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Title: Alexander Hamilton
Author: Conant, Charles A.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Alexander Hamilton" ***

produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive)

    The Riverside Biographical Series

    NUMBER 10




    [Illustration: A Hamilton]




    The Riverside Press, Cambridge


    _Published October, 1901_




The life of Alexander Hamilton is an essential chapter in the story of
the formation of the American Union. Hamilton's work was of that
constructive sort which is vital for laying the foundations of new
states. Whether the Union would have been formed under the
Constitution and would have been consolidated into a powerful nation,
instead of a loose confederation of sovereign states, without the
great services of Hamilton, is one of those problems about which
speculation is futile. It is certain that the conditions of the time
presented a rare opportunity for such a man as Hamilton, and that
without some directing and organizing genius like his, the
consolidation of the Union must have been delayed, and have been
accomplished with much travail.

The difference between the career of Hamilton in America and that of
the two greatest organizing minds of other countries--Cæsar and
Napoleon--marks the difference between Anglo-Saxon political ideals
and capacity for self-government and those of other races. Where the
organization of a strong government degenerated in Rome and France
into absolutism, it tended in America, under the directing genius of
Hamilton, to place in the hands of the people a more powerful
instrument for executing their own will. So powerful a weapon was thus
created that Hamilton himself became alarmed when it was seized by the
hands of Jefferson, Madison, and other democratic leaders as the
instrument of democratic ideas, and those long strides were taken in
the states and under the federal government which wiped out the
distinctions between classes, abolished the relations of church and
state, extended the suffrage, and made the government only the servant
of the popular will.

The development of two principles marked the early history of the
Republic,--one, the growth of sentiment for the Union under the
inspiration of Hamilton and the Federalist party; the other, the
growth of the power of the masses, typified by the leadership of
Jefferson and the Democratic party. These two tendencies, seemingly
hostile in many of their aspects, waxed in strength together until
they became the united and guiding principles of a new political
order,--a nation of giant strength whose power rests upon the will of
all the people. It was the steady progress of these two principles in
the heart of the American people which in "the fullness of time" made
it possible for the Union to be preserved as a union of free men under
a free constitution. To Hamilton, the creator of the machinery of the
Union, and to John Marshall, the great Chief Justice, who interpreted
the Constitution as Hamilton would have had him do, in favor of the
powers of the Union, this result was largely due.

If Cæsar, fighting the battles of Rome on the frontier of Germany,
and kept from party quarrels at home, and Napoleon, born outside of
France and free by his campaign in Egypt from the compromising
intrigues of Parisian politics, were preëminently fitted by these
accidents to transmute the spirit of revolution from chaos into order,
Hamilton stood in somewhat the same position in America. Born in the
little island of Nevis in the West Indies (January 11, 1757), he came
to the United States when his mind was already mature, in spite of his
fifteen years. He came without the local prejudices or state pride
which influenced so many of the Revolutionary leaders, and was
therefore peculiarly qualified to fasten his eyes steadfastly upon the
single end of the creation of a nation rather than the ascendency of
any single state. He was so free from local attachments that he even
hesitated at first on which side he should cast his lot,--whether with
the imperial government of Great Britain, which appealed strongly to
his love of system and organized power, or with the struggling
revolutionists, with their poor and undisciplined army and uncertain
future. The possibility of winning distinction in the service of Great
Britain must have attracted him, but the justice of the colonial cause
spoke more strongly to his sense of right and his well-ordered mind.

The great services of Hamilton were nearly all performed before he was
forty years of age. His precocity was partly derived from his birth in
the tropics and partly, perhaps, from the unfortunate conditions of
his early life. A mystery hangs over his birth and parentage, which
repeated inquiries have failed to clear away. He is believed to have
been the son of James Hamilton, a Scottish merchant of Nevis, and a
lady of French Hugenot descent, the divorced wife of a Dane named
Lavine. But the history of his parents and their marriage is shrouded
in much obscurity. The father, although reduced to poverty, lived
nearly if not quite as long as his illustrious son, but the mother was
reported to have died while Hamilton was only a child, leaving the
memory of her beauty and charm in one of the chambers of his infant
mind. Hamilton sought in his later years to establish regular
communication with his father, and he had a brother in the West Indies
with whom he corresponded; but the fact that all these relatives
remained so much in the background gave some color to the slanders of
his enemies concerning his birth.

To offset the disadvantages of birth, Hamilton had neither the
fascinating manners which go straight to the hearts of men, nor the
imposing personal presence which in the orator often invests trifling
platitudes with sonorous dignity. He was possessed of a light and
well-made frame, and was erect and dignified in bearing, but was much
below the average height. His friends were wont to call him "the
little lion," because of the vigor and dignity of his speech. He had
the advantage of a head finely shaped, large and symmetrical. His
complexion was fair, his cheeks were rosy, and in spite of a rather
large nose his face was considered handsome. His dark, deep-set eyes
were lighted in debate with a fire which controlled great audiences
and cowed his enemies. But it was chiefly the power of pure intellect
which gave him control over the minds of other men. There was nothing
mean or low in his character, but he had not a high opinion of the
average of humanity, and therefore lacked somewhat in that ready
sympathy with the minds of others which is so useful to politicians
and party leaders.

Hamilton was early thrown upon his own resources. His father became a
bankrupt, and he was cared for by his mother's relatives. His
education was aided by the Rev. Hugh Knox, a Presbyterian clergyman,
with whom Hamilton kept up an affectionate correspondence in later
years. The boy was only thirteen years of age when he was placed in
the office of Nicholas Cruger, a West Indian merchant. Here his
self-reliance and methodical habits made him master of the business
and head of the establishment when his employer had occasion to be
away. His remarkable capacity, and his occasional writings for the
daily press, led to a determination by his relatives and friends to
send him to a wider field. He was accordingly supplied with funds and
sent to Boston, where he arrived in October, 1772, still less than
sixteen years of age. He was fortunately provided with some strong
letters of recommendation from Dr. Knox, and was soon at a grammar
school at Elizabethtown, N.J., where he made rapid progress. He
desired to enter Princeton, but his project of going through the
courses as rapidly as he could, without regard to the regular classes,
was in conflict with the rules. He therefore turned to King's College,
New York, now Columbia University, where he was able, with the aid of
a private tutor, to pursue his studies in the manner which he wished.

The decision of Hamilton to take the side of the colonies in the
conflict with England was made early in 1774, partly as the result of
a visit to Boston. Among the well-to-do classes of New York, the
dominant feeling was in favor of Great Britain, and the control of the
Assembly was in the hands of the friends of the Crown. Hamilton found
Boston the hotbed of resistance to England, and listened attentively
to the reasoning by which the "strong prejudices on the ministerial
side," which he himself declares he had formed, gave way to "the
superior force of the arguments in favor of the colonial claims." The
opportunity soon came for him to make public proclamation of his
position. A great meeting was held in the "Fields"[1] (July 6, 1774),
to force the hand of the Tory Assembly in the matter of joining the
other colonies in calling a Congress. Hamilton attended, and after
listening to the speeches was so strongly impressed with what was left
unsaid that he worked his way to the platform and began an impassioned
argument for the colonial side. Below the normal stature and of
slender form, he looked even younger than his seventeen years, but was
recognized by the crowd as a collegian and received with great

[Footnote 1: The "Fields" of that day occupied what is now City Hall
Park, then the upper limit of New York. King's College was in the
immediate neighborhood, the name still lingering in College Place.]

Hamilton was soon at the forefront of the fight for civil liberty,
which was carried on by means of pamphlets and newspaper addresses.
His papers, which appeared without signature, showed so much ability
that they were attributed to the most eminent of the patriot leaders.
After the die was cast at Lexington for armed conflict, Hamilton early
in 1776 received the command of a company of artillery. Its thorough
discipline attracted the favorable notice of Greene and other leaders.
Greene introduced Hamilton to Washington, who had early occasion, in
the disastrous battle of Long Island, when Hamilton protected the rear
with great coolness and courage, to measure the mettle of his young
artillery officer.

Washington on March 1, 1777, offered Hamilton the rank of
Lieutenant-Colonel on his staff. In this position Hamilton found
congenial occupation for his pen in the great mass of letters,
reports, and proclamations which issued from headquarters. These
communications, many of which still survive, while bearing the impress
of Washington's clear, directing mind, bear also the mark of the
skill and logic of the younger man. Hamilton rendered valuable service
after the surrender of Burgoyne, in persuading Gates to detach a part
of his forces to aid Washington. On this occasion, although he had in
his pocket a positive order from Washington, he displayed a tact and
diplomatic skill which were unusual in his dealings with men. It fell
to the lot of Hamilton to meet André while a prisoner in the hands of
the Americans, and his letters regarding the affair to Miss Schuyler,
who afterwards became his wife, are among the most interesting
contributions to this pathetic episode of Revolutionary history.

Hamilton's quarrel with Washington, about which much has been written,
came after nearly four years' service over a trivial delay in obeying
a call from the General. Washington rebuked his aide for disrespect,
to which Hamilton hotly retorted, "I am not conscious of it, sir; but
since you have thought it, we part." Washington endeavored to prevent
the execution of his project, but Hamilton would not be reconciled
and returned to service in the line. He led his men with great
impetuosity upon one of the British redoubts at Yorktown, and carried
the position in ten minutes, with much more promptness than the
French, to whom the other redoubt had been assigned.

While the war was still in progress Hamilton was looking ahead with
the constructive genius which afterwards found such wide opportunities
in the cabinet of Washington. He addressed a letter in 1780 to Duane,
a member of Congress, in which he made a remarkable analysis of the
defects of the Articles of Confederation, urged that Congress should
be clothed with complete sovereignty, and made suggestions regarding
its powers which were afterwards embodied to a large extent in the
Constitution. He addressed an anonymous letter to Robert Morris early
in the same year, treating of the financial affairs of the
confederacy. He discussed carefully the paper currency and the causes
of its depreciation, and proposed to restore soundness to the finances
by gradual contraction of the volume of paper, a tax in kind, and a
foreign loan, which was to form the basis of a national bank. When the
clumsiness and helplessness of the system of government by committees
was finally appreciated by the Continental Congress in 1781, and
several executive departments were established, Hamilton was suggested
by John Sullivan to Washington for head of the Treasury Department.
Washington replied that "few of his age have a more general knowledge,
and no one is more firmly engaged in the cause, or exceeds him in
probity and sterling virtue." Robert Morris was chosen for the
Treasury, but Hamilton opened a correspondence with him regarding the
work of the department, which established a firm friendship between
the older and younger man.

Hamilton desired the unification of the debt and the creation of a
national bank, for the combined objects of cementing the Union and
putting the finances of the country upon a stable basis. "A national
debt," he wrote, "if it is not excessive, will be a national
blessing, a powerful cement of union, a necessity for keeping up
taxation, and a spur to industry." Whether all these benefits fall
within the economic effects of a debt may well be doubted, but the
second advantage assigned was undoubtedly one of the chief motives of
Hamilton in recommending its creation. The Bank of North America was
established by Morris upon a much more modest scale than was proposed
by Hamilton. The younger man, looking to the future needs of the
country and to the example of European banks, recommended an
institution with a capital of ten or fifteen millions, with authority
to establish branches, and with the sole right to issue paper currency
equal to the amount of its capital. He contemplated a close relation
between the bank and the government, and the taking up, under contract
with the United States, of all the paper issues of the Continental

Hamilton made a connection while still under twenty-four which fixed
his status as a citizen of New York, and proved of value to him in
many ways. While on his mission to Gates at Albany, he met Miss
Elizabeth Schuyler, daughter of General Philip Schuyler, one of the
social as well as political leaders of the best element in New York.
The acquaintance with Miss Schuyler was renewed in the spring of 1780
and ripened into an engagement, followed by their marriage on December
14 of that year. With the conclusion of the war, Hamilton was left
with nothing but his title to arrears of pay in the army, and with a
wife and child to support. He refused generous offers of assistance
from his father-in-law, applied himself for four months to the study
of the law, and in the summer of 1782 was admitted to the bar at
Albany. While waiting for clients he continued his studies on
financial and political questions and his vigorous arguments through
the public prints for a strong federal union. He declined several
offers of public place, but finally accepted an appointment from
Robert Morris (June, 1782) as continental receiver of taxes for New
York. This afforded him an opportunity of meeting the New York
legislature, which had been summoned in extra session at Poughkeepsie,
in July, to receive a report from a committee of Congress.

Congress in May, 1782, had taken into consideration the desperate
condition of the finances of the country, and divided among four of
its members the duty of explaining the common danger of the states. It
was at the request of the delegation which went north that Governor
Clinton called an extra session, and a communication was submitted on
the necessity of providing for a vigorous prosecution of the war.
Hamilton went to Poughkeepsie to aid his father-in-law, General
Schuyler, and it was upon the motion of the latter that the Senate
resolved itself into a committee of the whole on the state of the
nation. Two days of deliberation were sufficient to produce a series
of resolutions, probably drafted by Hamilton, which were unanimously
adopted by the Senate and concurred in by the House.

These resolutions set forth that recent experience afforded "the
strongest reason to apprehend from a continuance of the present
constitution of the continental government a subversion of public
credit" and danger to the safety and independence of the states.
Turning to practical remedies, it was pointed out that the source of
the public embarrassments was the want of sufficient power in
Congress, particularly the power of providing a revenue. The
legislature of New York, therefore, invited Congress "to recommend and
each state to adopt the measure of assembling a general convention of
the states especially authorized to revise and amend the
confederation, reserving a right to the respective legislatures to
ratify their determinations." These resolutions the government was
requested to transmit to Congress and to the executives of the other
states. Hamilton appeared before the legislature and discussed the
subject of revenue, and one of the results of his manifest interest in
the subject and his knowledge of finance was his selection by the
legislature as one of the members of Congress from New York.

