Alexander Hamilton Papers

Introductory Note: The Defence No. I, [22 July 1795]

Introductory Note: The Defence No. I

This is the first of thirty-eight articles entitled “The Defence” and signed “Camillus,” which were written in support of the Jay Treaty. The Senate had given its advice and consent to the treaty on June 24, 1795,1 and George Washington had ratified it on August 14, 1795.2 As soon as the contents of the treaty had been made public in the first week of July, 1795,3 it was widely attacked—and perhaps less often praised—in speeches, resolutions adopted at public meetings, and newspaper articles throughout the United States.4 The “Camillus” essays (as they are frequently known rather than by their actual title “The Defence”) represent the most sustained, exhaustive, and analytical defense of the Jay Treaty. Hamilton was the author of twenty-eight “Camillus” essays.5 Rufus King6 wrote essays XXIII–XXX and XXXIV–XXXV. Hamilton read and edited the essays written by King, and on at least two occasions King furnished Hamilton with information for essays.7 Hamilton also wrote four related, but separate, essays on the Jay Treaty which he signed “Philo Camillus.”8

One of the more unusual features of this series is that the first twenty-one essays were originally published by Thomas Greenleaf in The [New York] Argus, or Greenleaf’s New Daily Advertiser, a newspaper which was opposed to the Washington Administration. But on November 3, 1795, Greenleaf announced in The ArgusThe Defence, No. XXII, is received, but must give way to more Local matter…. A number of our subscribers having complained of the ‘imposition’ of so many lengthy columns from Camillus, the Editor conceives himself obliged to restrict him to only Six Columns Per Week in future, instead of from 8 to 12 as heretofore.”9 The remaining essays, Nos. XXII–XXXVIII, were first published in The [New York] Herald; A Gazette for the Country. The dates on which the “Camillus” essays written by Hamilton were published are:

Essay Date
No. I July 22, 1795
II July 25, 1795
III July 29, 1795
IV August 1, 1795
V August 5, 1795
VI August 8, 1795
VII August 12, 1795
VIII August 15, 1795
IX August 21, 1795
X August 26, 1795
XI August 28, 1795
XII September 2–3, 1795
XIII September 5, 1795
XIV September 9, 1795
XV September 12 and 14, 1795
XVI September 18, 1795
XVII September 22, 1795
XVIII October 6, 1795
XIX October 14, 1795
XX October 23 and 24, 1795
XXI October 30, 1795
XXII November 5–11, 1795
XXXI December 12, 1795
XXXII December 16, 1795
XXXIII December 19, 1795
XXXVI January 2, 1796
XXXVII January 6, 1796
XXXVIII January 9, 1796

In the course of the “Camillus” essays, Hamilton sought to achieve three separate, but related, objectives. In the first place, as the title of the essays suggests, he attempted to defend the treaty in general terms10 and to argue its constitutionality.11 Secondly, beginning with “The Defence No. VI,” he provided a detailed analysis and defense of most, but not all, of the treaty’s twenty-eight articles.12 Finally, throughout the series he sought to refute the arguments that had been advanced against the treaty by Republican polemicists. In this connection, he devoted particular attention to the “Decius” and “Cinna” articles, both of which Robert R. Livingston attributed to Brockholst Livingston, the “Cato” essays written by Robert R. Livingston, and the five articles entitled “Features of Jay’s Treaty” by Alexander J. Dallas.13

The reaction of contemporaries to “Camillus” was generally, but not always, predictable. Thomas Jefferson, in one of his most famous—although atypical—comments on Hamilton, wrote to James Madison concerning “Camillus”: “… Hamilton is really a colossus to the anti-republican party—without numbers, he is an host within himself. They have got themselves into a defile, where they might be finished; but too much security on the Republican part, will give time to his talents & indefatigableness to extricate them. We have had only middling performances to oppose to him—in truth, when he comes forward there is nobody but yourself who can meet him.”14 For whatever reasons, Madison did not wish to take on Hamilton in public, but on August 23, 1795, he had written: “… Camillus,… if I mistake not will be betrayed by his anglomany into arguments as vicious and vulnerable as the Treaty itself.”15

