to timothy pickering
March 29, 1797.
The post of yesterday brought me your letter of the day before.
I regret that the idea of a commission extraordinary appears of doubtful propriety. For after very mature reflection I am entirely convinced of its expediency. I do not understand the passage you cite as excluding the reception of a special extraordinary minister, but of an extraordinary resident minister. It seems impossible that the Directory can mean to say that they will shut the door to all explanation, even as to the nature and measure of the redress of grievances which they require. They speak too hastily not to authorize a large interpretation of what they say.
But if I were certain they would not hear the commission, it would not prevent my having recourse to it. It would be my policy, if such a temper exists in them, to accumulate the proofs of it with a view to union at home.
This union (I do not expect to proselyte all the leaders of faction) appears to me a predominant consideration; and, with regard to France, more than ordinary pains are requisite to attain it.
That the enemies of the government desire the measure, is a cogent reason with me for adopting it; because I would meet them on their own ground and disarm them of the argument that all has not been done which might have been done towards preserving peace.
The estimation of the merit of all our past measures depends on the final preservation of peace. This, besides the interest of the country in peace, is a very powerful reason for attempting every thing. The best friends of the government will expect it, and if this expedient be not adopted, it seems to me rupture will inevitably follow.
There is an opinion industriously inculcated (which nobody better than myself knows to be false), that the actual administration are endeavoring to provoke a war. It is all important by the last possible sacrifice to confound this charge. I cannot but add that I have not only a strong wish, but an extreme anxiety, that the measure in question may be adopted.
To attain the end of it, however, it is very material to engage in the errand a man who will have the full confidence of the adverse party, and who will be agreeable to France.
This cannot be done without employing others with him. Hence the idea of a commission, which to me appears capable of attaining every advantage and obviating every danger.
I am also desirous of impressing the public mind strongly by a religious solemnity, to take place about the meeting of Congress. I also think the step intrinsically proper.
to oliver wolcott
March 30, 1797.
My Dear Sir:
Every one who can properly appreciate the situation of our affairs at this moment, in all the extent of possible circumstances, must be extremely anxious for such a course of conduct in our government, which will unite the utmost prudence with energy. It has been a considerable time my wish, that a commission extraordinary should be constituted to go to France, to explain, demand, negotiate, etc. I was particularly desirous that the first measure of the present president’s administration should have been that. But it has not happened. I now continue to wish earnestly that the same measure may go into effect, and that the meeting of the Senate may be accelerated for that purpose. Without opening a new channel of negotiation, it seems to me the door to accommodation is shut, and rupture will follow, if not prevented by a general peace. Who, indeed, can be certain that a general pacification of Europe may not leave us alone to receive the law from France? Will it be wise to omit any thing to parry, if possible, these great risks?
Perhaps the Directory have declared they will not receive a minister till their grievances shall have been redressed.
This can hardly mean more than that they will not receive a resident minister. It cannot mean that they will not hear an extraordinary messenger, who may even be sent to know what will satisfy.
Suppose they do. It will still be well to convince the people that the government has done all in its power, and that the Directory are unreasonable.
But the enemies of the government call for the measure. To me this is a very strong reason for pursuing it. It will meet them on their own ground, and disarm them of the plea that some thing has been omitted.
I ought, my good friend, to apprise you, for you may learn it from no other, that a suspicion begins to dawn among the friends of the government, that the actual administration is not much averse to war with France. How very important to obviate this!
The accounts just received offer a great danger, that the Emperor may be compelled to make peace. Paul of Russia is evidently lukewarm in the cause of the allies. From lukewarmness to enmity, when fortunes take the other side, is but a step.
If England is left to bear the burthen alone, who can say that France may not venture to sport an army to this country? It may get rid of troublesome spirits.
As in the case of England, so now, my opinion is, to exhaust the expedients of negotiation; and, at the same time, to prepare vigorously for the worst. This is sound policy. Any omission or deficiency either way, will be a great error.
to timothy pickering
April 1, 1797.
My Dear Sir:
I have received your letter of the 30th, with the statement enclosed. I do not believe that its publication would have any influence upon the question of a rupture with France, but yet, as it seems that those who surround the President are not agreed in the matter—as an opinion is industriously circulated that too much fuel has been added by the publications of the government—as it is important to disarm a certain party of the weapons of calumny,—as it is in general best to avoid unofficial publications of official matter—as it may be even useful, for the sake of impression, to reserve the disclosure till the meeting of Congress, when the accumulation of insult may be the instrument of giving a strong impulse,—I rather advise the withholding of the statement. When Congress meet, it will be very useful to have a statement ready, as the abstract of the communication, to present to the people a summary view.
Such, my dear sir, is the infatuation of a great part of our community, that it will be policy in our government to do a great deal too much to make the idea palpable that rupture was inevitable. Adieu.
Yours truly, etc.
If the statement is published, I would close with the words “January last” in the last paragraph. The residue will make a good separate newspaper paragraph. Pray, who is the emigrant alluded to?
to oliver wolcott
April 5, 1797.
I have received your letter of March 31st. I hope nothing in my last was misunderstood. Could it be necessary, I would assure you that no one has a stronger conviction than myself of the purity of the motives which direct your public conduct, or of the good sense and judgment by which it is guided. If I have a fear (you will excuse my frankness), it is lest the strength of your feelings, the companions of energy of character, should prevent that pliancy to circumstances which is sometimes indispensable. I beg you only to watch yourself on this score, and the public will always find in you an able as well as a faithful servant.
The situation of our country, my dear sir, is singularly critical. The map of Europe is every way discouraging. There is too much reason to apprehend that the Emperor of Germany, in danger from Russia and Prussia, perhaps from the Porte, as well as from France, may be compelled to yield to the views of the latter. England, standing alone, may be driven to a similar issue. It is certain that great consternation in court and country attended the intelligence of Bonaparte’s last victories. Either to be in rupture with France, united with England alone, or singly, as is possible, would be a most unwelcome situation. Divided as we are, who can say what would be hazarded by it?
In such a situation, it appeared to me we should rather err on the side of condescension than on the opposite side. We ought to do every thing to avoid rupture, without unworthy sacrifices, and to keep in view, as a primary object, union at home.
No measure can tend more to this than an extra-ordinary mission. And it is certain to fulfil the ends proposed. It ought to embrace a character in whom France and the opposition have full credit. What risk can attend Madison, if combined, as I propose, with Pinckney and Cabot, or such a man (two deciding)? Depend on it, Pinckney is a man of honor, and loves his country. Cabot we both know. Besides, there ought to be certain leading instructions from which they may not deviate.
I agree with you that we have nothing to retract; that we ought to risk every thing before we submit to any dishonorable terms. But we may remould our treaties. We may agree to put France on the same footing as Great Britain by our treaty with her. We may also liquidate, with a view to future wars, the import of the mutual guaranty in the treaty of alliance, substituting specific succors, and defining the casus fæderis. But this last may or may not be done, though with me it is a favorite object.
Ingersol will not fulfil the object, but I would rather have him than do nothing.
I am clearly of opinion with you that the President shall come forward to Congress in a manly tone, and that Congress shall adopt vigorous defensive measures. Those you propose are proper, and some others on which I may write hereafter.
If Madison is well coupled, I do not think his intrigues can operate as you imagine. Should he advocate dishonorable concessions to France, the public opinion will not support. His colleagues, by address, and showing a disposition to do enough, may easily defeat his policy, and maintain the public confidence. Besides that, it is possible too much may be taken for granted with regard to Mr. Madison.
to william smith
April 5, 1797.
I have received, my dear sir, your letter of the 2d of April, (1797,) with your little work accompanying it, which I shall read with the interest I take in the author, the first leisure hour. I have cast my eye over it, and like very much the plan.
Our affairs are indeed very critical. But I am sorry to find that I do not agree with several of my friends. I am clearly of opinion for an extraordinary mission, and as clearly that it should embrace Madison. I do not think we ought to construe the declaration of the Directory against receiving a Minister Plenipotentiary, as an extraordinary mission pro hac vice. And if it does, it would be no reason with me against it. I would accumulate the proofs of French violence, and demonstrate to all our citizens that nothing possible has been omitted. That a certain party desires it is with me a strong reason for it—since I would disarm them of all plea that we have not made every possible effort for peace. The idea is a plausible one, that as we sent an Envoy Extraordinary to Britain, so we ought to send one to France. And plausible ideas are always enough for the multitude.
These and other reasons (and principally to avoid rupture with a political monster, which seems destined soon to have no competitor but England) make me even anxious for an extraordinary mission.
And to produce the desired effect, it seems to me essential that it shall embrace a distinguished character agreeable to France, and having the confidence of the adverse party. Hence I think of Madison, but I think of him only as one, because I would not trust him alone. I would unite with him Pinckney, and some strong man from the North, Jay, Cabot, and two of the three should rule. We should then be safe.
I need not tell you that I am disposed to make no sacrifices to France. I had rather perish myself and family than see the country disgraced. But I would try hard to avoid rupture, and if that cannot be, to unite the opinions of all good citizens of whatever political denomination. This is with me a mighty object.
I will give you hereafter my ideas of what ought to be done when Congress meet. My plan ever is to combine energy with moderation.
to rufus king
April 8, 1797.
I thank you, my dear sir, for your letter of the 6th of February. The intelligence that the Directory have ordered away our minister is every way unpleasant. It portends, too, a final rupture as the only alternative to an ignominious submission. Much public feeling has been excited; but the government. I trust and believe, will continue prudent, and do every thing that honor permits towards accommodation. It is, however, to be feared that France, successful, will be too violent and imperious to meet us on any admissible ground.
Congress are called together. I can give you no conjecture as to what will be done. Opinions are afloat. My idea is, another attempt to pacify by negotiation, vigorous preparation for war, and defensive measures with regard to our trade. But there never was a period of our affairs in which I could less foresee the state of things.
I believe there is no danger of want of firmness in the Executive. If he is not ill-advised, he will not want prudence. I mean, that he is himself disposed to a prudently firm course.
You know the mass of our Senate. That of our House of Representatives is not ascertained. A small majority on the right side is counted upon. In Virginia it is understood that Morgan comes in place of Rutherforth, and Evans in place of Page. The whole result of the Virginia election is not known.
The conduct of France has been a very powerful medicine for the political disease of our country. I think the community improves in soundness.
to william smith
April 10, 1797.
Since my last to you I have perused with great satisfaction your little work on our governments. I like the execution no less than the plan. If my health and leisure should permit, I would make some notes; but you can not depend on it, as I am not only extremely occupied, but in feeble health.
I send you my ideas of the course of conduct proper in our present situation. It is unpleasant to me to know that I have for some time differed materially from many of my friends on public subjects, and I particularly regret that, at the present critical juncture, there is in my apprehension much danger that sensibility will be an overmatch for policy. We seem now to feel and reason as the Jacobins did when Great Britain insulted and injured us, though certainly we have at least as much need of a temperate conduct now as we had then. I only say, God grant that the public interest may not be sacrificed at the shrine of irritation and mistaken pride. Farewell.
to oliver wolcott
April 13, 1797.
My Dear Sir:
The post of to-day brought me a letter from you. I am just informed that an order is come to the custom-house not to clear out any vessels if armed, unless destined for the East Indies. Under the present circumstances, I very much doubt the expediency of this measure. The excesses of France justify passiveness in the government; and its inability to protect the merchants requires that it should leave them to protect themselves. Nor do I fear that it would tend to rupture with France, if such be not her determination otherwise. The legality of this prohibition cannot be defended; it must stand on its necessity. It would, I think, have been enough to require security that the vessel is not to be employed to cruise against any of the belligerent powers. Perhaps even now, where vessels have been armed previous to the receipt of the prohibition, it is safe and advisable to except them on the condition of such security. Think of this promptly. The general measure may be further considered at leisure. Nor am I prepared to say that, having been taken, it ought to be revoked.
I will send you shortly some remarks in reply to questions you propose.
to —— hamilton
- Albany, State of New York,
May 2, 1797.
My Dear Sir:
Some days since I received with great pleasure your letter of the 10th of March. The mark it affords of your kind attention, and the particular account it gives me of so many relations in Scotland are extremely gratifying to me. You, no doubt, have understood that my father’s affairs at a very early day went to wreck, so as to have rendered his situation during the greatest part of his life far from eligible. This state of things occasioned a separation between him and me, when I was very young, and threw me upon the bounty of my mother’s relatives, some of whom were then wealthy, though by vicissitudes to which human affairs are so liable, they have been since much reduced and broken up. Myself, at about sixteen, came to this country. Having always had a strong propensity to literary pursuits, by a course of study and laborious exertion, I was able, by the age of nineteen, to qualify myself for the degree of Bachelor of Arts in the College of New York, and to lay the foundation by preparatory study for the future profession of the law.
The American Revolution supervened. My principles led me to take part in it; at nineteen, I entered into the American army as captain of artillery. Shortly after I became, by his invitation, aide-decamp to General Washington, in which station I served till the commencement of that campaign which ended with the siege of York in Virginia, and the capture of Cornwallis’ army. The campaign I made at the head of a corps of light infantry, with which I was present at the siege of York, and engaged in some interesting operations.
At the period of the peace with Great Britain I found myself a member of Congress, by appointment of the legislature of this State.
After the peace, I settled in the city of New York, in the practice of the law, and was in a very lucrative course of practice, when the derangement of our public affairs, by the feebleness of the general confederation, drew me again reluctantly into public life. I became a member of the Convention which framed the present Constitution of the United States; and having taken part in this measure, I conceived myself to be under an obligation to lend my aid towards putting the machine in some regular motion. Hence, I did not hesitate to accept the offer of President Washington to undertake the office of Secretary of the Treasury.
In that office I met with many intrinsic difficulties, and many artificial ones, proceeding from passions, not very worthy, common to human nature, and which act with peculiar force in republics. The object, however, was effected of establishing public credit and introducing order in the finances.
Public office in this country has few attractions. The pecuniary emolument is so inconsiderable as to amount to a sacrifice to any man who can employ his time with advantage in any liberal profession. The opportunity of doing good, from the jealousy of power and the spirit of faction, is too small in any station to warrant a long continuance of private sacrifices. The enterprises of party had so far succeeded as materially to weaken the necessary influence and energy of the executive authority, and so far diminish the power of doing good in that department, as greatly to take away the motives which a virtuous man might have for making sacrifices. The prospect was even bad for gratifying in future the love of fame, if that passion was to be the spring of action.
The union of these motives, with the reflections of prudence in relation to a growing family, determined me as soon as my plan had attained a certain maturity, to withdraw from office. This I did by a resignation about two years since, when I resumed the profession of the law in the city of New York under every advantage I could desire.
It is a pleasant reflection to me, that since the commencement of my connection with General Washington to the present time, I have possessed a flattering share of his confidence and friendship.
Having given you a brief sketch of my political career, I proceed to some further family details.
In the year 1780, I married the second daughter of General Schuyler, a gentleman of one of the best families of this country, of large fortune, and no less personal and political consequence. It is impossible to be happier than I am in a wife; and I have five children, four sons and a daughter, the eldest a son somewhat past fifteen, who all promise as well as their years permit, and yield me much satisfaction. Though I have been too much in public life to be wealthy, my situation is extremely comfortable, and leaves me nothing to wish for but a continuance of health. With this blessing, the profits of my profession and other prospects authorize an expectation of such addition to my resources, as will render the eve of life easy and agreeable; so far as may depend on this consideration.
It is now several months since I have heard from my father, who continued at the island of St. Vincent. My anxiety at this silence would be greater than it is, were it not for the considerable interruption and precariousness of intercourse which is produced by the war.
I have strongly pressed the old gentleman to come and reside with me, which would afford him every enjoyment of which his advanced age is capable; but he has declined it on the ground that the advice of his physicians leads him to fear that the change of climate would be fatal to him. The next thing for me is, in proportion to my means, to endeavor to increase his comforts where he is.
It will give me the greatest pleasure to receive your son Robert at my house in New York, and still more to be of use to him; to which end, my recommendation and interest will not be wanting, and I hope not unavailing. It is my intention to embrace the opening which your letter affords me to extend my intercourse with my relations in your country, which will be a new source of satisfaction to me.
to timothy pickering
May 11, 1797.
My Dear Sir:
On my return here I found your letter of the 29th. The sitting of a court of chancery, and important business there, have unavoidably delayed a reply; now, it must be much more cursory than I could wish.
As to the mission, in some shape or other, the more I have reflected upon it, the more has it appeared to me indispensable. To accomplish, with certainty, a principal object of it—the silencing of Jacobin criticism, and promoting union among ourselves,—it is very material to engage in it a person who will have the Jacobin confidence; else, if France should still refuse to receive, or if receiving, the mission should prove unsuccessful, it will be said that this was because a suitable agent was not employed. Hence, my mind was led to Jefferson or Madison; but, as it would be unsafe to trust either alone, the idea of associates occurs as an essential part of the plan. This, likewise, is an expedient for saving Mr. Pinckney’s feelings.
But will either of them go on this footing? If offered, and they refuse, they will put themselves in the wrong; for on so great an emergency, they cannot justifiably decline the service without a good reason; and it would not be a good reason for refusal, that there was to be a commission. The refusal, too, if it happened, would furnish a reply to Jacobin clamor. It was offered to your leaders, and they would not act.
I confide in Pinckney’s integrity and federal attachments; why, then, name a third? Because, first, two may disagree, and there may be inaction. Second, though I have the confidence I mention, I think Pinckney has had too much French leaning to consider him, in conjunction with Jefferson or Madison, as perfectly safe. A third on whom perfect reliance could be placed would secure Pinckney’s co-operation. I do consider him, as in some sort, a middle character.
As to the two gentlemen named (Jefferson and Madison), it may be fairly observed to either of them that the combination of character is essential to combine the confidence of the country, and to render the result, whatever it may be, acceptable. It may also be observed that delicacy to Mr. Pinckney dictates this course—not to exclude him after what has happened. To Mr. Pinckney the state of parties here may also be pleaded.
The French Directory may also be made to understand indirectly that the association has proceeded from a desire in the Executive to unite confidence in the mission and secure its success at home.
I should not despair that in such a crisis men of opposite politics might agree. I verily believe that Jefferson, Pinckney, and King would agree. There might be a joint commission for action and a separate commission to Jefferson as envoy or ambassador extraordinary for representation.
I miscalculate if Jefferson will not be anxious for peace. I only fear that alone he would give too much for it.
If this plan is though liable to too strong objections, the next best thing is to send the commission of ambassador extraordinary to Pinckney, and send him also some clever fellow as secretary of embassy.
But I repeat it with extreme solicitude, another mission is absolutely indispensable.
On the subject of permitting our vessels to arm, there is some difficulty. You are right in the idea that merchant vessels under the convoy of ships-of-war are exempt from search. But I know no book where it is to be found. Yet I have so constantly understood it to be the usage, that I venture to rely upon it. But I believe the privilege is confined to public ships of war, and could not, according to usage, be transferred to private armed vessels. The measure must, therefore, be justified by the extremity.
Moreover, I understand no other consequence as resulting from the being armed than that it exposes the vessel to confiscation for resisting a search. It is no breach of neutrality to permit the being armed.
But I would avoid the formality of a commission, and would substitute some permit, perhaps to be signed by the head of a department. This should be united with great precautions to prevent abuse by cruising, by driving contraband trade by transfers to foreigners.
At all events our trade must have protection; for our whole mercantile capital will else be destroyed, our seamen lost, and our country involved in extreme distress.
As to a provisional army, I reason thus: no plan of a militia which is not the equivalent, in other words, which is not under a positive engagement to constitute a permanent army in case of invasion, will be worth any thing. For we want a stable force created beforehand to oppose to the first torrent, which, with mere militia, would involve incalculable dangers and calamities. Hence, as a substitute for a standing army, I offer a provisional one. It would be composed thus: the officers to be appointed by the United States and rank with those of the establishment, to receive some pay till called into actual service—say half, a third, or a fourth; those employed to recruit to be fully paid.
The men to be regularly enlisted upon condition not to be called into actual service, except in case of invasion, and then to serve during the war; to receive a uniform coat and a dollar, perhaps two dollars per month when not in the field; to be obliged to assemble for exercise so many days in the year, and then to have full pay and rations; when called into actual service to have the same compensations, etc., with the establishment; in short, to become part of it. To be armed by the United States; to be liable from the beginning to the articles of war.
I think such a corps, from the certainty of advantage, and the uncertainty of service, might be engaged sooner than a standing force, and, with precautions in the enlistment, would be a solid resource in case of need.
I am much attached to the idea of a large corps of efficient cavalry, and I cannot allow this character to militia. It is all-important to an undisciplined against a disciplined army. It is a species of force not easy to be brought by an invader—by which his supplies may be cut off and his activity extremely checked. Were I to command an undisciplined army, I should prefer half the force with a good corps of cavalry to twice the force without one.
to timothy pickering
Saturday, May 13, 1797.
My Dear Sir:
Mr. Goodhue takes on with him a Boston paper, the printer of which states that he has obtained, by a ship just arrived, a London paper of March 24th, mentioning in positive terms an account just received from the Emperor, that in consequence of a combination between Prussia and France, he is driven to the necessity of making an immediate peace for the safety of the empire; that in consequence of this, the king, who was at Windsor, had been sent for, etc.
The manner of announcing it is too positive to allow much doubt that the thing is substantially true.
This intelligence confirms the expediency of a further attempt to negotiate, but I hope it will not carry us too far. A firm and erect countenance must be maintained, and the vigor of preparation increased. Safety can only be found in uniting energy with moderation. Honor certainly is only to be found there, and either as a man or citizen, I, for one, had rather perish than submit to disgrace.
to rufus king
June 6, 1797.
I thank you, my dear sir, for two letters lately received from you, the last by Mr. Church. I feel very guilty for my negligence. But how can I help it?
The public prints will inform you of the course of public proceedings hitherto. You will perceive that the general plan is analogous to what was done in the case of Great Britain, though there are faults in the detail. Some people cannot learn that the only force which befits a government is in the thought and action, not in words, and many reverse the golden rule. I fear we shall do ourselves no honor in the result, and we shall remain at the mercy of events, without those efficient preparations which are demanded by so precarious situations; and which, not provoking war, would put us in condition to meet it. All the consolation I can give is, that the public temper of this country mends daily, and that there is no final danger of our submitting tamely to the yoke of France.
to oliver wolcott
June 6, 1797.
My Dear Sir:
You some time ago put a question to me which, through hurry I never answered, viz.—whether there can be any distinction between the provision in the treaty with Great Britain respecting British debts and that respecting spoliations as to the power of the commissioners to rejudge the decisions of the courts? I answer that I can discover none.
I am of the opinion, however, that in the exercise of this power two principles ought to be strenuously insisted upon. One—that the commissioners ought not to intermeddle but when it is unequivocally ascertained that justice cannot now be obtained through our courts. The other—that there ought to be no revision of the question of interest where abatements were made by juries undirected by any special statute. For it is certain that interest is capable of being affected by circumstances, and that the law leaves a considerable discretion on this point with juries. I take it for granted also, that where compromises were made between creditor and debtor without the intervention of courts, or the injunctions of positive law, there will be no revision. This is all a very delicate subject, one upon which great moderation on the part of the British commissioners is very important to future harmony.
I like very well the course of Executive conduct in regard to the controversy with France, and I like the answer of the Senate in regard to the President’s speech.
But I confess, I have not been well satisfied with the answer reported in the House. It contains too many hard expressions; and hard words are very rarely useful in public proceedings. Mr. Jay and other friends here have been struck in the same manner with myself. We shall not regret to see the answer softened down. Real firmness is good for every thing. Strut is good for nothing.
Last session I sent Sedgwick, with request to communicate to you, my project of a building tax. Enclosed is the rough sketch. I do not know whether there was any alteration in the copy sent to him.
But the more I reflect, the more I become convinced that some such plan ought to be adopted, and the idea of valuation dropped, and I have also become convinced that the idea of a tax on land ought to be deferred. The building tax can be accommodated to the quota-rule. For what were intended as rates may be considered as ratios of each individual’s tax only, and then, as the aggregate of these ratios within a State is to the sum of the ratios on a particular building, so will the sum to be raised in the State be to the sum to be paid by the owner of that building, and so the very bad business of valuations may be avoided in general. In regard to stores, if they are comprehended, rents or valuations may be adopted, and these rents may also be represented by ratios equivalent to the proportion of the specific ratios to the rents of houses to be estimated in the law.
If these ideas are not clear I will on your desire give a further explanation.
My plans of ways and means then for the present would be:
|A tax on buildings equal to||$1,000,000|
|On stamps, including a small percentage on policies of insurance and a percentage on collateral successions||500,000|
|A duty on hats, say 5 per cent. for the commonest kind, 10 per cent. for the middling, and 20 for the best, to be decided by the materials|
|On saddle-horses —— dollars per horse||250,000|
|On salt, so much as will make the whole duty 25 cents—suppose||250,000|
I should like also a remodification of the duties on licenses to sell spirituous liquors by multiplying discriminations.
I would then open a loan for five millions of dollars, to be repaid absolutely within five years, upon which I would allow a high interest, say eight per cent., payable quarterly, and redeemable at pleasure by paying off, and I would accept subscriptions as low as one hundred dollars. In case of pressure, Treasury-bills bearing a like interest may be used.
If unfortunately war breaks out, then every practicable object of taxation should at once be seized hold of, so as to carry our revenue in the first instance to the extent of our ability. Nor is the field narrow.
I give you my ideas full gallop and without management of expression. I hope you always understand me a-right and receive my communications as they are intended, in the spirit of friendly frankness.
to oliver wolcott
June 8, 1797.
I have received your two letters of the 6th and 7th. The last announced to me no more than I feared. Nor do I believe any sufficient external impulse can be given to save us from disgrace. This, however, will be thought of.
I regret that you appear remote from the idea of a house tax simply, without combining the land. I do not differ from your general principle. The truth is a solid one that the sound state of political economy depends, in a great degree, on a general repartition of taxes on taxable property, by some equal rule. But it is very important to relax in theory, so as to accomplish as much as may be practicable. I despair of a general land tax without actual war. I fear the idea of it; it keeps men from the augmentation of revenue by other means which they might be willing to adopt. The idea of a house tax alone is not so formidable. If placed upon a footing which would evince practicability and moderation in the sum, I think it might succeed. Now, one million of dollars, computing the number of houses at six hundred thousand, would be an average of about a dollar and a half. The tax would be very low on the worst houses, and could not be high on the best. This idea would smooth a great deal.
As to the circumstance of the habitations of the Southern negroes, I see no insuperable difficulty in applying ratios to them which would tend to individual equity. As between the States, the quota principle would make this point unimportant.
As to the inequality in certain States, I believe, on the plan suggested, there could be no general tax which in fact would operate more equally. The idea of equalization by embracing lands does not much engage my confidence. Besides that, this may be an after-object, and we are to gain points successively.
As to the productiveness of the stamp tax, with the items I suggest, it is difficult, in the first instance, to judge. But I am persuaded it would go far towards the point aimed at. There cannot be much fewer than three millions of hats consumed in a year in this country. At an average of eight cents per hat, this would be two hundred and forty thousand dollars, a large proportion of the five hundred thousand dollars. If law proceedings can be included, directly or indirectly, the produce will be very considerable. I think you mistake when you say these taxes in England are inconsiderable in proportion. According to my recollection, the reverse is the truth.
to timothy pickering
August 27, 1797.
Some time since I received the enclosed, being directions concerning measures requisite to be pursued to obtain indemnification in case of capture by British cruisers. I laid it by in haste, and have since overlooked it. I do not recollect to have seen it in the newspapers, and yet it appeared to me necessary that it should be so. As it came to me from some one of our public characters in London, I presume you must have received the equivalent. I am curious to know if this has been the case, and if any thing has been done upon it.
After perusal, and making such use as you may think proper, you will oblige me by returning it.
August 28, 1797.
My Dear Sir:
The receipt two days since of your letter of the 21st instant gave me sincere pleasure. The token of your regard which it announces is very precious to me, and will always be remembered as it ought to be.
Mrs. Hamilton has lately added another boy to our stock; she and the child are both well. She desires to be affectionately remembered to Mrs. Washington and yourself.
We have nothing new here more than our papers contain, but are anxiously looking forward to a further development of the negotiations in Europe, with an ardent desire for general accommodation. It is at the same time agreeable to observe that the public mind is adopting more and more sentiments truly American, and free from foreign tincture.
I beg my best respects to Mrs. Washington.
to oliver wolcott
November 20, 1797.
Give me leave to remind you of your promise to send me the documents and information which authenticate the situation of Mr. Beaumarchais as to the unaccounted-for million.
Allow me also to mention to you another point. I hear there is a plan among the directors of the bank to transfer the management of their concerns from the house of Cazenove to that of Baring. When the arrangement was originally upon the tapis, I felt some preference to the house of Baring as of more known solidity. But after its having taken a different course I should regret a change unless upon grounds which I am persuaded do not exist—circumstances of insecurity in the conduct of affairs of the existing agents. I verily believe they unite prudence and solidity. The change might, without cause, injure their credit and do them positive harm. It was one thing to have entrusted them in the first instance. It is another to recall that trust, which neither justice nor the reputation of the bank will countenance, but for valid reasons of change of opinion. My friendship for Mr. Cazenove, the father, corresponds with my sense of propriety, to induce the wish that you may see fit to exert your influence in every proper way to prevent a change.
to oliver wolcott
I thank you for your last letter. The opinion with regard to the conduct of the President is very important.
As to our finances, all will be well if our councils are wise and vigorous; if not, all will go to ruin. I fear there is not among the friends sufficient capaciousness of views for the greatness of the occasion.
I send the enclosed because it requires correction.1
to rufus king
(Probably March, 1798.)