The impress of the organizing mind and far-sighted purposes of
Hamilton was felt during his brief service in Congress. He took his
seat from New York in November, 1782, and resigned in August, 1783. He
cast his influence from the beginning in favor of a strong executive
organization, and did his best to strengthen the heads of the recently
created departments of finance and foreign affairs. He was of great
service to Robert Morris, and almost carried the project of a general
duty on importations, which was finally defeated by the obstinacy of
Rhode Island. Such a measure, if carried out, would have afforded the
central government a permanent revenue. It would have greatly
mitigated the evils of the time, but would perhaps by that very fact
have postponed the more complete union of the states which was to come
under the Constitution of 1789. This was only one of the many projects
germinating in the fertile mind of Hamilton. In a letter to Washington
(March 17, 1783) he wrote:--

"We have made considerable progress in a plan to be recommended to
the several states for funding all the public debts, including those
of the army, which is certainly the only way to restore public credit
and enable us to continue the war by borrowing abroad, if it should be
necessary to continue it."

That it might be necessary to continue the war Hamilton seriously
feared, in spite of the fact that the provisional treaty of peace with
Great Britain was then before Congress. A grave question had arisen
whether faith had been kept with France in the negotiation of this
treaty. Congress had resolved unanimously (October 4, 1782) that "they
will not enter into any discussion of overtures of pacification but in
_confidence_ and in _concert_ with His Most Christian Majesty," the
King of France. Adams and Jay, against the advice of Franklin,
negotiated secretly with Great Britain, and only the moderation of
Vergennes, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, prevented serious
friction between the allies.

Hamilton, though far from being a partisan of France, believed in
acting towards her with the most scrupulous good faith. He advocated a
middle course between subserviency to Great Britain and implicit
confidence in the disinterestedness of France. He declared (March 18,
1783), when the peace preliminaries were considered, that it was "not
improbable that it had been the policy of France to procrastinate the
definite acknowledgment of our independence on the part of Great
Britain, in order to keep us more knit to herself, and until her own
interests could be negotiated." Notwithstanding this caution regarding
French purposes, he "disapproved highly of the conduct of our
ministers in not showing the preliminary articles to our ally before
they signed them, and still more so of their agreeing to the separate
article." His own view was expressed in some resolutions which he
offered, and which Congress adopted (May 2, 1783), asking a further
loan from the French King, "and that His Majesty might be informed
that Congress will consider his compliance in this instance as a new
and valuable proof of his friendship, peculiarly interesting in the
present conjuncture of the affairs of the United States."



Hamilton was not a conspicuous national figure during the four years
which elapsed between the termination of his term in Congress and his
appearance in the Federal Convention of 1787. He was working none the
less earnestly and persistently, however, in favor of a stronger
union. Movements towards this union took form almost simultaneously in
different parts of the country under the impulse of a common need. The
wise and thoughtful words of Washington, in his circular letter to the
governor of each state on surrendering the command of the army (June
8, 1783), sank into many hearts, and did much to soften local
prejudices against giving more power to the central government. The
State of Virginia in December, 1783, ceded her northwestern territory
to Congress, and granted a general impost. Significance was given to
the act by the policy of the governor in communicating it to the
executive authority of the other states, with the suggestion that they
do likewise.

Jefferson was as cordial a supporter as Madison at that time of the
project of a federal union. As a member of Congress, he prepared a
plan for intercourse with the powers of Europe and the Barbary States,
in which he described "the United States as one nation upon the
principles of the federal constitution." Only two states--Rhode Island
and Connecticut--voted to substitute weaker words in describing the
union. It was voted by eight states to two (March 26, 1784) that in
treaties and in all cases arising under them, the United States formed
"one nation." The need for uniform rules for the regulation of
commerce on the Potomac and the creation of roads and canals led to a
number of conferences during the next two years between Virginia and
Maryland, in one of which Washington played the part of referee. The
legislature of Maryland finally took a step which shot a bright ray
of light through the darkness surrounding the prospects of a permanent
union. In a letter to the legislature of Virginia (December, 1785), it
proposed that commissioners from all the states should be invited to
meet and regulate the restrictions on commerce for the whole. Madison
in Virginia gave cordial welcome to the invitation. He had already
gone beyond the sentiment of his state in his zeal for union, but at
his instigation a meeting of delegates from the states was called by
Virginia at Annapolis, Md., for September, 1786.

Hamilton snatched at the opportunity which this invitation presented.
Several of his friends were elected to the legislature of New York,
and made the appointment of delegates to Annapolis their paramount
object. In spite of much hostility, they succeeded in wresting
authority from the legislature for a commission of five. Hamilton and
Benson were the only two of these delegates who appeared at Annapolis.
They found only four other states represented there. It was
determined that the best that could be done by the little gathering
was to urge upon the states a general convention, to meet at
Philadelphia on the second Monday of the next May, "to consider the
situation of the United States, and devise such further provisions as
should appear necessary to render the constitution of the federal
government adequate to the exigencies of the Union." Hamilton was not
a member of the committee appointed to prepare the report, but it was
his draft which, with some modifications to meet the sensibilities of
the Virginians, was accepted and adopted.

A path was now blazed in which those who favored a stronger union
could walk in harmony. Hamilton returned to New York with the
intention of exerting his whole strength in behalf of the convention.
He secured an election to the legislature, and at once took the lead
of the members opposed to the separatist policy of Governor Clinton.
He assailed the governor on the question of granting an impost to
Congress in a practicable form, but was beaten by the solid vote of
the party in power. He succeeded better with his resolution for the
appointment of five delegates to the convention at Philadelphia. The
Senate cut down the number to three, and two of them--Chief Justice
Robert Yates and John Lansing, Jr.--were resolute supporters of the
governor; but Hamilton carried the vital point that New York should be
represented in the Federal Convention, and he was himself one of the
delegates. It was not until late in February, 1787, that this action
was taken,--little more than three months before the meeting of the
convention,--and it was a few days later when formal approval was
given to the project by the Federal Congress.

Hamilton, although one of the three delegates from New York to the
convention, was embarrassed throughout the proceedings by the open
hostility of his associates to any vigorous steps towards a strong
union. He had definite ideas and strong feelings, however, and could
not restrain himself from setting forth his views of what the new
government should be. When Dickinson proposed that the convention
should seek union through a revision of the old Articles of
Confederation, Hamilton took the floor (June 18, 1787) to show how
inadequate such a measure would be, and to set forth his own long
matured views. He spoke for six hours, reviewing the history of the
colonies before the Revolution, during its progress, and afterwards,
the steps which had been taken towards union, and the imperative
necessity which had been disclosed for a government possessing
complete powers within its fields of action. He urged that the
convention "adopt a solid plan without regard to temporary opinions."
He laid bare unsparingly the defects of the confederacy, and insisted
that the Articles of Confederation could not be amended with benefit
except in the most radical manner. He opposed strongly the creation of
a general government through a single body like Congress, because it
would be without checks. He continued:--

"The general government must not only have a strong soul, but strong
organs by which that soul is to operate. I despair that a republican
form of government can remove the difficulties; I would hold it,
however, unwise to change it. The best form of government, not
attainable by us, but the model to which we should approach as near as
possible, is the British constitution, praised by Necker as 'the only
government which unites public strength with individual security.' Its
house of lords is a most noble institution. It forms a permanent
barrier against every pernicious innovation, whether attempted on the
part of the crown or of the commons."

Hamilton made little concealment of his belief that the new government
should not be exclusively republican. He said on June 26, 1787:--

"I acknowledge I do not think favorably of republican government; but
I address my remarks to those who do, in order to prevail on them to
tone their government as high as possible. I profess myself as zealous
an advocate for liberty as any man whatever; and trust I shall be as
willing a martyr to it, though I differ as to the form in which it is
most eligible. Real liberty is neither found in despotism nor in the
extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments. Those who mean to
form a solid republic ought to proceed to the confines of another
government. If we incline too much to democracy, we shall soon shoot
into a monarchy."

In pursuance of these views, Hamilton urged that all branches of the
new government should originate in the action of the people rather
than of the states. In this respect he came closer to democracy than
some of his opponents, but he proposed to give strength and permanence
to the government by providing that the Senators and the executive
should hold office during good behavior. He contended that by making
the chief executive subject to impeachment, the term monarchy would
not be applicable to his office. Another step differing radically from
the Constitution as adopted, and showing the unswerving purpose of
Hamilton to give supremacy to the central government, was the proposal
that the executive of each state should be appointed by the general
government and have a negative on all state legislation.

Hamilton had no expectation that his plan would be adopted. What he
sought was to key the temper of the delegates up to a pitch which
would bring them as nearly to his ideal of what the new government
should be as was possible under the circumstances of the times. His
long speech was attentively listened to, and even Yates reported that
it "was praised by everybody, but supported by none." Notwithstanding
these criticisms, the Constitution, as it was finally adopted,
embodied many of the features of the project which was outlined by
Hamilton. A legislative body of two houses, the choice of the
executive by electors, a veto for the executive over legislative acts,
the grant of the treaty-making power to the executive and the Senate,
the confirmation of appointments by the Senate, the creation of a
federal judiciary, and the provision that state laws in conflict with
the Constitution should be void; these and many other features of the
existing Constitution were parts of the plan of Hamilton.

It was not the open preference which Hamilton expressed for the
British form of government which caused distrust of his plan. This was
neither startling nor offensive to the great majority of those who
heard him. Representative government under a republican head had not
then been tried upon a large scale in any part of the world. Such
small republics as existed in ancient times and in Italy had been
confined within narrow areas, and had in many cases presented examples
of factional strife which were far from encouraging to the friends of
liberty. The Americans, in revolting against Great Britain, revolted
only against what they considered the false interpretation given by
King George to the guarantees of the English constitution, wrested by
their ancestors from King John and his successors and consecrated by
the Revolution of 1688. It was far from the thoughts of the most
extreme, with perhaps an occasional personal exception, to cut loose
from the traditions of English liberty, tear down the ancient
structure, and build from the ground up, as was done a few years
later in France by the maddened victims of the oppression of the

The sentiment most strongly opposed to the views of Hamilton was not
democratic sentiment, in the strictest sense of the word, but devotion
to local self-government. Hamilton was democratic enough to insist, in
the discussion of the manner of choosing members of the House of
Representatives, "It is essential to the democratic rights of the
community that the first branch be directly elected by the people."
What he desired was strength at the centre of authority, from whatever
source that authority was derived. Coming from a little West Indian
island where the traditions of parliamentary government had little
footing, he attached no such importance as most of his associates to
the reserved rights of the states. He was the man for the hour as the
champion of a strong government, but it would not have been fortunate
in some respects if his views had been adopted in their extreme form.
There never was the slightest chance, as he doubtless knew, that they
would be adopted by the descendants of English freemen who had founded
self-governing states in accord with their own principles on the
western shores of the Atlantic.

Having delivered a single strong speech, which pointed the way towards
a strong union, Hamilton remained comparatively in the background
during the remainder of the convention. It was inevitable, however,
that he should make himself heard upon the proposal that the new
government should have power "to emit bills on the credit of the
United States." The power to issue unfunded paper had received his
censure four years before, as one of the defects of the existing
Articles of Confederation. He now opposed in the most emphatic manner
the grant of authority to the new government to issue paper money in
the form of its own notes, and to force them into circulation as a
substitute for gold and silver coin. When Gouverneur Morris moved to
strike out the power to issue bills on the credit of the United States
and was supported by Madison, it was supposed that, if the motion
prevailed, the power to issue government paper money and make it a
legal tender for debts was guarded against for all time. The power was
stricken out of the Constitution by a vote of nine states against two.
Madison decided the vote of Virginia, and declared that "the pretext
for a paper currency, and particularly for making the bills a tender,
either for public or private debts, was cut off." It is not surprising
that Mr. Bancroft, the jealous friend of the Constitution, in spite of
the opening of the door at a later period by the Supreme Court of the
United States, declared:

"This is the interpretation of the clause, made at the time of its
adoption alike by its authors and by its opponents, accepted by all
the statesmen of that age, not open to dispute because too clear for
argument, and never disputed so long as any one man who took part in
framing the Constitution remained alive."

Hamilton spoke on a few other occasions on subsidiary points connected
with the draft of the Constitution, but it was only at the close of
the convention that he again came resolutely to the front to exert a
strong influence over his associates. When the final draft of the new
frame of government had been completed, several delegates showed
symptoms of refusing to affix their signatures. The great weight of
Franklin was thrown into the scale to urge that the delegates go back
to the people presenting the semblance of harmony instead of
divisions. "I consent to this Constitution," he declared, "because I
expect no better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best."
Washington sought also to secure unanimity, and Hamilton declared:--

"I am anxious that every member should sign. A few by refusing may do
infinite mischief. No man's ideas are more remote from the plan than
my own are known to be; but is it possible to deliberate between
anarchy and convulsion on the one side, and the chance of good to be
expected from the plan on the other?"

Such words had some weight, but not enough to secure unanimity. All
the states voted for the Constitution, but several delegates went on
record against it, and Hamilton's two associates from New York were
absent. It was this alone which saved New York from being recorded
against the Constitution. Hamilton did not shrink from putting down
his signature as the representative of his state. It was he who, in a
bold, plain hand, inscribed on the great sheet of parchment the name
of each state, as the delegations came forward, one after another, in
geographical order and affixed their signatures to the precious
document which was to found the government of the United States.

