George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Timothy Pickering, 21 February 1799

From Timothy Pickering


Sir,Philadelphia Feby 21. 1799.

I have been honoured with your letter of the 21st.1 My letter of the 8th contained nothing that need be concealed from your friends. except when I mark a letter confidential, you will be pleased to make such use of it as you think proper. The subject of the present one is not an exception, as to your discreet friends: for I am sure no officer about the President can be willing to share any part of the responsibility of his nomination of Mr Murray to negotiate a treaty with the French Republic—it is solely the President’s act—and we were all thunderstruck when we heard of it. Confidence in the President is lost—the federal citizens thought the thing incredible: the Jacobins alone are pleased. The honor of the country is prostrated in the dust—God grant that its safety may not be in jeopardy.2

The nomination is committed to a committee consisting of Sedgwick, Stockton, Read, Bingham and Ross: they will study to find some remedy3—or rather alleviation—for the mischief is incapable of a remedy. You will see Porcupine’s pointed satire of yesterday: I lament the occasion: but the satire is just as it is severe. If any thing could more deeply wound or more thoroughly mortify a man of feeling, it would be the slaver of praise since daily issuing from the filthy press of the Aurora.4 But news-paper satire and praise are of less moment to an honest man than the opinions of his judicious friends; and I believe the President has been informed, that the measure is condemned—that it is considered as dishonourable and disastrous—by all his real friends and the friends of his country; and this without a single exception.

Of the result in the Senate I will do myself the honor to give you early information. In the mean time I remain with sincere respect sir, your obedt servant

Timothy Pickering

This nomination damns the previous ones which gave you so much pleasure, of Mr King & Mr Smith, to negociate with Russia and the Porte—made under auspices so promising, and so grateful to every American sensible to the honor & interest of his country.5

ALS, PPRF; ALS (letterpress copy), MHi: Pickering Papers.

1Pickering should have written “15th.”

2For the nomination of William Vans Murray as minister to France, see John Adams to GW, 19 Feb., and note 1 of that document.

3The Senate committee (Theodore Sedgwick of Massachusetts, Richard Stockton of New Jersey, Jacob Read of South Carolina, William Bingham of Pennsylvania, and James Ross of Pennsylvania) met with Adams on Saturday night, 23 Feb., and thereafter decided that Murray’s nomination should be rejected. Before the committee made its report, Adams on 25 Feb. nominated Oliver Ellsworth and Patrick Henry to serve with Murray as U.S. envoys to France. See Pickering to GW, 28 February.

4William Cobbett’s Porcupine’s Gazette (Philadelphia) on 20 Feb. denied sarcastically the “most atrocious falshood” that Adams had appointed a minister plenipotentiary to treat with France and added that “had he taken such a step, it would have been instantaneously followed by the loss of every friend worth his preserving.” The Aurora (Philadelphia), meanwhile, published articles on 19, 20 and 21 Feb. praising Adams’s measure, lauding on 21 Feb. “the prudence manifested in such happy time by the President of the United States.”

5On 6 Feb. John Adams nominated Rufus King, U.S. minister to the Court of St. James, to be a commissioner to negotiate a commercial treaty with Russia. Pickering wrote King on 4 May that his instructions “for negociating a Treaty of Amity and commerce with Russia” would be forwarded as soon as President Adams approved them (Pickering to King, 4 May 1799, in King, Life and Corre spondence of King, 3:12–13; see also Pickering to King, 5 Feb., ibid., 2:534–36). Two days later, on 8 Feb. 1799, Adams nominated William Loughton Smith, minister to Poland, “to be Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Sublime Ottoman Porte,” with authority to negotiate a treaty of amity and commerce with the Ottoman Empire (Executive Journal, description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America: From the commencement of the First, to the termination of the Nineteenth Congress. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C., 1828. description ends 1:311, 312).

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