Alexander Hamilton Papers

The Defence No. I, [22 July 1795]

The Defence No. I25

[New York, July 22, 1795]

IT was to have been foreseen, that the treaty which Mr. Jay was charged to negociate with Great Britain, whenever it should appear, would have to contend with many perverse dispositions and some honest prejudices. That there was no measure in which the government could engage so little likely to be viewed according to its intrinsic merits—so very likely to encountre misconception, jealousy, and unreasonable dislike. For this many reasons may be assigned.

It is only to know the vanity and vindictiveness of human nature, to be convinced, that while this generation lasts, there will always exist among us, men irreconciliable to our present national constitution—embittered in their animosity, in proportion to the success of its operation, and the disappointment of their inauspicious predictions. It is a material inference from this, that such men will watch with Lynx’s eyes for opportunities of discrediting the proceedings of the government, and will display a hostile and malignant zeal upon every occasion, where they think there are any prepossessions of the community to favor their enterprizes. A treaty with Great Britain was too fruitful an occasion not to call forth all their activity.

It is only to consult the history of nations to perceive, that every country, at all times, is cursed by the existence of men, who, actuated by an irregular ambition, scruple nothing which they imagine will contribute to their own advancement and importance. In monarchies, supple courtiers; in republics, fawning or turbulent demagogues, worshipping still the idol power wherever placed, whether in the hands of a prince, or of the people, and trafficking in the weaknessess, vices, frailties, or prejudices of the one or the other. It was to have been expected, that such men, counting more on the passions than on the reason of their fellow citizens, and anticipating that the treaty would have to struggle with prejudices, would be disposed to make an alliance with popular discontent, to nourish it, and to press it into the service of their particular views.

It was not to have been doubted, that there would be one or more foreign powers, indisposed to a measure which accommodated our differences with Great Britain, and laid the foundation of future good understanding, merely because it had that effect.

Nations are never content to confine their rivalships and enmities to themselves. It is their usual policy to disseminate them as widely, as they can, regardless how far it may interfere with the tranquility or happiness of the nations which they are able to influence. Whatever pretentions may be made, the world is yet remote from the spectacle of that just and generous policy, whether in the cabinets of republics or of kings, which would dispose one nation, in its intercourses with another; satisfied with a due proportion of privileges and benefits to see that other pursue freely, its true interest, with regard to a third; though at the expence of no engagement, nor in violation of any rule of friendly or fair procedure. It was natural that the contrary spirit should produce efforts of foreign counteraction to the treaty, and it was certain that the partizans of the counteracting power would second its efforts by all the means which they thought calculated to answer the end.

It was known, that the resentment produced by our revolution war with Great-Britain had never been entirely extinguished, and that recent injuries had rekindled the flame with additional violence.26 It was a natural consequence of this, that many should be disinclined to any amicable arrangement with Great Britain, and that many others should be prepared to acquiesce only in a treaty which should present advantages of so striking and preponderant a kind, as it was not reasonable to expect could be obtained, unless the United States were in a condition to give the law to Great Britain, and as if obtained under the coercion of such a situation could only have been the short lived prelude of a speedy rupture to get rid of them.

Unfortunately too the supposition of that situation has served to foster exaggerated expectations, and the absurd delusion to this moment prevails, notwithstanding the plain evidence to the contrary, which is deducible from the high and haughty ground still maintained by Great Britain, against victorious France.

It was not to be mistaken that an enthusiasm for France and her revolution throughout all its wonderful vicissitudes has continued to possess the minds of the great body of the people of this country, and it was to be inferred, that this sentiment would predispose to a jealousy of any agreement or treaty with her most persevering competitior—a jealousy so excessive as would give the fullest hope to insidious arts to perplex and mislead the public opinion. It was well understood, that a numerous party among us, though disavowing the design, because the avowal would defeat it, have been steadily endeavouring to make the United States a party in the present European war, by advocating all those measures which would widen the breach between us and Great Britain, and by resisting all those which could tend to close it; and it was morally certain, that this party would eagerly improve every circumstance which could serve to render the treaty odious, and to frustrate it, as the most effectual road to their favorite goal.

It was also known beforehand that personal and party rivalships of the most active kind, would assail whatever treaty might be made, to disgrace, if possible, its organ.

There are three persons prominent in the public eye, as the successor of the actual President of the United States in the event of his retreat from the station, Mr. Adams, Mr. Jay, Mr. Jefferson.

