Hamilton: Foreign Relations, Cabinet Paper to Thomas Jefferson, January 13, 1791



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 Thomas Jefferson, January 13, 1791


January 13, 1791.
Dear Sir:—I thank you for the printed papers you have been so obliging as to send.

I cannot forbear a conjecture that the communications of the Chargé des Affaires of France are rather expedients to improve a moment in which it is perceived questions concerning navigation are to be discussed, than the effects of serious instructions from his court.

Be this as it may, I really have not thought of any substitute for your proposition to which objections do not lie. And, in general, I have doubts of the eligibility of ex-parte concessions, liable to be resumed at pleasure. I had rather endeavor, by a new treaty of commerce with France, to extend reciprocal advantages, and fix them on a permanent basis. This would not only be more solid, but it would, perhaps, be less likely, than apparently gratuitous and voluntary exemptions, to beget discontents elsewhere, especially (as ought to be the case) if each party should be at liberty, for equivalent considerations, to grant like privileges to others. My commercial system turns very much on giving a free course to trade, and cultivating good humor with all the world. And I feel a particular reluctance to hazard any thing, in the present state of our affairs, which may lead to a commercial warfare with any Power; which, as far as my knowledge of examples extends, is commonly productive of mutual inconvenience and injury, and of dispositions tending to a worse kind of warfare. Exemptions and preferences which are not the effect of treaty, are apt to be regarded by those who do not partake in them as proofs of an unfriendly temper towards them.1

Notes

1 Although the precise point involved is lost, the general purport of this and the preceding letter is clear. Jefferson was considering whether to recommend some treaty construction favorable to France. Hamilton civilly disagreed on being consulted, and the matter appears to have dropped.


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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