Aaron Burr

 

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Alexander Hamilton’s father, James Hamilton, was born around 1718, “the fourth of eleven children (nine sons, two daughters) of Alexander Hamilton, the laird of Grange in Stevenston Parish in Ayrshire, Scotland, southwest of Glasgow. In 1711, that Alexander Hamilton, the fourteenth laird in the so-called Cambuskieth line of Hamiltons, married Elizabeth Pollock, the daughter of a baronet. As Alexander must have heard ad nauseum in his boyhood, the Cambuskieth Hamiltons possessed a coat of arms and for centuries had owned a castle near Kilmarnock called the Grange. Indeed, that lineage can be traced back to the fourteenth century in impeccable genealogical tables, and he boasted in later years that he was the scion of a blue-ribbon Scottish family: ‘the truth is that, on the question who my parents

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“were, I have better pretensions than most of those who in this country plume themselves on ancestry.’

“In 1685, the family took possession of ivy-covered Kerelaw Castle, set prominently on windswept hills above the little seaside town of Stevenston. Today just a mound of picturesque ruins, this stately pile then featured a great hall with graceful Gothic windows, and came complete with its own barony. ‘The castle stands on the rather steep, wooded bank of a small stream, and overlooks a beautiful glen,’ wrote one newspaper while the structure stood intact. The castle’s occupants enjoyed a fine if often fogbound view of the island of Arran across the firth of Clyde.

Then, as now, the North Ayshire countryside consisted of gently rolling meadows that were well watered by streams and ponds; cows and horses browsed on largely treeless hillsides. At the time James Hamilton grew up in Kerelaw Castle, the family estate was so huge that it encompassed not just Stevenston but half the arable land in the parish. Aside from a cottage industry of weavers and a small band of artisans who made Jew’s harps, most local residents huddled in cold hovels, subsisted on a gruesome oatmeal diet, and eked out hardscrabble lives as tenant farmers for the Hamiltons. For all his storybook upbringing in the castle and highborn pedigree, James Hamilton faced uncertain prospects. As the fourth son, he had little chance of ever inheriting the storied title of laird of Grange, and, like all younger brothers in this precarious spot, he was expected to go off and fend for himself. As his son Alexander noted, his father, as ‘a younger son of a numerous family,’ was ‘bred to trade.’

“From the sketchy information that can be gleaned about James’s siblings, it seems that he was the black sheep of the family, marked for mediocrity. While James had no formal education to speak of, two older and two younger brothers attended the University of Glasgow, and most of his siblings found comfortable niches in the world. Brother John financed manufacturing and insurance ventures. Brother Alexander became a surgeon, brother Walter a doctor and apothecary, and brother William a prosperous tobacco merchant, while sister Elizabeth married the surveyor of customs for Port Glasgow. Easygoing and lackadaisical, devoid of the ambition that would propel his spirited son, James Hamilton did not seem to internalize the Glaswegian ethos of hard work and strict discipline.

“One has the impression that his eldest brother, John, now laird of Grange, was no country squire riding to hounds but an active, enterprising man who was intensely involved in the banking, shipping, and textile business revolutionizing Glasgow. This cathedral and university town, rhapsodies by Daniel Defoe in the 1720’s as ‘the most beautiful little town in Britain,’ already breathed a lively commercial spirit of the sort that later appealed to Alexander Hamilton. After the 1707 union

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“with England, as Scottish trade with the North American and West Indian colonies boomed, merchant princes grew rich trafficking in sugar, tobacco, and cotton. In November 1737, John Hamilton took the affable but feckless James, then nineteen, and steered him into a four-year apprenticeship with an innovative Glasgow businessman names Richard Allan. Allan had executed a daring raid on Dutch industrial secrets (one that strikingly anticipates what Alexander Hamilton later attempted in bringing manufacturing to Paterson, New Jersey) and helped to pioneer the linen industry in Scotland with his Haarlem Linen and Dye Manufactory.

“in 1741, John Hamilton teamed up with Allan and three Glasgow grandees – Archibald Ingram, John Glassford, and James Dechman – to form the Glasgow Inkle Factory, which produced linen tapes (inkles) that were used in making lace. Hamilton’s partners were the commercial royalty of Glasgow, who drove about in fancy coaches, presided over landed estates, and dominated the River Clyde with their oceangoing vessels. For many years these men would tireless bail out the hapless James Hamilton from recurrent financial scrapes.

“The onerous four-year contract that James Hamilton signed with Richard Allan in 1737 was a form of legal bondage that obligated him to work as both ‘an apprentice and servant.’ John Hamilton paid Allan porty-five pounds sterling to groom his younger brother in the textile trade. In exchange, James would receive room, board, and fresh linen in the Allan household but no guaranteed holidays or free weekend time. John Hamilton must have thought he was shepherding the wayward James into a promising new industry. In time, the linen industry indeed proved profitable, but during this start-up phase it was a dispiriting, money-draining proposition. So when the apprenticeship agreement expired in 1741, James Hamilton decided to test his luck in the West Indies.

“Many young aristocratics flooded to the West Indian sugar islands, seduced by a common fantasy: they would amass a quick fortune as planters or merchants, then return to Europe, flush with cash, and snap up magnificent estates. The Glasgow countryside was studded with the country houses of winners in this sweepstakes. Great shiploads of sugar traveled from the West Indian islands to Glasgow’s ‘boiling houses’ or refineries, and its distilleries produced brandy from that sugar. Beyond the sugar trade, industrious Scots operated stores that sold provisions to plantations and marketed their produce. One historian has noted, ‘Their emporiums were crammed with full lines of European and North American goods – hardware, draperies, clothing, shoes, and what not – and much resembled warehouses.’ Of all the Caribbean islands, few enjoyed more intimate connections with Glasgow than St. Christopher in the Leeward Islands, commonly known as St. Kitts. More than half of the island’s original land grants were awarded to Scots.

“As the son of a Scottish laird, James Hamilton must have started out with a mod-

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“icum of social cachet in St. Kitt;s, but it was never enhanced by money or business success. Trading sugar or plantation supplies n the West Indies was hazardous to those with skimpy capital. Clients demanded credit from these middlemen, who had to carry the risk for merchandise until it was resold in Europe; meanwhile, they had to pay the sugar duties. The slightest error in calculation or payment delay could swamp a trader in catastrophic losses. Some such fate probably overtook James Hamilton, who faltered quickly and had to be rescued repeatedly by his brother John and his Glasgow friends. ‘In capacity of a merchant he went to St. Kitts, where from too generous and too easy a temper he failed in business and at length fell into indigent circumstances,’ his son Alexander wrote in tactful tones. He spoke of his father in a forgiving tone, tinged with pity rather than corn. ‘It was his fault to have had too much pride and too large a portion of indolence, but his character was otherwise without reproach and his manners those of a gentleman.’ In short, Hamilton saw his father as amiable but lazily inept. He inherited his father’s pride, though not his indolence, and his exceptional capacity for work was its own unspoken commentary about his father’s.

“James hamilotn had little notion that his protective older brother was acting as his lender of last resort, for John exhorted his brother’s creditors to mask his role, cautioning one creditor in 1749, ‘My brother does not know I am engaged for him.’ From John Hamilton’s letters, one senses tha RC/15 cont

James was distant, even estranged, from his family. ‘the last letter his mother had from him was some time ago, where he wrties he had bills but at that time they were not due,’ John disclosed in one letter to a business associate. Perhaps embarrassed by his perennial bungling, James seems to havd concealed the scope of his financial troubles.

“That James Hamilton’s career likely lay in ruins before Rachel Fauccette Lavien materialized is suggested by the minutes of the St. Kitts Council meeting of July 15, 1748, which reported that he had taken the oath of either a watchman or a weigh man … for the port of Basseterre, the island’s capital. So if his stint in the tropics was meant to be a fleeting, money-making interlude, it had begun to turn into a permanent trap instead. Many young European fortune seekers, expecting to return home, would take a temporary black or mulatto mistress and defer marriage until safely back on native soil. That his plans had drastically miscarried would have made James Hamilton more receptive to a romantic liaison with a separated European woman, now that he knew he was not going to see Scotland again any time soon.”

When Rachel Lavien met James Hamilton in St Kitts in the early 1750s,  “both were scarred by early setbacks, had suffered a vertiginous descent in social standing, and had grappled with the terrors of downward economic mobility.” Each was excluded by now from the

 

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“more rarefied society of the British West Indies and tempted to choose a mate from the limited population of working whites.” It’s no wonder, then, that Alexander Hamilton was “hypersensitive about class and status and painfully conscious that social hierarchies ruled the world.”

James and Rachel presented themselves as a married couple when they were probably married in common law, as it were, and had 2 sons, James Jnr. and (2 years younger) Alexander, and 5 other children who never survived. 

Alexander Hamilton’s son, John, described Rachel, his grandmother, as ‘a woman of superior intellect, elevated sentiment, and unusual grace of person and manner. To her he was indebted for his genius.’ – Poppycock, most likely. Alexander Hamilton’s grandson, Allan McLane Hamilton also wrote such poppycock, writing of his great-grandfather, James, thus: ‘Hamilton’s father does not appear to have been successful in any pursuit, but in many ways was a great deal of a dreamer, and something of a student, whose chief happiness seemed to be in the society of his beautiful and talented wife, who was in every way intellectually his superior.’

Hamilton’s “father’s Scottish ancestry enabled Alexander to daydream that he was not merely a West Indian outcast, consigned forever to a lowly status, but an aristocrat in disguise, waiting to declare his true identity and act his part on a grander stage.”

Alexander Hamilton was probably born in January 11, 1755, but he portrayed himself as having been born January 11, 1757. Rachel, his mother was of French Huguenot stock.

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April 1765: “James Hamilton received a business assignment in Christiansted to serve “as head clerk for Archibald Ingram of St. Kitts, the son of a ‘tobacco lord’ of the same name. The Ingrams asked James to collect a large debt due from a man named Alexander Moir, who was returning to Europe and denied owing them money; the resulting lawsuit was to drone on until January 1766” so Rachel and her 2 boys lived in Christiansted. The result was that since everyone there knew her from when she had been imprisoned in the town by her former husband, Lavien, Alexander and his brother came to know that their mother was a ‘scarlet woman.’ Worse, James Hamilton abandoned Rachel and the 2 boys (James Jnr was 12 and Alexander was 10) at this point. 30 years later, Alexander wrote to a Scottish kinsman, ‘You no doubt have understood that my father’s affairs at a very early day went to wreck, so as to have rendered his situation during the greatest part of his life far from eligible. This state of things occasioned a separation between him and me, when I was very young.’

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Rachel, Alexander Hamilton’s mother, stayed on at Christiansted and re-united with her more wealthy relations, the Lyttons, in the reasonable expectation of being afforded some financial help. However, her sister and brother-in-law, Ann and James Lytton, were embroiled in a financial scandal involving their son and they could not help afterall. Ann died within the year.

 

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On February 19, 1767, 38 year-old Rachel, too, died, after she and Alexander fell ill and were subjected to the medieval humoural medicine of physician, Dr. Heering.

Alexander was already engaged in the decidedly un-St Croix-un-West-Indies habit of being steeped in literature – in the works of Alexander Pope, a French edition of Machiavelli’s The Prince, and Plutarch’s Lives and “rounded off by sermons and devotional tracts.”

 

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“ … Rachel was laid to rest on a hillside beneath a grove of mahogany trees” in the grounds of the Grange, the “Lytton estate outside of Christiansted.”

The probate court awarded Rachel’s entire estate, such as it was, to her sole legitimate heir, Peter Lavien, but James Lytton had managed to buy back Alexander’s collection of 34 books when they’d been auctioned off earlier by the court, pending the outcome of the probte hearing. Alexander knew, then, the importance that law played in power relations between individuals. He maintained a lifelong sense of injustice at the way he and his brother had been disinherited and subsequently treated by the vengeful half-brother, Peter Lavien.

 

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August 12, 1769 – a month after his son, Peter, had died from an apparent suicide, James Lytton died. Alexander and James Hamilton had been signed over as wards of their 32-year-old cousin, Peter Lytton.

So, between 1765 and 1769 the Hamilton boys’ father had abandoned them; their mother had died; their cousin-and-legal-protector had suicided; their aunt, uncle and grandmother had died. Now, aged 16 and 14 respectively, the orphans were left to fend for themselves, penniless and friendless. They’d had a rootless existence surrounded by “failed, broken, embittered people” and “shadowed by a stupefying sequence of bankruptcies, marital separations, deaths, scandals, and disinheritance.” Alexander Hamilton, then, knew very early on that life was not fair, that the universe was not benign, and that you could not count on help from anyone.

 

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James Lytton’s death marked a parting of the ways for James and Alexander Hamilton, the elder brother being apprenticed to an elderly carpenter, Thomas McNobeny. White boys weren’t usually directed to such crafts because they’d have to compete with mulattoes and skilled slave labourers. Alexander, meanwhile, had been clerking “for the mercantile house of Beekman and Cruger, the new York traders who had supplied his mother with provisions.” His intelligence had been noted and he’d been taken under the wing of “older, more experienced men”, a pattern that continued into his adult life [with George Washington recognizing his gift].

 

[the Stevens stuff comes in here]

 

 

 

Mask

American mask in evidence throughout the early republic with the surfeit of pen names adopted by Hamilton, Madison, et al.

 

Twin/brother motif

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When the orphaned brothers Alexander and James Hamilton were split up by the death of their guardian, Peter Lytton, James was apprenticed to an elderly carpenter (which trade whites did not normally engage in because of competition from skilled slaves) and remained on Nevis but Alexander was “whisked off to the King Street home of Thomas Stevens, a well-respected merchant, and his wife Ann.” He became a close friend of Edward Stevens, who was a year older than Alexander, and there’s circumstantial evidence (including their extraordinary similarity of appearance) that Thomas Stevens was Alexander’s genetic father.

See RC/69-70 for Hamilton’s ambivalence.

 

Traders

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Hamilton’s apprenticeship provided many benefits. He developed an intimate knowledge of traders and smugglers that later aided his establishment of the U.S. Coast Guard and Customs Service. He saw that business was often obstructed by scarce cash or credit and learned the value of a uniform currency in stimulating trade. Finally, he was forced to ponder the paradox that the West Indian islands, with all their fertile soil, traded at a disadvantage with the rest of the world because of their reliance on only the sugar crop—a conundrum to which he was to return in his celebrated ‘Report On Manufactures’.”

 

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“It is hard to grasp Hamilton’s later politics without contemplating the raw cruelty that he witnessed as a boy and that later deprived him of the hopefulness so contagious in the American milieu. On the most obvious level, the slave trade of St. Croix generated a permanent detestation of the system and resulted in his later abolitionist efforts. But something deeper may have seeped into his consciousness. In this hierarchical world, skittish planters lived in constant dread of constant slave revolts and fortified their garrison state to avert them. Even when he left for America, Hamilton carried a heavy dread of anarchy and disorder that always struggled with his no less active love of liberty. Perhaps the true legacy of his boyhood was an equivocal one: he came to detest the tyranny embodied by the planters and their authoritarian rule, while also fearing the potential uprisings of the disaffected slaves. The twin specters of despotism and anarchy were to haunt him for the rest of his life.”

 

View of American Liberty

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The militant Sons of Liberty—members of the “secret society first convened to flout the Stamp Act, gathered a mass meeting on the afternoon of July 6, 1774.” It took place in “The Fields, in the shadow of a towering liberty pole” and passed “resolutions condemning British sanctions against Massachusetts.” Hamilton, nineteen years of age, gave what appears to have been an impromptu speech in which he “endorsed the Boston Tea Party, deplored the closure of Boston’s port, endorsed colonial unity against unfair taxation, and came down foursquare for a boycott of British goods.” He said such actions ‘will prove the salvation of North America and her liberties [; otherwise] fraud, power, and the most odious oppression will rise triumphant over right, justice, social happiness, and freedom.’

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This was Hamilton’s initiation “into the cause of American liberty … ”

 

View of human nature corresponds with Hume’s

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Hamilton was reading David Hume and quoted him on framing a government: ‘every man ought to be supposed to be a knave and to have no other end in all his actions but private interests.’

“The task of government was not to stop selfish striving—a hopeless task—but to harness it for the public good. In starting to outline the contours of his own vision of government, Hamilton was spurred by Hume’s dark vision of human nature, which corresponded to his own.” [and to mine] Hamilton, “while talking about the advantages that England derived from colonial trade [said], ‘And let me tell you, in this selfish, rapacious world, a little discretion is, at worst, only a venial sin.’

 

 

Duality: North and South

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Virginia’s George Washington, aged 43, was chosen as the head of the Continental Army in order to “please and placate  the south” as a signal “that this was a crusade of united colonies, not some regional squabble.” Virginia had one-fifth of the population of the colonies and felt entitled to a leadership role. 

On Social Order & as a good example of the duality in the American psyche, his own and that of his country.   

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Hamilton “fretted about the damage to constituted authority and worried about mob rule. Like the other founding fathers, Hamilton would have preferred a stately revolution, enacted decorously in courtrooms and parliamentary chambers by gifted orators in powdered wigs. The American Revolution was to succeed because it was undertaken by skeptical men who knew that the same passions that toppled tyrannies could be applied to destructive ends. In a moment of acute anxiety [in the first half of 1774], John Adams had wondered what would happen if ‘the multitude, the vulgar, the herd, the rabble’ maintained such open defiance of authority’.

As we say, Hamilton was wary of mob psychology and as the first episodes of the Revolution which involved him came to pass in New York City in 1775 in the months after Lexington and Concord (April 1775 [200 years to the month to the fall of Saigon and the helicopters being pushed overboard]), he witnessed disturbing scenes which led him to write to John Jay concerning the lawless nature of the mob that attacked the printer of a Tory pamphlet, James Rivington:

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‘In times of such commotion as the present, while the passions of men are worked up to an uncommon pitch, there is great danger of fatal extremes. The same state of the passions which fits the multitude, who have not a sufficient stock of reason and knowledge to guide them, for opposition to tyranny and oppression, very naturally leads them to a contempt and disrespect of all authority. The due medium is hardly to be found among the more intelligent. It is almost impossible among the unthinking populace. When the minds of these are loosened from their attachment to ancient establishments and courses, they seem to grow giddy and are apt more or less to run into anarchy.’

“Hamilton lacked the temperament of a true-blue revolutionary. He saw too

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clearly that greater freedom could lead to greater disorder and, by a dangerous dialectic, back to a loss of freedom. Hamilton’s lifelong task was to try to straddle and resolve this contradiction and to balance liberty and order.

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Hamilton “warned his comrades against ‘a groveling disposition’ that would degrade them ‘from the rank of freemen to that of slaves.’ He delivered “a paean to America’s destiny as he [prophesied] that after the war the country [would] be elevated ‘to a much higher pitch of grandeur, opulence and power than we could ever attain by a humble submission to arbitrary rule.’ Yet this hopefulness is hedged by a somber view of human affairs. Hamilton lauds the conduct of his countrymen but cannot refrain from saying sardonically that ‘ it is a melancholy truth that the behaviour of many among us might serve as the severest satire upon the [human] species. It has been a compound of inconsistency, falsehood, cowardice, selfishness and dissimulation.’

 

Meteroic rise

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“In fewer than five years, the twenty-two-year-old Alexander Hamilton had risen from despondent clerk in St. Croix to one of the aides to America’s most eminent man.”

 

Transformation

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Charles Wilson Peale’s portrait of George Washington painted in 1779 presents “a manly, confident figure with a quiet swagger and an easy air of command. In fact, Washington wasn’t nonchalant and could be exacting and quick to take offense. While he had a dry wit, his mirth was restrained and seldom expressed in laughter. He did not encourage familiarity … [and] became such a prisoner of his own celebrity that people couldn’t relax in his company.”

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Charles Wilson Peale’s portrait of Alexander Hamilton painted at the New Jersey headquarters in 1777, shortly after Hamilton joined Washington’s staff, shows “him in a blue-and-buff uniform with gold epaulets and the green ribbon of an aide-de-camp. He has close-cropped hair a a long, sharp nose and fixes the viewer with an intense gaze. More or less immediately, Hamilton was Washington’s ‘principal and most confidential aide’, Washington said, and so here was the orphan from the Caribbean in such elite company.

“Once again, the young immigrant had been transported to another sphere. Though past horrors would always lurk somewhere in his psyche, he spent the rest of his life in the upper stratum of American society, a remarkable transformation

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for someone from his rootless past. … Washington’s army allowed for upward mobility.”

 

Escape

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September 11, 1777—the British inflicted heavy casualties and routed the Americans at Brandywine Creek, near Philadelphia. Washington dispatched Hamilton and Captain Henry Lee (father of Robert E Lee) “and eight cavalrymen to burn flour mills on the Schuylkill River.” Hamilton “had moored a flat-bottomed boat at the river’s edge” and when British dragoons approached them as they destroyed flour mills at Daviser’s Ferry, he and three comrades leapt into the boat and pushed off amid gunfire from the British. One of Hamilton’s men was killed, another wounded, and the current was too strong. They dived into the river and swam for their lives.

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Captain Lee, who had escaped on horseback, reported by letter to Washington that Hamilton had been killed but soon after a sodden Hamilton “himself sauntered through the door.”

 

Hamilton as a federalist, as against a states’ rights advocate; Streets of Rome

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Hamilton returned from his sick bed to join Washington at Valley Forge in January 1778, in time to see Addison’s “story of a self-sacrificing Roman statesman”, Cato, staged.

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The situation was on a knife-edge: “farmers and merchants balked at selling food and clothing to the army” because inflation made the paper money immediately less valuable upon receipt, “and often ended up hawking their wares instead to the well-fed, well-clad redcoats carousing in Philadelphia. … American soldiers were starving in the midst of fertile American farmland. …

“Hamilton cast a critical eye on the whole revolutionary effort. However upset by profiteering, he knew that the central weakness of the continental cause was political in nature. … Unable to enforce its requests for money and troops, an impotent Congress was reduced to begging from the states, which selfishly hoarded soldiers for their own home guards. The only way the Continental Army could lure soldiers was through expensive cash bounties and promises of future land. The republican partiality for state militias in lieu of a strong central army threatened to undermine the entire Revolution.

‘However important it is to give form and efficiency to your interior [i.e., state] constitutions and police’, he told Clinton [Governor of New York], ‘it is infinitely more important to have a wise general council … You should not beggar the councils of the United States to enrich the administration of the several members.’

 

America’s future forged in the crucible of the Revolution: Hamilton fights against duplicity already apparent in the national character. [I pity the poor immigrant … Hamilton was not cut from the cloth of the other Americans, was an outsider, an immigrant.]

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“That Hamilton already contemplated America’s political future was evident in March, when Washington assigned him to negotiate a prisoner exchange with the British. … Some in Congress not only opposed negotiations but wanted them to fail so that Britain could be blamed. Shocked by this duplicity, Hamilton wrote to George Clinton, ‘It is thought to be bad policy to go into an exchange. But admitting this to be true, it is much worse policy to commit such frequent breaches of faith and ruin our national character.’ Hamilton saw America’s essential nature being forged in the throes of battle, and that made honest action imperative.”

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Hamilton “aspired to the eighteenth-century aristocratic ideal of the versatile man conversant in every area of knowledge. … he read a considerable amount of philosophy, including Bacon, Hobbes, Montaigne, and Cicero. He also perused histories of Greece, Prussia, and France.” … While other Americans dreamed of a brand-new society that would expunge all traces of effete European civilization, Hamilton humbly studied those societies for clues to the formation of a new government. Unlike Jefferson, Hamilton never saw the creation of America as a magical leap across a chasm to an entirely new landscape, and he always thought the New World had much to learn from the Old.”

“Malachy Postlethway’s Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce, a learned almanac of politics, economics, and geography that was crammed with articles about taxes, public debt, money, and banking”

 

Streets of Rome

 

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gave Hamilton “a glimpse of a mixed economy in which government would both steer business activity and free individual energies.”

He “always interpreted politics as an epic tale from Plutarch of lust and greed and people plotting for power. Since his political theory was rooted in his study of human nature, he took special delight in Plutarch’s biographical sketches. And he carefully noted the creation of senates, priesthoods, and other elite bodies that governed the lives of the people. Hamilton was already interested in the checks and balances that enabled a government to tread a middle path between despotism and anarchy.”

 

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Maryland congressman, Samuel Chase, who had signed the Declaration of Independence and was later a

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Supreme Court Justice, (known after his appearance as ‘Bacon Face’, was targeted by Hamilton for profiteering on flour when the French Fleet arrived. Writing three long letters in publisher John Holt’s newspaper (he had published the New-York Journal prior to the British occupation of NYC), under the pen name of ‘Publius’ in October and November 1778, Hamilton noted that while traitors to the patriotic cause were executed, ‘the conduct of another class, equally criminal, and, if possible, more mischievous has hitherto passed with impunity. … I mean that tribe who … have carried the spirit of monopoly and extortion to an excess which scarcely admits of a parallel. When avarice takes the lead in a state, it is commonly the forerunner of its fall. How shocking is it to discover among ourselves even at this early period, the strongest symptoms of this fatal disease.’

“The first ‘Publius’ letter pointed out that greed can corrupt a state and that a public official who betrays his trust ‘ought to feel the utmost rigor of public resentment and be detested as a traitor of the worst and most dangerous kind.’ In the second letter, Hamilton lapsed into gratuitous calumny against Chase … In the third, [he] gave a possible clue to his overwrought style: he was already thinking ahead. ‘The station of a member of C[ongre]ss is the most illustrious and important of any I am able to conceive. He is to be regarded not only as a legislator but as the founder of an empire’ Hamilton expected that someday the struggling confederation of states would be welded into a mighty nation, and he believed that every step now taken by politicians would reverberate by example far into the future.”

 

Hamilton on the national interest

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Regarding the assistance provided by the French, Hamilton acknowledged that whilst it was invaluable, nevertheless “countries follow their interests, not their sympathies” and France was doing just that, as he reminded the Jeffersonians: ‘The primary motives of France for the assistance which she gave us was obviously to enfeeble a hated and powerful rival by breaking in pieces the British Empire’, he wrote nearly 20 years after the revolution. ‘He must be a fool who can be credulous enough to believe that a despotic court aided a popular revolution from regard to liberty or friendship to the principles of such a revolution.’

 

Hamilton on slavery, the Negro and sound ethics

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Regarding John Laurens' proposal that slaves should acquire their freedom by fighting in the Continental Army, Hamilton wrote a letter (in January 1779) for John Laurens to John Jay (who had succeeded Henry Laurens as) president of Congress. John Laurens (Henry Laurens' son) was Hamilton's close friend and Hamilton wrote 'I have not the least doubt that the negroes will make very excellent soldiers with proper management and I will venture to pronounce that they cannot be put in better hands than those of Mr Laurens.'

As to the claim that negro soldiery would be hopeless because of a genetic inferiority, Hamilton wrote "This is so far from appearing to me a valid objection that I think their want of cultivation (for their natural faculties are probably as good as ours) joined to that habit of subordination which they acquire from a life of servitude will make them sooner become soldiers than our white inhabitants."

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Hamilton "placed political realism at the service of a larger ethical framework". Laurens' proposal was doomed, of course, especially since he put it before the South Carolina legislature. To begin with, Charleston was "the largest  port of entry for slaves arriving in North America." Moreover, "planters lived in dread of slave insurrections ... and sometimes themselves refused to serve in the Continental Army out of fear that in their absence their slaves might rise up and massacre their families." Add to this the fact that many South Carolina and other states' "slave owners had joined the Revolution precisely to retain slavery. In November 1775, Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, had issued a proclamation offering freedom to slaves willing to defend the Crown - an action that sent many panicky slaveholders stampeding into the patriot camp. 'How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty from the drivers of Negroes?' Samuel Johnson protested from London."

The American double standard, the hypocrisy of the American position saw Abigail Adams bewailing the situation: 'It always appeared a most iniquitous scheme to me - to fight for ourselves

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for what we are robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have.' And yet to the everlasting disgrace of the rebel colonists, it was General Sir Henry Clinton in June 1779 who promised freedom to runaway slaves defecting to the British side. The defeat of the Laurens plan left Hamilton utterly dejected. 'I wish its success,' he wrote to Laurens later in the year, 'but my hopes are very feeble. Prejudice and private interest will be antagonists too powerful for public spirit and public good.'

 

On the nature of the American

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In September 1779 Hamilton “told Laurens that he still yearned for the success of his virtuous scheme for black battalions but worried that private greed, indolence, and public corruption would undermine this good work. ‘Every [hope] of this kind my friend is an idle dream,’ he warned Laurens in a despairing tone that was to crop up throughout his life. He added, ‘There is no virtue [in] America. That commerce which preside[d over] the birth and education of these states has [fitted] their inhabitants for the chain and … the only condition they sincerely desire is that it may be a golden one.’

 

Marriage and split with Washington

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Hamilton had married Elizabeth Schuyler at noon on December 14, 1780 and

 

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fell out with Washington and resigned as aide early on the morning of February 16, 1781,

 

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continuing for another month, drafting “his last letter under Washington’s signature” on March 8, 1781.

 

Lays out financial blueprint for the USA; Morris and the Bank of North America

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April 27, 1781 Hamilton requested a military position “in the vanguard force to be sent south” but Washington feared there’d be dissent for Hamilton’s having been jumped ‘above those of higher rank’.

Hamilton, not one to waste time, immersed himself in further research “about the financial emergency gripping the states. With the collapse of the continental currency, Congress conquered its fears of the centralized power that might be wielded by a finance minister. Power had begin to flow from congressional committees to individual department heads—for war, foreign relations, and finance—just as Hamilton had recommended to James Duane.” Hamilton was to be nominated by General John Sullivan but given the “overwhelming congressional support for Robert Morris” he withheld it and Morris took up the position in May 1781. Morris, a “self-made merchant prince” from Liverpool, lived in opulence in Philadelphia, had “reluctantly signed the Declaration of Independence, and was “drawing on his own credit to pay troops and even government spies.”

 

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But he was also accused of featherbedding by “exploiting his government connections for personal gain.”

Hamilton wrote to him after boning up on money matters along with Hume’s Political Discourses, Richard Price and Postlethwayt (as usual). On April 30, 1781, Hamilton sent a very extensive letter (31 pages when printed) to Morris setting “forth a full-fledged system for shoring up American credit and creating a national bank.”  It was “a virtuoso performance as he asserted the need for financial reforms to complete the Revolution. ‘Tis by introducing order into our finances—by restoring public credit—not by gaining battles that we are finally to gain out object.’

His solution to the budget deficit was a national bank, for “foreign credit alone could not trim it.” Hamilton realized that the Redcoats were “propped up by a ‘vast fabric of credit. … ’Tis by this alone she now menaces our independence.’ America, he argued, did not need to triumph decisively over the heavily taxed British: a war of attrition that eroded British credit would nicely do the trick. … ‘By stopping the progress of their conquests and reducing them to an unmeaning and disgraceful defensive, we destroy the national expectation of success from which the ministry draws their resources’. …America could defeat the British in the bond market more readily than on the battlefield. …’A national debt, if it is not excessive, will be to us a national blessing. It will be powerful cement of out union’.”

 

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Late May 1781 Morris sent a flattering reply. “Congress had just approved Morris’s plan for the Bank of North America, a merchant bank that he hoped would be expanded after the war to encourage commerce. Morris and Hamilton became “kindred spirits in their efforts to establish American finance on a sound, efficient basis.”

 

Articles of Confederation as limit On Federalism and emphasis on states rights

Meanwhile, Hamilton bemoaned the Articles of Confederation ratified by the last state on Feb 27, 1781. The loose framework would yield only a “fragile alliance of thirteen miniature republics” a “ramshackle confederacy [fostering] the illusion that Congress had sufficient power”. It ‘will be an evil, for it is unequal to the exigencies of the war or to the preservation of the union hereafter’. Hamilton once more called for a convention to remedy the situation.

The “states had hampered many crucial war measures … from fear that their troops might shed their home-state allegiances.” They viewed their state as their country though, of course, the Revolution, “especially the Continental Army, had been a potent instrument for fusing the states together and forging an American character.” As John Marshall put it: ‘I was confirmed in the habit of considering America as my country and Congress as my government.’ Hamilton was not alone in being alarmed by the shortcomings of the Articles of Confederation.

Hamilton had stumbled on a fitting life work: “the creation of a powerful new country” [perhaps this can be BS’s Hamilton’s fantasy life as he, too, sets out for America]

In July-August of 1781 Hamilton

 

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developed and “delivered a systematic critique of the current political structure” in which he distinguished between the dynamics of the Revolution and those that would need to pertain in peacetime: “the postwar world had to be infused with a new spirit, respectful of authority, or anarchy would reign.”

‘As too much power leads to despotism, too little leads to anarchy, and both eventually to the ruin of the people.’

“Unless the central government’s hand was strengthened, asserted Hamilton, the states would amass progressively more power until the union disintegrated into secessionist movements, smaller confederacies, or civil war. … [He] listed a litany of powers that Congress needed to strengthen the union, especially the powers to regulate trade, levy enforceable taxes on land and individuals, and appoint military officers of every rank. Only unity could wring from skittish foreign creditors the large loans necessary to conclude the war. … [He] applauded the national bank proposed by Morris, which would wed the ‘interest of the monied men with the resources of government.’ This alliance would help prop up a shaky government.”

 

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Vernon Parrington observed Hamilton ‘matured early; before his twenty-fifth year he seems to have developed every main principle of his political and economic philosophy, and thereafter he never hesitated or swerved from his path.’

 

Military Command

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After much pushing, Hamilton was finally given “command of a New York light-infantry battalion” and the opportunity, thereby, of “battlefield laurels” as the war neared its end.  August 7, 1781, Hamilton’s father-in-law, General Schuyler—who’d overseen a colonial spy network and was to be a prize catch for the British operating around Albany—was on the verge of capture by the British and their Indian allies when his young daughter, Peggy, coolly saved the day.

 

Adams versus Hamilton

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Washington gave Hamilton command of “three battalions led by Gimat, Fish and Laurens” in the battle to trap Cornwallis who was entrenched at Yorktown, surrounded on three sides by water.  John Adams “told his friend Benjamin Rush that Hamilton blackmailed Washington to get the command.” Chernow says this was churlish gossip, and highly unlikely to have any merit.

Washington required Hamilton and his men to mount a bayonet charge and they did so, rising out of their trenches in the light of shells that illuminated the sky after nightfall on October 14, 1781 and racing across a ¼ mile of “pocked and rutted” landscape with bayonets and no guns and attacking with ‘such a terrible yell’, according to a Hessian soldier ‘ that one believed the whole wild hunt had broken out’.

 

Hamilton a legend for military heroism; medieval thinking

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Hamilton ordered his men to take prisoners without unnecessary bloodshed and definitely without reprisals. Wars, for him, “like duels were honorable rituals, conducted by gentlemen according to sacred and immutable rules.”

October 17, 1781, Cornwallis surrendered.

 

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“ … Congress never honored his bravery at Yorktown … [but] Hamilton gained something infinitely more precious for his political future: legendary status. At Yorktown, Hamilton established his image as a romantic, death-defying young officer, gallantly streaking toward the ramparts. … without that cachet, he might never have been appointed a major general later on.”