No one has forgotten the systematic pains which have been taken to impair the well earned popularity of the first gentleman. Mr. Jay too has been repeatedly the object of attacks with the same view. His friends as well as his enemies anticipated that he could make no treaty which would not furnish weapons against him—and it were to have been ignorant of the indefatigable malice of his adversaries to have doubted that they would be seized with eagerness and wielded with dexterity.

The peculiar circumstances which have attended the two last elections for governor of this state, have been of a nature to give the utmost keen[n]ess to party animosity.27 It was impossible that Mr. Jay should be forgiven for his double, and in the last instance triumphant success; or that any promising opportunity of detaching from him the public confidence should pass unimproved.

Trivial facts frequently throw light upon important designs. It is remarkable, that in the toasts given on the 4th of July, wherever there appears a direct or indirect censure on the treaty, it is pretty uniformly coupled with compliments to Mr. Jefferson, and to our late governor Mr. Clinton, with an evident design to place those gentlemen in contrast with Mr. Jay, and decrying him to elevate them.28 No one can be blind to the finger of party spirit, visible in these and similar transactions. It indicates to us clearly, one powerful source of opposition to the treaty.

No man is without his personal enemies. Pre-eminence even in talents and virtue is a cause of envy and hatred of its possessor. Bad men are the natural enemies of virtuous men. Good men sometimes mistake and dislike each other.

Upon such an occasion as the treaty, how could it happen other wise, than that personal enimity would be unusually busy, enterprising and malignant?

From the combined operation of these different causes, it would have been a vain expectation that the treaty would be generally contemplated with candor and moderation, or that reason would regulate the first impressions concerning it. It was certain on the contrary, that however unexceptionable its true character might be, it would have to fight its way through a mass of unreasonable opposition; and that time, examination and reflection would be requisite to fix the public opinion on a true basis. It was certain that it would become the instrument of a systematic effort against the national government and its administration; a decided engine of party to advance its own views at the hazard of the public peace and prosperity.

The events which have already taken place, are a full comment of these positions. If the good sense of the people does not spe[e]dily discountenance the projects which are on foot, more melancholy proofs may succeed.

Before the treaty was known, attempts were made to prepossess the public mind against it. It was absurdly asserted, that it was not expected by the people, that Mr. Jay was to make any treaty; as if he had been sent, not to accommodate differences by negociation and agreement, but to dictate to Great Britain the terms of an unconditional submission.

Before it was published at large, a sketch, calculated to produce false impressions, was handed out to the public through a medium noted for hostility, to the administration of the government.29 Emissaries flew through the country, spreading alarm and discontent: the leaders of clubs were every where active to seize the passions of the citizens and preoccupy their judgments against the treaty.

At Boston it was published one day, and the next a town meeting was convened to condemn it, without ever being read; without any serious discussion, sentence was pronounced against it.30

Will any man seriously believe that in so short a time, an instrument of this nature could have been tolerably understood by the greater part of those who were thus induced to a condemnation of it? Can the result be considered as any thing more than a sudden ebullition of popular passion, excited by the artifices of a party, which had adroitly seized a favourable moment to surprize the public opinion? This spirit of precipitation and the intemperance which accompanied it, prevented the body of merchants and the greatest part of the most considerate citizens from attending the meeting, and left those who met, wholly under the guidance of a set of men, who, with two or three exceptions, have been the uniform opposers of the government.

The intelligence of this event had no sooner reached New York, than the leaders of the clubs were seen haranguing in every corner of the city to stir up our citizens into an imitation of the example of the meeting at Boston. An invitation to meet at the City Hall quickly followed, not to consider or discuss the merits of the treaty, but to unite with the meeting at Boston to address the president against its ratification.31

This was immediately succeeded by a hand bill,32 full of invectives against the treaty as absurd as they were inflammatory, and manifestly designed to induce the citizens to surrender their reason to the empire of their passions.

In vain did a respectable meeting of the merchants endeavour, by their advice, to moderate the violence of these views, and to promote a spirit favourable to a fair discussion of the treaty; in vain did a respectable body of citizens of every discription, attend for that purpose. The leaders of the clubs resisted all discussion, and their followers, by their clamours and vociferations, rendered it impracticable, notwithstanding the wish of a manifest majority of the citizens convened upon the occasion.33

Can we believe, that the leaders were really sincere, in the objections they made to a decision, or that the great and mixed mass of citizens then assembled had so thoroughly mastered the merits of the treaty, as that they might not have been enlightened by such a discussion.