It is a great while, my dear friend, since I have written to you a line. You will not, I am sure, impute my silence to any cause impeaching my friendship, for that must be always cordial and entire. The truth is that my professional avocations occupy me to the extent of the exertions my health permits, and I have been unwilling to sit down to write you without leisure to say some thing interesting. But I now depart from the rule, that my persevering silence may not make me sin beyond redemption. I have, however, only time to tell you that your friends are generally well, and as much attached to you as ever, and that I hear of no cabals against you.
Being just returned from Albany, I would say nothing about the political juncture as it is affected by the unpleasant advices from our commissioners in France. I will only say, that the public mind is much sounder than that of our representatives in the national council, and that there is no danger of our entirely disgracing ourselves—that is, by any unworthy compliances with the exorbitant pretensions of “The Great MONSTER.”
to timothy pickering
March 17, 1798.
I make no apology for offering you my opinion on the present state of our affairs.
I look upon the question before the public as nothing less than whether we shall maintain our independence; and I am prepared to do it in every event, and at every hazard. I am therefore of opinion that our Executive should come forth on this basis.
I wish to see a temperate, but grave, solemn, and firm communication from the President to the two houses on the result of the advices from our commissioners; this communication to review summarily the course of our affairs with France from the beginning to the present moment; to advert to her conduct towards the neutral powers generally, dwelling emphatically on the last decree respecting vessels carrying British manufactures, as an unequivocal act of hostility against all of them; to allude to the dangerous and vast projects of the French government; to consider her refusal to receive our ministers as a virtual denial of our independence, and as evidence that, if circumstances favor the plan, we shall be called to defend that independence, our political institutions, and our liberty, against her enterprises; to conclude, that leaving still the door to accommodation open, and not proceeding to final rupture, our duty, our honor, and safety, require that we shall take vigorous and comprehensive measures of defence, adequate to the immediate protection of our commerce, to the security of our ports, and to our eventual defence in case of invasion, and with a view to these great objects, calling forth and organizing all the resources of the country. I would, at the same time, have the President to recommend a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer. The occasion renders it proper, and religious ideas will be useful. I have this last measure at heart.
The measures to be advocated by our friends in Congress to be these:
- I—Permission to our merchant vessels to arm and to capture those which may attack them.
- II—The completion of our frigates, and the provision of a considerable number of sloops-of-war not exceeding twenty guns. Authority to capture all attacking, and privateers found within twenty leagues of our coast.
- III—Power to the President, in general terms, to provide and equip ten ships of the line in case of open rupture with any foreign power.
- IV—The increase of our military establishment to twenty thousand, and a provisional army of thirty thousand, besides the militia.
- V—The efficacious fortification of our principal ports, say Portsmouth, Boston, Newport, New London, New York, Philadelphia, Norfolk, Baltimore, Wilmington, N. C., Charleston, Savannah. It is waste of money to be more diffusive.
- VI—The extension of our revenue to all the principal objects of taxation, and a loan commensurate with the contemplated expenditures.
- VII—The suspension of our treaties with France till a basis of connection shall be re-established by treaty.
In my opinion, bold language and bold measures are indispensable. The attitude of calm defiance suits us. It is vain to talk of peace with a power with which we are actually in hostility. The election is between a tame surrender of our rights or a state of mitigated hostility. Neither do I think that this state will lead to general rupture if France is unsuccessful; and if successful, there is no doubt in my mind that she will endeavor to impose her yoke upon us.
P. S.—If Robert Troup resigns his office of district judge, the President cannot make a better choice than of Samuel Jones, Esq., the present Comptroller of the State. I understand he will accept.
to theodore sedgwick
The President ought to make a solemn and manly communication to Congress—the language grave and firm, but without invective, in which, after recapitulating the progress of our controversy with France, the measures taken toward accommodation, and stating their degrading result, he ought to advert to the extremely critical posture of Europe, the excessive pretensions of France externally, her treatment of the neutral powers generally, and dwelling emphatically on the late violent invasion of their commerce, as an act destructive of the independence of nations, to state that eventual dangers of the most serious kind hang over us, and that we ought to consider ourselves as bound to provide with the utmost energy for the immediate security of our invaded rights, and for the ultimate defence of our liberty and independence, and conclude with a recommendation in general terms to adopt efficient measures for increasing our revenue, for protecting our commerce, for guarding our sea-ports, and ultimately for repelling invasion; intimating also, that the relations of treaty which have subsisted between us and France, and which have been so entirely disregarded by her, ought not to remain by our Constitution and laws binding upon us, but ought to be suspended in their operations, till an adjustment of differences shall re-establish a basis of connection and intercourse between two countries, taking especial care, however, that merely defensive views be indicated.
to timothy pickering
(Post-marked March 23, 1798.)
My Dear Sir:
I understand that the Senate have called upon the President for papers. Nothing certainly can be more proper; and such is the universal opinion here; and it appears to me essential that as much as possible can be communicated. Confidence will otherwise be wanting, and criticism will ensue which it will be difficult to repel. The observation is that Congress are called upon to discharge the most important of all their functions, and that it is too much to expect that they will rely on the influence of the Executive from materials which may be put before them. The recent examples of the British king are cited. Pray, let all that is possible be done.
to timothy pickering
10 o’clock, Tuesday, March 27, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
I have this moment received your two favors of the 25th. I am delighted with their contents, but it is impossible for me to reply particularly to them so as to reach you to-morrow as you desire. I will therefore confine myself to one point. I am against going immediately into alliance with Great Britain. It is my opinion that her interests will insure us her co-operation to the extent of her power, and that a treaty will not secure her further. On the other hand, a treaty might entangle us. Public opinion is not prepared for it. It would not fail to be represented as to the point to which our previous conduct was directed; and, in case of offers from France satisfactory to us, the public faith might be embarrassed by the calls of the people for accommodation and peace.
The desideratum is that Britain could be engaged to lodge with her minister here powers commensurate with such arrangement as exigencies may require and the progress of opinion permit. I see no good objection on her part to this plan.
It would be good policy in her to send to this country a dozen frigates to pursue the directions of this government.
If Spain would cede Louisiana to the United States, I would accept it absolutely if obtainable absolutely, or with an engagement to restore, if it cannot be obtained absolutely. I shall write again to-morrow.
to john jay
April 24, 1798.
I have received your two favors of the 19th instant. I feel, as I ought, the mark of confidence they announce. But I am obliged by my situation to decline the appointment. This situation you are too well acquainted with to render it necessary for me to enter into explanation. There may arrive a crisis when I may conceive myself bound once more to sacrifice the interests of my family to public call. But I must defer the change as long as possible.
I do not at present think of a person to recommend adapted to the emergency. I shall reflect and consult, and write you by the next post. This, the first day, is not decisive of our election here, but there is as yet nothing to discourage.
to james mchenry
May 17, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
I have received your letter of the 12th instant. Not having seen the law which provides the naval armament, I cannot tell whether it gives any new power to the President; that is, any power whatever with regard to the employment of the ships. If not, and he is left at the foot of the Constitution, as I understand to be the case, I am not ready to say that he has any other power than merely to employ the ships as convoys, with authority to repel force by force (but not to capture), and to repress hostilities within our waters, including a marine league from our coasts.
Any thing beyond this must fall under the idea of reprisals, and requires the sanction of that department which is to declare or make war.
In so delicate a case, in one which involves so important a consequence as that of war, my opinion is that no doubtful authority ought to be exercised by the President; but, that as different opinions about his power have been expressed in the House of Representatives, and no special power has been given by the law, it will be expedient for him, and his duty, and the true policy of the conjuncture, to come forward by a message to the two houses of Congress, declaring that “so far and no farther” he feels himself confident of his authority to go in the employment of the naval force; that as, in his opinion, the depredations on our trade demand a more extensive protection, he has thought it his duty to bring the subject under the review of Congress by a communication of his opinion of his own powers, having no desire to exceed the constitutional limits.
This course will remove all clouds as to what the President will do; will gain him credit for frankness and an unwillingness to chicane the Constitution, and will return upon Congress the question in a shape which cannot be eluded.
I presume you will have heard before this reaches you that a French privateer has made captures at the mouth of our harbor. This is too much humiliation after all that has passed.
Our merchants are very indignant; our government very prostrate in the view of every man of energy.
to rufus king
My Dear Sir:
It is a great while since I received a line from you, nor, indeed, have I deserved one; the vortex of business in which I have been having kept me from writing to you. At this moment, I presume, you will not be sorry to know my opinion as to the course of our public affairs.
In Congress a good spirit is gaining ground, and, though measures march slowly, there is reason to expect that almost every thing which the exigency requires will be done. The plan is present defence against depredations by sea, and preparations for eventual danger by land. In the community, indignation against the French Government, and a firm resolution to support our own, discover themselves daily by unequivocal symptoms. The appearances are thus far highly consoling.
But, in this posture of things, how unfortunate is it that the new instructions offered by Great Britain, which appear, according to the reports of the day, to be giving rise to many abusive captures of our vessels, are likely to produce a counter-current, and to distract the public dissatisfaction between two powers, who, it will be said, are equally disposed to plunder and oppress. In vain will it be urged that the British Government cannot be so absurd as at such a juncture to intend us injury. The effects will be alone considered, and they will make the worst possible impression. By what fatality has the British Cabinet been led to spring any new mine, by new regulations, at such a crisis of affairs? What can be gained to counteract the mischievous tendency of abuses? Why are weapons to be furnished to our Jacobins?
It seems the captured vessels are carried to the Mole, where there is a virtuous judge, of the name of Cambault, disposed to give sanction to plunder in every shape. Events are not yet sufficiently unfolded to enable us to judge of the extent of the mischief, but nothing can be more unlucky than that the door has been opened. The recency of the thing may prevent your hearing any thing about it from the government by this opportunity.
P. S.—It is said privateers are fitting out at Antigua and St. Kitts.
May 19, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
At the present dangerous crisis of public affairs, I make no apology for troubling you with a political letter. Your impressions of our situation, I am persuaded, are not different from mine. There is certainly great probability that we may have to enter into a very serious struggle with France; and it is more and more evident that the powerful faction which has for years opposed the government, is determined to go every length with France. I am sincere in declaring my full conviction, as the result of a long course of observation, that they are ready to new-model our Constitution under the influence or coercion of France, to form with her a perpetual alliance, offensive and defensive, and to give her a monopoly of our trade by peculiar and exclusive privileges. This would be in substance, whatever it might be in name, to make this country a province of France. Neither do I doubt that her standard, displayed in this country, would be directly or indirectly seconded by them, in pursuance of the project I have mentioned.
It is painful and alarming to remark, that the opposition faction assumes so much a geographical complexion. As yet, from the south of Maryland nothing has been heard but accounts of disapprobation of our government, and approbation of or apology for France. This is a most portentous symptom, and demands every human effort to change it.
In such a state of public affairs, it is impossible not to look up to you, and to wish that your influence could in some proper mode be brought into direct action. Among the ideas which have passed through my mind for this purpose, I have asked myself whether it might not be expedient for you to make a circuit through Virginia and North Carolina, under some pretence of health, etc. This would call forth addresses, public dinners, etc., which would give you an opportunity of expressing sentiments in answers, toasts, etc., which would throw the weight of your character into the scale of the government, and revive an enthusiasm for your person, that may be turned into the right channel.
I am aware that the step is delicate, and ought to be well considered before it is taken. I have even not settled my own opinion as to its propriety, but I have concluded to bring the general idea under your view, confident that your judgment will make a right choice; and that you will take no step which is not well calculated. The conjuncture, however, is extraordinary, and now, or very soon, will demand extraordinary measures.
You ought also to be aware, my dear sir, that in the event of an open rupture with France, the public voice will again call you to command the armies of your country; and, though all who are attached to you will, from attachment, as well as from public considerations, deplore an occasion which should once more tear you from that repose to which you have so good a right, yet it is the opinion of all those with whom I converse, that you will be compelled to make the sacrifice. All your past labor may demand to give it efficacy this further, this very great sacrifice. Adieu, my dear sir.
June 2, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
I have before me your favor of the 27th of May. The suggestion in my last was an indigested thought, begotten by my anxiety. I have no doubt that your view of it is accurate and well founded.
It is a great satisfaction to me to ascertain what I had anticipated in hope, that you are not determined in an adequate emergency against affording once more your military services. There is no one but yourself that would unite the public confidence in such an emergency, independent of other considerations, and it is of the last importance that this confidence should be full and complete. As to the wish of the country, it is certain that it will be ardent and universal. You intimate a desire to be informed what would be my part in such an event as to entering into military service. I have no scruple about opening myself to you on this point. If I am invited to a station in which the service I may render may be proportionate to the sacrifice I am to make, I shall be willing to go into the army. If you command, the place in which I should hope to be most useful is that of Inspector-General, with a command in the line. This I would accept. The public must judge for itself as to whom it will employ, but every individual must judge for himself as to the terms on which he will serve, and consequently must estimate his own pretensions.
I have no knowledge of any arrangement contemplated, but I take it for granted the service of all the former officers worth having may be commanded, and that your choice would regulated the Executive. With decision and care in the selection an excellent army may be formed.
The view you give of the prospects in the South is very consoling. The public temper seems everywhere to be travelling to a right point. This promises security to the country in every event.
to oliver wolcott
June 5, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
The answer from the President to the Commander-in-Chief, etc., of New Jersey, contains in the close a very indifferent passage. The sentiment is intemperate and revolutionary. It is not for us, particularly for the government, to breathe an irregular or violent spirit. Hitherto I have much liked the President’s answers, as, in the main, within proper bounds, and calculated to animate and raise the public mind. But there are limits which must not be passed, and from my knowledge of the ardor of the President’s mind, and this specimen of the effects of that ardor, I begin to be apprehensive that he may run into indiscretion. This will do harm to the government, to the cause, and to himself. Some hint must be given, for we must make no mistakes.
Enclosed is a sketch of some ideas which have run through my mind. They are perhaps none of them new, but they are offered as the evidence of my opinion on the point. As yet we are far short of the point of vigor.
Further measures advisable to be taken without delay.
First.—To authorize the President to proceed forthwith to raise the ten thousand men already ordered.
Secondly.—To establish an academy for naval and military instruction. This is a very important measure, and ought to be permanent.
Thirdly.—To provide for the immediate raising of a corps of non-commissioned officers, viz.: sergeants and corporals, sufficient, with the present establishment, for an army of fifty thousand men. The having these men prepared and disciplined will accelerate extremely the disciplining of an additional force.
Fourthly.—To provide, before Congress rise, that in case it shall appear that an invasion of this country by a large army is actually on foot, there shall be a draft from the militia, to be classed, of a number sufficient to complete the army of fifty thousand men. Provision for volunteers in lieu of drafts. A bounty to be given.
Fifthly.—To authorize the President to provide a further naval force of six ships of the line and twelve frigates, with twenty small vessels not exceeding sixteen guns. It is possible the ships of the line and frigates may be purchased of Great Britain, to be paid for in stock. We ought to be ready to cut up all the small privateers and gun-boats in the West Indies, so as at the same time to distress the French islands as much as possible, and protect our own trade.
Sixthly.—Is not the independence of the French colonies, under the guaranty of the United States, to be aimed at? If it is, there cannot be too much promptness in opening negotiations for the purpose. Victor Hugues is probably an excellent subject. This idea, however, deserves mature consideration.
Seventhly.—It is essential the Executive should have half a million of secret-service money. If the measure cannot be carried without it, the expenditure may be with the approbation of three members of each house of Congress. But it were better without this incumbrance.
Eighthly.—Revenue in addition to the two millions of land tax, say:
| In lieu of tax on slaves, which is liable to much objection.|
|A stamp duty on hats, as well manufactured at home as imported, distributed into three classes: ten, fifteen, and twenty-five cents,||$500,000|
|Saddle-horses one dollar each, excluding those engaged in agriculture . . . .||100,000|
|Salt, add so as to raise the present duty to twenty-five cents per bushel.|
|Male servants of these capacities, by whatever name: maître d’hotel, house steward, valet de chamber, butler, under butler, confectioner, cook, house porter, waiter, footman, coachman, groom, postilion, stable-boy.|
|For one such servant . . . . $1|
|For two servants and not more . each, 2|
|For three servants and not more . each 3|
|Above three . . . . . each 4||500,000|
|(One dollar additional by bachelors.)|
|New modification, with greater diversity of licenses for sale of wines, etc . . .||100,000|
|One per cent. on all successions by descent or devise . . . . . . .||100,000|
Ninthly.—A loan of ten millions of dollars. The interest to be such as will insure the loan at par. It is better to give high interest redeemable at pleasure, than low interest with accumulation of capital, as in England.
to rufus king
June 6, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
Official information and the public papers will give you all the information I could give of the measures going on in this country. You will have observed with pleasure a spirit of patriotism kindling everywhere. And you will not be sorry to know that it is my opinion, that there will shortly be national unanimity, as far as that idea can ever exist. Many of the leaders of faction will persist, and take ultimately a station in the public estimation like that of the tories of our revolution.
Our chief embarrassment now is, the want of energy among some of our friends, and our councils containing too strong an infusion of those characters who cannot reform, and who, though a minority, are numerous enough and artful enough to perplex and relax. We do far less than we ought towards organizing and maturing for the worst the resources of the country. But I count that there is a progress of opinion which will probably shortly overcome this obstacle.
How vexatious that at such a juncture there should be officers of Great Britain, who, actuated by a spirit of plunder, are doing the most violent things, calculated to check the proper amount of popular feeling, and to furnish weapons to the enemies of government. Cambault at the Mole is acting a part quite as bad as the Directory and their instruments. I have seen several of his condemnations. They are wanton beyond measure. It is not enough that his acts are disavowed, and a late and defective redress given through the channels of the regular courts. Justice, and the policy of the crisis, demand that he be decisively punished and disgraced. I think it probable you will be instructed to require this. It would be happy if the government where you are would anticipate.
It is unlucky, too, that Cochran, of the Thetis, appears to be doing some ill things. The Southern papers announce a number of captures lately made by him, and in some instances, if they say true, on very frivolous pretexts. The character of that gentleman would lead me to hope that there is in this some misrepresentation, but the present appearances against him are strong.
There seems a fatality in all this. It cannot be doubted that the British cabinet must at this time desire to conciliate this country. It is to be hoped they will not want vigor to do it with effect, by punishing those who contravene the object.
to timothy pickering
June 7, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
As McHenry will probably have left Philadelphia before this reaches that place, I take the liberty to address the subject of it to you.
I have received a letter from Capt. Van Rensselaer, in which he informs me that he is a candidate for a commission on board our navy, and requests my recommendation of it. As a connection of our family, I cannot refuse it, as far as truth and propriety will warrant.
When he first began his career, the young man did things which were not pretty, but he has since that retrieved his character by a conduct which has rapidly raised him to the command of a ship, which he has had of several. I have particularly inquired concerning him, and my inquiries have been satisfactorily answered, so that I really conclude he is a deserving man. But of this you can be better ascertained from persons in Philadelphia, in whose employ I believe he has sailed.
My only intention is to request attention to his pretensions, as far as they appear to be good, and in the proportion which they bear to those of other candidates. I owe this to him as a family connection, and I may add that he is of a brave blood.
What do the British mean? What are these stories of the Thetis, etc.? In my opinion, our country is now to act in every direction with spirit. Will it not be well to order one of our frigates to Charleston, to protect effectually our commerce in that quarter, and, if necessary, control the Thetis? This conduct will unite and animate.
P. S.—If an alien bill passes, I would like to know what policy, in execution, is likely to govern the Executive. My opinion is, that while the mass ought to be obliged to leave the country, the provisions in our treaties in favor of merchants ought to be observed, and there ought to be guarded exceptions of characters whose situation would expose them too much if sent away, and whose demeanor amongst us has been unexceptionable. There are a few such. Let us not be cruel or violent.
to timothy pickering
June 8, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
Though I scarcely think it possible that the British Administration can have given the orders which accounts from various quarters attribute to them, yet the circumstance of these accounts coming from different quarters, and the conduct of such a man as Capt. Cochran, make me apprehensive. I take the liberty to express to you my opinion that it is of the true policy as well as of the dignity of our government, to act with spirit and energy as well toward Great Britain as France. I would mete the same measure to both of them, though it should ever furnish the extraordinary spectacle of a nation at war with two nations at war with each other. One of them will quickly court us, and by this course of conduct our citizens will be enthusiastically united to the government. It will evince that we are neither Greeks nor Trojans. In very critical cases bold expedients are often necessary. Will not a pointed call on the British Minister here to declare whether he has any knowledge of the instructions alleged be proper? The making this call and the answer public may have good effect.
No one who does not see all the cards can judge accurately. But I am sure the general course I indicate cannot but be well.
to oliver wolcott
June 29, 1798.
I have this moment seen a bill brought into the Senate, entitled “A Bill to define more particularly the crime of Treason,” etc. There are provisions in this bill, which, according to a cursory view, appear to me highly exceptionable, and such as, more than any thing else, may endanger civil war. I have not time to point out my objections by this post, but I will do it to-morrow. I hope sincerely the thing may not be hurried through. Let us not establish a tyranny. Energy is a very different thing from violence. If we make no false step, we shall be essentially united, but if we push things to an extreme, we shall then give to faction body and solidity.
July 8, 1798.
I was much surprised on my arrival here to discover that your nomination had been without any previous consolation of you. Convinced of the goodness of the motives, it would be useless to scan the propriety of the step. It is taken, and the question is, what, under the circumstances, ought to be done? I use the liberty which my attachment to you and to the public authorizes, to offer my opinion that you should not decline the appointment. It is evident that the public satisfaction at it is lively and universal. It is not to be doubted that the circumstance will give an additional spring to the public mind—will tend much to unite, and will facilitate the measures which the conjuncture requires. On the other hand, your declining would certainly produce the opposite effects, would throw a great damp upon the ardor of the country, inspiring the idea that the crisis was not really serious or alarming. At least, then, let me entreat you, and in this all your friends, indeed, all good citizens will unite, that if you do not give an unqualified acceptance, that you accept provisionally, making your entering upon the duties to depend on future events, so that the community may look up to you as their certain commander. But I prefer a simple acceptance.
It may be well, however, to apprise you that the arrangement of the army may demand your particular attention. The President has no relative ideas, and his prepossessions on military subjects in reference to such a point are of the wrong sort. It is easy for us to have a good army, but the selection requires care. It is necessary to inspire confidence in the efficient part of those who may incline to military service. Much adherence to routine would do great harm. Men of capacity and exertion in the higher stations are indispensable. It deserves consideration whether your presence at the seat of government is not necessary. If you will accept it will be conceived that the arrangement is yours, and you will be responsible for it in reputation. This, and the influence of a right arrangement upon future success, seem to require that you should, in one mode or another, see efficaciously that the arrangement is such as you would approve.
to timothy pickering
July 17, 1798
My Dear Sir:
I thank you for your friendly letter by the post. I had not contemplated the possibility that Knox might come into service, and was content to be second to him, if thought indispensable. Pinckney, if placed over me, puts me a grade lower. I don’t believe it to be necessary. I am far from certain that he will not be content to serve under me, but I am willing that the affair should be so managed as that the relative ranks may remain open to future settlement, to ascertain the effect of the arrangement which has been contemplated.
I am not, however, ready to say that I shall be satisfied with the appointment of Inspector-General, with the rank and command of Major-General, on the principle that every officer of high rank in the late army, who may be appointed, is to be above me.
I am frank to own that this will not accord with my opinion of my own pretensions, and I have every reason to believe that it will fall far short of public opinion.
Few have made so many sacrifices as myself. To few would a change of situation for a military appointment be so injurious as to myself. If, with this sacrifice, I am to be degraded below my just claim in public opinion, ought I to acquiesce?
to general duportail
July 23, 1798.
My Dear General:
Though it is a great while since I have heard from you, I have not ceased to inquire after you, and I shall never cease to interest myself in your welfare.
You have seen the progress of things between this country and France, and you must have made reflections on your own situation. I am aware that the idea of your entering in any way into the military service of this country, on such an occasion, is one of great delicacy, and opposed by many motives. But knowing your opinion as to the revolution and revolutionary leaders of your country, I have thought it not wholly impossible that such an idea would not be entirely disagreeable to you, and I am desirous of ascertaining, in the most scrupulous confidence, the state of your mind on this point. The subject may divide itself into employment in the field and employment out of the field.
When I take the liberty to sound you on this head, I ought to assure you, as is truly the case, that the step is wholly from the suggestion of my own mind, and that I am altogether at a loss to conjecture whether those who must decide the matter would be at all disposed to avail themselves of your services.
I pray you nevertheless to open to me freely your heart on this point, in the fullest reliance upon my prudence, honor, and delicacy. If it were not to intrude too much upon you, I would request you to favor me with a digested plan of an establishment for a military school. This is an object I have extremely at heart.
July 29, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
Your letter of the 14th instant did not reach me till after the appointments mentioned in it were made.
I see clearly in what has been done a new mark of your confidence, which I value as I ought to do.
With regard to the delicate subject of the relative rank of the major-generals, it is not very natural for me to be a partial judge, and it is not very easy for me to speak upon it. If I know myself, however, this, at least, I may say, that, were I convinced of injustice being done to others in my favor, I should not hesitate even to volunteer a correction of it, as far as my consent would avail. But in a case like this, am I not to take the opinion of others as my guide? If I am, the conclusion is that the gentlemen concerned ought to acquiesce. It is a fact of which there is a flood of evidence that a great majority of leading Federal men were of opinion that in the event of your declining the command of the army, it ought to devolve upon me, and that in case of your acceptance, which everybody ardently desired, the place of second in command ought to be mine.
It is not for me to examine the justness of this opinion. The illusions of self-love might be expected too easily to give it credit with me. But finding it to exist, am I at liberty to seek to postpone myself to others, in whose hands, according to that opinion, the public interests would be less well confided? Such are the reflections which would have determined me to let the business take its course.
My own opinion, at the same time, is, that of the two gentlemen postponed to me, the cause of complaint, if any, applies emphatically to General Knox. His rank in the army was much higher than that either of Pinckney or myself. Pinckney’s pretensions on the score of real service are not extensive; those of Knox are far greater. Pinckney has, no doubt, studied tactics with great care and assiduity, but it is not presumable that he is as well versed in the tactics of a general as Knox.
Pinckney’s rank at the close of the war was only nominally greater than mine; it was, indeed, of more ancient date. But when, in the year 1777, the regiments of artillery were multiplied, I had good reason to expect that the command of one of them would have fallen to me, had I not changed my situation. And this, in all probability, would have led further. I am aware, at the same time, that there were accidental impediments to Pinckney’s progress in preferment, but an accurate comparison would, I imagine, show that, on the score of rank merely, the claim of superiority on his part is not strongly marked. As to military service, I venture to believe that the general understanding of the late army would allow a considerable balance to me.
As to civil services since the war, I am extremely mistaken if, in the minds of Federal men, there is any comparison between us. The circumstances of the moment, it is true, give him a certain éclat, but judicious men reduce the merit to the two points of judicious forbearance and the firmness not to sacrifice his country by base compliances. In all this, it is very far from my inclination to detract from General Pinckney. I have a sincere regard for him, and hold him in high estimation. At the same time, endeavoring to view the matter with all the impartiality which my situation permits, I must conclude that General Pinckney, on a fair estimate of all circumstances, ought to be well satisfied with the arrangement.
After saying this much, I will add that regard to the public interest is ever predominant with me; that if the gentlemen concerned are dissatisfied, and the service likely to suffer by the preference given to me, I stand ready to submit our relative pretensions to an impartial decision, and to waive the preference. It shall never be said, with any color of truth, that my ambition or interest has stood in the way of the public good.
Thus, sir, have I opened my heart to you with as little reserve as to myself, willing, rather, that its weakness should appear than that I should be deficient in frankness. I will only add that I do not think it necessary to make public beforehand the ultimate intentions I have now disclosed.
It is possible the difficulties anticipated may not arise. But, my dear sir, there is a matter of far greater moment than all this, which I must do violence to my friendship by stating to you, but of which it is essential you should be apprised. It is that my friend McHenry is wholly insufficient for his place, with the additional misfortune of not having himself the least suspicion of the fact. This generally will not surprise you, when you take into view the large scale upon which he is now to act. But you perhaps may not be aware of the whole extent of the insufficiency. It is so great as to leave no probability that the business of the War Department can make any tolerable progress in his hands. This has been long observed, and has been more than once mentioned to the President by members of Congress.
He is not insensible, I believe, that the execution of the department does not produce the expected results; but the case is of course delicate and embarrassing.
My real friendship for McHenry, concurring with my zeal for the service, predisposed me to aid him in all that he could properly throw upon me, and I thought that he would have been glad, in the organization of the army, and in the conduct of the recruiting service, to make me useful to him. With this view, I came to this city, and I previously opened the way as far as I could with the least decency. But the idea has thus far been very partially embraced, and to-morrow or next day I shall return to New York, without much fruit of my journey. I mention this purely to apprise you of the course of things, and the probable results.
It is to be regretted that the supposition of co-operation between the Secretary of War and the principal military officers will unavoidably throw upon the latter a part of the blame which the ill success of the operations of the War Department may be expected to produce. Thus you perceive, sir, your perplexities are begun.
P. S.—Since writing the above, I have concluded to write a letter, of which the enclosed is the copy. This effort to save a man I value, and promote the service, has, under the circumstances, cost some thing to my delicacy.
Mr. Harper, of the House of Representatives, is desirous of being in your family. He is a man of very considerable talents and has the temper of a soldier. The shade of his useful qualities is vanity, but I think the good much outweighs the ill. Pardon this liberty in a point so delicate.
Aug. 1, 1798.
The above was written at Philadelphia, but a very pressing call to this place, added to occupation there, prevented my being able to copy and forward it till now.