 

Hamilton’s transformation through the Revolution [BS’s Hamilton can lament his life, believing that had he only lived at a time when bravery and heroism were called for, when, say, mounting a bayonet charge from some trench might have saved the day, etc. then his life might have been different.]

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“The American Revolution transformed Hamilton from an insecure outsider to a consummate insider who was married to the daughter of General Schuyler and stood on easy terms with the leaders of the Continental Army. In a eulogy that he later delivered for Nathaniel Greene, Hamilton talked about the personal opportunities that accompany revolutions. He said of them that ‘it has very properly been ranked not among the least of the advantages which compensate for the evils they produce that they serve to bring to light talents and virtues which might otherwise have languished in obscurity or only shot forth a few scattered and wandering rays.’

 

Chapter Nine

Hamilton: domesticity is bliss in upstate New York. Hamilton arrived as an outsider.

 

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May 1782: Hamilton, , “formally became a citizen of New York State … ”

Having “adopted the Schuyler mansion in Albany as his temporary home for the next two years” Upstate New York, “the twenty-seven-year-old war veteran projected the image of a contented paterfamilias. ‘You cannot imagine how entirely domestic I am growing,’, he told ex-Washington aide Richard Kidder Meade. ‘ … I lose all taste for the pursuits of ambition. I sigh for nothing but the company of my wife and my baby.’ Meade must have known this was poppycock … For Hamilton, the law rose as the shortest route to political power … and it

 

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“would enable him to make a tolerable, even lucrative, living.”

 

Ambition: the law

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“Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries, says Forrest McDonald, ‘taught Hamilton a reverential enthusiasm for the law itself. … Moreover, the law as Blackstone spelled it out resolved once and for all the tension Hamilton had felt between liberty and law.’

 

Aaron Burr

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July 1782, Aaron Burr opened an Albany law office; Hamilton “passed the bar exam and was licensed as an attorney. Who could prepare cases before the New York State Supreme Court.”

October, 1782, Hamilton was the New York equivalent of an English barrister. Both Burr and Hamilton had been patriots and they now reaped the benefit of having been such. They socialized together in Albany and were both on good terms with Robert Troup. Of Hamilton and Burr it can be said that both “were short and handsome, witty and debonair, and fatally attractive to women. Both young colonels had the self-possession of military men, liked to flaunt their titles, and seemed cut out to assume distinguished places at the New York bar.” Burr, however, trailed in the political stakes.

 

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Burr’s “later roguish antics [were] … inexplicable to admirers.”

 

Hamiltonian economics & states’ rights

“To those who feared oppressive taxes, Hamilton made an argument that anticipated ‘supply-side economics’ of the late twentieth century, saying that officials ‘can have no temptation to abuse this power, because the motive of revenue will check its own extremes. Experience has shown that moderate duties are more productive than higher ones.’

In the early 1780s, “many states were loath to transfer control over their own import duties to Congress, and Hamilton feared that the resulting economic rivalries would threaten political unity.” Morris agreed, and to that end “decided to appoint a tax receiver in each state who would be free from dependence on local officials.”

May 2, 1782, Morris “asked Hamilton to become receiver of continental taxes for new York” but Hamilton rejected the offer saying it would divert him from his main ambition.

 

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Morris subsequently made Hamilton a financially lucrative offer and the latter took it. He was “now squarely positioned to succeed Robert Morris as America’s preeminent financial figure.”

 

States’ Rights versus Union (Federation)

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Hamilton’s experience as tax collector brought home to him “the perils of the Articles of Confederation” Hamilton’s July 4th, 1782 ‘Continentalist’ essay “makes clear, in the Revolutions’s waning days, Hamilton had to combat the utopian notion that America could dispense with taxes altogether: ‘It is of importance to unmask this delusion and open the eyes of the people to the truth. It is paying too great a tribute to the idol of popularity to flatter so injurious and so visionary an expectation.’ Morris concurred.

“Increasingly Hamilton despaired of pure democracy, of politicians simply catering to the popular will, and favored educated leaders who would enlighten the people and exercise their own judgment.”

Hamilton was chosen as one of 5 members of

 

 

Delegate to the Continental Congress

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“New York’s delegation to the Continental (or Confederation) Congress that was to convene in November”; i.e., he’d “parlayed the technocratic job of tax collector into a congressional seat.”

 

Roman republic (Oh the streets of Rome, are filled with rubble, ancient footprints are everywhere …

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“Hamilton believed fervently that  … he and Laurens, like figures from classical antiquity, would embark jointly on a new political crusade to lay the foundations for a solid republican union.”

He made a “stirring appeal for [Laurens} to join him” at the Continental Congress: ‘Quit your sword my friend, put on the toga, come to Congress. We know each other’s sentiments, our views are the same. We have fought side by side to make America free. Let us hand in hand struggle to make her happy.’

Laurens may never have read the message from Hamilton because he was killed in August, 1782, “one of the last casualties of the American Revolution” [BS’s Hamilton can suffer great desire for homosexual encounters, wondering at what it is that drives him.]

Hamilton was devastated—

 

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and had lost an important colleague for the battle ahead, to “consolidate the union”. Hamilton “would enjoy a brief collaboration with James Madison and never lacked the stalwart if often aloof patronage of George Washington. But he was more of a solitary crusader without Laurens, lacking an intimate lifelong ally such as Madison and Jefferson found in each other. After the death of John Laurens, Hamilton shut off some compartment of his emotions and never reopened it.”

 

Late November 1782, Hamilton “arrived in Philadelphia to take up his place in the Confederation Congress”. Philadelphia had 40,000 inhabitants and was more prosperous than New York or Boston. “Though Presbyterians and Baptists now outnumbered Quakers, a trace of their old austerity lingered.”

Hamilton “found himself part of a Congress whose inadequacy he had long ridiculed.” It was indeed jerry-built to guarantee paralysis and

 

Congress 1782-3: states’ rights at issue; James Madison shared Hamilton’s outlook

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it was easy for ‘a small combination to retard and even to frustrate the most necessary measures.’ Matters deteriorated even further once the provisional pace treaty with Britain had been signed on November 30, 1782 because the incentive for unity was weakened. Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry “eloquently asserted the sovereignty of the states and many Congressmen stayed home in their respective states—making it difficult to get a quorum.  Hamilton found the calibre of delegates infuriatingly below par.

He shared his continental perspective with James Madison and served on numerous committees with him.  Madison was 31 and had led a shelted life whereas 27 year old Hamilton was worldly but Madison was a “seasoned legislator”, having been in Congress since 1780, and as conscientious as Hamilton.

 

Madison

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Small, shy and “unprepossessing in manner and appearance”, Madison came from a family that had been in Virginia’s Piedmont region since the 1680s; he had a “formidable mind” but was utterly lacking in charisma.

 

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A prodigious swat, Madison slept 4 or 5 hours per night and was extremely well read.  He was the youngest member of Congress in 1780.

“Hamilton and Madison represented a new generation of postwar leaders whose careers were wholly identified with the new republic. At this juncture they had a similar vision of the structural reforms needed by the government. … Madison was even more militant than Hamilton in asserting central authority and wanted Congress to be able to apply force against states that refused to pay their requested contributions.”

April 1783: Madison argued that “the rights for which American contended ‘were the rights of human nature,’ and its citizens were ‘responsible for the greatest trust ever confided to a political society.’ To galvanize the new country, Hamilton and Madison concentrated on the crying need for revenue—a need alleviated only partially when John Adams had arranged a large loan from Holland on June 11, 1782.”  Congress must needs be able to raise revenue independently of the states, according to Hamilton and Madison.

 

Hamilton not devious enough according to Madison

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“Hamilton joined Madison in a campaign to introduce a federal impost—a 5 percent duty on all imports—that would finally grant Congress autonomy in money matters.” Rhode Island resisted strongly and Hamilton “reiterated his now standard pleas of the importance of public credit to national honor.” Then he went further and threw down the gauntlet: ‘The truth is that no federal constitution can exist without powers that, in their exercise, affect the internal policy of the component members.’

i.e., “the central government had to have the right to enact laws that superseded those of the states and to deal directly with their citizens.’

January 1783: Hamilton wanted to appoint “federal tax collectors to the states as a way of ‘pervading and uniting’ them. … [he] was now aiming openly not at a makeshift confederation of states but at a unitary nation.” Hamilton was seen to have let the cat out of the bag. Madison remarked with words to the effect that it would have been better for Hamilton to keep such remarks to himself; i.e., Hamilton was not crafty enough to keep this under his hat and in April Congress passed a bill “that limited the scope of the imposts and left revenue collection to each state.”

Hamilton’s long feud with Governor George Clinton of New York was kicked off by this bill—which Hamilton opposed, of course.

 

Hamilton devious enough according to Chernow

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February 13, 1783: Hamilton was at his most devious in coaxing Washington “to dabble in a dangerous game of pretending to be a lofty statesman while covertly orchestrating pressure on Congress”. In his letter to Washington, concerning the lack of funds available from the states through the central government’s inability to legally raise revenue, he wrote: ‘The claims of the army, urged with moderation but with firmness, may operate on those weak minds which are influenced by their apprehensions more than their judgments … But the difficulty will be to keep a complaining and suffering army within the bounds of moderation.’ Washington should badger Congress through surrogates, Hamilton advised, so that the General would thereby “maintain his standing among both the army and the citizenry at large.”

 

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March 4, 1783: Washington replied, thanking Hamilton or apprising him of the parlous state of the Republic’s financial situation. “Washington perceived the importance of enshrining the principle that military power should be subordinated to civilian control.”

The Continental Army wintering at Newburgh was on the verge of mutiny and money was urgently needed to pay the officers back pay and—should the war end—“promised pensions”. There were anti-Washington sentiments astir. Washington tried to calm the situation with the military but

 

Hamilton and Washington co-operate to have Congress pay the Army but their relationship becomes more complicated as Washington notes a Machiavellian streak in Hamilton [trickster]

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pleaded with Hamilton ‘to urge this matter earnestly and without further delay. The situation of these gentlemen, I do verily believe, is distressing beyond description.’

March 15, 1783: Washington’s officers were indeed mutinous when he addressed them and it took all of his theatrical guile to calm them, promising that he’d “lobby Congress on their behalf, and a committee chaired by Hamilton granted the officers a pension payment equivalent to five years’ full pay.” As to whether Congress had the necessary power to raise the funds was a moot point. 

Washington and Hamilton agreed on the need for a radical revision of the Articles of Confederation but Washington “saw a certain Machiavellian streak in Hamilton and bluntly told him of grumbling in the army about congressmen who tried to use the soldiers as ‘mere puppets to establish continental funds … The army is a dangerous instrument to play with’ ”, he “lectured Hamilton.”

 

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Washington saw that Hamilton “sometimes lacked judgment”. Nevertheless, “Hamilton had employed his wiles in the service of ideals that Washington himself endorsed.”

 

Spring 1783: Hamilton was at the centre of national affairs.

April 1783, the peace treaty with Britain was ratified by Congress (after 8 years war) and Washington reiterated to Hamilton the injustice of military personnel being cheated out of their pay while public servants received theirs.  Hamilton, agreed, of course, but was realistic enough to appreciate that Congress lacked the power to raise the money through taxation.

May 1783: Robert Morris had to be persuaded to stay on as superintendent of finance.

Mid-June 1783: rebellious troops in Philadelphia threatened Congress to pay up and more troops were marching toward Philadelphia from Lancaster, Philadelphia. Hamilton was forced to take charge of the situation but still the troops came.

 

Rebellion and mob rule threaten to destroy the Republic before the USA was officially free from British rule.

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June 21, 1783: “ a mob of drunken soldiers had besieged the people’s delegates in the building where the Declaration of Independence had been signed.”

 

Hamilton later commented: ‘The licentiousness of an army is to be dreaded in every government … but in a republic it is more particularly to be restrained, and when directed against the civil authority to be checked with energy and punished with severity.’ Congress threatened to relocate to Trenton or Princeton unless the state of Pennsylvania would not guarantee its safety.

 

Congress sets up in New York City and Hamilton is accused of duplicity, of having contrived the mutiny of the Lancaster soldiers

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June 1783: Congress fled to Princeton, then moved to Annapolis, Trenton and, in

1785, New York City.

Hamilton insisted that Madison put the record straight about what had actually happened. “Once again, the thin-skinned Hamilton was quick to refute insinuations of duplicity or self-interest. Convinced that appearances, not reality, ruled in politics, he never wanted to allow misimpressions to linger, however briefly, in the air.”

 

Idea of the national capital in a separate federal district

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The mutiny gave rise to the idea that the USA should have its national capital “in a special deferral district where it would never stand at the mercy of state governments.”

Hamilton felt the Confederation Congress was inadequate and, moreover, that it had been “unfairly blamed for failing to fulfill its duties when it was

 

Battle lines being drawn for the Federalism versus states’ rights debtate

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consistently deprived of the means of doing so.” It needed a better constitution.

The Articles of Confederation were too utopian, and reflected the dominance of local and state politics.

July 1783: in Princeton, Hamilton drafted a resolution that “encapsulated many features of the 1787 Constitution: “a federal government with powers separated among legislative, executive, and judicial branches, and a Congress with the power to levy taxes and raise an army. Hamilton again questioned the doctrine of free trade when he argued for federal regulation of trade so that ‘injurious branches of commerce might be discouraged, favorable branches encouraged, [and] useful products and manufactures promoted.’ ”

The advocates of state sovereignty wanted Congress dismantled as a permanent body. They thought the current Congress was too strong. ‘The constant session of Congress cannot be necessary in times of peace,’ said Thomas Jefferson, who wanted to replace it with a committee. Slowly but inexorably, the future battle lines were being drawn between those who wanted an energetic central government and those who wanted rights to revert to the states.”

Hamilton’s draft resolution was rejected, of course, and he had had enough, so that on

July 22, 1783 he wrote to Eliza that he was ready to leave Congress for Albany. En route, he went via New York City and was horrified to see that the tension between the “returning patriots and British sympathizers” was putting Tory businessmen to flight—7000 having sailed for Nova Scotia in April, 1783 alone—with the economic disaster which it entailed as they carried off much of the wealth of the state.

 

Post War of Independence New York City

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November 25, 1783 was Evacuation Day in NYC and Washington rode through Manhattan to celebrate the victory after 8 years of war (7 under British occupation and “the country’s longest conflict until Vietnam”). NYC, though, was a derelict cesspool and Hamilton hoped that instead of a patchwork quilt “that the city’s mechanics and artisans would find ‘profitable and durable employment in erecting large and elegant edifices.’

 

Postwar demographic change

185

Loyalists fled but the “influx of patriots … doubled New York City’s population from about twelve thousand on Evacuation Day to twenty-four thousand just two years later, making it a booming metropolis that surpassed Boston and Baltimore in size.” NYC was subject to sudden and sharp inflation.

 

Twin motif

185

December 4, 1783: Washington’s valedictory; Hamilton did not attend, presumably out of choice. He and his wife and child lived at 57 Wall Street, the cheap east end among the shops whereas

 

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Aaron Burr lived at 3 Wall Street ‘next door but one to the City Hall’ (Burr). Hamilton and Burr continued to live parallel lives.

Hamilton turned down a nomination to the New York Assembly but championed the rights of the persecuted Tories, defending them and striving to oppose vengeance, seeking to halt their banishment.

He was prominent in the “postwar resurgence of New York City—not to mention the city’s future greatness … ”

 

Chapter Ten

Description of Hamilton’s style, appearance and character: page 187

Duality in Hamilton’s appearance reflects his nature

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His friends had great respect and affection for Hamilton but “close observers also detected something contradictory in the way the mobile features shifted quickly from gravity to mirth. Boston lawyer William Sullivan noted the contrasting expressions of his face: ‘When at rest, it had rather a severe and thoughtful expression, but when engaged in conversation, it easily assumed an attractive smile.’ This mixture of the grave and the playful was the very essence of his nature. His grandson wrote that Hamilton’s personality was ‘a mixture of aggressive force and infinite tenderness and amiability.’

 

Despite talk that Hamilton had “stashed away bribes from the British”, he was much less interested in money than his compatriots and was exceedingly

189

scrupulous. He was a preeminent New York City lawyer. According to Judge Ambrose Spencer Hamilton was in ‘power of reasoning the equal of [Daniel] Webster and more than this could be said of no man. In creative power, Hamilton was infinitely Webster’s superior.’

 

Hamilton and the law as science rather than a trade; Roman law, included.

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Hamilton was famously prolix.

He never plumbed the depths of law, though, despite his great success because of his interest in public matters. Still, he went to the heart of the issues: “ ‘With other men, law is a trade, with him it was a science’, said Fisher Ames.” He cited English law, Roman law texts, and more.

 

Rivalry with Burr; weird coincidences

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Burr and Hamilton had a “good-natured legal rivalry” and though they

 

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disagreed on their politics, they maintained cordial social relations.

Weird coincidences “stamped the lives of Hamilton and Burr, yet their origins were quite dissimilar. Burr embodied the old aristocracy … and Hamilton the new meritocracy.”

February 6, 1756: Burr born (a year after Hamilton), his maternal grandfather being the “esteemed Calvinist theologian”, Jonathon Edwards, “New England’s foremost cleric. Edwards’ third daughter, Esther, married the Reverend Aaron Burr, a classical scholar and theologian who became president of Princeton.” [Day of the locusts] The Burrs were from a privileged background but that didn’t help when horror struck:

February 1756: the college was moving from Newark to Princeton and in late 1756 the family took up residence in the new president’s house.

September 1757: Aaron Burr Snr died aged 42 and was replaced in

January 1758 by his father-in-law, Jonathon Edwards. His father died soon after this and then two weeks later Jonathon Edwards himself died, from a smallpox inoculation. A Fortnight after that Esther, Aaron Burr’s mother, died from smallpox. The orphaned children (Burr and his sister) were looked after in Philadelphia until their grandmother could come for them but she, too, died from dysentery, not long after. Burr, then, at age two “was even more emphatically orphaned than Hamilton.”

“Raised in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and Elizabethtown, New Jersey, by his uncle, the Reverend Timothy Edwards, Burr attended the same Presbyterian academy that later educated Hamilton.” Burr was “a first-rate scholar” by age 13.

 

 

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Burr studied law and “then fought courageously in the Revolution.”

Much like Hamilton in his elegant dress and presentation, as well as “witty, urbane and unflappable” he later courted the Jeffersonians whilst retaining his “patrician hauteur, epicurean tastes, and a faint disdain for moneymaking activities.” He was disdainful of histrionics and “hid his feelings behind an enigmatic façade”—storing up “silent grievances over extended periods.”

Hamilton was outspoken whereas Burr was “a man of ingrained secrecy”, describing himself thus: ‘He is a grave, silent, strange sort of animal, inasmuch that we know not what to make of him.’

As a politician Burr “was a chameleon who evaded clear-cut positions on most issues and was a genius at studied ambiguity. In his wickedly mordant world, everything was reduced to clever small talk, and he enjoyed saying funny, shocking things.” Hamilton, on the other hand, was “so earnest that one yearns for some frivolous chatter to lighten the mood.”

Burr “is sometimes classified among the founding father” and yet he left little of note behind, his letters “full of gossip, tittle-tattle, hilarious anecdotes, and racy asides about his sexual escapades. He produced no major papers on policy matters, constitutional issues, or government institutions. Where Hamilton was often more interested in policy than politics, Burr seemed interested only in politics. At a time of tremendous ideological cleavages, Burr was an agile opportunist who maneuvered for advantage among colleagues of fixed political views. Hamilton asked rhetorically about Burr, ‘Is it a recommendation to have no theory?’

 

Burr as trickster

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Can that man be a systematic or able statesman who has none? I believe not. … In civil life, he has never projected nor aided in producing a single measure of important public utility.’ ” General Erastus Root said: “ ‘As a lawyer and as a scholar Burr was not inferior to Hamilton. His reasoning powers were at least equal. Their modes of argument were very different. … I used to say of them, when they were rivals at the bar, that Burr would say as much in half an hour as Hamilton in two hours. Burr was terse and convincing, while Hamilton was flowing and rapturous.’ Hamilton smothered opponents with arguments, while Burr resorted to cunning ruses and unexpected tricks to carry the day.”

Hamilton allowed that Burr could be resourceful but thought him “empty beneath the surface. ‘It is certain that at the bar he is more remarkable for ingenuity and dexterity than for sound judgment or good logic,’ he said. … Hamilton venerated the law, while Burr often seemed mildly bored and cynical about it.”

 

Good anecdote about Burr tricking Hamilton when they jointly defended a client

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A good anecdote about Burr tricking Hamilton when they jointly defended a client: When it came to who would speak first and who’d sum the case for the defence “Protocol stipulated that the

 

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lead attorney would do the summation and Hamilton wished to be the one. Burr was so offended by this patent vanity that in his opening speech he tried to anticipate all the points that Hamilton would likely make. Apparently, he was so effective at this that Hamilton, embarrassed, had nothing to say at the end. If the story is true, it was one of the few times that Alexander Hamilton was ever left speechless.”

 

Hamilton’s historical role: lawman

194

A New York lawyer, Hamilton “was well positioned to help the country negotiate the passage from the rosy flush of revolution to the sober rule of law.” Managing peace with the “fractious tendenceies engendered by years of fighting” would be “no less perilous a task than the conduct of the war.” War had “unified sharply disparate groups” but now “the divisive pulls of class, region, and ideology” threatened to “tear the new country apart”.

New York in particular was divided with Tories being prominent amongst New Yorkers and now the victorious patriots “found it hard to sympathize with the Loyalists, who were often well-to-do Anglican merchants and members of the old social elite.” The British had maltreated its prisoners during the war and had been guilty of atrocities and houses and property had been expropriated—which returning veterans demanded recompense for. The law might stand in the way of their exacting revenge but they’d take on the lawman.

When Hamilton became a ‘lawman’ his motives were questioned. Was he “the pawn of patriotic landowners, who dreaded an upsurge of postwar radicalism and wanted to make common cause with conservative Tories”?

 

Federalist party; Hamilton’s view that the American nation would go on as she started; importance of trade; danger of states being sovereign

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“Hamilton did indeed later forge an alliance of progressive landowners and former Tories into the nucleus of the Federalist party in New York.”

He believed, [see above, pp 109-110] that “America’s character would be defined by how it treated its vanquished enemies, and he wanted to graduate from bitter wartime grievances to the forgiving posture of peace. Revenge had always frightened him, and class envy and mob violence had long been his bugaboos.” Moreover, “the loss of capital siphoned off by departing Tories” together with the “sacrifice of trading ties vital to New York’s future as a major seaport” concerned him. “He also maintained that the nation’s survival depended upon support from its propertied class, which was being hounded, spat upon, and booted from New York.”

Foreign policy was also involved in his stance. John Jay wrote to him from France that the Tories were pitied in Europe. Hamilton realized the importance of America having respect in the Old World. Hamilton believed that “the anti-Tory legislation in New York flouted the peace treaty with Britain” and the whole situation “sensitized Hamilton to the extraordinary danger of allowing state laws to supersede national treaties, making manifest the need for a Constitution that would be the supreme law of the land. For him, the vendetta against New York’s Tories threatened the whole political, economic, and constitutional edifice that he visualized for America.”

 

Phocion, trade

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“Phocian was an Athenian soldier of murky parentage who came from another country and became an aide to a great general. Later, as a general himself, the iconoclastic Phocion favoured reconciliation with the defeated enemies of Athens.” Hamilton took up this Athenian whom Plutarch mentions as his penname for his own defence of the Tories and his speaking out against the reprisals. As “a revolutionary veteran, he had ‘too deep a share in the common exertions of this revolution to be willing to see its fruits blasted by the violence of rash or unprincipled men, without at least protesting against their designs … no man can be safe, nor know when he may be the innocent victim of a prevailing faction. The name of liberty applied to such a government [one passing the anti-Tory legislation such as the 1783 Tresspass Act] would be a mockery of common sense’.”

Traders, mechanics, workmen in general were being led to believe that attacks on Tories would be good for business but Hamilton pointed out that “traders would be denied credit once extended to them by Tory merchants, and mechanics would find that temporarily higher wages either drew more mechanics to New York or slashed demand for their services. … Hamilton insisted that the now-chastened Tories would prove faithful friends of the new government; time was to validate his optimism.”

In the meantime, he was accused of “betraying the Revolution”.

 

The American nation would go on as she started

197

Hamilton’s please for restraint went unheeded. He wrote as Phocion once again: ‘ ’Tis with governments as with individuals, first impressions and early habits give a lasting bias to the temper and character. The world has its eye on America. The noble struggle we have made in the cause of liberty has occasioned a kind of revolution in human sentiment.’

 

Less a “politician seeking popularity” than “a statesman determined to change minds”, Hamilton continued to put his case despite it falling on deaf ears and he used the Rutgers case to challenge the

 

States rights and the Trespass Act

198

Trespass Act.

June 29, 1784: Rutgers v. Waddington Hamilton distinguished himself with argument employing “concepts that he later expanded upon in The Federalist Papers … [e.g.] the notion that high courts had a right to scrutinize laws and if necessary declare them void.” This was an extraordinarily original argument since the USA did not yet have a federal judiciary.

 

199

Rutgers v. Waddington “addressed fundamental questions of political power in the new country. … ‘It must be conceded that the legislature of one state cannot repeal the law of the United States’.” Hamilton made great headway with this case.

“ … purists were vigilant for signs of ideological backsliding and departures from the one true faith. The 1780s and 1790s were to be especially rich in feverish with hunts for traitors who allegedly sought to reverse the verdict of the war. For the radicals of the day, revolutionary purity meant a strong legislature that would overshadow a weak executive and judiciary. For Hamilton this could only invite legislative tyranny. Rutgers v. Waddington represented his first major chance to expound the principle that the judiciary should enjoy coequal status with the other two branches of government.”

 

200

February 23, 1784: first public meeting to found the Bank of New York. Hamilton was instrumental in ensuring a money rather than a land bank was instituted and singlehandedly drafted its constitution.

 

View of corporations as “shady plots”

201

“The resulting document was taken up as the pattern for many subsequent bank charters and helped to define the rudiments of American banking.”

 

The money bank upset the rural upstate New Yorkers (they wanted a land bank) but reconciled the radicals and Loyalists of NYC.  Hamilton as “a director, the author of its constitution, and its attorney … straddled a critical nexus of economic power.” He wanted to “introduce order” with respect to the virtually worthless currency. Bills were also issued by the states and each had a different exchange rate; New Jersey and Philadelphia bills swamped Manhattan, which was already awash with various foreign coins, making it difficult for shopkeepers to make economically rational decisions concerning the value of the bills and coins in circulation.

1785: Congress adopted the dollar as the currency but it remained one among many currencies for many years.

Add to this the fact that Americans, upstate New Yorkers in particular, were suspicious of banking as a “black, unfathomable art” and it’s easy to appreciate why “Hamilton’s petition to the state legislature for a bank charter was denied for seven years”. Governor Clinton was pandering to “his agricultural constituents who though the bank would give preferential treatment to merchants and shut out farmers. Clinton [himself] distrusted corporations as shady plots against the populace, foreshadowing the Jeffersonian revulsion against Hamilton’s economic programs.”

June 1784: Bank of New York opened as a private bank without a charter.

 

Chapter Eleven

 

203

Eliza and Alexander had eight children, brought up a ninth and Eliza co-founded an orphanage; Hamilton was a womanizer. [BS’s Hamilton can fantasize about being so]

 

Religious beliefs

205

Nominally an Episcopalian, “Like Adams, Franklin, and Jefferson, Hamilton had probably fallen under the sway of deism … [but embraced] Christianity as a system of morality and cosmic justice.”

 

Twin motif

209

Hamilton lost touch with most from his past but maintained a strong and happy relationship with Edward Stevens [probably his biological brother; and therefore, Hamilton was probably known by another name, in a sense];

 

210

Like Hamilton, Stevens was successful at whatever he took on.

 

Slavery: American double standard exposed from the start

210

1775: Philadelphia Quakers “launched the world’s first antislavery society, followed by others in the north and south.” But slavery was expanding. Whereas Jefferson “regarded blacks as innately inferior” Hamilton was much enlightened for his day. Taking the lead of the Quakers, there were many abolitionists after the War of Independence because there was an obvious double standard; slavery was “incompatible with republican ideals.” Hamilton’s father-in-law kept slaves and there’s evidence that Eliza helped her mother manage them; there’s even some evidence that Alexander and

 

211

Eliza may have had “one or two household slaves” though it’s probably a misinterpretation.

1784: by this date Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Connecticut had outlawed slavery or passed laws for its gradual extinction … but New York and New Jersey retained significant slave populations.” New York City had a large finger in the slavery pie via trade and as domestic servants. 

“When Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, slaves constituted 40% of the population of his home state, Virginia. … The most damning and hypocritical critiques of [Hamilton’s] allegedly aristocratic economic system emanated from the most aristocratic southern slaveholders, who deflected attention from their own nefarious deeds by posing as populist champions and assailing the northern financial and mercantile interests aligned with Hamilton. … the national consensus that the slavery issue should be tabled to preserve the union meant that the southern plantation economy was effectively ruled off-limits to political discussion, while Hamilton’s system, by default, underwent the most searching scrutiny.”

 

212

Hamilton’s was the most vociferous anti-slavery voice among the founding fathers; even John Adams, according to his biographer, John Ferling, ‘made no effort to loosen the shackles of those in bondage.’ Adams “opposed plans to emancipate slaves joining the Continental Army, contested the use of black soldiers, and opposed a bill in the Massachusetts legislature to abolish slavery.”

Benjamin Franklin “was a courageous, outspoken president of Pennsylvania’s abolition society” as an old man but had “brokered slave sales from his Philadelphia print shop, ran ads for [the sale of] slaves, and bought and sold them for himself and others.”

“Washington emancipated his slaves in his will and even set aside money to assist the freed slaves and their children.”

Early in the Revolution, Thomas Jefferson “endorsed a plan to stop importing slaves and was dismayed when Congress expunged a passage from the Declaration of Independence in which he blamed George III for the slave trade.”

1780s: Jefferson “laid out a gradual scheme for ending slavery, with emancipated blacks relocated to the continent’s interior. (As [P]resident, he preferred sending them to the West Indies.)

1784: Jefferson “proposed blocking slavery in the Northwest Territory … Over time Jefferson yielded to a craven policy of postponing action on slavery indefinitely, constantly foisting the problem onto future generations, hoping vaguely that it would whither away.” 

 

213

Madison was much like Jefferson on the issue of slavery.

Mid-1780s: Madison “supported a bill in the Virginia Assembly to abolish slavery slowly but then began to duck the issue as a severe political liability.” Madison was clear about the immorality of slavery but did not make efforts to try and eliminate it. Ultimately, says Madison’s biographer Jack Rakove, Madison ‘was no better prepared to live without slaves than [were]the other members of the great planter class to which his family belonged’. He endlessly prevaricated on the slavery issue because to do otherwise would probably have meant political oblivion.

Hamilton’s record in speaking out against slavery is clear and definite, even involving him in making it clear that whilst he regarded private property as sacrosanct, slaves could not be included in this category since the very idea of one man owning another is odious.

 

Aaron Burr was mildly supportive of the New York Manumission Society (Hamilton was a member)

 

215

early on but as he drifted toward the Jeffersonian camp later on he dropped any abolitionist pretence. 1831: Burr “tried to discourage William Lloyd Garrison … from persisting in his antislavery crusade. Garrison recalled of Burr, ‘His manner was patronizing. … As he revealed himself to my moral sense, I saw he was destitute of any fixed principles.’

 

Roman Republic: Cincinnatus

216

1783, Spring: “General Henry Knox proposed creation of the Society of the Cincinnati … ”

Cincinnatus was “the general of ancient Rome who twice relinquished his sword after defending the republic and returned to his humble plow.”

 

217

Samuel Adams declared that the society embodied ‘as rapid a stride toward a hereditary military nobility as was ever made in so short a time.’ Franklin, Jay, Jefferson, and John Adams, too, were against the formation of the Cincinnati.

Hamilton, of course, was in favour of it, and George Washington was one of the first to join. Hamilton saw it “as a potentially useful tool for enmeshing the states into a stable union” but

 

218

opposed the notion of primogeniture in favour of merit. He wanted this notion extended to the wider society. Hamilton’s “avowed preference for an elite based on merit was misconstrued by enemies into a secret adoration of aristocracy.”

 

Chapter Twelve

220

“Hamilton’s besetting fear was that American democracy

 

Anti-bank populism

221

would be spoiled by demagogues who would mouth populist shibboleths to conceal their despotism. George Clinton, Thomas Jefferson, and Aaron Burr all came to incarnate that dread for Hamilton. Clinton also disapproved of banks, regarding them as devices to enrich speculators and divert money from hardworking farmers.”

 

States’ rights and trade wars between those states

221

All of this might have been okay but the fact that “Clinton favored new York to the detriment of national unity” was unforgivable in Hamilton’s eyes. Interstate tensions over trade were grave, and some feared civil war. “The states were arrogating a right that properly belonged to a central government.” Hamilton wanted the federal government to be given “a monopoly on customs revenues” in order to preserve the Union. Hamilton re-entered public life as a member of the New

 

222

York Assembly; it was “a preliminary step in an extended sequence of events that led straight to the Constitutional Convention.”

 

Trade as the origin of the Constitutional Convention [basis of the new version; moving from trader to trickster to trade and commerce per se as endemic to the origins of the USA]

222

1785: “commissioners from Maryland and Virginia resolved a heated dispute over navigation of the Potomac River” at Mount Vernon and “Virginia hoped this might serve as a pattern for settling other interstate disputes and in early 1786 called for a convention at Annapolis ‘for the purpose of framing such regulations of trade as may be judged necessary to promote the general interest.’ James Madison was “no less despondent than Hamilton about the trade and border disputes riling the states.”

1786, March: “Madison wrote to Jefferson … about ‘the present anarchy of our commerce’ and described the way the predominant seaport towns were fleecing their neighbours.” The Republic was under grave threat, he noted.

May 1786: Hamilton and his friend Egbert Benson (New York attorney-general) attended the Annapolis convention but as Robert Troup later claimed, Hamilton knew that it would have wider ramifications and would not have bothered attending ‘a commercial convention otherwise than as a stepping stone to a general convention to form a general constitution.’

September 1786: Hamilton arrived at Annapolis and resumed deep philosophical discussion with James Madison “that yielded The Federalist Papers of 1788. “ … they were kindred spirits in their common distaste for the parochial tendencies of the states.” Out of discussions at Annapolis came the agreement to “urge the states to send delegates to a convention in early May [1787] to amend the Articles of Confederation.”

 

224

Virginia warmly welcomed the Annapolis appeal but New York’s George Clinton did everything to thwart the purpose behind it.

The United States of America was on the brink of financial collapse, and therefore political collapse in the postwar years.

 

Shays’ Rebellion

225

Violent protest against authority—such as Shays’ Rebellion in Massachusetts of September 1786-February 1787—was becoming increasingly common. Madison was with Washington in deploring the rebellion, especially the call for debt to be forgiven, for creditors to be forced to accept the losses, whereas Jefferson told Madison from Paris that ‘I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing … and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.’ And to Colonel William Smith Jefferson wrote ‘The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.’