It cannot be doubted that the real motive to the opposition, was the fear of a discussion; the desire of excluding light; the adherence to a plan of surprize and deception. Nor need we desire any fuller proof of that spirit of party which has stimulated the opposition to the treaty, than is to be found in the circumstances of that opposition.

To every man who is not an enemy to the national government, who is not a prejudiced partizan, who is capable of comprehending the argument, and passionate enough to attend to it with impartiality, I flatter myself I shall be able to demonstrate satisfactorily in the course of some succeeding papers—

1. That the treaty adjusts in a reasonable manner the points in controversy between the United States and Great-Britain, as well those depending on the inexecution of the treaty of peace, as those growing out of the present European war.

2. That it makes no improper concessions to Great-Britain, no sacrifices on the part of the United States.

3. That it secures to the United States equivalents for what they grant.

4. That it lays upon them no restrictions which are incompatible with their honour or their interest.

5. That in the articles which respect war, it conforms to the laws of nations.

6. That it violates no treaty with, nor duty toward any foreign power.

7. That compared with our other commercial treaties, it is upon the whole, entitled to a preference.

8. That it contains concessions of advantages by Great-Britain to the United States, which no other nation has obtained from the same power.

9. That it gives to her no superiority of advantages over other nations with whom we have treaties.

10. That interests of primary importance to our general welfare, are promoted by it.

11. That the too probable result of a refusal to ratify is war, or what would be still worse, a disgraceful pas[s]iveness under violations of our rights, unredressed and unadjusted; and consequently, that it is the true interest of the United States, that the treaty should go into effect.

It will be understood, that I speak of the treaty as advised to be ratified by the Senate—for this is the true question before the public.


25The [New York] Argus, or Greenleaf’s New Daily Advertiser, July 22, 1795.

27This is a reference to the New York gubernatorial elections in 1792 and 1795. In the first instance, the returns from three counties were disallowed because of technicalities, and George Clinton defeated Jay. See Philip Schuyler to H, May 9, 1792, note 4; H to King, June 28, 1792, note 1. The 1795 election, in which Jay defeated Robert Yates, was unusual in that Jay was nominated when he was in England, and he did not return to the United States until the conclusion of the campaign. See Edward Jones to H, March 30, 1795, note 10.

28See, for example, toasts offered in New York City at the Fourth of July meetings of the Democratic, Tammany, Mechanic, and Military societies and by the companies of Light Infantry and Artillery (The [New York] Argus, or Greenleaf’s New Daily Advertiser, July 6, 7, 1795).

29On June 29, 1795, Benjamin Franklin Bache’s [Philadelphia] Aurora. General Advertiser published an abstract of the treaty. See Wolcott to H, June 26, 1795, note 2, and Bradford to H, July 2, 1795, note 6.

30The [Boston] Independent Chronicle: and the Universal Advertiser printed the first eight articles of the treaty on July 9, 1795. A group of citizens opposed to the treaty met at Faneuil Hall on July 13. As a result of that meeting the Boston selectmen sent Washington a resolution supported by twenty arguments, condemning the treaty (LS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress). The resolution reads: “Resolved, as the sense of the Inhabitants of this Town, that the aforesaid Instrument, if ratified, will be highly injurious to the commercial Interest of the United States, derogatory to their National honor and Independence, and may be dangerous to the Peace and happiness of their Citizens” (copy, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress).

H’s statement is not, however, altogether accurate, for a pamphlet published by Benjamin Franklin Bache was available in Boston before the July 13 meeting in Faneuil Hall. See Wolcott to H, June 26, 1795, note 2, and Bradford to H, July 2, 1795, note 6.

31One version of the invitation reads: “The citizens of New-York, are earnestly requested, to assemble at the City Hall, This Day, at 12 o’clock, to deliberate upon the proper mode of communicating to the President, their disapprobation of the English treaty. The unanimous decision of the town of Boston, on this subject, not only shews the important light in which the business is viewed there; but should prompt us to add our exertions to theirs, to prevent the ratification of a treaty, which has every where created the most lively sensations of regret and dissatisfaction …” (The [New York] Argus, or Greenleaf’s New Daily Advertiser, July 18, 1795).