Hamilton returned to New York determined to use his utmost powers to
secure the ratification of the Constitution as the best attainable
means of averting the dangers of disunion. Although cordially
supported by John Jay and Edward Livingston, Hamilton, in the fight
for ratification in New York, was the natural leader. He found arrayed
against him the whole influence of Governor Clinton and the dominant
party in New York politics. Clinton was not absolutely opposed to
union, but he attached to it so many reservations that for practical
purposes he was an opponent of the new Constitution. The battle over
ratification began on the question of the choice of delegates to the
state convention. It was in this field that Hamilton fought the great
fight with his pen which has left to posterity the fine exposition of
the Constitution known as "The Federalist." A society was formed in
the city of New York to resist the adoption of the Constitution, and
articles soon began to appear in the local press criticising and
opposing it.

Preparing a vigorous letter, while gliding down the Hudson, in reply
to some of the first points of the opposition, Hamilton soon extended
the project into a series of strong papers, which appeared twice a
week for twenty weeks over the signature of "Publius." He secured the
aid of Madison and Jay, who wrote some of the papers, but the project
was Hamilton's, the majority of the papers were written by him, and
to him has been justly given the credit of the well-knit and powerful
arguments afterwards printed under the title of "The Federalist."

Taking up point by point the provisions of the new Constitution,
Hamilton, by skillful argument, drawn from the closest abstract
reasoning, the recent experience of the states, and the history of
foreign countries, sought to show that the new Constitution was based
upon sound principles of government, that it was well calculated to
carry out these principles, and that its acceptance was practically
the only course open to the American people to insure for themselves
the benefits of liberty, prosperity, and peace. "The Federalist,"
although a purely political argument, has survived the occasion which
called it forth, as one of the master documents of political writing.
That it has a distinct place in literature is admitted by so severe a
critic as Professor Barrett Wendell in his recent "Literary History of
America." It is worth while quoting his acute literary judgment of its

"As a series of formal essays, the 'Federalist' groups itself roughly
with the 'Tatler,' the 'Spectator,' and those numerous descendants of
theirs which fill the literary records of eighteenth century England.
It differs, however, from all these, in both substance and purpose.
The 'Tatler,' the 'Spectator,' and their successors dealt with
superficial matters in a spirit of literary amenity: the 'Federalist'
deals in an argumentative spirit as earnest as that of any Puritan
divine with political principles paramount in our history; and it is
so wisely thoughtful that one may almost declare it the permanent
basis of sound thinking concerning American constitutional law. Like
all the educated writing of the eighteenth century, too, it is phrased
with a rhythmical balance and urbane polish which give it claim to
literary distinction."

While the written arguments of Hamilton in "The Federalist" have
survived for a hundred years and been consulted by foreign students in
the formation of new constitutions, a more severe task was imposed
upon him at the meeting of the state convention called to consider the
report of the convention at Philadelphia. It was in some respects the
hardest task ever set with any hope of success before a parliamentary
leader. Indeed, to the superficial observer there would have seemed to
be no hope of success, when in the elections to the state convention
the supporters of Governor Clinton chose forty-six delegates and left
on the side of Hamilton only nineteen of the sixty-five members. But
this statement of the case gives a somewhat darker color to the
situation than the real facts. There was a strong and growing body of
public sentiment for the Constitution in New York city and the
counties along the Hudson, which even led to the suggestion that they
should join the Union in any event and leave the northern counties to
shift for themselves. It was generally recognized, moreover, that
however strong the objections were to the Constitution, the choice lay
practically between this Constitution and none,--between the proposed
government and anarchy.

So strong was the sentiment that the Constitution must be accepted in
some form, that its opponents in the state convention did not venture
upon immediate rejection. Fortunately, their course in fighting for
delay only tended to make it clearer that New York would stand alone
if she failed to ratify. While the dream of independent sovereignty,
or the leadership in a federation which should dictate terms to the
surrounding states, was not without its attractions to the more
ambitious of the opposition leaders, there was a darker side to the
proposition which was much less attractive. Independence for New York
meant a heavy burden of taxation for a separate army and navy, for
guarding long frontiers on the east, north, and south, for supporting
an extensive customs service along the same frontiers, for maintaining
ministers at foreign courts and consuls in the leading cities of the
world, and for meeting all the other expenses of a sovereign nation.

It was fortunate for the state and the country that the leader of the
opposition to the Constitution in the New York convention was a man of
a high order of ability, whose mind was open in an unusual degree to
the influence of logical reasoning. This man was Melancthon Smith, who
is accorded by Chancellor Kent, the great authority on American law,
the credit of being noted "for his love of reading, tenacious memory,
powerful intellect, and for the metaphysical and logical discussions
of which he was a master." It is as much to his credit as that of
Hamilton that he finally admitted that he had been convinced by
Hamilton, and that he should vote for the Constitution. This result
was only reached, however, after a long and sometimes acrimonious
struggle, in which Hamilton was on his feet day after day explaining
and defending each separate clause of the Constitution,--not only in
its real meaning, but against all the distorted constructions put upon
it by the most acute and jealous of critics.

But events had been fighting with Hamilton. State after state had
ratified the new document, and news of their action had reached New
York. Nine states, the number necessary to put the Constitution in
force, were made up by the ratification of New Hampshire (June 21,
1788). Still New York hesitated, and Hamilton wrote to Madison: "Our
chance of success depends upon you. Symptoms of relaxation in some of
the leaders authorize a gleam of hope if you do well, but certainly I
think not otherwise." Virginia justified his hopes by a majority of 89
against 79 for ratification (June 25, 1788). The news reached New York
on July 3. The opposition there, though showing signs of relenting,
was still stubborn. Conditional ratification, with a long string of
amendments, was first proposed. Jay firmly insisted that the word
"conditional" must be erased. Finally, on July 11, he proposed
unconditional ratification. Melancthon Smith then proposed
ratification with the right to withdraw if the amendments should not
be accepted. Hamilton exposed the folly of such a project in a
brilliant speech, which led Smith to admit that conditional
ratification was an absurdity. Other similar proposals were brought
forward, but they were evidently equivalent to rejection by
indirection, which would have left New York out of the new Union.

Finally, Samuel Jones, another broad-minded member of the opposition,
proposed ratification without conditions, but "in full confidence"
that Congress would adopt all needed amendments. With the support of
Smith, this form of ratification was carried by the slender majority
of three votes (July 26, 1788). By this narrow margin it was decided
that New York should form a part of the Union, and that the great
experiment in representative government should not begin with the two
halves of the country separated by a hostile power, commanding the
greatest seaport of the colonies.

Hamilton thus played an important part in winning the first great
battle for the Constitution. Ratification was only one of many steps
which remained to be taken before the new government was in working
order. Hamilton hurried back to the Federal Congress, and carried an
ordinance fixing the dates and the place for putting the new
government in operation. When he returned to New York, he was beaten
for reëlection to Congress, and Governor Clinton and his party
retained such a firm grip upon the legislature that a deadlock
occurred between the Federalist House and the opposition Senate. New
York was unrepresented in the first electoral college, and had no
senators at the meeting of the First Congress. The state elections
which followed resulted in defeat for the Federalists in the election
of the governor, but they carried the legislature and elected two
senators,--General Schuyler and Rufus King. King had recently come
from Massachusetts, and Hamilton's insistence that he should be chosen
caused a breach with the Livingstons, which contributed to the defeat
of Schuyler two years later and the election of Aaron Burr. Hamilton's
course in this matter was one of many cases in which he showed that
he was not an astute politician, nor an adept at dealing with men. His
highest qualities were those more distinctly intellectual, which led
him to drive straight towards a desired object, with little patience
for smaller men or the obstacles which stood in his way.



The great work of Hamilton, which was to stamp his name forever upon
American history and our frame of government, was yet before him.
Washington was inaugurated in April, 1789, but it was not until
September 2 that an act passed Congress establishing the Treasury
Department. Hamilton was the selection of Washington for the new post.
It was a selection so well approved by all who were familiar with
Hamilton's great abilities as an organizer and financier that the
nomination was confirmed on the day that it reached the Senate. The
studies of many years, the programme which had been outlined in
letters to Morris and in the newspapers, were now to bear fruit under
the directing genius of Hamilton. Only ten days passed after his
appointment before Congress requested him to prepare a report upon
the public credit. Then came calls for reports on the collection and
management of the revenue; estimates of receipts and expenditures; the
regulation of the currency; the navigation laws; the post-office, and
the public lands. Money had to be found at once for the pressing needs
of the new government before the more elaborate projects of the young
minister of finance could be put in operation. But Hamilton did not
delay long even for the more important and permanent work. When
Congress met in January, he submitted his celebrated report "On Public
Credit," which laid the corner-stone of American finance under the

This report of Hamilton's on the public credit has long stood out as
one of the master state papers of American history. Read to-day in the
light of the economic progress of more than a century, its conclusions
are not entirely novel, but are in the main clear and sound. To obtain
a proper perspective regarding their value, the mind should be
projected back to the beginning of 1790, when political economy as a
science had barely been born, and the work of Adam Smith, although
about fourteen years old, was probably known to but few in America.
Many public men of to-day with the proper preliminary training might
evolve as sound a report as that of Hamilton, but no ordinary man
could have done it a hundred and ten years ago, and few men could do
it to-day with the force of diction, precision and directness of
statement, the grasp of principles, and the mastery of detail which
marked the work of Hamilton.

He seemed to gather in his hands all the tangled threads of the
disordered finances of the Continental Congress and of the states and
show how they could be woven into a band of strength and symmetry,
holding together by the motive of enlightened self-interest all the
parts of the new Union. He proposed to plant the public credit upon a
firm foundation, satisfy the public creditors, and put the nation on
the high road to industrial and financial progress. The difficulties
which Hamilton confronted were not merely a bankrupt Treasury and a
loose system of finance under the federal government, but large
expenditures by the states for carrying on the Revolutionary War, for
which reimbursement was demanded by the states which had spent the
most and was opposed by those which had spent the least. Hamilton
endeavored to show that all would gain by the assumption of these
debts by the federal government. Although a thinker rather than a
tactician, he was shrewd enough to make an appeal early in his report
to all men engaged in industry by pointing out the importance of
public credit upon the volume and profits of private business. He
endeavored first to make clear the benefit to any government of a
sound fiscal system. He said upon this point:--

"As, on the one hand, the necessity for borrowing in particular
emergencies cannot be doubted, so, on the other, it is equally evident
that to be able to borrow upon good terms, it is essential that the
credit of a nation should be well established. For, when the credit of
a country is in any degree questionable, it never fails to give an
extravagant premium, in one shape or another, upon all the loans it
has occasion to make. Nor does the evil end here; the same
disadvantage must be sustained upon whatever is to be bought on terms
of future payment. From this constant necessity of borrowing and
buying dear, it is easy to conceive how immensely the expenses of a
nation, in the course of time, will be augmented by an unsound state
of the public credit."

Taking up the demonstration how closely the public credit is linked
with the fortune of the individual, Hamilton points out that public
securities are a part of the medium of exchange, that sound credit
will extend trade by preventing the export of money, and that
agriculture and manufactures will be promoted because "more capital
can be commanded to be employed in both," and that the interest of
money will be lowered.

Hamilton took up and punctured in his report several fallacies
regarding the treatment of the debt which had obtained lodgment in the
public mind and threatened to influence the action of Congress. One
of these was that a distinction should be made between those holders
of the debt to whom it was originally issued and those who had
acquired it by purchase. As the latter holders had bought the debt in
some cases at a mere fraction of its face value and for speculative
purposes, the specious argument was made that they were entitled in
the settlement with the government only to what they had paid the
original holders. Hamilton set himself to dissipate this prejudice by
showing that the man who had been willing to purchase the public debt
might be quite as patriotic as the man who had parted with it for a
price. He suggested that if the debt was thus purchased in the
confidence that it would rise to par, the act was a proof of the
patriotism of the purchaser, and it would be a sorry return for this
confidence to make it a reason for discrimination against him.

But much more important from the public point of view, he pointed out,
was the sanctity of contracts guaranteed by the new Constitution, and
absolutely required to give a stable character to the securities of
the government. If the government were to discriminate between the
original holders of the debt and other holders, he made it clear that
a degree of discredit would be cast on all the obligations of the
United States, no matter in whose hands they were found, which would
tend to defeat the end and aim of all his measures,--the restoration
of public credit. Upon this point he said:--

"The nature of the contract, in its origin, is, that the public will
pay the sum expressed in the security, to the first holder or his
assignee. The intent in making the security assignable is, that the
proprietor may be able to make use of his property, by selling it for
as much as it may be worth in the market, and that the buyer may be
safe in the purchase.

"Every buyer, therefore, stands exactly in the place of the seller,
has the same right with him to the identical sum expressed in the
security, and having acquired that right, by fair purchase, and in
conformity to the original agreement and intention of the government,
his claim cannot be disputed without manifest injustice.

       *       *       *       *       *

"The impolicy of a discrimination results from two considerations:
one, that it proceeds upon a principle destructive of that quality of
the public debt, or the stock of the nation, which is essential to its
capacity for answering the purposes of money, that is, the security of
transfer; the other, that, as well on this account as because it
includes a breach of faith, it renders property in the funds less
valuable, consequently induces lenders to demand a higher premium for
what they lend, and produces every other inconvenience of a bad state
of public credit."