Hamilton decried the methods of Daniel Shays and his farmers but sympathized with them concerning the debt and foreclosures. He “wanted the federal government to take over state debts left over from the war. Instead, Massachusetts, by trying to settle its own debt, had crushed the farmers with onerous taxes. ‘The insurrection was in a great degree the offspring of this pressure’, he wrote later. Shays’ Rebellion vindicated Hamilton in his view “that the federal government had to distribute the tax burden equitably across the states.”

 

Philadelphia Constitutional Convention

227

1787, May: Hamilton arrived saddled with Clinton’s spoilers, John Lansing Jr. and Robert Yates. Madison noted the Clinton manoeuvre and confided to Washington that they’d be a ‘clog’ on Hamilton. It took a week for enough delegates for a quorum and then Washington was elected

 

228

president of the Convention. Washington, like Hamilton, wanted a much stronger central government. Hamilton failed in the attempt to have the votes of individual members recorded and so the New York vote would invariably run contrary to the Hamilton view. Secrecy was the order of the  day—something which Hamilton fully supported when the time came, and which later worked against him—and even “Madison’s copious notes of the convention were not published until decades later.”

 

Hamilton’s mercurial personality

229

Major William Pierce of Georgia described Hamilton’s “mercurial personality, ponderous one moment, facetious the next. His ‘language is not always equal, sometimes didactic like Bolingbroke’s, at others light and tripping like [Laurence] Stern[e]’s’.”

 

Benjamin Franklin’s description of the 55

229

Franklin contended that the 55 were ‘the most august and respectable assembly he was ever in in his life’. The delegates were white, educated males and mostly affluent property owners. A majority were lawyers and hence sensitive to precedent and a dozen had been “born or educated abroad. Many delegates shared Hamilton’s preoccupation with public debt.”

 

Articles scuttled by Virginia

230

1787, May 30: Edmund Randolph put forward Madison’s ‘Virginia Plan’ to make “a clean break with the past”; it “contained the basic design of the future U.S. government.” i.e., a bicameral legislature, with both houses on proportional representation; a one-person executive (President); separation of powers via the judiciary. The Virginia Plan “left little doubt that while the states would retain some sovereignty, they would be subservient to the federal government.” Hamilton promoted the notion “and the convention agreed overwhelmingly that ‘a national government ought to be established consisting of a supreme legislature, executive and judiciary.’

 

Diminution of states’ powers too radical a move

231 

 While separation of powers was acceptable to most of the delegates, the “diminution of state power [was] quite another.” Smaller states realized that proportional representation would render them powerless in the legislative branch of government and so New Jersey developed a plan of its own which protected the influence of the smaller states.

 

Hamilton’s “hybrid form of government” proposal

232

Hamilton’s “faith on Americans never quite matched his faith in American itself.”

1780, September: “Ever since his September 1780 letter to James Duane, Hamilton had toyed with creating a new hybrid form of government that would have the continuity of a monarchy combined with the liberties of a republic, guarding against both anarchy and tyranny.”

1787, June 18: In his long delivery to the Philadelphia Convention, Hamilton proposed a Senate elected for life with an elected monarch subject to recall and a House of Representatives “chosen directly by universal male suffrage every three years. Thus, the aristocratic element would be represented

 

Duality: Hamilton “suspended between two worlds”.

233

by the Senate, the common folk by the House” and with the elected monarch as “impartial arbiter to transcend class warfare and regional interests … .” Of course the term ‘monarch’ was inappropriate, given that one of the few things Americans agreed upon was their anti-royal stance but the idea was not so different from the notion of a President. Further abuse would be curbed by a Supreme Court of “12 judges holding lifetime offices on good behaviour. … Hamilton concluded, ‘The principle chiefly intended to be established is this—that there must be a permanent will’.”

In fact, Britain had the best government in the world, Hamilton believed (and declared this to Madison) and American needed something akin to it.

Gouverneur Morris was impressed with Hamilton’s speech and years later John Quincy Adams spoke of it as “better in theory than the one adopted, however misplaced in an American setting.” Hamilton’s plan for government was too much influenced by his fear of mob rule and subject, thereby, to “checks and balances” that were regarded, rightly, as too restrictive and dismissive of “the potential of the electorate.” He was “suspended

 

234

 between two worlds. … Too often, his political vision harked back to a past in which well-bred elites made decisions for less-educated citizens. This contradicted the advanced economic thinking expressed in his vision of a fluid, meritocratic elite, open to talented outsiders such as himself.”

The great advantage of Hamilton’s speech may have been that it made Madison’s ‘Virginia Plan’ sound moderate.

 

Hamilton on foreign policy

235

Once adopted, the Constitution saw Hamilton as one of its greatest champions.

1787, June 29: Hamilton addressed the Convention saying: ‘No governm[en]t could give us tranquility and happiness at home, which did not possess sufficient stability and strength to make us respectable abroad.’ Afterwards, he returned to New York and wrote Washington that he was ‘seriously and deeply distressed’ by the Convention. ‘I fear that we shall let slip the golden opportunity of rescuing the American empire from disunion, anarchy, and misery’, he went on.

 

Connecticut Compromise

236

 1787, July 16: Roger Sherman of Connecticut and others proposed “that all states would enjoy equal representation in the Senate … while representation in the House of Representatives would be proportionate to each state’s population. The deadlock was thereby broken and “a lasting political bias in American life in favor of the smaller states” introduced.

 

Slavery as wedge between states, between the North and South

238 

1787, August 13: Hamilton engaged in the Constitutional Convention debate on immigration and stood for encouraging foreigners to come to the USA but was overruled.

James Madison noted that ‘the states were divided into different interests not by their difference of size, but principally from their having or not having slaves. … [The conflict] did not lie between the large and small states. It lay between the northern and southern.’ “Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina stated baldly, ‘South Carolina and Georgia cannot do without slaves.’ The issue was so explosive that the word slavery did not appear in the Constitution, replaced by the euphemism of people ‘held to service or labor’.”

 

Imbalance in favour of South in electoral system; South agrees to cease slave importation after 1808

239

The “infamous ‘federal ratio’ that survived for another eighty years”—5 slaves = 3 free whites for apportioning of Congressional representation—was adopted and tilted the balance toward the South for electoral representation. “this gross inequity was to play no small part in the eventual triumph of Jeffersonian Republicans over Hamilton Federalists. In exchange, southern states agreed that the importation of slaves might cease after 1808, feeding an illusory hope that slavery might someday just fade away. Without the federal ratio, Hamilton glumly concluded, ‘no union could possibly have been formed.’ Indeed, the whole superstructure erected in Philadelphia rested on that unstable, undemocratic foundation.”

“ … Hamilton stepped up his involvement in the Manumission Society.”

 

1887, September 6: Madison records that Hamilton accepted that his own scheme for the USA had failed to win anyone over but that since ‘he meant to support the plan … as better than nothing, he wished to offer a few remarks.’

1887, September 9: Hamilton joined to Committee to “arrange the articles of the Constitution and polish its prose.” Hamilton’s friend, 35-year-old Gouverneur Morris, the man with a wooden leg after a carriage accident, was the standout performer on that Committee. Morris “considred slavery a ‘nefarious institution’ that would summon the ‘curse of heaven on

 

Gouverneur Morris

240

the states where it prevailed.’

“Morris admired Hamilton’s intellect even as he reproved him for being ‘indiscreet, vain, and opinionated’. … Hamilton branded Morris ‘a native of this country, but by genius an exotic’.”

Morris wrote the preamble to the Constitution and as “its chief draftsman … shrank the original twenty-three articles to seven … ”

 

Constitutional Convention finishes its job

241

1787, September 17: 4 months of effort saw 39 delegates sign the Constitution. “By scrapping the Articles of Confederation and placing the states under a powerful central government, it represented a monumental achievement. … Washington entered in his diary that night, ‘Met in Convention, when the Constitution received the unanimous assent of 11 States and Colo. Hamilton’s from New York.’

“After signing, the delegates adjourned to the City Tavern, which John Adams described as the ‘most genteel tavern in America,’ for a farewell dinner.’ Behind the conviviality lurked unspoken fears, and Washington, for one, doubted that the new federal government would survive twenty years.”

The plan to have “nine state conventions” approve the Constitution instead of state legislatures was a deliberate manoeuvre to facilitate the legitimacy of the new republic, having it approved “directly from the citizenry”. Moreover, this would enable “federal law to supersede state legislation.”

 

Hamilton’s mercurial behaviour.

 

241

Hamilton’s efforts to get the Convention up and running beforehand and to “secure the passage of its sterling product” afterwards stands in stark contrast to his behaviour at the Convention itself. The Jeffersonians were

 

Compromise, compromise, compromise: [mercurius]

242

“downright suspicious” of Hamilton’s supporting “a document that he had contested at such length.” But, the Constitution was a compromise, a “glorious compromise”.

“In the end, nobody would do more than Alexander Hamilton to infuse life into this parchment and make it the working mandate of the American government.”

 

Chapter 13

Publius

 

Union and disunion (polarity)

243

Despite everything, the American Revolution unified the 13 states; it “had focused on independence from Britain and had sidestepped the question of what sort of society America ought to be … ”. That “question could no longer be postponed” and the Constitutional Convention sought to answer it. The Convention brought out the division and Hamilton was set upon by elements of the New York establishment for his having signed the parchment which went “far beyond Congress’s instructions to rework the Constitution.” Former Sons of Liberty stalwart, Marinus Willett, saw the new document as ‘a monster with open mouth and monstrous teeth ready to devour all before it.’

The USA began to divide into two camps: those “in favor of the new dispensation and a dominant central government” (the so-called ‘federalists’) and “Opponents of the Constitution, who feared encroachments on state prerogatives … antifederalists.” Federalists warned that if their opponents were successful the upshot would be civil war, disunion, “foreign intrigue, along with flagrant repudiation of debt and assaults on property. The antifederalists talked darkly of despotism and a monarchy, the ascendancy of the rich, and the outright abolition of the states.” 

 

Paranoia

244

Paranoia reigned: the federalists were accused of creating a Constitution that fostered “a dominant central government” that imitated “the British model” against which the colonists had just rebelled.

Virginia and New York were well-organised against the new Constitution. Patrick Henry “railed against ‘the tyranny of Philadelphia’ and compared it to ‘the tyranny of George III’. Objections to the Constitution ranged from the noble (insistence upon a bill of rights or the mandatory rotation of presidents) to the base (a desire to protect local politicians or preserve slavery from an intrusive federal government).”

 

Streets of Rome

245

New York’s Clinton responded to Hamilton’s charges against him as the epitome of the flaws in the old confederation by writing a number of essays under the pen name ‘Cato’. Hamilton was portrayed as a ‘half-caste’, a British lackey, a treacherous foreigner, the bastard son of George Washington.

 

The Federalist Papers

246

1787, early October: Hamilton was on the verge of writing “a comprehensive explication of the [Constitution], written by New Yorkers for a New York audience” which was to become the

 

247

“masterpiece known as The Federalist Papers … [the] first essay [of which] appeared in The Independent Journal on October 27, 1787. 

“Hamilton supervised the entire Federalist project. He dreamed up the idea, enlisted the participants, wrote the overwhelming bulk of the essays, and oversaw the publication.”

 

Streets of Rome [Hamilton’s masterpiece was the Federalist project]

248

‘The Federalist essays first appeared in newspapers.” The authors—John Jay, James Madison and William Duer—had to write under pseudonyms in order to maintain the secrecy agreed upon by delegates to the Convention. Hamilton was, as he had been back in 1778, Publius.

“Publius Valerius had toppled the last Roman king and set up the republican foundations of government.”

1787-1788, October-May: the 85 essays (2 x 600 page volumes when published by Archibald McLean, the Hanover Square printer who bound the work) of The Federalist Papers (Hamilton 51; Madison 29; Jay 5) written in the 7 months resulted in New York becoming “the main arena of intellectual combat over the new plan of government.”

 

249

1787, November: “first of the staggered series of ratifying conventions was scheduled to start … ” giving Hamilton and Madison little time to reflect or consider. Still, when, in

1788, March: the first bound copy was published, it was, is, “both a literary and political masterpiece.”

 

Hamilton wrote about the here and now but plumbed the depths of timeless principles

 

249

Robert Troup (Hamilton’s go-between in the early days when his identity was masked) explained: ‘All the numbers written by [Hamilton] were composed under the greatest possible pressure of business, for [he] always had a vast deal of law business to engage his attention.’

 

250

1788, March: Madison returned to Virginia “to defend the Constitution in his home state” [RC/257] and so “Hamilton churned out 21 straight essays in a two-month period. On two occasions, he published five essays in a single week and published six in ne spectacular week when writing on taxation.

“Hamilton’s mind always worked with preternatural speed. …  Words were his chief weapons … His papers show that, Mozart-like, he could transpose complex thoughts onto paper with few revisions. … He wrote with the speed of a beautifully organized mind that digested ideas thoroughly, slotted them into appropriate pigeonholes, then regurgitated them at will.”

“… virtually all of his important work was journalism, prompted by topical issues and written in the midst of controversy. … His friend Nathaniel Pendleton remarked, ‘His eloquence … seemed to require opposition to give it its full force.’ But his topical writing has endured because he plumbed the timeless principles behind contemporary events. … he wanted to convince people through appeals to their reason.”

 

Great moments in history demand great men of history: Madison and Hamilton wandering the streets of Manhattan in 1787-1788 [twin-motif]

 

251

“… Hamilton was essentially an intellectual loner who took perverse pride in standing against the crowd.”

“ … the evolution produced an insatiable need for thinkers who could generate ideas and wordsmiths who could lucidly expound them. … The fate of the democratic experiment depended upon political intellectuals who might have been marginalized at other periods.”

“Hamilton and Madison came to symbolize opposite ends of the political spectrum. At the time of the Federalist essays, however, they were so close in style and outlook that scholars find it hard to sort out their separate contributions.” [because the two never divulged who wrote what—though Chernow seems to believe that we know who in particular many of the essays]

 

253

Hamilton’s opening remarks went straight to the heart of the matter: “ ‘To the People of the State of New York. After an unequivocal experience of the inefficacy of the subsisting Federal Government, you are called upon to deliberate on a new Constitution for the United States of America.’ The main question was whether good governments could be created ‘from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force’ … the outcome of the ratifying conventions would determine ‘the fate of an empire’ and that rejection would be a ‘general misfortune of mankind.’

 

Twin motif (opposites); the mask [poker face is a mask, too, don’t forget, in another angle on the USA]

253

Hamilton held that the opponents of the Constitution were of 2 types: “state politicians … who feared an erosion of their power, and demagogues who fed off popular confusion while proclaiming popular rights (Jefferson later took this starring role). Hamilton warned that ‘a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidding appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government’.”

 

Golden Age of Republic

253

Hamilton: ‘Is it not time to awake from the deceitful dream of a golden age and to adopt as a practical maxim for the direction of our political conduct that we, as well as the other inhabitants of the globe, are yet remote from the happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue?’

 

254

“While conceding that republics had produced disorders in the past, Hamilton noted that progress in the ‘science of politics’ had fostered principles that would prevent most abuses: the division of powers among departments, legislative checks and balances, an independent judiciary, and representation by elected legislators.”

 

Monetary theory and Union

254

“In a sudden flash of economic foresight, [Hamilton] anticipated 20thC monetary theory: ‘The ability of a country to pay taxes must always be proportioned, in a great degree, to the quantity of money in circulation and to the celerity [what economists now call velocity] with which it circulates.’ Blessed with a potent union, the government would collect customs duties with greater efficiency, since it would not have to stop contraband among the states and need only patrol the Atlantic seaboard. Americans would likewise save money by having a single country rather than the separate confederacies that might stem from disunion.” So, contra Montesquieu, Hamilton argued that large republics could indeed survive, thrive, and prosper. “The new country would be so large, he contended, that only a mighty central government could govern it.” [RC/255]

 

254 (cont)

After the Revolution, Hamilton and Madison argued, “Land and property values had plummeted, money had grown scarce, public credit had been destroyed—all because the central government lacked power. And it lacked that power because it had to rely for revenue upon the states, who competed to provide the least money to it.

Only if the federal government could deal directly with its citizens and not fear obstruction from the states could it be a true government.”

 

Streets of Rome

255

“Recalling Shays’ Rebellion [Hamilton] inquired, ‘Who can determine what might have been the issue of [Massachusetts’] late convulsions if the malcontents had been headed by a Caesar or a Cromwell?’ (This and numerous other pejorative references to Caesar belie Jefferson’s canard that Hamilton revered the Roman dictator.)”

 

Flexibility of the Constitution indicates the emerging divergence from Madison

256

The Constitution needed to be flexible, Hamilton argued, because ‘There ought to be a capacity to provide for future contingencies.’ In politics, ‘the means ought to be proportioned to the end. … [T]here ought to be no limitation of a power destined to effect a purpose.’

 

257

“Madison faulted the Articles of Confederation for their vague language and savored the Constitution’s precision, which he hoped would circumscribe federal powers. Hamilton, on contrast, capitalized on what he saw as the document’s general and elastic language to expand government power.”

 

American liberty as dangerous

257

Madison sounded positively “Hamiltonian when he stated that ‘liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty as well as by the abuses of power. … [T]he former rather than the latter is apparently most to be apprehended by the United States.’

 

Compromise, compromise, compromise [Constitution and government like songwriting]

258

‘If mankind were to resolve to agree in no institution of government until every part of it had been adjusted to the most exact standard of perfection, society would soon become a general scene of anarchy and the world a desert.’

 

America’s rejection of Monarchs, Kings & Royalty

258

Hamilton’s having referred in the Constitutional Convention to the president as an ‘elective monarch’ kept coming back at him and “It clearly exasperated Hamilton that critics were drawing facile comparisons between the American president and the British king. … Hamilton continually invoked the king of England as an example of what should be avoided, especially the monarch’s lack of accountability. Every president ‘ought to be personally responsible for his behaviour in office.’ … presidents as leaders should act for the popular good, even if the people were sometimes deluded about their interests.”

 

259

Hamilton anticipated and laid “the intellectual groundwork for the doctrine of judicial review later promulgated by Supreme Court justice John Marshall in Federalist #78 where he wrote that ‘no legislative act … contrary to the constitution can be valid’.”

 

260

“In the final essay, #85, Hamilton reminded readers that the Constitution was not a perfect document and cited Hume that only time and experience could guide political enterprise to completion.”

By the year 2000 The Federalist “had been quoted no fewer than 291 times in Supreme Court opinions, with the frequency of citations rising with the years.”

 

261

“The Federalist’s influence was to be especially critical in New York and Virginia, two large states indispensable to the union’s long-term viability.”

 

262

But “[f]or all the intellectual firepower marshaled in The Federalist, New York had a highly intelligent, well-oiled opposition to the Constitution.”

 

Duplicity, Tyranny, Liberty and Compormise

265

1788, June: At the Poughkeepsie Convention where New York State was to vote on whether or not to ratify the Constitution in June 1788, Hamilton’s detractors set out to depict him as “a brazen manipulator, a two-faced hypocrite … The conviction that Hamilton must be dissembling became commonplace among his foes, who were bent upon unmasking the perfidious monarchist.”

“Hamilton believed that revolutions ended in tyranny because they glorified revolution as a permanent state of mind. A spirit of compromise and a concern with order were needed to balance the quest for liberty.”

 

American South’s double-standard on aristocracy noted by Washington

266

“More than anyone else, Hamilton engineered the transition to a postwar political culture that valued sound and efficient government as the most reliable custodian of liberty.”

New Hampshire finally joined Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, Maryland, Georgia, and South Carolina while the Poughkeepsie Convention was in session and so New York had now to decide whether or not it was part of the USA or estranged from it.

1788, June 25: Virginia ratified the Constitution on June 25, 1788 (despite leading antifederalist, Patrick Henry, warning delegates ‘They’ll free your niggers.’) and so the New York delegation was put on the spot. Yet the New York antifederalists continued to resist.

George Washington spoke candidly about the Virginia landholders fears thus: ‘It is a little strange that the men of large property in the South should be more afraid that the Constitution will produce an aristocracy or a monarchy than the genuine, democratical people of the East.’

1788, July 26: Melancton “Smith and a dozen other antifederalists switched their votes to favour the Constitution, producing a wafer-thin majority … thirty to 27 … ”

 

Chapter 14

Putting the Machine in Motion

 

Opposites, reconciling paradox and contrivance

270

The Constitution struggle “exposed such glaring rifts in the country that America needed a first president of unimpeachable integrity who would embody the rich promise of the new republic. … Everybody knew that George Washington alone could manage the paradoxical feat … ”

 

271

Hamilton approached Washington to stand for president and “antagonized John Adams … ”

1788, June: Adams returned and Hamilton manoeuvred to ensure that Adams didn’t accidentally end up with the presidency while standing for vice-president.

 

272

“At the same time, Hamilton credited Adam’s indisputable patriotism, his ‘sound understanding,’ and his ‘ardent love for the public good’, and he was certain he would not ‘disturb the harmony’ of a Washington administration. Hamilton confided to Madison that Adams was a trustworthy friend of the Constitution and as vice president would provide geographic balance with a Virginia president.” As usual, Hamilton feared the worst and so contrived to ensure that electors in Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania denied their votes to Adams—thereby ensuring that Washington would get up. Adams came in a very late second

 

273

and was smarting from wounded pride. Worse, he got wind of Hamilton’s ‘dark and dirty intrigue’ efforts to deny him the votes of the electors in question and was incensed, interpreting it as duplicity and “a calculated effort to humiliate him and lessen his public stature.” Hamilton was mortified—having supported his nomination and subsequent election as vice-president.

 

Hamilton’s non-de-plume as H G [Nelson: use for Detective Sergeant Hamilton]

273

1789, February 11: Hamilton chaired a meeting to unseat Governor Clinton.

 

274

attacked Governor Clinton using the ’s non-de-plume  ‘H G’.

 

275

In the political wash-up Clinton was once again victorious and appointed Aaron Burr (who had been in the anti-Clinton camp before the election) as state attorney-general.

 

Aaron Burr and Washington in NYC: 1789; first inaugural ball.

276

“ … Hamilton felt betrayed by Burr, who had campaigned for Yates. The political genius of Aaron Burr was to lie in figuring out endless ways to profit from the partisan wrangling in his home state.”

1789, April 16: Washington left Mt Vernon for NYC to begin the presidency of the newly constituted USA.

 

277

1789, May 7: the first inaugural ball—on Broadway above Wall Street.

 

Contra Royalty

278

Once installed, the president mocked John Adams for his ‘ostentatious imitation [and] mimicry of royalty.’ He was dubbed ‘His Rotundity’ and ‘the Duke of Braintree’. Adams’ “concern for decorum bred a belief in suspicious minds that he sought a hereditary monarch, with himself as king and son John Quincy groomed as his dauphin.”

 

279

For his part, “Hamilton wanted a president invested with a touch of grandeur and buffered from popular pressure. … he also advised Washington to be available to senators but not congressmen.”

 

For their part, “antifederalists spied royal trappings galore, small but menacing concessions that portended a monarchy. … Washington had 7 slaves shipped up from Mount Vernon to assist his white household servants.”

New York was a showcase for the disparity between rich and poor, with the rich

 

280

“aping European nobility. For republicans afraid that the country would slip back into aristocratic ways, such foppery smacked of Old World decadence.

 

Trickster (including trade)

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1789, April 1st: The inaugural session of the House of Representatives (“on the ground floor of Federal hall”) and of the Senate!

Meanwhile, “American bonds continued to trade at steep discounts on European exchanges, suggesting little faith in the new government’s ability to repay them. If this situation persisted, the government would have to pay extortionate interest rates to appease jittery creditors.”

 

Treasury Department as a slavish model of Monarchy

281

Madison insisted that there be a single secretary rather than a board, and that the secretary “be equipped with all necessary powers, should superintend the department. … Opponents … feared [the Treasury Secretary’s powers] would open the door to executive tampering with legislative affairs—a charge that was, in fact, to hound Hamilton throughout his tenure.”

 

287

“ … everything that Hamilton planned to create to transform America into a powerful, modern nation-state—a central bank, a funded debt, a mint, a customs service, manufacturing subsidies, and so on—was to strike critics as a slavish imitation of the British model.”

 

Contra trickster and then trickster incarnate: confidence and mercurial mind; twin motif

287

“A man of irreproachable integrity, Hamilton severed all outside sources of income while in office [as Treasury Secretary], something that neither Washington nor Jefferson nor Madison dared to do.”

 

288

1789, September 11: 34-year-old [or was he only 32, so split the difference!] “Alexander Hamilton was officially nominated” as the first Treasury Secretary. He “hit the ground running [knowing] … the symbolic value of rapid decision making and phenomenal energy. As he wrote during the Revolution, ‘If a Government appears to be confident of its own powers, it is the surest way to inspire the same confidence in others.’ … With preternatural confidence, [Hamilton himself] discerned clear solutions to the murkiest questions.”

 

 290

“Hamilton could be needlessly tactless and provocative … [his] mind was so swift and decisive that it could lead him into rash decisions.”

“ … Washington and Hamilton functioned so well together [because] … both men longed to see the thirteen states welded into a single, respected American nation. … Jefferson had it wrong when he charged that Hamilton manipulated Washington. On fundamental political matters, Washington was simply more attuned to Hamilton than he was to Jefferson.”

 

Chapter 15

Villainous Business

292

Hamilton “had to create a customs service on the spot, for custom duties were to be the main source of government revenue. … The whole statistical basis of government took shape under his command. In a significant decision, he decided that customs revenues could be paid not just in gold and silver but with notes from the bank of New York and the Bank of North America, an innovation that began to steer the country away from use of coins and toward an efficient system of paper money.”

 

Trade and the future consumer society

294

Hamilton sought good foreign relations with Britain—‘We think in English and have a similarity of prejudices and of predilections’—as the basis of trade. He looked upon Britain as the great power of the day but assumed that America would be a great trading nation with whom Britain would have to reckon: ‘I do think we are and shall be great consumers.’

 

Secret Agent ‘7’

294

[Gore Vidal speaks of Hamilton as a British secret agent in the American government but Chernow (RC/) says] “For security reasons, Beckwith assigned Hamilton the code number ‘7’ in reporting their talks back to London—a precaution that later led to preposterous charges that Hamilton was a British agent. In fact, Washington knew about some of these clandestine talks and received summaries from Hamilton.”

 

Hamilton recognized that for now the USA was an agricultural economy and producer of raw materials but that “the northern states were

 

Hamilton a savvy operator in foreign relations

295

“making headway in manufacturing, and if Britain thwarted America, such threats to Britain’s dominance would grow apace. If spurned by England, the United States could also forge an alliance with France that would threaten British possessions in the West Indies.”

Washington listened to Hamilton’s suggestions with respect to foreign relations but it was finance that preoccupied Hamilton in the first months of the Administration and government borrowing and revenue raising ability was the name of the game as far as he was concerned.

 

Beginning of rift with Madison

296

Hamilton noted that British “government bonds issued to pay for the debt galvanized the economy, since creditors could use them as collateral for loans. … Hamilton wanted to use British methods ot defeat Britain economically. … Inviolable property rights lay at the heart of the capitalist culture that Hamilton wished to enshrine in America. … Aware that the American Revolution had produced a nation averse to taxes, Hamilton asked Madison ‘What further taxes will be least unpopular?’ … Madison did not want a long-term government debt, fearing that such securities would fall into foreign hands … ”

 

Importance for the economy of public and private morality

297

The USA government debt was the ‘price of liberty’ inherited from the Revolution, according to Hamilton, and “the security of liberty and property were inseparable”. Governments must honour their debts because “public and private morality [was important]: ‘States, like individuals, who observe their engagements are respected and trusted, while the reverse is the fate of those who pursue an opposite conduct.’ The proper handling of government debt would permit America to borrow at affordable interest rates and would also act as a tonic to the economy. … government bonds could function as money—and it was the scarcity of money … that had crippled the economy … America … lacked only liquid capital, and government debt could supply that gaping deficiency.’

“ … During the Revolution, many affluent citizens had invested in bonds” and war veterans had been paid with bonds. Many sold their bonds at low prices to speculators

 

Trickster: Hamilton’s gamble lays basis for America’s financial prosperity

298

who now stood to gain when the government guaranteed to underwrite those bonds at face value. The argument was as to whether or not the veterans and those who had sold should now reap the financial reward or whether the speculators would do so. Hamilton argued that the essential principle that had to be upheld, here, as at all times in the future, should be that “securities are freely transferable and that buyers assume all rights to profit or loss in transactions.” The government could not intervene retroactively, Hamilton insisted [rightly, surely?] for short-term political expedients. “To establish the concept of the ‘security of transfer’, Hamilton was willing, if necessary, to reward mercenary scoundrels and penalize patriotic citizens. With this huge gamble, Hamilton laid the foundations for America’s future financial preeminence.”

Similarly, Hamilton decided that state and federal debt from the Revolution should be rolled into one. Hamilton reasoned that the federal government’s assuming state debts

 

299

 “would be more efficient … one overarching scheme for settling debt instead of small, competing schemes … [and] bondholders would feel a stake in preserving any government that owed them money … creditors would shift their main allegiance to the central government. Hamilton’s interest was not in enriching creditors or cultivating the privileged class so much as in insuring the government’s stability and survival. Under his scheme, Hamilton believed, the states would lose incentive to compete with the federal government for major revenue sources.”

He was naïve in attributing to the rich “a broader sense of public duty … devoid of self-interest … ”

 

300

Hamilton never advocated perpetual public debt, never formulated the doctrine attributed to him by his adversaries, that ‘public debts are public blessings’. Instead, he advocated ‘as a fundamental maxim in the system of public credit of the United States that the creation of debt should always be accompanied with the means of extinguishment’; i.e., accumulation of debt would be a national disease.

 

301

The economic success of Hamilton’s scheme to honour both state and federal government debt was the political fallout of greedy speculators scurrying around the backwoods and wherever else they could buy up the various bonds and promissory notes so that as they increased in value—and they did because of public confidence in Hamilton’s measures—the greedy would make a killing.

 

302

1790, January 14: Hamilton’s first budget report handed down in the House of Representatives. Daniel Webster said of it much later: ‘The fabled birth of Minerva from the brain of Jove was hardly more sudden or more perfect than the financial system of the United States as it burst forth from the conception of Alexander Hamilton.’

But Hamilton’s detractors were not at all impressed and so the “myth of Alexander Hamilton as the American Mephistopheles was being born. [Senator William] Maclay saw New York financiers as satanic henchmen in collusion with Hamilton to foster ‘the most abandoned system of speculation ever broached in our country’.”

 

First Budget Report (Report on Public Credit) crystallizes North - South division: North swindled the South

303

“Maclay and other critics were correct that the Hamiltonian system didn’t necessarily reward the just or the virtuous, yet they missed the larger social benefits that accrued to society” in seeing the securities market and the sinking fund as nothing else but the plaything of ‘corrupt and criminal’ ‘stock-jobber’ and ‘paper dealers’.

Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia went so far as to object “not just to public debt but to all debt as harmful to society. ‘Let us not overvalue public credit,’ he warned. ‘It is to nations what private credit and loan offices are to individuals. It begets debt, extravagance, vice, and bankruptcy. … I sicken every time I contemplate the European vices that the Secretary’s gambling report will necessarily introduce into out infant republic.ˆ

Hamilton’s first Budget Report crystallized the North - South division in that there was a wide perception that the government paper [bonds and promissory of various sorts] had been purchased by the South and then sold well below face value to speculators from the North who now stood to profit from Hamilton’s scheme.

 

Hamilton quite deliberately laid down the foundation of American prosperity; Streets of Rome

 

304

“ … we can date the onset of that abiding rural fear of big-city financiers that came to permeate American politics [to] … the controversy over [Hamilton’s] funding scheme … ”

 ‘The general rules of property, and all those general rules which form the links of society, frequently involve in their ordinary operation particular hardships and injuries … Yet the public order and the general happiness require a steady conformity to them. It is perhaps always better that partial evils should be submitted to than principles should be violated’, Hamilton told Washington.

1790, February 8: House of Resp began debating Hamilton’s ‘Report on Public Credit’. The Cincinnati and NYC were greatly supportive and Maclay accused Hamilton of unleashing ‘tools’ and gladiators’.

Hamilton was counting on Madison’s backing but was “rudely undeceived”. Madison attacked it on

1790, February 11:  Madison wanted only those who had held government securities in the past to reap the profit now; he was against speculators from reaping benefits and to that end wanted to ensure that the original holders made any profit on future sale of those securities. He “saw a betrayal of the American Revolution in the making” if those who had sold off their securities “in desperation” were to be sold down the river to establish America’s financial stability. Madison, then, had not bought Hamilton’s insistence on “the invaluable principle that buyers of securities should reap all future dividends and profits. In Hamilton’s view, government interference with this right amounted to confiscation of private property.” Madison admitted privately that in his view ‘a public debt is a public curse’.

 

305

1790, February 20: Hamilton organized his forces better than Madison and won the House of Reps on a vote of 36 to 13. 9 of the 13, however, were from Virginia—the state with the biggest population.

 

Beginnings of America’s 2 party-system

306

The Hamilton – Madison rift “precipitated the start of the two-party system in America.” From

1790-1795 “the political spectrum in America was defined by whether people endorsed or opposed Alexander Hamilton’s programs.”

 

Slavery debate to the fore: Biblical support for slavery; double-standard of the South

306

New York and Pennsylvania Quakers “had submitted a petition to abolish the slave trade”; the Pennsylvania group, led by 84-year-old Benjamin Franklin wanted to abolish slavery altogether. “James Jackson of Georgia said that the Bible itself had approved slavery. … William Loughton Smith of South Carolina reminded legislators that southern states had ratified the Constitution on the proviso that it would not interfere with slavery. Any attempt to renege on this pledge would threaten the survival of the union.”

 

Streets of Rome, and slavery

307

1776: Thomas Day, the English radical: ‘If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independence with the one hand and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves.’

The upshot of the agreement to shelve the slavery debate in order to have the Constitution ratified and to preserve the union was that the Southern economy was mothballed from criticism and so

1790’s America trained its critical energies “exclusively on the northern economy and the financial and manufacturing system devised by Hamilton. Southern slaveholders proclaimed “that northern financiers were the evil ones and that slaveholders were the virtuous populists, upright men of the soil. It was testimony to the political genius of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison that they diverted attention from the grisly realities of southern slavery by casting a luride spotlight on Hamilton’s system as the paramount embodiment of evil. They inveighed against the concentrated wealth of northern merchants when southern slave plantations clearly represented the most heinous form of concentrated wealth. Throughout the

1790s, planters posed as the tribunes of small farmers and denounced the depravity of stocks, bonds, banks, and manufacturing—the whole wicked apparatus of Hamiltonian capitalism.”

 

Medieval thinking: dueling: honour and dignity; Streets of Rome; duality—in society and in Hamilton’s nature

308

“Like many contemporary politicians, Hamilton still inhabited two worlds: the modern world of constitutional law and the old feudal order based on honor and dignity. Unless retracted, any direct challenge to one’s honor had to be settled outside the legal realm on the field of honor—the dueling ground. … Fisher Ames observed that no man, ‘not the Roman Cato himself, was more inflexible on every point that touched, or only seemed to touch, integrity and honour’ than Hamilton.”

