Front Page Titles (by Subject) catullus - The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition), vol. 7
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
catullus - Alexander Hamilton, The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition), vol. 7 
The Works of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge (Federal Edition) (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). In 12 vols. Vol. 7.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
November 24, 1792.
It was my intention to have closed with my last paper the discussion of Mr. Jefferson’s conduct, in the particulars which have been suggested, but the singular complexion of the last number of a series of papers originating in the American Daily Advertiser, obliges me to resume it.
As if bold assertion were capable of imposing any thing for truth, an attempt is made in the papers alluded to to impress the following opinions: 1st. That the extract which was given of Mr. Jefferson’s letter, on the subject of a proposition for the transfer of the French debt, is “false,” “deceptive,” and “mutilated.” These are the epithets in different passages applied to it. 2d. That Mr. Jefferson was the mere vehicle, or, to use the precise terms, “only the vehicle of communication to Congress.” 3d. That he “discountenanced” the proposition. 4th. That the “only” proposition which he made to Congress was to borrow the money in Holland to discharge the debt.
To give color to these assertions, I am called upon to produce the entire paragraph, from which the extract has been made, and it is suggested that the whole was deposited in the quarter whence the extract is believed to have been taken.
I pledge my veracity that this suggestion is unfounded; as is another—that the information which has been communicated by me is derived from the opportunities of official situation. I affirm unequivocally that I obtained, through different channels, a full knowledge of the transaction in February, 1787—being in no public station whatever; that I then saw the extract, which has been published, and which was at that time taken from the original letter, and has since been preserved in the most authentic form; that I then also received information equally authentic of the general substance of the letter, as relating to the matter in question, and of all other particulars concerning it, which have heretofore been stated, and which have been preserved in a manner that admits no doubt of their accuracy and genuineness. For this, I again appeal to the letter itself, on the files of the Department of State, where alone, as far as I am informed, its entire contents are deposited, and which I entertain no doubt will confirm not only the truth of the extract which has been given, but the justness of the representation of the contents of the letter in all other respects.
Considering the extract as genuine, which undoubtedly it is, it speaks for itself—and unequivocally falsifies the suggestion that Mr. Jefferson was “only the vehicle” of communication to Congress. It imports, without the possibility of evasion, advice to accede to the proposition which was made to the Dutch company, on the dishonorable ground of there being danger that the public payments would not be punctual, and of its being in that case expedient to transfer the discontents, which would arise from the want of punctuality, from the court of France to the breasts of a private company. It therefore clearly makes him more than the mere vehicle of communication—the patron and adviser of the measure upon the condition which has been stated. It as clearly refutes the astonishing assertion that he “discountenanced” the proposition, whatever subterfuge may be brought to color it. And it equally destroys the other allegation, that the only proposition which Mr. Jefferson made to Congress, was to borrow the money in Holland to discharge the debt.
It has been admitted, that there was another proposition, in the same letter, of that import; but it is denied, under the appeal which has been made, that it in any manner derogates from the advice contained in the extract. It is understood to have been offered as an alternative, in case the proposition of the Dutch company should not be approved—as another mode which might be adopted to effect the payment of France.
It will be remarked by an attentive reader that, while an artful attempt is made to bring into question the genuineness of the extract, a direct denial of its genuineness is not hazarded. Recourse is had to equivocal implications. It is said to be “false” and “deceptive,” not in terms, but “upon a sound construction,"—that “the contents of the letter, even in the extract published, have been shamefully misrepresented,“—not that the extract is itself a forgery, but that “other parts of the letter, absolutely necessary for the full comprehension of it, are kept back.” The jargon of asserting, that a literal extract from a paper is “false and deceptive upon a sound construction,” is a proof of the embarrassment of the commentator. Whoever will examine the extract will perceive, that as to the purpose to which it has been applied, it is an entire thing. The sentiment reprobated is there complete, and can be affected by nothing collateral. The inferences resulting from it can only be repelled by establishing that the extract is in terms false. This, I believe, will not be pretended.