Give me leave to suggest the expediency of your asking of McHenry a statement of all the military supplies, cannon, arms, etc., etc., which are already provided, and of the means and measures provided and in execution for augmenting the quantity. This will give you necessary information and prompt to exertion.
to oliver wolcott
August 6, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
You are probably apprised that in announcing to the general officers their appointments they are told that the emoluments are to be suspended until called into actual service, and that, as a consequence of this plan, they are to remain inactive.
This project suits admirably my private arrangements, by leaving me to pursue in full extent my profession. But I believe it accords neither with the intention of the individuals who framed the laws nor with the good of the service. It is impossible for McHenry to get through all that is now upon his hands in a manner honorable to himself, satisfactory to the public, or proportioned to the energy of the conjuncture. You will see by the enclosed that I have sacrificed my delicacy to my friendship and public zeal. I have heard nothing in reply. I thought it expedient that you and Colonel Pickering should understand in confidence the situation of things. Without a change of plan they will not go well, and the government and all concerned will be discredited.
to general dayton
Aug. 6, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
I received at Philadelphia your letter of the 27th of July, the answer to which has been delayed by excessive occupation.
You know, I trust, sufficiently my sentiments of you not to need being told how much pleasure your appointment gave me, and how highly I value the confidence you express in me.
It will probably be unexpected to you to be told that I am not yet in the exercise of the functions of my military office, and that my participation in the preliminary arrangements is only occasional and very limited.
Such, however, is the course of the plan which has been adopted by the Executive.
But I have, notwithstanding, had conversation with the Secretary at War on the points you mention, and to the extent of my opportunity have endeavored to promote a right direction. You no doubt have before this received a letter from the Secretary on the subject of proper characters for officers. It seems to be determined in his mind to appoint Col. Aaron Ogden to the command of a regiment.
Everybody must consider him as a great acquisition in this station. The part of your letter which respects him, announcing the certainty of his acceptance, was particularly grateful to me.
Enclosed you will receive the instructions for the recruiting service, which were previously prepared by the Secretary at War. I made such remarks upon them as hastily occurred. Examine them carefully, and suggest to me whatever amendments or additions may present themselves to you. You will oblige me by free communications at all times.
to benjamin stoddert
Aug. 7, 1798.
Capt. Robert Hamilton, a first cousin of mine, is desirous of employment in this country in the line of his profession. He is regularly bred to the sea, which he had followed since he was fourteen years old, and has had the best opportunities of improvement—among others that of voyages to the East Indies. He has also commanded a ship and has acted as supercargo. I venture with confidence to recommend him as well qualified and every way worthy; adding to skill in his profession the sentiments of a gentleman, good morals, intelligence, and prudence. I interest myself very much in his success, and shall esteem it as a personal favor to myself whatever may be done for his interest.
to james mchenry
Aug. 19, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
I write you herewith an official letter. Your private one of the 14th is before me. I regret that you have been unwell and rejoice that you are better.
The affair of General Knox perplexes me. I wish him to serve. I am pained to occasion to him pain for I have truly a warm side for him, and a high value for his merits; but my judgment tells me, and all I consult confirm it, that I cannot reasonably postpone myself in a case in which a preference so important to the public in its present and future consequences has been given me. In denominating the preference important, I do not intend to judge whether it will be well or ill founded; in either case its tendency is so important, I am willing to confer, to adjust amicably, with the advice of mutual friends. But how can I abandon my pretension?
At foot, my dear sir, I transmit you the draft of such a reply as it seems to me proper for you to make to General Knox. It may also be well for you, in a private letter, to advise him to accept, with a reservation of his claim ad referendum, upon the ground of the rule he quotes, and with the understanding that it will not be understood to engage him to continue, if the matter be not finally settled according to his claim.
(Draft above referred to)
An answer to your letter of the 5th instant has been delayed by some degree of ill health on my part.
The general disposition it marks accords well with the patriotic sentiments you have so constantly manifested. It is extremely regretted that any circumstances should induce you to hesitate about the acceptance of an appointment in which it is not to be doubted your services would be eminently useful.
The paragraph of my former letter which you quote explains to you my conception of the relative rank of the generals in question as resulting from the order of the nominations and appointments. This conception, however, cannot affect the claim of either, if there be any subsisting binding rule in our military code which will arrange the priority of rank between officers nominated on the same day, according to their relative stations in the late army. This will naturally be the subject of some future decision in some proper mode. It is not understood that there has been any former repeal of the rule to which you allude.
It remains, then, for you to determine whether you will or not accept the appointment, with the reservation of a claim to the benefit of that rule.
to james mchenry
Aug. 19, 1798.
An absence from the city, upon some urgent avocations, prevented my receiving till yesterday your letters of the 10th and 11th instant.
I observe the suggestion which you have made to the President towards calling General Knox and myself into immediate service. If he shall approve, I stand ready to execute, in the best manner I shall be able, whatever business may be confided to me; but I must earnestly hope that it will not be attended with the necessity of an immediate change of residence. The nature of my arrangements would render this absolutely ruinous to me, and I trust I shall not be reduced to such an alternative, unless events portending public danger shall ripen faster than, according to present appearances, they are likely to do. I do not object to a frequent attendance at the seat of government, for this can be reconciled with my other engagements, till they can be gradually prepared for a total relinquishment and a new position. With this, I am satisfied, every desirable end can be obtained, especially when the promptness of communication between this place and the seat of government is considered. Be assured that none but very imperious motives could induce this hesitation on my part. In accepting the appointment I did not contemplate as probable a speedy dislocation of residence.
The tenor of General Knox’s letter, transmitted by you and now returned, occasions to me no small regret and embarrassment. My esteem and friendship for that gentleman would lead me far; but there is a very great difficulty in waiving a station to which, I am well convinced, I have been called, no less by the public voice of the country than by the acts of the Commander-in-Chief and of the President and Senate. The intention as to the relative grades of the officers appointed is presumed to be unequivocal. It is believed that the rule to which General Knox refers can have no application to the case of the formation of a new army at a new epoch, embracing officers not previously in actual service.
It was not a permanent provision of law, but a regulation adapted to the peculiar circumstances of the late army, and governing, as far as I can recollect, only in the cases of promotions from lower subsisting grades to higher ones. At the same time, it is very delicate for me to give an opinion in a matter in which I am so personally interested.
I send you back the list of applications which you transmitted to me, with remarks, and with the addition of names. It has been in my power to do little as to candidates in any State but New York. I have supposed that you have had recourse to better sources of information as to others.
Aug. 20, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
A necessary absence from this city prevented the receipt of your letter of the 9th instant till yesterday.
It is very grateful to me to discover in each succeeding occurrence a new mark of your friendship towards me. Time will evince that it makes the impression that it ought on my mind.
The effect which the course of the late military appointments has produced on General Knox, though not very unexpected, is very painful to me. I have a respectful sense of his pretensions as an officer, and I have a warm personal regard for him. My embarrassment is not inconsiderable between these sentiments, and what I owe to a reasonable conduct on my own part, both in respect to myself and to the public. It is a fact, that a number of the most influential men in our affairs would think that in waiving the preference given to me I acted a weak part, in a personal view, and an unwarrantable one, in a public view; and General Knox is much mistaken if he does not believe that this sentiment would emphatically prevail in that region to which he supposes his character most interesting. I mean New England.
Yet, my dear sir, I can never consent to see you seriously compromitted or embarrassed. I shall cheerfully place myself in your disposal, and facilitate any arrangement you may think for the general good. It does not, however, seem necessary to precipitate any thing. It may be well to see first what part Gen. Pinckney will act when he arrives.
The Secretary at War has sent me a copy of General Knox’s letter to him on the subject of his appointment. It does not absolutely decline, but implies the intention to do it, unless a rule of the late army, giving, in cases of promotion on the same day, priority according to the former relative rank, is understood to govern. I have addressed a reply of which a copy is enclosed.
The commissions have issued, so that no alteration can now be made as between Generals Knox and Pinckney, if there were not the serious difficulties in the way which you seem to have anticipated.
The Secretary at War has proposed to the President a change of the plan announced in the first instance—which may bring into immediate activity the Inspector-General and Gen. Knox. In this case you may depend on the best efforts in my power, with a peculiar attention to the objects you mention, and you shall be carefully and fully advised of whatever it interests you to know.
Col. Walker resides at present in the western part of this State. He is occupied in some important agencies for persons abroad, which renders it doubtful whether he would now accept military employment. He has been written to, and will be proposed for the command of a regiment.
Heth is, in many respects, very desirable, in the capacity you mention. But you are, I presume, aware of the impracticability of his temper.
The papers sent by you are now returned.
to oliver wolcott
Aug. 21, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
Your two letters of the 9th reached this place during an absence on necessary business which only terminated on Saturday.
Our friend Mr. McHenry has adopted the ideas suggested to him. And you may rely on my effectual co-operation. At the same time, as a total dislocation of residence, to fulfil in all its extent the idea you intimate, would be unqualified ruin to me, I must endeavor to avoid it. Frequent visits and constant communication, and the immediate charge of certain branches of the service will, I doubt not, substantially suffice.
The objects you indicate as deserving primary attention will engage it.
In respect to Mr. Wharton, I shall with pleasure promote whatever may suit him and the service But I do not know that there is in the establishment any provision for a clerk or secretary to a general officer. It is usual, except in case of the Commander-in-Chief for aides-de-camp to perform the duties of such characters. In reference to aides, my situation is this—I have already yielded to the strong wishes of Mr. and Mrs. Church the promise to appoint their eldest so as one; for the other I must endeavor to find an experienced officer. If Mr. Wharton desires an appointment in some regiment to take his chance for a place in the family of some general officer, I will assist the wish. Let me, if you please, understand this matter with precision.
to rufus king
Aug. 22, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
Your several letters of May 12th, June the 6th and 8th, have regularly come to hand.
You will be, no doubt, fully instructed of the measures which have taken place on the part of our government, and you will have seen in the numerous addresses to the President a confirmation of the opinion I gave you respecting the disposition of this country. From both you will have derived satisfaction, though you should not think we are yet where we now ought to be. But console yourself with the assurance that we are progressing in good. The indications are to my mind conclusive that we are approaching fast to as great unanimity as any country ever experienced, and that our energies will be displayed in proportion to whatever exigencies shall arise.
I have received several letters from General Miranda. I have written an answer to some of them, which I send you to deliver or not, according to your estimate of what is passing in the scene where you are. Should you deem it expedient to suppress my letter you may do it, and say as much as you think fit on my part in the nature of a communication through you.
With regard to the enterprise in question, I wish it much to be undertaken, but I should be glad that the principal agency be in the United States,—they to furnish the whole land force if necessary. The command in this case would very naturally fall upon me, and I hope I shall disappoint no favorable anticipation. The independence of the separate territory under a moderate government, with the joint guaranty of the co-operating powers, stipulating equal privileges in commerce, would be the sum of the results to be accomplished.
Are we yet ready for this undertaking? Not quite. But we ripen fast, and it may. I think, be rapidly brought to maturity if an efficient negotiation for the purpose is at once set on foot upon this ground. Great Britain cannot alone insure the accomplishment of the object. I have some time since advised certain preliminary steps to prepare the way consistently with national character and justice. I was told they would be pursued, but I am not informed whether they have been or not.
to francisco miranda
Aug. 22, 1798.
I have lately received by duplicates your letter of the 6th of April, with the postscript of the 9th of June. The gentleman you mention in it has not made his appearance to me, nor do I know of his arrival in this country; so that I can only divine the object from the hints in your letter.
The sentiments I entertain with regard to that object have been long since in your knowledge, but I could personally have no participation in it unless patronized by the government of this country. It was my wish that matters had been ripened for a co-operation in the course of this fall on the part of this country.
But this can now scarcely be the case. The winter, however, may mature the project, and an effectual co-operation by the United States may take place. In this case I shall be happy, in my official station, to be an instrument of so good a work.
The plan in my opinion ought to be: A fleet of Great Britain, an army of the United States, a government for the liberated territory agreeable to both co-operators, about which there will be no difficulty. To arrange the plan a competent authority from Great Britain to some person here is the best expedient. Your presence here will, in this case, be extremely essential.
We are raising an army of about twelve thousand men. General Washington has resumed his station at the head of our armies. I am appointed second in command.
to francisco miranda
Aug. 22, 1798.
to oliver wolcott
Aug. 22, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
No one knows better than yourself how difficult and oppressive is the collection even of taxes very moderate in their amount, if there be a defective circulation. According to all the phenomena which fall under my notice, this is our case in the interior parts of the country.
Again, individual capitalists, and consequently the facility of direct loans, are not very extensive in the United States. The banks can only go a certain length, and must not be forced. Yet government will stand in need of large anticipations.
For these and other reasons which I have thought well of, I have come to a conclusion that our Treasury ought to raise up a circulation of its own. I mean by the issuing of Treasury-notes payable, some on demand, others at different periods, from very short to pretty considerable—at first having but little time to run.
This appears to me an expedient equally necessary to keep the circulation full and to facilitate the anticipations which government will certainly need. By beginning early the public eye will be familiarized, and as emergencies press it will be easy to enlarge without hazard to credit.
Think well of this suggestion, and do not discard it without perceiving well a better substitute.
to james mchenry
Aug. 25, 1798.
I perceive it would be agreeable to the Commander-in-Chief to receive frequent communications from you, and particularly to understand the state of public supplies; that is, the quantities on hand and the measures in execution to procure others.
I give you this hint as a guide, and would advise to have a full statement made out, with notes of what is further doing, and send it to him.
to theodore sedgwick
Aug. 29, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
Your letter of the 3d instant came seasonably to hand. Business and absence from this place have delayed the acknowledgment.
The persons you mention have been correspondently placed before the Secretary of War.
As to military affairs, they leg not a little—no appointments of regimental officers yet made. McHenry, as you know, is loaded beyond his strength. It was an obvious idea to derive aid from among general officers; but instead of embracing this resource, they have all been told that the President hoped they would think it proper to waive the emoluments of their offices till called into actual service.
Steps have been taken towards the correction of this obvious mistake, the success of which now depends on the President, and on that success the alternative of some or no energy.
to timothy pickering
NEW YORK, Aug. 29, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
Your friendly letters of the 21st, 22d, and 23d of August have been duly received. I feel myself at once much flattered and truly indebted for the very favorable opinion of me which you manifest. The good estimation of men of sense and virtue is an ample consolation for the censure and malice of those of a different character, while the expression of your sentiments has all the value which a well-known sincerity and integrity of disposition can give. Be assured that I shall be happy to be ranked by you in the number of your friends. The course of the thing in a particular quarter does not surprise. Besides the direct influence which would be exerted, I am aware that the circumstances of the late election for president have made some unfortunate impressions.
The Commander-in-Chief, I am authorized by his own communications to me to believe, will not easily relinquish the original spirit of the primitive arrangements; but, in the last resort, I shall be inclined to have much deference for his wishes. It is important he should well understand, what I verily believe to be an undoubted fact, that New England would rather see high command in my hands than in those of Gen. Knox.
to james mchenry.
Sept. 8, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
Yours, dated by mistake August 6th, I received yesterday. I postponed a reply till to-day, because I wished first to reflect maturely. My mind is unalterably made up. I shall certainly not hold the commission on the plan proposed, and only wait an official communication to say so.
I return you the enclosure in your letter. You may depend on my fidelity to your friendly confidence. I shall regret whatever of inconvenience may attend you. You doubtless will take care that you retain in your own power all the evidences of this transaction.
Sept. 30, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
Your obliging favor of the 24th instant has duly come to hand. I see in it a new proof of sentiments towards me which are truly gratifying. But permit me to add my request to the suggestions of your own prudence that no personal considerations for me may induce more on your part than on mature reflection you may think due to public motives. It is extremely foreign to my wish to create to you the least embarrassment, especially in times like the present, when it is more than ever necessary that the interests of the whole should be paramountly consulted.
I shall strictly comply with the recommendation in the close of your letter.
to rufus king
Oct. 2, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
Mr. R. delivered me your letter of the 31st of July. The opinion in that and other of your letters concerning a very important point has been acted upon by me from the very moment that it became unequivocal that we must have a decisive rupture with France. In some things my efforts succeeded; in others they were disappointed; in others I have had promises of conformity to lay the foundation of future proceeding, the performance and effect of which promises are not certainly known to me. The effect, indeed, cannot yet be known.
The public mind of this country continues to progress in the right direction. That must influence favorably the present Congress at the ensuing session. The next will be, in all appearance, intrinsically better.
Of the executive I need say little; you know its excellent dispositions, its general character, and the composition of its parts. You know also how widely different the business of government is from the speculation of it, and the energy of the imagination dealing in general propositions from that of execution in detail.
These are causes from which delay and feebleness are experienced. But the difficulty will be surmounted, and I anticipate with you that this country will, erelong, assume an attitude correspondent with its great destinies—majestic, efficient, and operative of great things. A noble career lies before it.
Why does not Gouverneur Morris come home? His talents are wanted. Men like him do not superabound. Indeed, I wish that you were here rather than where you are, though I think your position an important one at the present juncture. But we want to infuse more abilities into the management of our internal affairs.
Governor Jay is well. He and all your friends continue to take a lively interest in all that concerns you.
to the count latour dupin gouvernet
Oct. 3, 1798.
I had yesterday, my dear sir, the pleasure of receiving your letter of the 15th of July, accompanied by two others, one for Messrs. Le Roy and Bayard, the other for Mr. Olive, which will be sent to them in the country, where they now continue, in consequence of the sickness in this city. The letters which you mention to have before written have also been received. To mine I replied shortly after; nor can I imagine how it has happened that you have received no answer from either of the parties.
On the subject of the sale of your farm Mr. Bayard and I myself had a conference, and we agreed that a sale at this time was inexpedient, as it could not be hoped that the farm would bring near its value, owing to the embarrassments in pecuniary operations produced by the prospect of war. I shall, however, now advise that an experiment be made. The offers received, if any, will determine whether a sale can take place without an imprudent sacrifice for you, and the result can be regulated accordingly.
Be assured, my dear sir, that I shall be happy to be useful to you in this or any other matter. In doing so, I shall equally gratify the esteem and friendship with which you have inspired me for yourself, and that lively and affecting interest in whatever concerns Madame de Gouvernet, which cannot but be felt by all who have had an opportunity to know her value.
If it shall conduce to her and your happiness to return to this country, it will certainly add to ours; and if you will beforehand apprise me of your resolution, when taken, and your general plan, you will find me zealous to co-operate in giving it effect.
I would invite you to return with the more confidence from the assurance in the stability of affairs in this country, which is derived from the late happy course of the public mind. An extraordinary union among the people in the support of their own government, and in resistance to all foreign encroachments, leaves nothing to be feared for our future security and prosperity. The most reasonable ideas in every respect prevail.
Accept, whenever you shall come, under the roof of Mrs. Hamilton and myself, an asylum where you may be perfectly at home until you shall have completed your arrangements for your future establishment. She joins me in cordial remembrance to Madame de Gouvernet and yourself.
to william heth
Dec. 18, 1798.
Your letter of the 30th of July was duly received. It gave me much pleasure as a proof of your friendly remembrance, and as an indication that you were not disposed to be idle in a crisis of national danger. You are indeed one of those men who cannot be permitted to be idle, and you will no doubt be called to take the field in some eligible station, if the impending storm shall not subside. You can imagine the multiplicity and extent of my avocations, and I hope you will make a kind allowance for my silence. Attribute it to any thing but want of regard for you; on this score depend that I have no retribution to make, being very cordially and truly yours, etc.
P. S.—What do the factions in your State really aim at?
to harrison gray otis
Dec. 27, 1798.
I did not receive till yesterday your letter dated 21st instant. No apology was necessary for so gratifying a mark of your good opinion, upon which I set the high value it so justly deserves.
In the enclosed extract of a letter to another of the government, you will find my ideas generally on the subject of your letter. I adopt this method of communication as equally effectual and best adapted to the multiplicity of my avocations. Some additional remarks in direct reference to your particular questions, may perhaps be requisite to fulfil your object.
Any reduction of the actual force appears to me inexpedient. It will argue to our enemy that we are either very narrow in our resources, or that our jealousy of his designs is abated. Besides, that with a view to the possibility of internal disorders alone, the force authorized is not too considerable. The efficacy of militia for suppressing such disorders is not too much to be relied upon. The experience of the Western expedition ought not to be [forgotten?]. That was a very uphill business. There were more than once appearances to excite alarm as to the perseverance of the troops, and it is not easy to foresee what might have been the result had there been serious resistance. The repetition of similar exertions may be found very difficult, insomuch as to render it extremely [needful?], in these precarious times, to have the government armed with the whole of the force which has been voted.
There are several defects in the military establishment which demand reform as well for economy as efficiency. On these there has been an ample communication from the Commander-in-Chief to the Department of War. I cannot conceive why nothing has yet gone to Congress. Certainly this cannot be much longer delayed. Will it be amiss informally to interrogate the Minister? If the silence is persisted in, you shall know from me the objects.
The extract answers your questions as to the provisional army. I think the act respecting the eighty thousand militia ought likewise to be revived. The effect abroad will be good, and it will likewise be so at home, as the evidence of a reliance of the government on the militia.
Good policy does not appear to me to require extensive appropriations for fortifications at the present juncture. Money can be more usefully employed in other ways. A good deal of previous examination ought to lead to a plan for fortifying three or four cardinal points. More than this will be a misapplication of money. Secure positions for arsenals and dock-yards are in this view a primary object.
Your last question respecting the West India Islands I shall reserve for a future communication.
to theodore sedgwick
I have been reading the report of the Secretary of the Treasury on the subject of direct taxes. I think it does him credit. The general principles and objects are certainly good, nor am I sure that any thing better can be done.
I remember, however, that I once promised you to put in writing my ideas on the subject. I intended to have done it and communicated them to the Secretary. My hurry and press of business prevented me; but I concluded lately to devote an evening to a rude sketch, and to send it to you. You may show it to the Secretary and confer. If, in the course of the thing, it can be useful to the general end we all have in view, it will give me pleasure; if not, there will have been but little time misspent. Of course, no use will be made of it in contradiction to the views of the Treasury Department.
As to the part which relates to land, I do not feel any strong preference of my plan to that in the report; for this, in my opinion, ought to be considered only as an auxiliary, and not as the pith of the tax. But I own I have a strong preference of my plan of a house-tax to that in the report. These are my reasons:
It is more comprehensive, embracing all houses, and will be proportionately more productive. It is more certain, avoiding the evasions and partialities to which valuations will be for ever liable, and I think it for that reason likely to be at least as equal. I entertain no doubt that the rule of rates, adapted as they are to characteristic circumstances, will in fact be more favorable to equality than appraisements. I think the idea of taxing only houses of above a certain annual value will be dissatisfactory. The comparison of the proprietors of houses immediately above with those immediately below the line will beget discontent, and the errors of valuations will increase it.
I think there will be a great advantage in throwing the weight of the tax on houses, as well because lands are more difficult to manage as because it will fall in a manner less dissatisfactory.
My plan as to houses can be easily combined with that in the report as to land.
Some years ago I proposed a similar plan in the Legislature of this State. It went through three readings and had a great majority in its favor, but as it was essentially different from what had always before obtained in the State it was thought best to postpone, to feel the sense of constituents. I left the Legislature—changes in our political situation rendered the plan of State taxation less important, and the business shrunk out of sight. But there was every appearance that the plan would have been popular in this State.
You observe I confine myself to a million. It would not bear hard in this way. I would add, as aid, the taxes contemplated last session—on stamps, collateral successions, new modifications of some articles of imports, and, let me add, saddle-horses. The idea of taxing slaves generally will not work well. If confined to all menial servants for luxury, as coachmen, footmen, cooks, etc., it would be eligible.
to jonathan dayton
An accurate view of the internal situation of the United States presents many discouraging reflections to the enlightened friends of our government and country. Notwithstanding the unexampled success of our public measures at home and abroad—not-withstanding the instructive comments afforded by the disastrous and disgusting scenes of the French Revolution—public opinion has not been ameliorated; sentiments dangerous to social happiness have not been diminished; on the contrary, there are symptoms which warrant the apprehension that among the most numerous class of citizens, errors of a very pernicious tendency have not only preserved but have extended their empire. Though some thing may have been gained on the side of men of information and property, more has probably been lost on that of persons of a different description. An extraordinary exertion of the friends of government, aided by circumstances of momentary impression, gave, in the last election for members of Congress, a more favorable countenance to some States than they had before worn; yet it is the belief of well-informed men that no real or desirable change has been wrought in those States. On the other hand, it is admitted by close observers that some of the parts of the Union which, in times past, have been the soundest, have of late exhibited signs of a gangrene begun and progressive.
It is likewise apparent that opposition to the government has acquired more system than formerly, is bolder in the avowal of its designs, less solicitous than it was to discriminate between the Constitution and the administration, and more open and more enterprising in its projects. The late attempt of Virginia and Kentucky to unite the State Legislatures in a direct resistance to certain laws of the Union can be considered in no other light than as an attempt to change the government.
It is stated in addition that the opposition party in Virginia, the headquarters of the faction, have followed up the hostile declarations which are to be found in the resolutions of their General Assembly by an actual preparation of the means of supporting them by force, that they have taken measures to put their militia on a more efficient footing—are preparing considerable arsenals and magazines, and (which is an unequivocal proof how much they are in earnest) have gone so far as to lay new taxes on their citizens. Amidst such serious indications of hostility, the safety and the duty of the supporters of the government call upon them to adopt vigorous measures of counteraction. It will be wise in them to act upon the hypothesis that the opposers of the government are resolved, if it shall be practicable, to make its existence a question of force. Possessing, as they now do, all the constitutional powers, it will be an unpardonable mistake on their part if they do not exert them to surround the Constitution with more ramparts and to disconcert the schemes of its enemies.
The measures proper to be adopted may be classed under heads.
first.—Establishments which will extend the influence and promote the popularity of the government. Under this head three important expedients occur. First. The extension of the judiciary system. Second. The improvement of the great communications, as well interiorly as coastwise, by turnpike roads. Third. The institution of a society with funds to be employed in premiums for new inventions, discoveries, and improvements in agriculture and in the arts.
The extension of the judiciary system ought to embrace two objects: one, the subdivision of each State into small districts (suppose Connecticut into four, and so on in proportion), assigning to each a judge with a moderate salary; the other, the appointment in each county of conservators or justices of the peace, with only ministerial functions, and with no other compensation than fees for the services they shall perform. This measure is necessary to give efficacy to the laws, the execution of which is obstructed by the want of similar organs and by the indisposition of the local magistrates in some States. The Constitution requires that judges shall have fixed salaries; but this does not apply to mere justices of the peace without judicial powers. Both those descriptions of persons are essential, as well to the energetic execution of the laws as to the purposes of salutary patronage.
The thing, no doubt, would be a subject of clamor, but it would carry with it its own antidote, and when once established, would bring a very powerful support to the government.
The improvement of the roads would be a measure universally popular. None can be more so. For this purpose a regular plan should be adopted, coextensive with the Union, to be successively executed, and a fund should be appropriated sufficient for the basis of a loan of a million of dollars. The revenue of the post-office naturally offers itself. The future revenue from tolls would more than reimburse the expense, and public utility would be promoted in every direction. The institution of a society, with the aid of proper funds, to encourage agriculture and the arts, besides being productive of general advantage, will speak powerfully to the feelings and interests of those classes of men to whom the benefits derived from the government have been heretofore the least manifest.
second.—Provision for augmenting the means and consolidating the strength of the government. A million of dollars may without difficulty be added to the revenue, by increasing the rates of some existing indirect taxes, and by the addition of some new items of a similar character.
The direct taxes ought neither to be increased nor diminished. Our naval force ought to be completed to six ships of the line, twelve frigates, and twentyfour sloops of war. More at this juncture would be disproportioned to our resources, less would be inadequate to the ends to be accomplished. Our military force should, for the present, be kept upon its actual footing; making provision for a re-enlistment of the men for five years in the event of a settlement of differences with France,—with this condition, that in case of peace between Great Britain, France, and Spain, the United States being then also at peace, all the privates of the twelve additional regiments of infantry, and of the regiment of dragoons, not exceeding twenty to a company, shall be disbanded. The corps of artillerists may be left to retain the numbers which it shall happen to have, but without being recruited until the number of officers and privates shall fall below the standard of the infantry and dragoons. A power ought to be given to the President to augment the four old regiments to their war establishment.
The laws respecting volunteer companies, and the eventual army, should be rendered permanent, and the Executive should proceed without delay to organize the latter. Some modifications of the discretion of the President will, however, be proper in a permanent law. And it will be a great improvement of the plan, if it shall be thought expedient to allow the enlistment, for the purpose of instruction, of a corps of sergeants equal to the number requisite for the eventual army. The institution of a military academy will be an auxiliary of great importance. Manufactories of every article, the woollen parts of clothing included, which are essential to the supply of the army, ought to be established.
third.—Arrangements for confirming and enlarging the legal powers of the government. There are several temporary laws which, in this view, ought to be rendered permanent, particularly that which authorizes the calling out of the militia to suppress unlawful combinations and insurrections.
An article ought to be proposed, to be added to the Constitution, for empowering Congress to open canals in all cases in which it may be necessary to conduct them through the territory of two or more States, or through the territory of a State and that of the United States. The power is very desirable for the purpose of improving the prodigious facilities for inland navigation with which nature has favored this country. It will also assist commerce and agriculture, by rendering the transportation of commodities more cheap and expeditious. It will tend to secure the connection, by facilitating the communication between distant portions of the Union, and it will be a useful source of influence to the government. Happy would it be if a clause could be added to the Constitution, enabling Congress, on the application of any considerable portion of a State, containing not less than a hundred thousand persons, to erect it into a separate State, on the condition of fixing the quota of contributions which it shall make toward antecedent debts, if any there shall be, reserving to Congress the authority to levy within such State the taxes necessary to the payment of such quota, in case of neglect on the part of the State. The subdivision of the great States is indispensable to the security of the general government, and with it of the Union.