32“Last Thursday evening and Friday morning, notices appeared in all the public papers, requesting a meeting of the citizens, at 12 o’clock on Saturday, for the purpose of joining with our fellow citizens of Boston, who last Monday unanimously adopted resolutions expressive of their detestation of the treaty with Great Britain—a hand-bill was also circulated, to the same effect, conjuring them to come forward like freemen, and declare the treaty a disgraceful one, ruinous to our commerce, &c” (The [New York] Argus, or Greenleaf’s New Daily Advertiser, July 20, 1795). According to J. B. McMaster, who does not give a source, the handbill described the treaty in these terms: “It was non-reciprocal; it gave up the right of search; it called for no indemnity for the injury done by holding the posts; it yielded advantages no American ought to yield but with his life; it settled principles dangerous to the lives and liberties of the people” (History of the People of the United States, from the Revolution to the Civil War [New York, 1885], II, 218–19).

33In this paragraph H is referring to a meeting in New York City on Saturday, July 18, 1795, to consider the Jay Treaty. According to John Church Hamilton, when H spoke at this meeting, “He was replied to by a volley of stones, one of which struck his forehead …” (Hamilton, History description begins John C. Hamilton, Life of Alexander Hamilton, a History of the Republic of the United States of America (Boston, 1879). description ends , VI, 225), and a Federalist who attended the meeting wrote, “Stones were thrown at Mr Hamilton one of which grazed his head” (Seth Johnson to Andrew Craigie, July 23, 1795 [ALS, American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts]). Others who were present, however, did not mention this incident, and the story may be apocryphal. See Mitchell, Hamilton description begins Broadus Mitchell, Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1957–1962). description ends , II, 342–43.

A contemporary newspaper reported this meeting on July 18 and a subsequent one which took place on July 20, as follows: “On Friday evening there was a small meeting of merchants at Tontine hall, with Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Rufus King at their head, who harrangued them, Mr. James Watson in the chair; a plan of opposition was there devised, and, on Saturday morning, an address appeared in the papers, and the city was filled with hand-bills of the same composition, signed by the chairman. This address condemned the mode, declared the treaty not quite so bad as was supposed, challenged discussion, and pressed a full attendance upon the principles of opposition.

“In consequence of these various notices, a very numerous body of citizens collected at 12 o’clock on Saturday, at the Federal Hall.

“At the moment the clock struck twelve, Mr. Hamilton, who was mounted upon a stoop in Broad-street, supported by Mr. King, Mr. [Josiah Ogden] Hoffman, Mr. [Richard] Harrison, &c. attempted to harrangue the people. He had proceeded no farther than an expression of his ignorance who called the meeting, before he was interrupted by the call, ‘Let us have a chairman;’ on which Col. William S. Smith was nominated, appointed, and took his stand upon the balcony of the Federal Hall.

“Mr. Peter R. Livingston then attempted to address the chair, but was interrupted by Mr. Hamilton; on which a question of order took place, whether Mr. H. or Mr. L. should speak first; this was put by the chairman, and carried, by a large majority, in favor of Mr. L. Mr. Livingston then attempted to state the business of the meeting, as expressed in the bills; but the confusion was so great, that he could not be heard—and, finding that there was an intention, by the opposite party, to defeat the object of the meeting, and prevent the questions being taken on the treaty, he moved, ‘That those who disapproved of the treaty, should go to the right, and those who approved of it, to the left;’ which motion was but partly carried into effect; a large body marched up to the church, a large body still remained on the ground, and none, upon the question being reversed, moved to the left.

“In the mean time Mr. Hamilton, probably supposing that enemies to the treaty had all moved off, re-commenced his harrangue upon the treaty, urging the necessity of a full discussion before the citizens could form their opinions; very few sentences, however, could be heard, on account of hissings, coughings, and hootings, which entirely prevented his proceeding—His proposition of discussion was, however, opposed by Mr. Brockholst Livingston, who observed, as nearly as we can recollect, that as the treaty had been published for two weeks, and was in the hands of every one, he presumed the assembly had already made up their minds upon it—that the place was very improper for discussion, as the speakers could not be heard, and that it was impossible to find a building large enough to contain so great a number of people. He further said that the object of the meeting, which was to express their opinion on the treaty, might be defeated by procrastination, as the next moment accounts might arrive of its ratification. Mr. Livingston concluded by saying that although the place was highly improper for discussion, yet if any persons present had not formed their opinion on the treaty, and would retire to a church, a gentleman would appear to discuss it, article by article, in opposition to Mr. Hamilton.

