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to governor george clinton 2 - Alexander Hamilton, The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition), vol. 9 
The Works of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge (Federal Edition) (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). In 12 vols. Vol. 9.
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to governor george clinton2
Feb. 13, 1778.
I did myself the honor of writing to you immediately after my arrival at headquarters, in answer to two letters I found here from you.
There is a matter which often obtrudes itself upon my mind, and which requires the attention of every person of sense and prudence among us—I mean a degeneracy of representation in the great council of America. It is a melancholy truth, sir, the effects of which we daily see and feel, that there is not so much wisdom in a certain body as there ought to be, and as the success of our affairs absolutely demands. Many members of it are, no doubt, men in every respect fit for the trust, but this cannot be said of it as a body. Folly, caprice, a want of foresight, comprehension, and dignity characterize the general tenor of their action. Of this, I dare say, you are sensible, though you have not, perhaps, so many opportunities of knowing it as I have. Their conduct, with respect to the army especially, is feeble, indecisive, and improvident—insomuch that we are reduced to a more terrible situation than you can conceive. False and contracted views of economy have prevented them, though repeatedly urged to it, from making that provision for officers which was requisite to interest them in the service, which has produced such carelessness and indifference to the service as is subversive to every officer-like quality. They have disgusted the army by repeated instances of the most whimsical favoritism in their promotions, and by an absurd prodigality of rank to foreigners and to the meanest staff of the army. They have not been able to summon resolution enough to withstand the impudent importunity and vain boasting of foreign pretenders, but have manifested such a ductility and inconsistency in their proceedings as will warrant the charge of suffering themselves to be bullied by every petty rascal who comes armed with ostentatious pretensions of military merit and experience. Would you believe it, sir, it is become almost proverbial in the mouths of the French officers and other foreigners, that they have nothing more to do to obtain whatever they please than to assume a high tone and assert their own merit with confidence and perseverance? These things wound my feelings as a Republican more than I can express, and in some degree make me contemptible in my own eyes.
By injudicious changes and arrangements in the middle of a campaign, they have exposed the army frequently to temporary want, and to the danger of dissolution from absolute famine. At this very day there are complaints from the whole line of having been three or four days without provisions; desertions have been immense, and strong features of mutiny begin to show themselves. It is indeed to be wondered at that the soldiery have manifested so unparalleled a degree of patience as they have. If effectual measures are not speedily adopted I know not how we shall keep the army together or make another campaign.
I omit saying any thing of the want of clothing for the army. It may be disputed whether more could have been done than has been done.
If you look into their conduct in the civil line you will equally discover a deficiency of energy, dignity, and extensiveness of views; but of this you can better judge than myself, and it is unnecessary to particularize.
America once had a representation that would do honor to any age or nation. The present falling off is very alarming and dangerous. What is the cause? or how is it to be remedied?—are questions that the welfare of these States requires should be well attended to. The great men who composed our first council; are they dead, have they deserted the cause, or what has become of them? Very few are dead and still fewer have deserted the cause; they are all, except the few who still remain in Congress, either in the field or in the civil offices of their respective States; for the greater part are engaged in the latter. The only remedy then is to take them out of these employments and return them to the place where their presence is infinitely more important.
Each State, in order to promote its own external government and prosperity, has selected its best members to fill the offices within itself, and conduct its own affairs. Men have been fonder of the emoluments and conveniences of being employed at home; and local attachment falsely operating has made them more provident for the particular interests of the State to which they belonged, than for the common interests of the Confederacy. This is a most pernicious mistake and must be corrected. However important it is to give form and efficiency to your interior constitutions and police, it is infinitely more important to have a wise general council; otherwise a failure of the measures of the Union will overwhelm all your labors for the advancement of your particular good, and ruin the common cause. You should not beggar the councils of the United States to enrich the administration of the several members. Realize to yourself the consequence of having a Congress despised at home and abroad. How can the common force be exerted if the power of collecting it be put in weak, foolish, and unsteady hands? How can we hope for success in our European negotiations, if the nations of Europe have no confidence in the wisdom and vigor of the great Continental Government? This is the object on which their eyes are fixed; hence it is, America will derive its importance or insignificance in their estimation.
Arguments to you, sir, need not be multiplied to enforce the necessity of having a good general council; neither do I think we shall very widely differ as to the fact that the present is very far from being such.
The sentiments I have advanced are not fit for the vulgar ear; and circumstanced as I am now, I should with caution utter them except to those in whom I may place an entire confidence. But it is time that men of weight and understanding should take the alarm, and excite each other to a proper remedy. For my part, my insignificance allows me to do nothing more than to hint my apprehensions to those of that description who are pleased to favor me with their confidence. In this view I write to you.
As far as I can judge, the remarks I have made do not apply to your State nearly so much as to the other twelve. You have a Duane, a Morris, and, may I not add, a Duer? But why do you not send your Jay, and your R. R. Livingston? I wish General Schuyler was either explicitly in the army or in Congress. For yourself, sir, though I mean no compliments, you must not be spared from where you are.
But the design of this letter is not so much that you may use your influence in improving or enlarging your own representation, as in discreetly giving the alarm to other States through the medium of your confidential friends. Indeed, sir, it is necessary there should be a change. America will shake to its centre if there is not.
You and I had some conversation when I had the pleasure of seeing you last, with respect to the existence of a certain faction. Since I saw you I have discovered such convincing traits of the monster that I cannot doubt its reality in the most extensive sense. I dare say you have heard enough to settle the matter in your own mind. I believe it unmasked its batteries too soon, and begins to hide its head; but as I imagine it will only change the storm to a sap, all the true and sensible friends to their country, and of course to a certain great man, ought to be upon the watch to counterplot the secret machinations of his enemies. Have you heard any thing of Conway’s1 history? He is one of the vermin bred in the entrails of his chimera dire, and there does not exist a more villainous calumniator and incendiary. He is gone to Albany on a certain expedition.2
I owe this and the other letters to be given subsequently from the Clinton papers, to the kindness of Mr. Henry A. Homes, State Librarian at Albany, and to the late Judge Clinton, editor of the Clinton papers. This letter was published by the New York Herald in a pamphlet entitled “Clinton Correspondence,” in 1842, and is now reprinted from the Clinton papers in the possession of the State of New York.
The leader of the intrigue against Washington which has become famous as the “Conway Cabal.”
Endorsed “private” by Governor Clinton, and answered by him March 5th.