 

309

“This supreme rationalist, who feared the passions of the mob more than any other founder, was himself a man of deep and often ungovernable emotions.”

 

Chapter 16

Pangloss

311

Jefferson’s “folksy air charmed people and allowed Jefferson to root out their secrets. The plain dress, mild manners, and unassuming air were the perfect costume for a crafty man intent upon presenting himself as the spokesman for the common people.” He was, in fact, of aristocratic pedigree, “anything but common.”

 

Streets of Rome

311

Dumas Malone, Jefferson’s biographer, says that for the tall, red-haired, and freckled Thomas ‘the heroes of antiquity were more real than either the Christian saints or modern historical figures.’ 12 years older than him,

“Like Hamilton, Jefferson was a fanatic for self-improvement … ” with wide-ranging interests.

 

Hamilton’s (trickster) escape

312

“For Jefferson, the Revolution was an unwelcome distraction from a treasured private life, while for Hamilton it was a fantastic opportunity for escape and advancement. Like Hamilton, Jefferson rose in politics through sheer mastery of words … Nobody gave more noble expression to the ideals of individual freedom and dignity or had more devout faith in the wisdom of the common man.”

 

Streets of Rome: Monticello and anti-monarchy

313

1790: Hamilton first met Jefferson. He had thought of Jefferson as having demonstrated cowardice in the Revolution because when the British cavalry approached Monticello, Jefferson “scrambled off into the woods” without transferring power to his successor. Hamilton wrote of Jefferson “that when real danger appeared, ‘the governor of the ancient dominion dwindled into the poor, timid philosopher and, instead of rallying his brave countrymen, he fled for safety from a few light-horsemen and shamefully abandoned his trust’.”

“Like many Virginia plantation owners, Jefferson was land rich but cash poor and chronically indebted to British creditors. … Virginia planters were [he said] ‘a species of property annexed to certain mercantile houses in London’. By the later 1780s, as tobacco prices plummeted, Virginia planters struggled to repay old debts to London creditors and demanded the return of slaves carried off by British troops.”

Jefferson was implacably anti-British and anti-monarchy—and would remain in debt to his eyeballs because of his extravagant lifestyle and refusal to pay debts by selling land. He’d rather use his slaves to labor in whatever way was necessary to pay off those debts.

 

Jefferson: the embodiment of contradiction; the sensualist behind the ascetic mask; paradox.

314

Jefferson died in debt in 1826 and 130 of his slaves were sold to pay his debts.

‘I was much an enemy to monarchy before I came to Europe. I am ten thousand times more so since I have seen what they are’, Jefferson told Washington. He was suspicious, therefore, of “any aristocratic or monarchical sympathies in America—suspicions that were to crystallize around the figure of Alexander Hamilton.”

In Paris, though, “the more rabidly antiaristocratic he became, the more he was habituated to aristocratic pleasures. Jefferson fancied himself a mere child of nature, a simple, unaffected man, rather than what he really was: a grandee, a gourmet, a hedonist, and a clever, ambitious politician. … he was embraced by a group of Enlightenment aristocrats who exhibited the same exquisite contradictions.”

 

316

Jefferson projected the image of himself as ascetic whereas in fact, and Hamilton knew as much via his sister-in-law, Angelica Church—and later set about unmasking the real Jefferson as a “closet sensualist”.

“Both Hamilton and Jefferson came to see each other as hypocritical libertines, and this fed a mutual cynicism.”

Jefferson was a “congenital optimist” and in

1788, November: Jefferson wrote George Washington that France was ready to transform itself into a nation that loved liberty and told James Monroe that “within 2 or 3 years France would have ‘a tolerably free constitution [without] … having cost them a drop of blood.’

1789, March 15: ‘France will be quiet this year … ’. It would be richly paradoxical that Jefferson, long an eyewitness to French politics, was blind to the murderous drift of events while Hamilton, who never set foot in Europe, was much more clear-sighted about the French Revolution.”

 

Jefferson’s naïveté & extraordinary double-standard

 

317

1789, August 3: Jefferson had been in Paris for 5 years and wrote ‘I will agree to be stoned as a false prophet if all does not end well in this country.’

1789, October 6: Hamilton, absorbed in “his Report on Public Credit” in NYC, Hamilton wrote to Lafayette, now head of the French national guard: ‘I have seen with a mixture of pleasure and apprehension the progress of the events which have lately taken place in your country … As a friend to mankind and liberty, I rejoice in the efforts which you are making to establish it, while I fear much for the final success of the attempts, for the fate of those I esteem who are engaged in it.’

 

318

Hamilton considered Jefferson a ‘philosophic politician’, ignorant of human nature.

 

1790, March 21: Jefferson, now secretary of state, “moved into lodgings on Maiden Lane, where he was to live with something less than republican austerity. … He maintained a household of five servants, four horses, and a maître d’ hôtel imported from Paris.”

Once settled back in the USA Jefferson “concluded that ‘a preference of kingly over republican government was evidently the favorite sentiment’ among affluent New Yorkers.” He considered NYC as “infested with Tories”

 

319

“ … all looking worshipfully to Hamilton as their favorite.”

Jefferson was decidedly anti-British and anti-monarchy and his

 

Jefferson pro small government and states’ rights & with a circumspect character

320

philosophical standpoint was that “the smaller the government, the better the chances of preserving liberty. And to the extent that a central government was necessary, he wanted a strong Congress with a weak executive. Most of all, Jefferson wished to preserve state sovereignty against federal infringement. … [i.e., everything Hamilton abhorred.”

Jefferson was careful not to say too much lest his words entrap him. Adams labeled Jefferson a ‘shadow man’ with a character being like ‘the great rivers, whose bottoms we cannot see and make no noise.’

 

Assumption: Federal Gov’t taking over states’ debt

321

Madison (Little Jemmy) reneged on his virtual promise of supporting Hamilton over assumption—the federal government’s assuming responsibility for the $25 million states’ debt. Virginia had paid off its debt so why should they be penalized?, Madison now argued.

 

The capital city & Jefferson’s agricultural rural republican fantasy

326

“Many southerners believed that a northern capital would favor the mercantile, monied urban interests and discriminate against urban life. Jefferson’s pastoral dream of a nation of small, independent farms had a powerful appeal to the American psyche, however much it differed from the slaveholding reality of the south.”

 

Assumption bought at the price of a capital on the Potomac

328

1790, June 20: Jefferson arranged dinner at Maiden Lane attended by Madison, Hamilton and “perhaps one or two others.” There, they “

 

329

“consecrated a deal that was probably already close to achievement.”; i.e., that Philadelphia become the capital for a decade after which a site on the Potomac would be the permanent capital. This was to be in exchange for assumption.

 

Hamilton as Mercurius; the Street of Rome

329

William Maclay described Hamilton as very boyish, even a ‘skite’, i.e., he “hints at something feminine about Hamilton beneath the military bearing, an androgynous quality noted by others.” Maclay referred to Hamilotn’s ‘gladiators’ as having done Hamilton’s dirty work in Congress, that ‘Everything … is prearranged by Hamilton and his group of speculators.’

 

1790, July 10: House approved the Residence Act naming the site(s) for the temporary and permanents capital(s).

 

Party politics; duplicity and the mask.

330

1790, July 26: “the House narrowly passed the assumption bill.” Madison saved face by voting against it but kept to the bargain by having the requisite number of Virginia and Maryland votes in favor.

Disintegration of the union had been achieved by the Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton deal. Jefferson, though, hid behind the mask of having been duped by Hamilton into agreeing to assumption.

“Jefferson traced the formation of the two main parties—to be known as Republicans and Federalists—to Hamilton’s victory over assumption. For Jefferson, this event split Congress into pure, virtuous republicans and a ‘mercenary phalanx’’ ‘monarchists in principle,’ who ‘adhered to Hamilton of course as their leader in that principle.’

Jefferson cried ignorance but knew what he was doing at the time. However, “he probably did not see as clearly as Hamilton that the scheme created and unshakable foundation for federal power in America. The federal government had captured the bulk of American taxing power. … It wasn’t that Jefferson had been duped by Hamilton … it was simply that he had been outsmarted by Hamilton, who had embedded an enduring

 

331

“political system in the details of the funding scheme.”

 

 

Chapter 17

The First Town in America

 

Hamilton as Mercurius:

333

William Sullivan: ‘His complexion was exceedingly fair and varying from this only by the almost feminine rosiness of his cheeks. His might be considered, as to figure and color, an uncommonly handsome face.’

John Quincy Adams told Jefferson that Hamilton was an ‘insolent coxcomb who rarely dined in good company where there was good wine without getting silly and vaporing about his administration, like a young girl about her brilliants and trinkets.’

“Throughout his career, he accumulated companions ‘drawn to him by his humourous and almost feminine traits,’ his grandson observed.”

 

338

1790, August 12: “Congress held its farewell session in Federal hall; by the end of the month, President Washington had boarded a barge and waved his farewell to Manhattan.

1790, September 1: Hamilton and Madison took a four-wheeled carriage “south across New Jersey” to the new capital at Philadelphia.

 

Trade, Customs Service, Lighthouses, the Coast Guard, and the Cuban Missile Crisis!

339

 Once in Philadelphia, Hamilton was absorbed in “creating the Customs Service. This towering intellect scrawled more mundane letters about lighthouse construction than about any other single topic. This preoccupation seems peculiar until it is recalled that import duties accounted for 90% of government revenues: no customs revenue, no government programs—hence Hamilton’s unceasing vigilance about everything pertaining to trade.”

 

340

“Hamilton became expert on such excruciating banalities as the best whale oil, wicks, and candles to brighten lighthouse beams.”

1790, April: Hamilton “asked Congress … to commission a fleet of single-masted vessels called revenue cutters that would patrol offshore waters and intercept contraband.”

1790, August: Washington signed a bill setting up this service: it became the Coast Guard.

So masterly was Hamilton’s directive [firm but courteous and fair] about boarding foreign vessels that it was still being applied during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.”

 

American aversion to taxation: Whiskey Rebellion

341

“¾ of the revenues gathered by the Treasury Department came from commerce with Great Britain.” Good relations with the mother country were essential. “America had decided to rely on customs duties, which meant reliance on British trade.” Hence: Hamilton’s poaching “on Jefferson’s turf at the State Department.”

Import “duties injured seaboard merchants who were part of Hamilton’s social circle and political base in New York.”

 

342

But the assumption of state debt required the raising of revenue and so “He was boxed in … by the already ingrained American aversion to taxation.” Direct taxes were anathema so that left land tax and whiskey tax—both guaranteed to upset the rural agrarian constituency, with moonshine least likely of the 2 to create trouble—and Hamilton wanted the federal government to establish the right to tax alcohol before the states realized it as a windfall. “ … Madison supported the excise tax on distilled spirits … ” But “homemade brew was a time-honoured part of local culture …[in] the mountain hollows of western Pennsylvania … and government interference was fiercely resented.” So, the Pennsylvania House of Reps protested Hamilton’s tax. 

 

343

1791, July: excise tax on distilled spirits took effect and the tax inspectors were under threat in Pennsylvania.

Chapter 18

Of Avarice and Enterprise

Bank of the USA and its constitutional implications; late 18thC sea-change

344

1790, December 14: Hamilton’s report on the need “to charter America’s first central bank. … he was setting in place the building blocks for a powerful state: public credit, and efficient tax system, a customs service, and now a strong central bank. … the Bank of the United States raised the most searching constitutional questions.”

Late 18thC sea-change: Political—respect for individual freedom resulted in royal rule being repudiated and limited government being instituted. Economic—“the industrial revolution, the expansion of global trade, the growth of banks and stock exchanges … ”

Hamilton was in the thick of both but “an American prophet without peer” with respect to the economic changes.

 

The creator of American capitalism; government’s role.

345

‘ … late-nineteenth century Americans honoured Hamilton,’ says Gordon Wood, ‘as the creator of American capitalism … ’ He “believed that government ought to promote self-fulfillment, self-improvement, and self-reliance. … As treasury secretary, he wanted to make room for entrepreneurs, whom he regarded as the motive force of the economy. Like Franklin, he intuited America’s special genius for business. … ‘enterprise is our element’.”

“He converted the new Constitution into a flexible instrument for creating the legal framework necessary for economic growth.”

Woodrow Wilson: ‘ … we think of Mr. Hamilton rather than of President Washington when we look back to the policy of

 

Opposites (including Jefferson’s double-standard); Adams and the confidence trick

346

“the first administration.’

Hamilton had a wealth of knowledge about finance but his 3 main adversaries of the 1790s—Jefferson, Madison and Adams—“were woefully backward in finance, if forward-looking in politics … These founders adhered to a static, archaic worldview that scorned banks, credit, and stock markets.”

Jefferson and Madison, “Like landed aristocrats throughout history … betrayed a snobbish disdain for commerce and financial speculation. Jefferson perpetuated a fantasy of America as an agrarian paradise with limited household manufacturing. … He wrote, ‘I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries as long as they are chiefly agricultural … .’ For Jefferson, banks were devices to fleece the poor, oppress farmers, and induce a taste for luxury that would subvert republican simplicity. Strangely enough for a large slaveholder, he thought that agriculture was egalitarian while manufacturing would produce a class-conscious society.”

John Adams, though “a representative of New England’s mercantile community, … told Jefferson that ‘an aristocracy of bank paper is as bad as the nobility of France or England.’ For Adams, a banking system was a confidence trick by which the rich exploited the poor. … [He dismissed] bankers as ‘swindlers and thieves.’ … Both Jefferson and Adams detested people who earned a living shuffling financial paper … Jefferson agreed that the [banking] business was ‘an infinity of successive felonious larcenies.’ So when

 

347

“they wrote about Hamilton in quasi-satanic terms, we must remember that they considered banking and other financial activities as so much infernal trickery.”

Hamilton had ‘full conviction that banks are essential to the pecuniary operations of the government.’

Basing his model on ‘The Bank of England [“established in 1694 under King William III”, and] … the Bank of Amsterdam’, Hamilton conceived of “an essentially private bank buttressed by public authority” for America’s central bank.

 

Money Supply and Velocity of Circulation

348

“Hamilton wished to increase the money supply and the speed with which it circulated. Due to scarce money, many deals were being done as barter; in the south, warehouse receipts for tobacco often doubled as money. In contrast, a central bank would provide liquid capital that would promote the ease, freedom, and efficiency of commerce. … Hamilton wanted his central bank to be profitable enough to attract private investors while serving the public interest.”

 

Private versus public central bank [Reserve bank of Australia being at arm’s length from Executive Government makes sense in this context, though not necessarily private]

349

Hamilton’s preference for the central bank “to remain predominantly in private hands, advanced a theory that became a truism of central banking—that monetary policy was so liable to abuse that it needed some insulation from interfering politicians: ‘To attach full confidence to an institution of this nature, it appears to be an essential ingredient in its structure that it shall under a private not a public direction, under the guidance of individual interest, not of public policy’.”

 

So, how to insure against abuses by the private clique running the central bank? Have the government become a “minority stockholder”, enough “to vote for directors.”

 

1791, January 20: bill to charter the bank of the USA passed through the Senate but when it came to the House in early February 1791, the South—in the person of its representative, James Madison, was opposed. “Southern planters especially hated bankers … [and] Some central-bank critics thought the institution would aggrandize northern merchants at the expense of southern agrarians … ”

 

350

“Patrick Henry denounced Hamilton’s economic program as a ‘constituent part of a system which I have ever dreaded—subserviency of southern to [northern] interests’.”

 

1791, February 8: House of Reps passed the bank bill without problem. But it highlighted the fact that Congressman north of the Potomac were almost invariably with Hamilton

 

2 party system emerging on geographical lines: Jefferson equates chartered companies with royalty

351

while those south were invariably against. “ … philosophical views increasingly dovetailed with geographic interests … ”

Jefferson “had long detested monopolies and chartered companies as privileges conferred by British kings; he could not reconcile a central bank with true republicanism. [Morevover, he was] worried that the mercantile north, under Hamilton’s auspices, was gaining the upper hand over the rural south.”

 

355

1791, January 28: Hamilton presented his Report on the Mint to the Senate. Jefferson was interested in the minting of coins and agreed with Hamilton’s report. Unfortunately, Washington placed the mint under Jefferson’s control as Secretary of State and it was poorly administered.

 

The Bank of the United States opens and the North invests and makes a fortune only to create a bubble

357

1791, July 4: stock in the central bank was in great demand when it went on sale in Philadelphia and “many investors doubled their money within days”. Jefferson and Madison regarded the whole thing

 

358

as a case of gambling. Unfortunately, the greatest purchases were made in Philadelphia, New York and Boston and so the South could cry that they’d been done out of the fortunes made. The enthusiasm turned to madness, though, and there was an inevitable bubble.

1791, early August: The price of stock (scrip) in the bank soared.

 

Madison and Jefferson lament moral fibre of the gambling republic with its paper money; Streets of Rome; the needle and the damage done

359

1791, August 8: Madison to Jefferson: ‘The stock-jobbers will become the praetorian head of the Government, at once its tool and its tyrant, bribed by its largesses and overawing it by clamours and combinations.’ Jefferson: ‘The spirit of gaming, once it has seized a subject, is incurable. The tailor who has made thousands in one day, tho he was lost them the next, can never again be content with the slow and moderate earnings of his needle.’

“Jefferson warned Washington that paper money was ‘withdrawing our citizens from … useful industry to occupy themselves and their capitals in a species of gambling, destructive of morality, and which had introduced its poison into the government itself.’ … He suspected Duer of trading on inside information and wrongly assumed that Hamilton was [Duer’s] … constant, willing accomplice.” [RC/381 ‘ … the credit and fate of the nation seem to hang on the desperate throws and plunges of gambling scoundrels.’

 

[RC/382] “Jefferson inveighed against the ‘criminality of this paper system’ and, after the 1792 bubble in scrip saw Duer and others go to debtors’ prison, “said people would now return to ‘plain unsophisticated common sense.’ … Madison observed with satisfaction, ‘The gambling system … is beginning to exhibit its explosions’.”]

1791, August 11: “the first crash in government securities in American history.”

 

360

Hamilton was flying by the seat of his pants, here, but made an intuitively correct manoeuvre when he instructed the cashier of the Bank of New York to buy up government securities. This restored their value and the confidence of the market.

 

Duplicity

360

William Duer, not long out of employ with the Treasury Department and therefore insider knowledge, was speculating heavily in scrip. Hamilton wrote to him that since being duplicitous was dishonourable, he knew Duer would not be engaging in such behaviour. This only encouraged Duer to be more duplicitous in letting it be known that he knew much more than he did about Treasury’s intentions with respect to the market. The bubble was creating serious instability in the market.

 

361

Jefferson decided that Hamilton “had to be stopped at all costs.”

 

Chapter 19

City of the future

363

1791: Charles Wilson Peale painted Hamilton’s portrait;

 

Hamilton taken in by confidence trickster whose name was Mary but who called herself Mariah

364

Hamilton lived at 79 South Third Street and it’s there that 23-year-old Maria Reynolds came to seek his assistance in 1791, and with whom he subsequently had an affair. Her husband turned out to have been speculating in scrip and Hamilton made the mistake of continuing the affair with Mrs Reynolds and opening himself up to being blackmailed by James Reynolds.

 

366

“For Hamilton, Maria Reynolds always remained a curious amalgam of tragicomic figure and confidence woman.”

Hamilton depicts her as “a mercurial personality prone to wild mood swings.” She told Hamilton, as he says, that her husband ‘insisted she should insinuate herself on certain high and influenctial characters—endeavour to make assignations with them and actually prostitute herself to gull money from them.’

There seems little question that she approached Hamilton

 

367

“as part of an extortion racket, delivering an adept performance as a despairing woman. It was also clear, however, that she was too flighty to stick to any script. … Hamilton later concluded of his paramour, ‘The variety of shapes which this woman could assume was endless’.”

Hamilton himself became duplicitous with respect to Eliza, his wife, in order to carry on the affair. “Hamilton seemed to need two distinct types of love: love of the faithful, domestic kind and love of the more forbidden, exotic variety.” [Who doesn’t?]

 

‘Report on Manufactures’ & industrialisation

 

368

1791, December 5: Hamilton submitted his Report on Manufactures to Congress.

1791, December 15: Hamilton received the first blackmail note from James Reynolds.

 

370

Meanwhile, Hamilton was “conjuring up a futuristic industrial city, a microcosm of the manufacturing society that he envisioned to counter Jefferson’s nation of citizen-farmers.” The overwhelming majority (well over 90%) of Americans still tilled the soil and Hamilton wanted to change this in light of the fact of the already existing fact of industrialization in England and on the Continent.

1760s: James Watt’s steam engine

1780s: Hot-air balloons in France

1790s: Techniques used in Sir Richard Arkwright’s water mills on the Clyde in Scotland were brought to Connecticut via Samuel Slater [RC/371] and Eli Whitney’s cotton gin in the American South.

British textiles were being transformed apace by industrialization and Britain outlawed all manner of behaviours in a bid to keep its industrialization techniques a secret. Hamilton saw what was

 

371

happening and wanted to get in on the ground floor, as it were, because “the future strength of nation-states would be proportionate to their industrial prowess … ” and, accordingly, “celebrated the early growth of American industry … ”

1790, May: Tench Coxe took over from “William Duer as assistant treasury secretary” and thus began Hamilton’s industrial policy initiatives.

 

372

“ … Hamilton put the full authority of the Treasury behind the piracy of British trade secrets.”

 

Freewheelin’ William Duer as trickster

 

373

Freewheeling used to mean ‘not bound by convention or law, a trickster type; e.g., William Duer.

 

374

Hamilton’s Report on Manufactures (with critical assistance from Tench Coxe [RC/375]) ‘prophesied much of post-Civil War America.’

 

375

“Shortly before returning from France, [Jefferson] … wrote that circumstances rendered it ‘impossible that America should become a manufacturing country during the time of any man now living’.”

Hamilton accepted the importance of agriculture but “recommended … that farming not have ‘an exclusive predilection’.”

 

Adam Smith’s ‘The Wealth of Nations’ and trade

376  

Hamilton was well read in Adam Smith’s ‘The Wealth of Nations’ and used it to demonstrate “that manufacturing, no less than agriculture, could increase productivity because it subdivided work into ever simpler operations and lent it self to mechanization.” America, he argued, had taken to agriculture for geographic reasons, it was true, but also because of necessity brought on “by European trading practices.”

“Hamilton’s ideal economy is devoid of the feudal barbarities of the southern plantations. [His] … list of the advantages of manufacturing has a quintessentially American ring: ‘Additional employment to classes of the community not ordinarily engaged in the business. The promoting if emigration from foreign countries. The furnishing greater scope for the diversity of talents and dispositions which discriminate men from each other. The affording a more ample and various field for enterprise.’ … that influx of workers would eliminate one of the most pressing obstacles to American manufacturing: high wages.”

Hamilton approved of child labour. It was commonplace on farms and in workshops at the time so he saw no harm in children being engaged in manufacture.

 

377

He didn’t equate it with exploitation.

And though he preferred where possible to leave Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ of the market to operate the economy, he acknowledged that ‘practical politicians know that it may be beneficially stimulated by prudent aids and encouragements on the part of the government.’

 

‘Report on Manufactures’ dies

378

Schlesinger Jnr: ‘Hamilton’s enthusiasm over the dynamics of individual acquisition was always tempered by a belief in government regulation and control.’

 

The ‘Report on Manufactures’ “charted a general direction for the government”; it was ignored by the legislators in the House of Reps and yet still “aroused exceptional apprehension because of its broad conception of federal power.”

 

379

Madison was alarmed by it, Jefferson horrified—suggesting to Washington over breakfast that it would be the end of limited government in America.

 

Hamilton’s understanding of duality, of creative ambiguity, knavery versus honesty

382

“Instinctively, Hamilton understood the creative ambiguity necessary for a central banker coping with a crisis.”

 

North – South divide

383

Madison, though, out of ignorance of financial markets, saw Hamilton’s “virtuoso performance” in calming the marketplace as his having acted to benefit speculators.

April, 1792: William Duer was in debtors’ prison and Hamilton saw him as a warning to other big-time speculators in government securities like him: ‘There should be a line of separation between honest men and knaves, between respectable stockholders and dealers in the funds and mere unprincipled gamblers. Public infamy must restrain what the laws cannot.’

 

The slaveholding south interpreted the fate of Duer and others like him as “irrefutable proof of northern depravity.”

 

Abigail Adams, vice president John Adams’ wife, noted that Madison, Jefferson and the southerners in general were so determined to bring Hamilton’s financial and economic system down that ‘I firmly believe, if I live ten years longer, I shall see a division of the southern and northern states unless more candour and less intrigues, of which I have no hopes, should prevail’.

 

New York Stock Exchange origins; Idiot Wind

384

May 17, 1792: The famous 68 Wall Street, NYC, meeting under the shade of the buttonwood tree called to instigate “rules to govern securities trading” in order to counteract the destructive influence of swindlers who rigged bond prices by “planting false rumours” and exploited “the auction system for stock trades.”  The New York Stock Exchange grew out of this “historic Buttonwood Agreement.”7

 

The flaw in Hamilton’s political philosophy

387

“The financial turmoil on Wall Street and the William Duher debacle [in the early 1790s] pointed up a glaring defect in Hamilton’s political theory: the rich could put their own interests above the national interest. … he was so oftern worried about abuses committed against the rich that he sometimes minimized the skullduggery that might be committed by the rich.”

 

Chapter 20

Corrupt Squadrons

 

Jefferson’s anti-monarchy

389

It was ‘from New England chiefly that these champions for a King, Lord, and Commons come’, Jefferson complained in 1791 as they toured Hamilton’s political support base in New York state under the guise of a botany tour. Robert Troup warned Hamilton of the growing cabal of Robert Livingston, Aaron burr, Jefferson and Madison to unseat Washington’s virtual Prime Minister.

 

Mercurius on the Streets of Rome

390

‘Carthage must be destroyed and obliterated,’ Troup reported of their attitude to Hamilton. ‘Of all the events that shaped the political life of the new republic in its earliest years,’ Stanley Elkins ande Eric McKitrick wrote … , ‘none was more central than the massive personal and political enmity, classic in the annals of American history, which developed in the course of the 1790s between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.’ This feud, rife with intrigue and lacerating polemics, was to take on an almost pathological intensity.”

“Fast on his feet, sure in his judgments, informed on every issue, [Hamilton] … was as dazzling and voluble in debate as Jefferson was retiring. …

 

Republicans and the Streets of Rome

391

His charismatic personality and far-reaching policies unified his followers, who gradually became known as Federalists. … The Federalists were allied with powerful banking and merchant interests in New England and on the Atlantic seaboard and were disproportionately Congregationalists and Episcopalians.”

Whereas the Federalists went under that name in order to associate themselves with the pro-Constitution stance of the later 1780s, “Jefferson, Madison, and their supporters cohered into an organized opposition that began to call itself Republican. Alluding to the ancient Roman republic, this was also a clever label, insinuating that Federalists were not real republicans and hence must be monarchists. Often Baptists and Methodists, Republicans drew their strength from rich southern planters and small farmers.”

Both sides dreaded the formation of factions and parties, and associated them with monarchy, having “no legitimate place in a true republic.” [RC/390]

Jefferson distinguished between the two parties by characterizing the Federalists as inclined to the belief that ‘the executive is the branch of our government which needs most support [while Republicans thought that] … ‘like the analogous branch in the English government, it is already too strong for the republican parts of the Constitution and therefore, in equivocal cases, they incline to the legislative powers.’ [i.e., Presidential power versus the House of Reps.]

 

North – South divide, political parties and paranoia; opposites abound

391

The split, though, was not so much between the have and the have-nots as ‘between rival economic systems, each of which was aimed at generating its own men of property’, says James T Flexner.

“In fact, the federalists ranks had plenty of self-made lawyers like Hamilton, while the Republicans were led by two men of immense inherited wealth: Jefferson and Madison. Moreover, the political culture of the slaveholding south was marked by much more troubling disparities of wealth and status than was that of the north, and the vast majority of abolitionist politicians came from the so-called aristocrats of the Federalist party.”

392

The division onto factions and parties lent “a paranoid tinge to political discourse” of the 1790s. “The Federalists saw themselves as saving America from anarchy, while Republicans believed they were rescuing America from counterrevolution.”

The European situation also played its role in the formation of the 2 party system in the USA because England and France represented 2 differing types of society—and suggested lines of “debate over what kind of society American should be.” Not only did Jefferson and Madison regard Hamilton as too pro-British “but that his policies would replicate aspects of the British government they loathed. And for Hamilton, the French revolution was a bloody cautionary tale of a revolution gone awry.”

 

Trade versus political sentiment

393

 Hamilton regarded England as the more suitable trading partner. Half of the USA’s exports were to England and ¾ of her imports came from there.  And the imports were of staples—whereas thoise from France were more luxury items of the day. Hamilton, therefore, “thought it better for America to operate temporarily as a junior trading partner in Britain’s global trading system than to try to undercut Britain and align itself with France.”

 

394

1791, late: Britain finally sent an official ambassador, 28-year-old George Hammond, who got on well with Hamilton but was given the cold shoulder by Secretary of State, Jefferson, who was, in any case, pro-French. “Hamilton, for his part, subverted moves by Jefferson to negotiate a commercial treaty with France. This internecine warfare between two ambitious, relentless politicians began to immobilize policy in the Washington administration.”

Washington—“still America’s hero and a political untouchable”—was more inclined to Hamilton’s viewpoint, and certainly found his arguments and factual summaries to his liking.

 

RC/396

Freewheeling poet comes to Philadelphia to be Jefferson’s mouthpiece.

 

 

Streets of Rome: Freewheeling American poet as political tool; anti monarchy

396

Philip Freneau, the American Poet of the Revolution, groomed by Jefferson and Madison to attack Hamilton, regarded England with contempt and described George III as ‘the Caligula of Great Britain.’ He had also rhapsodied about Washington as ‘a second Diomede[s]’ whose actions might have awed a ‘Roman hero or a Grecian God.’ Jefferson sought to set Freneau up as the publisher to attack Hamilton (who had John Fenno’s ‘Gazette of the United States’ as his publishing friend in Philadelphia.

1791, July: Freneau took a job in the State Department as a translator.

1791, October 31: “the maiden issue of the National Gazette appeared. This freewheeling paper soon became the foremost Republican organ in America.”

 

397

“Madison held high partisan hopes for the ‘National Gazette’ … and described the need for a newspaper that would be an ‘antidote to the doctrines and discourses circulated in favour of monarchy and aristocracy.’ By now, monarchy and aristocracy were standard code words for Hamilton and the Federalists.”

 

Jefferson “fingered Hamilton as the cat’s paw of a cabal that wished to defeat the Constitution and install British-style monarchy—never

 

Streets of Rome

398

“mind that Hamilton had written the bulk of The federalist Papers and almost singlehandedly gotten the Constitution ratified in New York.”

Jefferson told various stories of Hamilton’s love of monarchy and RC thinks they’re revealed as suspect by virtue of his claim that Hamilton regarded Julius Caesar as the greatest man that ever lived. This, in stark contrast to Hamilton’s oft-expressed view in his collected papers that Julius Caesar was not thus regarded by Hamilton, He was probably having a lend of Jefferson.

 

The famous ‘beast’ anecdote exposed; kaves and fools

398

John Adams appointed Theophilus Parsons as attorney general and when Parsons’ son published the ‘Memoir of Theophilus Parsons’ in 1859, the story was told by the 46-years-dead Parsons that at a “New York dinner party, soon after the Constitution was adopted, an unnamed guest was declaiming about the wisdom of the American people. Hamilton allegedly slammed his fist on the table and exclaimed, ‘Your people, sir—your people is a great beast!’

 

399

“In fact, the quote was derived from a populist poem by a Dominican friar, Tommaso Campanella (1568-1639), who argued that the people were a slumbering beast who should awaken to their own power. Hamilton was wont to say that the world was full of knaves and fools, but this particular comment, if he ever made it, may have had a very different tone or intent from what has been imputed to it.”

 

1792, May: “Jefferson wrote a memo to Washington arguing that the ‘ultimate objective’ of the Hamiltonian system was ‘to prepare the way for a change from the present republican form of government to that of a monarchy.’ Washington knew Hamilton too well to be taken in by Jefferson.

 

Anti-monarchy

400

1792, March: “Madison’s critique of Hamilton had grown indiscriminate: Hamilton was coddling speculators, inflating the national debt, distorting the Constitution, and scheming to bring aristocracy to America. … Madison was now recognized as the first opposition leader in House history and had most of the south lined up solidly behind him.”

The opposition to Hamilton emanated from Virginia.

When Hamilton proposed that Washington’s face appear on the new currency Freneau wrote

‘Shall Washington, my fav’rite child

Be ranked ’mongst haughty kings?’

Hamilton saw Jefferson and Madison organizing “a populist conspiracy out to destroy him.”

 

401

1792, May 26: Hamilton wrote to Edward Carrington in Virginia declaring that it was open war between him (Hamilton) and Jefferson and Madison.

 

Anti-monarchy; ‘they’re planting stories in the press … ’; enslavement! God forbid.

402

1792, July 4: Freneau’s ‘National Gazette’ ran an article suggesting that Hamilton’s programs were the most effective means ‘for changing a limited republican government into an unlimited hereditary one’ and followed up with “heavy-handed hints that Hamilton and his retinue planned to enslave America under a monarchy and an aristocracy.” [Enslavement!]

By this time, Washington was keenly aware of “the feud between Hamilton and Jefferson.”

 

403

“Washington exhibited growing impatience with Jefferson’s warnings of a royalist plot and stated flatly that he endorsed Hamilton’s policies.”

1792, July 25: Hamilton, signing himself T. L., planted a story in Fenno’s ‘Gazette of the United States’ accusing the secretary of state of employing the poet Freneau to publish rather than to interpret.

1792, July29: Washington wrote to Hamilton from Mt Vernon saying that the rumour mill had it that Hamilton’s measures for putting the American economy on a sound footing were in fact ‘to prepare the way for a change from the present republican form of government to that of a monarchy, of which the British Constitution is to be the model.’

1792, August 3: Hamilton, having already written to Washington, received the 29/7 letter.

 

Duality; the Streets of Rome

405 

“ … the founding fathers all appear to us in two guises: as both sublime and ordinary, selfless and selfish, heroic and humdrum. After the tenuous unity of 1776 and 1787, they had become wildly competitive and sometimes jealous of one another. It is no accident that our most scathing portraits of them come from their own pens.”

1792, September 8: ‘Aristides’, “the name of an Athenian motivated by love of country, not mercenary gain,” wrote of Jefferson “as the ‘decided opponent of aristocracy, monarchy, hereditary succession, a title order of nobility, and all the other mock-pageantry of kingly government’ [while implying] that Hamilton had endorsed these abhorrent things when, in fact, he had always condemned them. … Freneau’s ‘national Gazette’ continued to lambaste the Federalists as the ‘monarchical party,’ the ‘monied aristocracy,’ and ‘monocrats’ … ”

 

The mask and the Streets of Rome

407

  Writing in Frenno’s ‘Gazette of the United States’. Hamilton adopted the pen name of ‘Catullus’ to warn Jefferson that his true nature was liable to be exposed if he [Jefferson] were not careful:

‘ … there is always ‘a first time’ when characters studious of artful disguises are unveiled. When the visor of stoicism is plucked from the brow of the Epicurean … when Caesar coyly refusing the proferred diadem is seen to be Caesar rejecting the trappings, but tenaciously gripping the substance of imperial dominion.’