Federalist readers generally, and not unexpectedly, found much to commend in the “Camillus” essays. After reading “The Defence No. I,” Washington wrote to Hamilton on July 29, 1795: “To judge of this work from the first number, which I have seen, I augur well of the performance; & shall expect to see the subject handled in a clear, distinct and satisfactory manner.” The “Camillus” essays were also viewed favorably by such leading Federalists as George Cabot of Massachusetts,16 William Vans Murray of Maryland,17 and William Loughton Smith of South Carolina.18 Fisher Ames, however, thought that at times Hamilton was wasting his own and his readers’ time attacking straw men. On January 18, 1796, Ames wrote to Jeremiah Smith: “I have read two Camilluses on the constitutionality of the treaty;19 so much answer to so little weight of objection is odd. He holds up the ægis against a wooden sword. Jove’s eagle holds his bolts in his talons, and hurls them, not at the Titans, but at sparrows and mice. I despise those objections in which blockheads only are sincere.”20

Modern biographers have tended to reflect the interest and values—one might even say biases—of their subjects. Irving Brant, Madison’s biographer, has written: “Hamilton’s technique was to defend the inoffensive treaty clauses, ignore the indefensible ones, and picture its opponents as a Jacobin rabble trying to foment a war with Britain. The result of rejection would be disastrous defeat, or, if not war, a total and disgraceful failure to stop the violation of American rights.”21 If one turns to Broadus Mitchell’s biography of Hamilton, it appears that he and Brant were writing about two entirely different sets of essays: “After the Publius (Federalist) papers of seven years before, the Camillus pieces of 1795 in support of Jay’s treaty are Hamilton’s most famous addresses on public policy…. While Camillus argued for a particular action, these papers ranged wide, amounted to an estimate of the political and economic situation in the Western World. When we scan other addresses on Jay’s treaty, pro and con, the well known ones by men of parts, we ask what gave Camillus acknowledged superiority? Camillus was longer by far, was readier to explore principles, was more replete with particulars. Besides these merits, the series spoke an earnest purpose, patriotic rather than partisan. It did not use sarcasm, directed criticism with regret rather than ridicule. It was an exposition more than a debater’s brief, employed fair reason instead of striving for a point. These qualities were the more impressive because the Camillus pieces broke in upon an opposition that was hysterical, superficial, and abusive.”22 Washington’s biographers are only slightly less enthusiastic than Mitchell, for they wrote: “‘Camillus,’ indeed, was distinguished by incisive style, rich citation and a perfectly logical narrative flow. His evaluation of the first ten ‘permanent’ articles of the treaty was masterful. The central theme was danger: opponents of the treaty were blind to the great interrelated hazards it overcame—a British and Indian war in the Northwest and a Spanish and Indian conspiracy in the Southwest, extinction of overseas trade and decline of prosperity in agriculture as well as in manufactures, increased taxation for defences and, finally, civil war in America.”23 Finally, Jefferson’s biographer, while mentioning the “Camillus” essays, does not comment on their quality24—a fact which under the circumstances may well represent the highest form of praise.

1See H to Rufus King, June 11, 1795, notes 2 and 3.

4For numerous examples. see Mathew Carey, ed., The American Remembrancer; or An Impartial Collection of Essays, Resolves, Speeches, &c., Relative or Having Affinity to the Treaty with Great Britain, 3 vols. (Philadelphia: Printed by Henry Tuckniss, for Mathew Carey, No. 118 Market-Street, 1795–1796).

5The attribution is based on the drafts in the Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress. The versions printed in the newspapers provide no hint (beyond suggestions provided by substance and style) that H was the author. In this edition of H’s papers, the drafts have been used and supplemented where necessary by the newspaper versions. In addition, substantive differences between the drafts and the printed copies have been noted.

6In this edition of H’s papers, King’s contributions, the drafts of which are in the Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress, have been calendared, but not printed in full.