Great States will always feel a rivalship with the common head; will often be supposed to machinate against it, and in certain situations will be able to do it with decisive effect. The subdivision of such States ought to be a cardinal point in the federal policy, and small States are doubtless best adapted to the purposes of local regulation and to the preservation of the republican spirit. This suggestion, however, is merely thrown out for consideration. It is feared that it would be inexpedient and even dangerous to propose, at this time, an amendment of the kind.
fourth. —Laws for restraining and punishing incendiary and seditious practices. It will be useful to declare that all such writings, etc., which at common law are libels, if levelled against any officer whatsover of the United States, shall be cognizable in the courts of the United States. To preserve confidence in the officers of the general government, by preserving their reputations from malicious and unfounded slanders, is essential to enable them to fulfil the ends of their appointment. It is, therefore, both constitutional and politic to place their reputations under the guardianship of the courts of the United States. They ought not to be left to the cold and reluctant protection of State courts, always temporizing, and sometimes disaffected. But what avail laws which are not executed? Renegade aliens conduct more than one of the most incendiary presses in the United States—and yet, in open contempt and defiance of the laws, they are permitted to continue their destructive labors. Why are they not sent away? Are laws of this kind passed merely to excite odium and remain a dead letter? Vigor in the executive is at least as necessary as in the legislative branch. If the President requires to be stimulated, those who can approach him ought to do it.
Jan. 6, 1799.
I have been made happy, my dear friend, by the receipt of your letter of the 12th of August last. No explanation of your political principles was necessary to satisfy me of the perfect consistency and purity of your conduct. The interpretation may always be left to my attachment for you. Whatever difference of opinion may on any occasion exist between us, it can never lessen my conviction of the goodness both of your head and heart. I expect from you a return of this sentiment so far as concerns the heart. ’T is needless to detail to you my political tenets. I shall only say that I hold with Montesquieu, that a government must be fitted to a nation, as much as a coat to the individual; and, consequently, that what may be good at Philadelphia may be bad at Paris, and ridiculous at Petersburg.
I join with you in regretting the misunderstanding between our two countries. You will have seen by the President’s speech that a door is again opened for terminating them amicably. And you may be assured that we are sincere, and that it is in the power of France, by reparation to our merchants for past injury, and the stipulation of justice in future, to put an end to the controversy.
But I do not much like the idea of your being any way implicated in the affair, lest you should be compromitted in the opinion of one or the other of the parties. It is my opinion that it is best for you to stand aloof. Neither have I abandoned the idea that it is most advisable for you to remain in Europe till the difference is adjusted. It would be very difficult for you here to steer a course which would not place you in a party, and not remove you from the broad ground which you now occupy in the hearts of all. It is a favorite point with me that you shall find in the universal regard of this country all the consolations which the loss of your own (for so I consider it) may render requisite.
Mrs. Church and Mrs. Hamilton unite in assurance of their affectionate remembrance.
to harrison gray otis
Jan. 26, 1799.
You will recollect that I reserved for a future answer part of a letter which I had the pleasure of receiving from you some time since. These are my ideas on that subject.
I should be glad to see, before the close of the session, a law empowering the President, at his discretion, in case a negotiation between the United States and France should not be on foot by the first of August next, or being on foot should terminate without an adjustment of differences, to declare that a state of war exists between the two countries, and thereupon to employ the land and naval forces of the United States in such manner as shall appear to him most effectual for annoying the enemy, and for preventing and frustrating hostile designs of France, either directly or indirectly through any of her allies.
This course of proceeding, by postponing the event, and giving time for the intervention of negotiation, would be a further proof of moderation in the government, and would tend to reconcile our citizens to the last extremity, if it shall ensue, gradually accustoming their minds to look forward to it.
If France be really desirous of accommodation, this plan will accelerate her measures to bring it about. If she have not that desire, it is best to anticipate her final vengeance, and to throw whatever weight we have into the scale opposed to her. This conduct may contribute to disable her to do the mischief which she may meditate.
As it is every moment possible that the project of taking possession of the Floridas and Louisiana, long since attributed to France, may be attempted to be put in execution, it is very important that the Executive should be clothed with power to meet and defeat so dangerous an enterprise. Indeed, if it is the policy of France to leave us in a state of semihostility, ’T is preferable to terminate it, and by taking possession of those countries for ourselves, to obviate the mischief of their falling into the hands of an active foreign power, and at the same time to secure to the United States the advantage of keeping the key to the Western country. I have been long in the habit of considering the acquisition of those countries as essential to the permanency of the Union which I consider as very important to the welfare of the whole.
If universal empire is still to be the pursuit of France, what can tend to defeat the purpose better than to detach South America from Spain, which is only the channel through which the riches of Mexico and Peru are conveyed to France? The Executive ought to be put in a situation to embrace favorable conjunctures for effecting that separation. ’T is to be regretted that the preparation of an adequate military force does not advance more rapidly. There is some sad nonsense on this subject in some good heads. The reveries of some of the friends of the government are more injurious to it than the attacks of its declared enemies.
When will men learn to profit by experience?
to theodore sedgwick
February 2, 1799.
What, my dear sir, are you going to do in Virginia? This is a very serious business, which will call for all the wisdom and firmness of the government. The following are the ideas which occur to me on the occasion. The first thing in all great operations of such a government as ours is to secure the opinion of the people. To this end the proceedings of Virginia and Kentucky, with the two laws complained of, should be referred to a special committee. That committee should make a report, exhibiting with great luminousness and particularity the reasons which support the constitutionality and expediency of those laws, the tendency of the doctrines advanced by Virginia and Kentucky to destroy the Constitution of the United States, and with calm dignity united with pathos the full evidence which they afford of a regular conspiracy to overturn the government. And the report should likewise dwell upon the inevitable effect, and probably the intention, of the proceedings to encourage hostile foreign powers to decline accommodation and proceed in hostility.
The government must not merely defend itself, it must attack and arraign its enemies. But in all this there should be great care to distinguish the people of Virginia from their Legislature, and even the greater part of those who may have concurred in the Legislature from their chiefs, manifesting, ndeed, a strong confidence in the good sense and patriotism of the people that they will not be the dupes of an insidious plan to disunite the people of America, to break down their Constitution, and expose them to the enterprise of a foreign power. This report should conclude with a declaration that there is no cause for a repeal of the laws. If, however, on examination, any modifications consistent with the general design of the laws, but instituting better guards, can be devised, it may be well to propose them as a bridge for those who may incline to retreat over. Concessions of this kind, adroitly made, have a good rather than a bad effect. On a recent, though hasty, revision of the Alien law, it seems to me deficient in precautions against abuse and for the security of citizens. This should not be. No pains or expense should be spared to disseminate this report. A little pamphlet containing it should find its way into every house in Virginia. This should be left to work and nothing to court a shock should be adopted. In the meantime the measures for raising the military force should proceed with activity. ’T is much to be lamented that so much delay has attended the execution of this measure. In times like the present, not a moment ought to have been lost to secure the government so powerful an auxiliary. Whenever the experiment shall be made to subdue a refractory and powerful State by militia, the event will shame the advocates of their sufficiency. In the expedition against the Western insurgents, I trembled every moment lest a great part of the militia should take it into their heads to return home rather than to go forward. When a clever force has been collected, let them be drawn toward Virginia, for which there is an obvious pretext, then let measures be taken to act upon the laws and put Virginia to the test of resistance. This plan will give time for the fervor of the moment to subside, for reason to resume the reins, and, by dividing its enemies, will enable the government to triumph with ease.
to timothy pickering
Feb. 9, 1799.
I am this moment favored with your letter of the 9th instant. I shall immediately reflect on the most important point, and to-morrow give you the result.
The provision in the law is ample. But in this, my dear sir, as in every thing else, we must unite caution with decision. The United States must not be committed on the independence of St. Domingo. No guaranty—no formal treaty—nothing that can rise up in judgment. It will be enough to let Toussaint be assured verbally, but explicitly, that upon his declaration of independence a commercial intercourse will be opened, and continue while he maintains it, and gives due protection to our vessels and property. I incline to think the declaration of independence ought to precede.
Feb. 16, 1799.
Different reasons have conspired to prevent my writing to you since my return to New York—the multiplicity of my avocations, an imperfect state of health, and the want of some thing material to communicate.
The official letter herewith transmitted, will inform you of the disposition of our military affairs which has been recently adopted by the department of war. There shall be no want of exertion on my part to promote the branches of the service confided to my care.
But I more and more discover cause to apprehend that obstacles of a very peculiar kind stand in the way of an efficient and successful management of our military concerns. These it would be unsafe at present to explain.
It may be useful that I should be able to write to you hereafter some confidential matters relating to our administration without the mention of names. When this happens, I shall designate the President by X, the Secretary of State by V, of the Treasury by I, and of the Department of War by C.
Every thing in the northern quarter, as far as I can learn, continues favorable to the government.
to timothy pickering
Feb. 21, 1799.
My Dear Sir:
The multiplicity of my avocations joined to imperfect health has delayed the communication you desired respecting St. Domingo. And what is worse, it has prevented my bestowing sufficient thought to offer at present any thing worth having.
No regular system of liberty will at present suit St. Domingo. The government, if independent, must be military—partaking of the feodal system.
A hereditary chief would be best, but this I fear is impracticable.
Let there be then, a single Executive, to hold his place for life.
The person to succeed on a vacancy to be either the officer next in command in the island at the time of the death of the predecessor, or the person who by plurality of voices of the commandants of regiments shall be designated within a certain time. In the meantime the principal military officers to administer.
All the males within certain ages to be arranged in military corps, and to be compellable to military service. This may be connected with the tenure of lands.
Let the supreme judiciary authority be vested in twelve judges to be chosen for life by the generals or chief military officers.
Trial by jury in all criminal causes not military to be established. The mode of appointing them must be regulated with reference to the general spirit of the establishment.
Every law inflicting capital or other corporal punishment, or levying a tax or contribution in any shape, to be proposed by the Executive to an assembly composed of the generals and commandants of regiments for their sanction or rejection.
All other laws to be enacted by the sole authority of the Executive.
The powers of war and treaty to be in the Executive.
The Executive to be obliged to have three ministers—of finance, war, and foreign affairs—whom he shall nominate to the generals for their approbation or rejection.
The colonels and generals, when once appointed, to hold their offices during good behavior, removed only by conviction of an infamous crime in due course of law or the sentence of a court-martial cashiering them.
Court-martials for trial of officers and capital offences to be not less than twelve, and well guarded as to mode of appointment.
Duties of import and export, taxes on lands and buildings to constitute the chief branches of revenue.
These thoughts are very crude, but perhaps they may afford some hints.
How is the sending an agent to Toussaint to encourage the independency of St. Domingo, and a minister to France to negotiate an accommodation reconcilable to consistency or good faith?
to theodore sedgwick
Feb. 21, 1799.
The step announced in your letter just received, in all its circumstances, would astonish, if any thing from that quarter could astonish.
But as it has happened, my present impression is that the measure must go into effect with the additional idea of a commission of three.
The mode must be accommodated with the President. Murray is certainly not strong enough for so immensely important a mission.
I will write to-morrow if my impression varies.
to oliver wolcott
March 13, 1799.
It is natural for people, where their interest is concerned, to die hard. Mr. Juhel, the bearer of this, goes to Philadelphia to lay before you some supplementary evidence with regard to the ship Germania, which he hopes may very your determination. At his request I give him this line to you, merely to say that he is a merchant of this city, of reputation, and, so far as his conduct has fallen under my observation, of candor and probity. I wish him success as far as personal considerations alone are concerned and no general rule of policy is contravened.
But having occasion to write you on a subject connected with the law prohibiting intercourse with the French territories, I ought not to withhold from you an opinion which I deliberately entertain. It is that whatever may have been the intention of the Legislature in framing this law, it is in fact so worded that it will be a very violent thing in a court of justice of pronounce that the prohibition of the third section extends to any but a French bottom.
The leading and prominent feature of the prohibition, as to the subject, is a “French ship or vessel.” There are subsequent words which, by implication, look to vessels of other descriptions, but they may be understood consistently with the main and preliminary feature.
Thus the proviso excepts ships or vessels “bona fide the property of, or hired or employed by, the citizens of the United States.” A French bottom, by her build and registry, may be the property of citizens of the United States. Again, these words will be satisfied by supposing that they intend ships and vessels which were French immediately before the voyage in question, but were purchased for the voyage by citizens of the United States.
And this construction will better consist with the principles which govern the interpretation of penal laws, than to extend the prohibition which is to constitute the penalty beyond the letter by implication and force of proviso which is introduced to make an exception to the general terms.
I am well aware of the course which in such a case policy will dictate to the Executive, but if this view of the law be correct, it may afford an argument for a mitigated course where no actual intention to evade appears.
to general knox
March 14, 1799.
My Dear Sir:
The enclosed letters, as I concluded from others which accompany them,have been a long time getting to hand. There was a moment when their object seemed to present itself as one not entirely chimerical, but the probability has diminished. ’T is, however, a thing on which the mind may still speculate as in the chapter of extraordinary events which characterize the present wonderful epoch.
My judgment tells me I ought to be silent on a certain subject; but my heart advises otherwise, and my heart has always been the master of my judgment. Believe me I have felt much pain at the idea, that any circumstance personal to me should have deprived the public of your services or occasioned to you the smallest dissatisfaction. Be persuaded, also, that the views of others, not my own, have given shape to what has taken place—and that there has been a serious struggle between my respect and attachment for you and the impression of duty. This sounds, I know, like affection, but it is nevertheless the truth. In a case in which such great public interests were concerned, it seemed to me the dictate of reason and propriety, not to exercise an opinion of my own, but to leave that of others, who could influence the issue, to take a free course. In saying this much, my only motive is to preserve, if I may, a claim on your friendly disposition towards me, and to give you some evidence that my regard for you is unabated.
to james mchenry
March 18, 1799.
Beware, my dear sir, of magnifying a riot into an insurrection, by employing, in the first instance, an inadequate force. ’T is better far to err on the other side.
Whenever the government appears in arms, it ought to appear like a Hercules, and inspire respect by the display of strength. The consideration of expense is of no moment compared with the advantages of energy. ’T is true this is always a relative question, but ’T is always important to make no mistake. I only offer a principle and a caution.
A large corps of auxiliary cavalry may be had in Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland, without interfering with farming pursuits.
Will it be inexpedient to put under marching orders a large force provisionally, as an eventual support of the corps to be employed, to awe the disaffected?
Let all be well considered.
to oliver wolcott
March 21, 1799.
It is a good principle for the United States to employ directly its own means, only do not let this be carried so far as to confine it to the use of inadequate means, or to embarrass the auxiliary means which circumstances may require.
The idea of the late President’s administration of considering the governor of each State as the first general of the militia, and its immediate organ in acting upon the militia, was wisely considered, and, in my opinion, wisely adopted, and well to be adhered to. In its final operation, it will obviate many difficulties and collisions, and by enhancing their importance, tend to draw the State Executives to the general government. Take good care that in the present instance the force be not inadequate.
to timothy pickering
April 4, 1799.
I observe, by the Boston papers, that some dispatches have been lately found on board a vessel from this port which was carried into Gibraltar. The late consul here, Mr. Rosier, has just been with me, and suggested that the dispatches are probably from him, and allude (but without naming me) to some conversations with me relating to his being received as consul-general some time last winter. Being so much engaged as not to have been able conveniently to call upon you, I mentioned the subject while in Philadelphia to Mr. Wolcott, and was informed by him that Mr. Rosier could not them be received. In the interviews respecting this object, some general conversation took place about the state of things between the two countries. Mr. Rosier will write to you offering the means of deciphering his dispatches, which he assures me, with every appearance of candor, will be found to contain nothing unfriendly to this country. It is his wish, in the meantime, that no idea may circulate of his being a conspirator.
to oliver wolcott
April 8, 1799.
I send you in confidence the copy of a letter of this date to the Secretary of War and of the plan to which it refers. Consider it well. Make the Secretary of War talk to you about it, without letting him know that I have sent it to you. And urge the establishment of some plan which will effectually organize this important branch of our military service. The proper course in the interest of the army is indicated by the plan I present. The connections between the agents with the army and the principal officers at the seat of the government admit of such modifications as may be deemed best. I think it desirable to separate the quartermaster-general from the business of procuring supplies, and make him and his deputies, in this respect, checks. In addition to this duty he will have numerous military functions of great importance which will give him abundant employment.
June 15, 1799.
I wrote to you a few days since, chiefly to inform you of the progress of the measures respecting the recruiting service, and that the symptoms with regard to it were sufficiently promising. The accounts continue favorable.
I have just received a letter from General Wilkinson, dated the 13th April, in which he assures me he will set out in the ensuing month for the seat of government. The interview with him will be useful.
It strikes me forcibly that it will be both right and expedient to advance this gentleman to the grade of major-general. He has been long steadily in service and long a brigadier. This in so considerable an extension of the military establishment gives him a pretension to promotion.
I am aware that some doubts have been entertained of him, and that his character on certain sides gives room for doubts. Yet he is at present in the service, is a man of more than ordinary talent—of courage and enterprise,—has discovered upon various occasions a good zeal, has embraced military pursuits as a profession, and will naturally find his interest, as an ambitious man, in deserving the favor of the government. While he will be apt to become disgusted if neglected, and through disgust may be rendered really what he is now only suspected to be. Under such circumstances it seems to me good policy to avoid all just grounds of discontent and to make it the interest of the individual to pursue his duty.
If you should be also of this opinion, I submit to your consideration whether it would not be advisable for you to express it in a private letter to the Secretary of War.
to colonel taylor
July 3, 1799.
I have written to the Secretary of War agreeably to the suggestion of your letter of the 26th of June, respecting Abijah Fenn. It is to be lamented that the most circumspect men are apt to have too much facility about recommendations. Warned by this instance, it is hoped that you will in future not present a candidate without personal knowledge or inquiry through various channels.
to james mchenry
July 10, 1799.
Why, my dear friend, do you suffer the business of providing to go on as it does? Every moment proves the insufficiency of the existing plan and the necessity of auxiliaries. I have no doubt that at Baltimore, New York, Providence, and Boston additional supplies of clothing may promptly be procured and prepared by your agents, and it ought to be done, though it should enhance the expense. ’T is terrible at this juncture that there should be wants anywhere.
So of tents. Calls for them are repeated from Massachusetts, where, better and cheaper than anywhere else, they can certainly be provided.
Pray, take a resolution adequate to the emergency, and rescue the credit of your department.
to josiah o. hoffman
Greenleaf’s New Daily Advertiser of this morning contains a publication entitled, “Extract of a Letter from Philadelphia, dated September 20th,” which charges me with being at the “bottom of an effort recently made to suppress the Aurora“ (a newspaper of that city) by pecuniary means.
It is well known that I have long been the object of the most malignant calumnies of the faction opposed to our government through the medium of the papers devoted to their views. Hitherto I have forborne to resort to the laws for the punishment of the authors or abettors, and were I to consult personal considerations alone, I should continue in this course, repaying hatred with contempt.
But public motives now compel me to a different conduct. The designs of that faction to overturn our government, and with it the great pillars of social security and happiness in this country, become every day more manifest, and have of late acquired a degree of system which renders them formidable.
One principal engine for effecting the scheme is by audacious falsehoods to destroy the confidence of the people in all those who area in any degree conspicuous among the supporters of the government—an engine which has been employed in time past with too much success, and which, unless counteracted in future, is likely to be attended with very fatal consequences.
To counteract it is therefore a duty to the community. Among the specimens of this contrivance, that which is the subject of the present letter demands peculiar attention. A bolder calumny—one more absolutely destitute of foundation—was never propagated, and its dangerous tendency needs no comment; being calculated to inspire the belief that the independence and liberty of the press are endangered by the intrigues of ambitious citizens aided by foreign gold. In so flagrant a case the force of the laws must be tried.
I therefore request that you will take immediate measures towards the prosecution of the persons who conduct the enclosed paper.
Oct. 21, 1799.
On my return from Trenton the day before yesterday I found your private letter of the 13th as well as your public letter of the 15th instant.
The newspapers have probably informed you that poor Avery is dead of the yellow fever.
The President has resolved to send the commissioners to France, notwithstanding the change of affairs there. He is not understood to have consulted either of his ministers; certainly not either the Secretary of War or of Finance. All my calculations lead me to regret the measure. I hope that it may not in its consequences involve the United States in a war on the side of France with her enemies.
My trust in Providence, which has so often interposed in our favor, is my only consolation.
to tobias lear
Jan. 2, 1800.
Your letter of the 15th of December last was delayed in getting to hand by the circumstance of its having gone to New York while I was at Philadelphia, and of its having arrived at Philadelphia after I had set out on my return to New York.
The very painful event which it announces had, previous to the receipt of it, filled my heart with bitterness. Perhaps no man in this community has equal cause with myself to deplore the loss. I have been much indebted to the kindness of the General, and he was an Ægis very essential to me. But regrets are unavailing. For great misfortunes it is the business of reason to seek consolation. The friends of General Washington have very noble ones. If virtue can secure happiness in another world, he is happy. In this the seal is now put upon his glory. It is no longer in jeopardy from the fickleness of fortune.
P. S.—In whose hands are his papers gone? Our very confidential situation will not permit this to be a point of indifference to me.
to rufus king
Jan. 5, 1800.
It is indeed a long time, my dear sir, since I have written to you, and I feel my obligation to you for the continuance of your correspondence, notwithstanding my delinquency.
Had it been true that I had left every thing else to follow the drum, my delinquency would not have been so great. But our military establishment offers too little inducement, and is too precarious to have permitted a total dereliction of professional pursuits. The double occupation occasioned by these added military duties, and the attention which circumstances call me to pay to collateral objects, engage my time more than ever, and leave me less leisure to communicate with distant friends.
If the projected cipher was established, I should now have very much to say to you. But for this the arrangement is not yet mature. Soon, however, I hope to make it so, by forwarding to you the counterpart, which is in preparation. I must, however, give you some sketch of our affairs.
At home every thing is in the main well; except as to the perverseness and capriciousness of one, and the spirit of faction of many.
Our measures from the first cause are too much the effect of momentary impulse. Vanity and jealousy exclude all counsel. Passion wrests the helm from reason.
The irreparable loss of an inestimable man removes a control which was felt, and was very salutary.
The leading friends of the government are in a sad dilemma. Shall they risk a serious schism by an attempt to change? Or shall they annihilate themselves and hazard their cause by continuing to uphold those who suspect or hate them, and who are likely to pursue a course for no better reason than because it is contrary to that which they approve?
The spirit of faction is abated nowhere. In Virginia it is more violent than ever. It seems demonstrated that the leaders there, who possess completely all the powers of the local government, are resolved to possess those of the national, by the most dangerous combinations; and, if they cannot effect this, to resort to the employment of physical force. The want of disposition in the people to second them will be the only preventive. It is believed that it will be an effectual one.
In the two houses of Congress we have a decided majority. But the dread of unpopularity is likely to paralyze it, and to prevent the erection of additional buttresses to the Constitution, a fabric which can hardly be stationary, and which will retrograde if it cannot be made to advance.
In the mass of the people the dispositions are not bad. An attachment to the system of peace continues. No project contrary to it could easily conciliate favor. Good-will towards the government, in my opinion, predominates; though a numerous party is still actuated by an opposite sentiment, and some vague discontents have a more diffused influence. Sympathy with the French Revolution acts in a much narrower circle than formerly, but the jealousy of monarchy, which is as actual as ever, still furnishes a handle by which the factions mislead well-meaning persons.
In our councils there is no fixed plan. Some are for preserving and invigorating the navy and destroying the army. Some among the friends of government for diminishing both on pecuniary considerations.
My plan is to complete the navy to the contemplated extent: say, six ships of the line, twelve frigates, and twenty-four sloops of war; to make no alteration for the present as to the military force; and, finally, to preserve the organs of the existing force, reducing the men to a very moderate number. For this plan there are various reasons that appear to me solid. I must doubt, however, that it will finally prevail.
The recent depredations of British cruisers, sanctioned in various instances by the courts, have rekindled in many hearts an animosity which was fast being extinguished. Such persons think they see in this circumstance a new proof that friendship towards this country on the part of Great Britain will always be measured by the scale of her success. A very perplexing conflict of sensations is the result of this impression.
I must hasten to a conclusion. It was unnecessary for me to have told you that for the loss of our illustrious friend every heart is in mourning. Adieu.
Who is to be Commander-in-Chief?
Not the next in command. The appointment will probably be deferred.
to mrs. martha washington
Jan. 12, 1800.
I did not think it proper, madam, to intrude amidst the first effusions of your grief; but I can no longer restrain my sensibility from conveying to you an imperfect expression of my affectionate sympathy in the sorrows you experience. No one better than myself knows the greatness of your loss, or how much your excellent heart is formed to feel it in all its extent. Satisfied that you cannot receive consolation, I will attempt to offer none. Resignation to the will of Heaven, which the practice of your life insures, can alone alleviate the sufferings of so heartrending an affliction.
There can be few who equally with me participate in the loss you deplore. In expressing this sentiment, I may, without impropriety, allude to the numerous and distinguished marks of confidence and friendship of which you have yourself been a witness, but I cannot say in how many ways the continuance of that confidence and friendship was necessary to me in future relations. Vain, however, are regrets. From a calamity which is common to a mourning nation, who can expect to be exempt? Perhaps it is even a privilege to have a claim to a larger portion of it than others.
I will only add, madam, that I shall esteem it a real and a great happiness if any future occurrence shall enable me to give you proof of that respectful and cordial attachment with which, etc.
to captain george izard
Feb. 27, 1800.
Your letter of the 25th instant was received yesterday. I should certainly regret any occurrence which might deprive me of your services, unless being one which was likely to redound to your own honor and advantage.
It is very certain that the military career in this country offers too few inducements, and it is equally certain that my present station in the army cannot very long continue under the plan which seems to govern. With these impressions it would consist with a candid and friendly part towards you to discourage your acceptance of the invitation you mention. You are doubtless aware of the uncertainties which rest on the diplomatic state also, and after balancing well you will make your election, perfectly assured of my cordial acquiescence in either event and of my constant wishes for your success.
Major Toussard has informed me of his progress in preparing the regulations. The necessity of your further attention to this object has ceased.
to theodore sedgwick
Feb. 27, 1800.
When will Congress probably adjourn? Will any thing be settled as to a certain election? Will my presence be requisite as to this or any other purpose, and when?
I observe more and more that by the jealousy and envy of some, the miserliness of others, and the concurring influence of all foreign powers, America, if she attains to greatness, must creep to it. Will it be so? Slow and sure is no bad maxim. Snails are a wise generation.
P. S.—Unless for indispensable reasons, I had rather not come.
to henry lee
March 7, 1800.
My Dear Sir:
The letters to which you allude in yours of the 5th instant have never been seen by me. The truth is, that I pay very little attention to such newspaper ebullitions, unless some friend points out a particular case which may demand attention.
But be assured once for all, that it is not easy for these miscreants to impair the confidence in and friendship for you, which are long habits of my mind; so that you may join me in looking with indifference upon their malicious efforts.
You have mistaken a little an observation in my last. Believe me, that I feel no despondency of any sort. As to the country, it is too young and vigorous to be quacked out of its political health; and as to myself, I feel that I stand on ground which, sooner or later, will insure me a triumph over all my enemies.
But in the meantime I am not wholly insensible of the injustice which I from time to time experience, and of which, in my opinion, I am at this moment the victim.
Perhaps my sensibility is the effect of an exaggerated estimate of my services to the United States; but on such a subject a man will judge for himself; and if he is misled by his vanity, he must be content with the mortifications to which it exposes him. In no event, however, will any displeasure I may feel be at war with the public interest. This in my eyes is sacred. Adieu.
to william smith
March 11, 1800.
You will probably have heard, before this reaches you, that I had appointed Captain Izard one of my aids. I part with him to you with all the reluctance that a strong impression of his merit can inspire. Yet I do not resist his going, because our military prospects in general, and mine in particular, are very uncertain.
Though we have had no communication since your departure, you may be assured that I have not ceased to interest myself in your welfare. If you go to Constantinople, I wish you good luck. It is, perhaps, past the time for you to play the false Ibrahim. You see I am in a humor to laugh. What can we do better in this best of all possible worlds? Should you even be shut up in the seven towers, or get the plague, if you are a true philosopher you will consider this only a laughing matter. Adieu.
to oliver wolcott
March 12, 1800.
I have written to you heretofore respecting Mr. Benjamin Wells, who acted as an excise officer in the western part of Pennsylvania at the time of the disturbances there. But this gentleman has just arrived here, and requests me to mention his case again to you. I comply with his request.
It appeared from what I saw and heard at the time, that Mr. Wells distinguished himself by persevering exertion to carry the laws into effect. He was, of course, marked out as an object of vengeance. The losses which he sustained were very considerable, and proceeded from the zeal he had displayed in support of the government. To repair his losses and reward his zeal, is therefore a duty imposed on the government by the principles both of justice and policy. It is imposed by justice—for the injuries were committed by persons in disguise, or under circumstances which render it impossible to discover the offenders. It is vain, therefore, to refer Mr. Wells to the individuals by whose acts he suffered. This is to tell him that his losses will never be repaired.
Policy speaks in this case the same language with justice. Mr. Wells suffered in consequence of his efforts to support the government, and of his attention to duty. Will the government then refuse to make him compensation? To do so, will be to violate the plainest maxims of policy, as it will effectually damp the zeal of public officers in every future case of difficulty. It is not to be expected that individuals will expose their persons to violence, and their property to destruction, in support of a government that has not generosity sufficient to reward those who suffer in its cause.