1792, September 26-December 31: 6 essays in support of Jefferson

 

408

“came out in the ‘American Daily Advertiser’. Jefferson’s protégé from Virginia, Senator James Monroe, wrote five of them and Madison the sixth.”

 

1792, October 1: Jefferson breakfasted with Washington at Mt Vernon and sought to convince the President that “Hamilton headed a monarchist plot. … Washington lost all patience with Jefferson [and] … made it plain that he supported Hamilton’s funding system because it had worked.”

Chapter 21

Exposure

409

Meanwhile, throughout 1792, Hamilton was being blackmailed by James Reynolds and by late 1792 James Monroe had wind of it via Muhlenberg who had been contacted by Clingman—who had seen hamilton at the Reynolds’ residence.

1792, December 17: Monroe, via John Beckley, clerk of the House of Reps. And Jefferson loyalist, let Jefferson and Madison in on the news of the affair and blackmail.

 

417

There was no way, now, that Hamilton could even make a bid for the presidency after Washington departed the scene.

 

Chapter 22

Stabbed in the Dark

419

Both Jefferson and Hamilton wanted Washington to stand for a second term. “ … ‘North and South will hang together if they have you to hang on’, Jefferson told the president.” Hamilton wanted Washington to stay on in order to consolidate executive government, fearing “legislative tyranny”.

 

Anti-monarchy and Burr’s game as the equivocal trickster opportunist; streets of Rome

420

Aaron Burr, 36 years old, prepared to run against John Adams for vice president. Benjamin Rush supported Burr and “told him that ‘your friends everywhere look to you to take an active part in removing the monarchical rubbish of our government.’ ”

 

421

1792, Spring: in the New York gubernatorial Hamilton stood in the way of Aaron Burr’s manoeuvre to oust Governor Clinton and have himself installed; Burr switched back to support for Clinton against Hamilton’s candidate, Stephen Van Rensselaer (Hamilton’s brother-in-law) and in the stalemate which ensued Burr “handed [Clinton] a controversial victory. Hamilton’s friend, Robert Troup was so irate that he called Burr a Clinton tool and denounced the ‘shameful prostitution of his talents. … The quibbles and chicanery made use of are characteristic of the man.’ Such reports only reinforced Hamilton’s sense of Burr as an unscrupulous opportunist eager to exploit popular turmoil.”

 

422

Hamilton on Burr: he ‘is unprincipled both as a public and private man. When the constitution was in deliberation … his conduct was equivocal. Æ In fact, I take it he is for or against nothing but as it suits his interest or ambition. … I am mistaken if it be not his object to play the game of confusion and I fell it a religious duty to oppose his career. … if we have an embryo-Caesar in the United States ’tis Burr’.

Hamilton totally abjured Jefferson’s principles as fanatical but he at least had them. “Burr’s abiding sin was a total lack of principles, which Hamilton could not forgive.

 

Monarchy

423

1792, December 5: the electoral college chose Washington as president and John Adams as vice president.

 

424

1792, December 8: “James Monroe … slammed Hamilton as someone ‘suspected, with too much reason, to be attached to monarchy.’

The American poet, Philip Freneau, then accused Washington himself “of aping royalty in his presidential etiquette: ‘A certain monarchical prettiness must be highly extolled, such as levees [receptions], drawing rooms, stately nods instead of shaking hands, titles of office, seclusion from the people.’ … Clearly, the political tone in Washington’s second term was going to be even harsher than in the first.”

 

425

Jefferson and Madison were hard at the attack on Hamilton, “orchestrating the first concerted effort in American history to expel a cabinet member for official misconduct. They had come to regard Hamilton as a grave threat to republican government, a monarchist bent on destroying the republic … ”

Hamilton driven mad having to repeatedly defend himself: refers to the mask

427

Despite Jefferson and Madison’s repeated attempts throughout 1793, “nobody ever proved that Alexander Hamilton had diverted a penny of public money for personal profit.”

Hamilton “railed against the Jeffersonians as ‘wily hypocrites’ and ‘crafty and abandoned imposters’.

 

Monarchy

429

1793, June 7: Jefferson in his ‘Anas’ “noted Beckley’s [John Beckley, “One of Jefferson’s chief political operatives” RC/341] crackpot story that the British had offered Hamilton asylum if his plans for an American monarchy miscarried. About this fairy tale—allegedly gleaned from Britain’s consul general in New York—Jefferson commented in the margin: ‘Impossible as to Hamilton. He was far above that. … Beckley is a man of perfect truth as to what he affirms of his own knowledge, but too credulous as to what he hears from others.’ Nonetheless, Jefferson added to his swelling dossier on Hamilton the farrago of stories that Beckley had taken down from Clingman and Fraunces.

1794, February 19: “Congress passed two resolutions rejecting Fraunce’s claims and commending Hamilton’s honourable handling of the matter.”

 

Chapter 23

Citizen Genet

 

War of opposites inherent in the American outlook

431

1793, March 4: Washington sworn in for the second term.

“Americans increasingly defined their domestic politics by either their solidarity with the French Revolution or their aversion to its incendiary methods. The French Revolution thus served to both consolidate the two parties in American politics and deepen the ideological gulf between them.”

432

1792, September 20: France declared itself a republic. Jefferson “noted that the French Revolution had heartened American republicans and undercut Hamiltonian ‘monocrats’.

1793, January 21: Louis XVI guillotined for plotting against the Revolution. “William Pitt the Younger branding it ‘the foulest and most atrocious act the

 

Monarchy

 433

“world has ever seen.’ ”

1793, February 1: France declared war against England, Holland, and Spain.

1793, March1: news of Louis XVI’s beheading reached the USA and Freneau wrote in the ‘national Gazette’: ‘Louis Capet has lost his caput’. “ … anyone shocked by such wanton violence betrayed ‘a strong remaining attachment to royalty’ and belonged to a ‘monarchical junto’.”

Madison and Jefferson went along for the ride, Madison saying that “If the king ‘was a traitor … he ought to be punished as well as another man.’

 

Rule of law (American Revolution) versus that of the mob (French Revolution)

434

“Washington was indeed sickened by the bloodshed in France, and this widened the breach between him and Jefferson. John Adams was quite prescient about events in France and regretted that many Americans were ‘so blind, undistinguishing, and enthusiastic of everything that has been done by that light, airy, and transported people. … Danton, Robespierre, Marat, etc. are furies. Dragons’ teeth have been sown in France and will come up as monsters’.”

Hamilton stated that ‘A struggle for liberty is in itself respectable and glorious … When conducted with magnanimity, justice, and humanity, it ought to command the admiration of every frined to human nature. But if sullied by crimes and extravagancies, it loses its respectability.’ The American revolution had succeeded because is was ‘a free, regular and deliberate act of the nation’ and had been conducted with ‘a spirit of justice and humanity.’ It was, in fact, a revolution written in parchment and defined by documents, petitions, and other forms of law.”

“For Hamilton, the utopian revolutionaries in France had emphasized liberty to the exlusion of order, morality, religion, and property rights. They had singled out for persecution bankers and businessmen—people Hamilton regarded as agents of progressive change. He saw the chaos in France as a frightening portent of what could happen in America if the safeguards of order were stripped away by the love of liberty.” The French Revolution was his “greatest nightmare …—a hopeful revolution giving way to indiscriminate terror and authoritarian rule.”

 

Neutrality Proclamation

436

1793, April 22: Washington issued his Neutrality Proclamation. Jefferson and Madison weren’t impressed.

 

437

Madison “viewed the French Revolution as an inspirational fight for freedom and asked indignantly why George Washington ‘should have anything to apprehend from the success of liberty in another country’.”

1793, April 8: Citizen Genêt—“the new French minister to the United States sailed into Charleston [South Carolina]. … If Hamilton had decided to invent a minister to dramatize his fears of the French Revolution, he could have conjured up no one better than the vain, extravagant, and bombastic Genêt. The Frenchman was to swagger and bluster and wade blindly into the warfare between Hamilton and Jefferson. … Jefferson became his clandestine accomplice … [and thereby] violated the policy of neutrality” when he helped Genêt in his plan “to hire secret agents … to strike blows against Spanish and British possessions in North America … ”

 

438

1793, May 16: Genêt whipped up such a storm of republican sentiment as he landed at Philadelphia to present his credential to Washington that

 

439

“At times, Francophile passion was so unbridled that Adams feared violence against Federalists. ‘You certainly never felt the terrorism excited by Genêt in 1793,’ Adams chided Jefferson years later, ‘when ten thousand people in the streets of Philadelphia, day after day, threatened to drag Washington out of his house and effect a revolution in the government or compel it to declare war in favor of the French Revolution and against England.’ … The new republic remained an unsettled place, rife with fears of foreign plots, civil war, chaos, and disunion.”

 

443

Under the pen name Helvidius, Madison attacked Hamilton’s essays written under the pen name Pacificus and “flayed Hamilton as a monarchist for defending the Neutrality Proclamation. Such prerogatives, he said, were ‘royal prerogatives in the British government and are accordingly treated as executive prerogatives by British commentators.’ … He wanted full authority over foreign policy to rest with Congress … ”

 

Streets of Rome

444

1793, August 1: with Hamilton continuing to dominate cabinet meetings Jefferson confided to his diary that hamilton was “a traitor to republican government. ‘What a fatal stroke at the cause of liberty; et tu Brute,’ he wrote … ”

 

446

“When Washington broke with Citizen Genêt, a crestfallen Madison stated that it ‘will give great pain to all those enlightened friends of the principles of liberty on which the American and French Revolution are founded’.”

1793, June: In France, the Committee of Public Safety came under Jacobin dominance and Robespierre’s Reign

 

447

of Terror began in earnest.

1793, October 16: Marie Antoinette executed;

1793, October 31: 21 Girondists were executed.

1793, December: Jefferson leaves Washington’s cabinet.

 

Chapter 24

A Disagreeable Trade

 

Synchronicity and medieval medicine

448

1793, late August: By this time, a yellow-fever epidemic was killing 20 people per day. 4000 people died and government and commerce were brought to a standstill with 20000 people leaving town.

 

449

1793, September 5: Hamilton down with yellow fever and soon Eliza too. “In an astonishing storybook coincidence, Hamilton’s boyhood friend from St. Croix, Edward Stevens [possibly Alexander’s genetic half-brother], had turned up in Philadelphia and now attended to the couple. A prosperous, distinguished physician … ” he had moved to Philadelphia to live with his wealthy wife.

Stevens knew how to treat yellow fever without the traditional bloodletting and bowel purges practised by the courageous but ineffective Benjamin Rush—Jefferson’s supporter.

 

450

Hamilton recovered within 5 days and went into print saying that Stevens’ methods should be widely used. Rush took offence. And so we had the Federalist cure versus the Republican cure.

 

Chapter 25

Seas of Blood

Mask: pen name

458

1794, January 3: after declining Washington’s offer to take over as secretary of state, Madison introduced 7 congressional resolutions aimed at giving America Jefferson’s “tough anti-British trade policy.”

1794, January 13: William Loughton Smith took Madison’s argument apart and “suggested it would be suicidal for America to disrupt relations with the country that accounted for most of its trade.” Jefferson (correctly) recognized Hamilton’s handiwork in Smith’s 15,000 word rebuttal of Madison.

 

The Streets of Rome

459

Hamilton himself, meanwhile, was writing newspaper articles under the pen name ‘Americanus’ decrying “the horrors of the French Revolution. … Long before napoleon came on the scene, he predicted that after ‘wading through seas of blood … France may find herself at length the slave of some victorious … Caesar.”

1793, November 6: “William Pitt’s ministry … decreed that British ships could intercept neutral vessels hauling produce to or from the French West Indies. … the British fleet captured more than 250 American merchant ships, impounding more than half of them as war prizes … the prospect of a new war against Great Britain seemed a genuine possibility.”

Hamilton immediately “drew up … contingency plans to raise a 20,000 man army to defend coastal cities and impose a partial trade embargo. ‘The pains taken to preserve peace,’ he told Washington, ‘include a proportional responsibility that equal pains be taken to be prepared for war.’ … the sorely taxed treasury secretary instructed customs collectors to fortify ports for a possible invasion, while Federalists presented plans to Congress for a provisional army. … Republicans discerned another insidious power play. ‘You will understand the game

 

Trickster mask

460

behind the curtain too well not to perceive the old trick of turning every contingency into a resourse for accumulating force in the government,’ Madison told Jefferson. … When Federalists suggested that it was high time America had its own navy to combat the plunder of American shipping by Barbary pirates, Madison suggested, in all seriousness, that the United States hire the Portuguese navy instead.”

 

Paranoia and deception

461

Washington sent John Jay (Federalist) as envoy to England and James Monroe (Republican) to France (he recalled Gouverneur Morris) in order to negotiate a way through the foreign policy problem. Aaron Burr and other republicans believed Hamilton had counselled Washington against sending Burr [an avowed Francophile] but the president didn’t rely upon Hamilton, here, because Washington himself “continued to distrust Burr as a devious, prodigal man … ” 

 

Chapter 26

The Wicked Insurgents of the West

468

 

Streets of Rome and mask

470

“ … Hamilton saw more than mass disobedience [in the whiskey rebellion]: he saw signs of treasonous plots against the government.

471

“He was no alone in perceiving a more general threat. Attorney General William Bradford regarded the western upheaval as a ‘formed and regular plan for weakening and perhaps overthrowing the general government’ … Regarding the uprising as a direct threat to constitutional order, Washington asked Supreme Court Justice James Wilson to declare a state of anarchy around Pittsburgh. When it came to law enforcement, Hamilton believed that an overwhelming show of force often obviated the need to employ it: ‘Whenever the government appears in arms, it ought to appear like a Hercules and inspire respect by the display of strength.’ … Washington … issued a proclamation telling the insurgents to desist by September 1, or the government would send in a militia. At the same time, he announced that a three-man commission would confer with citizens.”

 

471

Hamilton was given responsibility for dealing with the whiskey rebellion as Secretary of War Henry Knox went to Maine to attend to personal business.

 

472

This was despite Hamilton’s son being at death’s door.

1794, August 23: writing as ‘Tully’, Hamilton wrote in the ‘American Daily Advertiser’ that “the tumult in western Pennsylvania was a thinly veiled pretext for tearing down the constitutional order.

 

473

‘There is no road to despotism more sure or more to be dreaded than that which begins at anarchy.’ In Hamilton’s opinion, the most sacred duty of government was an ‘inviolable respect for the Constitution and laws’.”

 

474

1794, October 4: Washington and Hamilton rode out to confront the rebellious force and rendezvoused with their troops at Carlisle.

475

1794, the end of October: Washington left Carlisle and returned to Philadelphia, leaving Hamilton and Virginia governor Henry Lee in charge.

 

476

This prompted “Benjamin Franklin Bache, a grandson of Benjamin Franklin and editor of a newspaper soon known as the Aurora, to sound the charge that Hamilton was the “military-despot-in-waiting.”

 

Game playing and liberty

478

“In a public postmortem on the rebellion, Washington blamed the Democratic Republican societies that had sprouted in the wake of Citizen Genet’s arrival. This presidential message to Congress infuriated James Madison, who rated it ‘perhaps the greatest error’ of Washington’s political career and further proof that he was the tool of Alexander Hamilton. ‘The game was to connect the democratic societies with the odium of insurrection—to connect the Republicans in Congress with those societies—[and] to put the President ostensibly at the head of the other party on opposition to both,’, Madison fumed. He saw the Whiskey rebellion as the prelude to the establishment of a standing army that would constrain American liberties.” Jefferson likewise saw it as a Hamilton plot and “regarded the uprising as another instance of Hamilton’s vainglorious desire to exercise power … Jefferson … had the temerity to label the episode ‘Hamilton’s insurrection’.”

Timothy Pickering, Hamilton’s friend [and whom Hamilton put up for President against John Adams, c.f. Gore Vidal], said that ‘the whiskey drinkers made Mr Jefferson the President of the United States.’

 

Hamilton tenders his resignation and departs treasury

479

1794, December 1: Hamilton returned from the exercise to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion and, with family concerns to the fore—his wife had had a miscarriage—he told Washington he’d quit as treasury head as from

1795, the end of January: Hamilton left the treasury and Washington appointed Hamilton’s deputy, Oliver Wolcott Jnr to the post.

 

481

“Bankrupt when Hamilton took office, the United States now enjoyed a credit rating equal to that of any European nation. … If Washington was the father of the country and Madison the father of the Constitution, then Alexander Hamilton was surely the father of the American government.”

 

Chapter 27

Sugar Plums and Toys

486

John Jay’s treaty with Britain was roundly condemned by Republicans and Jay himself “was attacked with particular venom.”

 

487

Elkins and McKitrick wrote that ‘No international tgreaty was ever more passionately denounced in the United States … though the benefits which flowed from it were actually considerable.’ Hamilton, asked by Washington to assess Jay’s treaty, wrote that it ensured peace for the USA and that ‘With peace, the force of circumstances will enable us to make our way

 

488

‘sufficiently fast in trade. War at this time would give a serious wound to our growth and prosperity.’

“… ‘Our trade, navigation, and mercantile capital would be essentially destroyed’ if war came, he warned.” [RC/494]

 

Medieval world view

492

Once out of Washington’s cabinet and a private citizen, Hamilton “revealed a blazing, ungovernable temper that was unworthy of him and rendered him less effective. He also revealed that the man who had helped to

 

493

“forge a new structure of law and justice for American society remained mired in the old-fashioned world of blood feuds. When it came to intensely personal conflicts, New York’s most famous lawyer still turned instinctively not to the courtroom, but to the dueling ground.”

 

Streets of Rome and the American mask

493

“Republicans had chipped away at the [Jay] treaty behind Roman names—whether Robert R. Livingston writing as ‘Cato’ or Brockholst Livingston as ‘Decius’ and ‘Cinna’—and Hamilton commenced a ferocious counterattack called ‘The Defence.’ … For his nom de guerre, Hamilton picked ‘Camillus’, from Plutarch’s ‘Lives’. This Roman general was a perfect symbol: a wise, virtuous man who was sorely misunderstood by his people, who did not see that he had their higher interests at heart. The fearless Camillus expressed unpalatable truths and was finally exiled for his candor. He was vindicated when he was recalled from banishment to rescue his city, which was endangered by the Gauls. The choice of pen name tells us much about how Hamilton viewed himself and what he perceived as a lack of appreciation by his fellow citizens.”

 

494

Not content to write as Camillus, Hamilton wrote as Philo Camillus and so “Hamilton was now writing pseudonymous commentaries on his own pseudonymous essays. He also tossed in two trenchant essays under the name ‘Horatius’ in which he accused Jeffersonians of ‘a servile and criminal subserviency to the views of France.’

 

The Streets of Rome and the mask

495

“Contrary to his usual image, Hamilton paid homage to the ability of the common people to resist such [Jeffersonian and Republican] deceptions and said that they would disappoint those who, ‘treating them as children, fancy that sugar plums and toys will be sufficient to gain their confidence and attachment.’ ”

 

496

1795, mid-August: Washington signed the Jay treaty with England.

 

Monarchy

498

1795, December 26: “Philip Freneau wrote that Washington wanted to enact the Jay Treaty to elevate himself to a king” ‘His wishes (through the treaty) will be gratified with a hereditary monarchy and a House of Lords.’ … The president heard rumours that Jefferson was leading a whispering campaign that portrayed him as a senile old bumbler and easy prey for Hamilton and his monarchist conspirators. Jefferson kept denying to Washington that he was the source of such offensive remarks. Joseph Ellis has commented, however, that Jefferson was orchestrating the campaign of vilification, which had its chief base of operations in Virginia and its headquarters at Monticello.’ ”

 

1796, March: James Madison supported “a congressional demand that the president turn over the private instructions given to Jay to guide his negotiations, instructions that Hamilton had largely assembled. … by late March [Hamilton had] advised Washington that he should … ‘resist in totality.’ If the House gained the power to nullify a treaty, Hamilton warned, it would destroy executive power and erect ‘upon its ruins a legislative omnipotence.’ Hamilton and Madison were again pitted in a fundamental contest over whether the executive or legislative branch would run American foreign policy.”

Washington took Hamilton’s advice.

 

Trickster duplicity

499

1796, April 30: The Federalists scraped through “fifty-one to forty-eight in the House to make money available for the Jay Treaty. … Washington was so indignant at what he regarded as Madison’s duplicity that he unearthed the secret minutes from the Constitutional Convention and showed how the framers, Madison included, had refused to give the House the power to thwart the executive branch in making treaties.”

Washington and Hamilton “had won a great victory together: they had established forever the principle of executive-branch leadership in foreign policy.”

 

500

“For Hamilton, the Jay Treaty victory represented the culmination of his work with Washington. By settling all outstanding issues left over from the Revolution, the treaty removed the last impediments to improved relations with England and promised sustained prosperity.”

 

Chapter 28

Spare Cassius

 

Thomas Paine

507

 1796, September 19: Washington’s farewell speech, redrafted from Madison’s notes for the first term farewell, by Hamilton and Washington together, called for unity in order to capitalize on the strengths already developed in the new nation and “appeared in Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser, and it was then reprinted in newspapers across the country. It can be read two ways: as a dispassionate statement of American principles and as a thinly disguised attack on the republicans. … A century later, as the document evolved into a canonical text, Congress read the speech aloud each year on Washington’s birthday.”

 

In his ‘Aurora’, Benjamin Franklin Bache accused Washington of having conspired with the British during the American Revolution and “gave prominent play to an open letter to Washington from Thomas Paine … expressing the hope that Washington would die and telling him that ‘the world will be puzzled to decide whether you are an apostate or an imposter, whether you have abandoned good principles or whether you ever had any.’ ”

 

Trickster game and duplicity on the Streets of Rome

510

1796: John Adams, “the Federalist front-runner” in the presidential race declared ‘I am determined to be a silent spectator of the silly and wicked game’ [that is the presidential election]. As it turned out “Hamilton bet on the wrong horse [“another dark-horse southerner, Thomas Pinckney, a wartime hero and former governor of South Carolina … ”] a mistake that would haunt the rest of his career.”

 

501

“At first, Adams did not suspect Hamilton’s duplicity in the campaign. He told friends that Hamilton genuinely feared that his own weakness as a presidential candidate might elect Jefferson and that Hamilton supported Pinckney as an alternative only in case he himself could not win. When Jefferson wrote to warn Adams that ‘you may be cheated of your succession by a trick worthy [of] the subtlety of your arch-friend of New York,’ Madison persuaded Jefferson not to send the letter …  In late December, however, Elbridge Gerry presented Adams with evidence from Aaron Burr, the self-promoting Republican favourite for vice president, that exposed Hamilton’s quiet efforts to elect Pinckney ahead of Adams. Both John and Abigail Adams were shocked. ‘ “Beware that spare Cassius” has always occurred to me when I have seen that cock sparrow,’ Abigail told her husband of Hamilton, ‘I have ever kept my eye on him.’ ”

Adams termed Hamilton ‘as great a hypocrite as any in the U.S. His intrigues in the election I despise.’

 

1796, October 15: The House clerk, John Beckley, “alerted James Madison to a string of essays launched under the signature ‘Phocion’ in the ‘Gazette of the United States’. Beckley divined that Hamilton was the author and guessed his dual intent: to denigrate Jefferson as a presidential candidate and tepidly endorse Adams.”

 

512

1792, September 29: “ … writing as Catullus on September 29, 1792 Hamilton had called Jefferson a ‘Caesar coyly refusing the proffered diadem’ and said he was ‘tenaciously grasping the substance of imperial domination.’ He went on to point out that Jefferson had run away from British troops during the Revolution and had similarly run away from Washington’s cabinet “at a moment of national danger. ‘How different was the conduct of the spirited and truly patriotic HAMILTON? … He wished to retire as much as the philosopher of Monticello. He had a large family and his little fortune was fast melting away in the expansive metropolis. But with a roman’s spirit he declared that, much as he wished for retirement, yet would he remain at his post as long as there was any danger of his country being involved in war.’ ”

 

Chapter 29

The Man in the Glass Bubble

Monarchy and New England Purtians

517

John Adams, too, was denigrated as a monarchist by Jefferson and Madison and yet “he grew up without the patrician comforts enjoyed by … ” them.

Born Braintree, Massachusetts, to a shoemaking farmer, Adams traced his ancestry “back to Puritans who had emigrated from England in the 1630s” ‘My father, grandfather, great grandfather, and great, great, great grandfather were all inhabitants of Braintree and all independent country gentlemen.’ Adams was schooled in the ascetic virtues of Puritan New England: thrift, hard work, self-criticism, public service, plain talk, and a morbid dread of ostentation. …’A puffy, vain, conceited conversation never fails to bring a man into contempt, although his natural endowments be ever so great and his application and industry ever so intense.’ … he never entirely made peace with his own craving for fame and recognition. … Before Hamilton had arrived in North America, Adams had fought against the Stamp Act and defended British soldiers accused of killing five colonists in the so-called Boston Massacre of 1770.”

 

Ambivalence

518

Adams had “a perverse streak of independence … that ranked among his most attractive qualities. He was a born gadfly, always skeptical of reigning orthodoxy. Like Hamilton, he was an ambivalent revolutionary, appalled by the repressive measures of the British Crown but unsettled by the disorder of the rebel colonists.” He was wary of “mob excess. Before independence, he asked himself what ‘the multitude, the vulgar, the herd, the rabble, the mob’ would do if the colonists flouted royal authority. ‘I feel unutterable anxiety,’ he confessed to his diary.”

1776: Adams told a friend that ‘There must be decency and respect and veneration introduced for persons of authority if every rank.’ [yet he was skeptical of reigning orthodoxy]

Adams touted “Washington as commander of the Continental Army and …[recruited] Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence …[and drafted] a constitution for Massachusetts … ”

He had diplomatic assignments in London, Paris, and Amsterdam.

1782: “he coaxed the Dutch into recognizing the United States and cajoled a two-million-dollar loan from Amsterdam bankers. His Paris stay brought him into close contact with both Franklin and Jefferson.”

Adams was ill at ease in Paris and “Franklin’s blithe hedonism [—‘His whole life has been one continued insult to good manners and to decency’—] offended the austere New England soul of John Adams. … Franklin’s fame in France was a blow to Adams’s amour proper, his sense that he was the superior man. Franklin himself captured Adams with a penetrating epigram: ‘He means well for his country, is always an honest man, often a wise one, but sometimes, and in some things, absolutely out of his senses.’ Franklin was one of the first to spot the paranoid streak that came to mar Adams’s career.”

 

American paranoia

1783: Franklin grumbled that Adams’ ‘ravings’ and suspicion that Franklin was plotting with the comte de Vergennes was the result of ‘his own troubled imaginations.’

“In a similar vein, Bernard Bailyn later observed of Adams: ‘Sensitive to insults, imaginary and real, he felt the world was generally hostile, to

 

Jefferson’s Unfathomable mystery and the mask of philosophical tranquility + Tom Paine + Monarchy

519

“himself and to the American cause, which was the greatest passion of his life. There were enemies on all sides.’

The prickly Adams developed a tender affection for Jefferson, albeit one mingled with an uneasy sense of his unfathomable mystery. No less than Hamilton, Adams perceived that Jefferson, behind the façade of philosophic tranquility, was ‘eaten to a honeycomb’ with ambition. Jefferson, in turn, detected traces of curmudgeon in Adams. ‘He hates Franklin, he hates jay, he hates the French, he hates the English,’ he told Madison from Paris. ‘To whom will he adhere? His vanity is a lineament in his character which had entirely escaped me.’ … [Jefferson subsequently repeated this critique of Adams’ character when he wrote Madison that Adams was] ‘vain, irritable, and a bad calculator of the force and probable effect of the motives which govern men.’… Their relationship had foundered in 1791 when Jefferson lauded ‘The Rights of Man’ by Thomas Paine [Adams called Paine ‘the satyr of the age … a mongrel between pig and puppy, begotten by a wild boar on a butch wolf’] by drawing an invidious contrast to the ‘political heresies which have sprung up among us’—a cutting reference to Adams’s ‘Discourses on Davila’, which Jeffersonians read as a plea for a hereditary presidency.”

 

520

1797, March 4: Adams sworn in as President (RC/523)

Aged 61, John Adams became president; he “looked like a pudgy, toothless old man.” He was extraordinarily vain—he posed for at least 30 portraits and “quibbled with the results”.

“Biographer Joseph Ellis has observed of Adams, ‘Lurking in his heart was a frantic and uncontrollable craving for personal vindication, a lust for fame that was so obsessive, and so poisoned by his accurate awareness that history would not do him justice, that he often appeared less like a worthy member of the American gallery of greats than a beleaguered and pathetic madman.’ …He even bemoaned the ‘impious idolatry’ of Washington, dubbing him Old Muttonhead, and seemed bothered by all the adulation he received. … he faulted Washington’s intelligence … and took him to task for being ‘but very superficially read in the history of any age, nation, or country.’ … Adams found Alexander Hamilton flamboyant, lascivious, and egotistical, a conceited, conniving upstart who had been unfairly catapulted above him in Washington’s government.”

 

The people is a beast

521

 “Like Hamilton, Adams had sufficient faith in the people to want liberty for them but enough doubts to want to constrain their representatives with an ironclad system of checks and balances. Both men were staunch nationalists; admired the British system; were averse to utopian thinking; rejected romantic notions that human nature could be purified by democracy; and thought the masses could be no less tyrannical than kings. Both also feared the French Revolution as a possible portent for America. … [But] Adams lacked Hamilton’s financial acumen. He favoured a nation of small farmers and expressed grave reservations about aspects of Hamilton’s economic program, thinking that it was informed by the ‘mercenary spirit of commerce.’ He detested banks and believed that Hamilton’s system would ‘swindle’ the poor and release the ‘gangrene of avarice’ into the American atmosphere. … John Adams did not care for standing armies or closer relations with Great Britain—both views that were to lead to severe clashes with Hamilton.”

 

America’s character [and why foreigners shouldn’t comment!] Oh Mercy. Adams’ duality

522

“As a foreigner [‘Creole bastard’], Adams alleged, Hamilton was devoid of knowledge of the American character or true appreciation of the Revolution’s patriots and ‘could scarcely acquire the opinions, feelings, or principles of the American people.’

‘I never wrote a line of slander against my bitterest enemy,’ [Adams] told Mercy Warren, ‘nor encouraged it in any other.’

‘Hamilton I know to be a proud, spirited, conceited, aspiring mortal, always pretending to morality’, said Adams, ‘but with as debauched morals as old Franklin, who is more his model than anyone I know.’ Hamilton, he said, had ‘a superabundance of secretions which he could not find whores enough to draw off.’

‘His fornications, adulteries, and his incests [an apparent insinuation that Hamilton had slept with Angelica Church] were propagated far and wide.’

‘I have been told by Parson Montague of Dedham, though I will not vouch for the truth of it, that General Hamilton never wrote or spoke at the bar or elsewhere in public without a bit of opium in his mouth.’

 

Adams duped by his rabidly Anglophile cabinet; confidence; the streets of Rome

523

Adams retained Washington’s cabinet and came to loathe the Hamiltonian rabidly Anglophile High Federalist ‘triumvirate’—Timothy Pickering as Secretary of State, Oliver Wolcott, Jnr as Secretary of Treasury, and James McHenry as Secretary of War—“as traitors.” He felt he had been “duped by Hamilton and his minions.”

 

524

Hamilton reflected: ‘As the President nominates his ministers and may displace them when he pleases, it must be his own fault if he be not surrounded by men who for ability and integrity deserve his confidence.’

Wolcott Jnr wrote of Adams’ administration: ‘Thus are the United States governed,

 

525

“as Jupiter is represented to have governed Olympus. Without regarding the opinions of friends or enemies, all are summoned to hear, reverence, and obey the unchangeable fiat.’

Adams was an absentee president, spending long periods at Quincy, Massachusetts. Thus did he lose control of his cabinet and giving the government, ultimately to the Republicans and relinquishing the Federalist agenda by splitting it between Adams and Hamilton.

 

Chapter 30

Flying too near the sun

527

After resigning as Treasury Secretary, Hamilton and Eliza had a home at 26 Broadway, NYC.

 

528

1797, May: Angelica and John Barker Church moved back to the USA from England and lived in NYC.

 

529

“Hamilton, among others, had pleaded with Washington to recall James Monroe for his unabashed favoritism toward the French Revolution. Back home, Monroe had huddled with Jefferson, Burr, and Albert Gallatin and expressed indignation over his dismissal.”

1796, October 15: Hamilton’s ‘Phocion’ “delved openly for the first time into Jefferson’s private life”; then again on October 19 and on October 23rd  the Jeffersonian ‘Aurora’ made reference to the Reynolds affair—and insinuated that Sally Hemmings was Jefferson’s de-facto wife.(RC/531)

1797, June: Hamilton discovered a publishing project—a series of pamphlets written by “Scottish-born James Thomson Callender—carrying details of accusations against him as corrupt when at Treasury and rehashing the Reynolds affair.  Jefferson later came to severely criticize Callender as ‘a poor creature … hypochondriac, drunken, penniless, and unprincipled’ but in the late 1790s he took the writer to his Republican bosom, saying he was ‘a man of genius’ and ‘a man of science fled from persecution’.

Callender said that ‘The unfounded reproaches heaped on Mr. Monroe form the immediate motive to the

 

530

“publication of these papers’.

Hamilton “was unalterably convinced that Monroe had reneged on his confidentiality vow and leaked the Reynolds documents.”

Callender repeated the myth that Reynolds was blackmailing Hamilton for “official misconduct” as Treasury Secretary.

 

Trickster spirit: Beckley intrigue and confidence.

531

Monroe told Aaron Burr that John Beckley had leaked the Reynolds documents to Callender—perhaps, says, RC, as revenge against the Federalists for his having been “recently ousted as clerk of the House of Representatives.” But then Monroe must have given them to Beckley.

“A shadowy operative, adept at intrigue, Beckley continued to move stealthily in the background of Republican party politics. He is a type familiar in political history: the aide who lurks in the cloakrooms of power, listening and absorbing valuable information.”

 

Karl Rove archetype as trickster promoting the Hamilton monarchy myth

532

He wielded enormous power and was close to Madison, Jefferson, Monrow and William Branch Giles. “Benjamin Rush said of Beckley that ‘he possesses a fund of information about men and things and, what is more in favor of his principles, he possesses the confidence of our two illustrious patriots, Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison.’ Beckley was constantly trying to dig up derogatory information to satisfy the Republican fantasy that Hamilton and Washington headed a pro-British monarchical conspiracy.”

