Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Thomas Ellison, 14 July 1800

From Thomas Ellison1

Albany July 14th. 1800


I met with the Aurora last Night, which has led me to an expression of my detestation of the infamous Writer.2 It did not occur to me that I might probably be the means of silencing him till within one Hour of the Mail’s being closed. I suggested the Idea to Mr Hale3 only, & he urged me to write to you.

I should be sorry to see the foregoing Letter published, & hope, that, if you will get a Copy of it conveyed to him with what precedes it, he will be prudent per force & keep himself quiet.

If you wish to make use of this Means of silencing the Scoundrel, I hope you will correct it, as it has been written in Haste, within the Hour.

Facit indignatio Versus—so says the Poet,4 but I vow I am too indignant to write correctly, or correct what I have written. I am, Sir, with Sincerity

your humble Servt.

T Ellison

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1This letter concerns a dispute between Ellison and John Cosens Ogden, both of whom were Episcopal clergymen.

Ellison, who was born and educated in England, was the rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Albany from 1787 until his death in 1802 and a regent of the University of the State of New York from 1797 to 1802.

Ogden preached in New Haven from 1771 to 1785 and was rector of St. John’s Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, from 1786 to 1793. From 1793 until his death in 1800 he toured the northern states criticizing Federalist clergymen in sermons and pamphlets. Ogden attacked Federalist clergymen for their alleged conservatism in religion and charged that they supported the Federal Government in order to increase their wealth and political power. Ellison, as the letter printed above indicates, sought to defend the Federalist clergymen against these accusations.

2It cannot be stated with certainty, but this is apparently a reference to an article in the [Philadelphia] Aurora. General Advertiser, July 7, 1800. This article describes a Federalist dinner for H in Boston and contains attacks on H and Federalist clergymen.

Although Ellison assumes that Ogden wrote this article as well as others in the Aurora, William Duane, the paper’s editor, stated: “Again it is asserted that Mr. Ogden has become a regular correspondent of the Aurora; the Editor laments most sincerely that this is not true. If he knew any means by which his correspondence could be obtained regularly it would be pleasing to him, as the information which he has often received from that gentleman, has been of the greatest advantage to the public, and has been the principal means by which the hypocrisy of the New-England Illuminati has been exposed and brought into merited odium” ([Philadelphia] Aurora. General Advertiser, September 1, 1800).

The Order of the Illuminati, which had been founded in Germany in the seventeen-seventies as a rationalistic society, was said to have much in common with Freemasonry. Its influence was limited, and in 1785 it was banned by the Bavarian government.

The Illuminati became an issue in the United States when the Reverend Jedidiah Morse on May 9, 1798, announced from pulpits in Boston and Charlestown, Massachusetts, that the European Illuminati had invaded the United States and were seeking to overthrow this country’s religious and political institutions. The historian of the Illuminati in New England has written: “Morse’s warning by no means fell upon deaf ears.… Soon ministers were preaching, newspaper editors and contributors writing and clear-headed statesmen like Oliver Wolcott, Timothy Pickering, John Adams, and even the great Washington, inquiring and voicing their serious concerns over the secret presence in America of those conspirators whose greatest single achievement, a multitude had come to believe, was the enormities of the French Revolution.… Before two years had passed men generally began to admit the baseless nature of the alarm that Morse had sounded” (Vernon Stauffer, New England and the Bavarian Illuminati [New York, 1918], 10–12).

The opposition to Ogden’s views followed him to his grave, for on October 8, 1800, the [Philadelphia] Aurora. General Advertiser stated: “Federal Piety is daily exemplified! an Episcopal clergyman refused to perform the funeral service over the remains of the late Rev. Ogden, who died on the 26th ult. at Chestertown, Maryland. To the honor and credit of the Methodists a clergyman of that Church performed this last act of piety and humanity, and committed to the silence of the grave, a man whose life had been rendered a course of unremitting persecution—distress, imprisonment—and poverty, and against whose private or public life one great sin alone was sufficient to draw down the wrath of abused power and the excommunication of the church—that sin, that abomination was, the sin of avowing Democracy under a democratical government!”

3David Hale, a vestryman of St. Peter’s church in Albany, was also a lay delegate to the Anglican diocese of New York.

4The entire quotation reads: “Si natura negat, facit indignatio versus” (Decimus Junius Juvenalis, The Satires of Juvenal, translated into English Verse, with a Correct Copy of the Original Latin on the opposite page: cleared of all the most exceptionable passages, and illustrated with marginal notes from the best commentators. 2 vols. By E. Owen, M.A. Rector of Warrington [London: Printed for W. Lowndes, Bookseller, Fleet-Street, 1785], Satira I, line 71, 10).

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