Hamilton, Foreign Relations: Hamilton to Washington, July 22, 1790

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, Cabinet Paper: Hamilton to Washington, July 22, 1790.

On Thursday, the 22d instant, I had a second interview with Major Beckwith, in which I spoke to him nearly as follows.

I have made the proper use of what you said to me at our last interview.

As to what regards the objects of a general nature mentioned by you, though your authority for the purpose from Lord Dorchester is out of the question, and though I presume from his lordship’s station and character, and the knowledge he appears to have of what is passing on the other side of the water, with regard to Mr. Morris, that the step he has taken through you is conformable to the views of your cabinet, and not without its sanction, yet you are no doubt sensible that the business presents itself in a shape which does not give the proper authenticity to that fact, and is wholly without formality. You must also be sensible that there is a material difference between your situation and that of Mr. Morris. His credentials, though not formal, proceed from the proper source. Yours are neither formal nor authoritative.

This state of things will, of course, operate on what I am going to say on the subject. As to what relates to friendship between Great Britain and the United States, I conceive myself warranted in declaring that there is in the government of this country a sincere disposition to concur in obviating with candor and fairness all ground of misunderstanding which may now exist in reference to the execution of the late treaty of peace, and in laying the foundation of future good understanding, by establishing liberal terms of commercial intercourse.

As to alliance, this opens a wide field. The thing is susceptible of a vast variety of forms. ’T is not possible to judge what would be proper or what could be done, unless points were brought into view. If you are in condition to mention particulars, it may afford better ground of conversation.

I stopped here for an answer.

Major Beckwith replied, that he could say nothing more precise than he had already done.

That being the case (continued I), I can only say, that the thing is in too general a form to admit of a judgment of what may be eventually admissible or practicable. If the subject shall hereafter present itself to discussion in an authentic and proper shape, I have no doubt we shall be ready to converse freely upon it. And you will naturally conclude that we shall be disposed to pursue whatever shall appear under all circumstances to be our interest, as far as may consist with our honor. At present I would not mean either to raise or repress expectation.

Major Beckwith seemed to admit that as things were circumstanced nothing explicit could be expected, and went on to make some observations, which I understood as having for object to sound whether there existed any connection between Spain and us; and whether the questions with regard to the Mississippi were settled.

Perceiving this, I thought it best to avoid an appearance of mystery, and to declare without hesitation,

“That there was no particular connection between Spain and the United States, within my knowledge, and that it was matter of public notoriety, that the questions alluded to were still unadjusted.”

The rest of our conversation chiefly consisted of assurances on my part, that the menaces which had been mentioned by him as having been thrown out by some individuals with regard to the western posts were unauthorized, proceeding probably from a degree of irritation which the detention of the posts had produced in the minds of many, and of a repetition, on his part, of the assurances which he had before given of Lord Dorchester’s disposition to discourage Indian outrages.

Something was said respecting the probable course of military operations, in case of a war between Britain and Spain, which Mr. Beckwith supposed would be directed towards South America; alleging, however, that this was mere conjecture on his part. I hinted cautiously our dislike of any enterprise on New Orleans.

A. Hamilton.

Note By A. H.—Mr. Jefferson was privy to this transaction. The views of the government were to discard suspicion that any engagements with Spain, or intentions hostile to Great Britain, existed; to leave the ground in other respects vague and open, so as that in case of rupture between Great Britain and Spain, the United States ought to be in the best situation to turn it to account, in reference to the disputes between them and Great Britain on the one hand, and Spain on the other.

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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