There appears to me to be no doubt of the meritorious exertions of Mr. Wells. Even if there were some doubt, yet the excellent effect which the measure is calculated to produce on public officers, will prove a full compensation for the money that may be advanced. I recollect to have mentioned to Mr. Wells, and other persons in the same capacity, that I considered the government as bound to indemnify them. So far, therefore, as my opinion could pledge the government, it was pledged. In giving this opinion I thought I was promoting the best interests of the nation, and it appears to me that the government will very widely mistake its policy in refusing to allow these men all reasonable claims.
to timothy pickering
The bearer of this, Mr. DuPont, formerly consul at Charleston, is personally known to you. He comes with the rest of his family to establish themselves in the United States. They are desirous of being favorably viewed by our government, and my intervention for this purpose has been requested.
Inclosed is a letter from General Pinckney, which speaks for itself. All that has come to my knowledge of this particular gentleman is recommendatory of him, as far as situation has permitted. I have always understood that his sentiments towards this country have been amicable, and that he has not been very deeply tinctured with the revolutionary spirit of his own, though circumstances have placed him in office under the new government. And I believe, if ever diseased, he is now perfectly cured. He is afraid that some expressions respecting the influence of the British Government in this country may have given an ill impression. He explains by saying, first, that they are qualified; second, that they were a necessary concession to the prejudices of the persons to whom his observations were addressed, calculated to procure attention to the conciliatory plan which he recommended, by screening him from the suspicion of being a corrupted partisan of this country. This solution seems to me an admissible one. In addressing enthusiasts, it is commonly requisite to adopt a little of their nonsense.
He has delivered me a paper which he sent to the Aurora to be published, but which he said was suppressed, and some thing of an insidious complexion substituted. He delivers the true communication, that it may be seen what he really did.
I am much mistaken if his father be not really a benevolent, well-disposed man. Indeed, the family generally impress us here agreeably, and we are inclined to augur well of them.
to oliver wolcott
April 7, 1800.
I thank you for the disposition shown to accommodate Mr. Robertson. When I saw him some days ago, he hoped that the matter would be placed upon the footing which was indicated.
I would readily comply with the wish of Mr. Evans, was I sure that it would not be a breach of propriety towards Mr. Madison. But if my memory does not deceive me, there was a sort of understanding between us that there should be no disclosure but by mutual consent. You will be sensible that I ought to be peculiarly circumspect with regard to this gentleman.
to general charles cotesworth pinckney
April 10, 1800.
I am perfectly content with the delay of communication to the Rev. Mr. Hill until the effect of your experiments with the Secretary of War shall be known.
I have heard nothing as to the impression made by our mission to France upon the combined powers, but I cannot doubt that it is a disagreeable one, and certainly the course of events lately has not said much for the good policy of the measure. This calculation of the President on a general peace as the main argument for what was done, proves at least to be as fallacious as I ventured to predict to him just after he had resolved to consummate the error. Captain Izard has accepted his appointment under Mr. Smith, and has sailed for Europe.
Mrs. H. and myself have learned with great pleasure the amendment of Mrs. P.’s health. Offer her and accept yourself our felicitations and best wishes.
to timothy pickering
april 25, 1800.
I send you the paragraph of a newspaper just published. I hope it is an electioneering lie; but as it is likely to do mischief, I will thank you, by return of post, to inform me whether you have any thing to confirm or refute, and particularly whether you have heard of the list with which Commodore Truxtun’s name is connected.
(Copy of enclosed paragraph)
New Haven, April 15th.
Captain James Stewart, of Chatham, in the brig Sally, arrived at New London on the 4th instant, from Jamaica, brings the most unpleasant accounts from that quarter. He states that the British capture all American vessels that afford the slightest pretext for condemnation, and impress all their seamen without discrimination. Captain Stewart was taken by his majesty’s ship Acasto, of forty-four guns, the commander of which, Edward Fellows, came on board the Sally himself, ordered Captain Stewart’s chest open, and, with his own hands, took out 4250 dollars, besides plundering the captain of other articles.
On the arrival of the brig at Kingston, every man on board except the captain and boy, all natives of Connecticut, were impressed, and are left there. Captain Nathan Allyn, of Groton, had all his people impressed, with their protections in their hands. Captain Waterman, of New York, was treated in the same manner, with many others. And Mr. Savage, the American agent in Kingston, informed Captain Stewart that he had forwarded to the Secretary of State, by Commodore Truxtun, an attested list of the names of one thousand and one bona fide American seamen who have lately been impressed by the British in that single port. American vessels and cargoes were constantly condemned in that place, a full account of which must soon be made public. Several masters and supercargoes of condemned vessels came home with Captain Stewart, who, besides the general usage, was himself treated with personal incivilities and contempt.
to theodore sedgwick
May 4, 1800.
You have heard of the loss of our election in the city of New York. This renders it too probable that the electors of President for this State will be anti-federal. If so, the policy which I was desirous of pursuing at the last election is now recommended by motives of additional cogency.
To support Adams and Pinckney equally is the only thing that can possibly save us from the fangs of Jefferson.
It is, therefore, essential that the Federalists should not separate without coming to a distinct and solemn concert to pursue this course bona fide.
Pray attend to this, and let me speedily hear from you that it is done.
to john jay
May 7, 1800.
You have been informed of the loss of our election in this city. It is also known that we have been unfortunate throughout Long Island and in Westchester. According to the returns hitherto, it is too probable that we lose our senators for this district.
The moral certainty therefore is, that there will be an anti-federal majority in the ensuing Legislature; and the very high probability is that this will bring Jefferson into the chief magistracy, unless it be prevented by the measure which I shall now submit to your consideration, namely, the immediate calling together of the existing Legislature.
I am aware that there are weighty objections to the measure, but the reasons for it appear to me to outweigh the objections; and in times like these in which we live, it will not do to be over-scrupulous. It is easy to sacrifice the substantial interests of society by a strict adherence to ordinary rules.
In observing this, I shall not be supposed to mean that any thing ought to be done which integrity will forbid, but merely that the scruples of delicacy and propriety, as relative to a common course of things, ought to yield to the extraordinary nature of the crisis. They ought not to hinder the taking of a legal and constitutional step to prevent an atheist in religion, and a fanatic in politics, from getting possession of the helm of state.
You, sir, know in a great degree the anti-federal party; but I fear you do not know them as well as I do. It is a composition, indeed, of very incongruous materials; but all tending to mischief—some of them, to the OVERTHROW of the GOVERNMENT, by stripping it of its due energies; others of them, to a REVOLUTION, after the manner of BONAPARTE. I speak from indubitable facts, not from conjectures and inferences. In proportion as the true character of the party is understood, is the force of the considerations which urge to every effort to disappoint it; and it seems to me, that there is a very solemn obligation to employ the means in our power.
The calling of the Legislature will have for its object the choosing of electors by the people in districts; this (as Pennsylvania will do nothing) will insure a majority of votes in the United States for a federal candidate. The measure will not fail to be approved by all the federal party; while it will, no doubt, be condemned by the opposite. As to its intrinsic nature, it is justified by unequivocal reasons of PUBLIC SAFETY.
The reasonable part of the world will, I believe, approve it. They will see it as a proceeding out of the common course, but warranted by the particular nature of the crisis and the great cause of social order.
If done, the motive ought to be frankly avowed. In your communication to the Legislature they ought to be told that temporary circumstances had rendered it probable that, without their interposition, the executive authority of the general government would be transferred to hands hostile to the system heretofore pursued with so much success, and dangerous to the peace, happiness, and order of the country; that under this impression, from facts convincing to your own mind, you had thought it your duty to give the existing Legislature an opportunity for deliberating whether it would not be proper to interpose, and endeavor to prevent so great an evil by referring the choice of electors to the people distributed into districts.
In weighing this suggestion you will doubtless bear in mind that popular governments must certainly be overturned, and, while they endure, prove engines of mischief, if one party will call to its aid all the resources which vice can give, and if the other (however pressing the emergency) confines itself within all the ordinary forms of delicacy and decorum.
The Legislature can be brought together in three weeks, so that there will be full time for the object; but none ought to be lost.
Think well, my dear sir, of this proposition—appreciate the extreme danger of the crisis; and I am unusually mistaken in my view of the matter, if you do not see it right and expedient to adopt the measure.
to theodore sedgwick
May 8, 1800.
I thank you, my dear sir, for your letter of the 5th instant, which was received yesterday. The measure you mention has been attempted, but without much hope of success.
Yet our friends are to-day in good spirits. The accounts from the northward, apparently authentic, give us the strong hope of still having a majority in our Legislature. But, be this as it may, our welfare depends absolutely on a faithful adherence to the plan which has been adopted. New York, if federal, will not go for Mr. Adams unless there shall be as firm a pledge as the nature of the thing will admit, that Mr. Pinckney will be equally supported in the Northern States.
to theodore sedgwick
May 10, 1800.
I am very sorry for the information contained in your letter of the 7th. But I am not intimate enough with Dexter to put myself upon paper to him.
If on his return I can catch him at New York I shall have a particular conversation with him.
He is, I am persuaded, much mistaken as to the opinion entertained of Mr. Adams by the federal party. Were I to determine from my own observation, I should say most of the most influential men of that party consider him as a very unfit and incapable character.
For my individual part my mind is made up. I will never more be responsible for him by my direct support, even though the consequence should be the election of Jefferson.
If we must have an enemy at the head of the government, let it be one whom we can oppose, and for whom we are not responsible, who will not involve our party in the disgrace of his foolish and bad measures. Under Adams, as under Jefferson, the government will sink. The party in the hands of whose chief it shall sink will sink with it, and the advantage will all be on the side of his adversaries.
’T is a notable expedient for keeping the federal party together, to have at the head of it a man who hates and is despised by those men of it who, in time past, have been its most efficient supporters. If the cause is to be sacrificed to a weak and perverse man, I withdraw from the party and act upon my own ground—never certainly against my principles, but in pursuance of them in my own way. I am mistaken if others do not do the same.
The only way to prevent a fatal schism in the federal party is to support General Pinckney in good earnest.
If I can be perfectly satisfied that Adams and Pinckney will be upheld in the East with entire good faith, on the ground of conformity, I will, wherever my influence may extend, pursue the same plan.
If not, I will pursue Mr. Pinckney as my single object. Adieu.
to timothy pickering
May 14, 1800.
I perceive that you as well as McHenry are quitting the administration. I am not informed how all this has been, though I conjecture. Allow me to suggest that you ought to take with you copies and extracts of all such documents as will enable you to explain both Jefferson and Adams. You are aware of a very curious journal of the latter when he was in Europe—a tissue of weakness and vanity.
The time is coming when men of real integrity and energy must write against all empirics.
to oliver wolcott
I send you the enclosed; if any good use can be made of it, you will do it. I have been in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. There is little doubt of federal electors in all, but there is considerable doubt of a perfect union in favor of Pinckney.
The leaders of the first class are generally right, but those of the second class are too much disposed to be wrong. It is essential to inform the most discreet of this description of the facts which denote unfitness in Mr. Adams. I have promised confidential friends a correct statement. To be able to give it, I must derive aid from you, and any thing you may write shall, if you please, be returned to you. But you must be exact, and much in detail. The history of the mission to France, from the first steps connected with the declarations in the speech to Congress down to the last proceeding, is very important.
I have serious thoughts of writing to the President, to tell him that I have heard of his having repeatedly mentioned the existence of a British faction in this country, and alluded to me as one of that faction, requesting that he will inform me of the truth of this information, and, if true, what have been the grounds of the suggestion. His friends are industrious in propagating the idea, to defeat the efforts to unite for Pinckney. The inquiry I propose may furnish an antidote and vindicate character. What think you of this idea? For my part, I can set malice at defiance.
to charles carroll
July 1, 1800.
I yesterday returned from an excursion through three of the four Eastern States, and found your letter of the 18th of April. It is very necessary that the true and independent friends of the government should communicate and understand each other at the present very embarrassed and dangerous crisis of public affairs. I am glad, therefore, of the opportunity which your letter affords me of giving you some explanations which may be useful. They are given without reserve, because the times forbid temporizing, and I hold no opinions which I have any motives to dissemble. As to the situation of this State with regard to the election of President, it is perfectly ascertained that, on a joint ballot of the two houses of our Legislature, the opposers of the government will have a majority of more than twenty, a majority which can by no means be overcome. Consequently all our electors will vote for Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Burr. I think there is little cause to doubt that the electors in the four Eastern States will all be federal.
The only question seems to be as to Rhode Island, where there is some division, and a state of things rather loose. Governor Fenner, as far as he may dare, will promote the interest of Jefferson.
A considerable diversion in favor of the opposition has lately been made in New Jersey, but the best and best-informed men there entertain no doubt that all her electors will still be federal, and I believe this opinion may be relied upon.
I go no further south, as I take it for granted your means of calculation with regard to that quarter are at least equal to mine.
The result of a comprehensive view of the subject seems to me to be that the event is uncertain, but that the probability is that a universal adherence of the Federalists to Pinckney will exclude Jefferson.
On this point there is some danger, though the greatest number of strong-minded men in New England are not only satisfied of the expediency of supporting Pinckney as giving the best chance against Jefferson, but even prefer him to Adams; yet, in the body of that people there is a strong personal attachment of this gentleman, and most of the leaders of the second class are so anxious for his re-election that it will be difficult to convince them that there is as much danger of its failure as there unquestionably is, or to induce them faithfully to co-operate in Mr. Pinckney, notwithstanding their common and strong dread of Jefferson.
It may become advisable, in order to oppose their fears to their prejudices, for the middle States to declare that Mr. Adams will not be supported at all, when, seeing his success desperate, they would be driven to adhere to Pinckney. In this plan New Jersey, and even Connecticut, may be brought to concur. For both these States have generally lost confidence in Mr. Adams.
But this will be best decided by future events and elucidations. In the meantime, it is not advisable that Maryland should be too deeply pledged to the support of Mr. Adams.
That this gentleman ought not to be the object of the federal wish is, with me, reduced to demonstration. His administration has already very materially disgraced and sunk the government. There are defects in his character which must inevitably continue to do this more and more. And if he is supported by the federal party, his party must, in the issue, fall with him. Every other calculation will, in my judgment, prove illusory.
Doctor Franklin, a sagacious observer of human nature, drew this portrait of Mr. Adams: “He is always honest, sometimes great, but often mad.“ I subscribe to the justness of this picture, adding, as to the first trait of it, this qualification: “as far as a man excessively vain and jealous and ignobly attached to place can be.”
to samuel dexter
July 9, 1800.
From a letter (not, however, couched in very explicit terms) which I have received from Mr. Bureaux de Pusy, I am induced to think that this gentleman would be willing to accept an appointment in the service of the United States.
He was, under the royal government, an engineer of distinction in the service of France. You are, I dare say, informed of his political history. He was a member and once president of the constituent assembly. Attached warmly to Lafayette and involved in his fortunes, he withdrew with him and was his fellow prisoner with the Russians and Austrians. Tired of the tempest of Europe himself, with his father-in-law DuPont de Nemours, and the whole connection have removed to this country and made a little establishment in Bergen County, New Jersey.
His professional pretensions admit of no dispute. His private character is amiable; his intelligence and information are highly respectable.
After mature reflection I am well satisfied that it is advisable for the United States to engage him if they can. He may be one of the two engineers whom the President is empowered to employ with the grade of colonel and such emoluments as he may think proper to agree for.
As the grade is rather below the pretensions of Mr. de Pusy, he may expect an increase of emoluments, which indeed is agreeable to the spirit of the provision made for this object.
There is a little probability of finding a person better qualified than in all probability is this gentleman.
The institution of a military academy being an object of primary importance, will, I doubt not, be zealously pursued. Whenever it shall take place, Mr. de Pusy will be a most desirable character to be at the head of it.
to john adams
It has been repeatedly mentioned to me that you have on different occasions asserted the existence of a British faction in this country, embracing a number of leading or influential characters of the federal party, as usually denominated; and that you have sometimes named me, at others plainly alluded to me, as one of this description of person. And I have likewise been assured that of late some of your warm adherents, for electioneering purposes, have employed a corresponding language. I must, sir, take it for granted that you cannot have made such assertions or insinuations without being willing to avow them, and to assign the reasons to a party who may conceive himself injured by them. I therefore trust that you will not deem it improper, that I apply directly to yourself, to ascertain from you, in reference to your own declarations, whether the information. I have received is correct or not, and if correct, what are the grounds upon which you have founded the suggestion.
to oliver wolcott
Aug. 3, 1800.
I have, two days since, written to Mr. Adams a respectful letter on the subject I heretofore mentioned to you. Occupation at court prevented its being done sooner.
But I wait with impatience for the statement of facts which you promised me. It is plain that, unless we give our reasons in some form or other, Mr. Adams’ personal friends, seconded by the Jacobins, will completely run us down in the public opinion. Your name, in company with mine, that of T. Pickering etc., is in full circulation, as one of the British faction of which Mr. Adams has talked so much.
I have serious thoughts of giving to the public my opinion respecting Mr. Adams, with my reasons, in a letter to a friend, with my signature. This seems to me the most authentic way of conveying the information, and best suited to the plain dealing of my character. There are, however, reasons against it; and a very strong one is, that some of the principal causes of my disapprobation proceed from yourself, and other members of the administration, who would be understood to be the sources of my information, whatever cover I might give the thing.
What say you to this measure? I could predicate it on the fact that I am abused by the friends of Mr. Adams, who ascribe my opposition to pique and disappointment; and could give it the shape of a defence of myself.
You have doubtless seen the Aurora publication of treasury documents, and the manner in which my name is connected with it. These publications do harm with the ignorant, who are the greatest number. I have thoughts of insinuating an action of slander, to be tried by a struck jury, against the editor. If I do it, I should claim you and the supervisors, collectors, and loan officers of all the States, from Maryland to New York, inclusively, as witnesses, to demonstrate completely the malice and falsity of the accusation. What think you of this? You see I am in a very belligerent humor.
But I remember that, at the outset, before the sums payable for interest, pensions, etc., were ascertained, I placed the money in the hands of the paying officers, upon estimate, and that, to avoid disappointment, I made the estimates large. Pray look into this, and see how far it may give any color to the calumny.
Let me hear from you soon.
to james ashton bayard
Aug. 6, 1800.
The president of Columbia College, in this city, has resigned, and we are looking out for a successor. Dr. Wharton has occurred to me as a character worthy of inquiry; and the great confidence I feel in your judgment and candor, induces me to have recourse to you.
We are extremely anxious to have a well-qualified man, as this is the only thing wanted to render our institution very flourishing. We have two very good professors—one of the languages, the other of the mathematics and natural philosophy; and we have a professor of chemistry—this branch having been lately made a part of the academic course,—together with better funds, as I believe, than any similar institution in the United States. I mention these particulars to impress you with the importance of our college to the cause of literature, and with the duty which thence results of peculiar circumspection and care in the choice of a president. It is essential that he be a gentleman in his manners, as well as a sound and polite scholar; that his moral character be irreproachable; that he possess energy of body and mind, and be of a disposition to maintain discipline without undue austerity; and, in the last place, that his politics be of the right sort. I beg you to inform me particularly how far Dr. Wharton meets this description, in what, if any thing, he fails. You will, of course, see the propriety of mentioning nothing about this inquiry.
In the present eventful crisis of our affairs, a mutual communication of informations and opinions among influential men of the federal party, may be attended with some advantage to their cause. Under this impression I shall give you a summary of the state of things north of the Delaware; south of it, your information is likely to be as good as mine; and, accordingly, I shall request your view of what is to be expected from that quarter. In New Hampshire there is no doubt of federal electors; but there is a decided partiality for Mr. Adams. I took pains to possess Governor Gilman, whose influence is very preponderating, of the errors and defects of Mr. Adams, and of the danger that no candidate can prevail, by mere federal strength; consequently of the expediency and necessity of unanimously voting for General Pinckney (who, in the South, may get some anti-federal votes) as the best chance of excluding Mr. Jefferson. The Governor appeared convinced of the soundness of these views, and cautiously gave me to expect his co-operation. Yet I do not count upon New Hampshire for more than two things: one, a unanimous vote for Mr. Adams; the other, no vote for any Anti-federalist. In Massachusetts, almost all the leaders of the first class are dissatisfied with Mr. Adams; and enter heartily into the policy of supporting General Pinckney. But most of the leaders of the second class are attached to Mr. Adams, and fearful of jeopardizing his election by promoting that of General Pinckney; and the mass of the people are well affected to him and to his administration. Yet I have strong hopes that, by the exertions of the principal Federalists, Massachusetts will unanimously vote for Adams and Pinckney. Rhode Island is in a state somewhat uncertain. Schisms have grown up from personal rivalships, which have been improved by the Anti-federalists, to strengthen their interests. Governor Fenner expresses a hope that there will be two anti-federal electors; but our friends reject this idea as wholly improbable. But I am not quite convinced that they know the ground. In every event, however, I expect that Mr. Adams will have there an unanimous vote.
I think nothing can be relied upon as to General Pinckney. Connecticut will, I doubt not, unanimously vote for General Pinckney, but, being very much displeased with Mr. Adams, it will require the explicit advice of certain gentlemen to induce them to vote for him. No Anti-federalist has any chance there. About Vermont I am not as yet accurately informed, but I believe Adams and Pinckney will both have all the votes. In New York, all the votes will certainly be for Jefferson and Burr. New Jersey does not stand as well as she used to do. The Antis hope for the votes of this State, but I think they will be disappointed. If the electors are federal, Pinckney will certainly be voted for, and Adams will be, or not, as leading friends shall advise. Adding to this view of the Northern what I have understood of the Southern quarter, our prospects are not brilliant. There seems to be too much probability that Jefferson or Burr will be President. The latter is intriguing with all his might in New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont, and there is a possibility of some success in his intrigues. He counts positively on the universal support of the Anti-federalists, and that, by some adventitious aid from other quarters, he will overstop his friend Jefferson. Admitting the first point, the conclusion may be realized; and if it is so, Burr will certainly attempt to reform the government à la Bonaparte. He is as unprincipled and dangerous a man as any country can boast—as true a Catiline as ever met in midnight conclave.
to james mchenry
Aug. 27, 1800.
Indeed, my dear Mac., I have not enough the gift of second sight to foresee what New England will do.
The mass of the people there are attached to Adams and the leaders of the second class pretty generally. The leaders of the first class pretty generally promote the joint support of Adams and Pinckney, either because they dislike Adams, or hate or fear Jefferson.
Upon the whole, I believe, though not with perfect assurance, that Pinckney will have almost all the votes of New England. Adams will have all.
The State of New Jersey is more uncertain than I could wish. Parties will be too nicely balanced there. But our friends continue confident of a favorable result. If the electors in this State are federal, they will certainly vote for Pinckney, and I rather think will do, with respect to Mr. Adams, what may be thought right.
In New York, there is no chance for any federal candidate.
I think, at all events, Maryland had better choose by the Legislature. If we have a majority of federal votes throughout, we can certainly exclude Jefferson, and, if we please, bring the question between Adams and Pinckney to the House of Representatives.
We fight Adams on very unequal grounds, because we do not declare the motives of our dislike. The exposition of these is very important—but how? I would make it and put my name to it, but I cannot do it without its being conclusively inferred that as to very material facts I must have derived my information from members of the administration. Yet, without this, we have the air of mere caballers, and shall be completely run down in the public opinion.
I have written a letter, of which I shall send a copy to you, another to Wolcott. If I am not forbidden, Colonel Ogden, to whom it will be addressed, will commit it to the newspapers.
P. S.—I have concluded to send the enclosed to you instead of Major Jackson.
to oliver wolcott
Sept. 26, 1800.
As I hinted to you some time since, I have drafted a letter which it is my wish to send to influential individuals in the New England States. I hope from it two advantages—the promoting of Mr. Pinckney’s election and the vindication of ourselves.
You may depend upon it, a very serious impression has been made on the public mind, by the partisans of Mr. Adams, to our disadvantage; that the facts hitherto known have very partially impaired the confidence of the body of the Federalists in Mr. Adams, who, for want of information, are disposed to regard his opponents as factious men. If this cannot be counteracted, our characters are the sacrifice. To do it, facts must be stated with some authentic stamp. Decorum may not permit going into the newspapers, but the letter may be addressed to so many respectable men of influence as may give its contents general circulation.
What say you to the measure? Anonymous publications can now effect nothing.
Some of the most delicate of the facts stated I hold from the three ministers, yourself particularly, and I do not think myself at liberty to take the step without your consent. I never mean to bring proof, but to stand upon the credit of my own veracity.
Say quickly what is to be done, for there is no time to spare. Give me your opinion not only of the measure, but of the fashion and spirit of the letter in regard to utility and propriety. If there are exceptionable ideas or phrases, note them.
As it is a first draught, there is much I should myself mend. But I have not now leisure for it previous to your inspection.
to john adams
Oct. 1, 1800.
The time which has elapsed since my letter of the 1st Aug. was delivered to you precludes the further expectation of an answer.
From this silence I will draw no inference, nor will I presume to judge of the fitness of silence on such an occasion on the part of the chief magistrate of a republic towards a citizen who, without a stain, has discharged so many important public trusts.
But this much I will affirm, that by whomsoever a charge of the kind mentioned in my former letter may at any time have been made or insinuated against me, it is a base, wicked, and cruel calumny, destitute even of a plausible pretext to excuse the folly or the depravity which must have dictated it.
to timothy pickering
Nov. 13, 1800.
You no doubt have seen my pamphlet respecting the conduct and character of President Adams. The press teems with replies, and I may finally think it expedient to publish a second time. In this case I shall reinforce my charges by new anecdotes. My friends will, no doubt, be disposed to aid me. You probably possess some which are unknown to me. Pray let me have them without delay.
You will observe that a prejudice is attempted to be excited against you as wishing to bring about an alliance with Great Britain. Explain to me fully this affair. I remember that you once consulted me about the expediency of the measure, and that I in reply gave you my opinion. I think it was that the thing was in any event problematical—that it was not advisable to go into at the time—that the most prudent course would be for Great Britain to have a power competent to the purpose vested in her Minister in this country, and to take the matter ad referendum to be governed by future circumstances.
I have not a copy of my letter. You will oblige me by letting me have it.
to oliver wolcott
Dec. 16, 1800.
It is now, my dear sir, ascertained that Jefferson or Burr will be President, and it seems probable that they will come with equal votes to the House of Representatives. It is also circulated here that, in this event, the Federalists in Congress, or some of them, talk of preferring Burr. I trust New England, at least, will not so far lose its head as to fall into this snare. There is no doubt but that, upon every virtuous and prudent calculation, Jefferson is to be preferred. He is by far not so dangerous a man; and he has pretensions to character.
As to Burr, there is nothing in his favor. His private character is not defended by his most partial friends. He is bankrupt beyond redemption, except by the plunder of his country. His public principles have no other spring or aim than his own aggrandizement, per fas et nefas. If he can, he will certainly disturb our institutions, to secure to himself permanent power, and with it wealth. He is truly the Catiline of America; and, if I may credit Major Wilcocks, he has held very vindictive language respecting his opponents.
But early measures must be taken to fix on this point the opinions of the Federalists. Among them, from different motives, Burr will find partisans. If the thing be neglected, he may possibly go far.
Yet it may be well enough to throw out a lure for him, in order to tempt him to start for the plate, and then lay the foundation of dissension between the two chiefs.
You may communicate this letter to Marshall and Sedgwick. Let me hear speedily from you in reply.
to oliver wolcott
December 17, 1800.
Your last letter, my dear sir, has given me great pain, not only because it informed me that the opinion in favor of Mr. Burr was increasing among the Federalists, but because it also told me that Mr. Sedgwick was one of its partisans. I have a letter from this gentlemen, in which he expresses decidedly his preference of Mr. Jefferson. I hope you have been mistaken, and that it is not possible for him to have been guilty of so great duplicity.
There is no circumstance which has occurred in the course of our political affairs that has given me so much pain as the idea that Mr. Burr might be elevated to the Presidency by the means of the Federalists. I am of opinion that this party has hitherto solid claims of merit with the public, and so long as it does nothing to forfeit its title to confidence, I shall continue to hope that our misfortunes are temporary, and that the party will erelong emerge from its depression. But if it shall act a foolish or unworthy part in any capital instance, I shall then despair.
Such, without doubt, will be the part it will act, if it shall seriously attempt to support Mr. Burr, in opposition to Mr. Jefferson. If it fails, as, after all, is not improbable, it will have riveted the animosity of that person; will have destroyed or weakened the motives to moderation which he must at present feel, and it will expose them to the disgrace of a defeat, in an attempt to elevate to the first place of the government one of the worst men in the community.
If it succeeds, it will have done nothing more nor less than place in that station a man who will possess the boldness and daring necessary to give success to the Jacobin system, instead of one who, for want of that quality, will be less fitted to promote it.
Let it not be imagined that Mr. Burr can be won to the federal views. It is a vain hope. Stronger ties and stronger inducements than they can offer will impel him in a different direction. His ambition will not be content with those objects which virtuous men of either party will allot to it, and his situation and his habits will oblige him to have recourse to corrupt expedients, from which he will be restrained by no moral scruple. To accomplish his ends, he must lean upon unprincipled men, and will continue to adhere to the myrmidons who have hitherto seconded him. To these he will, no doubt, add able rogues of the federal party, but he will employ the rogues of all parties to overrule the good men of all parties, and to prosecute projects which wise men of every description will disapprove.
These things are to be inferred, with moral certainty, from the character of the man. Every step in his career proves that he has formed himself upon the model of Catiline, and he is too cold-blooded and too determined a conspirator ever to change his plan.
What would you think of these toasts and this conversation at his table within the last three or four weeks?
1st. The French republic.
2d. The commissioners on both sides who negotiated the convention.
