that the whole will not exceed forty or fifty thousand dollars: & once made, the treaty will last forever: the expence may perhaps not amount to more tha[n] half of one of those sums.3

Mr Smith will proceed from Lisbon—and no successor will be appointed to him at that court. The Chevalier de Freire has obtained leave of absence from the U.S.—and will no more return. This circumstance will comport very well with the vacancy we shall make at Lisbon.4

Another striking proof of our National importance I must not omit: Mr Pitt has made to Mr King a proposition which implies an opinion, that in certain articles (sugar & coffee in particular) Great Britain & the U. States may regulate the commerce of Europe. The subject had not been fully investigated: facts were sought for. But the idea presented by Mr Pitt, whether it shall ever become a reality or not, demonstrates our commercial and even our political importance.5 I have the honor to be with great respect Sir, your obt servant

Timothy Pickering


1Rufus King, U.S. minister in London, wrote Pickering on 10 Nov. 1798 of being approached by the Russian minister about the possibility of the United States negotiating treaties of commerce with Russia and the Ottoman Empire (King, Life and Correspondence of King, description begins Charles R. King, ed. The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King. 6 vols. New York, 1894–1900. description ends 2:462–64).

2In his letter to King of 5 Feb. 1799, Pickering wrote: “P.S. The President has this day nominated you Commissioner Plenipotentiary to negociate a Commercial Treaty with Russia 6th Feby” (ibid., 534–36).

3William Loughton Smith (c.1758–1812) was a congressman from South Carolina when John Adams chose him to become U.S. minister to Portugal, where he served until 1801. On 21 Feb. Pickering wrote GW that Adams’s unexpected nomination of William Vans Murray as ambassador to France “damns” the nomination of Smith and King to negotiate commercial treaties. Both projects were indeed dropped.

4Cipriano Ribeiro Freire arrived in 1794 as Portugal’s ambassador to the United States.

5King wrote Pickering on 10 and 16 Oct. 1798 about his conversations with Prime Minister William Pitt regarding the sugar and coffee trade (ibid., 443–44, 448–51).

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