Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to James Nicholson, 20 July 1795

To James Nicholson1

New York Monday July 20. 1795.


The unprovoked rudeness and insult which I experienced from You on Saturday leaves me no option but that of a meeting with You, the object of which You will readily understand. I propose to You for the purpose Pawlus Hook as the place and monday next eleven o’clock as the time. I should not fix so remote a day but that I am charged with trusts for other persons which will previously require attention on my part. My friend Col. Fish2 who is to deliver You this will accompany me.

I am &c.   Your humble Servt.

A. Hamilton

Commodore Nicholson.

Copy, in the handwriting of Nicholas Fish, Columbia University Libraries.

1A native of Maryland, Nicholson was the senior officer of the Continental Navy at the conclusion of the American Revolution. When H wrote this letter, Nicholson had retired from the Navy and was an officer of the Democratic Society of New York.

H’s dispute with Nicholson originated on July 18, 1795, at a meeting in New York City at which H attempted to defend the Jay Treaty (Seth Johnson to Andrew Craigie, July 23, 1795 [ALS, American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts]; Greenleaf’s New York Journal, & Patriotic Register, July 22, 1795; “The Defence No. 1,” July 22, 1795, note 33). During the course of the day’s events, H interfered in a quarrel between Nicholson and Josiah Ogden Hoffman, a Federalist lawyer. Nicholson called H an “Abettor of Tories” and stated that H “would not pursue the affair for he had declined an interview upon a former occasion.” H, offended by Nicholson’s remarks, challenged him to a duel. For an account of the dispute in which H figures as the aggressor, see Edward Livingston to his mother, Margaret Beekman Livingston, July 20, 1795 (ALS, New-York Historical Society, New York City). See also Milton Halsey Thomas, “Hamilton’s Unfought Duel of 1795,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, LXXVIII (July, 1954), 342–43.

Nicholson’s charge that H “had declined an interview upon a former occasion” is explained in the following letter from John Beckley to James Madison, dated May 25, 1795: “About six or eight weeks ago, whilst Hamilton was in N. York, Commodore Nicholson in conversation with the friend of Hamiltons stated that he had authentic information … that Hamilton had vested £100,000 sterling in the British funds, whilst he was Secretary of the Treasury, which sum was still held by a Banking house in London, to his use and Interest. H’s friend took fire, declared it a base calumny, and that it should be immediately investigated, demanding Nicholson’s authority. Nicholson replied that he would be ready at any time & place when called on by Hamilton, to produce his author with the proofs he possessed. No call has however been made from that time to this: Nicholson informed me of these particulars himself, and added that if Hamiltons name is at any time brought up as a candidate for any public office; he will instantly publish the circumstance” (ALS, MS Division, New York Public Library, New York City).

For the other letters and documents in the correspondence between Nicholson and H, see Nicholson to H, July 20, 21, two letters of July 22, 1795; H to Nicholson, second letter of July 20, July 22, 1795; “Drafts of Apology Required from James Nicholson,” July 25–26, 1795.

2Nicholas Fish, who had served with distinction during the American Revolution, was one of H’s oldest and closest friends. In 1784 he was appointed adjutant general of the state of New York, and in 1793 he was appointed supervisor of the revenue for the District of New York.

Rufus King was H’s other second. Nicholson’s seconds were DeWitt Clinton and Brockholst Livingston. Udny Hay, a member of both the New York and Vermont Democratic societies, substituted for Clinton on July 22 (Hay to Fish, July 22, 1795 [AL, Columbia University Libraries]).

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