One of the most serious obstacles which confronted Hamilton in
carrying out his financial policy was the opposition to the assumption
by the new federal government of the debts of the several states
incurred in the prosecution of the war. The states which had been
remiss in paying their quota for the general expenses and those which
had not been called upon to pay much for local defense did not see
why a burden should be imposed upon them, even in equitable proportion
with the other states, for the purpose of relieving those states which
had been prompt with their payments or had been compelled to spend
freely for the protection of their own boundaries and people. This
prejudice Hamilton faced with the same clear vision and resolute
purpose as that against providing for the debt of the Union. He set
forth at the outset that if these debts were to be paid at all,
whether by the states or by the Union, "it will follow that no greater
revenues will be required, whether that provision be made wholly by
the United States, or partly by the states separately." He pointed out
that the control of the entire matter by the federal government would
secure uniformity of treatment for the public creditors, would prevent
competition between the Union and the states for the sources of the
revenue, which otherwise might cause collision and confusion, and
would secure a distribution of taxation more just to industry in all
the states. The assumption of the state debts, moreover, he insisted
was vital to the credit of the Union. Upon this head, and upon the
equity of charging to the Union of the states the debts which had been
incurred for the benefit of all, Hamilton observed:--

"Should the state creditors stand upon a less eligible footing than
the others, it is unnatural to expect they would see with pleasure a
provision for them. The influence which their dissatisfaction might
have could not but operate injuriously, both for the creditors and the
credit of the United States. Hence it is even the interest of the
creditors of the Union, that those of the individual states should be
comprehended in a general provision. Any attempt to secure to the
former either exclusive or peculiar advantages would materially hazard
their interests. Neither would it be just that one class of the public
creditors should be more favored than the other. The objects for which
both descriptions of the debt were contracted are in the main the
same. Indeed, a great part of the particular debts of the states has
arisen from assumptions by them on account of the Union. And it is
most equitable, that there should be the same measure of retribution
for all.

       *       *       *       *       *

"The general principle of it seems to be equitable, for it appears
difficult to conceive a good reason why the expenses for the
particular defense of a part, in a common war, should not be a common
charge, as well as those incurred professedly for the general defense.
The defense of each part is that of the whole, and unless all the
expenditures are brought into a common mass, the tendency must be to
add to the calamities suffered by being the most exposed to the
ravages of war, an increase of burthens."

Hamilton found the public debt of the Union to be $54,124,464.56. This
would not be a formidable debt to-day, even with full allowance for
the difference in population, but it was formidable for that time
because of the comparative poverty of the country, and the scanty
resources for paying it. The great increase in the productive power
of man in our time, by means of machinery, improved means of
communication, and other devices for saving labor and increasing its
efficiency, makes it easy for prosperous nations to bear taxation
without feeling the burden which would have paralyzed industry and
arrested national progress a century ago. The United States in 1790
were not far beyond the primitive condition in which the entire sum of
production is required for the necessaries of existence, and little is
left for the luxuries of life and of state enterprise.

The total of the debt, as computed by Hamilton, was made up by adding
the foreign debt, $10,070,307, with arrears of interest amounting to
$1,640,071.62, to the principal of the domestic debt, $27,383,917.74,
with arrears of interest amounting to $13,030,168.20, and estimating
the unliquidated debt at $2,000,000. The amount of the state debts he
was not able to ascertain with precision, but estimated at about
$25,000,000. This made the total debt to be dealt with something more
than $75,000,000. The annual interest required at the rates provided
in the contract would amount to $542,599.66 on the foreign debt, and
$4,044,845.15 on the domestic debt, including that of the states,
making a total of $4,587,444.81. While urging the most conscientious
fulfillment of obligations, Hamilton admitted that this demand would
require the extension of taxation to a degree and to objects which the
true interests of the public creditors themselves forbade. "It is
therefore to be hoped," he said, "and even to be expected, that they
will cheerfully concur in such modifications of their claims, on fair
and equitable principles, as will facilitate to the government an
arrangement substantial, durable, and satisfactory to the community."

This arrangement he did not propose to reach by repudiating any
portion of the debt. He proposed to reduce the rate of interest, in
course of time, in accordance with the decline in the rate for the
rental of capital abroad, but to those holders of the debt who
desired settlement in full at the old rates of interest, he made
liberal offers. A number of optional plans for accepting funds at
different rates of interest for different terms were presented, which
it is not necessary to set forth in detail. The statement of the first
two will give an idea of their general character:--

"First, That, for every hundred dollars subscribed, payable in the
debt, (as well interest as principal,) the subscriber be entitled, at
his option, either to have two-thirds funded at an annuity or yearly
interest of six per cent., redeemable at the pleasure of the
government, by payment of the principal, and to receive the other
third in lands in the western territory, at the rate of twenty cents
per acre. Or, to have the whole sum funded at an annuity or yearly
interest of four per cent, irredeemable by any payment exceeding five
dollars per annum, on account both of principal and interest, and to
receive, as a compensation for the reduction of interest, fifteen
dollars and eighty cents, payable in lands, as in the preceding

Hamilton thus reserved the right to redeem the debt at the pleasure of
the government, when new securities could be floated at reduced rates.
This was in accordance with the enlightened policy of governments
before and since in availing themselves of the increase of capital and
the improved condition of the public credit. The holder of the public
funds could find no fault if he received back his principal, while an
attractive investment at current rates of return upon capital would be
offered to new investors in the form of funds at a reduced rate of
interest, if such new funds were not acceptable to the old holders of
the debt.

The proposal for using the public lands in part settlement of the debt
was a happy device for employing a resource of immense value to the
country, and promoting early settlement of the great areas of
uncultivated land which became the property of the Union. It was in
pursuance of this comprehensive policy that Connecticut, Virginia,
and other states had ceded to Congress, even before the adoption of
the Constitution, their indefinite claims to the great stretches of
country between the Allegheny Mountains and the Mississippi.



The plans of Hamilton having been formulated, it remained to be
determined whether they should be adopted by the lawmaking power or
should remain a splendid but abortive monument to the constructive
skill of their author. Vigorous opposition was expected by Hamilton to
the measures which he proposed. He had endeavored to meet and disarm
such opposition as far as possible in the careful and illuminating
language of his report, but it soon became evident that against nearly
all parts of it a bitter and persistent battle would be waged. The
owners of capital and the commercial element were represented in the
Northern and Eastern States rather than in the South, and the
representatives of the former states strongly supported from the first
the entire policy of the Secretary of the Treasury. Rumors were
already abroad that something was to be done to restore the national
credit, but it was not until the reading of Hamilton's report in the
House (January 14, 1790) that the full scope of his plans was made

The effect of the report was so favorable upon the public credit as to
forge weapons for its enemies. This came about through the sudden rise
in the public funds, and the promptness with which speculators bought
them up from holders who were ignorant of their value. Funds which
would have been gladly disposed of at three shillings to the pound, or
fifteen per cent. of their face value, at any time within the previous
three years, rose before noon the next day fifty per cent. of their
quoted price. It was not yet certain that the project would be adopted
by Congress, but shrewd men were willing to discount the future in
much the same manner that brokers in Wall Street do at the present
time. The absence of a well-organized stock market, with the
ramifications of telegraphic quotations throughout the Union, put in
the hands of the more daring of these speculators an opportunity to
avail themselves of the ignorance of others to an extent which would
not be possible to-day. Agents were soon scouring the country, buying
up the certificates of the debt in all its varied forms, before the
news of Hamilton's great report had reached the humble holders, some
of whom were old soldiers or quiet farmers who had been compelled to
furnish supplies for the army. Jefferson says in his Anas:--

"Couriers and relay horses by land, and swift-sailing pilot-boats by
sea, were flying in all directions. Active partners and agents were
associated and employed in every state, town, and county, and the
paper bought up at five shillings, and even as low as two shillings in
the pound, before the holder knew that Congress had already provided
for its redemption at par."

This sudden and remarkable effect of Hamilton's recommendations put
weapons in the hands of the enemies of the project, because it seemed
to give force to their argument that a distinction should be made
between those to whom the debt was originally issued at par and the
new holders who had obtained it at a discount. Long and bitter were
the debates in the House over this and other branches of Hamilton's
project. But it was so obvious that a distinction between the holders
of the debt would run directly counter to its character as negotiable
paper, and would be almost impossible of just execution, that the
friends of the funding project easily had the best of the argument.
Madison, although inclined to oppose Hamilton, was forced to admit
that the debt must be funded at par without discrimination. He brought
forward a project to pay the original holders the difference between
par and the price at which they had sold, and to pay to the present
holders only what they had paid for the securities. This was shown to
be so impracticable that only thirteen votes were given for it in a
House of forty-nine members voting. The advocates of the entire
funding project carried it in committee of the whole (March 9, 1790)
by a vote of 31 to 26.

The debates had so strengthened the position of Hamilton that the
wisdom of funding the debt of the Union at par was now generally
admitted. His opponents and those who feared too great a concentration
of power in the capitalist class and the central government made their
stand on the proposal to assume the state debts. When the resolution
reported by the committee of the whole was taken up in the House on
March 29, several representatives from North Carolina appeared in the
House and swelled the ranks of the opposition. North Carolina had been
late in accepting the Constitution, and her members had not been
present on previous votes. When, therefore, a motion to recommit the
financial projects was made, it was carried by a vote of 29 to 27. The
advocates of assumption were so indignant, and so convinced that one
part of the project was as vital as the other, that they voted to
recommit the original funding resolution. Further debate took place,
but without shaking the firmness of the opposition to the assumption
of the state debts. The project was rejected in committee (April 12)
by a vote of 31 to 29.

The situation was a grave one. Hamilton felt that the future of the
Union was at stake. If his projects were not adopted substantially as
a whole, the new government would be without credit and the work of
the Convention of 1789 would be in vain. The government at Washington
would be as helpless as the Continental Congress and its committees
had been. This opinion was shared by all those who favored a vigorous
central government, and practically by all the members of the party in
Congress which was forming in support of the measures of Hamilton and
looking to him as their leader. While casting about for some means for
meeting the emergency, Hamilton fell upon a plan which represents one
of the few cases in which he had recourse to diplomacy in his public
career. The question of the location of the national capital had been
for some time pending in Congress. It had already become involved with
the assumption of the state debts. A strong bid had been made by the
opponents of assumption for the five votes of Pennsylvania by the
offer to locate the capital for fifteen years at Philadelphia.

The importance of having Congress and its officials in a given city
represented more at that time, in spite of the small size of the body
and the relative insignificance of the interests before it, than would
be the case to-day with either of the great commercial cities of New
York, Boston, or Philadelphia. Local interests played the same part
then as now in political man[oe]uvring, and possession of the capital
looked larger in the eyes of some members than the financial policy of
the Union. In the sarcastic language of Professor McMaster, "The state
debts might remain unpaid, the credit of the nation might fall, but
come what might, the patronage of Congress must be drawn from New York
and distributed among the grog-shops and taverns of Philadelphia."

Hamilton took advantage of this situation to save assumption and to
fix the financial policy of the United States. The Senate had
rejected the proposal to establish the capital at Philadelphia, and
when the project came back to the House, Baltimore was substituted by
a majority of two. The Pennsylvanians and their friends in the Senate
retaliated by mutilating the funding bill and daring the
assumptionists to reject it. The latter held to their position and
rejected the bill, 35 to 23. It was while matters were in this acute
stage, while threats were made on behalf of the North that the Union
would be broken up if assumption were not carried, that Hamilton one
day in front of the President's house met Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson
had recently returned from France to assume the position of Secretary
of State. What followed is best told in Jefferson's own words, because
he afterwards claimed that he had been "duped" by Hamilton and acted
without knowledge of the effect of what he was doing. Jefferson's
account of the matter is as follows:--

"As I was going to the President's one day, I met him (Hamilton) in
the street. He walked me backwards and forwards before the
President's door for half an hour. He painted pathetically the temper
into which the legislature had been wrought; the disgust of those who
were called the creditor states: the danger of the _secession_ of
their members, and the separation of the states. He observed that the
members of the administration ought to act in concert; that though
this question was not of my department, yet a common duty should make
it a common concern; that the President was the centre on which all
administrative questions ultimately rested, and that all of us should
rally around him, and support, with joint efforts, measures approved
by him; and that the question having been lost by a small majority
only, it was probable that an appeal from me to the judgment and
discretion of some of my friends might effect a change in the vote,
and the machine of government, now suspended, might be again set into
motion. I told him that I was really a stranger to the whole subject;
that not having yet informed myself of the system of finance adopted,
I knew not how far this was a necessary sequence; that undoubtedly, if
its rejection endangered a dissolution of our Union at this incipient
stage, I should deem that the most unfortunate of all consequences, to
avert which all partial and temporary evils should be yielded. I
proposed to him, however, to dine with me the next day, and I would
invite another friend or two, bring them into conference together, and
I thought it impossible that reasonable men, consulting together
coolly, could fail, by some mutual sacrifices of opinion, to form a
compromise which was to save the Union. The discussion took place. I
could take no part in it but an exhortatory one, because I was a
stranger to the circumstances which should govern it. But it was
finally agreed, that whatever importance had been attached to the
rejection of this proposition, the preservation of the Union and of
concord among the states was more important, and that, therefore, it
would be better that the vote of rejection should be rescinded, to
effect which some members should change their votes. But it was
observed that this pill would be peculiarly bitter to the Southern
States, and that some concomitant measure should be adopted to sweeten
it a little to them. There had been projects to fix the seat of
government either at Philadelphia or at Georgetown on the Potomac; and
it was thought that by giving it to Philadelphia for ten years, and to
Georgetown permanently afterwards, this might, as an anodyne, calm in
some degree the ferment which might be excited by the other measure
alone. Some two of the Potomac members (White and Lee, but White with
a revulsion of stomach almost convulsive) agreed to change their
votes, and Hamilton undertook to carry the other point. In doing this,
the influence he had established over the eastern members, with the
agency of Robert Morris with those of the Middle States, effected his
side of the engagement."

