Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from James Gordon, [6 February 1795]

From James Gordon1

[Philadelphia, February 6, 1795]


Inclosed herewith you have the whole of the correspondence between the Governor and us.2 The first letter is in the News Papers and the other two are manuscript.

I am with perfect respect your Most Obedt. servt

James Gordon

Honble. Alexander Hamilton.

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1Gordon was a Federalist member of the House of Representatives from New York.

This letter concerns the attempt by Federalist members of the House of Representatives from New York to force Governor George Clinton to hold a special election in western New York to fill the vacancy which had been created on June 3, 1794, when George Washington had appointed Silas Talbot, a Federalist Congressman from New York, a captain in the Navy. Clinton had refused to call a special election to fill the vacancy on the ground that Talbot had been a member of the House of Representatives which had created the naval establishment and therefore was disqualified from being appointed to the Navy. Clinton concluded that no vacancy existed in the New York delegation to the House of Representatives.

2The first letter which Gordon enclosed was a letter from DeWitt Clinton, Governor Clinton’s secretary, to the New York delegation in the House of Representatives, dated December 19, 1794, which described the governor’s position. This letter was published in The [New York] Herald; A Gazette for the Country, January 31, 1795. The other two letters are copies in Gordon’s handwriting of a letter of January 12, 1795 to the governor, from the Federalist Congressmen from New York and DeWitt Clinton’s reply for the governor, dated January 31, 1795 (copies, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress).

In their letter of January 12 the Federalist Representatives pointed out to the governor what they considered the errors in Clinton’s reasoning and the dangers of the precedent established by his actions. DeWitt Clinton in his reply of January 31 stated: “It must readily Occur to Gentlemen so well versed in official decorum as your Letter Shews you to be, that it would be an improper deviation in the Governor to enter into an elaborate argument on the question but … you have evidently and totally misunderstood the design and tendency of his communication … when I attempted at his request to obtain through you a decision of the House of Representatives upon a question in which he conceived their rights materially interested…. The principal question intended to be referred to the judgment of the House of Representatives was, whether a declaration of a Member of that Body that he had Accepted an Appointment and resigned in consequence of it, intitled the Executive Authority of a State to issue a writ for a New Election…. By sending you a Copy of Mr. Talbots Letter, the House was also enabled to judge of the manner of the resignation, and how far it carried with it Sufficient evidence of the existence of a vacancy…. If the Governor is to determine on the vacancy of a Members Seat, without the intervention of the House of Representatives; perhaps he Should be furnished with the original or at least an exemplified copy of the Commission creating the vacancy and a notification from the Secretary of State of its having issued. That precedents as to this point have existed prior to the case of Mr. Talbot is not believed…. And as nothing more was Sought by the Governor than the Sense of the House of Representatives on this Subject; a State of such case, with the resolution would have been infinitely more Satisfactory to him than the opinions you are pleased So much at large, and So decisively to express,… especially as the Silence of your Colleagues affords a reason to infer that they differed from you in Sentiment, unless it Should be Supposed that they are less zealous than yourselves to prevent the future injury of the State, or too diffident to Suppose their private opinions, a Standard by which to determine the judgment of the State Governors.”

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