It is as little true (in the sense in which it is evidently meant to be understood) that the proposition for the transfer of the debt has been imposed upon Mr. Jefferson as his own, as it is that he discountenanced it. It has been acknowledged that the offer was first made by the Dutch company; and has only been maintained that Mr. Jefferson advised its acceptance on principles contrary to good morals; a position which can never be overthrown without introducing a new system of ethics. In this sense, too, and with the disapprobation which belongs to it, was it understood by those to whom the advice was addressed, to the honor of the public councils of the day.
It is suggested that the animadversions upon Mr. Jefferson’s conduct in these papers proceed from “private revenge.” This supposes some private injury, real or imagined. The assertor must be not a little embarrassed to support the probability of such a cause. It is affirmed that none such exists. Private revenge, therefore, cannot be the stimulus. Let facts speak the true motives.
December 22, 1792.
If perseverance can supply the want of judgment, Mr. Jefferson has an excellent advocate in the writer of his “Vindication.” But I mistake, if his last attempt is not found to involve still more deeply the character he wishes to extricate.
To repel the imputation on Mr. Jefferson arising from the advice which he gave to Congress respecting the debt to France, he not only labors to show that, taken in all its circumstances, it is not of the exceptional complexion under which it has been represented, but endeavors to infuse a belief, that the sense of the extract originally communicated has been altered by the interpolation of certain words, as well as by the suppression of a part of a paragraph from which the extract is derived.
It will strike the most careless observer as not a little extraordinary, that a person who by undertaking to state the contents of a letter with precise accuracy, and even to detect a minute verbal deviation, must be understood to have access to the original, should, instead of submitting to the public eye a literal transcript of that original, content himself with giving his own paraphrase of it, and should expect that this would be accepted upon the strength of his assurance, that it exhibits the genuine contents of the letter, on the point in dispute, contained in one paragraph only; “that the arrangement of the idea is the same, and that in substance nothing has been added to or taken from it,” thus modestly offering his own construction of substance, the very thing in question, for the thing itself.
That the extract, as given by me, is correct in every material expression, is proved by the statement in the VINDICATION. That it is literally correct, I must continue to believe until something more to be depended upon than constructive substance is offered in lieu of it.
The information I possess is drawn from two sources; one a memorandum in the handwriting of a friend, which was given to me as an exact transcript of the words of the letter, and which was copied verbatim, in the second of these papers; the other, a document of unquestionable authenticity, not long since consulted, which states the contents of Mr. Jefferson’s letter in the following form:
Mr. Jefferson suggests, that if there is a danger of the public payments not being punctual, “whether it might not be better that the discontents which would then arise, should be transferred from a court, of whose good will we have so much need, to the breasts of a private company.”
“That the credit of the United States is sound in Holland, and that it would probably not be difficult to borrow in that country the whole sum of money due to the court of France; and to discharge that debt without any deduction, thereby doing what would be grateful to the court, and establishing with them a confidence in our honor.”
This statement in the document alluded to serves to confirm the memorandum, in form as well as substance. Speaking in the third person, it represents Mr. Jefferson as suggesting “whether it might not be better,” etc., whence it is natural to infer that, speaking in the first person in the letter, the terms are, “I submit whether it may not be better,” etc.
The form of conveying the idea by way of question is common to both vouchers; and the word “whether,” which is also common to both, presupposes the words “I suggest,” or “I submit,” the last being the most accurate, and in that view the most likely to have been used.
It is observable, also, that the same statement disconnects the two propositions, and gives them a distinct and independent aspect. The conjunction “but,” which is alleged to be in the original, does not appear in that statement.