What would you think of his having seconded the positions, that it was the interest of this country to allow the belligerent powers to bring in and sell their prizes, and build and equip ships in our ports? Do you not see in this the scheme of war with Great Britain, as the instrument of power and wealth? Can it be doubted that a man who has all his life speculated upon the popular prejudices, will consult them in the object of a war when he thinks it is expedient to make one? Can a man who, despising democracy, has chimed in with all its absurdities, be diverted from the plan of ambition which must have directed his course? They who suppose it must understand little of human nature.
If Jefferson is President, the whole responsibility of bad measures will rest with the Anti-federalists. If Burr is made so by the Federalists, the whole responsibility will rest with them. The other party will say to the people: We intended him only for Vice-President; here he might have done very well, or been at least harmless. But the Federalists, to disappoint us, and a majority of you, took advantage of a momentary superiority to put him in the first place. He is therefore their President, and they must answer for all the evils of his bad conduct. And the people will believe them.
Will any reasonable calculation on the part of the Federalists uphold the policy of assuming so great a responsibility in the support of so unpromising a character? The negative is so manifest that, had I not been assured of the contrary, I should have thought it impossible that assent to it would have been attended with a moment’s hesitation.
Alas! when will men consult their reason rather than their passions? Whatever they may imagine, the desire of mortifying the adverse party must be the chief spring of the disposition to prefer Mr. Burr. This disposition reminds me of the conduct of the Dutch moneyed men, who, from their hatred of the old aristocracy, favored the admission of the French into Holland, to overturn every thing.
Adieu to the Federal Troy, if they once introduce this Grecian horse into their citadel.
Trust me, my dear friend, you cannot render a greater service to your country than to resist this project. Far better will it be to endeavor to obtain from Jefferson assurances on some cardinal points:
1st. The preservation of the actual fiscal system.
2d. Adherence to the neutral plan.
3d. The preservation and gradual increase of the navy.
4th. The continuance of our friends in the offices they fill, except in the great departments, in which he ought to be left free.
to theodore sedgwick
Dec. 22, 1800.
I entirely agree with you, my dear sir, that, in the event of Jefferson and Burr coming to the House of Representatives, the former is to be preferred. The appointment of Burr as President would disgrace our country abroad. No agreement with him could be relied upon. His private circumstances render disorder a necessary resource. His public principles offer no obstacle. His ambition aims at nothing short of permanent power and wealth in his own person. For heaven’s sake, let not the federal party be responsible for the elevation of this man!
The convention with France is just such an issue as was to have been expected. It plays into the hands of France, by the precedent of those principles of navigation which she is at this moment desirous of making the basis of a league of the northern powers against England. This feature will be peculiarly disagreeable to the latter, and, as it relates to the general politics of the world, is a make-weight in the wrong scale.
The stipulation about privateers and prizes is of questionable propriety. If third powers are entitled to the benefit of annulling our treaties with France, it is a plain violation of our compact with Great Britain.
But I rather think it the better opinion that, pending the differences which produced that measure, it is a matter purely between France and ourselves, by which no third power has a right to profit, and that even the status quo would not have been a violation of our engagements with Great Britain.
Thus situated, I am of opinion the treaty must be ratified. The contrary condition would, I think, utterly ruin the federal party and endanger our internal tranquillity. Moreover, it is better to close the thing where it is, than to leave it to a Jacobin to do much worse.
This is a deliberately formed sentiment, and I hope will accord with the conclusions of our friends. At the same time, I wish it to be declared by our friends in the Senate, that they think the treaty liable to strong objections and pregnant with dangers to the interests of this country, but having been negotiated, they will not withhold their assent.
Reasons should be given.
to gouverneur morris
Dec. 24, 1800.
I will run the risk with you of giving countenance to a charge lately brought against me, though it has certainly had a very false direction. I mean that of being fond of giving advice.
Several friends at Washington inform me that there is likely to be much hesitation in the Senate about ratifying the convention with France. I do not wonder at it, and yet I should be sorry that it should mature itself into a disagreement to the instrument. Having received its present form, I think it should be ratified.
In my opinion, there is nothing in it contrary to our treaty with Great Britain. The annulling of our former treaties with France was an act of reprisal in consequence of hostile differences, of which no other power had a right to benefit, and which, upon an accommodation, might have been rescinded, even to the restoration of the status quo. Great Britain is now, in this respect, in a better situation than she was when she made the treaty. She has, so far, no good cause to complain.
There are, indeed, features which will not be pleasant to the British cabinet, particularly the principle that free ships shall make free goods, and that the flag of ships-of-war shall protect. As these are points upon which France was endeavoring to form hostile combinations against Great Britain, the giving place to them in the convention will have an unfriendly countenance towards her and us, and is to be regretted in the present moment. Yet we had a right to make these stipulations, and as they may be fairly supposed to be advantageous to us, they are not in fact indications of enmity. They give no real cause of umbrage, and, considering the general interests of Great Britain and her particular situation, it does not seem probable that they will produce on her part a hostile conduct.
As to the indemnification for spoliations, that was rather to be wished than expected, while France is laying the world under contribution. The people of this country will not endure that a definitive rupture with France shall be hazarded on this ground.
If this convention is not closed, the leaving of the whole subject open will render it easier for the Jacobin administration to make a worse thing.
On the whole, the least evil is to ratify. The contrary would finish the ruin of the federal party, and endanger our internal tranquillity. It is better to risk the dangers on the other hand, than on this side.
Another subject. Jefferson or Burr? the former without all doubt. The latter, in my judgment, has no principle, public or private; could be bound by no agreement; will listen to no monitor but his ambition, and for this purpose will use the worst part of the community as a ladder to climb to permanent power, and an instrument to crush the better part. He is bankrupt beyond redemption, except by the resources that grow out of war and disorder, or by a sale to a foreign power, or by great peculation. War with great Britain would be the immediate instrument. He is sanguine enough to hope every thing, daring enough to attempt every thing, wicked enough to scruple nothing. From the elevation of such a man may heaven preserve the country!
Let our situation be improved to obtain from Jefferson assurances on certain points: the maintenance of the present system, especially on the cardinal articles of public credit—a navy, neutrality. Make any discreet use you may think fit of this letter.
to gouverneur morris
Dec. 26, 1800.
The post of yesterday gave me the pleasure of a letter from you. I thank you for the communication. I trust that a letter which I wrote you the day before the receipt of yours will have duly reached you, as it contains some very free and confidential observations ending in two results.
1st. That the convention with France ought to be ratified as the least of two evils.
2d. That on the same ground Jefferson ought to be preferred to Burr.
I trust the Federalists will not finally be so mad as to vote for the latter. I speak with an intimate and accurate knowledge of character. His elevation can only promote the purposes of the desperate and profligate.
If there be a man in the world I ought to hate, it is Jefferson. With Burr I have always been personally well. But the public good must be paramount to every private consideration.
My opinion may be freely used with such reserves as you shall think discreet.
to james a. bayard
Dec. 27, 1800.
Several letters to myself and others from the city of Washington, excite in my mind extreme alarm on the subject of the future President. It seems nearly ascertained that Jefferson and Burr will come into the House of Representatives with equal votes, and those letters express the probability that the federal party may prefer the latter. In my opinion, a circumstance more ruinous to them, or more disastrous to the country, could not happen.
This opinion is dictated by a long and close attention to the character of B., with the best opportunities of knowing it—an advantage of judging which, few of our friends possess, and which ought to give some weight to my opinion.
Be assured, my dear sir, that this man has no principle, public nor private. As a politician, his sole spring of action is an inordinate ambition; as an individual, he is believed by friends as well as foes to be without probity; and a voluptuary by system—with habits of expense that can be satisfied by no fair expedients. As to his talents, great management and cunning are the predominant features; he is yet to give proofs of those solid abilities which characterize the statesman. Daring and energy must be allowed him; but these qualities, under the direction of the worst passions, are certainly strong objections, not recommendations. He is of a temper to undertake the most hazardous enterprises, because he is sanguine enough to think nothing impracticable; and of an ambition that will be content with nothing less than permanent power in his own hands. The maintenance of the existing institutions will not suit him; because under them his power will be too narrow and too precarious. Yet the innovations he may attempt will not offer the substitute of a system durable and safe, calculated to give lasting prosperity, and to unite liberty with strength. It will be the system of the day, sufficient to serve his own turn, and not looking beyond himself. To execute this plan, as the good men of the country cannot be relied upon, the worst will be used. Let it not be imagined that the difficulties of execution will deter, or a calculation of interest restrain. The truth is, that under forms of government like ours, too much is practicable to men who will, without scruple, avail themselves of the bad passions of human nature. To a man of this description, possessing the requisite talents, the acquisition of permanent power is not a chimera. I know that Mr. Burr does not view it as such, and I am sure there are no means too atrocious to be employed by him. In debt, vastly beyond his means of payment, with all the habits of excessive expense, he cannot be satisfied with the regular emoluments of any office of our government. Corrupt expedients will be to him a necessary resource. Will any prudent man offer such a President to the temptations of foreign gold? No engagement that can be made with him can be depended upon; while making it, he will laugh in his sleeve at the credulity of those with whom he makes it;—and the first moment it suits his views to break it, he will do so. Let me add, that I could scarcely name a discreet man of either party in our State, who does not think Mr. Burr the most unfit man in the United States for the office of President. Disgrace abroad, ruin at home, are the probable fruits of his elevation. To contribute to the disappointment and mortification of Mr. J., would be, on my part, only to retaliate for unequivocal proofs of enmity; but in a case like this, it would be base to listen to personal considerations. In alluding to the situation, I mean only to illustrate how strong must be the motives which induced me to promote his elevation in exclusion of another.
For heaven’s sake, my dear sir, exert yourself to the utmost to save our country from so great a calamity. Let us not be responsible for the evils, which in all probability will follow the preference. All calculations that may lead to it must prove fallacious.
to john rutledge
As long as the federal party pursue their high ground of integrity and principle, I shall not despair of the public weal; but if they quit it and descend to be willing instruments of the elevation of the most unfit and most dangerous man of the community to the highest station in the government, I shall no longer see any anchor for the hopes of good men. I shall at once anticipate all the evils that a daring and unprincipled ambition, wielding the lever of Jacobinism, can bring upon an infatuated country. ’T is not to the chapter of accidents that we ought to trust the government, peace, and happiness of our country. ’T is enough for us to know that Mr. Burr is one of the most unprincipled men in the United States, to determine us to decline being responsible for the precarious issues of his calculations of interest. You cannot, in my opinion, render a greater service to your country than by exerting your influence to counteract the impolitic and impure idea of raising Mr. Burr to the chief magistracy.
to james ross
Letters which myself and others have received from Washington give me much alarm at the prospect that Mr. Burr may be supported by the Federalists in preference to Mr. Jefferson. Be assured, my dear sir, that this would be a fatal mistake. From a thorough knowledge of the characters, I can pronounce with confidence that Mr. Burr is the last man in the United States to be supported by the Federalists.
First. It is an opinion firmly entertained by his enemies and not disputed by his friends, that, as a man, he is deficient in honesty. Some very sad stories are related of him. That he is bankrupt for a large deficit, is certain. Second. As a politician, discerning men of both parties admit that he has but one principle—to get power by any means, and to keep it by all means. Third. Of an ambition too irregular and inordinate to be content with institutions that leave his power precarious, he is of too bold and sanguine a temper to think any thing too hazardous to be attempted, or too difficult to be accomplished. Fourth. As to talents, they are great for management and intrigue—but he is yet to give the first proofs that they are equal to the act of governing well. Fifth. As to his theory, no man can tell what it is. Institutions that would serve his own purposes (such as the government of France of the present day), not such as would promise lasting prosperity and glory to the country, would be his preference, because he cares only for himself, and nothing for his country or glory. Sixth. Certain that his irregular ambition cannot be supported by good men, he will court and employ the worst men of all parties as the most eligible instruments. Jacobinism in its most pernicious form will scourge the country. Seventh. As to foreign politics, war will be a necessary means of power and wealth. The animosity to the British will be the handle by which he will attempt to wield the nation to that point. Within a fortnight he has advocated positions, which, if acted upon, would in six months place us in a state of war with that power. From the elevation of such a man may heaven preserve the country. Should it be by the means of the Federalists, I should at once despair. I should see no longer any thing upon which to rest the hope of public or private prosperity.
No. Let the Federalists vote for Jefferson.
But, as they have much in their power, let them improve the situation to obtain assurances from him:
- 1 The preservation of the actual system of finance and public credit.
- 2 The support and gradual increase of the navy.
- 3 A bona fide neutrality towards belligerent powers.
- 4 The preservation in office of our friends, except in the great departments, in respect to which and to future appointments he ought to be at liberty to promote his friends.
to gouverneur morris
Jan. 9, 1801.
I have lately, my dear sir, written you two letters. As they contained some delicate topics, I shall be glad to know that they got to hand.
It has occurred to me that perhaps the Federalists may be disposed to play the game of preventing an election, and leaving the executive power in the hands of a future President of the Senate. This, if it could succeed, would be, for obvious reasons, a most dangerous and unbecoming policy. But it is well it should be understood that it cannot succeed. The Anti-federalists, as a body, prefer Jefferson, but among them are many who will be better suited by the dashing, projecting spirit of Burr, and who, after doing what they will suppose to be saving appearances, they will go over to Mr. Burr. Edward Livingston has declared among his friends that his first ballot will be for Jefferson; his second for Burr.
The present is a crisis which demands the exertions of men who have an interest in public order.
to gouverneur morris
Jan. 10, 1801.
I thank you, my dear sir, for your letter of the 5th instant. The scruples you express about the ratification of the convention are very respectable. No well-informed man can doubt that it is an exceptionable instrument, but I continue of the opinion that it is best, upon the whole, to ratify it unconditionally.
It does not appear to me that, on fair construction, the existence of the old treaties is recognized, though a right of mutual indemnities as to the past is admitted. But inasmuch as it is declared that they shall hereafter have no effect until a future agreement, this appears to me to amount to the consent of France that they shall become inoperative and null, unless they shall be revived by the consent of the United States. So far I think that some thing is gained. For the right of one party to annul a treaty is a litigious right, never consummated till the other party waives its opposition. This is now in substance done by France. And, in my opinion, to have advanced so far is a matter of considerable importance.
The indemnification for spoliation is, I admit, virtually relinquished as the price of the waiver of the treaties; but considering our situation, and the immense and growing power of France, that price is not too great.
Further, there are such potent obstacles in the nature of things to the obtaining of effectual indemnification, that it is very well to leave it to the chapter of accidents.
The restoration of ships-of-war is an unpleasant, and, I do not deny, rather a humiliating thing.
But as it is in form reciprocal, it does not seem to me that unequivocal species of dishonor which ought to induce us to run great risks. Our conduct heretofore has gone on the ground that, though we ought not to submit to unequivocal disgrace, yet we ought not to be too susceptible or overcurious and nice. In this spirit we have borne a great deal, sometimes too much, from all the belligerents. Circumstances do not now invite to a different course. Our rapid progress to strength will, erelong, encourage to and warrant higher pretensions.
You seem to have gotten over the difficulty of the supposed collision between the convention and our treaty with Britain. You already know that this accords with my opinion. Yet it seems to me the most thorny point, as it draws into question our faith towards a third power.
This gotten over, there is not, in my apprehension, any remaining obstacle to a full ratification which may not be overcome.
The limitation of the treaty as to time is doubtless desirable, but we may be sure it will not be eternal in fact. Perpetual peace will not exist. A war cuts the knot, and leaves us free to renew or not, to renew absolutely, or with qualifications.
With this view of the subject, I do not consider the objections to a simple ratification to be strong enough to countervail the dangers of a qualified one, which certainly will leave it in the option of the other party to recede.
It is possible that, in the pride of success, our backwardness to ratify may be the pretext of a rupture to punish the presumption. Under existing circumstances, such an event would be disastrous, if not for the evils which the arms of France might inflict, yet for the hazard of internal schisms and discord. The mania for France has in a great degree revived in our country, and the party which should invite a rupture would be likely to be ruined.
Perhaps, with the administration we are going to have, there may be less danger of rupture than with one of a different cast; yet not much reliance can be placed on this circumstance, and there is another side to the question which deserves attention.
If the present convention be ratified, our relations to France will have received a precise shape. To take up the subject anew and mould it into a shape better according with Jacobin projects will not be as easy as finding the whole business open to give it that shape. I think it politic, therefore, to close as far as we can.
Again, it will be of consequence to the federal cause in future to be able to say the federal administration steered the vessel through all the storms raised by the contentions of Europe into a peaceful and safe port. This cannot be said if the contest with France continues open.
Inclosed you have some recent intelligence which seems to strengthen the argument for a simple ratification. Great Britain stands on a precipice. The misfortune for her is that there are manifest symptoms of a depreciated and depreciating paper currency. This may cut deep.
The result is that good understanding with the United States is more than ever necessary to Great Britain. She will not lightly take umbrage while France is in a position to ride a high horse. These facts cannot prudently be excluded from the calculation.
So our eastern friends want to join the armed neutrality and make war upon Britain. I infer this from their mad propensity to make Burr President. If Jefferson has prejudices leading to that result, he has defects of character to keep him back. Burr, with the same propensities, will find the thing necessary to his projects, and will dare to hazard all consequences. They may as well think to bind a giant by a cobweb as his ambition by promises.
to james a. bayard
Jan. 16, 1801.
I was glad to find, my dear sir, by your letter that you had not yet determined to go with the current of the federal party in the support of Mr. Burr, and that you were resolved to hold yourself disengaged till the moment of final decision. Your resolution to separate yourself in this instance from the federal party, if your conviction shall be strong of the unfitness of Mr. Burr, is certainly laudable. So much does it coincide with my ideas, that if the party shall, by supporting Mr. Burr as President, adopt him for their official chief, I shall be obliged to consider myself as an isolated man. It will be impossible for me to reconcile with my notions of honor or policy the continuing to be of a party which, according to my apprehension, will have degraded itself and the country.
I am sure, nevertheless, that the motives of many will be good, and I shall never cease to esteem the individuals, though I shall deplore a step which, I fear, experience will show to be a very fatal one. Among the letters which I receive assigning the reasons pro and con for preferring Burr to J., I observe no small exaggeration to the prejudice of the latter, and some things taken for granted as to the former, which are at least questionable. Perhaps myself the first, at some expense of popularity, to unfold the true character of Jefferson, it is too late for me to become his apologist; nor can I have any disposition to do it.
I admit that his politics are tinctured with fanaticism; that he is too much in earnest in his democracy; that he has been a mischievous enemy to the principal measures of our past administration; that he is crafty and persevering in his objects; that he is not scrupulous about the means of success, nor very mindful of truth, and that he is a contemptible hypocrite. But it is not true, as is alleged, that he is an enemy to the power of the Executive, or that he is for confounding all the powers in the House of Representatives. It is a fact which I have frequently mentioned, that, while we were in the administration together, he was generally for a large construction of the Executive authority and not backward to act upon it in cases which coincided with his views. Let it be added that in his theoretic ideas he has considered as improper the participations of the Senate in the Executive authority. I have more than once made the reflection that, viewing himself as the reversioner, he was solicitous to come into the possession of a good estate. Nor is it true that Jefferson is zealot enough to do any thing in pursuance of his principles which will contravene his popularity or his interest. He is as likely as any man I know to temporize—to calculate what will be likely to promote his own reputation and advantage; and the probable result of such a temper is the preservation of systems, though originally opposed, which, being once established, could not be overturned without danger to the person who did it. To my mind a true estimate of Mr. Jefferson’s character warrants the expectation of a temporizing rather than a violent system. That Jefferson has manifested a culpable predilection for France is certainly true; but I think it a question whether it did not proceed quite as much from her popularity among us as from sentiment, and, in proportion as that popularity is diminished, his zeal will cool. Add to this that there is no fair reason to suppose him capable of being corrupted, which is a security that he will not go beyond certain limits. It is not at all improbable that under the change of circumstances Jefferson’s Gallicism has considerably abated.
As to Burr these things are admitted, and indeed cannot be denied, that he is a man of extreme and irregular ambition; that he is selfish to a degree which excludes all social affections, and that he is decidedly profligate. But it is said (1) that he is artful and dexterous to accomplish his ends; (2) that he holds no pernicious theories, but is a mere matter-of-fact man; (3) that his very selfishness is a guard against mischievous foreign predilections; (4) that his local situation has enabled him to appreciate the utility of our commercial and fiscal systems, and the same quality of selfishness will lead him to support and invigorate them; (5) that he is now disliked by the Jacobins; that his elevation will be a mortal stab to them, breed an invincible hatred to him, and compel him to lead on the Federalists; (6) that Burr’s ambition will be checked by his good sense, by the manifest impossibility of succeeding in any scheme of usurpation, and that, if attempted, there is nothing to fear from the attempt. These topics are, in my judgment, more plausible than solid. As to the first point, the fact must be admitted, but those qualities are objections rather than recommendations, when they are under the direction of bad principles. As to the second point, too much is taken for granted. If Burr’s conversation is to be credited, he is not very far from being a visionary. He has quoted to me Connecticut as an example of the success of the democratic theory, and as authority, I have serious doubts whether it was not a good one. It is ascertained in some instances that he has talked perfect Godwinism. I have myself heard him speak with applause of the French system, as unshackling the mind and leaving it to its natural energies, and I have been present when he has contended against banking systems with earnestness and with the same arguments that Jefferson would use.
The truth is, that Burr is a man of a very subtle imagination, and a mind of this make is rarely free from ingenious whimsies. Yet I admit that he has no fixed theory, and that his peculiar notions will easily give way to his interest. But is it a recommendation to have no theory? Can that man be a systematic or able statesman who has none? I believe not. No general principles will hardly work much better than erroneous ones.
As to the third point, it is certain that Burr, generally speaking, has been as warm a partisan of France as Jefferson; that he has, in some instances, shown himself to be so with passion. But if it was from calculation, who will say that his calculations will not continue him so? His selfishness, so far from being an obstacle, may be a prompter. If corrupt as well as selfish, he may be a partisan for gain. If ambitious as well as selfish, he may be a partisan for the sake of aid to his views. No man has trafficked more than he in the floating passions of the multitude. Hatred to Great Britain and attachment to France, in the public mind, will naturally lead a man of his selfishness, attached to place and power, to favor France and oppose Great Britain. The Gallicism of many of our patriots is to be thus resolved, and, in my opinion, it is morally certain that Burr will continue to be influenced by this calculation.
As to the fourth point, the instance I have cited with respect to banks, proves that the argument is not to be relied on. If there was much in it, why does Chancellor Livingston maintain that we ought not to cultivate navigation, but ought to let foreigners be our carriers? France is of the opinion too, and Burr, for some reason or other, will be very apt to be of the opinion of France.
As to the fifth point, nothing can be more fallacious. It is demonstrated by recent facts that Burr is solicitous to keep upon anti-federal ground, to avoid compromitting himself by any engagements, with the Federalists. With or without such engagements, he will easily persuade his former friends that he does stand on that ground, and after their first resentment they will be glad to rally under him. In the meantime he will take care not to disoblige them, and he will always court those among them who are best fitted for tools. He will never choose to lean on good men, because he knows that they will never support his bad projects; but instead of this he will endeavor to disorganize both parties, and to form out of them a third, composed of men fitted by their characters to be conspirators and instruments of such projects.
That this will be his future conduct may be inferred from his past plan, and from the admitted quality of irregular ambition. Let it be remembered that Mr. Burr has never appeared solicitous for fame, and that great ambition, unchecked by principle or the love of glory, is an unruly tyrant, which never can keep long in a course which good men will approve. As to the last point, the proposition is against the experience of all times. Ambition without principle never was long under the guidance of good sense. Besides that, really, the force of Mr. Burr’s understanding is much overrated. He is far more cunning than wise, far more dextrous than able.
(Very, very confidential.—In my opinion he is inferior in real ability to Jefferson. There are also facts against the supposition. It is past all doubt that he has blamed me for not having improved the situation I once was in to change the government. That when answered that this could not have been done without guilt, he replied, “Les grandes âmes se soucient peu des petits moraux”; that when told the thing was never practicable from the genius and situation of the country, he answered, “That depends on the estimate we form of the human passions, and of the means of influencing them.” Does this prove that Mr. Burr would consider a scheme of usurpation as visionary?)
The truth is, with great apparent coldness he is the most sanguine man in the world. He thinks every thing possible to adventure and perseverance, and, though I believe he will fail, I think it almost certain he will attempt usurpation, and the attempt will involve great mischief. But there is one point of view which seems to me decisive. If the Anti-federalists who prevailed in the election are left to take their own man, they remain responsible, and the Federalists remain free, united, and without stain, in a situation to resist, with effect, pernicious measures. If the Federalists substitute Burr, they adopt him and become answerable for him. Whatever may be the theory of the case abroad and at home (for so from the beginning will be taught), Mr. Burr will become in fact the man of our party; and if he acts ill, we must share in the blame and disgrace. By adopting him we do all we can to reconcile the minds of the Federalists to him, and we prepare them for the effectual operation of his arts. He will doubtless gain many of them, and the Federalists will become a disorganized and contemptible party. Can there be any serious question between the policy of leaving the Anti-federalists to be answerable for the elevation of an exceptionable man, and that of adopting ourselves and becoming answerable for a man who, on all hands, is acknowledged to be a complete Catiline? ’T is enough to state the question to indicate the answer, if reason, not passion, presides in the decision.
You may communicate this, and my former letter, to discreet and confidential friends.
to gouverneur morris
I hasten to give you some information which may be useful. I know as a fact that overtures have been made by leading individuals of the federal party to Mr. Burr, who declines to give any assurances respecting his future intentions and conduct, saying that to do it might injure him with his friends, and prevent their co-operation; that all ought to be inferred from the necessity of his future situation, as it regarded the disappointment and animosity of the Anti-federalists; that the Federalists, relying upon this, might proceed in the certainty that, upon a second ballot, New York and Tennessee would join him. It is likewise ascertained that he perfectly understands himself with Edward Livingston, who will be his agent at the seat of government.
Thus you see that Mr. Burr is resolved to preserve himself in a situation to adhere to his former friends, engagements, and projects, and to use the Federalists as tools of his aggrandizement.
The hope that by his election he will be separated from the Anti-federalists, is a perfect farce.
He will satisfy them that he has kept himself free to continue his relations with them, and as many of them are secretly attached to him, they will all be speedily induced to rally under his standard, to which he will add the unprincipled of our party, and he will laugh at the rest.
It is a fact that Mr. Burr is now in frequent and close conference with a Frenchman, who is suspected of being an agent of the French Government, and it is not to be doubted that he will be the firm ally of Buonaparte.
You are at liberty to show this letter to such friends as you think fit, especially Mr. Bayard, of Delaware, in whose principles and sound sense I have much confidence.
Depend upon it, men never played a more foolish game than will do the Federalists if they support Burr.
to theodore sedgwick
Jan. 21, 1801.
Being in a hurry to leave New York for this place, I compressed, in a letter to Bayard, some observations which, had I time, I should have put in a reply to your last. I requested him to communicate it to you, and I beg of you, as you love your country, your friends, and yourself, to reconsider dispassionately the opinion you have expressed in favor of Burr.
I never was so much mistaken as I shall be if our friends, in the event of their success, do not rue the preference they will give to that Catiline. Adieu.
to mrs. hamilton
The roads are too bad for you to venture in your carriage, if you can possibly avoid it. Don’t forget to visit the Grange. From what I saw there, it is very important the drains should be better regulated. Leave, in particular charge of Philip, what you cannot yourself accomplish.
to mrs. hamilton
February 19, 1801.
I arrived here, my beloved, about five this afternoon. I ought now to be much further advanced. But somehow “Riddle” sprained the ankle of one of his hind legs, which very much retarded my progress to-day. By care and indulgence, he is much better this evening. I have travelled comfortably, and my health is better. Wife, children, and hobby are the only things upon which I have permitted my thoughts to run. As often as I write, you may expect to hear some thing of the latter. Don’t lose any opportunity which may offer of ploughing up the new garden spot, and let the wagon make a tour of the ground lately purchased. When it is too cold to go on with grubbing, our men may be employed in cutting and clearing away the underbrush in the grove and the other woods; only let the centre of the principal wood in the line of the different rocks remain rough and wild.
(Again he writes): I am less and less pleased with the prospect of so long a separation from my beloved family, and you may depend shall shorten it as much as possible. “Dumphy” had planted the tulip trees in a row along the outer fence of the garden in the road, and was collecting some hemlock trees to plant between them. I desired him to place these in a row along the inner fence. But, having attended to them in my route, I shall be glad, if white pines are not conveniently to be had, that besides those along the inner fence, there may be one hemlock between every two of the tulip trees along the outer fence.
to mrs. hamilton
Feb. 20, 1801.
I am in much better health than spirits. The Swiss malady grows upon me very fast. In other words, I am more and more homesick. This, added to some other circumstances that do not give me pleasure at the present moment, makes me rather heavy-hearted. But we must make the best of those ills that cannot be avoided. The occupation I shall have at Albany will divert my mind from painful reflections; and a speedy return to my dear family will bring me a cure. Write me often, and receive every wish that is due to the best of women. Kiss my children for me. Adieu.
Feb. 22, 1801.
After my ill success hitherto, I ought, perhaps, in prudence, to say nothing further on the subject. But, situated as things now are, I certainly have no advice to give. Yet I may, without impropriety, communicate a fact; it is this:
Colonel Burr is taking an active personal part in favor of Mr. Clinton against Mr. Rensselaer, as governor of this State. I have, upon my honor, direct and indubitable evidence, that between two and three weeks past, he wrote a very urgent letter to Oliver Phelps, of the western part of this State, to induce his exertions in favor of Clinton. Is not this an unequivocal confirmation of what I predicted that he will, in every event, continue to play the Jacobin game? Can any thing else explain his conduct at such a moment, and under such circumstances? I might add several other things to prove that he is resolved to adhere to and cultivate his old party, who lately, more than ever, have shown the cloven foot of rank Jacobinism.
to dr. benjamin rush
I felt all the weight of the obligation which I owed to you and your amiable family for the tender concern they manifested in an event beyond comparison the most afflicting of my life, but I was obliged to wait for a moment of greater calm to express my sense of the kindness.
