To Rufus King1
My Dear Sir
I received lately a letter from you2 in which you express sentiments according with my own on the present complexion of your party politics; as, if a letter of mine to you did not miscarry, you will have seen.3 I wished that Clinton & his party should be placed in a just light before the people,4 and that a spirit of dissatisfaction within proper bounds should be kept alive; and this for National purposes, as well as from a detestation of their principles and conduct.
But a resort to first principles in any shape is decidedly against my judgment. I don’t think the occasion will in any sense warrant it. It is not for the friends of good government to employ extraordinary expedients which ought only to be resorted to in cases of great magnitude and urgent necessity. I reject as well the idea of a Convention as of force.
To rejudge the decision of the Canvassers by a Convention has to me too much the appearance of reversing the sentence of a Court by a Legislative decree. The Canvassers had a final authority in all the forms of the Constitution and laws. A question arose in the execution of their office not absolutely free from difficulty which they have decided (I am persuaded wrongly) but within the power vested in them. I do not feel it right or expedient to attempt to reverse the decision by any means not known to the Constitution or Laws.
The precedent may suit us to day; but tomorrow we may rue its abuse.
I am not even sure that it will suit us at all. I see already publications aiming at a revision of the constitution with a view to alterations which would spoil it.5 It would not be astonishing, if a Convention should be called, if it should produce more than is intended. Such weapons are not to be played with. Even the friends of good government in their present mood may fancy alterations desireable which would be the reverse.
Mens minds are too much unsettled every where at the present juncture. Let us endeavour to settle them & not to set them more afloat.
I find that strong minded men here view the matter in the same light with me; and that even Mr Jays character is likely in a degree to suffer by the idea that he fans the flame a little more than is quite prudent. I wish this idea to be conveyed to him with proper management. I have thoughts of writing to him.
You see, out of the reach of the contagion, I am very cool and reasonable; if I were with you I should probably not escape the infection
Francis Childs is a very cunning fellow. In Philadelphia in the person of his proxy Freneau, he is a good Antifœderalist & Clintonian; in New York he is a good Fœderalist and Jayite6—Beckley7 & Jefferson pay him for the first & the Fœderal Citizens of New York for the last. Observe a paragraph in his Dayly Advertiser of the 18th instant.8 These things ought, in a proper way, to be brought into view.
Rufus King Esq.
ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
1. For background to this letter, see Philip Schuyler to H, May 8, 1792, note 4; H to John Adams, June 25, 1792, note 2; H to King, June 28, 1792; King to H, July 10, 1792; William Lewis to H, July 21, 1792.
4. During June and July, 1792, Governor George Clinton’s policies were repeatedly criticized in the New York press. In addition to attacking the decision of the state’s canvassers giving the gubernatorial election to Clinton, writers in various papers criticized the governor’s appointments and his handling of the state’s land office.
5. On July 20, 1792, “An Observer of the Times” proposed several changes in the constitution of New York which in effect amounted to a plan for an entirely new constitution. The writer proposed, among other things, that “All freemen paying taxes and rent to a certain amount, ought to be entitled to vote at every public election,” that all electors should be eligible for office, and that all offices should be elective. “An Observer of the Times” concluded: “If a new constitution should take place, there will be an election for all the elective officers of government; this in a great measure will rectify many disagreeable circumstances; and add new vigor and peace to the state” (The [New York] Daily Advertiser, July 20, 1792).
6. Childs and John Swaine were the publishers of The [New York] Daily Advertiser. Douglas Southall Freeman has described Philip Freneau’s position with the [Philadelphia] National Gazette as follows: “… Jefferson on February 28, 1791, transmitted to … [Freneau] the offer of a language clerk’s position in the Department of State at the annual wage of 250 dollars. The salary was small, the Secretary admitted, but the position ‘gives so little to do as not to interfere with any other calling the person may choose’.… Not until late July … did Freneau make the decision to transfer to Philadelphia.… Francis Childs, his employer on the Daily Advertiser, agreed to underwrite the entire venture, and Freneau’s ‘national’ paper would be printed in the shop of Childs’s partner, John Swaine, who had set up in Philadelphia to do contract work for the government. Out of this Freneau would share as a third partner with no capital investment at all. On August 16 Jefferson signed Freneau’s commission as ‘clerk for foreign languages’ despite full knowledge that his man was equipped only for French.… On October 31, 1791, the first issue of the semi-weekly National Gazette appeared in Philadelphia” (Freeman, Washington description begins Douglas Southall Freeman, George Washington (New York, 1948–1957). Volume VII of this series was written by John Alexander Carroll and Mary Wells Ashworth. description ends , IV, 403–04).
By the summer of 1792 the National Gazette had become the leading Republican paper, while The Daily Advertiser was an equally important Federalist paper.
7. John Beckley, clerk of the House of Representatives, was a close friend and political associate of Thomas Jefferson.
8. H is perhaps referring to a paragraph in The [New York] Daily Advertiser of that date, which was reprinted from the [Philadelphia] National Gazette and which reads as follows: “We observe, says a correspondent, with great satisfaction, a resurrection of the justice of our country in every part of the United States. The universal cry is now against the Congress of 1788 and 89, which funded the public debt into the hands of D——— and Co. The infamous practices, by which this infamous business was effected, begin at least to be developed, and a stain has been discovered, by the enquiry, upon our national honor, that no time will wipe away” (The [New York] Daily Advertiser, July 18, 1792).