Hamilton had little of the state pride which influenced the men of
Massachusetts, New York, Virginia, or of any other state who had
grown up on the soil won by their English ancestors by their blood or
the sweat of their brows. To him the question of the location of the
capital seemed insignificant in comparison with the foundation of the
Union upon the rock of a comprehensive financial policy. It is
significant of the commanding influence which the young secretary had
acquired, and the well-knit party which was gathering around him, that
he had no difficulty in carrying his part of the programme for seating
the capital eventually on the banks of the Potomac. The bill to remove
the capital was passed on July 9, 1790, by a majority of three, and
the assumption of the state debts was carried soon after. The form of
the assumption differed somewhat from the proposal of Hamilton, but it
accomplished the result at which he aimed. A specific sum,
$21,500,000, was assumed by the government and distributed among the
states in set proportions. The project passed the Senate July 22, by a
vote of 14 to 12, and the House on July 24, by a vote of 34 to 28. A
great step was thus taken in the consolidation of the Union, and
notice was given to the world that the United States proposed to pay
their debts and fulfill with scrupulous honor their financial



The funding of the debt was only one of several parts of the policy of
Hamilton for putting the new government upon a solvent and firm basis.
The session of Congress which began in December, 1790, witnessed the
presentation of his report in favor of a national bank. This report,
like that on the debt, showed careful study of the subject in its
theoretical as well as practical aspects. Hamilton referred in opening
to the successful operation of public banks in Italy, Germany,
Holland, England, and France. He then went on to point out some of
their specific advantages in concentrating capital and permitting the
easy transfer of credit. He declared that such a bank would afford
"greater facility to the government, in obtaining pecuniary aid,
especially in sudden emergencies." It would also facilitate the
payment of taxes, by enabling tax-payers to borrow from the bank and
by the aid which it would give in the transfer of funds. He did not
shrink from declaring that the country would benefit if foreigners
invested in the bank shares, since this would bring so much additional
capital into the United States. Hamilton then pointed out the vital
distinction between government paper issues and bank paper. He laid
down thus the fundamental principle of a well-regulated bank-note

"Among other material differences between a paper currency, issued by
the mere authority of government, and one issued by a bank, payable in
coin, is this: That, in the first case, there is no standard to which
an appeal can be made, as to the quantity which will only satisfy, or
which will surcharge the circulation: in the last, that standard
results from the demand. If more should be issued than is necessary,
it will return upon the bank. Its emissions, as elsewhere intimated,
must always be in a compound ratio to the fund and the demand: whence
it is evident, that there is a limitation in the nature of the thing;
while the discretion of the government is the only measure of the
extent of the emissions, by its own authority."

The bank which Hamilton proposed was private in its ownership, but the
United States were to pledge themselves not to authorize any similar
institution during its continuance. The capital of the bank was not to
exceed $10,000,000, for which the President of the United States might
subscribe $2,000,000 on behalf of the government. It was further
provided that three fourths of the amount of each share might be paid
in the public debt instead of gold and silver.

It was the purpose of Hamilton not merely to create a useful financial
institution, in which the government would be able to keep its
deposits, but to weld the monetary system of the country into an
harmonious whole. The result of this, which he foresaw and intended,
was to bind the property-owning classes to the interests of the new
government. The effect was much the same as the creation of the Bank
of England by the loan of its capital to the government, which bound
the moneyed classes firmly to King William, through the knowledge that
the debt and the solvency of the bank depended on the perpetuation of
his government and the exclusion of the Stuart Pretender. The tendency
of Hamilton's project was clearly seen by Jefferson and other
democratic leaders, and did not fail to arouse their hostility. It was
not long before they promptly took sides against the national bank.
Jefferson wrote regarding the meetings of the cabinet at this time
that "Hamilton and myself were daily pitted in the cabinet like two

There was something deeper involved, from the standpoint of Jefferson,
than the mere question of bringing the moneyed class to the side of
the government. The latter object was sufficiently distasteful to him,
but the extension of the powers granted by the Constitution beyond
those which were directly enumerated in the document involved a
question of public policy and constitutional law which afforded the
basis for the creation of two great national parties. The Constitution
did not anywhere grant in terms to the government the power to
establish a national bank. Even Hamilton did not pretend to put his
finger on the specific authority for his new project. He advanced a
doctrine which was eagerly embraced by the party which was growing up
around him, but which was as resolutely opposed by the other party.
This was the doctrine of the implied powers granted to the new
government by the Constitution. It is doubtful whether the
Constitution would have been ratified by Virginia and other states if
this doctrine had been set forth and defended in the state conventions
by the friends of the Constitution. This by no means implies that the
policy and doctrine of Hamilton were not wise and far-sighted.
Hamilton had definite aims before him, and it was his legitimate
mission to educate public sentiment up to the point of accepting those
aims and of granting him the means for carrying them out.

The doctrine of the "implied powers" rested upon the theory that
unless they were directly prohibited by the Constitution, all powers
were granted to the government by implication which were found
necessary and proper for carrying out the powers specifically granted.
Jefferson came to believe, if he did not believe at the outset, that
the government was one of delegated powers which were strictly limited
to those enumerated in the Constitution. The doctrine of Hamilton,
from this point of view, was revolutionary. It meant the conversion of
a government holding limited delegations of power from the people and
the states into a government having supreme power, capable of taking
an infinite variety of measures whenever Congress, in the exercise of
its discretion, believed that such measures would contribute to the
well-being of the Union. The state governments, coming closer to the
people than the federal government, were most directly threatened by
this assumption of power, and it was as the champions of state rights
as well as democratic ideas that Jefferson and his friends took their
ground as the advocates of the strict construction of the

It is not surprising, therefore, that the proposal to create the Bank
of the United States called forth in Congress prolonged and heated
debates. But the policy of Hamilton had been so far successful in
restoring the public credit that he carried the project for the
national bank through both houses, and it was laid before the
President for his approval. Washington had watched with interest the
struggle in the two houses, and was somewhat impressed by the weight
of the argument against the constitutional power of Congress to
establish the bank. The cabinet was divided. Jefferson and Randolph
were against the constitutionality of the bill. Hamilton and Knox were
in favor of it. Washington asked each of them to give him in writing
the reasons for his opinion. He weighed them carefully and then
affixed his signature to the bill (February 25, 1791). The new project
realized all the benefits which Hamilton expected. Washington, in his
tour of the Southern States in the spring of 1791, found the sentiment
for union strengthening and the country recovering from the
prostration of the era of bad money and political uncertainty which
had followed the Revolution. He declared in a letter written after his

"Our public credit stands on that ground, which, three years ago, it
would have been madness to have foretold. The astonishing rapidity
with which the newly instituted bank was filled, gives an unexampled
proof of the resources of our countrymen and their confidence in
public measures. On the first day of opening the subscription, the
whole number of shares (twenty thousand) were taken up in one hour,
and application made for upwards of four thousand shares more than
were granted by the institution, besides many others that were coming
in from various quarters."

How much was likely to be done by a national bank to bind together the
commercial interests of different sections of the country can hardly
be appreciated to-day. At that time there were only four banks in the
country; none of these was ten years old, and their combined capital
was only $1,950,000. The Bank of the United States was authorized to
establish offices of discount and deposit in all the states and to
distribute parts of its capital among eight branches in the chief
cities of the country. It was the drafts of these branches upon each
other, and their means for reducing to a uniform and reasonable rate
the cost of transferring funds, which contributed to knit all parts of
the country together in commercial matters and so strengthened the
bond of political union. The bank did not make regular reports to the
Treasury Department, but its success is indicated by a special report
communicated to Congress by Secretary Gallatin (January 24, 1811),
which showed resources of $24,183,046. The average annual dividends
paid upon the stock up to March, 1809, were over eight per cent.

So invaluable were the operations of the Bank of the United States to
the public treasury that Jefferson himself when President came to its
support. His support was perhaps never very hearty, and was due to
Albert Gallatin, his Secretary of the Treasury, whose foresight and
ability give him a rank next to Hamilton among the able men who have
presided over the national finances. Gallatin made a strong report in
1809, recommending that the charter of the bank be renewed upon its
expiration in 1811, with an increase of capital and wider powers. A
new charter was voted in the House, but the bill was not acted on in
the Senate, and before the next session the opposition of the state
bankers had rallied sufficient strength to defeat the recharter. The
second United States Bank was authorized in 1816, under the
administration of Madison and with his approval, but its career was
terminated in 1836, as the result of the political hostility of
President Jackson.

It was not until after the grant of this second charter that the
question of the power of Congress to establish a bank came directly
before the Supreme Court in 1819. At the head of this court sat John
Marshall, who next to Hamilton, perhaps, did more than any other man
to strengthen and extend the powers of the general government. The
jealousy of the state banks had led the State of Maryland to impose a
discriminating tax on the Bank of the United States. If the right to
levy such a tax had been admitted, the Bank would have been completely
at the mercy of the states, and one of the chief purposes of its
creation would have been defeated. In order to sustain the right of
the bank to exemption from taxation, it was necessary to prove that it
was a constitutional instrument of federal power. Hence the question
of the power of Congress to create such a corporation came directly
before the court.

Hamilton found the power to create a bank partly in the preamble to
the Constitution, which declares that the people of the United States
have adopted it in order to "promote the general welfare," but more
particularly in that concluding phrase of the clause defining the
powers of Congress, which declares that that body shall have
authority "to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for
carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers
vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States or
in any department or officer thereof." Marshall, in the series of
great decisions by which he strengthened the power of the Union, often
made use of these provisions to justify his reasoning. In one of the
most famous of these decisions (McCulloch _vs._ Maryland), he
sustained the constitutionality of the bank as an instrument of
federal power and denied the right of the states to levy upon its
property. He declared that the power to tax involved the power to
destroy, and that if the federal government had not the power to
withdraw its creations from discriminating legislation by the states,
the latter might tax the mail or the mints, the papers of the
custom-houses, or the forms of judicial process.

The view of Hamilton regarding the power of the federal government to
create a bank was thus sustained in emphatic terms by the highest
court in the land. It was partly his policy in providing for the bank
and demonstrating its usefulness, with his other measures to develop
the powers of the central government, which made possible the
decisions of Marshall. If the question of the right to incorporate a
bank could have been brought before the court at the beginning, before
the institution had proved its value, and if men like Jefferson and
Madison had been upon the bench, there is at least room for doubt
whether a decision would have been rendered in favor of a power which
is not granted directly to the government by the Constitution. But by
the resolute executive policy of Hamilton and the broad judicial
constructions of Marshall, the functions of the new government were
extended to all those great objects necessary to create a vigorous and
united nation.

The many other measures of Hamilton were directed by the same
singleness of purpose to strengthen the hands of the government and
consolidate the Union. The report on the mint followed the previous
reports of Jefferson in recommending the adoption of the dollar as the
unit of value. Hamilton observed that "upon the whole, it seems to be
most advisable, as has been observed, not to attach the unit
exclusively to either of the metals; because this cannot be done
effectually, without destroying the office and character of one of
them as money, and reducing it to the situation of a mere
merchandise." He believed, however, that care should be taken to
regulate the proportion between the metals with an eye to their
average commercial value. He pointed out the danger of undervaluing
either metal, and the inevitable result, in case of a difference of
ratio in two countries, "if other things were equal, that the greatest
part of the gold would be collected in one, and the greatest part of
the silver in the other."

This discussion of the subject took place at a time when monetary
principles were not very well fixed, when the standard and the state
of the currency had hardly been settled on an orderly basis in any
country, and when the means of transportation for the precious metals
were much slower and less efficient than under modern conditions, and
the cost was much greater. Hamilton endeavored to find the true
commercial relation between gold and silver as a basis for the coinage
values, in the hope that this would not change sufficiently to upset a
bimetallic system founded upon such a basis. He was not a victim of
the delusion that government can arbitrarily give value by law to
money, but declared, "There can hardly be a better rule in any country
for the legal, than the market proportion; if this can be supposed to
have been produced by the free and steady course of commercial

The report on manufactures and the bill providing for an excise were
parts of the project of Hamilton for building up a vigorous and
self-supporting nation. The report on manufactures was not presented
to Congress until the beginning of the long session at the close of
1791, and was not carried out in legislation. It consisted chiefly of
an argument for the encouragement of young industries in an
undeveloped country. Hamilton strongly favored the diversification of
the industries of the country between agriculture and various forms of
manufacture, because he believed it would contribute to the solidity
of the industrial system and to the financial independence of the
United States. His conception of the best method for promoting
American industries differed materially, however, from more recent
developments of the protective system. He recommended bounties and
premiums in many cases in preference to protectionist customs duties,
in order to avoid the rise in the price of articles to the consumer
which often results from such duties. The customs duties which he
proposed, moreover, ranged only from seven and a half to fifteen per
cent., and the latter rate was to be levied on only a few articles.

The country was not yet ripe for extensive industrial enterprises. The
manufactures then existing were chiefly for supplying local needs,
the factory system had not been introduced, and the capital had not
been accumulated for the creation of large establishments. The country
needed many foreign manufactured articles to put it upon the highroad
to industrial development, and it was at a much later period that the
manufacturing interests acquired the power which enabled them to
increase the scale of duties. When this time came, they turned to the
arsenal of Hamilton's report for weapons in support of the policy of
diversifying industries; but they used these weapons in behalf of a
scale of duties which was not recommended by him and they ignored his
arguments for premiums and bounties for the protection of the consumer
against excessive prices.