It is possible, nevertheless, that some immaterial departures from literal precision may have found their way into the transcripts, which are relied upon. But while this concession as a bare possibility is made, it is not intended as an escape from a rigorous responsibility for the essential accuracy of the disclosure. If there be in what has been communicated as a literal extract, any expression the least material, tending to the crimination of Mr. Jefferson, which is not to be found in the original, it is admitted to be inexcusable. But not having been possessed of the original, as has been several times stated, any accidental variation of expression, not affecting at all the sense of the quotation, or not affecting it disadvantageously to Mr. Jefferson, cannot be admitted to be of moment in regard either to the merits of the discussion or to the fairness of the procedure. To press such a variance as an objection, is to cavil, and to betray a consciousness of weakness.
Now it happens that the variance which is alleged to exist, if it has any influence upon the meaning of the passage, has one favorable to Mr. Jefferson; taking it for granted that his apologist has given a true account of it. This will be seen by carefully contrasting the phraseology in the two cases.
The extract, as stated by me, is in these words:
“If there is a danger of the public payments not being punctual, I submit whether it may not be better that the discontents which would then arise, should be transferred from a court, of whose good will we have so much need, to the breasts of a private company.“
The statement in the vindication represents that Mr. Jefferson “having stated the proposition as above (referring to the proposition for the purchase of the debt), observes further upon it in its relation to this country, that if there be a danger our payments may not be punctual, it might be better that the discontents which would then arise, should be transferred from a court, of whose good will we have so much need, to the breasts of a private company.”
All the material and exceptionable phrases are the same in the two statements. The only difference between them is that in the first Mr. Jefferson is made to submit in the modest form of a question, “whether it might not be better,” the identical sentiment or advice, which, in the last, he is made to convey in the affirmative tone of an observation, that “it might be better.” The last mode of expression is certainly stronger than the first, and if the sentiment conveyed be, as it undoubtedly is, an improper one, the censure due to it is increased by the greater degree of decision with which it is expressed, as being an indication of a more decided state of mind concerning it. This remark, which might otherwise appear nice and critical, is naturally drawn forth by the attempt to have it understood that the words “I submit whether,” which are said to have been interpolated, have an influence upon the sense of the clause injurious to Mr. Jefferson.1
The result is that the alteration of terms said to have been made, if real, must have been casual, because it either does not vary the sense, or varies it favorably to Mr. Jefferson; and, consequently, that the charge which has been brought rests upon him in its primitive force, unmitigated by the alleged change of terms.
In like manner, admitting the statement of what is said to follow as a part of the same paragraph, to be truly represented in the vindication, it either corresponds with the view I have heretofore given of the matter, or it implicates Mr. Jefferson in greater reprehensibility than has yet been charged upon him. It either presents an alternative proposition predicated upon the supposition of a state of things different from that which is the basis of the first, namely, the danger of a deficiency of means for punctual payment, and in that case does not derogate from the first; or proceeding upon the supposition of the same state of things, it contains advice to Congress to avail themselves of the yet sound state of their credit in Holland, treacherously to induce individuals upon the invitation of the government to lend their money on the ordinary terms, for the purpose of making full payment to France, in order to guard her from loss, and preserve her confidence, in direct contemplation of not being able to render the stipulated justice to those individuals. If this was the advice of Mr. Jefferson, it leaves his conduct without even those slight extenuations which have been supposed to afford a semblance of apology. It takes away the feeble pretexts deduced from the offer having originated with the company, and from their gaining a considerable boon in the first purchase.
The last, I acknowledge, is the construction best warranted by the structure of the paragraph as delineated in the vindication. This, as it there stands, would be the most obvious and natural reading. If there be a danger that our payments may not be punctual, it may be better that the discontents which would then arise, should be transferred from a court, of whose good will we have so much need, to the breasts of a private company. But still it has occurred to me that we may do what is preferable to accepting the proposition of the Dutch company. We may find occasion to do what would be grateful to the court of France, and establish with them a confidence in our honor. Our credit is good in Holland—may it not be possible then to borrow there the four and twenty millions due to France, and pay them the whole debt at once? This, besides transferring the discontents to be expected from the want of punctual payments, from the court of France to the breasts of individuals, would have the further advantage of saving that court from any loss on our account. It is in this sense only, that the first suggestion can be considered as overruled by or absorbed in the last, and that Mr. Jefferson can be said to have discountenanced the proposition made by the Dutch company. If this be the meaning intended to be contended for, no pains will be taken to dispute it; and the comment will be left to Mr. Jefferson’s most partial admirers.