 

Hamilton’s defence of the Reynolds affair—reminiscent of the Clinton Lewinski affair in the debasement of a statesman’s public achievements with irrelevant revelations of private peccadilloes. America’s squeamishness about sex

533

Hamilton, against good advice, published a 95-page defence of his public behaviour and accused Callender of being yet another expression of the ‘spirit of Jacobinism’.

“To accomplish its evil deeds, American Jacobinism had descended to calumny so that ‘the influence of men of upright principles, disposed and able to resist its enterprises, shall be at all events destroyed.’ ”

 

534

Hamilton “was prepared to sacrifice his private reputation to preserve his public honor. … Far from being the subtle Machiavellian of Jeffersonian legend, Hamilton again suffered from excessive openness. ‘No man ever more disdained duplicity or carried frankness further than he,’ Fisher Ames said.”

 

Hamilton paints himself Philanderer not a trickster; the rake’s progress

535

Hamilton’s 95-page defence document was a disaster.

“Noah Webster wondered why someone of Hamilton’s stature would ‘publish a history of his private intrigues, degrade himself in the estimation of all good men, and scandalize a family to clear himself of charges which no man believed.’ … Callender wrote mockingly that the ‘whole proof in this pamphlet rests upon an illusion. “I am a rake and for that reason I cannot be a swindler.” ’. … The ‘Aurora’ … “paraphrased Hamilton as saying, ‘I have been grossly … charged with … being a speculator, whereas I am only an adulterer.’ ”

 

America’s squeamishness about sex must have increased rather than abated since the 18thC—must be the Great Awakening

536

Was Hamilton’s “adult life really a rake’s progress of sexual conquests? …As David Cobb, a Federalist judge from Massachusetts, told Henry Knox, ‘Hamilton is fallen for the present, but if he fornicates with every females in the cities of New York and Philadelphia, he will rise again, for purity of character after a period of political existence is not necessary

 

Streets of Rome

537

for public patronage.’ … William Cunningham [writing to John Adams]… said that Hamilton’s friends had not abandoned him for straying from his wife. He offered an analogy from Roman history, the patriot Cato: ‘Cato valued himself on his integrity and was, it is said, addicted to intemperance. But the friends of Cato prized him so highly for his main excellence that they looked upon his occasional intoxication with indulgence. Thus I have understood it of Hamilton. He set the estimation made of his uprightness against that which might be formed from the confession of his lewdness and he determined that the weight of his cardinal virtues would preponderate over every defect and forever keep that scale immovably down.’ “

 

Medieval worldview

538

Hamilton was so enraged at what he took to be James Monroe’s betrayal of a promise concerning the Reynold’s affair that he went to the point of challenging the tall, handsome, blue-eyed son of a carpenter, the patriot who had crossed the Delaware with Washington and who had had a lung pierced at the battle of Trenton, Monroe, to a duel over “an affair of honor.” Monroe, shared Jefferson’s “belief that emancipation should be postponed, with the freed slaves someday transplanted to Africa.”

 

Monroe as pro-France and Federalists=monarchy as Madison

539

Senator Monroe “dismissed Britain as a corrupt, tottering state, saw the Federalists as their spineless lackeys—he denounced Hamilton’s programs as ‘calculated to elevate the government above the people’—and favored an outright military alliance with France. For Monroe, the ‘enemies of the French Revolution’ were likewise ‘partisans for monarchy’ in America. Five days after Monroe arrived in Paris as American minister, Robespierre was executed but that did not cool Monroe’s infatuation for the Revolution. … he advised [the French government] … to ignore Washington as an ‘Angloman’, and opposed the Jay Treaty. After 2 years of such disloyal bungling, Monroe was recalled by Washington and chastised as ‘a mere tool in the hands of the French government.’

 

Medieval worldview

1797, July 11: Hamilton flew into a rage with Monroe, accusing him of leaking the Reynolds papers. “Monroe called Hamilton a ‘scoundrel,’ whereupon Hamilton immediately adopted the ritual language of dueling, saying, ‘I will meet you like a gentleman.’ To which Monroe retorted, ‘I am ready, get your pistols.’ ”

 

540

Their seconds calmed things down but months later Hamilton went to Philadelphia to hound Monroe on the matter of his honour and once again used the language of a duelist, telling Monroe that the latter had been ‘actuated by motives towards me malignant and dishonorable.’ ”

 

1797, early August: “the feud between Hamilton and Monroe took on the formality of an affair of honor, Both men denied wanting to duel but stood ready if necessary. … Monroe could have let Hamilton off the hook by stating that the veracity of the Clingman memo rested on Clingman’s credibility alone. But Monroes was smarting over his ignominious recall from Paris … it is equally noteworthy that

 

Mercurius as mediator

541

“Hamilton was intransigent and made it hard for Monroe to compromise without losing face.”

 

1797, August 6: Monroe “tried to enlist … [Aaron Burr’s] aid to avert a duel. Obviously, he thought Burr was friendly enough with Hamilton to act as a mediator. … Monroe did not understand just how upset the illegitimate Hamilton was about anything that affected his reputation. In a letter delivered by Burr, Monroe told Hamilton that he had no intention of challenging him to a duel. At this, Hamilton temporarily backed down … ”

Burr behaved in a most civilized and honourable manner during this whole dispute—suggesting that at this stage Burr held no grudge toward Hamilton.

Hamilton continued to goad Monroe—who now felt that his honour had been questioned. Now he was ready for a duel.

 

1798, January: “Hamilton drafted a letter to Monroe … accepting a duel if necessary …  ” but things calmed down and he never sent it.

 

Burr’s assessment of James Monroe [like Dubya?]

542

Burr’s opinion of Monroe was significantly diminished over the whole business and when Monroe’s name came up in later years as a presidential candidate Burr had this to say of the candidate: ‘Naturally dull and stupid; extremely illiterate; indecisive to a degree that would be incredible to one who did not know him; pusillanimous and, of course, hypocritical; has no opinion on any subject and will always be under the government of the worst men; pretends, as I am told, to some knowledge of military matters, but never commanded a platoon nor was ever fit to command one. … As a lawyer, Monroe was far below mediocrity.’

 

Chapter 31

An instrument of hell

546    

The “French had retaliated against the Jay Treaty by allowing their privateers to prey on American ships carrying contraband cargo bound for British ports.

1797, March 4: Adams sworn in as President (RC/523) and by “spring, the French had seized more than three hundred American vessels.”

 

American opposites; fantasy about monarchy versus republic

552 

The French crisis during the first year of the Adams presidency “reflects the polarization that had gripped America. … Jefferson told one correspondent, ‘Men who have been intimate all their lives cross the street to avoid meeting … .’ Hamilton thought that America was in an undeclared civil war that had segregated the country into two warring camps.”

“Among the fanciful dreams fostered by American independence was the fond hope that America would be spared wars and the need for a permanent military presence. … Gordon Wood has observed, ‘Since war was promoted by the dynastic ambitions, the bloated bureaucracy, and the standing armies of monarchies, then the elimination of monarchy would mean the elimination of war itself.’ Hamilton, by contrast, believed that war was a permanent feature of human societies.

 Many republicans deplored standing armies as tools used by oppressive kings to subdue popular legislatures. … Republican orthodoxy declared that citizen-soldiers could defend the nation and obviate the need for a permanent military. Jeffersonians also feared that war would engender the powerful central government favored by Hamilton. In Madison’s

 

553

view, ‘War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies and debts and taxes are the known instrument for bringing the many under the domination of the few.’ ”

 

10,000 men and trade

1798, May: “a French privateer captured American vessels outside New York harbor.” Congress finally acted—much to Hamilton’s disgust (he having been a voice in the wilderness for a permanent standing army and navy)—by creating a separate Navy Department and a ‘Provisional Army’ of 10,000 men. “As war hysteria grew, trade with France was embargoed, and American naval vessels were empowered to pounce on any French ships threatening American trade.”

 

John Quincy Adams on the beginning of the end for the Federalist Party

557

“John Quincy Adams later identified the feud over [the list which Washington presented to John Adams of the three men he insisted on to be his major generals were he to take over as head of the ‘Provisional’ Army] as the ‘first decisive symptom’ of a schism in the Federalist party.”

 

559

Washington clearly wanted Hamilton as his second in command (inspector general) but President John Adams did everything he could to ensure Hamilton was last.

 

Hamilton as trickster

560

October 8, 1798: Adams grudgingly accepted Washington’s requirement and Hamilton was appointed as inspector general. Adams’ dislike of Hamilton only increased. “… Hamilton had been cunning, quick-footed, and manipulative and had placed Adams in an awkward spot. But Adams … could not accept that most observers, from Washington to Jay, thought Hamilton the most highly qualified man for the job.”

 

Aaron Burr as trickster

561

“ … the mutable Burr was flirting with the Federalists, and Robert Troup was agog that Burr, an enthusiast for the French Revolution, was now helping to equip [NYC] against a possible French assault. Troup told Rufus King that Burr’s ‘conduct [is] very different from what you would imagine. Some conjecture that he is changing his ground.’ …

 

562

“Adams … [asked Washington] to take on Burr as a brigadier general despite their well-known history of friction. Washington refused, pulling no punches: ‘By all that I have known and heard, Colonel Burr is a brave and able officer, but the question is whether he has not equal talents at intrigue?’

 

Hamilton as trickster

562

“Years later, Adams still spluttered with indignation at [Washington’s] retort: … [Washington] ‘had compelled me to promote … the most restless, impatient, artful, indefatigable, and unprincipled intriguer in the United States, if not in the world, to be second in command under himself and now dreaded an intriguer in a poor brigadier.’ ”

 

564

Hamilton “laid down the broad outlines of the entire military apparatus. He viewed the new army as the kernel of a permanent military establishment that would free the country from reliance on state militias.” He wanted to establish a military academy

 

565

and found West Point to be a suitable spot. “Ironically, the academy at West Point was to come into being during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, who had rejected the idea as unconstitutional during Washington’s administration.”

 

Chapter 32

Reign of Witches

569

“The period of John Adams’s presidency declined into a time of political savagery with few parallels in American history, a season of paranoia in which the two parties surrendered all trust in each other.”

 

1798, January: Republican House of Reps member, Matthew Lyon of Vermont, “mocked the aristocratic sympathies of Roger Griswold, a Federalist from Connecticut” and the latter retaliated with allegations of Lyon’s cowardice during the Revoluation. Lyon spat at Griswold; Griswold thrashed Lyon with a hickory cane; Lyon attacked Griswold with fire tongs; the two fought “on the floor like common ruffians. ‘Party animosities have raised a wall of separation between those who differ in political sentiments,’ Jefferson wrote sadly to Angelica Church.”

 

Alien and Sedition Acts:  [ a quaternity of laws designed to “silence dissent”, to stop the operation of newspaper freedoms and communications under the governance of Mercurius.] the low point of Adams’ presidency

570

1798, June-July: “While Adams wrestled with Hamilton over the ranking of Washington’s major generals, Congress enacted four infamous laws designed to muzzle dissent and browbeat the Republicans into submission … ” with the Alien and Sedition Acts.

 

1798, June 18: The Naturalisation Act increased the period for attaining full voting rights from 5 to 14 years;

1798, June 25: The Alien Act gave the president power to arbitrarily deport any foreign born resident he deemed a threat to the peace;

1798, July 6: Alien Enemies Act gave the president “power to label as enemy aliens any residents who were citizens of a country at war with America, prompting an outflow of French émigrés.”

1798, July 14: Sedition Act “rendered it a crime to speak or publish ‘any false, scandalous, or malicious writings against the U. S. government or Congress ‘with intent to defame … or to bring them … into contempt or disrepute.’ ”

 

i.e., Federalist-controlled Congress betrayed “an unbecoming nativist streak.” They were anti-Irish (because the Irish were pro-French and thereby pro-Republican.

 

1798, September: Benjamin Franklin Bache (publisher of the Republican ‘Aurora’) died, aged 29, in a yellow-fever epidemic, as did John Fenno (publisher of the Federalist ‘Gazette of the United States’)

 

Streets of Rome

571

1798, May 21: In a newspaper piece, NYC Republican lawyer, William Keteltas, likened Hamilton to Caesar: ‘But like Caesar, you are ambitious and for that ambition to enslave his country, Brutus slew him. And are ambitious men less dangerous to American than Roman liberty?’ Hamilton responded in that same newspaper: ‘By the allusion to Caesar and Brutus, he plainly hints at assassination.’

 

1809: Adams claimed—but only after Hamilton’s death, of course—that Hamilton had recommended the alien and sedition laws to Adams upon his taking office in 1797 and that it was Congress’ doing, not Adams’. “The truth is that Hamilton never espoused any such laws in the memos he drew up after Adams’s inauguration.”

 

Hamilton on the National Character & Jefferson on medieval thinking

572

Nevertheless, Hamilton did support the amended Alien and Sedition Acts and claimed that “ ‘the sedition law … will one day be pronounced a valuable feature of our national character.’ For Republicans … the Sedition Act … violated the First Amendment of the Constitution.”

Madison and Jefferson were outraged by what the former called ‘a monster that must forever disgrace its parents’ and the latter regarded as so iniquitous that the “common sense of the people would rectify such errors. He [Jefferson] told a fellow Virginian, ‘A little patience and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolved, and the people, recovering their true sight, restoring their government to its true principles.’ … [Jefferson] believed that Washington had checked the most harmful tendencies of the Federalists but that under

 

Streets of Rome, nullification and Jeffersonian states’ rights

573

Adams the party had ‘mounted on the car of state and, free from control, like Phaeton on that of the sun, drove headlong and wild.’ ”

Jefferson explained “later that he considered that law [the Sedition Act] ‘to be a nullity as absolute and as palpable as if Congress had ordered us to fall down and worship a golden image.’ Jefferson and Madison drafted resolutions, anonymously—for the vice president, Jefferson, “could have been brought up on sedition charges, possibly even impeached for treason”, for Kentucky and Virginia respectively.

1798, November 16: Jefferson’s Kentucky Resolutions passed (but with Jefferson’s call to rebellion and his “call for ‘nullification’ of laws that violated states’ rights deleted.)

1798, December 24: Madison’s Virginia Resolutions passed—with his call to the states to contest obnoxious laws thereby indicating the 180° shift from Madison’s position at the Constitutional Convention where he argued “that the federal government should possess

 

States’ Rights versus Union; Jefferson and Madison as outlaws; seeds of the Civil War sown by the war of opposites at the turn of the century [the assassination of] James Garfield [song]

574

a veto over state laws. In the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions,, Jefferson and Madison set forth a radical doctrine of states’ rights that effectively undermined the Constitution. … ‘Their nullification effort, if others had picked it up, would have been a greater threat to freedom than the misguided [alien and sedition] laws, which were soon rendered feckless by ridicule and electoral pressure,’ Garry Wills has written.”

Hamilton and others’ [Madison’s, earlier stance for instance] position was “that the Constitution transcended state governments” whereas “Now Jefferson and Madison lent their imprimatur to an outmoded theory in which the Constitution became a compact of the states, not of their citizens.”

George Washington told Patrick Henry that these 2 states’ Resolutions would ‘dissolve the union or produce coercion’ if pursued.

“The influence of the doctrine of states’ rights, especially the version promulgated by Jefferson, reverberated right up to the Civil War and beyond. At the close of that war, James Garfield of Ohio, the future president, wrote that the Kentucky Resolutions ‘contained the germ of nullification and secession, and we are today reaping the fruits.’ 

 

The Sedition Act proved to be the most pernicious of “the quartet of laws intended to silence dissent”.

 

575

Eg., Congressman Matthew Lyon of Vermont was gaoled for 4 months for criticizing the president’s ‘unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and selfish avarice.’

“Five of the six most influential Republican papers were ultimately prosecuted under the new laws by a Federalist-dominated judiciary.” 

 

Chapter 33 Works Godly and Ungodly

580

1795: By this time, “slavery had begun to recede in New England and the mid-Atlantic states. Rhode Island, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut had decided to abolish it.”

 

 

Slavery abolished in the North by 1804; In the South, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe were still defending the peculiar institution in the 1820s

581

1798, January: Hamilton resumed his involvement in the New York Manumission Society and in

1799 the society succeeded in having the Federalist Assembly vote 68 to 23 for the gradual abolition of slavery in New York State.

1804: New Jersey was the last of the Northern states to vote to gradually abolish slavery.

1820s: Jefferson, Madison and Monroe still argued that abolition was unnecessary and that slavery would wither and die once the western states were opened up.

 

Streets of Rome, medieval thinking, the black arts of a Polish poet (with connections to the high point of Australian geography) used as amusement in Hamilton’s parlour.

583

 1799: Hamilton wrote Eliza from Philadelphia that ‘You are my good genius of that kind which the ancient philosophers called a familiar and you know very well that I am glad to be in every way as familiar as possible with you.”

 

585

According to the Polish poet, Julian Niemcewicz, his friend General Tadeusz Kosciuszko had entrusted Niemcewicz “with a magic secret that permitted him to summon up spirits from the grave. Hamilton, intrigued, invited the Polish poet to a Friday-evening soiree, and the latter promptly summoned up—so Hamilton co-operated in declaring—the spirit of the dead warrior baron de Viomenil. “That Hamilton had communed with a fallen comrade attracted exceptional attention in New York society, so much so that he had to admit that it was all a hoax he had cooked up … ‘to frighten the family for amusement and that it was never intended to be made public.’ 

 

1798: the yellow-fever epidemic (spread by mosquitoes in the swamps and stagnant ponds) which killed Benjamin Franklin Bache and John Fenno took the lives of 2000 in NYC;

1798, September: up to 45 people per day were dying.

 

The cunning ‘sleight of hand’ of Aaron Butt

586

Aaron Burr, via his brother-in-law, Dr Joseph Browne, used the yellow-fever epidemic to lobby for a private water corporation, the Manhattan Company, with a charter from the state legislature, ostensibly to purify the water and prevent further epidemics, but actually to enable Burr to set up a Republican bank—the other 2 New York banks with an effective monopoly on NYC banking (the Bank of New York and the local branch of the Bank of the United States) having been spawned by Hamilton and safely in the hands of the Federalists.

Whether or not it was the case, there was a widespread belief that Republican businessmen and traders were penalized in conducting their affairs because of the political point of view of the banking directors.

1790s: A series of state banks mushroomed during the decade and Hamilton saw them as a threat to the stability of the financial system because he feared “that competition among banks would dilute credit standards and invite imprudent lending practices as bankers vied for clients.”

1797, early: “ … an incorrigible spendthrift”, Aaron Burr was having financial problems and having a controlling hand in a bank would surely help. 

Obtaining a legislative charter would be a major step in achieving this goal but the legislature was dominated by the Federalists: enter Dr Browne and the water company.

“In a cunning sleight of hand, Butt lined up a bipartisan coalition of six

 

Burr as supreme trickster

587

luminaries—three republicans and three Federalists—to approach the Common Council as sponsors of his proposal for a private water company.” Hamilton was one of the Federalists to support Burr’s plan. And he had his wealthy and successful businessman brother-in-law, John B Church, appointed to the board. ‘Whatever Hamilton’s motives,’ one Burr Biographer has written, ‘no member of the committee of six worked harder [than Hamilton] to make possible Aaron Burr’s upcoming triumph in the New York legislature.’

1799, February 22: Hamilton and Burr put their case to NYC Mayor, Richard Varick; Hamilton came up with the usual set of exhaustive plans, including proposals to drain the swamps and install sewers.

Burr was the archetypal trickster “enlisting his foe’s mighty pen in a clandestine Republican cause. It was exactly the sort of joke that the drolly mysterious Burr treasured.”

1799, late March: the state legislature “approved the creation of the Manhattan Company”.

1799, April 2: “an unsuspecting Governor John Jay signed this act into law.” Burr had, at the last minute, inserted trick clauses into the final bill and these enabled the Manhattan Company ‘to employ all such surplus capital as may belong or accrue to the said company in the purchase of public or other stock or in any other monied transactions of operations.’

 

588

1799, late April: Burr fooled the Federalist legislators but not the public; they voted against him in the election for an Assembly seat. Hamilton later “complained of Burr, ‘… he has lately by a trick established a bank, a perfect monster in its principles, but a very convenient instrument of profit and influence.’ Even some stalwart Republicans shuddered at Burr’s machinations. … Burr’s editor, Mary-Jo Kline, has observed that the Manhattan Company scheme ‘was so baldly self-serving that it temporarily halted Burr’s political career and lost him the public office that had served him so well.’ ”

 

1799, April 22: Manhattan Company shares went on sale and were “instantly snapped up” because, as became obvious in

1799, early September: the Manhattan Company opened on wall Street and “immediately posed a competitive threat to the Bank of New York” with “its wondrously vague charter—a magic carpet of corporate possibilities—the Manhattan Company was allowed to raise two million dollars, operate anywhere, and go on in perpetuity, whereas the bank of New York was greatly limited by comparison.

Hamilton was chagrined but Joseph Browne was devastated at the betrayal of the water company prospectus and realized that the Manhattan Company was much less a water company than

Medieval thinking: the Barker – Burr duel

589

‘a speculating job’.

1799, Summer: Yellow-fever was back with a vengeance in NYC—Burr’s dodgy ‘water company’ having not only helped contribute directly to it by pumping “impure water from old wells” but also by having trumped other more worthy proposals—including that of a municipal water company—for sound water management.

There’s speculation that the argumentative John Barker Church arrived in America on the eve of the Revolution after having fled from London following a duel in which he killed a man.

The Holland Company sought Burr’s advice on how to purchase land in New York, how to get around the law which locked foreign purchases out of the lucrative market; Burr suggested that they “sprinkle $5000.00 around the state legislature to brighten the prospects for corrective legislation. … the consequent Alien Landowners Act removed the legal obstacles.” Hamilton was an attorney for the Holland Company and presumably told Church about Burr’s shenanigans and Church “made the unpardonable error of employing the word bribery in mixed company. … The allegation against Burr … was widely believed.”

Burr challenged Church to a duel and Church promptly accepted.

Comic mishap on the Burr – Church duelling ground at Hoboken

590

Burr challenged Church because “he was eyeing the presidential election the following year … [and] he had to remove this fresh blemish from his reputation, and a duel with Hamilton’s brother-in-law promised to embellish his image in Republican circles. The speed with which Burr entered the duel suggests that, unlike in his later confrontation with Hamilton, he had no murderous intent and went through the ritual for political effect. It was a very different affair of honour from one the previous year after republican Brockholst Livingston had been attacked by Federalist James Jones as he ambled along the Battery. Jones pounced on him, thrashed him with a cane, and gave his nose a good twist. Livingston, in revenge, summoned him to a dueling ground in New Jersey and shot him dead.”

1799, September 2: “Burr and Church rowed across the Hudson for a sunset duel. … One observer said there was ‘not the least alteration in his [Burr’s] behaviour on the ground from what there would have been had they met on friendly terms.’  … That Burr’s second [“Hamilton’s old nemesis Aedanus Burke”] came from South Carolina heightens the suspicion that he was trying to woo southern Republicans with the duel.”

The dueling pistols belonged to Burr but the bullets were “too small for the pistols” and when each fired there was not much aggression. Church then apologized for the remark which occasioned the duel and

 

591

both men shook hands and had their seconds row them—these two directors of the Manhattan Company which was in its gala opening week—back to Manhattan. “ … the duel did not throb with the uncontainable passion, hatred, and high drama that was to shadow the encounter in Weehawken nearly five years later … Burr had come off as both a poor shot and a reasonable man, not as a skilled marksman who might arrive at the field of honour prepared to shoot with deadly intent.”

 

Chapter 34 In An Evil Hour

592

1798, October: Eldridge Gerry told President Adams that the French desired peace and Adams wanted to act upon this advice to take the opportunity. Hamilton and his cohorts saw it as a tactical manoeuvre by the French.

 

593

1798, early December: Adams told Congress (with Hamilton and Washington present, that he was extending the olive branch to France.

1799, June: Hamilton “told McHenry more or less openly that if the president did not hold correct opinions, he should be ignored.”

 

Hamilton as fool

598

1799, October: Adams was outraged with what he saw as Hamilton’s impudent attempts to change his mind concerning the peace overtures with France. “Abigail Adams went so far as to fear that Hamilton might stage a coup d’état against her husband’s administration.” There was a showdown and “Adams recalled that he reacted calmly to Hamilton, as if indulging a madman: ‘I heard him with perfect good humor, though never in my life did I hear a man talk more like a fool. … I treated him throughout with great mildness and civility … but after he took leave, I could not help reflecting in my own mind on the total ignorance he had betrayed of every thing in Europe, in France, England, and elsewhere.’

 

Medieval maleficus

598-9

Washington confided to Hamilton that he, too, like his former aide-de-camp, felt Adams had gone from one extreme to the other—“from deep concern about the changed government in Paris to cavalier indifference”—within “the space of a month”. Washington told Hamilton ‘This business seems to have commenced in an evil hour and under unfavourable auspices.’

 

599

Hamilton over-reacted to Adams’ plans to seek peace and he exercised very poor judgment in conjuring up exaggerated images of an apocalyptic end if the USA army which he commanded did not find new provisions and support. There was little support and the taxes required to keep the army on standby were hurting. Hamilton wanted the Alien and Sedition Acts used against dissenters

 

600

and for the breakup of large states into smaller ones.

 

Hamilton and Washington, meanwhile, were closer and closer and Hamilton needed his mentor’s sponsorship now, more than ever.

1799, December 12: “Washington sent Hamilton a letter applauding his outline for an American military academy. … It was the last letter George Washington ever wrote. … he developed a throat infection and died two days later.”

1799, December 14: Washington died.

 

Momentary bi-partisanship while Washington is laid to rest; Streets of Rome

601

1799, December 26: Henry ‘Lighthorse Harry’ Lee of Virginia (father of Robert E Lee) eulogized Washington at the “somber procession of government dignitaries, soldiers, and horsemen that escorted a riderless white horse from Congress hall to the German Lutheran Church.” Hamilton marched in the procession but Jefferson boycotted the memorial service and Adams was piqued by the Federalists’ having given too much adulation to Washington.

Hamilton, by moral right, should have been appointed as Washington’s successor to the post of commanding officer of the army but Adams was not about to make that appointment. Hamilton did, though, succeed Washington as president general of the Society of the Cincinnati.

 

602

1800, February: “Congress halted enlistments for the new army that [Hamilton] was assembling and that had monopolized his time.” Americans learned that Bonaparte had “eliminated the Directory in November and pronounced himself first consul, in precisely the turn to despotism that Hamilton had long prophesied for France.” 

1800, mid-May: Congress gave Adams the power “to disband most of the new army” and he did so.

1800, May 22: Hamilton “emerged from his tent at Scotch Plains to review his troops one last time … ”

1800, June: Hamilton’s troops demobilized.

1800, July: Hamilton closed his NYC headquarters and ended his military service.

He was bitterly resentful of Adams.

 

 

Chapter 35 Gusts of Passion

 

The Manhattan Well Tragedy

603

1799, December 22: Gulielma Sands, 22, “left her boardinghouse on Greenwich Street, which was operated by her respectable Quaker relatives, Catherine and Elias Ring. It was believed that she had gone off to marry her fiancé, Levi Weeks, who was also a tenant and was seen chatting with her before her departure. Later that night, Weeks returned to the Ring household alone, inquiring if Sands had gone to bed, and was shocked to discover that she was not there.”

1800, January 22: Sands’ “fully dressed corpse was fished from a wooden well owned by the Manhattan Company.”

Aaron Burr, Brockholst Livingston and Alexander Hamilton defended the accused—Levi Weeks—in the Manhattan Well Tragedy case.

 

Medieval thinking

604

Sands had been severely beaten about the face and breasts . The Rings fanned the rumour that she was pregnant to Weeks and that he was responsible for her death. “They displayed Sands’s body on a coffin for three days and then placed it for a day on the pavement outside, allowing people to gratify their ghoulish curiosity and decide whether she had been pregnant. (The inquest said she had not[, that she had drowned].) … gossips whispered of ghostly apparitions at the Manhattan well. The prosecution of Weeks assumed the vengeful mood of a witch-hunt. The indictment said that, ‘not having the fear of God before his eyes, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil,’ Weeks had ‘beat[en] and abused’ Sands before murdering her and stuffing her down the well.”

1800, March 31: The People v. Levi Weeks began “at the Old City Hall on Wall Street, the Federal hall of Washington’s first inauguration.” Voices among the huge crowd chanted ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’

 

605

“The defense lawyers … discredited the testimony of Elias and Catherine Ring, showing that Elias Ring had probably slept with Gulielma Sands and that Sands, no innocent damsel, had a little weakness for laudanum. The image of the Ring household evolved from a scene of violated gentility into something closer to a sedate brothel.’

 

606

1800, April 2, 1:30 am: The jury acquitted Levi Weeks and Catherine Ring shook her fist at Hamilton saying ‘If thee dies a natural death, I shall think there were no justice in heaven.’

 

607

NYC was pivotal to the outcome of the upcoming Presidential election and “that most dextrous opportunist, Aaron Burr … knew that the Republicans wanted to achieve geographic balance on their national ticket by having a northern vice presidential candidate.” So Burr had every incentive to “deliver New York into the republican camp” and thereby “parlay that feat into a claim on the second spot under Jefferson. … Burr knew that a northern renegade aligned with southern Republicans could provide a critical swing factor. This was Alexander Hamilton’s recurring nightmare: an electoral deal struck between Virginia and New York Republicans. … That spring, Burr ran a campaign that, with its exhaustive toolbox of techniques, previewed modern political methods.” He exploited a loophole in the property requirement clause of the electoral act such that tenants could pool their properties “and claim that their combined values qualified them to vote.”

 

608

“However aristocratic his lineage, Burr was a proponent of the hard sell and shrewdly sized up his targets.”

 

609

1800, May 1: The Republicans took New York and turned it from a Federalist to a Republican stronghold.

Jefferson could now count on 12 Electoral College votes whereas he’d “received none in 1796.”

Hamilton went to extremes in trying to overturn the result, resorting to proposals of “extralegal means to conserve the rule of law”

 

Jefferson’s mask

610

Hamilton believed that if Jefferson became President he would act upon his stated belief system wherein Jefferson regarded  ‘The true theory of our Constitution …[was that] the states are independent as to everything within themselves and united as to everything respecting foreign nations.’

Hamilton’s paranoia did not take account of the fact that this was Jefferson rhetoric and that a “pragmatic politician lurked behind the sometimes overheated … ” ideological mask.

 

Adams reaction to Burr’s New York Republican Party triumph was “to purge his cabinet of Hamilton loyalists in order to court Republican votes.”

 

611

 

Mask

614

The irascible Adams referred to Secretary of State Timothy Pickering as ‘a man in a mask, sometimes of silk, sometimes of iron, and sometimes of brass.’ He thought of Pickering as “Hamilton’s main henchman” and whilst it’s true that the staunch abolitionist Harvard-educated Pickering greatly admired Hamilton he was independent of Hamilton.

 

Duplicitous President Adams

615

Hamilton reacted to the sackings of his compadres (Pickering and McHenry) from Adams’ cabinet by venting his spleen about Adams: ‘The man is more mad than I ever thought him and I shall soon be led to say as wicked as he is mad.’ …Hamilton regarded Adams as playing a duplicitous game, and he preferred an honest enemy to a dishonest friend.”

 

Anti-royalty

616 

 After Adams sacked the Federalists in his cabinet the ‘Aurora’ “told readers that Hamilton was traveling with ‘well-known aristocrats,’ and when their carriage broke down in Boston the paper construed this mishap as a portent of ‘the downfall of aristocracy in the U[nited] States.’ Hamilton, on the other hand, imagined that a Republican victory in the Presidential election would be tantamount to a the Jacobins coming to power.

 

Chapter 36

In A Very Belligerent Humor

 

619

1800, July: After this date, Hamilton was no longer constrained in giving vent to his anger (because he was no longer inspector general) and his penchant for vendettas led him “to lash out at the president.”

620

1800, August 1st: Hamilton wrote to president Adams demanding an explanation for Adams’ alleged

 

Medieval thinking and the mask

621

portrayal of Hamilton as the leader of a ‘British Faction’ in the USA. Worse, Hamilton phrased it in terms of “an affair of honor”—he was preparing, that is to say, for a duel. Adams did not answer the letter.

1800, October 1st: Hamilton “sent a follow-up note to Adams calling the allegations against him ‘a base, wicked, and cruel calumny, destitute even of a plausible pretext to excuse the folly or mask the depravity which must have dictated it.’ This was shockingly offensive language to use with a president and terminated all possibility of future contact between the two men.”  George Cabot and Oliver Wolcott counselled Hamilton to be more circumspect, not to proceed with his planned letter (which was to become his “anti-Adams pamphlet”). Hamilton, of course, ignored them and “the ‘Aurora’ and other hostile republican papers” soon got hold of Hamilton’s essay—through Aaron Burr, perhaps, as historians have tended to believe, but possibly via

 

622

John Beckley “who leaked the Maria Reynolds pamphlet … ” William Shaw, president Adams’ nephew confirmed that the pamphlet had been ‘immediately sent to Beckley at Philadelphia, the former clerk of the House of Reps, who caused extracts to be reprinted in the ‘Aurora’, through which medium it was first made known to the public.’

Republicans had much to gain by leaking the content of the letter: it “would deepen the rift in the Federalist party.”  This forced Hamilton’s hand and he published his letter as a pamphlet.

 

Medieval evil genius

1800, October 24: publication of Hamilton’s petulant 54-page anti-Adams pamphlet to a national audience. In it, Hamilton “displayed both his own errant judgment and Adam’s instability. An elated Madison wrote to Jefferson, ‘I rejoice with you that Republicanism is likely to be so completely triumphant.’ … The Federalists were no less staggered by Hamilton’s folly. Noah Webster said that Hamilton’s ‘ambition, pride, and overbearing temper’ threatened to make him ‘the evil genius of this country.’ ”

 

623

“ … the pamphlet was a crazily botched job, an extended tantrum in print.” Nevertheless, as “Joseph Ellis has written … despite Hamilton’s political prejudices, ‘he eefectively framed the question that has haunted Adam’s reputation ever since: how was it that one of the leading lights in the founding generation seemed to exhibit such massive lapses in personal stability?’ ”

Many contemporary Federalists concurred with Hamilton’s portrait: Benjamin Goodhue of Massachusetts, former Maryland senator, Charles Carroll, and

 

624

William Plumer of New Hampshire, to name a few. Most, though, Robert Troup among them, regarded Hamilton’s letter as “hypocritical and woefully indiscreet” and would almost certainly hand Jefferson the presidency. Hamilton, meanwhile, deceived himself in believing that only good would come of his publication.

 

Presidential election of 1800: great irony of opposites.

625

Adams, on the eve of an election, shelved his response to Hamilton’s pamphlet but in

1809: Adams “undertook an elaborate justification of his presidency in ‘The Boston Patriot’ and criticised Hamilton “for being foreign born, for knowing nothing of the American character, for not being a real patriot, for being an incorrigible rake, for being immature, for lacking military knowledge, even for being a shiftless treasury secretary who spent his time scribbling ‘ambitious reports’ while underlings carried out the real departmental business.”