Whether Hamilton would have favored the policy of protection in its
later developments, it is useless to inquire. It is idle to claim for
any thinker of the past that he anticipated all future discoveries and
reasoning in the fields of politics or economics. It is not
necessary, in order to give a statesman a high place in history, to
worship blindly all that he did or said or to make such deeds and
words an authority for later generations. What can be said of Hamilton
without reasonable ground of denial is that he did not recommend in
any of his writings the high scale of duties advocated by some
protectionists in recent years. On the contrary, he urged a scale of
duties which would be treated by the protectionist of to-day as below
even the level of a "tariff for revenue only." That his ideas were far
from extreme is indicated by the project which he drew up in 1794 for
a reciprocity treaty with Great Britain, which proposed to limit
American import duties on the leading textiles and manufactured
articles of metal to ten per cent. of their value. He even criticised
Jefferson's message of 1801 for recommending the repeal of the
internal revenue taxes, upon the ground that the duties on imports
were high and that if any taxes were to be repealed, they should be
those which weighed on commerce and navigation.

A measure which led to more immediate results than the report on
manufactures was the report on the excise. Hamilton found it
necessary, in order to obtain sufficient funds to meet the interest on
the debt and other charges, to recommend an excise tax upon distilled
liquors produced in the United States. The bill passed Congress in
January, 1791, and was soon put in force. Violent resistance was made
in western Pennsylvania, where the manufacture of whiskey was more
extensively carried on than in any other part of the Union. The
federal collector for Washington and Allegheny was tarred and
feathered, and deputy marshals did not dare serve writs against those
guilty of the outrage. Washington's journey through the South had a
good effect in softening the opposition to the law, which first showed
itself in Virginia and North Carolina; but in Pennsylvania conditions
went from bad to worse, until it became necessary to give the federal
government additional powers for collecting the tax and putting down
insurrection. Masked mobs terrorized those who were inclined to obey
the law, and forced them to publish the injury done to their stills.
In order to protect themselves by embroiling the whole community, some
of the insurgent leaders had the mail stopped, the militia called out
on their side, and threatened to lay Pittsburg in ashes (July, 1794).

The opportunity had come for testing the question whether the Union
was strong enough to put down rebellion by force. It was an
opportunity which Hamilton did not shirk. At his earnest solicitation,
an army was dispatched to the disturbed districts. Washington showed
no hesitation in supporting the authority of the federal government.
He obtained a certificate from a judge of the Supreme Court, setting
forth that the laws of the United States were set at naught and that
the courts were unable to enforce them. He then issued a proclamation
commanding the insurgents to submit to the laws, and made a
requisition for 12,950 militia from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia,
and New Jersey, to move on September 1, 1794, towards the disaffected

The firmness of Washington put an end to the insurrection. Governor
Mifflin of Pennsylvania, who had hesitated to put down the
disturbances by the strong hand of the state, recovered his courage,
and aided the federal government by proclamations and by his full
quota of troops. Hamilton accompanied the army as it moved towards the
West, and remained with it after Washington turned back to attend the
opening of Congress. The strong display of force made by the
government overawed the insurgents and finally compelled their
submission. Albert Gallatin, although a citizen of the disaffected
section and an opponent of the party in power, exerted his influence
on behalf of order. Negotiations were set on foot between
commissioners of the President, and a committee of citizens, of which
Gallatin was a member. When this committee met to decide whether they
would recommend compliance with the law, they were surrounded by
riflemen who were ready to shoot if their leaders showed signs of
yielding. But they adopted the clever device of a ballot upon which
both yea and nay were written, with the option of destroying either
word. A small majority voted to submit. Some of the obstinate spirits
held out, but as the people fell away from them, they were arrested
and put on trial, and the authority of the federal government was no
longer disputed.

This suppression of the "Whiskey Rebellion," as it was called, was one
of the most important steps in the consolidation of the Union. Many
who had observed the aggressive and comprehensive projects of
Hamilton, and seen them daily binding closer the bonds of union, did
not believe that they would stand the test of armed conflict. They
feared that the power of the government would wither and the people
split into warring factions when men were called upon to march in arms
against their fellow-citizens. The event proved that the new
government had vindicated its right to exist, and that the sentiment
of union was daily gaining a stronger hold upon the hearts of the
people. That this new power had not only built up a cohesive financial
system, but had shown its capacity to put down resistance to its
lawful authority with a strong hand, was largely the work of Hamilton.
It may be said that it was wholly his work, so far as any great
national policy can be projected and carried out by a single man,
independently of the support of his associates in the government and
of the body of public opinion which make possible the execution of his

The time had come when Hamilton felt that his constructive work was
done. He withdrew from the cabinet (January 31, 1795), and Oliver
Wolcott of Connecticut was appointed his successor. Hamilton chose the
moment for retiring from office with a tact and judgment unusual with
public men. He was moved partly by the desire to provide for his
family upon a more liberal scale than his modest salary under the
government permitted. He was too patriotic, however, to have
abandoned his post until he felt that his constructive work was
complete. It was with conscious satisfaction that in his report on the
public credit at the beginning of 1795 he was able to marshal the
measures already taken towards restoring order to the national
finances and point out their results. The credit of the country had
been raised from the lowest abyss of dishonor to that of the most
enlightened nations of the old world; an adequate system of taxation
had been provided for meeting the public obligations; the business
interests had been knit together in support of the government by a
national bank; a monetary system had been established; the Treasury
had been organized in its various branches upon a basis which has
survived to our day; and finally the strength of the fabric of the
Union and of the financial system had been subjected to the test of a
rebellion which, without serious bloodshed, but with a strong display
of force, had been fully and firmly subdued.



The comprehensive measures of Hamilton for strengthening the Union
gave a definite character and policy to the Federalist party. The
foundations of this party had been laid by the struggle over the
question whether the Constitution should be accepted by the states;
but the measures of Hamilton were too strong for some of the friends
of the Constitution, and many changes occurred in the temporary
groupings of political leaders before a definite dividing line was
established between the Federalism of Hamilton on the one side and the
Democracy of Jefferson and Madison on the other. These two eminent
Democratic leaders had, indeed, been among the most earnest supporters
of the Constitution. Madison went farther than Jefferson in the
direction of Federalism, and encountered the distrust of the
states-rights element at home; but Jefferson, as has been already
seen, made several reports in the Continental Congress in favor of
declaring the United States a nation, and was the cordial promoter of
those important steps towards union,--the transfer of the Western
territory to Congress and the adoption of a common monetary system.

The plans of Hamilton in regard to the finances, however, and his
resolute policy of neutrality between France and Great Britain, ran
counter to the views of Jefferson. It is not surprising, therefore,
that the latter found himself pitted against the great Federalist
leader upon nearly every question of importance which came before the
cabinet. The feeling that he had been duped in regard to the
assumption of the state debts found vent in many complaints, which
finally bore fruit in open attacks upon Hamilton, at first made
indirectly through a clerk in the government service, and then
directly in a long letter to Washington. Jefferson gave the post of
translating clerk in the State Department to a Frenchman, Philip
Freneau, who published a journal known as the "National Gazette." In
this journal Freneau began a series of bitter and sometimes
well-directed attacks upon the measures of the administration, and
particularly those of Hamilton. A friend of Jefferson in Virginia,
Colonel Mason, approached Washington in the summer of 1791, and made a
long and severe criticism upon the Treasury measures and their effect
upon the people.

Washington continued to stand above party, and sought to mitigate the
friction between his cabinet officers. Where the judgments of Hamilton
and Jefferson differed on constructive measures, however, Washington
in nearly every case became convinced of the wisdom of the
recommendations of Hamilton. He therefore had the appearance of
leaning to his side, although he often mitigated the sharpness of the
arguments of his vigorous young minister of finance and endeavored to
temper his excess of zeal. After listening to Mason, Washington felt
that the time had come to interpose in the growing hostility between
his cabinet ministers. He submitted a brief summary to Hamilton of
the criticisms which had been made upon his projects and asked him to
submit a statement in reply. The charges were directed not only
against the substance of the financial measures, but declared that
they fostered speculation, corrupted Congress through the ownership of
the public debt by members of that body, and that Hamilton was
laboring secretly to introduce aristocracy and monarchy.

It was not difficult for Hamilton to brush away most of these
criticisms. This he did in the cool, logical manner of which he was a
master by numbering each objection to his policy and measures and
showing that it was not founded upon solid reasoning or fact. Hamilton
would have done well to have rested his case upon his letter to
Washington, but he was now convinced that Jefferson was behind the
attacks upon him, and he determined to strike back. He began a series
of anonymous communications through the Federalist organ, "Fenno's
Gazette," which showed all his usual vigor and force of reasoning, but
which only intensified the bitterness in the cabinet. President
Washington was deeply disturbed by this open outbreak of hostilities,
and remonstrated by letter with both Hamilton and Jefferson. Hamilton
suspended his attacks, while Jefferson confined his hostility to less
open methods.

When Congress met at the close of 1791, Giles of Virginia, a
loud-spoken, hot-headed member of the House, called for accounts of
the various foreign loans made by the government. An attempt was made
to prove corruption in the management of the Treasury. Hamilton could
not have found a better opportunity for defending himself, if he had
sought it. He was no longer shut up to the unsatisfactory methods of
unsigned communications through newspapers, but was in a position to
speak openly and boldly in exposition and defense of his measures.
Report after report was sent to Congress, setting forth the operations
of the Treasury with a lucidity and power which silenced the
opposition and almost overwhelmed Madison, who had been forced as a
party leader to accept the responsibility for the attacks. The
reports, to any one who understood the subject, were absolutely
convincing of the soundness and wisdom of Hamilton's measures.

Jefferson, perhaps, had some right to complain of the influence which
Hamilton exerted over that department of the government which properly
belonged under his exclusive jurisdiction. This was the management of
foreign relations. Hamilton had such definite and well-considered
views on foreign policy as well as finance that he could not forbear
presenting them in the cabinet. His superiority in definiteness of aim
and energy no doubt led him to believe that he was fitted for the
functions of prime minister and that he was justified in exercising
them as far as he could. The course of Washington encouraged him to
the extent that the President often gave the preference to his views
over those of Jefferson, but it was far from the purpose of the
President to make any distinction in rank or in his confidence between
his ministers. Hamilton, although an admirer of the British political
system, permitted himself few prejudices in his theory of the foreign
policy of the United States. Though often charged with British
sympathies, he leaned much less towards Great Britain than Jefferson,
through his admiration of the spirit of the French Revolution, leaned
towards France.

The foreign relations of the country began to become acute with the
outbreak of war between England and France in 1793. France had already
abolished royalty, expelled the nobles, sent Louis XVI. to the
scaffold, and was on the eve of the terrible massacres which did so
much to revolt even her best friends outside the country. The news of
war reached the United States early in April, 1793. News came also
that a minister from the French Republic had landed at Charleston and
would soon present his credentials at Philadelphia. Hamilton sent post
haste for Washington, who was at Mount Vernon. The outbreak of war
meant danger to American commerce on the ocean and the risk of trouble
with both powers over the neutrality laws. The serious question
confronting the American government was whether they should maintain
strict neutrality between the belligerents or should side with France,
to whom they were bound by the treaties made with her when she came to
the rescue of the colonies. When Washington reached Philadelphia, he
found both Jefferson and Hamilton ready with suggestions for meeting
the crisis, but these suggestions differed widely. Jefferson, although
not an advocate of war against England, believed that Congress should
be called together in extra session to deal with the emergency.

A stronger programme was urged upon the President by Hamilton. He
regarded the question of neutrality and the reception of the French
envoy as one for the executive rather than for Congress. He believed
also that these subjects would be safer in the hands of Washington
than midst the passions of a legislative body. He drew up a statement,
embodying a series of questions regarding the policy of the United
States, which was laid by Washington before the cabinet. The first
question was whether a declaration of neutrality should be issued.
This was decided in the affirmative, and the proclamation was soon
issued by Washington. It was decided that the French minister, Genet,
should be received, but that early occasion should be taken to explain
to him that the United States did not consider themselves bound by the
treaties to plunge into war in behalf of France. While it was admitted
by Hamilton that it would not be the province of the United States
under ordinary circumstances to cavil over the character of the
government in France, but would be their duty to accept the government
which existed, nevertheless, the extraordinary events which had taken
place at Paris justified a certain reserve towards the revolutionary

Entirely apart from the changes in the character of the French
government, it was felt by Hamilton that the time had come to give an
interpretation to the early treaties in harmony with a more
unchallenged independence for the United States, and a more
complete separation from the intrigues of European politics. The
radical character of the Revolution in France, and the action of the
French government itself, gave an excuse for an interpretation of the
treaties which otherwise might not have been found without blushing.
The treaties provided for a defensive alliance with France, and it was
promptly decided by the cabinet that the war of France against Great
Britain was not defensive. Hamilton proposed not only to revise the
treaties, but to resist by the utmost efforts of the federal
government the enlistment of men and the fitting out of privateers in
America in aid of the French. He did not propose, as some of the
friends of France would have desired, that the proclamation of
neutrality should be only a mask for underhanded aid to that country.