The writer of the vindication continues to insist that Mr. Jefferson was only the vehicle of communication, assigning as reasons for this assertion, that the transaction had taken place between the parties, before any mention was made of it to him, and that in communicating it to Congress, he only made known to that body the desire both of the company and of the French court, that the opinion which he gave arose out of the proposition, was in furtherance of the views of the parties, and that, in fact, no decision could be formed on it, either by the Congress, or himself, without a comparison of the parties as creditors of the United States. But these reasons do not prove that Mr. Jefferson was only the vehicle of communication; they prove the contrary: that he was both the vehicle of communication, and the patron though not the author of the proposition. The precise difference between being the mere vehicle, and being both the vehicle and the patron of a proposition, consists in this: that in the first case the agent does nothing more than communicate the proposition; in the last, he gives an opinion arising out of it, in furtherance of the views of the proposers; which is exactly what is acknowledged to have been done by Mr. Jefferson.
The plea that there could be no immortality or indelicacy in espousing a proposition coming from the parties interested, amounts to nothing. The charge is not that advice was given to accede to the proposition, but that advice was given to accede to it, upon a ground which was dishonorable and unjust. It is the condition upon which the acceptance is advised that constitutes the culpability.
In No. 4 of the vindication, the attack upon Mr. Jefferson is said to proceed from private revenge. In No. 5, it changes its nature, and becomes an attack upon principles—a monarchical plot against the republican character of the community. How long and how often are the people of America to be insulted with this hypocritical rant? When will these political pharisees learn that their countrymen have too much discernment to be the dupes of their hollow and ostentatious pretensions; that the citizens know how to distinguish the men who serve them from those who only flatter them, the men who have substantial claims to their confidence from those who study to conceal the want of qualities, really solid and useful, under the mask of extraordinary and exclusive patriotism and purity?
It is curious to observe the pathetic wailings which have been produced by the animadversions in these papers. It would seem as if a certain party considered themselves as the sole and rightful censors of the Republic; and every attempt to bestow praise or blame not originating with them, as a usurpation of their prerogative,—every stricture on any of their immaculate band, as a breach of their privilege. They appear to think themselves authorized to deal out anathemas, without measure or mercy, against all who dare to swerve from their standard of political orthodoxy, which are to be borne without retaliation or murmur. And if any symptom of either shows itself, they are sure to raise the dismal cry of persecution; themselves the first to assail, and the first to complain. But what is not permitted to men who have so clearly established a title, little less than divine, to a monopoly of all the patriotic virtues!
The only answer which is due to the feint of offering to enter into arrangements for ascertaining whether the writer of these papers has, in the instance under consideration, been guilty of misrepresentation—and the breach of an official duty,—is to remind the public, that in my first paper I declared myself willing to be known on proper terms to the officer concerned. To this I adhere in the spirit of the original intimation, but I deem a personal disclosure to any subaltern of his, improper; nor do I perceive that it is in the present case necessary to an investigation of the facts. The writer of the vindication admits in substance what is alleged; and as to his collateral statements, it has been shown that they imply more blame on the character meant to be exculpated than was originally charged. I forbear any comment on the indecency of naming upon conjecture the person who has been named as the author of these papers, or upon the palpable artifice of making an avowal of them, by that particular person, the condition of a disclosure of the name of the writer of the vindication. Indecency and artifice are the proper weapons of such adversaries.
The words “might not be better,” are also said to have been interpolated, though all but the “not” are in the quotation made by the Vindicator; a specimen of his accuracy.