Hamilton on Foreign Relations: Speeches on the Treaty of Paris, March 19, 1783; March 24, 1783

Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America’s first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury.

Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America’s first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury.

Alexander Hamilton: The Works of Alexander Hamilton, Volume 4

Foreign Relations, Speeches on the Treaty of Paris, March 19, 1783; March 24, 1783.

March 19, 17831

Mr. Hamilton urged the propriety of proceeding with coolness and circumspection. He thought it proper, in order to form a right judgment of the conduct of our ministers, that the views of the French and British courts should be examined. He admitted it as not improbable, that it had been the policy of France to procrastinate the definite acknowledgment of our independence on the part of Great Britain, in order to keep us more knit to herself, and until her own interests could be negotiated. The arguments, however, urged by our ministers on this subject, although strong, were not conclusive, as it was not certain that this policy, and not a desire of excluding obstacles to peace, had produced the opposition of the French court to our demands. Caution and vigilance, he thought, were justified by the appearance, and that alone. But compare this policy with that of Great Britain; survey the past cruelty and present duplicity of her councils; behold her watching every occasion and trying every project for dissolving the honorable ties which bind the United States to their ally, and then say on which side our resentments and jealousies ought to lie.

With respect to the instructions submitting our ministers to the advice of France, he had disapproved it uniformly since it had come to his knowledge, but he had always judged it improper to repeal it. He disapproved highly of the conduct of our ministers in not showing the preliminary articles to our ally before they signed them, and still more so of their agreeing to the separate article. This conduct gave an advantage to the enemy, which they would not fail to improve for the purpose of inspiring France with indignation and distrust of the United States. He did not apprehend (with Mr. Mercer) any danger of a coalition between France and Great Britain against America, but foresaw the destruction of mutual confidence between France and the United States which would be likely to ensue, and the danger which would result from it in case the war should be continued. He observed that Spain was an unwise nation, her policy narrow and jealous, her king old, her court divided, and the heir apparent notoriously attached to Great Britain. From these circumstances he inferred an apprehension that when Spain should come to know the part taken by America with respect to her, a separate treaty of peace might be resorted to. He thought a middle course best with respect to our ministers; that they ought to be commended in general, but that the communication of the separate article ought to take place. He observed that our ministers were divided as to the policy of the court of France, but that they were all agreed in the necessity of being on the watch against Great Britain. He apprehended that if the ministers were to be recalled or reprehended that they would be disgusted, and head and foment parties in this country. He observed, particularly with respect to Mr. Jay, that, although he was a man of profound sagacity and pure integrity, yet he was of a suspicious temper, and that this trait might explain the extraordinary jealousies which he professed. He finally proposed that the ministers should be commended, and the separate article communicated. This motion was seconded by Mr. Osgood, as compared, however, with the proposition of the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and so far only as to be referred to a committee.

Monday, March 24th.2

Mr. Hamilton said that whilst he despised the man who would enslave himself to the policy even of our friends, he could not but lament the overweening readiness which appeared in many to suspect every thing on that side, and to throw themselves into the bosom of our enemies. He urged the necessity of vindicating our public honor by renouncing that concealment to which it was the wish of so many to make us parties.3


[1]This speech was delivered in Congress during the debate on the treaty of peace which concluded the war for independence.—See Madison Papers, i., 394.

[2]See Madison Papers, i., 411.

[3]These two speeches show that Hamilton’s natural inclination was toward France, a significant commentary on Jefferson’s pet accusation that Hamilton was “British” in feeling.

Posting the entire Works of Alexander Hamilton is a project of Steven Montgomery. I’m posting these as a way to read and digest the works of Alexander Hamilton. The reader could profit by following along daily.


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