 

1800: the presidential election which followed all of this was a close run race with New York delivering the decisive edge to Jefferson. “David McCullough has noted the rich irony that ‘Jefferson, the apostle of agrarian America who loathed cities, owed his ultimate political triumph to

New York.’ ”

Adams, of course, blamed Hamilton’s pamphlet for his loss but “Scholars have questioned the pamphlet’s direct impact on the vote.”

 

Hamilton ultimately not a trickster because too indiscrete; the character of America’s body politic

626

Robert Troup noted that Hamilton’s infamous pamphlet “exposed Hamilton’s character, not Adams’s, as ‘radically deficient in discretion’. … Hamilton’s letter almost certainly hastened the collapse of the Federalists as a national political force. … The Federalists lingered for another decade or two, but outside of New England they were a spent force. … Hamilton thought that he could pick up the pieces of a shattered Federalist party.”

“The personal recriminations of the 1800 election can obscure the huge ideological shift tha reshaped American politics and made the Republicans the majority party. … The people had registered their dismay with a long litany of unpopular Federalist actions: the Jay Treaty, the Alien and Sedition Acts, the truculent policy toward France, the vast army being formed under Hamilton and the taxes to support it. The 1800 elections, revealed, for the first time, the powerful centrist pull of American politics—the electorate’s tendency to rein in anything perceived as extreme.”

“The stress placed upon the Adams-Hamilton feud pointed to a deeper problem in the Federalist party … :the elitist nature of its politics.”

 

Hamilton’s understanding of the Republic of the Streets of Rome went against the propogated myth of the American Republic as above the follies of not learning the sober lessons of history

627

“Fisher Ames observed of Hamilton that the common people don’t want leaders ‘whom they see elevated by nature and education so far above their heads.’ ”

“The intellectual spoilsport among the founding fathers, Hamilton never believed in the perfectibility of human nature and regularly violated what became the first Commandment of American politics: thou shalt always be optimistic when addressing the electorate. He shrank from the campaign rhetoric that flattered Americans as the most wonderful, enlightened people on earth and denied that they had anything to learn from European societies. He was incapable of the resolutely uplifting themes that were to become mandatory in American politics. The first great skeptic of American exceptionalism, he refused to believe that the country was exempt from the sober lessons of history.” 

 

Alchemical opposites: Hamilton the dark realist as against Jefferson the dreamy idealist

627

Where Hamilton “had a better sense of human limitations … Jefferson had a better sense of human potentialities. Both Hamilton and Jefferson believed in democracy, but Hamilton tended to be more suspicious of the governed and Jefferson of the governors. A strange blend of dreamy idealist and manipulative politician, Jefferson was a virtuoso of the sunny phrases and hopeful themes that became staples of American politics. He continually paid homage to the wisdom of the masses. Before the 1800 election, Federalist Harrison Gray Otis saw Jefferson’s approach as ‘a very sweet smelling incense which flattery offers to vanity and folly at the shrine of falsehood.’ John Qunicy Adams also explained Jefferson’s presidential triumph by saying that he had been ‘pimping to the popular passions.’ To Jefferson we owe the self-congratulatory language of Fourth of July oratory, the evangelical conviction that America serves as a beacon of all humanity. Jefferson told John Dickinson, ‘Our revolution and its consequences will ameliorate the condition of man over a great protion of the globe.’ At least on paper, Jefferson possessed a more all-embracing view of democracy than Hamilton, who was always frightened by a sense of the fickle and fallible nature of the masses.”

“The three terms of Federalist rule had been full of dazzling

 

The legacy of Federalism: not aristocracy but an elite meritocracy; alchemical opposites

628

accomplishments that Republicans, with their extreme apprehension of federal power, could never have achieved. Under the tutelage of Washington, Adams, and Hamilton, the Federalists had bequeathed to American history a sound federal government with a central bank, a funded debt, a high credit rating, a tax system, a customs service, a coast guard, a navy, and many other institutions that would guarantee the strength to preserve liberty. They activated critical constitutional doctrines that gave the American charter flexibility, forged the bonds of nationhood, and lent an energetic tone to the executive branch in foreign and domestic policy. Hamilton, on particular, bound the nation through his fiscal programs in a way that no Republican could have matched. He helped to establish the rule of law and the culture of capitalism at a time when a revolutionary utopianism and a flirtation with the French Revolution still prevailed among too many Jeffersonians. With their reverence for states’ rights, abhorrence of central authority, and cramped interpretation of the Constitution, Republicans would have found it difficult, if not impossible, to achieve these historic feats.”

The Federalists might have been elitists “but they were an open, fluid elite, based on merit and money, not on birth and breeding—the antithesis of the southern plantation system. It was the northern economic system that embodied the mix of democracy and capitalism that was to constitute the essence of America in the long run.”

 

Trickster’s version of democracy reins in the USA via the so-called ‘federal ratio’; the streets of Rome

628

1800: the election of President Jefferson did not “represent the unalloyed triumph of good over evil or of commoners over the wellborn.” Just as much it “meant the ascendancy of the slaveholding south. Three Virginia slaveholder—Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe—were to control the White House for the next 24 years. These aristocratic exponents of ‘democracy’ not only owned hundreds of human beings but profited from the Constitution’s least democratic features: the legality of slavery and the ability of southern states to count three-fifths of their captive populations in calculating their electoral votes. (Without this so-called federal ration, John Adams would have defeated Thomas Jefferson in 1800.) The Constitution did more than just tolerate slavery: it actively rewarded it.”

 

629

“Slaveholding presidents from the south occupied the presidency for approximately 50 of the 72 years following Washington’s first inauguration. Many of these slaveholding populists were celebrated by posterity as tribunes of the common people. Meanwhile, the self-made Hamilton, a fervent abolitionist and a staunch believer in meritocracy, was villainized in American history textbooks as an apologist for privilege and wealth.”

 

Chapter 37: Deadlock

630  

1799, November 9: Napoleon’s coup d’état made him first consul and military dictator of France—as predicted by Hamilton and in keeping with the approach of Adams and the Federalists as against the “credulous” Republicans—and Talleyrand advised Napoleon to make peace with America.

 

1800, October 3: American envoys concluded a peace treaty to end the undeclared quasi-war with France; Adams’ diplomatic approach had been shown to work in the end and Hamilton finally ceased his sabre rattling and agreed with the proposed treaty.

 

1800, mid-December: by then it was clear that Jefferson and Burr not only had the presidential election sown up but would be neck-and-neck for the job so the Federalist House of Reps would have to decide. Burr himself had written to Republican Samuel Smith indicating that in the event of a tied vote he would relinquish his claim in favour of Jefferson: ‘ … every man who knows me ought to know that I utterly disclaim all competition.’

 

Aaron Burr as trickster; Hamilton describes him as an altogether dubious character; Streets of Rome

632

Hamilton doubted that Burr was so honourable and was also aware that Federalists in the House of Reps might prefer him to Jefferson. He argued that Jefferson rather than Burr should be president saying ‘there is nothing in his favour. His private character is not defended by his most partial friends. He is bankrupt beyond redemption, except by the plunder of his country. His public principles have no other spring or aim than his own aggrandizement. … I f he can, he will certainly disturb our institutions to secure himself permanent power and with it wealth. He is truly the Catiline of America.’

“ … in ancient Rome, Catilene was notorious for his personal dissipation and treacherous schemes to undermine the republic.”

 

Jefferson’s character and Burr’s trickster personality as described by Hamilton

632

Hamilton told Wolcott that Jefferson ‘is by far not so dangerous a man as he has pretensions to character.’ Hamilton considered Jefferson to be “much more talented that the overrated Burr and that the latter was ‘far more cunning than wise, far more dexterous than able. In my opinion he is inferior in real ability to Jefferson.’

“ … Hamilton had noted Burr’s electoral intrigues in New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont and surmised that he was only feigning deference to Jefferson. Butt alone had engaged in open electioneering, while Jefferson, Adams, and Pinckney stuck to the gentlemanly protocol of avoiding the stump.” 

Burr’s trickster personality as described by Jefferson

632

“ ‘I never indeed thought him an honest, frank-dealing man … but considered him as a crooked gun or other perverted machine, whose aim or shot you could never be sure of.’  That Jefferson twice recruited this crooked gun for his running mate indicates just how cynical he could be. Burr, in turn,

 

Jefferson’s character as described by Burr; Streets of Rome

632

“still believed that he had been betrayed by Jefferson in the 1796 election, when he got only one vote in Virginia. ‘As to my Jeff,’ he wrote with mordant whimsy, ‘after what happened at the last election (et tu Brute!) I was really averse to having my name in question … but being so, it is most obvious that I should not choose to be trifled with.’

 

America’s trickster origins wedded to Burr’s trickster deals

633

“ … Federalist leaders pelted Hamilton with letters about the expediency of supporting Burr and ending Virginia’s political hegemony. Because Burr lusted after money and power, they thought they could strike a bargain with him. The worried less about Burr’s loose morals than about what they perceived as Jefferson’s atheism (clergymen were telling their congregations that if Jefferson became president, they would need to hide their Bibles) and his doctrinaire views. Better an opportunist than a dangerous ideologue, many Federalists thought. … If forced to choose, Hamilton preferred a man with wrong principles to one devoid of any. ‘There is no circumstance which has occurred in the course of our political affairs that has given me so much pain as the idea that Mr Burr might be elevated to the Presidency by the means of the Federalists,’ Hamilton told Wolcott. If the party elected Butt, it would be exposed ‘to the disgrace of a defeat in an attempt to elevate to the first place in the government one of the worst men in the community. … The appointment of Burr as president would disgrace our country abroad … No agreement with him could be relied upon. … He is sanguine enough to hope everything, daring enough to attempt everything, wicked enough to scruple nothing.’ … [Hamilton] briefed Federalists about the scandals involving Burr and the Holland Company and the gross trickery behind the Manhattan Company.”

Hamilton reported the following conversation he had with Burr when inspector general of the army “to Robert Troup and two other friends. ‘General, you are now at the head of the army,’ Burr had told him. ‘You are a man of the first talents and of vast influence. Our constitution is a miserable paper machine. You have it in your power to demolish it and give us a proper one and you owe it to your friends and the country to do it.’ To which Hamilton said he replied, ‘Why, Col. Burr, in the first place, the little army I command is totally inadequate to the object you mention. And in the second place, if the army were adequate I am too much troubled with that thing called morality to make the attempt.’ Reverting to French, Burr pooh-poohed this timidity: ‘General, all things are moral to great souls!’

Hamilton was implacably opposed to the Federalists installing Burr as president. The Federalists

 

634

“would be ‘signing their own death warrant.’

 

1800, late December: Burr shifted toward the position that whilst he’d not  “seek the presidency” yet “neither would he reject it if the House chose him over Jefferson.”

 

Hamilton on Jefferson’s [trickster] nature

634

“ … ‘I admit that his politics are tinctured with fanaticism … that he is crafty and persevering in his objects, that he is not scrupulous about the means of success, not very mindful of truth, and that he is a contemptible hypocrite.’ At the same time, he admitted that Jefferson was often more fervent in rhetoric than in action and would be a more cautious president than his principles might suggest. He predicted, accurately, that Jefferson’s penchant for France, once it was no longer politically useful, would be discarded. (In an abrupt volte-face, on January 29, 1800, Jefferson, after learning that Napoleon had made himself dictator, wrote, ‘It is very material for the … [American people] to be made sensible that their own character and situation are materially different from the French.’ Hamilton had been saying this for a decade.)”

 

1800, January 29: see the above sentence.

 

635

1801, February 11: the presidential electors’ votes were opened in the Senate chamber of the still unfinished Capitol in the swamp infested village of Washington DC and, as common knowledge already had it, “Jefferson and Burr had tied with 73 votes apiece.” 

 

Anti-monarchy

636

600 men built the White House and Capitol—most of them slaves.

There was a deadlock in the House of Reps vote for President with Jefferson one vote short of the required 9. Hamilton let it be known via “Gouverneur Morris that he could support Jefferson with a clear conscience if the latter provided ‘assurances on certin points: the maintenance of the present system, especially on the cardinal articles of public credit, a navy, neutrality.’ … In the early republic, secret agreements behind closed doors were regarded as distasteful relics of monarchical ways. Nevertheless, the outlines of Hamilton’s deal were to linger and ultimately prevail.” 

35 ballots over 5 days did not yield a result.

 

Jefferson as trickster

637

Despite Hamilton’s conviction “that Burr was maneuvering for the presidency” “Recent scholarship has tended to exonerate Burr from charges that he did anything untoward, and he certainly did not bargain outright. The situation was tailor-made for Jefferson, who specialized in subtle, round-about action. He denied stoutly that he had compromised to break the deadlock … That Jefferson believed his own version is certain. He did not lie to others so much as to himself. John Quincy Adams later observed of Jefferson that he had ‘a memory so pandering to the will that in deceiving others he seems to have begun by deceiving himself.’ He now stuck by the serviceable fiction that he had refused to negotiate with the Federalists.”

 

The USA governed by the trickster in the election of President Jefferson

638

Delaware Federalist, James A Bayard, held the key. He voted for Burr in 35 of the ballots but his one vote would give Jefferson the presidency. He put the same points that Hamilton had put to Jefferson’s go-betweens, John Nicholas of Virginia and Samuel Smith of Maryland. Jefferson denied having done a deal but agreed to the terms. Moreover, “Timothy Pickering alleged that certain congressmen had ‘sold their votes to Mr Jefferson and received their pay in appointments to public offices. Had Burr been at the seat of government and made similar promises of appointments to offices, ‘he would have been president instead of Jefferson.’ ”

The 36th ballot saw Jefferson win with 10 votes.

 

1801, March 4: Jefferson’s inauguration. John Adams “became the 1st of only 3 presidents in American history who chose to boycott their successors’ inaugurations.”

 

Hamilton as prophet

639

“Hamilton, meanwhile, began his long retreat to the status of a prophet without honor.”

 

Chapter 38: A World Full of Folly

644

Robert Troup told Rufus King ‘We are told and we believe that Jefferson and [Burr] hate each other and Hamilton thinks that Jefferson is too cunning to be outwitted by him.’

 

Hamilton called a thief and rascal; Vice-president Burr snubbed by President Jefferson

645

1800, mid-March: once victorious, the Republicans took out their pent up anger and vengeance on Hamilton in the gubernatorial election held within a fortnight of Jefferson’s inauguration: “ ‘At one of the polls, General Hamilton, with impunity by the populace, was repeatedly called a thief and at another poll, with the same impunity, he was called a rascal, villain, and everything else that is infamous in society!’ Robert Troup reported. ‘What a commentary is this on republican virtue?’ ”

 

“As Hamilton had predicted, President Jefferson gloried in the exercise of power and now moved to sweep Federalist officeholders from New York posts. The president blatantly snubbed Burr and showered most new York appointments on the Livingstons and Clintons.”

 

Jefferson’s anti-monarchical image

646

“Jefferson eliminated the regal trappings of the Washington and Adams administrations and brilliantly crafted an image of himself as a plain, unadorned American. The various Jeffersons served up by Hamilton in his essays—the epicurean Jefferson, the spendthrift Jefferson, the patrician Jefferson, the indebted Jefferson, the slave-owning, lovemaking Jefferson—were blotted out by one of history’s most impressive image makers. … Jefferson endowed his election with cosmic significance, later saying that ‘the revolution of 1800 was as real a revolution in the principles of our government as that of 1776 was in its form,’ and the Republican press cheered his victory as a liberation from British tyranny. In fact, Jefferson proved a more moderate president that either he or Hamilton cared to admit.”

 

647

Jefferson directed his treasury secretary, Albert Gallatin, “to browse through the archives and uncover ‘the blunders and frauds of Hamilton.’ Having tangled with Hamilton over the years, Gallatin undertook the task ‘with a very good appetite,’ he admitted, but he failed to excavate the findings Jefferson wanted. Years later , he related the president’s crestfallen reaction. ‘ “Well Gallatin, what have you found?” [Jefferson asked]. I answered: “I have found the most perfect system ever formed. Any change that should be made in it would injure it. Hamilton made no blunders, committed no frauds. He did nothing wrong.” I think Mr. Jefferson was disappointed.’ Gallatin complimented Hamilton by saying that he had done such an outstanding job as the first treasury secretary that he had turned the post into a sinecure for all future occupants. As for the First bank of the United States, once denounced by Jeffersonians as a diabolical lair, Gallatin proclaimed that it had ‘been wisely and skillfully managed.’ Republicans still found it hard to accept the need for the central bank. As president, James Madison allowed the bank’s charter to expire, and American finances suffered as a result during the War of 1812. When a chastened Madison then sponsored the Second Bank of the United States, critics inveighed that he ‘out-Hamiltons Alexander Hamilton.’ ”

 

The Supreme Court

647

When leaving office, John Adams appointed 23 new federal judges under the newly passed Judiciary Act without any pretence of bi-partisanship. Republicans in the Jefferson Administration were upset 

 

Marshall on Hamilton and Jefferson

648

and set about repealing the Judiciary Act.

 

1801, January: Adams nominated 45-year-old John Marshall—Jefferson’s distant cousin—as chief justice of the Supreme Court. Federalist Marshall mocked Jefferson as ‘the great lama of the mountain’ but revered Hamilton as ‘the greatest man (or one of the greatest men) that ever appeared in the United States.’

 

Jefferson on Marshall as serpent in the garden of Eden

648

Jefferson regarded the chief justice as ‘the Federalist serpent in the democratic Eden of our administration.’

Marshall articulated Hamilton’s vision of “the judiciary as the final fortress of liberty and the most vulnerable branch of government” through “many of the great decisions he handed down” in his 34 years on the court.

 

1803 Marbury v. Madison: “Marshall established the principle of judicial review—the court’s authority to declare acts of Congress unconstitutional—drawing heavily on Hamilton’s ‘Federalist’ #78.”

 

649

“For Hamilton, Jefferson’s desire to overturn the Judiciary Act was an insidious first step toward destroying the Constitution: ‘Who is so blind as not to see that the right of the legislature to abolish the judges at pleasure destroys the independence of the judicial department and swallows it up in the impetuous vortex of legislative influence?’ … Despite [Hamilton’s] … warning before the New York bar that the law’s cancellation would trigger civil war, the Republicans managed to repeal the Judiciary Act in March 1802 without incident.”

 

1802, March: see the above sentence.

 

650

1801, November 16: first issue of the ‘New-York Evening Post’, “now the oldest continually active paper in America” with 35-year-old William Coleman as chief editor. [RC/469]. It’s “first major story [came] … just one week after its maiden issue: a duel involving Hamilton’s eldest son …”, Philip.

 

654

Philip was killed in the duel and the ‘New-York Evening Post’ “editorialised on the need to outlaw dueling”, with Hamilton himself possibly penning the relevant section. Hamilton’s 17-year-old daughter, Angelica, was unhinged by the death of her brother and Hamilton himself  “tumbled into a bottomless despair” of inconsolable grief.

 

Chapter 39: Pamphlet Wars

 

Enlightenment Ideals of the founding fathers: religion as superstition; Jefferson’s Deism; Hamilton’s view of religion as the basis of law and morality

659

Hamilton became pre-occupied with religion in his final years and stooped to referring to Jefferson as an atheist. “Like other founders and thinkers of the enlightenment, he was disturbed by religious fanaticism and tended to associate organized religion with superstition. While a member of Washington’s military family, he wrote that there ‘never was any mischief but had a priest or a woman at the bottom.’ As treasury secretary, he had said, ‘The world has been scourged with many fanatical sects in religion who, inflamed by a sincere but mistaken zeal, have perpetuated under the idea of serving God the most atrocious crimes.’ ”

Jefferson was a deist, not an atheist.

 

1796: Hamilton said, “in his ‘Phocion’ essays, ‘Mr Jefferson has been heard to say since his return from France that the men of letters and philosophers he had met with in that country were generally atheists.’ He thought James Monroe had also been infected by godless philosophers in Paris and pictured the two Virginians dining together to ‘fraternize and philosophize against the Christian religion and the absurdity of religious worship’ For Hamilton, religion formed the basis of all law and morality, and he thought the world would be a hellish place without it.”

Yet for most of his adult life, Hamilton “never talked about Christ and took refuge in vague references to ‘providence’ or ‘heaven’. Eliza was increasingly given to evangelical Christianity but

 

660

Hamilton didn’t belong to a denomination. He believed in an afterlife. After his son Philip’s death he turned more and more to religion but even there he sought evidence rather than revelation. He was persuaded in his religious belief by William Paley’s ‘A View of the Evidences of Christianity’.

 

Aaron Burr’s fate under Jefferson; Burr as trickster

660

Aaron Burr was virtually shut out of the Jefferson Administration.

 

661

Having done his dash with the Republicans when he opposed repeal of the Judiciary Act, Burr curried favour with the Federalists.

 

1802, February 22: Burr turned up at a Federalist celebration of Washington’s birthday and made clear his break with Jefferson. Hamilton asked ‘Is it possible that some new intrigue is about to link the federalists with a man who can never [be] anything else than the bane of a good cause?’

 

Hamilton went along with the charade of welcoming Burr into the Federalist fold in the hope of driving a wedge between Republicans. ‘As an instrument, the person will be an auxiliary of some value,’ he wrote. The danger was that Burr would take over Hamilton’s leading role among Federalists. ‘ … as a chief, he will disgrace and destroy the party.’ … Thus, a situation arose in which Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, two desperate politicians with fading careers, regarded each other as insuperable obstacles to their respective political revivals.”

 

Burr’s attempted comeback coincided with the ‘Pamphlet Wars’ which began with the appearance of a handbill that accused Burr of being an abandoned profligate ‘debauchee’ who was the ruin of ‘numerous unhappy wretches’ and the bringer of venereal disease, infamy and wretchedness to various courtesans. “Some contemporaries drew parallels between the sexual exploits of Hamilton and those of Burr. Architect Benjamin Latrobe observed that ‘both Hamilton and Burr were little of stature and both inordinately addicted to the same vice.’ But the innumerable references to women in Burr’s letters attest to the exotic variety and frequency of his affairs. In comparison, Hamilton was a mere choirboy.”

 

Burr’s duplicity

662

Each New York faction had its own newspaper and Governor Clinton’s nephew, De Witt Clinton, was probably the source of the anti-Burr campaign. Clinton had Burr accused of political duplicity in James Cheetham’s ‘American Citizen’ newspaper. “The moment Burr was nominated, Cheetham contended, ‘he put into operation a most extensive, complicated, and wicked scheme of intrigue to place himself in the presidential chair.’

Cheetham also accused Hamilton of being a “traitor to the American Revolution who had reverted to his aristocratic roots.” Completely far-fetched, Cheetham claimed that Hamilton’s father was a ‘merchant of some eminence’. Hamilton’s being “a self-made, enterprising orphan did not suit Cheetham’s needs: ‘Mr Hamilton, unfortunately, was a native of that part of the civilized world where tyranny and slavery prevail in a manner even unknown to the despots of Europe. It was utterly impossible that the habits and prejudices he contracted in infancy could ever have been eradicated.’ … [Apart from this nonsense,] Cheetham’s main thesis was that Burr planned to run on the Federalist ticket in 1804 along with Charles Cotesworth Pinckney: ‘Viewing the matter then in this light … Mr Hamilton is evidently in his [Burr’s] way!!’ ”

 

Duelling rife 

662

Apart from the verbal abuse, “Duels became fashionable for settling political quarrels” in New York. “… historian Joanne Freeman has counted sixteen such affairs of honor between 1795 and 1807, though not all resulted in duels. When John Swartwout, a Burr protégé, denounced Cheetham as the mouthpiece of De Witt Clinton, Clinton denounced Swartwout as a ‘liar, a scoundrel, and a villain.’ Accordingly, Clinton and Swartwout exchanged rounds of gunfire at the dueling ground in Weehawken, New Jersey.

The editor of [Hamilton’s] ‘New-York Evening post’, William Coleman, sought to fight a duel with James Cheetham over the latter’s accusation that Coleman sired a mulatto child.

 

663

Jeffersonian harbormaster, Captain Thompson, accused Coleman of cowardice and they fought a “twilight duel” in Love Lane (nowadays 21st Street) in which Thompson was mortally wounded and died but which didn’t prevent Coleman from returning to the office and getting out the newspaper ‘in good style, although half an hour late’. In a later “political fracas, Coleman received a caning that left him paralysed from the waist down.”

 

 

Chapter Forty: The Price of Truth

665  

 

1803: by this time Hamilton was a political ‘has-been’

 

666

1802: bound edition of ‘The Federalist Papers’ appeared.

 

American trickster

666

1804, Spring: a storm raged at Hamilton’s Grange, 9 miles north of downtown NYC. Chancellor (Judge) James Kent was visiting and noted that Hamilton ‘viewed the temper, disposition, and passions of the times as portentous of evil and favourable to the sway of artful and ambitious demagogues.’

 

Hamilton’s fight for Press Freedom and reference to Jefferson’s trickster mask

667

Jefferson had invariably championed freedom of the press when in opposition and as president he maintained the mask while actively seeking to thwart press freedom when it criticized him.

 

668

1803, January: Harry Croswell, editor of the Federalist newspaper, ‘The Wasp’, was indicted “for seditious libel against President Jefferson Hamilton.” Hamilton became involved in the defence on the grounds that it was essentially concerning constitutional matters: “freedom of the press and trial by jury”.

The law did not allow, as Hamilton had argued, for the truth of the claim being a defence in a libel case, and Croswell was found guilty. Hamilton continued the argument in calling for a new trial.

 

1804, mid-February: Hamilton pleaded for a new trial before the New York State Supreme Court in Albany. In the course of it “Hamilton reminded the judges ‘how often the hypocrite goes from state to stage of public fame, under false array, and how often when men attained the last object of their wishes, they change from that which they seemed to be … men the most zealous reverers of the people’s rights have, when placed on the highest seat of power, become their most deadly oppressors. It becomes therefore necessary to observe the actual conduct of those who are thus raised up.’ By spotlighting the issue of intent, Hamilton identified the criteria for libel that still hold sway in America today: that the writing in question must be false, defamatory, and malicious.”

 

Faction as poison raised by Hamilton

670

“The issue of press freedom was all the more important because the spirit of faction, ‘that mortal poison to our land,’ had spread through America. Hamilton lost the case for a retrial but in April, 1805 …

 

1805, April: The “New York legislature passed a new libel law that incorporated the features he had wanted … ” and

 

Jefferson as trickster

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Harry Croswell was granted a retrial.

 

1803, April: “President Jefferson reached the zenith of his popularity with the Louisiana Purchase.” The “828,000 square miles between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains” which Jefferson purchased from Napoleon for $US15 million doubled the territory of the USA. Jefferson, the bane of executive power and champion of government by the people “committed a breathtaking act of executive power that far exceeded anything contemplated in the Constitution. The land purchase dwarfed Hamilton’s central bank and other measures once so hotly denounced by the man who was now president. … ‘The less we say about the constitutional difficulties respecting Louisiana, the better,’ he conceded to Madison. To justify his audacity, the president invoked the doctrine of implied powers first articulated and refined by Alexander Hamilton. As John Quincy Adams remarked, the Louisiana Purchase was ‘an assumption of implied power greater in itself, and more comprehensive in its consequences, thatn all the assumptions of implied powers in the years of the Washington and Adams administrations.’ When it suited his convenience, Jefferson set aside his small-government credo with compunction.”

 

Louisiana Purchase fostered the growth of slavery, talk of secession, and the Hamilton-(trickster)Burr clash

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Federalists were concerned that Jefferson’s unconstitutional act in purchasing the territory “would weaken Federalist power, sealing their doom. The new western terrain would be preponderantly Republican and agricultural, and slavery might flourish there. In fact, every state that entered the Union between 1803 and 1845 as a result of the purchase turned out to be a slave state, further tipping the political balance toward the south. Fearful of being overshadowed by an expanding

 

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“Republican slave empire in the west, some New England Federalists began to talk of secession from the union. Such plans formed part of the context for the Hamilton-Burr duel. If any such secessionist movement occurred, Hamilton, ever the passionate nation builder, wanted to retain the sterling reputation necessary to counter it with all his might.”

 

Burr saw “incipient secession” as an opportunity to “rehabilitate his flagging political career.”

 

1804, January 20: Jefferson considered the aged Governor George Clinton as his running mate for the 1804 presidential election.

 

1804, January 26: Burr sought Jefferson’s support but was rebuffed in the Jefferson style: evasion. Burr’s days as a Republican party politician were numbered so he sought to unite disaffected Federalists and Republicans around his becoming Governor of New York.

 

Hamilton regarded Burr as liable to try and “unite New York with New England in a breakaway confederacy, courting Federalist votes in the process. … the inscrutable Burr kept alive hopes that, as New York governor, he might encourage state residents to forge a union with the New England states.”

 

Streets of Rome

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De Witt Clinton used his mouthpiece, the ‘American Citizen’ “to discredit Burr among Republicans … [when he had James Cheetham, the editor, inter] old charges that Burr had colluded with Federalists in the 1801 tie election.” He quoted Hamilton’s reference to Burr as a ‘Catiline’ (a traitor)—thus setting up a tension between the 2 old warhorses.

“In hindsight, several Burr confidants blamed Cheetham for goading the two men into a duel. The editor ‘had done everything in his power to set Burr and Hamilton to fighting,’ claimed Charles Biddle.”

 

1804, January 6: Cheetham went into print jeering at Hamilton ‘Yes, sir, I dare assert that you attributed to Aaron Burr one of the most atrocious and unprincipled of crimes. He has not called upon you. … Either he is guilty or he is the most mean and despicable bastard in the universe.’ Cheetham also prodded Burr, asking him if he was ‘so degraded as to permit even Generla Hamilton to slander him with impunity?’ Now an embattled, lonely figure, Burr was as hypersensitive to attacks on his character as Hamilton. If he could not redeem his personal reputation, then he could not salvage his career.”

 

1804, February: Burr filed a libel suit against Cheetham. “Cheetham mischievously responded that he was merely reiterating allegations that Hamilton mad made against Burr: ‘I repeat it. General Hamilton believes him guilty and has said so a thousand times—and will say so and prove him so whenever an opportunity offers.’

 

Hamilton, in Albany for the Croswell case, addressed the Federalist caucus on the need for care when deciding whom to endorse as the best gubernatorial candidate in the upcoming election. He “said that Burr was an ‘adroit, able, and daring’ politician and skillful enough to combine unhappy Republicans and wavering Federalists. But Burr, he said, yearned to head a new northern confederacy, and ‘placed at the head of the state of New York no man would be more likely to succeed.’ ”

 

Burr aware of Hamilton’s ‘intrigues’

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“ … Burr informed his daughter, Theodosia, that ‘Hamilton is intriguing for any candidate who can have a chance of success against AB [Aaron Burr].’

 

1804, March 1st: Cheetham’s ‘American Citizen’ “reported that Hamilton had criticized Burr for both his public and his private character: ‘General Hamilton did not oppose Mr Burr because he was a democrat … but because HE HAD NO PRINCIPLE, either in morals or in politics. The sum and substance of his language was that no party could trust him. He drew an odious, but yet I think a very just picture of the little Colonel.’

“A few months later, Burr pretended that he had had no idea of the true opinion that Hamilton entertained of his private character and summoned Hamilton to a duel on that basis.” [The point

Chernow is making, here, seems to be that the question of honour was a mere expedient on Burr’s part, that if he was indeed only concerned with Hamilton’s slurr on his character then he would have taken it up at the time, not months—or even years, since Burr had no doubt been aware of Hamilton’s low opinion of him—later.]

 

1804, February 18: “a caucus of disaffected Republicans nominated Burr for governor [of New York State and] prominent Federalists … lined up behind Burr.”

Hamilton campaigned solidly for Chief Justice Morgan Lewis, the Republican who had ruled against Hamilton on the Harry Croswell retrial argument and whom Hamilton had no pleasure in supporting, just in order to prevent the election of Aaron Burr.

 

1804: the New York State gubernatorial race left Aaron Burr embittered. “Few elections in American history have trafficked in such personal defamation” as was “spewed forth” by Burr’s opponents. Cheetham reached a new low in his ‘American Citizen’ slurs against Burr. Burr’s womanizing provided the main ammunition, with suggestions that he slept with black women the piece de resistance.

 

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Burr identified Hamilton as the main culprit against him—though there’s little evidence of the fact; Hamilton did not go in for reference to specific carnal acts involving Burr. Moreover, the most offensive attacks came from the ‘American Citizen’, Republican De Witt Clinton’s mouthpiece.

 

Burr and Hamilton parallel; ‘ … they say I shot a man named Gray … ’

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“From his campaign literature, it was clear that Burr, like Hamilton, felt persecuted by slander and powerless to stop it. One [of Burr’s campaign] broadside[s] said indignantly, ‘Col. Burr has been loaded with almost every epithet

of abuse to be found in the English language. He has been represented as a man totally destitute of political principle or integrity.’ ”

 

For his part, burr “ran a clean, if aggressive, campaign … his criticisms of Morgan Lewis fell within the bounds of propriety. Criticizing nepotism among the Livingstons and Clintons, he lent his campaign a populist tinge by styling himself ‘a plain and unostentatious citizen’ who ran for office ‘unaided by the power of innumerable family connections.’ To elevate Burr in Federalist eyes, his broadsides likened him to Hamilotn. One sheet described him as a first-rate lawyer who stood on a par ‘with Hamilton in point of sound argument, polished shafts and manly nervous eloquence, impressive and convincing reasoning.’ ”

 

Confidence: Burr loses the gubernatorial race to Jefferson’s duplicity (and some thought, to Hamilton’s campaign against Burr); clandestine support from Federalists; Burr’s mask.

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Burr lost the New York State gubernatorial race by a wide margin despite holding NYC convincingly. Burr’s political fortunes had thereby waned alarmingly and it may have been that he held Hamilton responsible, though Judge Kent dismissed this claim, and his pov is backed up by the fact that Hamilton had little influence in Federalist circles in 1804. “John Qunicy Adams observed that New York Federalists were now ‘a minority, and of that minority, only a minority were admirers and partisans of Mr Hamilton.’ Far more decisive in the outcome was President Jefferson. After assuring Burr that he never intruded in elections, he intimated to two New York congressmen that Burr was officially excommunicated from the Republican party. This view, reported in the New York papers, stigmatized Burr among Republican loyalists.”

Burr’s camp, however, was “adamant that Alexander Hamilton had destroyed his career. ‘If General Hamilton had not opposed Colonel Burr, I have very little doubt but he would have been elected governor of New York,’ wrote Burr’s friend Charles Biddle. … an early Burr biographer … said that Burr had won ‘the confidence of the more moderate Federalists and nothing but Hamilton’s vehement opposition had prevented that party’s voting for him en masse.’ This theory ignores the awkward fact that Burr had fared very well indeed among New York Federalists. Burr’s editor, Mary-Jo Kline, has written, ‘By the week before the election … there were signs that the Federalist organization had given AB full, if clandestine, support.’ After the loss, Burr kept up his usual unflappable air. … This glib insouciance reflected Burr’s lifelong self-protective pose of aristocratic disdain and indifference. Under this urbanity, however, grew a murderous rage against Hamilton. In his eyes, Hamilton had blocked his path to the presidency by supporting Jefferson in 1801. Now

 

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“Hamilton had blocked his path to the New York governorship. Alexander Hamilton was a curse, the author of all his misery. At least that’s how Aaron burr saw things in the spring of 1804.” 