“Finding it impossible to effect a division, those who had drawn off now returned; but finding a great tumult, about 500 of them drew off again, proceeded to the battery, formed a circle, and there Burnt the treaty, opposite the government house.

“During this interval, Mr. Hamilton introduced a resolution, said to be pened by Mr. King, and transmitted it to the Chairman, who attempted to read it, and, behold, a momentary silence took place—but when the citizens found that the resolution declared it unnecessary to give an opinion on the treaty, they roared, as with one voice: we’ll hear no more of it; tear it up, &c.

“The question was then moved, and carried, for the appointment of a committee of 15, to draft Resolutions, ‘expressive of their disapprobation of the treaty’….

“Mr. Hamilton, before the appointment of the Committee, finding the question on his resolutions could not obtain in the great body, put the question (himself) to those around him, some of whom cried aye—after which he called to the friends of order to follow him, and they moved off the ground, but the number that followed was small.

“At half after one the meeting adjourned to this day, at 12 o’clock, To Receive The Report Of The Committee on this important subject; and it is hoped that there will be a full attendance of the citizens.” (The [New York] Argus, or Greenleaf’s New Daily Advertiser, July 20, 1795.)

“No official account of the important proceedings of yesterday having been communicated to us, and being anxious to disseminate the patriotic virtues of our fellow-citizens, as expeditiously as possible, we submit the following hasty sketch, subject to such corrections (if any are necessary) as want of documents might have rendered indispensable.

“At noon yesterday, agreeably to adjournment, the citizens met at the Federal Hall, in immense numbers, to receive the Report of their Committee, when Col. W. S. Smith took his former stand, and opened the meeting. He informed the citizens, that as there had been doubts in the minds of some, whether the committee had been regularly appointed, the committee wished to know, whether they would now confirm their appointment; which was unanimously agreed to. A regular vote was then taken upon each name composing the committee, and unanimously confirmed. The chairman then informed them, that their committee was ready to report upon the subject of their appointment, and put the question, whether they were now ready to receive the report; this was also unanimously agreed to. Mr. Brockholst Livingston, of the committee, now stepped forward, and, after expressing his satisfaction at the perfect order and consistency of their conduct, and enlarging on the subject of certain doubts, respecting the appointment of the committee, ocasioned by the confusion of Saturday, he introduced a set of Resolutions, which proved to be fully expressive of their opinions of the treaty, by having received, paragraph by paragraph, the Unanimous Vote of the body present, which is said to have been much more numerous than that on Saturday, as, in the opinion of the chairman, and others who had a good view, it consisted of between 5 and 6000 persons; others say 7000.

“The meeting adjourned at about a quarter past one, previous to which a volunteer Resolution of thanks to the virtuous minority of the Senate of the United States was passed. A vote of thanks to the chairman unanimously obtained, as put by Mr. B. Livingston.

“It would have given us infinite satisfaction to be able to communicate these important resolutions, which we shall not attempt to describe—but as they are, by a resolution, to be immediately (By Express) transmitted to the President of the United States, it is conceived there would be a degree of indecorum, and want of respect, in publishing them before the express sets off with the original copy. Not a moment’s time shall be lost when a copy can be obtained.

“The meetings of Saturday and yesterday will not bear a contrast—on Saturday tumult lifted her bloated head, the head of A Faction; but yesterday, all was harmonious, and the citizens unanimously retired by half after one. Ask, ye heroes of Saturday’s minority, how is it possible that there should be any harmony, while ‘the friends of good order’ were absent!!

“It is rumored, that a number of merchants in this city intend to meet and protest against the proceedings of yesterday. An extra meeting of the chamber of commerce was called last evening.” (The [New York] Argus, or Greenleaf’s New Daily Advertiser, July 21, 1795.) See also “To the Citizens of New York,” July 18, 1795, which is an account of the July 18 meeting by William S. Smith (broadside, Library of Congress); The [New York] Argus, or Greenleaf’s New Daily Advertiser, July 21, 1795.

For the resolution adopted at the July 20 meeting, see “At an Adjourned meeting of the Citizens of New York assembled in front of the Federal Hall at 12 O’Clock on Monday the 20th day of July, 1795, Colonel William S. Smith in the Chair” (DS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress). The resolutions are also printed in The [New York] Argus, or Greenleaf’s New Daily Advertiser, July 25, 1795

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