George Hammond was an English diplomat who served as Britain’s first envoy to the United States from 1791 to 1795. Born in East Riding, County York, England, in 1763, Hammond received a liberal education as a fellow of Merton College in Oxford, England. His career in diplomacy began when he was sent to Paris as secretary to British diplomat David Hartley during negotiations leading up to the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Hammond was later chosen as the first minister plenipotentiary to the United States, where he would face the daunting task of addressing American grievances against Britain while simultaneously advancing his home country’s agenda. Hammond accomplished this task with a measure of difficulty during his four-year station in the United States.  

George Hammond, by Albert Rosenthal, ca. 1885. Courtesy New York Public Library.

From the moment Hammond arrived in Philadelphia, his post was fraught with trouble. Many of his professional struggles stemmed from his conflict with Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. Hammond’s chief diplomatic goal was to procure the fulfillment of Articles IV, V, and VI of the Treaty of Paris, which concerned pre-war debts and the fate of Loyalists. Jefferson, on the other hand, sought retribution for Britain’s failure to adhere to Article VII of the treaty by maintaining frontier posts and transporting enslaved African Americans out of the United States. When Jefferson proposed the negotiation of an additional treaty that sought to address these issues, Hammond responded that he could “receive from [Jefferson] any proposals,” but could not promise a new treaty. Jefferson was not satisfied with this response, and Hammond observed that Jefferson’s manner upon their next meeting was “cold.”1 From then on Hammond became increasingly distrustful of Jefferson and his intentions.

Hammond’s feud with Jefferson proved to be one of the defining characteristics of his stay in the United States. By 1792 the two men had become embroiled in a spirited political debate regarding the unfulfilled articles of the treaty. The disagreement lasted nearly a year, with Hammond consistently ignoring Jefferson’s demands and Jefferson becoming increasingly frustrated. The conflict eventually ended with Jefferson’s resignation in 1793. He was replaced as secretary of state by Edmund Randolph, who was thought to be more open to negotiation with the British.

Despite Jefferson’s resignation, Hammond’s position in Philadelphia progressively worsened along with Anglo-American relations. A variety of factors, including his feud with Jefferson, drove Hammond to withdraw to New York in the summer of 1794. In the following months, Hammond was repeatedly attacked by the press, including the September edition of Greenleaf’s News in which he was denounced as an “incendiary Jack-in-office.”2 Hammond had also secured the enmity of Secretary of State Edmund Randolph and French envoy Jean Antoine Joseph Fauchet, both of whom were privately scheming to overthrow him. To make matters worse, in late 1794 John Jay negotiated a new treaty with Britain, popularly known as Jay’s Treaty, that ignited a newfound flame of populist outrage against the British. The Senate ratified the treaty in summer of 1795 despite widespread opposition, resulting in public demonstrations against the treaty, one of which took place at Hammond’s own residence. Enraged by the protesters’ brazen display, Hammond instructed Secretary Randolph to “place on record my sense of insult to my country.”3 

            Shortly after these protests, Hammond solidified his place in early American history by exposing a scandalous conspiracy between Randolph and Fauchet. When Hammond received a package sent from England by Lord Grenville, he was shocked to discover that it contained an unauthorized dispatch to the French government signed by Fauchet himself. The dispatch contained sensitive disclosures regarding the United States government and had been found on a French ship, the Jean Bart, that had been captured by the British. This shocking revelation proved that Randolph had been in league with Fauchet in an effort to thwart Hammond’s efforts towards Anglo-American diplomacy. Hammond wasted no time in copying the letter and forwarding it to the Washington administration, hoping to expose the corruption of Randolph and Fauchet. On August 19, 1795, Washington formally requested Secretary Randolph’s resignation, marking the end of one of the most controversial scandals in early American politics.4

            By the time Randolph tendered his resignation, Hammond was on his way back to Britain. The ratification of Jay’s Treaty marked the end of Hammond’s four-year mission in the United States, and the minister quickly set sail for home with his American-born wife Elizabeth, whom he had married in Philadelphia in 1793. London welcomed the couple with open arms, and the British government rewarded Hammond for his efforts in America with a position as undersecretary at the Foreign Office. For the rest of his life he continued to work in foreign relations, embarking on a number of additional missions to the United States, assisting in the production of the anti-French magazine Anti-Jacobin, and serving as commissioner on the Arbitration of Revolutionary Indemnities, an initiative which sought to satisfy debts accrued during the Revolutionary War. Hammond died in 1853 at the age of ninety, having secured his place in history as an important player on the early modern world stage.

 

Julia Brown

George Washington University

Notes: 

[1] Hammond quoted in Beckles Willson, Friendly Relations: A Narrative of Britain's Ministers and Ambassadors to America (1791-1930) (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1934), 7.

[2] Greenleaf’s News quoted in Willson, “Friendly Relations,” 14.

[3] Hammond quoted in Willson, “Friendly Relations,” 17.

[4] Edmund Randolph, et al. Interesting State Papers, from President Washington, M. Fauchet and M. Adet . . . (Philadelphia, 1796. London: Reprinted for J. Owen, No. 168, Piccadilly, and W. Richardson, Royal Exchange, 1796), 9.

 

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