My loss is indeed great. The brightest as well as the eldest hope of my family has been taken from me. You estimated him rightly. He was a fine youth. But why should I repine? It was the will of heaven, and he is now out of the reach of the seductions and calamities of a world full of folly, full of vice, full of danger—of least value in proportion as it is best known. I firmly trust, also, that he has safely reached the haven of eternal repose and felicity.
You will easily imagine that every memorial of the goodness of his heart must be precious to me. You allude to one recorded in a letter to your son. If no special reasons forbid it, I should be very glad to have a copy of that letter.
Mrs. Hamilton, who has drunk deeply of the cup of sorrow, joins me in affectionate thanks to Mrs. Rush and yourself; our wishes for your happiness will be unceasing.
to gouverneur morris
Feb. 27, 1802.
Your letter of the 22d is the third favor I am indebted to you since you left New York.
Your frankness in giving me your opinion as to the expediency of an application of our bar to Congress, obliged me. But you know we are not readily persuaded to think we have been wrong. Were the matter to be done over, I should pursue the same course. I did not believe the measure would be useful as a preventive, and for the people an expression of an opinion by letter would be as good as a memorial.
It appeared to be best, because it saved our delicacy, and because in the abstract, I am not over fond of the precedent of the bar addressing Congress. But I did what I thought likely to do more good. I induced the Chamber of Commerce to send a memorial. As to the rest, I should be a very unhappy man, if I left my tranquility at the mercy of the misinterpretations which friends as well as foes are fond of giving to my conduct.
Mine is an odd destiny. Perhaps no man in the United States has sacrificed or done more for the present Constitution than myself; and contrary to all my anticipations of its fate, as you know from the very beginning, I am still laboring to prop the frail and worthless fabric. Yet I have the murmurs of its friends no less than the curses of its foes for my reward. What can I do better than withdraw from the scene? Every day proves to me more and more, that this American world was not made for me.
The suggestions with which you close your letter suppose a much sounder state of the public mind than at present exists. Attempts to make a show of a general popular dislike of the pending measures of the government, would only serve to manifest the direct reverse. Impressions are indeed making, but as yet within a very narrow sphere.
The time may erelong arrive when the minds of men will be prepared to make an effort to recover the Constitution, but the many cannot now be brought to make a stand for its preservation. We must wait a while.
I have read your speeches with great pleasure. They are truly worthy of you. Your real friends had many sources of satisfaction on account of them. The conspiracy of dulness was at work. It chose to misinterpret your moderation in certain transactions of a personal reference.
A public energetic display of your talents and principles was requisite to silence the cavillers. It is now done. You, friend Morris, are by birth a native of this country, but by genius an exotic. You mistake, if you fancy that you are more of a favorite than myself, or that you are in any sort upon a theatre suited to you.
to gouverneur morris
You have seen certain resolutions unanimously pass our Legislature for amending the Constitution; 1st, by designating separately the candidates for President and Vice-President; 2d, by having electors chosen by the people in districts under the direction of the national Legislature.
After mature reflection, I was thoroughly confirmed in my full impression, that it is true federal policy to promote the adoption of these amendments.
Of the first, not only because it is in itself right, that the people should know whom they are choosing, and because the present mode gives all possible scope to intrigue, and is dangerous (as we have seen) to the public tranquillity; but because in every thing which gives opportunity for juggling arts, our adversaries will nine times out of ten excel us.
Of the second, because it removes thus far the intervention of the State governments, and strengthens the connection between the Federal head and the people, and because it diminishes the means of party combination, in which also, the burning zeal of our opponents will be generally an overmatch for our temperate flame.
I shall be very happy that our friends may think with me, and that no temporary motive may induce them to let slip the precious occasion in which personal motives induce the other party to forget their true policy.
We are told here, that at the close of your birthday feast, a strange apparition, which was taken for the Vice-President, appeared among you, and toasted “the union of all honest men.” I often hear at the corner of the streets important federal secrets, of which I am ignorant. This may be one.
If the story be true, ’T is a good thing, if we use it well. As an instrument, the person will be an auxiliary of some value; as a chief, he will disgrace and destroy the party.
I suspect, however, the folly of the mass will make him the latter, and from the moment it shall appear that this is the plan, it may be depended upon much more will be lost than gained. I know of no more important character, who has a less founded interest than the man in question. His talents may do well enough for a particular plot, but they are ill suited to a great and wise drama. But what has wisdom to do with weak men? Adieu.
to general charles cotesworth pinckney
March 15, 1802.
You will probably have learned before this reaches you that the act of last session for the better organization of the Judiciary Department has been repealed, and I take it for granted that you will, with me, view this measure as a vital blow to the Constitution. In my opinion it demands a systematic and persevering effort by all constitutional means to produce a revocation of the precedent, and to restore the Constitution. For this purpose I deem it essential that there should be, without delay, a meeting and conference of a small number of leading Federalists from different States. Unless there shall be a plan of conduct proceeding from such a source, our measures will be disjointed, discordant, and of course ineffectual. There is also a further danger which may attend the want of a plan capable of fixing opinions and determining objects. There are among us incorrect men with very incorrect views, which may lead to combinations and projects injurious to us as a party and very detrimental to the country. These considerations have determined me to make an attempt to bring about such a meeting. And it has occurred that the first Monday of May next, at the city of Washington, may be a good time and place. A general meeting of the Society of the Cincinnati is to be then and there held. I have likewise taken the liberty to request the attendance of Governor Davie, of North Carolina. In the event of your concurring in sentiment with me, it will be expedient for you to second my invitation to him.
to gouverneur morris
April 6, 1802.
Amidst the humiliating circumstances which attend our country, all the sound part of the community must find cause of triumph in the brilliant display of talents which have been employed, though without success, in resisting the follies of an infatuated administration; and your personal friends will not have much reason for mortification on account of the part you have performed in the interesting scene. But, my dear sir, we must not content ourselves with a temporary effort to oppose the approach of evil. We must derive instruction from the experience before us; and learning to form a just estimate of things to which we have been attached, there must be a systematic and persevering endeavor to establish the fortune of a great empire on foundations much firmer than have yet been devised. What will signify a vibration of power if it cannot be used with confidence or energy, and must be again quickly restored to hands which will prostrate much faster than we shall be able to rear under so frail a system? Nothing will be done until the structure of our national edifice shall be such as naturally to control eccentric passions and views, and to keep in check demagogues and knaves in the disguise of patriots. Yet I fear a different reasoning will prevail, and an eagerness to recover lost power will betray us into expedients which will be injurious to the country and disgraceful and ruinous to ourselves. What meant the apparition and the toast which made part of the after-piece of the birthday festival? Is it possible that some new intrigue is about to link the Federalists with a man who can never be anything else than the bane of a good cause? I dread more from this than from all the contrivances of the bloated and senseless junto of Virginia.
The Federalists and Anti-federalists of this State united in certain amendments to the Constitution now before your House, having for objects, 1st, to discriminate the candidates for the Presidency and Vice-Presidency; 2d, to have the electors of these officers chosen by the people, in districts, under the direction of Congress. Both these appear to me points of importance in true federal calculation. Surely the scene of last session ought to teach us the intrinsic demerits of the existing plan. It proved to us how possible it is for a man in whom no party had confidence, and who deserved the confidence of none, by mere intrigue and accident, to acquire the first place in the government of our nation; and it also proves to us how serious a danger of convulsion and disorder is incident to the plan. On this point things have come to my knowledge, improper for a letter, which would astonish you. Surely, we ought by this time to have learnt that whatever multiplies the opportunities and means of cabal, is more favorable to our adversaries than to us. They have certainly the advantage in the game by greater zeal, activity, and subtlety, and especially by an abandonment of principle. On all these accounts it is our true policy to abridge the facilities to cabal as much as possible in all our public institutions and measures. As to the second of the amendments, it has ever appeared to me as sound principle to let the federal government rest, as much as possible, on the shoulders of the people, and as little as possible on those of the State Legislatures. The proposition accords with this principle, and, in my view, it is further recommended by its tendency to exclude combinations, which, I am persuaded, in the general and permanent course of things, will operate more against than for us. Colonel Burr, without doubt, will resist these amendments; and he may induce some of our friends to play into his hands; but this will be a very bad calculation, even admitting the inadmissible idea that he ought to be adopted as a chief of the federal party. We never can have him fairly in our power, till we render his situation absolutely hopeless with his old friends. While the indiscriminate voting prevails, he will find it his interest to play fast and loose, and to keep himself in a state to be at the head of the anti-federal party. If these hopes are cut off, he will immediately set about forming a third party, of which he will be at the head; and then, if we think it worth the while, we can purchase him with his flying squadron.
These observations are, of course, hypothetical, for, to my mind, the elevation of Mr. Burr, by federal means, to the chief magistracy of the United States, will be the worst kind of political suicide.
to james a. bayard
Your letter of the 12th instant has relieved me from some apprehension. Yet it is well that it should be perfectly understood by the truly sound part of the Federalists that there do, in fact, exist intrigues in good earnest between several individuals not unimportant, of the federal party, and the person in question, which are bottomed upon motives and views by no means auspicious to the real welfare of the country. I am glad to find that it is in contemplation to adopt a plan of conduct. It is very necessary; and, to be useful, it must be efficient and comprehensive in the means which it embraces, at the same time that it must meditate none which are not really constitutional and patriotic. I will comply with your invitation by submitting some ideas which, from time to time, have passed through my mind. Nothing is more fallacious than to expect to produce any valuable or permanent results in political projects by relying merely on the reason of men. Men are rather reasoning than reasonable animals, for the most part governed by the impulse of passion. This is a truth well understood by our adversaries, who have practiced upon it with no small benefit to their cause; for at the very moment they are eulogizing the reason of men, and professing to appeal only to that faculty, they are courting the strongest and most active passion of the human heart, vanity! It is no less true, that the Federalists seem not to have attended to the fact sufficiently; and that they erred in relying so much on the rectitude and utility of their measures as to have neglected the cultivation of popular favor, by fair and justifiable expedients. The observation has been repeatedly made by me to individuals with whom I particularly conversed, and expedients suggested for gaining good will, which were never adopted. Unluckily, however, for us, in the competition for the passions of the people, our opponents have great advantages over us; for the plain reason that the vicious are far more active than the good passions; and that, to win the former to our side, we must renounce our principles and our objects, and unite in corrupting public opinion till it becomes fit for nothing but mischief. Yet, unless we can contrive to take hold of, and carry along with us some strong feelings of the mind, we shall in vain calculate upon any substantial or durable results. Whatever plan we may adopt, to be successful, must be founded on the truth of this proposition. And perhaps it is not very easy for us to give it full effects; especially not without some deviations from what, on other occasions, we have maintained to be right. But in determining upon the propriety of the deviations, we must consider whether it be possible for us to succeed, without, in some degree, employing the weapons which have been employed against us, and whether the actual state and future prospect of things be not such as to justify the reciprocal use of them. I need not tell you that I do not mean to countenance the imitation of things intrinsically unworthy, but only of such as may be denominated irregular; such as, in a sound and stable order of things, ought not to exist. Neither are you to infer that any revolutionary result is contemplated. In my opinion, the present Constitution is the standard to which we are to cling. Under its banners, bona fide, must we combat our political foes, rejecting all changes but through the channel itself provides for amendments. By these general views of the subject have my reflections been guided. I now offer you the outline of the plan which they have suggested. Let an association be formed to be denominated “The Christian Constitutional Society.” Its objects to be:
1st. The support of the Christian religion.
2d. The support of the Constitution of the United States.
1st. A council, consisting of a president and twelve members, of whom four and the president to be a quorum.
2d. A sub-directing council in each State, consisting of a vice-president and twelve members, of whom four, with the vice-president, to be a quorum.
3d. As many societies in each State as local circumstances may permit to be formed by the sub-directing council.
The meeting at Washington to nominate the president and vice-president, together with four members of each of the councils, who are to complete their own numbers respectively.
1st. The diffusion of information. For this purpose not only the newspapers, but pamphlets, must be largely employed, and to do this a fund must be created; five dollars annually, for eight years, to be contributed by each member who can really afford it (taking care not to burthen the less able brethren), may afford a competent fund for a competent term. It is essential to be able to disseminate gratis useful publications. Wherever it can be done, and there is a press, clubs should be formed, to meet once a week, read the newspapers, and prepare essays, paragraphs, etc.
2d. The use of all lawful means in concert to promote the election of fit men; a lively correspondence must be kept up between the different societies.
3d. The promoting of institutions of a charitable and useful nature in the management of Federalists. The populous cities ought particularly to be attended to; perhaps it would be well to institute in such places—1st, societies for the relief of emigrants; 2d, academies, each with one professor, for instructing the different classes of mechanics in the principles of mechanics and the elements of chemistry. The cities have been employed by the Jacobins to give an impulse to the country; and it is believed to be an alarming fact that, while the question of presidential election was pending in the House of Representatives, parties were organizing in several of the cities in the event of there being no election, to cut off the leading Federalists and seize the government.
The foregoing to be the principal engine, and, in addition, let measures be adopted to bring as soon as possible the repeal of the judiciary law before the Supreme Court; afterwards, if not before, let as many Legislatures as can be prevailed upon instruct their Senators to endeavor to procure a repeal of the repealing law. The body of New England, speaking the same language, will give a powerful impulse. In Congress our friends to propose little, to agree cordially to all good measures, and to resist and expose all bad. This is a general sketch of what has occurred to me. It is at the service of my friends for so much as it may be worth.
to rufus king
June 3, 1802.
I have been long very delinquent towards you as a correspondent, and am to thank you that you have not cast me off altogether as an irretrievable reprobate. But you know how to appreciate the causes, and you have made a construction equally just and indulgent.
In your last you ask my opinion about a matter delicate and important, both in a public and in a personal view. I shall give it with the frankness to which you have a right, and I may add that the impressions of your other friends, so far as they have fallen under my observation, do not differ from my own. While you were in the midst of a negotiation interesting to your country, it was your duty to keep your post. You have now accomplished the object, and with the good fortune, not very common, of having the universal plaudit. This done, it seems to me most advisable that you return home. There is little probability that your continuance in your present station will be productive of much positive good. Nor are circumstances such as to give reason to apprehend that the substitute for you, whoever he may be, can do much harm. Your stay or return, therefore, as it regards our transatlantic concerns, is probably not material, while your presence at home may be useful in ways which it is not necessary to particularize. Besides, it is questionable whether you can long continue in the service of the present administration consistently with what is due, as well to your own character as to the common cause. I am far from thinking that a man is bound to quit a public office merely because the administration of the government may have changed hands. But when those who have come into power are undisguised persecutors of the party to which he has been attached, and study with ostentation to heap upon it every indignity and injury, he ought not, in my opinion, to permit himself to be made an exception, or to lend his talents to the support of such characters. If, in addition to this, it be true that the principles and plans of the men at the head of affairs tend to the degradation of the government, and to their own disgrace, it will hardly be possible to be in any way connected with them without sharing in the disrepute which they may be destined to experience.
I wish I had time to give you a comprehensive and particular map of our political situation; but more than a rude outline is beyond my leisure, devoted as I am more than ever to my professional pursuits.
You have seen the course of the administration hitherto, especially during the last session of Congress, and I am persuaded you will agree with me in opinion, that it could hardly have been more diligent in mischief. What, you will ask, has been and is likely to be the effect on the public mind?
Our friends are sanguine that a great change for the better has been wrought and is progressive. I suppose good has been done—that the Federalists have been reunited and cemented; have been awakened, alarmed. Perhaps, too, there may be some sensible and moderate men of the opposite party who are beginning to doubt. But I as yet discover no satisfactory symptoms of a revolution of opinion in the mass—”informe ingens cui lumen ademptum.” Nor do I look with much expectation to any serious alternation until inconveniences are extensively felt, or until time has produced a disposition to coquet it with new lovers. Vibrations of power, you are aware, are of the genius of our government.
There is, however a circumstance which may accelerate the fall of the present party. There is certainly a most serious schism between the chief and his heir-apparent; a schism absolutely incurable, because founded in the hearts of both, in the rivalship of an insatiable and unprincipled ambition. The effects are already apparent, and are ripening into a more bitter animosity between the partisans of the two men, than ever existed between the Federalists and Anti-federalists.
Unluckily, we are not as neutral to this quarrel as we ought to be. You saw, however, how far our friends in Congress went in polluting themselves with the support of the second personage for the Presidency. The cabal did not terminate there. Several men of no inconsiderable importance among us like the enterprising and adventurous character of this man, and hope to soar with him to power. Many more, through hatred to the chief, and through an impatience to recover the reins, are linking themselves to the new chief almost without perceiving it, and professing to have no other object than to make use of him; while he knows that he is making use of them. What this may end in, it is difficult to perceive.
Of one thing only I am sure, that in no event will I be directly or indirectly implicated in a responsibility for the elevation or support of either of two men who, in different senses, are in my eyes equally unworthy of the confidence of intelligent or honest men.
Truly, my dear sir, the prospects of our country are not brilliant. The mass is far from sound. At headquarters a most visionary theory presides. Depend upon it, this is the fact to a great extreme. No army, no navy, no active commerce; national defence, not by arms, but by embargoes, prohibitions of trade, etc.; as little government as possible within;—these are the pernicious dreams which, as far and as fast as possible, will be attempted to be realized. Mr. Jefferson is distressed at the codfish having latterly emigrated to the southern coast, lest the people there should be tempted to catch them, and commerce, of which we have already too much, receive an accession. Be assured this is no pleasantry, but a very sober anecdote.
Among Federalists old errors are not cured. They also continue to dream, though not quite so preposterously as their opponents. All will be very well (say they) when the power once gets back into federal hands. The people, convinced by experience of their error, will repose a permanent confidence in good men. Risum teneatis.
to the editor of the “evening post”
Aug. 10, 1802.
Finding that a story, long since propagated, under circumstances which it was expected would soon consign it to oblivion (and by which I have been complimented at the expense of Generals Washington and Lafayette), has of late been revived, and has acquired a degree of importance by being repeated in different publications, as well in Europe as America, it becomes a duty to counteract its currency and influence by an explicit disavowal. The story imports in substance, that General Lafayette, with the approbation or connivance of General Washington, ordered me, as the officer who was to command the attack on a British redoubt, in the course of the siege of York Town, to put to death all those of the enemy who should happen to be taken in the redoubt, and that, through motives of humanity, I forbore to execute the order. Positively and unequivocally I declare, that no such nor similar order, nor any intimation nor hint resembling it, was ever by me received, or understood to have been given. It is needless to enter into an explanation of some occurrences on the occasion alluded to, which may be conjectured to have given rise to the calumny. It is enough to say that they were entirely disconnected with any act of either of the generals who have been accused.
With esteem, I am, sir, your most obedient servant.
to oliver wolcott
Aug. 14, 1802.
When you were last in town, I proposed to communicate to you the outline of a project, by which I think you may enter upon a career of business beneficial to yourself and friends. My almost constant attendance at court ever since you were here, has retarded the communication which I shall now make.
Let a commercial capital be found, to consist of 100,000 dollars, divided into shares of $100 each. A subscriber to pay in cash one tenth of his subscription, and for the residue 7 per centum per annum. It will then be his interest to pay up as soon as he can.
The subscribers to form a partnership, under the firm of Oliver Wolcott & Co.; Oliver Wolcott alone to have the signature of the firm, and the active management of the affairs of the company, with an allowance of $1,500 per annum out of the profits for the trouble of management, besides his share of profits as a partner.
Oliver Wolcott and two others of the partners to form a board of direction, to plan, etc.
Clerks and all incidental expenses to be paid out of the fund.
The objects of the company.
1. Agencies of purchase and sales of land, stocks, etc.
2. Factorage of cargoes, consigned on commission; purchase of goods on commission, etc.; in brief, “the business of a commission merchant merely.”
3. Purchases at auction, and sales of the articles purchased.
4. Loans of money on deposit of goods, with a right, if not redeemed in time, to sell on commission, perhaps.
Speculative enterprises in navigation and commerce to be excluded.
In a company thus formed under your management, I should be willing to become a partner for from 5 to 10,000 dollars, and I have no doubt that the capital will be readily formed of confidential and trustworthy characters, who would insure great credit to the house. I am also confident, that when it should be known in Europe that certain characters were of the company, it would attract a good portion of profitable employment.
I will enter into no further detail. If the project impresses you favorably, come to New York, and we will give it form, and finish and prepare for execution. Do not lightly reject it.
to gouverneur morris
I fully intended to have dined with you to day, but, going to town the two last days, and forgetting that I ought to observe a regimen, I have brought back, in some degree, the complaint which lately annoyed me, and which requires to be well watched. This must deprive me of the pleasure of seeing you.
I send schedules of the papers required of Tillier, all which have been put into my hands; the bills to remain till the close of the affair; the other documents to be delivered to your order.
I also send a draught of the trust deed. It endeavors to comply with your suggestion, as far as can be done without running foul of the danger desired to be avoided.
Your guests are invited to dine with us Thursday next.
Will you make one?
to general charles cotesworth pinckney
Dec. 29, 1802.
A garden, you know, is a very useful refuge of a disappointed politician. Accordingly, I have purchased a few acres about nine miles from town, have built a house, and am cultivating a garden. The melons in your country are very fine. Will you have the goodness to send me some seed, both of the water and musk melons? My daughter adds another request, which is for three or four of your paroquets. She is very fond of birds. If there be any thing in this quarter the sending of which can give you pleasure, you have only to name them. As farmers, a new source of sympathy has arisen between us, and I am pleased with every thing in which our likings and tastes can be approximated. Amidst the triumphant reign of democracy, do you retain sufficient interest in public affairs to feel any curiosity about what is going on? In my opinion, the follies and vices of the administration have as yet made no material impression to their disadvantage. On the contrary, I think the malady is rather progressive than upon the decline in our Northern quarter. The last lullaby message, instead of inspiring contempt, attracts praise. Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold and cunning imposture. But a difficult knot has been twisted by the incidents of the cession of Louisiana, and the interruption of the deposit of New Orleans. You have seen the soft turn given to this in the message. Yet we are told that the President, in conversation, is very stout. The great embarrassment must be how to carry on the war without taxes. The pretty scheme of substituting economy to taxation will not do here. And a war would be a terrible comment upon the abandonment of the internal revenue. Yet how is popularity to be preserved with the Western partisans if their interests are tamely sacrificed? Will the artifice be for the chief to hold a bold language, and the subalterns to act a feeble part? Time must explain. You know my general theory as to our Western affairs. I have always held that the unity of our empire and the best interests of our nation require that we shall annex to the United States all the territory east of the Mississippi, New Orleans included. Of course I infer that, in an emergency like the present, energy is wisdom.
Mrs. Hamilton joins me in affectionate compliments to Mrs. Pinckney.
to timothy pickering
Sept. 18, 1803.
I will make no apology for my delay in answering your inquiry, some time since made, because I could offer none which would satisfy myself. I pray you only to believe that it proceeded from any thing rather than want of respect or regard. I shall now comply with your request. The highest-toned propositions which I made in the convention were for a President, Senate, and Judges during good behavior—a House of Representatives for three years. Though I would have enlarged the legislative power of the general government, yet I never contemplated the abolition of the State governments, but on the contrary, they were, in some particulars, constituent parts of my plan. This plan was, in my conception, conformable with the strict theory of a government purely republican, the essential criteria of which are that the principal organs of the executive and legislative departments be elected by the people, and hold their offices by a responsible and temporary or defeasible tenure. A vote was taken on the proposition respecting the executive. Five States were in favor of it, among these Virginia, and though, from the manner of voting—by delegations,—individuals were not distinguished, it was morally certain, from the known situation of the Virginia members (six in number, two of them, Mason and Randolph, professing popular doctrines), that Madison must have concurred in the work of Virginia; thus, if I sinned against republicanism, Mr. Madison was not less guilty. I may truly then say that I never proposed either a President or Senate for life, and that I neither recommended nor meditated the annihilation of the State governments. And I may add that, in the course of the discussions in the convention, neither the propositions thrown out for debate, nor even those voted in the earlier stages of the deliberation, were considered as evidences of a definitive opinion in the proposer or voter. It appeared to me to be in some sort understood that, with a view to free investigation, experimental propositions might be made, which were to be received merely as suggestions for consideration. Accordingly, it is a fact that my final opinion was against an Executive during good behavior, on account of the increased danger to the public tranquillity incident to the election of a magistrate of this degree of permanency. In the plan of a constitution which I drew up while the convention was sitting, and which I communicated to Mr. Madison about the close of it, perhaps a day or two after, the office of President has no greater duration than for three years. This plan was predicated upon these bases: 1. That the political principles of the people of this country would endure nothing but republican government. 2. That in the actual situation of the country, it was in itself right and proper that the republican theory should have a fair and full trial. 3. That to such a trial it was essential that the government should be so constructed as to give all the energy and stability reconcilable with the principles of that theory.
These were the genuine sentiments of my heart, and upon them I acted. I sincerely hope that it may not hereafter be discovered that, through want of sufficient attention to the last idea, the experiment of republican government, even in this country, has not been as complete, as satisfactory, and as decisive as could be wished.
to rufus king
You will have heard before this reaches you of the fluctuations and changes which have taken place in the measures of the reigning party, as to a candidate for governor; and you will probably have also been informed that, pursuant to the opinions professed by our friends, before I left New York I had taken an active part in favor of Mr. Lansing.
It is a fact to be regretted, though anticipated, that the Federalists very extensively had embarked with zeal in the support of Mr. Burr; yet an impression to the contrary, and in favor of Mr. Lansing, had been made, and there was good ground to hope that a proper direction in the main might have been given to the current of Federalism. The substitution of Mr. Lewis has essentially varied the prospect, and the best informed among us here agree that the Federalists, as a body, could not be diverted from Mr. Burr to Mr. Lewis, by any efforts of leading characters, if they should even deem the support of the latter expedient.
Though I have no reason to think that my original calculation was wrong, while the competition was between Clinton and Burr, yet from the moment the former declined, I began to consider the latter as having a chance of success. It was still, however, my reliance that Lansing would outrun him; but now that Chief-Justice Lewis is the competitor, the probability in my judgment inclines to Mr. Burr.
Thus situated, two questions have arisen; first, whether a federal candidate ought not to be run, as a means of defeating Mr. Burr, and of keeping the Federalists from becoming a personal faction allied to him. Second, whether, in the conflict of parties as they now stand, the strongest of them disconcerted and disjointed, there would not be a considerable hope of success for a federal candidate.
These questions have received no solution in scarcely any one’s mind; but it is agreed that, if an attempt is to be made, you must be the candidate. There is no other man among us under whose standard either fragment of the democratic party could as easily rally. It is enough to say, you have been absent during the time in which party animosities have become matured and fixed, and, therefore, are much less than any other distinguished Federalist, an object of them.
To detach the Federalists from Burr, they must believe two things: one, that we are in earnest as to our candidate, and that it is not a mere diversion; the other, that there is some chance of success. All believe, and some leading candidates admit, that if either of the two democratic rival parties should come to expect a defeat, they will range themselves under your banner.
Reflect well on all these things, and make up your mind in case you should be invited to consent. I have not time to enlarge.
to governor george clinton
Feb. 27, 1804.
It is now a long time since a very odious slander has been in circulation to the prejudice of my character.
It has come to my ears in more than one way, but always, till lately, without the disclosure of any source to which I could resort for explanation or detection. Within a few days, Mr. Kane, of this city, related to me a story as coming from Judge Purdy, in substance very similar to the calumny to which I have alluded. The amount of his information, and the result of an interview with Judge Purdy, are contained in the enclosed paper. You will observe, sir, that your name is implicated in the transaction. With what warrant, it would be improper for me to prejudge. But the very mention of your name adds importance to the affair, and increases the motives to investigation.
The charge, even in the mitigated form to which it is reduced by Judge Purdy’s admission, is of a nature too derogatory to permit me to pass it lightly over. It is essential that its origin and progress should be traced as fully as may be practicable, in order to the thorough exposure of its falsehood and malignity.
The assertions of Judge Purdy authorize me to appeal to you for a frank and candid explanation of so much of the matter as relates to yourself. This explanation I request as speedily as may be.
to governor george clinton
March 2, 1804.
If our correspondence does not terminate with your letter of the 29th February, received yesterday, I wish it to be understood that it proceeds merely from the desire of removing all ambiguity from a transaction in which my character may be materially interested.
It is perhaps the natural inference from what you have stated, that nothing took place on your part to sanction or corroborate the story related to you by Judge Purdy, in reference to any agency or co-operation of mine in the supposed project. Yet some of the circumstances are such, that a different inference might possibly be drawn.
I therefore trust that you will be sensible of the propriety of dissipating all obscurity on this point.
If the letter, which you mention to have been put in your hands by General Malcolm, was not withdrawn by him, or if any copy was retained by you, it would be satisfactory to me to have an inspection of the one or the other, with leave to take a copy, in order that I may have an additional clue to the source of a story, which I verily believe originated entirely in a fabrication.
to governor george clinton
March 7, 1804.
On Saturday last I sent you a letter, of which the foregoing is a copy, to which, as yet, I have received no reply.
Intending to leave this place for New York on Saturday next, it is important that I should receive an answer before that day.
to governor george clinton
March 9, 1804.
I had the honor of receiving yesterday your Excellency’s letter of the 6th instant. It is agreeable to me to find in it a confirmation of the inference that you had given no countenance to the supposition of my agency or co-operation in the project to which the story of Judge Purdy relates; and it only remains for me to regret that it is not in your power to furnish the additional clue, of which I was desirous, to aid me in tracing the fabrication to its source.
