Hamilton: Foreign Relations, Cabinet Paper to George Washington, September 30, 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 George Washington, September 30, 1790

New York,
September 30, 1790.1

Sir:—I had lately a visit from a certain gentleman, the sole object of which was to make some observations of a delicate nature concerning another gentleman employed on a particular errand; which, as they were doubtless intended for your ear (and, such as they are, ought to be known to you), it is of course my duty to communicate.

He began (in a manner somewhat embarrassed, which betrayed rather more than he seemed to discover) by telling me that, in different companies where he had happened to be in this city (a circumstance, by the way, very unlikely), he had heard it mentioned that that other gentleman was upon terms of very great intimacy with the representative of a certain court at the one where he was employed, and with the head of the party opposed to the minister; and he proceeded to say that, if there were any symptoms of backwardness or coolness in the minister, it had occurred to him that they might possibly be occasioned by such an intimacy; that he had no intimation, however, of this being the case, and that the idea suggested by him was mere matter of conjecture; that he did not even know it was a fact that the intimacy subsisted. But if this should be the case (said he), you will readily imagine that it cannot be calculated to inspire confidence or facilitate free communication. It would not be surprising if a very close connection with the representative of another power should beget doubts and reserves; or if a very familiar intercourse with the head of the opposition should occasion prejudice and distance. Man, after all, is but man; and though the minister has a great mind, and is as little likely as most men to entertain illiberal distrusts or jealousies, yet there is no saying what might be the effect of such conduct upon him. It is hardly possible not to have some diffidence of those who seem to be very closely united with our political or personal enemies or rivals. At any rate, such an intimacy, if it exists, can do no good, but may do some harm.

This, as far as I recollect, was the substance of what he said. My answer was nearly as follows:—

I have never heard a syllable, sir, about the matter you mention. It appears to me, however, very possible that an intimacy with both the persons you mention may exist: with the first, because the situation of the parties had naturally produced such an intimacy while both were in this country, and to have dropped and avoided it there would not have been without difficulty, on the score of politeness, and would have worn an extraordinary and mysterious aspect; with the last, from the patronage of American affairs, which is understood to have been uniformly the part of that gentleman, and, in some degree, from a similarity of dispositions and characters—both brilliant men, men of wit and genius, both fond of the pleasures of society. It is to be hoped that appearances which admit of so easy a solution will not prove an obstacle to any thing which mutual interest dictates. It is impossible that there can be any thing wrong.

He replied, that he certainly had no idea that there could be any thing wrong; but that as trifles often mar great affairs, he thought it best to impart to me his conjecture, that such use might be made of it as should be thought advisable.

I have the honor to be, etc.

P. S.—The letters herewith were, through hurry, omitted in my dispatch of yesterday.


1 Gouverneur Morris had been sent to England by Washington, in an informal and unofficial manner, to open relations once more with that country, and obtain the performance of treaty obligations. Before presenting his credentials, Morris made the mistake of disclosing to his old friend Luzerne, formerly Minister to the United States, and at this time Minister to London, the object of his visit. Luzerne allowed this fact to become known, and there was much jealousy aroused by this apparent close connection with France, which hindered greatly the advancement of Morris’ mission. Complaint found its way to the American Government through Lord Dorchester. The “certain gentlemen” of Hamilton’s letter, is Major Beckwith; “another gentleman employed on a particular errand” is Morris; and Luzerne is the “representative of a certain court.” The head of the opposition party was Fox. Morris doubted whether Luzerne had betrayed him, but this fact seems proved. Morris alleged further that he avoided Fox purposely, and only saw him twice. It is more than probable that both these accusations were mere pretences, put forward by the Tory government to delay doing us justice under the treaty, and quietly injure so far as possible the successful and now thriving rebels, whom they had failed to conquer.—See Life of G. Morris, i., p. 347.

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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