The situation was made as difficult as possible for the government by
the hot temper and indiscretions of the new French minister. These
qualities in him were encouraged by the reception which he received
on the way from Charleston to Philadelphia. He was everywhere welcomed
with such enthusiastic demonstrations of sympathy for France as tended
to make him believe that he was something more than the diplomatic
representative of a foreign country, and could safely interfere in the
politics of the United States. As he approached Philadelphia (May 16,
1793) he found Captain Bompard of the French frigate L'Ambuscade ready
to fire a salute of three guns, and men on swift horses posted along
the road to give notice to the citizens of his coming.

Genet had no sooner landed at Charleston than he began to fit out
privateers to prey upon British commerce. The Ambuscade herself, which
brought Genet to Charleston, seized several English merchant vessels
on her way to Philadelphia, and crowned her insolence to the United
States by seizing an English vessel, the Grange, within the Delaware
capes, in the jurisdiction of the United States. The Grange was
restored to her owners, but her seizure was only one of many flagrant
violations of international law which were systematically carried out
by the French, and which were defended and often planned by Genet.
When the Polly was stopped from leaving New York fitted out for a
French privateer, Hauterive, the French consul, addressed a note to
Governor Clinton, telling him it was not in a land where Frenchmen had
spilled their blood that they were to be thus harassed. When the
Little Sarah was fitted out as a privateer in Philadelphia, Hamilton
and Knox urged that a battery be placed on one of the islands and that
the vessel be fired upon if she attempted to leave the harbor.
Jefferson was hoodwinked by assurances from Genet that the vessel
would not sail, and himself indulged in some glittering talk against
the United States joining in "the combination of kings against
France." The vessel at once put to sea, and Washington was so
indignant that Jefferson was almost driven to resignation.

Hamilton had a more direct interest officially in the demands of Genet
for money which was owed to France. Genet not only asked for the
anticipation of payments soon to mature, but insisted that he should
receive the whole amount of the debt. He threw a bait to American
sentiment by the suggestion that the money would be spent in the
United States for provisions and supplies. Hamilton treated his rude
demands just as he would those of any other creditor. He was willing
to anticipate certain payments when the Treasury resources justified
it, but absolutely refused to do more. Genet then threatened to pay
for what he bought with drafts upon the Treasury. Hamilton coolly
retorted that the drafts would not be honored. The Frenchman was
compelled to consume his wrath, not exactly in silence, but without
result upon the government.

Genet, encouraged by some of the enemies of the administration,
succeeded in working up a strong pro-French sentiment in various parts
of the country. At a dinner in Philadelphia, following his arrival,
songs were sung to France and America, and the red cap of liberty,
which had been forced upon the reluctant head of Louis XVI. in the
great demonstration of the preceding August at the Tuileries, was
passed around the table and successively worn by each of the American
guests. Hamilton, who never had much confidence in pure democracy,
went close to the other extreme in his alarm over these signs of
public opinion. He felt compelled in the summer of 1793 to publish a
series of essays signed "Pacificus," defending the policy of the
administration. These papers, in the language of Mr, Lodge, "served
their purpose of awakening the better part of the community to the
gravity of the situation, and began the work of rallying the friends
of the government to its active support." Genet addressed such
offensive letters to the Department of State, and his conduct became
so intolerable, that the cabinet agreed to send the correspondence to
Paris and ask for his recall. Genet himself published a letter which
revealed his insolence to the public, and caused a revulsion of
sentiment which brought the more sober men of all parties to the side
of Washington. Genet's course was run, and in February, 1794, his
successor came out from France.

Hamilton soon had opportunities for proving that his policy of
neutrality was directed as much against English as against French
aggression. When Great Britain issued the first Orders in Council,
directing the seizure of all vessels loaded with French produce,
Hamilton declared the British order an outrage, and urged the
fortification of the seaports and the raising of troops. He exerted
himself, however, to restrain popular passion and preserve peace. He
suggested to Washington that a special mission be sent to London to
treat with the British government. The idea was cordially accepted by
Washington. He desired to send Hamilton, but the Virginia party,
headed by Madison and Monroe, strongly opposed the appointment. They
were embittered by recent party conflicts, and regarded Hamilton as
too friendly to British interests. Chief Justice John Jay of New York
was then recommended by Hamilton for the mission. Opposition was made
even to Jay, but the nomination was confirmed (April 19, 1794), and
Hamilton himself drew the outline of the instructions with which Jay
sailed from New York.

The conflict over the treaty which Jay brought back in the following
winter was one of the most bitter ever waged in American politics. The
contracting parties to the treaty--the United States and Great
Britain--looked at the situation from widely different points of view.
Jay secured the promise of the withdrawal of the British troops from
the frontier posts and an agreement to compensate Americans for losses
through British privateering. The last was an important concession,
because it covertly admitted the British position in regard to
privateering to be in conflict with international law. Some important
commercial concessions were also made by Great Britain, which were
regarded at London as purely gratuitous. But the treaty failed to
secure any compensation for the claims of American citizens for
negroes and other property carried away by the British troops, and
American vessels were forbidden carrying to Europe from English ports
or even from the United States coffee and the other chief colonial
products. Among the latter was named cotton, which was then just
becoming a large element in the production of the South.

Hamilton himself is said to have characterized the treaty as "an old
woman's treaty," when he first read it, but it soon became evident
that it must be accepted substantially as presented, if war was to be
avoided. Washington called the Senate in extra session in June, 1795,
and after two weeks' debate in secret session the treaty was ratified
by exactly the necessary two thirds vote,--twenty to ten. It was not
until the adjournment of the Senate that the contents of the document
reached the public through Senator Mason of Virginia. The news was
followed by town meetings all over the country demanding that
President Washington refuse to exchange ratifications. So intense was
the feeling that a vessel suspected of being a British privateer was
seized and burned at Boston, a great meeting in Faneuil Hall ordered
a committee to take a protest to Philadelphia, and Hamilton himself
was stoned and refused a hearing at a meeting in New York. But
Washington remained calm. Hamilton, as the responsible leader of the
party, took up the cudgels for ratification. He submitted an elaborate
argument to the cabinet (July 9, 1795), and with an amendment which
the Senate recommended and Great Britain accepted, the treaty went
into operation.



The ratification of the Jay treaty did much to shake the power of the
Federalists, and for a moment seemed to threaten their ruin. It was
divisions in their own ranks, however, which contributed as much to
this event as any real blunders in public policy. Hamilton was not at
his best in conciliating those who differed from him, and he did not
encounter a more yielding or tactful associate in John Adams. Hamilton
had gone out of his way with little reason at the first presidential
election, in 1788, to secure votes against Adams. His avowed object
was to insure the election of Washington by preventing a tie vote
between Washington and Adams. The original Constitution authorized
each elector to vote for two persons for President and Vice-President,
without designating the office for which either was voted for. This
led to complications which were corrected by an amendment after the
election of 1800. In the case of the first election, however, few sane
men doubted that Washington would have the majority of the votes, and
the only effect of the intrigue of Hamilton was to reduce the vote for
Adams to a point which almost caused his defeat. Hamilton supported
Adams in the second election, in 1792, and the relations between the
two men were reasonably cordial.

When Washington retired from the presidency, in 1797, the commanding
men in the Federalist party were Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Pinckney,
and John Adams. Hamilton was the controlling mind in the consultations
of the leaders rather than the sort of man who appealed to the people.
He was not seriously thought of by himself or others as a candidate
for President. Jay was barred by the odium attaching to the treaty
with Great Britain. The choice was therefore reduced to Pinckney and
Adams. Most of the leaders were for Adams, who was superior to
Pinckney in Revolutionary services and ability. It was determined
that the Federalist electors should vote for both Adams and Pinckney,
with the purpose of choosing the former for President and the latter
for Vice-President. Hamilton on this occasion urged that all the
Federalist electors should vote for both Adams and Pinckney. If each
had received an equal number of votes, the choice would have been
thrown into the House and Adams would probably have been elected.
Hamilton erred in letting it be known that he was indifferent whether
the outcome was favorable to Adams or Pinckney, especially when there
was a strong suspicion that he was really for Pinckney. Party
discipline had not then reached its modern development, and votes were
thrown away by Federalist electors,--in the North to prevent a
majority for Pinckney over Adams and in the South to prevent the same
chance in favor of Adams.

The result of these jealousies was that Adams barely escaped defeat.
He was chosen by a plurality of three, but Pinckney was beaten, and
Jefferson, having the next highest vote, was elected Vice-President.
Adams became firmly convinced that Hamilton was his personal enemy and
would stop at nothing to injure him. That Hamilton was recognized by
all the party leaders as the master mind and the guiding spirit of the
party made no difference to a man of the hot temper and resolute
spirit of John Adams. Tact and conciliation were as far removed from
his nature as from that of any American public man. The indifference
of Hamilton whether he was beaten by Pinckney, in connection with
Hamilton's intrigue in 1788, had convinced Adams that Hamilton did not
feel proper respect for him, and that he was seeking to dictate the
policy of the administration and to thwart and degrade him. Adams
resented any sort of suggestion or consultation, and took delight in
disregarding the suggestions of Hamilton, while the latter struck back
through several members of the cabinet, who were more in sympathy with
him than with the President.

The country having escaped the danger of immediate war with England by
the Jay treaty, was soon threatened with war with France. Monroe had
been recalled as American Minister at Paris and Charles Pinckney, who
was sent in his place, had been refused a reception. Some of the
Federalists were so incensed against France that they were eager for
war. Hamilton was opposed to war if it could be avoided, but was in
favor of a resolute policy. Adams, although as far as possible from
sympathy with France, believed every reasonable effort should be made
to preserve peace. It was decided, with the approval of both Adams and
Hamilton, to send a commission of three to Paris, to negotiate. Over
the appointment of this commission new differences broke out between
Hamilton and the President. Hamilton favored the appointment of a
Northern and a Southern Federalist and of a Democrat of the highest
standing, like Madison or even Jefferson. Adams was at first disposed
to make these appointments, but finally took both the Federalists from
the South,--Pinckney of South Carolina and John Marshall of
Virginia,--and selected as the third member a Democrat of
comparatively minor standing, Gerry of Massachusetts.

The commissioners accomplished little good at Paris. They were
insulted and browbeaten and told that only bribery would secure what
they desired. When their treatment became known in the United States,
in the spring of 1798, there was a popular outburst which restored the
Federalists to power in Congress in the following autumn, with a
larger majority than ever before since party divisions became fixed.
Enthusiastic addresses poured in upon President Adams, war vessels
were fitted out by private subscription, and bills were carried at
once for a provisional army, for fortifications, and for the increase
of the navy. Even under this stress of excitement, however, Hamilton
opposed alliance with Great Britain, and persuaded Pickering, the
Secretary of State, to abandon the advocacy of it.

It was over the organization of the new army that the hostility of
Adams to Hamilton became open and bitter. Washington was selected as
commander-in-chief, but only consented to serve upon the condition
that he should have the choice of the officers who were to rank next
him, and should not be called upon to take an active part until the
army took the field. He recommended to the President that rank in the
Revolutionary army be disregarded and that the three major-generals to
be appointed should be Hamilton, Charles Pinckney, and Knox. This gave
the practical command and the work of the organization to Hamilton.
Adams sent the names to the Senate, in the order suggested by
Washington, and they were promptly confirmed. When he came to signing
the commissions, however, he took the ground that Knox was the senior
officer on account of his rank during the Revolution. Hamilton would
not consent to this arrangement, and all the Federalist leaders,
including members of the cabinet, remonstrated with the President
against it. One of the saddest results of the quarrel was the
alienation from Hamilton of Knox, who had been a friend of many years
and when Secretary of War in Washington's first cabinet had stood
loyally by Hamilton against Jefferson in the controversy over the
financial projects.

Adams at first seemed to grow more stubborn with the protests which
were made against his action. The leaders finally turned to
Washington. The latter informed the President that if the original
agreement as to the rank of the officers was not kept, he should
resign. Adams, with all his stubbornness and bravery, did not dare
defy the country by forcing Washington from the service. He gave way,
and appointed Hamilton to the first place, but the good feeling which
might have been promoted if he had done so at first was replaced on
both sides by bitterness which was never softened.

Hamilton, as the practical head of the army, showed the same abounding
energy and capacity for organization which he had shown at the head of
the Treasury. He drafted a plan for the fortification of New York
harbor, made an apportionment of officers and men among the states,
and drew up projects for the organization of the new army, dealing
with the questions of pay, uniforms, rations, promotions, police in
garrisons and camps, and the many other branches of the service. All
these projects received the cordial approval of Washington. When
Congress met, Hamilton was ready with a bill putting the army upon a
basis which would permit its increase or diminution in future without
changing the form of the organization. In the spring of 1799 he was
providing for the defense of the frontiers and planning the invasion
of Louisiana and the Floridas.

The projects of these invasions of Spanish territory justify a
reference to the continental policy of Hamilton. He was among the
first to maintain that the United States should have complete control
of the valley of the Mississippi, and even during his short term in
the Congress of the Confederation the last resolution which he
presented declared the "navigation of the Mississippi to be a clear
and essential right and to be supported as such." It was left for
Jefferson, Hamilton's great opponent, to carry out his conception of
the acquisition of the Mississippi valley by the purchase of
Louisiana. The admirers of Hamilton credit him with a still wider
vision of the future power of the United States, which was eventually
to bear fruit in the Monroe doctrine and in the celebrated declaration
of Secretary Olney in 1895, that "to-day the United States is
practically sovereign on this continent, and its fiat is law upon the
subjects to which it confines its interposition." Hamilton wrote in
"The Federalist," before the adoption of the Constitution, that "our
situation invites and our situation prompts us to aim at an ascendant
in American affairs."

