Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to Sir Henry Clinton, [30 September 1780]

To Sir Henry Clinton1

[Tappan, New York, September 30, 1780]


It has so happened in the course of events, that Major André Adjutant General of your army has fallen into our hands. He was captured in such a way as will according to the laws of war justly affect his life. Though an enemy his virtues and his accomplishments are admired. Perhaps he might be released for General Arnold, delivered up without restriction or condition, which is the prevailing wish. Major André’s character and situation seem to demand this of your justice and friendship. Arnold appears to have been the guilty author of the mischief; and ought more properly to be the victim, as there is great reason to believe he meditated a double treachery, and had arranged the interview in such a manner, that if discovered in the first instance, he might have it in his power to sacrifice Major André to his own safety.

I have the honor to be &c


No time is to be lost.

L, William L. Clements Library of the University of Michigan.

1This letter has been printed here only because several historians have attributed it to H. Carl Van Doren has stated the case for H’s authorship in the following words: “Hamilton, it seems fairly certain, wrote a secret letter to Clinton, on the 30th.… Though the letter is in a disguised hand, and signed apparently A.B., it uses the same argument in almost the same language as Hamilton’s letter to Laurens [of October 11, 1780]” (Van Doren, Secret History of the American Revolution, 366). Van Doren’s conclusion rests on two points: One, this letter is endorsed by Clinton as follows: “Hamilton Was a de camp received after A death”; and two, Simcoe, who was a friend of André, stated: “Amongst some letters which passed on this unfortunate event, a paper was slid in without signature, but in the handwriting of Hamilton, Washington’s secretary, saying that the only way to save André was to give up Arnold” (ibid., 367).

Despite Van Doren’s view, there is no actual evidence that H wrote this letter, and there is no other occasion on which he is known to have used a disguised hand. Finally, on the day that André was hanged, H wrote to Elizabeth Schuyler: “It was proposed to me to suggest to him [André] the idea of an exchange for Arnold; but I knew I should have forfieted his esteem by doing it, and therefore declined it” (H to Elizabeth Schuyler, October 2, 1780).

Index Entries