 

Hamilton’s fear of secession. [Americans see the Union like old-fashioned people see marriage: it doesn’t matter if it’s dysfunctional and full of mad contradictions, the marriage is everything and the parties to it are servants of that marriage]

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Hamilton’s “friend, Adam Hoops, recalled running into Hamilton in Albany in early March and asking him about the secession rumors. ‘The idea of disunion he could not hear of without impatience,’ recalled Hoop, ‘and expressed his reprobation of it using strong terms.’ In a tremendous visionary leap, Hamilton foresaw a civil war between north and south, a war that the north would ultimately win but at a terrible cost: ‘The result must be destructive to the present Constitution and eventually the establishment of separate governments framed on principles in their nature hostile to civil liberty.’ Hamilton was so appalled by this specter that he and Hoops talked of it for more than an hour: ‘The subject had taken such fast hold of him that he could not detach himself from it until a professional engagement called him into court.’ Hamilton continued to worry about the ‘bloody anarchy’ and the overthrow of the Constitution that might result from Jefferson’s policies.”

 

1804, Spring: “Timothy Pickering, the ex-secretary of state and now a senator from Massachusetts, made the rounds of Federalist leaders in New York, trying to drum up support for a runaway northern confederacy ‘exempt from the corrupt and corrupting influence and oppression of the aristocratic Democrats of the South.’ Without support from the two large mid-Atlantic states, New York and New Jersey, such a federation would be stillborn. Though many New York Federalists feared the dominance of Virginia and the expansion of slavery after the Louisiana Purchase, both Hamilton and Rufus King solidly opposed any secessionist movement. … Hamilton [said to Major James Fairlie ‘You know there cannot be any political confidence between Mr Jefferson and his administration and myself. But I view the suggestion of such a project [a northern confederacy] with horror.’ ”

 

1804, Autumn: A secessionist meeting was planned for Boston, “after Jefferson’s presumed reelection”. Though “Jefferson later referred to ‘the known principle of General Hamilton never,

 

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“under any views, to break the Union’ ”demonstrates that claims that Hamilton was one of those plotting a confederacy is far-fetched.

One week before the fateful duel, Hamilton held a dinner party at the Grange and said to John “Trumbull, ‘You are going to Boston. You will see the principal men there. Tell them from ME, at MY request, for God’s sake to cease these conversations and threatenings about a separation of the Union. It must hang together as long as it can be made to.’ Since 1787, Hamilton had never wavered in his belief that the Constitution must be preserved as long as possible, nor in his commitment to do everything in his power to make it work. He was not about to change that view now.” 

 

Chapter 41:  A Despicable Opinion

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1804, March: Beginning of the immediate chain of events that led to the duel:

 

Hamilton dined at (Republican) Judge John Tayler’s Albany home; Tayler was “working for the election of Morgan Lewis” and both he and Hamilton “expressed their dread at having Aaron Burr as governor.” James Kent also denounced Burr at this dinner and Dr Charles Cooper delighted in hearing “two of New York’s most illustrious Federalists, Hamilton and James Kent, denounce [Burr] at the table.”

 

1804, April 12: Cooper wrote Andrew Brown “that Hamilton had spoken of Burr ‘as a dangerous man and one who ought not to be trusted.’ ” In those days local inns “served as post offices … [and] it was not uncommon for letters to be intercepted and then turn up unexpectedly in print.” Whether or not that’s how it came to the public notice “excerpts from [Cooper’s] letter had appeared in the ‘New-York Evening Post’.” The editor, William Coleman, sought to establish that Hamilton “could

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“never have made the statement attributed to him about Burr … ” by running a letter from Philip Schuyler stating that opinion.

 

April 23, 1804: Cooper, upset at the suggestion that he had invented the tale, wrote to Schuyler “substantiating his claim that Hamilton had traduced Burr: ‘Gen. Hamilton and Judge Kent have declared, in substance, that they looked upon Mr. Burr to be a dangerous man and one who ought not to be trusted with the reins of government.’ … Far from being irresponsible, said Cooper, he had been ‘unusually cautious’ in recounting the dinner at Tayler’s, ‘for really, sir, I could detail to you a still more despicable opinion which General Hamilton has expressed of Mr. Burr.’

 

1804, April 24: Cooper’s letter “appeared in the ‘Albany Reigster’.

 

Burr tears off his mask

1804, June 18: “ … seven weeks after his election defeat, Burr received a copy of the upstate paper with Cooper’s letter. … [He] flew into a rage. Like many people who hide hostility behind charming facades, Burr was, at bottom, a captive of his temper. With his insatiable appetite for political gossip, he knew that Hamilton had been maligning him for years. On two previous occasions, they had nearly entered into affairs of honor over Hamilton’s statements. During his feverish efforts to prevent Burr from becoming president during the 1801 election, Hamilton had called him profligate, bankrupt, corrupt, and unprincipled and had accused him of trying to cheat Jefferson out of the presidency.”

 

Burr as trickster in the (medieval) ritual of the affair of honor

1802, October: “Hamilton had averted a duel over this by admitting that he had ‘no personal knowledge of such machinations.”

According to a later remark, Burr claimed that Hamilton ‘had long indulged himself in illiberal freedoms with my character. He had a peculiar talent of saying things improper and offensive in such a manner as could not well be taken hold of. On two different occasions, however, having reason to apprehend that he had gone so far as to afford me fair occasion for calling on him, he anticipated me by coming forward voluntarily and making apologies and concessions. From delicacy to him and from a sincere desire for peace, I have never mentioned these circumstances, always hoping that the generosity of my conduct would have some influence on his.’

 

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Burr was inclined to remain silent when verbally attacked. “Where Hamilton was outspoken in denunciations of people, the wily Burr tended to cultivate a wary silence, a studied ambiguity, in his comments about political figures.”

Of the 1804 election defeat “Joanne Freeman has written, ‘Burr was a man with a wounded reputation, a leader who had suffered personal abuse and the public humiliation of a lost election. A duel with Hamilton would redeem his honor and possibly dishonor Hamilton.’

 

1804, Spring: “ … Burr told Charles Biddle that ‘he was determined to call out the first man of any respectability concerned in the infamous publications concerning him … He had no idea then of having to call on General Hamilton.’ Burr was, however, laboring under the misimpression that Hamilton had drafted anonymous broadsides against him. Perhaps Cooper’s letter confirmed his hunch that Hamilton had been making mischief behind the scenes.”

 

Burr, trickster extraordinaire; the outlaw grandson of preacher man, Jonathon Edwards.

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As to Cooper’s reference to a ‘still more despicable opinion’, Gore Vidal has speculated upon the possibility that Hamilton accused Burr of incest with Theodosia. “But Burr was such a dissipated, libidinous character that Hamilton had a rich field to choose from in assailing his personal reputation. Aaron Burr had been openly accused of every conceivable sin: deflowering virgins, breaking up marriages through adultery, forcing women into prostitution, accepting bribes, fornicating with slaves, looting the estates of legal clients. This grandson of theologian Jonathon Edwards had sampled many forbidden fruits. To give but one recent example of scandal: six months before the dinner at Tayler’s, Burr had received a letter from a former lover, Mrs Hayt, that politely requested hush money. She explained that she was ‘in a state of pregnancy and in want. …[O]nly think what a small sum you gave me, a gentleman of your connections.’ She did not wish to expose him, she promised, ‘but O would thank you if you would be so kind as to send me a little money.’

 

An affair of honor; the streets of Rome

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1804, June 18: Burr had William P Van Ness call upon him at his Hudson River Richmond Hill home; he informed Van Ness that Hamilton’s repeated slurs upon his character had become a matter of honour and requested Van Ness to deliver a letter to Hamilton “sternly demanding an explanation of the ‘despicable’ act alluded to in Cooper’s letter. Both the tone and substance of Burr’s letter telegraphed to Hamilton that Burr was commencing an affair of honour.” [“The letter that William P Van Ness carried to Hamilton’s law office on June 18 demanded a ‘prompt and unqualified acknowledgment or denial’ of any expression that might have justified Charles Cooper’s use of the term ‘despicable’.]

“No impulse was more deeply rooted in his nature” than Hamilton’s West Indian background defence of his honor. “On six occasions, Hamilton had been involved in the duel preliminaries that formed part of affairs of honor, and three times he had been attached to duels as a second or as an adviser. Yet he had never actually been the principal in a duel. His editor, Harold C Syrett, has observed that, until the summer of 1804, Hamilton ‘was obsessed with dueling in the absract, but not with duels in fact.’ ”

 

 

Benjamin Franklin “had deplored [dueling] as a ‘murderous practice’ and Jefferson and Adams were both opposed to it but the “dueling cult was still widespread, though far from universal. … Dueling was especially prevalent among military officers, who prided themselves on their romantic sense of honor and found this ritualized violence the perfect way to express it. Both Hamilton and Burr had been schooled in this patrician culture. Military men always feared that if they ducked a duel they might be branded cowards, drastically impairing their future ability to command troops. Since he envisioned a host of bloody possibilities in America’s immediate future—a civil war, anarchy, a secessionist revolt—and thought he might lead an army to deal with them, Hamilton dwelled on the implications for his courage in accepting or declining Burr’s challenge. Courage was inseparable from his conception of leadership. Said one contemporary of Hamilton: ‘He was a soldier and could not bear the imputation of wanting spirit. Least of all could he bear the supercilious vaunting of Aaron Burr that he had been called by him to account and shrunk from the call.’

 

Dueling de rigeur among America’s social elite; caning for those below one. [Baltimore’s Hattie Carrol]

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 “Dueling was de rigeur among those, like Burr and Hamilton, who identified with America’s social elite—Burr by birth, Hamilton by marriage and accomplishment. If a social inferior insulted you, you thrashed him with your cane. If you traded insults with a social equal, you selected pistols and repaired to the dueling ground. In theory, Burr could have sued Hamilton for libel, but it was thought infra dig for a gentleman to do so. Hamilton said loftily that he had largely refrained from libel suits because he preferred ‘repaying hatred with contempt.’ Politicians were among the most ardent duelists.”

In her book ‘Affairs of Honor’ Joanne Freeman notes that duels “often followed contested elections, as losers sought to recoup their standing. Political parties were still fluid organizations based on personality cults, and no politician could afford to have his honor impugned. Though fought in secrecy and seclusion, duels always turned into highly public events that were covered afterward with rapt attention by the press. The were designed to sway public opinion and shape the images of the adversaries. Duels were also elaborate forms of conflict resolution, which is why duelists did not automatically try to kill their opponents. … Experience had taught Hamilton that if he was tough and agile in negotiations he could settle disputes without resort to weapons. In the unlikely event that a duel occurred, the antagonists frequently tried only to wound each other, clipping an arm or a leg. If both parties survived the first round of a duel, they still had a chance to pause and settle their disputes before a second round. The point was not to exhibit deadly marksmanship; it was to demonstrate courage by submitting to the duel. … many states had levied harsh penalties for dueling. Although these laws were seldom applied, especially when social luminaries were involved, the possibility of prosecution always existed. Even if no legal action was taken, the culprit might still be ostracized as a bloodthirsty scoundrel, defeating his purpose in having dueled. … In previous affairs, Hamilton had been on the offensive, taking opponents by surprise and briskly demanding apologies and retractions. He was a past master at using this technique to muzzle specific people who had slandered him. Now he found himself on the receiving end, deprived of the righteous wrath and moral authority of being the wronged party.”

 

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Hamilton and Burr had been “colleagues for 20 years and had enjoyed each other’s company. That spring, Hamilton had told a mutual friend that political disputes were more civilized in New York than in Philadelphia and that they ‘never carried party matters so far as to let it interfere with their social parties.’ He even mentioned that he and Colonel Burr ‘always behaved with courtesy to each other.’ Yet Hamilton knew that Burr’s career had been damaged, even ruined, and he feared that he was in a homicidal mood. Hamilton told his friend Reverend John M Mason that ‘for several months past he had been convinced that nothing would satisfy the malice of Burr but the sacrifice of his life.’ At every step, Hamilton proceeded with a sense of gravity that suggested his awareness of the possibility of his impending death.”

 

Early C19thAmericans were quite aware that dueling was pre-Enlightenment and medieval but they went ahead with it regardless

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“ … By a spooky coincidence, in the last great speech of his career Hamilton eloquently denounced dueling. During the Harry Croswell case, he argued that it was forbidden ‘on the principle of natural justice that no man shall be the avenger of his own wrongs, especially be a deed alike interdicted by the laws of God and man.’ In agreeing to duel with Burr, Hamilton claimed to be acting contrary to his own wishes in order to appease public opinion. As his second, Nathaniel Pendleton, later wrote, dueling might be barbarous, but it was ‘a custom which has nevertheless received the public sanction of public opinion in the refined age and nation in which we live, by which it is made the test of honor or disgrace.’ In 1804, Alexander Hamilton did not think he could afford to flunk that test, though many friends would fault him for bowing to this popular prejudice.”

 

“Hamilton could have mollified Burr by saying that he had no personal quarrel with him and offering a bland statement of apology or regret. Instead, he adopted the slightly irritated tone of a busy man unjustly harassed. In niggling, hairsplitting style, Hamilton objected that Burr’s charge against him was too general and that ‘if Mr. Burr would refer to any particular expressions, he would recognize or disavow them.’

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‘Technically, Hamilton was correct. … Yet he must have suspected that Burr was trying to coax him into a duel to satisfy political purposes as well as rage. If so, he played into Burr’s hands by behaving in a haughty, inflexible manner.”

 

1804, Wednesday, June 20: Hamilton continued with his game of pedantry, drawing out negotiations by quibbling over the meaning of the word ‘despicable’. Then he signed his own death warrant, as it were, when he wrote to Van Ness that ‘I trust, on more reflection, you will see the matter in the same light with me. If not, I can only regret the circumstance and must abide the consequences.’ ”

 

Burr then upped the ante

 

1804, Friday, June 22: Burr’s reply now demanded a satisfactory response from Hamilton:

 

Mercury (Hermes) as scribe

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 “a specific disavowel”. Hamilton continued to play the pedant over logic, syntax, and grammatical accuracy. “In a shockingly brief span, the two men had moved to the brink of a duel and were ready to lay down their lives over [the meaning of] an adjective.”

The seconds tried in vain to resolve the matter, Nathaniel Pendleton being taken aback by Hamilton’s intransigence. “In a new letter, Hamilton gave Burr a good tongue-lashing … making compromise ever more elusive. He tried to turn the tables on Burr, seize the moral high ground, and cast himself as the victim. It clearly bothered him that he was being asked to make amends to Burr, whom he regarded as his intellectual, political, and ethical inferior.”

Judge Nathaniel Pendleton “was dismayed by Hamilton’s rigidity. ‘The truth is that General Hamilton had made up his mind to meet Mr. Burr before he called upon me, provided he should be

 

Inexorably moving toward the fateful duel: Why Americans are so polite in addressing each other as ‘Sir’

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‘required to do what his first letter declined,’ Pendleton later told a relative. “And it was owing to my solicitude and my efforts to prevent extremities that the correspondence was kept open from 23 June to the 27th.’ … George Clinto later told one senator that ‘Burr’s intention to challenge was known to a certain club … long before it was known to Hamilton. … {this] circumstance induced many to consider it more like an assassination than a duel.’ Between Hamilton’s combative psychology and Burr’s need to solve his political quandary, there was little room for the seconds to hammer out a deal. In replying to Hamilton’s unyielding second letter, Burr obeyed the inexorable logic of an affair of honor. He wrote to Hamilton and regretted that he lacked ‘the frankness of a soldier and the candor of a gentleman’ and quoted Hamilton’s ominous phrase that he was ready to meet the consequences. ‘This I deemed a sort of defiance,’ said Burr. ‘Thus, sir, you have invited the course I am about to pursue and now by your silence impose it upon me.’

 

“Over the weekend, Pendleton met several times with Van Ness, trying to arbitrate a solution. … it was now Burr’s turn to throw up insurmountable obstacles. [Pendleton said that ] If Burr asked Hamilton to specify whether there had been ‘any impeachment of his private character’ (italics added) during the Albany dinner, Hamilton could disclaim such a statement. But Burr had drawn up truculent instructions for Van Ness that precluded any such harmonious resolution.”

 

1804, Monday, June 25: Burr now made “impossible demands, asking Hamilton to deny that he had ever maligned Burr, at any time or place, in his public or private character.”

 

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“Burr’s provocation only adds to the suspicion that the ‘despicable’ statement was just a transparent pretext to pounce on Hamilton. … Pendleton reported back to Van Ness that Hamiulton now perceived ‘predetermined hostility’ on Burr’s part.”

 

1804, Wednesday, June 27: Pendleton receive a formal request for a duel from Van Ness. Hamilton accepted but put the duel off until July 11th in order to complete the legal cases he was conducting and to put his personal affairs in order. “Only a handful of politically well-connected people in New York knew of the unfolding drama.”

Hamilton planned “to waste his shot” on the grounds of reconciling “the two glaringly incompatible elements of the situation: his need to fight to preserve his political prestige and his equally powerful need to remain true to his avowed opposition to dueling.” Rufus King “the former minister to Great Britain … found dueling abhorrent but told Hamilton that ‘he owed [it] to his family and the rights of self-defence to fire at his antagonist.’ … King said that even though Hamilton had the ‘most capacious and discriminating’ mind he had ever known, he rigidly followed the rules known as the ‘code duello.’ Pendleton … likewise … exhorted him not to ‘decide lightly, but take time to deliberate fully.’ Hamilton would not listen. … In this frame of mind and in spite of his son’s experience, he was impervious to reason.”

 

Suicide or gallant [trickster] gamble?

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There’s serious argument to the effect that, as “Henry Adams phrased it, ‘Instead of killing Burr, [Hamilton] invited Burr to kill him.’ The idea is that Hamilton was “severely depressed and that the duel was suicidal.”

Chernow, while agreeing that Hamilton was “seriously depressed”, notes, though, that “ … in the duel with Burr, he obeyed the antique logic of affairs of honor. Because he followed a script lost to later generations, his actions seem lunatic rather than merely rash and wrongheaded. ‘He did not think of this course of action as suicidal,’ Joseph Ellis has written, ‘but as another gallant gamble of the sort he was accustomed to winning.’ While the duel shocked many contemporaries, Hamilton and Burr partisans understood its logic, even if they did not endorse it. Attorney David B Ogden said that his friend Hamilton knew that if he did not duel, ‘it would in a great measure deprive him of the power of being hereafter useful to his country.’ Likewise, William P Van Ness said that Burr had to defend his honor, for if he ‘tamely sat down in silence and dropped the affair, what must have been the feeling if his friends?’ Hamilton gambled that Burr would not shoot to kill. He knew that Burr had nothing to gain by murdering him. Burr would be denounced from every pulpit as an assassin, and it would destroy the remnants of his career. Since he had provoked the duel to rehabilitate his career, it did not make sense for him to kill Hamilton.” This was Hamilton’s correct assessment of the risk.

 

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Hamilton, whatever he believed to be the mortal danger, “never wavered in his belief that if he did not face Burr’s fire, he would lose standing in the political circles that mattered to him. With an exalted sense of his place in history, he viewed himself as a potential saviour of the republic.”

Rufus King warned Hamilton that Burr, “a superb marksman who had killed several enemy soldiers during the Revolution” “undoubtedly meant to murder him” and Pendleton “begged Hamilton to study the pistols” to be used in the duel but Hamilton refused to take any heed.

There were strong suggestions at the time that Burr had been engaged in “repeated target practice” in the weeks leading up to the duel.

 

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Meanwhile, “Hamilton and Burr continued to mingle in New York society, pretending that nothing was amiss. Charles Biddle told of an acquaintance who ‘dined in company with Hamilton and Burr the week before the duel. He has since told me he had not the most distant idea of there being any difference between them.’

 

1804, July 4th: Hamilton, as Washington’s successor to the role of “president general of the Society of the Cincinnati, the order of retired Revolutionary War officers that had aroused suspicions of hereditary rule” … and Burr shared a banquet table at Fraunces Tavern.” Burr had joined the society in the previous year when courting the Federalist vote.”

The assembled guests called upon Hamilton for a song and he apparently obliged with “a hau8nting old military ballad called ‘How Stands the Glass Around,’ a song reputedly sung by General Wolfe on the eve of his battlefield death outside Quebec in 1759. Others said that it was a soldiers’ drinking song called ‘The Drum’. Both tunes expressed a common sentiment: a soldier’s proud resignation in the face of war and death. One version of the evening has Hamilton standing on a table, lustily belting out his ballad. As he delivered this rendition, Burr is said to have raised his eyes and watched his foe with fixed attention.”

 

Hamilton’s description of the approach of the trickster; [Humanity invariably misjudges and is taken in by appearances, rejecting substance that is not prettily packaged; the trickster takes advantage of this failing in human nature]

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In the period immediately prior to the duel, James Hamilton asked his father to “review a speech he had written” and Hamilton, instead, wrote him “a thesis on discretion” which read: ‘A prudent silence will frequently be taken for wisdom and a sentence or two cautiously thrown in will sometimes gain the palm of knowledge, while a man well informed but indiscreet and unreserved will not uncommonly talk himself out of all consideration and weight. … The man who is not discreet is “apt to have”] numerous enemies and is occasionally involved by it in the most [difficult] ties and dangers.’ 

 

693

 

1804, Spring: The Grange was completed and the Hamiltons entertained lavishly.

1804, May: “they had hosted a dinner for Jerome Bonaparte, Napoleon’s youngest brother, who had just married Elizabeth Patterson of Baltimore.”

1804, July, a week prior to the duel: “a lavish ball” for 70 guests entertained in the manner of the French aristocracy.

 

Hamilton’s awareness of the gravity of the situation; Burr’s contempt.

694

Having put his affairs in order as best he could, Hamilton nevertheless left his family in dire financial straits by going to his death with large debts. “ … the man who had so ably managed the nation’s finances left his own family oppressed with debts.”

Hamilton “saw that while he had much to lose by refraining from the duel, he had precious little to gain by facing it: ‘I shall hazard much and can possibly gain nothing by the issue of the interview.’

“To maintain his sense of honor and capacity for leadership, he argues, he had to bow to the public’s belief in dueling: ‘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 particular.’ In other words, he had to safeguard his career to safeguard the country. His self-interest and America’s were indistinguishable. For Burr, Hamilton’s letter reeked of sanctimony. When he later read it, he reacted with coldhearted contempt: ‘It read like the confessions of a penitent monk.’

 

Chapter 42: Fatal Errand

 

Northern Secession

697

On the night before the duel Hamilton “wrote a plea to Theodore Sedgwick of Massachusetts, warning against any [secessionist] movement among New England Federalists: ‘I will here express but one sentiment, which is that dismemberment of our empire will be a clear sacrifice of great positive advantages without any counterbalancing good.’ The secession movement would provide no ‘relief to our real disease, which is democracy’—by which he meant unrestrained, disruptive popular rule.”

 

Burr as trickster

698

Immediately “preceding the duel (presumably before the challenge was issued) Burr was so harried by debt that he appealed even to Hamilton for help … ” and Hamilton raised $10,000.00 in cash from John Church Barker and others to pay Burr’s creditors.

Burr, the “so-called abolitionist” educated his slaves ( as he did his daughter Theodosia who had “married into a large South Carolina slave-owning family) but never freed them.

 

699

 

Whereas Hamilton “did not ask that any personal papers be destroyed … Burr, by contrast, wanted to incinerate many worrisome documents … Burr must have imagined, at least in theory, that he could die in the duel. This confirms that he had no idea that Hamilton planned to withhold his fire at Weehawken.”

 

The mask of honour

700

 

1804, July 11, 5:00 AM: On the day of the duel—“the day dawned fine and cool on the water” of the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey—“Burr donned a black silk coat that was to provide grist for interminable speculation. James Cheetham described its fabric as ‘impenetrable to a ball’—a sort of eighteenth-century equivalent of a bulletproof vest.”

“… New York law dealt severely with dueling” and though the practice was banned in New Jersey the guilty parties were treated more leniently.

“To avoid detection, Pendleton and Van Ness had worked out a precise timetable, with both parties scheduled to depart from separate Manhattan docks[—Hamilton’s “from the vicinity of Greenwich Village”—]around 5.00 AM. Each boat was to be rowed by four weaponless oarsmen whose identities would remain secret, sparing them any legal liability. The pistols were secreted in a leather case so that the boatmen could later swear under oath that they had never set eyes on any guns. Aside from the oarsmen, only the duelist, his second, and his surgeon were allowed on each boat.”

Hamilton “reiterated to Pendleton his vow ‘that he should not fire at Col. Burr as he had not the most distant wish to kill him.’ ”

Captain William Deas owned the property on which the dueling ground was situated—“upon a rocky ledge twenty feet above the Hudson that was well screened by trees.” Deas “… resided atop the cliff and was frustrated that his ledge was constantly used for duels. He heard the pistol reports, but could not see the duelists.”

 

701

1804, July 11, 7:00 AM “Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr stood face-to-face, ready to settle their furious quarrel. Both gentlemen followed strict etiquette and ‘exchanged salutations’ Twenty-three days had elapsed since the onset of their clandestine imbroglio. For two decades they had met in New York courtrooms and salons, election meetings and legislatures, and had preserved an outward cordiality. Had it not been for their political rivalry, they might have been close friends. Both entered the duel from weak positions, hoping to reap some measure of political rehabilitation. To judge from a final painting of him by John Trumbull, Hamilton retained his keen, steady gaze, but melancholy clouded his face. And to judge from a John Vanderlyn painting done two years earlier, Burr had receding hair, graying at the edges, and a hint of anger darkened his expression. He was handsome and elegantly attired, however, and fearless on the field of honor.”

Their seconds drew lots “to choose positions for their principals.” Hamilton won but chose to take up the most disadvantageous spot facing into the morning sun and thereby offering to Burr the ideal position from which to get a clear view of his opponent. Hamilton was the challenged party and so picked the weapons—smoothbore flintlock pistols with barrels no more than eleven inches long. Smoothbore pistols were unreliable and inaccurate. Hamilton’s son, Philip, had used the same pistols in the 1801 duel with George Eacker which killed him.

 

702

The elegant pistols, “manufactured by a celebrated London gunsmith, Wogden, in the mid-1790s”, belonged to John Barker Church and were unwieldy and difficult to handle.

“The seconds loaded the pistols in each other’s presence, then handed them, already cocked, to Hamilton and Burr.” When they were both ready Pendleton would say ‘Present’, “at which point they could fire. If one party fired and the other did not, the duelist who had fired had to wait for the opposing second to say, ‘One, two, three, fire,’ giving his foe a chance to return fire. If the opponent refused to do so, then the sides would confer to see whether the dispute could be settled verbally or whether a second round was required.”

When the time came Hamilton called out that he wasn’t ready, that the sun made it difficult to see; he put on his glasses and said he was now ready.

 

703

Pendleton asked if they were both ready and they said they were. He called ‘Present’. Pendleton says that Burr fired first and mortally wounded Hamilton in the stomach—and the latter’s gun now discharged involuntarily. Hamilton proclaimed ‘I am a dead man.’

Van Ness said that Hamilton fired first.

 

704

Either way, Hamilton did not aim his gun at Burr.

Hamilton was taken back in the boat to Manhattan and died on the second-floor of William Bayard’s mansion.

 

707

Hamilton lay on his deathbed and said ‘I used every expedient to avoid the interview, but I have found for some time past that my life must be exposed to that man. I went to the field determined not to take his life.’

 

708

He wanted the last rites and Holy Communion from the rector of Trinity Church, the Episcopal bishop of New York, the Reverend Benjamin Moorre, but Moore felt duty-bound to refuse on the grounds that dueling was ‘a barbarous custom’ and Hamilton a sinner for submitting to the duel.

 

1804, Thursday, July 12, 2:00 PM: Hamilton, 49-years-old, died, 31 hours after the fatal duel.

 

Chapter 43: The Melting Scene

 

710

Outpourings of grief in New York society reflected the fact that, as “statesman Edward Everett later said, Hamilton had set the city on the path to becoming ‘the throne of the western commercial world.’

 

711

1804, Saturday, July 14: Hamilton’s “was the grandest and most solemn funeral in the city’s history to date. … A private drama enacted that day previewed the historical ambivalence that Hamilton was to inspire. Gouverneur Morris had delivered the funeral oration

 

Hamilton as the figure summing up the split in the American psyche, though not a trickster figureso much as one caught in the trickster’s trap

712

for Washington at St Paul’s Chapel and was drafted to do the same honor for Hamilton. … he was alarmed by the vengeful outcry against Burr and decided to omit all mention of the duel, lest the vast assembly fly into an uncontrollable fury. ‘How easy is would have been to make them, for a moment, absolutely mad!’ he said. [Then] … there was the problem of his origins. ‘The first point of his biography is that he was a stranger of illegitimate birth,’ Morris confessed to his diary. ‘Some mode must be contrived to pass over this handsomely.’ And what about Maria Reynolds? ‘I must not either dwell on his domestic life. He has long since foolishly published the avowal of conjugal infidelity.’ And then Hamilton had never been guilty of modesty: ‘He was indiscreet, vain, and opinionated. These things must be told or the character will be incomplete and yet they must be told in such a manner as not to destroy the interest.’ Perhaps most problematic was the controversial bargain that Alexander Hamilton had struck with the Constitution, dedicating his life to what he deemed a flawed document. ‘He was on principle opposed to republican and attached to monarchical government,’ Morris wrote. Morris distorted and exaggerated Hamilton’s views no less than his Republican enemies, but he identified a genuine, abiding conflict inside Hamilton as to whether republican government could achieve the proper balance between liberty and order.”

In his actual oration in Trinity Church, “Morris was more just and generous toward Hamilton than in his grudging diary notes. He applauded Hamilton’s bravery in the Revolution; cited his legitimate doubts as to whether the Constitution could avert anarchy and despotism; and noted that Hamilton, far from being artful or duplicitous, was in most ways excessively frank: ‘Knowing the purity of his heart, he bore it, as it were, in his hand, exposing to every passenger its inmost recesses. This generous indiscretion subjected him to censure from misrepresentation. His speculative opinions were treated as deliberate designs and yet you all know how strenuous, how unremitting, were his efforts to establish and to preserve the Constitution.’ ”

 

713

Hamilton was laid to rest in Trinity churchyard, “in the heart of the district that was to become the center of American finance.”

 

“Jefferson and Adams took advantage of the next two decades to snipe at Hamilton and burnish their own exploits through their lengthy correspondence and other writings. With his prolific pen and literary gifts, Hamilton would certainly have left voluminous and convincing memoirs.”

 

Aaron Burr as ‘revengeful demon’

714

“After returning from Weehawken, Aaron Burr’s boat docked at the foot of Canal Street, and he had proceeded on horseback to Richmond Hill … the vice president of the United States was not one to be tormented by guilt or unduly disturbed by some bloodshed.”

 

715

Numerous “anecdotes circulated after the duel, portraying the bloodless composure and macabre humor with which Burr reacted to Hamilton’s death. … The rumors of this sangfroid surfaced in so many quarters and so perfectly coincide with the tone of Burr’s own letters as to inspire a certain credibility. On the day of Hamilton’s death, Dirck Ten Broeck wrote to his father, ‘Col. Burr is at his house, seemingly perfectly at ease and from report seemingly in perfect composure.’ ”

 

Burr’s initial cavalier behaviour following the duel may have been dictated to some extent by his ignorance of the fact that Hamilton had intended to throw away his shot. “Critics accused Burr of a premeditated plot to kill Hamilton, and overwrought citizens threatened to burn down his house. James Parton observed, ‘It was from that hour that Burr became a name of horror. The letters, for a person ignorant of the former history, were entirely damning to the memory of the challenger. They present Burr in the light of a revengeful demon

 

716

‘burning for an innocent victim’s blood.’ … Burr’s reputation perished along with Hamilton, exactly as Hamilton had anticipated.”

An editor in Charleston, South Carolina, speculated that Burr’s heart must have been stuffed with ‘cinders raked from the fires of hell.’

The NYC coroner “convened a jury to probe Hamilton’s death.”

 

717

Burr fled.

 

1804, July 20: Burr, now in Philadelphia, “stayed on Chestnut Street with Charles Biddle, whose son Nicholas Biddle was one day to become president of the Second bank of the United States. … Burr … contacted a favorite mistress, Celeste, and then told Theodosia wryly, ‘If any male friend of yours should be dying of ennui, recommend him to engage in a duel and a courtship at the same time.’ Such ghoulish humor was Burr’s stock-in-trade.”

 

1804, August 2: the coroner’s jury delivered the verdict: “ ‘Aaron Burr, Esquire, Vice-President of the United States, was guilty of the murder of Alexander Hamilton, and that William P Van Ness and Nathaniel Pendleton were accessories.’ Arrest warrants were issued, but … New York governor Morgan Lewis protested Burr’s prosecution as ‘disgraceful, illiberal, and ungentlemanly.’ … Burr … made plans to flee farther south.”

 

1804, August 14: “ … a New York grand jury dropped the original murder indictment and replaced it with a lesser charge. Burr, Van Ness, and Pendleton were now accused of violating the law by sending a challenge to a duel.”

 

718

1804, October: “ … a grand jury in Bergen County, New Jersey, had indicted him for murder.” But since Hamilton died in New York it was “tossed out.”

 

1804, November 4: Aaron Burr settled “into his chair on the Senate dais.”

 

American trickster

719

1805, February 4: the impeachment trial of arch-Federalist and associate justice of the Supreme Court, Samuel Chase, for deriding the Jeffersonian administration as a ‘mobocracy’. “Chase had been charged, among other things, with unbecoming conduct in the trial of James T Callender under the Sedition Act. The trial was part of Jefferson’s continuing assault on the Federalist-dominated judiciary.

Aaron Burr, as vice president, presided over the impeachment trial and one “newspaper registered its shock thus: ‘What a page will that be in the history of the present democratic administration … that a man under an indictment for MURDER presided at the trial of one of the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, accused of a petty misdemeanor!’ Chase was acquitted of all charges, while Burr was universally praised for his evenhanded conduct of the trial. … Before he stepped down as vice president, one Republican senator defended his duel by citing David and Goliath and claiming that Burr was controversial ‘only because our David had slain the Goliath of Federalism.’

 

1805, March 2: “Burr delivered a celebrated farewell speech to the Senate in which he praised the institution as a ‘sanctuary and a citadel of law, of order, of liberty.’

 

His swan song done with, Burr “suffered instant political exile. … He was now bankrupt and stateless, a wanted man, even if he flippantly dismissed the New Jersey indictment.”

 

720

The archaic institution of dueling survived well into the C19th, “counting Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, John Randolph, Stephen Decatur, Sam Houston, Thomas Hart Benton, August Belmont, and Jefferson Davis among its practitioners.

 

722

1836, September 14: Burr “died in a Staten Island hotel after two strokes and was buried in Princeton near his father and grandfather.”

 

730-1

1854, November 9: “ … the Kansas-Nebraska Act was enacted and the union that Hamilton had done so much to forge stood gravely threatened—Elizabeth Schulyer Hamilton died at age ninety-seven.” She is buried next to Hamilton in Trinity Church, NYC.