The firm attitude of the United States towards France had its effect
at Paris. Talleyrand sent an intimation indirectly to President Adams
that the French government would be glad to receive an American envoy.
Again the impetuosity of Adams divided his party and intensified his
quarrel with the leaders who stood around Hamilton. The name of Vans
Murray was sent to the Senate by the President for Minister to
France, without even consulting the cabinet. Many doubted the wisdom
of snapping up so promptly the offer made by Talleyrand, and more were
incensed at the President's method of doing it. There was at first a
strong disposition among the Federalist leaders to defeat the
nomination in the Senate. Hamilton, however, checked the indignation
of his friends and suggested a way out of the difficulty by appointing
a strong commission.

The downfall of the Federal party and the retirement of Hamilton from
the active control of national policy were at hand. The passage of the
alien and sedition laws, arrogating to the federal government
intolerable powers of interference with the rights of the press and of
free speech, was one of the causes contributing to the revulsion of
feeling in favor of the party of Jefferson. Hamilton opposed the first
drafts of these laws as cruel, violent, and tyrannical, but he did not
disapprove their final form. The Federalists carried the congressional
elections of 1798, under the impulse of the feeling against France,
but began to lose ground soon after. As the presidential election of
1800 approached, a desperate struggle was made to hold New York for
Federalism as the only hope of defeating Jefferson and reëlecting
Adams. The New York election went against the administration, and
Hamilton pleaded in vain with Governor Jay to defeat the will of the
people by calling the old legislature together and giving the choice
of presidential electors to the congressional districts. It was
perhaps the most discreditable proposal which ever came from Hamilton,
and was promptly rejected by Jay.

Hamilton's motive was a sincere fear that the country would go to ruin
and the Constitution be endangered by the triumph of the political
school of Jefferson. This might have been the case if it had been the
first election under the Constitution, but Hamilton himself had
builded better than he knew. The financial projects, the national
bank, the suppression of the "Whiskey Insurrection," and the other
measures taken under Washington and Adams had built up a Federal
Union, whose strength could not be seriously shaken by the transfer of
power from one party to another.

With the shadow of defeat hanging over them, the course of the
Federalist leaders seemed to justify the maxim, "Whom the gods destroy
they first make mad." With the utmost need for harmony and unity,
quarrels broke out which would have wrecked the party even if there
had been otherwise some prospect of its success. Adams drove McHenry
and Pickering from his cabinet because they had betrayed his secrets
to Hamilton, and denounced Hamilton and his friends as a British
faction. Hamilton asked in writing for a denial or explanation of the
charge, but was treated with contemptuous silence. As the presidential
election approached, Hamilton scarcely concealed his preference for
Pinckney, who was again to be voted for by the electors along with
Adams. Hamilton had been so badly treated by the President that he
announced his purpose to prepare a pamphlet, exposing the failings of
Adams and vindicating his own position.

His best friends stood aghast at the project and labored with him to
abandon it. Hamilton persevered, however, in the preparation of the
pamphlet. He denounced Adams as a man of disgusting egotism, intense
jealousy, and ungovernable temper, and reviewed in a scathing manner
his entire public career, and especially the recent dismissal of the
secretaries who were friendly to Hamilton. After all this criticism,
Hamilton wound up with the lame conclusion that the electors should
vote equally for Adams and Pinckney, in order to preserve Federal
ascendency. He yielded to the protests of his friends so far as to
keep the circulation of the pamphlet within a small circle, but it was
hardly off the press before a copy was in the hands of Aaron Burr, the
Democratic leader in New York, and was used with effect against the
Federalist President.

The downfall of Federalism came with the presidential election of
1800. Jefferson and Burr were the Democratic candidates for President
and Vice-President. Each was voted for by all the Democratic
electors, giving them an equal number of votes and a majority of the
electoral college. This threw the election into the House of
Representatives, which was Federalist but was compelled by the
provisions of the Constitution to decide between the two leading
candidates, Jefferson and Burr. Some of the Federalists were ready to
stoop to any means for striking at Jefferson, the great representative
of Democratic ideals. If the Federalists in Congress could have
effected a combination with the Democrats from states where Burr was
influential, they might have been able to elect Burr President instead
of Jefferson. But the Democrats, even from New York, voted for
Jefferson, and it was evident that he must be chosen or there would be
no election. Feeling in the country ran high, and there were threats
of violence if the election of Jefferson should be defeated by

Hamilton behaved on this occasion with the high sense of public duty
which marked most of his acts. Familiar as he was with the
unscrupulous methods and doubtful character of Burr in New York
politics, he felt that it would be criminal to put him in office. He
had little reason to love Jefferson, who had filled the ears of
Washington with slurs against himself, but he felt that the election
belonged to Jefferson and that his defeat by a political intrigue
would be a greater menace than his election to the system established
by the Constitution. With Bayard of Delaware, the Federalist leader in
the House, Hamilton threw himself strongly into the contest against
Burr. His advice was not at first followed. The House ballotted from
the eleventh to the sixteenth of February without reaching a choice. A
caucus of the Federalists was then held; it appeared that Jefferson
had given some assurances of a conservative policy in office, the
views of Hamilton and Bayard prevailed, and on February 17, 1801, the
Federalist members from several states withheld their votes, and
Jefferson was elected.

The retirement of the Federalists from power substantially ended the
public services of Hamilton. He continued to watch public events with
interest during the remaining five years of his life, and to be
regarded as the leader of the Federalist party, but the party had
shrunk to a corporal's guard in Congress and the long reign of the
Democratic party had begun, which was to be interrupted during only
two presidential terms until the election of Lincoln in 1860.
Hamilton, therefore, at the age of forty-three, had completed his
constructive work and ceased to influence public affairs except by his
writings and speeches. It might almost be said that this work was done
with the close of the administration of Washington in 1797, and that
his great fame would have shone with brighter lustre if he had not
lived to take part in the later differences and quarrels of the Adams
administration. His life was not without service, however, under
Adams, since his influence over members of the cabinet several times
restrained rash policies, and between the conflicting passions of the
champions of France and of the friends of Great Britain, kept the ship
of state steady upon a safe course.



The death of Hamilton was in a peculiar sense a part of his public
career. He had never hesitated to denounce in strong terms the public
career and some of the private acts of Aaron Burr. The latter, after
losing the presidency, sought the governorship of New York, and
entered into correspondence with the Federalist leaders in New England
with a view to the formation of a Northern confederacy. Hamilton
succeeded in dividing the Federalist vote in New York so as to give
the election to Lewis, Burr's democratic rival. Burr then determined
to force a personal quarrel upon Hamilton in order to obtain revenge
upon the man who had so often thwarted him. Hamilton had no desire to
fight, but he did not feel able to repudiate the code of the duelist
as it was then accepted among gentlemen.

It was on June 17, 1804, that Colonel Burr, through his intimate
friend Judge Van Ness, demanded an apology for a criticism by Hamilton
which had reached Burr's ears. Several letters were exchanged before
it became plain that Burr was bound to force a quarrel or to humiliate
Hamilton to a point which he knew would not be endured. When Burr's
true purpose became plain to Hamilton, he requested a short time to
close up several important cases for his clients, which were then
pending in the circuit court. The circuit having terminated, Colonel
Burr was informed (Friday, July 6, 1804) that Hamilton would be ready
to meet him at any time after the following Sunday. Both men realized
that the meeting might be fatal, and prepared for it in a
characteristic way. Burr, who because of his fascinating manners was a
great favorite with women, destroyed the compromising letters which he
had received and devoted his spare hours to pistol practice. Hamilton
had fewer such letters to destroy, and was determined not to kill Burr
if it could be avoided. He drew up his will, and prepared a statement
of his reasons for fighting. This statement set forth that he was
opposed to the practice of dueling and had done all that was
practicable, even beyond the demands of a punctilious delicacy, to
secure an accommodation. He then said:--

"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 thought even of reserving my second,
and thus giving a double opportunity to Colonel Burr to pause and

The arrangements for the duel were made on Monday, and on the
following Wednesday (July 11) the meeting took place at seven o'clock
in the morning at Weehawken, three miles above Hoboken, on the west
shore of the Hudson. Burr and Hamilton exchanged salutations, the
seconds measured the distance, which was ten paces, and the parties
took their respective stations. At the first word, Burr fired.
Hamilton's weapon was discharged in the air, and he almost instantly
fell, mortally wounded. The ball struck the second or third false rib,
fractured it about the middle, passed through the liver and diaphragm,
and lodged in the first or second lumbar vertebra. Hamilton was at
first thought to be dead, but he revived when put on board the boat
which was in waiting, and was able to utter a few words as he was
borne towards his home. He died on the day after the meeting at two
o'clock in the afternoon. Even in his death he rendered a parting
service to his countrymen, by the revulsion of feeling which was
everywhere aroused against the practice of dueling. The news of his
premature taking off caused a wave of grief and indignation to spread
over the country, differing from the chastened sorrow felt over the
death of Washington, because Washington had met his end full of years
and honors, and in the natural order of nature.

The concluding statement made by Hamilton in the paper which he left
regarding his meeting with Burr gives some clue to his reasons for
fighting. This paragraph ran as follows:--

"To those who, with me, abhorring the practice of dueling, 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 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

This statement has been construed to mean that Hamilton looked forward
to the time when the Constitution would be assailed by extremists and
he would be called by events to put himself at the head of a movement
for a stronger government, and perhaps even to lead an army. Several
passages in his writings, especially after the downfall of the
Federalists, gave color to the view that he feared an outbreak of
Jacobin violence in America, and the failure of the Constitution in
such an event to resist the strain which would be put upon it. In a
letter to Gouverneur Morris (February 27, 1802), he drops into the
following gloomy forebodings:--

"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."

This mood of despondency was not the usual mood of Hamilton. Much as
he abhorred the sympathy with France shown by the Democrats and the
tendency towards French ideas, his habitual temper was for combination
and action rather than surrender. During the three years which
followed the inauguration of Jefferson, he continued, though busy with
his law practice, to keep up in private life an active correspondence
with Federalist leaders throughout the country, and to advise earnest
efforts to defeat Democratic policies. Only the day before the duel,
in a letter to Sedgwick of Massachusetts, he indirectly condemned a
project which was on foot for a combination of the Northern States
into a separate confederacy. He said 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."

Hamilton had fears for the future of the Union under the Constitution
which were much exaggerated by his leanings towards a strong,
self-centred government like that of Great Britain. It is not
unreasonable to believe that he felt that he might again be called
upon to play a great part in politics as the leader of his party, and
that under the prejudices then prevailing he would weaken his
personal influence if he refused a challenge. The public man of that
day who could be charged with cowardice or lack of regard for his
personal honor would suffer much with the masses, if not with the
party leaders, who understood his character and abilities. Hamilton
hardly needed to prove his personal courage to any reasonable man
after his services in the Revolution, including his reckless charge
upon the redoubt at Yorktown, but political foes might forget these
evidences of his character if he should tamely submit to insult from a
political opponent. It is doubtful whether his purpose in meeting Burr
went beyond this submission to the general prejudice in favor of
dueling and the belief on his part that his position as a gentleman
and a political leader required him to accept the challenge.

The high abilities and great services of Hamilton to the new Union
have been sufficiently set forth in these pages to make unnecessary
any elaborate estimate of his character and attainments. His essential
merit was that of a constructive and organizing mind, which saw the
opportunity for action and was equal to the opportunity. Hamilton was
governed to a large extent by his intellect, but having reasoned out a
proposition to be sound and wise, he rode resolutely to its
accomplishment, taking little account of the obstacles in the way. He
was not a closet philosopher, pursuing abstract propositions to their
sources, and searching, through the discordant threads of human
destiny, the ultimate principles of all things; but his mind was keen
and alert in seizing upon reasoning which seemed obviously sound,
laboring in behalf of his convictions, and presenting them with force
and simplicity to others. He found the career for which he was
preëminently fitted in the organization of the financial system and
the consolidation of the Union, under the first administration of
Washington. He was less fitted for the career of a politician in times
less strenuous, or when tact and finesse were more useful in securing
results than clear reasoning and strong argument.

Hamilton was cut off when he had only recently resumed his
professional career, but was making a distinguished record at the bar.
Always a great lawyer, he would soon have accumulated a fortune if he
had lived amid the tempting opportunities of to-day. As it was, his
legal fees were modest and his sudden death left large debts. He
bequeathed the request to his sons that they should assume these debts
if his estate was insufficient, but the gratitude of some of the
wealthy Federalists relieved them of this filial obligation. Hamilton
had six sons, but most of them were already approaching a
self-supporting age when he died. His oldest son had fallen a victim
to the barbarous practice of dueling in a petty quarrel at a theatre
three years before the father's death. The fourth son, Mr. John C.
Hamilton, gave much time to the study of his father's career, and
prepared the Life of Hamilton which has been the source of the later
work of historians. Hamilton's widow, the daughter of General
Schuyler, survived until 1854, when she died at the age of
ninety-seven years and three months.

As a man in private life, Hamilton was loved and respected by those
who came closest to him, but it was as much by the qualities of his
mind as by the special fascinations of his manner. He commanded the
respect and support of most of the leaders of his party, because they
were great enough to grasp and appreciate his reasoning, but he was
never the idol of the people to the same extent as many other leaders.
He would probably have made a great career in whatever direction he
might have turned his high abilities, but he was fortunate in finding
an opportunity for their exercise in a crisis which enabled him to
render greater services to the country than have been rendered by
almost any man in her history, with the exception of Washington and

    The Riverside Press

    _Electrotyped and printed by H. O. Houghton & Co._
    _Cambridge, Mass., U.S.A._

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