8See “Philo Camillus,” July 27, August 7, 12, 19, 1795.

10See “The Defence Nos. I–V,” July 22, 25, 29, August 1, 5, 1795.

11See “The Defence Nos. XXXVI, XXXVII, XXXVIII,” January 2, 6, 9, 1796.

12For an earlier and briefer discussion by H of the treaty’s articles, see “Remarks on the Treaty … between the United States and Great Britain,” July 9–11, 1795.

13The “Decius articles are printed in five installments in The [New York] Argus, or Greenleaf’s New Daily Advertiser, July 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 1795. The same material in six installments may be found more conveniently in Carey, American Remembrancer, II, 118–40, 154–59. The six “Cinna” articles are printed in The [New York] Argus, or Greenleaf’s New Daily Advertiser, August 1, 4–5, 11, 13, 15, 18, 1795. They are reprinted in Carey, American Remembrancer, III, 75–102, 219–33. The sixteen “Cato” essays are printed in The [New York] Argus, or Greenleaf’s New Daily Advertiser, July 15, 17, 22, 25, 31, August 7, 11, 17, 22, 26, 29, September 2, 10, 16, 23, 30, 1795. They are reprinted in Carey, American Remembrancer, I, 114–22, 147–74, 219–52; II, 3–13; III, 63–67. Dallas’s five articles entitled “Features of Jay’s Treaty” appeared in Dunlap and Claypoole’s [Philadelphia] American Daily Advertiser, July 18, 22, 25, 31, August 7, 1795, and are reprinted in George Mifflin Dallas, Life and Writings of Alexander James Dallas (Philadelphia, 1871), 160–207.

For the authorship of “Decius” and “Cinna,” see Robert R. Livingston to James Monroe, August 25, 1795 (ALS, James Monroe Papers, Library of Congress). For the authorship of “Cato,” see the drafts of some of the articles in the Robert R. Livingston Papers, New-York Historical Society, New York City. For the authorship of “Features of Jay’s Treaty,” see Dallas, Life and Writings of Alexander James Dallas, 160.

14Jefferson to Madison, September 21, 1795 (ALS, letterpress copy, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress). More in character, Jefferson wrote to Tench Coxe on September 10, 1795: “… Camillus may according to his custom write an Encyclopedia … but … [the treaty] is too obstinate to be twisted by all his sophisms into a tolerable shape” (ALS, letterpress copy, Thomas Jefferson Papers. Library of Congress).

15Madison to Coxe or to Dallas, August 23, 1795 (ADf, James Madison Papers, Library of Congress).

16Cabot to King, August 4, 1795 (King, The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King description begins Charles R. King, The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King (New York, 1894–1900). description ends , II, 21).

17Murray to Wolcott, August 7, 29, 1795 (Gibbs, Wolcott description begins George Gibbs, Memoirs of the Administrations of Washington and John Adams: Edited from the Papers of Oliver Wolcott, Secretary of the Treasury (New York, 1846). description ends , I, 223, 228).

18Smith to Wolcott, September 8, 1795 (Gibbs, Wolcott description begins George Gibbs, Memoirs of the Administrations of Washington and John Adams: Edited from the Papers of Oliver Wolcott, Secretary of the Treasury (New York, 1846). description ends , I, 230).

19H discusses the constitutionality of the treaty in “The Defence Nos. XXXVI, XXXVII. XXXVIII,” January 2, 6, 9, 1796.

20Ames, Works of Fisher Ames description begins Seth Ames, ed., Works of Fisher Ames, with a Selection from His Speeches and Correspondence, 2 vols. (Boston, 1854). description ends , I, 183.

21Irving Brant, James Madison, Father of the Constitution, 1787–1800 (Indianapolis and New York, 1950), 429.

22Mitchell, Hamilton description begins Broadus Mitchell, Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1957–1962). description ends , II, 344.

23John Alexander Carroll and Mary Wells Ashworth in 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 , VII, 273, note 45.

24Dumas Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty (Boston, 1962), 247.

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