I shall not only rely on the assurance which you give as to the future communication of the copy of the letter in question, should it hereafter come to your hands, but I will take the liberty to add a request, that you will be pleased to make known to me any other circumstances, if any should reach you, which may serve to throw light upon the affair. I feel an anxiety that it should be thoroughly sifted, not merely on my own account, but from a conviction that the pretended existence of such a project, long travelling about in whispers, has had no inconsiderable influence in exciting false alarms, and unjust suspicions to the prejudice of a number of individuals, every way worthy of public confidence, who have always faithfully supported the existing institutions of the country, and who would disdain to be concerned in an intrigue with any foreign power, or its agents, either for introducing monarchy, or for promoting or upholding any other scheme of government within the United States.
March 25, 1804.
Presuming on the acquaintance, from which I derived so much pleasure during your stay in this country, I am going to take a very great liberty. It concerns a near relation of mine, Mr. Alexander Hamilton, now a prisoner of war on parole at Paris.
His brother, from whom I have just received a letter, informs me that, being on a visit to the continent as a traveller, he was overtaken by the war between France and Great Britain, and has been since that time in the situation which I have mentioned. He is a Scotch gentleman of education and literary acquirements, who, having amassed a pretty handsome fortune in the East Indies, had returned to his own country to devote himself to the pursuits of knowledge, and was induced to pass over to the continent to indulge his curiosity, with a particular eye to the very interesting monuments of the arts, of which Paris is now the depository.
I will ask nothing specific for him, because I know not what could with propriety be done, contenting myself with merely saying, that if your interposition can procure for him any facility, indulgence, or favor, it will confer a personal obligation on one who has the honor to remain, etc.
April 12, 1804.
The post of to-day brought me a letter from you, and another from Mr. ——. I have no doubt but the latter would serve you if he could; but he cannot at this time.
On the whole, I would advise you to return to New York, and accept any respectable employment in your way, till an opportunity of something better shall occur. ’T is by practice and perseverance that we can expect to vanquish difficulties, and better an unpleasant condition.
Arraign not the dispensations of Providence, they must be founded in wisdom and goodness; and when they do not suit us, it must be because there is some fault in ourselves which deserves chastisement; or because there is a kind intent, to correct in us some vice or failing, of which, perhaps, we may not be conscious; or because the general plan requires that we should suffer partial ill.
In this situation it is our duty to cultivate resignation, and even humility, bearing in mind, in the language of the poet, “that it was pride which lost the blest abodes.”
to philip j. schuyler
April 20, 1804.
My Dear Sir:
I did not write to you on the subject of the awards, because I was in correspondence with Mr. Jacob Van Rensselaer respecting the matter.
He has sent me the draughts of deeds which I shall in a few days inspect, and return with such suggestions as may be requisite.
The things most urgent are—1. The completion of the survey, which Mr. R. writes me is in train.—2. The appointment of a guardian for Mr. Kane’s daughter at Schenectady. On both objects, I have written particularly to Mr. J. Van Rensselaer.
I say nothing on politics, with the course of which I am too much disgusted to give myself any future concern about them.
to james a. hamilton
My Dear James:
I have prepared for you a Thesis on Discretion. You may need it. God bless you.
Your affectionate father.
to theodore sedgwick
July 10, 1804.
My Dear Sir:
I have received two letters from you since we last saw each other, that of the latest date being the 24th of May. I have had on hand for some time a long letter to you, explaining my view of the course and tendency of our politics, and my intentions as to my own future conduct. But my plan embraced so large a range that, owing to much avocation, some indifferent health, and a growing distaste to politics, the letter is still considerably short of being finished. I write this now to satisfy you that want of regard for you has not been the cause of my silence.
I will here express but one sentiment, which is, that dismemberment of our empire will be a clear sacrifice of great positive advantages without any counterbalancing good, administering no relief to our real disease, which is democracy, the poison of which, by a subdivision, will only be the more concentrated in each part, and consequently the more virulent. King is on his way for Boston, where you may chance to see him, and hear from himself his sentiments. God bless you.
[This letter and the next were omitted by an oversight, and are therefore given here.]
to general john sullivan
His Excellency has received your two last favors to-day. In the first you hint the want of a reinforcement, but as the intention of your body is chiefly for observation and skirmishing, and not to make any serious stands, it is the less necessary it should be powerful in numbers. It will, however, depend upon circumstances how far it will be expedient to reinforce; and as soon as anything can be determined from them, you shall have whatever addition of strength you may stand in need of.
The information contained in your last, of the enemy’s being encamped on the road leading from New Brunswick to Princeton, about the Third Mile Run, is not well founded. We have had parties and officers, reconnoitring as far as the Mile Run, and there is no sign of an encampment. They seem to be taking their old position with their right at Amboy, their left at Brunswick; but how long they will remain so it is hard to tell. His Excellency desires you will engage some trusty person at South Amboy, on whom you can depend for faithful and early intelligence of the appearance of shipping in the river, or any preparation for a movement by water, that we may be in time prepared to counteract them.
March 17, 1780.
I duly received your letter of the fourteenth, and shall not fail, in conjunction with General St. Clair, to attend to the military object of it. I am much obliged to your Excellency for the communication of your Southern advices. The enemy are still in the dark about their fleet and army gone that way, as we gather from the commissioners. They pretend to have little European news, though a vessel arrived two or three days since from England, after ten weeks’ passage. We send you some late New York papers.
The commission has been several days at an end. The enemy, as was supposed, had no idea of treating on national ground. We are now in private conversation, and so far not without hopes that the liberation of our prisoners will be effected on admissible terms. Two or three days more will probably put an end to the interview. General St. Clair and Colonel Carrington beg their respects may be presented to your Excellency.
[Correspondence relating to the duel with Burr. Reprinted from the History of the Republic, vii., 805, et seq.]
a. burr to general hamilton
June 18, 1804.
I send you for your perusal a letter signed Charles D. Cooper, which, though apparently published some time ago, has but very recently come to my knowledge. Mr. Van Ness, who does me the honor to deliver this, will point out to you that clause of the letter to which I particularly request your attention. You must perceive, sir, the necessity of a prompt, unqualified acknowledgment or denial of the use of any expressions which would warrant the assertions of Dr. Cooper.
hamilton to burr
June 20, 1804.
I have maturely reflected on the subject of your letter of the eighteenth instant, and the more I have reflected, the more I have become convinced that I could not, without manifest impropriety, make the avowal or disavowal which you seem to think necessary. The clause pointed out by Mr. Van Ness is in these terms: “I could detail to you a still more despicable opinion which General Hamilton has expressed of Mr. Burr.” To endeavor to discover the meaning of this declaration, I was obliged to seek in the antecedent part of this letter for the opinion to which it referred, as having been already disclosed. I found it in these words: “General Hamilton and Judge Kent have declared in substance that they looked upon Mr. Burr to be a dangerous man, and one who ought not to be trusted with the reins of government.”
The language of Dr. Cooper plainly implies that he considered this opinion of you, which he attributes to me, as a despicable one; but he affirms that I have expressed some other, more despicable, without, however, mentioning to whom, when, or where. ’T is evident that the phrase “still more despicable” admits of infinite shades, from very light to very dark. How am I to judge of the degree intended, or how shall I annex any precise idea to language so indefinite?
Between gentlemen, despicable and more despicable are not worth the pains of distinction; when, therefore, you do not interrogate me as to the opinion which is specifically ascribed to me, I must conclude that you view it as within the limits to which the animadversions of political opponents upon each other may justifiably extend, and consequently as not warranting the idea of it which Dr. Cooper appears to entertain. If so, what precise inference could you draw as a guide for your conduct, were I to acknowledge that I had expressed an opinion of you still more despicable than the one which is particularized? How could you be sure that even this opinion had exceeded the bounds which you yourself deem admissible between political opponents?
But I forbear further comment on the embarrassment to which the requisition you have made naturally leads. The occasion forbids a more ample illustration, though nothing could be more easy than to pursue it. Repeating, that I cannot reconcile it with propriety to make the acknowledgment you desire, I will add that I deem it inadmissible, on principle, to consent to be interrogated as to the justness of the inferences which may be drawn by others from what I may have said of a political opponent in the course of fifteen years’ competition. If there were no other objection to it, this is sufficient, that it would tend to expose my sincerity and delicacy to injurious imputation from every person who may at any time have conceived the import of my expressions differently from what I may then have intended or may afterwards recollect. I stand ready to avow or disavow, promptly and explicitly, any precise or definite opinion which I may be charged with having declared of any gentleman. More than this cannot fitly be expected from me, and especially it cannot be reasonably expected that I shall enter into an explanation upon a basis so vague as that which you have adopted. I trust, on mature reflection, you will see the matter in the same light with me. If not, I can only regret the circumstance, and must abide the consequences.
The publication of Dr. Cooper was never seen by me until after the receipt of your letter.
burr to hamilton
June 21, 1804.
Your letter of the 20th inst. has been this day received. Having considered it attentively, I regret to find in it nothing of that sincerity and delicacy which you profess to value.
Political opposition can never absolve gentlemen from the necessity of a rigid adherence to the laws of honor and the rules of decorum. I neither claim such privilege nor indulge it in others.
The common-sense of mankind affixes to the epithet adopted by Dr. Cooper, the idea of dishonor. It has been publicly applied to me under the sanction of your name. The question is not whether he has understood the meaning of the word, or has used it according to syntax and with grammatical accuracy, but whether you have authorized this application, either directly or by uttering expressions or opinions derogatory to my honor. The time “when” is in your own knowledge, but no way material to me, as the calumny has now first been disclosed, so as to become the subject of my notice, and as the effect is present and palpable. Your letter has furnished me with new reasons for requiring a definite reply.
hamilton to burr
June 22, 1804.
Your first letter, in a style too peremptory, made a demand, in my opinion, unprecedented and unwarrantable. My answer, pointing out the embarrassment, gave you an opportunity of taking a less exceptionable course. You have not chosen to do it; but by your last letter, received this day, containing expressions indecorous and improper, you have increased the difficulties to explanation intrinsically incident to the nature of your application. If by a “definite reply,” you mean the direct avowal or disavowal required in your first letter, I have no other answer to give, than that which has already been given. If you mean any thing different, admitting of greater latitude, it is requisite you should explain.
w. p. van ness to hamilton
June 23, 1804.
In the afternoon of yesterday, I reported to Col. Burr the result of my last interview with you and appointed the evening to receive his further instructions. Some private engagements, however, prevented me from calling on him till morning. On my return to the city, I found upon inquiry, both at your office and house, that you had returned to your residence in the country.
Lest an interview there might be less agreeable to you than elsewhere, I have taken the liberty of addressing you this note to inquire when and where it will be most convenient to you to receive a communication.
van ness to major nathaniel pendleton
June 26, 1804.
The letter which you yesterday delivered me, and your subsequent communication, in Col. Burr’s opinion, evince no disposition on the part of General Hamilton to come to a satisfactory accommodation. The injury complained of and the reparation expected are so definitely expressed in Col. Burr’s letter of the 21st instant, that there is not perceived a necessity for further explanation on his part. The difficulty that would result from confining the inquiry to any particular times and occasions must be manifest. The denial of a specified conversation only, would leave strong implication that on other occasions improper language had been used. When and where injurious opinions and expressions have been uttered by General Hamilton must be best known to him, and of him only will Col. Burr inquire. No denial or declaration will be satisfactory, unless it be general, so as to wholly exclude the ideas that rumors derogatory to Col. Burr’s honor have originated with General Hamilton, or have been fairly inferred from any thing he has said. A definite reply to a requisition of this nature was demanded by Col. Burr’s letter of the twenty-first inst. This being refused, invites the alternative referred to in General Hamilton’s letter of the 20th. It was required by the position in which the controversy was placed by General Hamilton on Friday last, and I was immediately furnished with a communication demanding a personal interview. The necessity of this measure has not, in the opinion of Col. Burr, been diminished by the General’s last letter, or any communication which has since been received. I am consequently again instructed to deliver to you a message, as soon as it may be convenient for you to receive it. I beg, therefore, you will be so good as to inform me at what hour I can have the pleasure of seeing you.
pendleton to van ness
June 26, 1804.
I have communicated the letter which you did me the honor to write to me of this date, to General Hamilton. The expectations now disclosed on the part of Col. Burr appear to him to have greatly extended the original ground of inquiry, and instead of presenting a particular and definite case for explanation, seem to aim at nothing less than an inquisition into his most confidential conversations, as well as others, through the whole period of his acquaintance with Col. Burr. While he was prepared to meet the particular case fairly and fully, he thinks it inadmissible that he should be expected to answer at large as to every thing that he may possibly have said, in relation to the character of Col. Burr, at any time, or upon any occasion. Though he is not conscious that any charges which are in circulation to the prejudice of Col. Burr have originated with him, except one which may have been so considered, and which has long since been fully explained between Col. Burr and himself, yet he cannot consent to be questioned generally as to any rumors which may be afloat derogatory to the character of Col. Burr, without specification of the several rumors, many of them probably unknown to him. He does not, however, mean to authorize any conclusion as to the real nature of his conduct in relation to Col. Burr, by his declining so loose and vague a basis of explanation, and he disavows an unwillingness to come to a satisfactory, provided it be an honorable, accommodation.
His objection is, the very indefinite ground which Col. Burr has assumed, in which he is sorry to be able to discern nothing short of premeditated hostility. Presuming, therefore, that it will be adhered to, he has instructed me to receive the message which you have it in charge to deliver. For this purpose I shall be at home and at your accommodation to-morrow morning, from eight to ten o’clock.
van ness to pendleton
June 27, 1804.
The letter which I had the honor to receive from you, under date of yesterday, states, among other things, that in General Hamilton’s opinion, Col. Burr has taken a very indefinite ground, in which he evinces nothing short of pre-determined hostility, and that General Hamilton thinks it inadmissible that the inquiry should extend to his confidential as well as other conversations. In this Col. Burr can only reply, that secret whispers, traducing his fame and impeaching his honor, are, at least, equally injurious with slanders publicly uttered; that General Hamilton had at no time and in no place a right to use any such injurious expressions, and the partial negative he is disposed to give, with the reservation he wishes to make, are proofs that he has done the injury specified.
Col. Burr’s request was, in the first instance, proposed in a form the most simple, in order that General Hamilton might give to the affair that course to which he might be induced by his temper and his knowledge of facts. Col. Burr trusted with confidence that, from the frankness of a soldier and the candor of a gentleman, he might expect an ingenuous declaration. That if, as he had reason to believe, General Hamilton had used expressions derogatory to his honor, he would have had the magnanimity to retract them; and that if, from his language, injurious inferences had been improperly drawn, he would have perceived the propriety of correcting errors which might thus have been widely diffused. With these impressions, Col. Burr was greatly surprised at receiving a letter which he considered as evasive, and which in manner he deemed not altogether decorous. In one expectation, however, he was not wholly deceived, for the close of General Hamilton’s letter contained an intimation that if Col. Burr should dislike his refusal to acknowledge or deny, he was ready to meet the consequences. This Col. Burr deemed a sort of defiance, and would have felt justified in making it the basis of an immediate message. But as the communication contained something concerning the indefiniteness of the request, as he believed it rather the offspring of false pride than of reflection, and as he felt the utmost reluctance to proceed to extremities while any other hope remained, his request was repeated in terms more explicit. The replies and propositions on the part of Gen. Hamilton have, in Col. Burr’s opinion, been constantly in substance the same.
Col. Burr disavows all motives of premeditated hostility, a charge by which he thinks insult added to injury. He feels as a gentleman should feel when his honor is impeached or assailed; and without sensations of hostility or wishes of revenge, he is determined to vindicate that honor at such hazard as the nature of the case demands.
The length to which this correspondence has extended, only tending to prove that the satisfactory redress, earnestly desired, cannot be obtained, be deems it useless to offer any proposition, except the simple message, which I shall now have the honor to deliver.
remarks by hamilton on the letter of june 27, 1804
Whether the observations on this letter are designed merely to justify the result which is indicated in the close of the letter, or may be intended to give an opening for rendering any thing explicit which may have been deemed vague heretofore, can only be judged of by the sequel. At any rate, it appears to me necessary not to be misunderstood. Mr. Pendleton is therefore authorized to say, that in the course of the present discussion, written or verbal, there has been no intention to evade, defy, or insult, but a sincere disposition to avoid extremities, if it could be done with propriety. With this view, Gen. Hamilton has been ready to enter into a frank and free explanation on any and every object of a specific nature, but not to answer a general and abstract inquiry embracing a period too long for any accurate recollection, and exposing him to unpleasant criticisms from, or unpleasant discussions with, any and every person who may have understood him in an unfavorable sense. This (admitting that he could answer in a manner the most satisfactory to Col. Burr) he should deem inadmissible in principle and precedent, and humiliating in practice. To this therefore he can never submit. Frequent allusion has been made to slanders said to be in circulation. Whether they are openly or in whispers, they have a form and shape and might be specified. If the alternative alluded to in the close of the letter is definitely tendered, it must be accepted; the time, place, and manner to be afterwards regulated. I should not think it right in the midst of a Circuit Court to withdraw my services from those who may have confided important interests to me and expose them to the embarrassment of seeking other counsel, who may not have time to be sufficiently instructed in their case. I shall also want a little time to make some arrangements respecting my own affairs.
statement by hamilton as to his motives in meeting burr
On my expected interview with Col. Burr, I think it proper to make some remarks explanatory of my conduct, motives, and views. I was certainly desirous of avoiding this interview for the most cogent reasons:
- (1) My religious and moral principles are strongly opposed to the practice of duelling, and it would ever give me pain to be obliged to shed the blood of a fellow-creature in a private combat forbidden by the laws.
- (2) My wife and children are extremely dear to me, and my life is of the utmost importance to them in various views.
- (3) I feel a sense of obligation towards my creditors; who, in case of accident to me by the forced sale of my property, may be in some degree sufferers. I did not think myself at liberty as a man of probity lightly to expose them to this hazard.
- (4) I am conscious of no ill-will to Col. Burr, distinct from political opposition, which, as I trust, has proceeded from pure and upright motives.
Lastly, I shall hazard much and can possibly gain nothing by the issue of the interview.
But it was, as I conceive, impossible for me to avoid it. There were intrinsic difficulties in the thing and artificial embarrassments, from the manner of proceeding on the part of Col. Burr.
Intrinsic, because it is not to be denied that my animadversions on the political principles, character, and views of Col. Burr have been extremely severe; and on different occasions I, in common with many others, have made very unfavorable criticisms on particular instances of the private conduct of this gentleman. In proportion as these impressions were entertained with sincerity and uttered with motives and for purposes which might appear to me commendable, would be the difficulty (until they could be removed by evidence of their being erroneous) of explanation or apology. The disavowal required of me by Col. Burr in a general and indefinite form was out of my power, if it had really been proper for me to submit to be questioned, but I was sincerely of opinion that this could not be, and in this opinion I was confirmed by that of a very moderate and judicious friend whom I consulted. Besides that, Col. Burr appeared to me to assume, in the first instance, a tone unnecessarily peremptory and menacing, and, in the second, positively offensive. Yet I wished, as far as might be practicable, to leave a door open to accommodation. This, I think, will be inferred from the written communication made by me and by my directions, and would be confirmed by the conversations between Mr. Van Ness and my self which arose out of the subject. I am not sure whether, under all the circumstances, I did not go further in the attempt to accommodate than a punctilious delicacy will justify. If so, I hope the motives I have stated will excuse me. It is not my design, by what I have said, to affix any odium on the conduct of Col. Burr in this case. He doubtless has heard of animadversions of mine which bore very hard upon him, and it is probable that as usual they were accompanied with some falsehoods. He may have supposed himself under a necessity of acting as he has done. I hope the grounds of his proceeding have been such as ought to satisfy his own conscience. I trust, at the same time, that the world will do me the justice to believe that I have not censured him on light grounds nor from unworthy inducements. I certainly have had strong reasons for what I have said, though it is possible that in some particulars I may have been influenced by misconstruction or misinformation. It is also my ardent wish that I may have been more mistaken than I think I have been; and that he, by his future conduct, may show himself worthy of all confidence and esteem and prove an ornament and a blessing to the country. As well, because it is possible that I may have injured Col. Burr, however convinced myself that my opinions and declarations have been well-founded, as from my general principles and temper in relation to similar affairs, I have resolved, if our interview is conducted in the usual manner, and it pleases God to give me the opportunity, to reserve and throw away my first fire, and I have thoughts even of reserving my second fire, and thus giving a double opportunity to Col. Burr to pause and reflect. It is not, however, my intention to enter into any explanations on the ground. Apology from principle, I hope, rather than pride, is out of the question. To those who, with me, abhorring the practice of duelling, may think that I ought on no account to have added to the number of bad examples, I answer that my relative situation, as well in public as private, enforcing all the considerations which constitute what men of the world denominate honor, imposed on me (as I thought) a peculiar necessity not to decline the call. The ability to be in future useful, whether in resisting mischief or in effecting good, in those crises of our public affairs which seem likely to happen, would probably be inseparable from a conformity with public prejudice in this particular.
to mrs. hamilton
July 10, 1804.
This letter, my dear Eliza, will not be delivered to you, unless I shall first have terminated my earthly career, to begin, as I humbly hope, from redeeming grace and divine mercy, a happy immortality. If it had been possible for me to have avoided the interview, my love for you and my precious children would have been alone a decisive motive. But it was not possible, without sacrifices which would have rendered me unworthy of your esteem. I need not tell you of the pangs I feel from the idea of quitting you, and exposing you to the anguish I know you would feel. Nor could I dwell on the topic, lest it should unman me. The consolations of religion, my beloved, can alone support you; and these you have a right to enjoy. Fly to the bosom of your God, and be comforted. With my last idea I shall cherish the sweet hope of meeting you in a better world. Adieu, best of wives—best of women. Embrace all my darling children for me.
to mrs. hamilton
Tuesday evening, 10 o’clock.
My Beloved Eliza:
Mrs. Mitchell is the persons in the world to whom, as a friend, I am under the greatest obligation. I have not hitherto done my omission to her as much as possible, I have encouraged her to come to this country, and intend, if it shall be in my power, to render the evening of her days comfortable. But if it shall please God to put this out of my power, and to enable you hereafter to be of service to her, I entreat you to do it, and to treat her with the tenderness of a sister. This is my second letter. The scruples of a Christian have determined me to expose my own life to any extent, rather than subject myself to the guilt of taking the life of another. This much increases my hazards, and redoubles my pangs for you. But you had rather I should die innocent than live guilty. Heaven can preserve me, and I humbly hope will; but, in the contrary event, I charge you to remember that you are a Christian. God’s will be done! The will of a merciful God must be good. Once more.
Adieu, my darling, darling wife.
[This interesting paper or letter, now first printed, is unaddressed and undated, but it must have been written after 1800, and perhaps not long before the writer’s death. I owe it to the kindness of the gentleman in New York, whose letter I am so unfortunate as to have lost. See page 231 of Vol. IX.]
Herewith is a general statement of my pecuniary affairs, in which there can be no material error.
The result is that calculating my property at what it stands me in, I am now worth about £10,000, and that estimating according to what my lands are now selling for and are likely to fetch, the surplus beyond my debts may fairly be stated at nearly double that sum; yet I am pained to be obliged to entertain doubts, whether, if an accident should happen to me, by which the sales of my property should come to be forced, it would even be sufficient to pay my debts. In a situation like this, it is perhaps due to my reputation to explain why I have made so considerable an establishment in the country. This explanation shall be submitted.
To men who have been so much harassed in the base world as myself, it is natural to look forward to a comfortable retirement, in the sequel of life, as a principal desideratum. This desire I have felt in the strongest manner, and to prepare for it has latterly been a favorite object. I thought I might not only expect to accomplish the object, but might reasonably aim at it and pursue the preparatory measures, from the following considerations:
It has been for some time past pretty well ascertained to my mind, that the emoluments of my profession would prove equal to the maintenance of my family and the gradual discharge of my debts, within a period to the end of which my faculties for business might be expected to extend in full energy. I think myself warranted to estimate the annual product of those emoluments at twelve thousand dollars at the least. My expenses while the first improvements of my country establishment were going on have been great, but they would this summer and fall reach the point at which, it is my intention they should stop, at least till I should be better able than at present to add to them; and after a fair examination founded upon an actual account of my expenditures, I am persuaded that a plan I have contemplated for the next and succeeding years would bring my expenses of every kind within the composes of four thousand dollars yearly, exclusive of the interest of my country establishment. To this limit I have been resolved to reduce them, even though it should be necessary to lease that establishment for a few years. In the meantime, my lands now in a course of sale and settlement would accelerate the extinguishment of my debts, and in the end leave me a handsome clear property. It was also allowable for me to take into view collaterally the expectations of my wife: which have been of late party realized. She is now entitled to a property of between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds (as I compute), by descent from her mother, and her father is understood to possess a large estate. I feel all the delicacy of this allusion, but the occasion, I trust, will plead my excuses, and that venerable father, I am sure, will pardon. He knows well all the nicety of my past conduct.
Viewing the matter in these different aspects, I trust the opinion of candid men will be that there has been no impropriety in my conduct, especially when it is taken into the calculation, that my country establishment, though costly, promises, by the progressive rise of property on this island and the felicity of its situation, to become more and more valuable. My chief apology is to those friends who have from mere kindness endorsed my paper discounted at the banks. On mature reflection I have thought it justifiable to secure them in preference to other creditors, lest perchance there should be a deficit. Yet, while this may save them from eventual loss, it will not exempt them from present inconvenience. As to this I can only throw myself upon their kindness and entreat the indulgence of the banks for them. Perhaps the request may be supposed entitled to some regard. In the event which would bring this paper to the public eye, one thing at least would be put beyond doubt. This is that my public labors have amounted to an absolute sacrifice of the interests of my family, and that in all pecuniary concerns the delicacy no less than the probity of conduct in public stations has been such as to defy even the shadow of a question.
Indeed, I have not enjoyed the ordinary advantages incident to my military services. Being a member of Congress while the question of the commutation of the half pay of the army for a sum in gross was in debate, delicacy and a desire to be useful to the army by removing the idea of my having an interest in the question, induced me to write to the Secretary of War and relinquish my claim to half pay, which or the equivalent I have never received. Neither have I even applied for the lands allowed by the United States to officers of my rank. Nor did I ever obtain from this State the allowance of lands made to officers of similar rank. It is true that having served through the latter periods of the war on the general staff of the United States and not in the line of this State, I could not claim the allowance as a matter of course; but having before the war resided in this State, and having entered the military career at the head of a company of artillery raised for the particular defence of this State, I had better pretensions to the allowance than others to whom it was actually made, yet it has not been extended to me.
rules for mr. philip hamilton
From the first of April to the first of October he is to rise not later than six o’clock; the rest of the year not later than seven. If earlier, he will deserve commendation. Ten will be his hour of going to bed throughout the year.
From the time he is dressed in the morning till nine o’clock (the time for breakfast excepted), he is to read law. At nine he goes to the office, and continues there till dinner time. He will be occupied partly in writing and partly in reading law.
After dinner he reads law at home till five o’clock. From this time till seven he disposes of his time as he pleases. From seven to ten he reads and studies whatever he pleases.
From twelve on Saturday he is at liberty to amuse himself.
On Sunday he will attend the morning church. The rest of the day may be applied to innocent recreations.
He must not depart from any of these rules without my permission.
last will and testament of alexander hamilton
In the name of God, Amen!
I, Alexander Hamilton, of the State of New York, counsellor at law, do make this my last will and testament, as follows: First, I appoint John B. Church, Nicholas Fish, and Nathaniel Pendleton, of the city aforesaid, esquires, to be executors and trustees of this my will, and I devise to them, their heirs and assigns, as joint tenants, and not as tenants in common, all my estate, real and personal, whatsoever and wheresoever upon trust, at their discretion to sell and dispose of the same at such time and times, in such manner, and upon such terms as they the survivors and survivor shall think fit, and out of the proceeds to pay all the debts which I shall owe at the time of my decease, in whole, if the fund shall be sufficient, proportionally, if it shall be insufficient, and the residue, if any there shall be, to pay and deliver to my excellent and dear wife, Elizabeth Hamilton.
Though, if it please God to spare my life, I may look for a considerable surplus out of my present property; yet if he should speedily call me to the eternal world, a forced sale, as is usual, may possibly render it insufficient to satisfy my debts. I pray God that something may remain for the maintenance and education of my dear wife and children. But should it on the contrary happen that there is not enough for the payment of my debts, I entreat my dear children, if they or any of them shall ever be able, to make up the deficiency. I without hesitation commit to their delicacy a wish which is dictated by my own. Though conscious that I have too far sacrificed the interests of my family to public avocations, and on this account have the less claim to burthen my children, yet I trust in their magnanimity to appreciate, as they ought, this my request. In so unfavorable an event of things, the support of their dear mother, with the most respectful and tender attention, is a duty all the sacredness of which they will feel. Probably her own patrimonial resources will preserve her from indigence. But in all situations they are charged to bear in mind that she has been to them the most devoted and best of mothers. In testimony whereof, I have hereunto subscribed my hand, the ninth day of July, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and four.
Signed, sealed, published, and as and for his last will and testament in our presence, who have subscribed our names in his presence.
Dominick T. Blake.
Inez B. Valleau.
epitaph on a tablet, by the society of the cincinnati, in trinity church, new york
This Tablet does not profess to perpetuate the memory of a man, to whom the age has produced no superior; nor to emblazon worth, eminently conspicuous in every feature of his country’s greatness; nor to anticipate posterity in their judgment of the loss which she has sustained by his premature death; but to attest, in the simplicity of grief, the veneration and anguish which fill the hearts of the members of the New York State Society of Cincinnati on every recollection of their illustrious brother, Major-General Alexander Hamilton.