Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from George Washington, 31 March 1783

From George Washington

Newburgh [New York] 31st. March 1783

Dear Sir,

I have duly received your favors of the 17th. & 24th. ulto. I rejoice most exceedingly that there is an end to our warfare, and that such a field is opening to our view as will, with wisdom to direct the cultivation of it, make us a great, a respectable, and happy People; but it must be improved by other means than State politics, and unreasonable jealousies & prejudices; or (it requires not the second sight to see that) we shall be instruments in the hands of our Enemies, & those European powers who may be jealous of our greatness in Union to dissolve the confederation; but to attain this, altho the way seems extremely plain, is not so easy.

My wish to see the Union of these States established upon liberal & permanent principles, & inclination to contribute my mite in pointing out the defects of the present Constitution, are equally great. All my private letters have teemed with these Sentiments, & whenever this topic has been the subject of conversation, I have endeavoured to diffuse & enforce them; but how far any further essay, by me, might be productive of the wished for end, or appear to arrogate more than belongs to me, depends so much upon popular opinion, & the temper & disposition of People, that it is not easy to decide. I shall be obliged to you however for the thoughts which you have promised me on this subject, and as soon as you can make it convenient.

No man in the United States is, or can be more deeply impressed with the necessity of a reform in our present Confederation than myself. No man perhaps has felt the bad efects of it more sensibly; for to the defects thereof, & want of Powers in Congress may justly be ascribed the prolongation of the War, & consequently the Expences occasioned by it. More than half the perplexities I have experienced in the course of my command, and almost the whole of the difficulties & distress of the Army, have there origin here; but still, the prejudices of some, the designs of others, and the mere machinery of the majority, makes address & management necessary to give weight to opinions which are to Combat the doctrine of those different classes of men, in the field of Politics.

I would have been more full on this subject but the bearer (in the clothing department) is waiting. I wish you may understand what I have written.

I am Dr Sir    Yr. Most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

Honble. Alexr Hamilton.

The inclosed extract of a Letter to Mr Livingston,1 I give you in confidence. I submit it to your consideration, fully persuaded that you do not want inclination to gratify the Marquis’s wishes as far as is consistent with our National honor.


ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; ADfS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.

1The extract from Washington’s letter of March 29, 1783, to Robert R. Livingston, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, is in Washington’s writing and reads as follows:

“In a Letter I received by the Cutter from the Marqs. De la Fayette dated Cadiz 5th. of Feby is this passage.

“‘Independent of my public letter to Mr. Livingston, there is a private one which he will also communicate, amongst the many favors I have received, I would take it as the most flattering circumstance in my life to be sent to England with the ratification of the American Treaty; You know it is but an honorary Commission, that requires the attendance of a few Weeks, and if any Sedentary Minister is sent, I should have the pleasure of introducing him; This, my dear General is entirely Confidential.’

“From hence, I presume it is necessary for Congress to ratifie the Treaty of Peace entered into by their Commissioners at Paris, to give it the solemnity which is essential to such a work, and that the Marqs. wishes for the honor of putting the last hand to this business, by being the bearer of the Ratification.

“How far it is consistant with our National character, how far motives of policy in the present case, make for or against sending a foreigner with it, or how far such a measure might disappoint the expectation of others, I pretend not to determine, but if there is no impropriety or injustice in it, I should hope that Congress would feel a pleasure in gratifying the wishes of a Man who has been such a zealous labourer in the cause of this Country. Whether the above paragraph was only meant to bring me acquainted with what he had done, or that I might second his views, I know not, & therefore, notwithstanding the injunction I have offered these Sentiments.” (Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.)

Lafayette’s private letter to Livingston, also dated February 5, is in the Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress. In JCHW description begins John C. Hamilton, ed., The Works of Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1851). description ends , I, 325–27, and in Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (Washington, 1889). description ends , VI, 240–41, H is named as the addressee. Lafayette’s manuscript letter, however, is clearly addressed to Robert R. Livingston, for in it he recommended that H be named the American minister to sign the peace treaty.

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