Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to James A. Bayard, 6 August 1800

To James A. Bayard

New York August 6th. 1800.

Dr Sir

The President of Columbia College in this City has resigned1 & we are looking out for a successor.2 Dr. Wharton3 has occurred to me as a character worthy of enquiry, & the great confidence I feel in your judgment & candour induces me to have recourse to you. We are extremely anxious to have a well qualified man, as this is the only thing wanting to render our institution very flourishing. We have two very good professors, one of the languages,4 the other of Mathematics & Natural Philosophy5—and we have a professor of Chemistry6 (this branch having been lately made a part of the academic course,) together with better funds as I believe than any similar Institution in the U. States. I mention these particulars to impress you with the importance of our College to the Cause of Literature, & with the duty which thence results of peculiar circumspection & care in the choice of a President. It is essential that he be a gentleman in his manners, as well as a sound & polite Scholar—that his moral character be irreproachable, that he possess energy of body & mind, & be of a disposition to maintain discipline without undue austerity, & in the last place that his politics be of the right sort. I beg you to inform me particularly how far Dr. Wharton meets this description, in what if anything he fails. You will of course see the propriety of mentioning nothing about this Inquiry. In the present eventful crisis of our affairs, a mutual communication of information & opinions among influential men of the Fœderal party may be attended with some advantage to their cause.7 Under this impression I shall give you a summary of the state of things north of the Delaware; South of it your information is likely to be as good as mine & accordingly I shall request your view of what is to be expected in that quarter. In New-Hampshire there is no doubt of Federal Electors, but there is a decided partiality for Mr Adams. I took pains to possess Governor Gilman8 whose influence is very preponderating, of the errors and defects of Mr Adams, and of the danger that no candidate can prevail, by mere Fœderal strength, consequently of the expediency & necessity of unanimously voting for General Pinckney (who in the South may get some Anti-Fœderal votes) as the best chance of excluding Mr Jefferson. The Governor appeared convinced of the soundness of these views, & cautiously gave me to expect his cooperation. Yet I do not count upon New Hampshire for more than two things, one, an unanimous vote for Mr Adams; the other, no vote for any Antifœderalist. In Massachusetts almost all the leaders of the first class are dissatisfied with Mr Adams & enter heartily into the policy of supporting General Pinckney. But most of the leaders of the 2nd class are attached to Mr Adams, & fearful of jeopardizing his election by promoting that of Gen: Pinckney. And the Mass of the people are well affected to him & to his administration Yet I have strong hopes that by the exertions of the principal Fœderalists, Masstts. will unanimously vote for Adams & Pinckney.9 Rhode Island is in a state somewhat uncertain. Scisms have grown up from personal rivalships, which have been improved by the Anti-fœderalists to strengthen their interests. Governor Fenner expresses a hope that there will be 2 antifœderal Electors, but our friends reject this idea as wholly improbable. But I am not quite convinced that they know the ground. In every event however I expect Mr. A. will have there an unanimous vote. I think nothing can be relied upon as to General Pney. Connecticut will I doubt not unanimously vote for General P: but being very much displeased with Mr. A. it will require the explicit advice of certain Gentlemen to induce them to vote for him. No Anti-Fœderalist has any chance there. About Vermont I am not as yet accurately informed; but I believe Adams & Pinckney will both have all the votes. In New York all the votes will certainly be for Jefferson & Burr. New Jersey does not stand as well as she used to do; The Antis hope for the votes of this state. But I think they will be disappointed. If the Electors are Fœderal Pinckney will certainly be voted for; & Adams will be or not as leading friends shall advise. Adding to this view of the Northern what I have understood of the Southern quarter, our prospects are not brilliant. There seems to be too much probability that Jefferson or Burr will be President. The latter is intriguing with all his might in New Jersey, Rhode-Island & Vermont.10 And there is a possibility of some success to his intrigues. He counts positively on the universal support of the Antis: & that by some adventitious aid from other quarters, he will overtop his friend Jefferson. Admitting the first point the conclusion may be realized. And if it is Burr will certainly attempt to reform the Government a la Buonaparte. He is as unprincipled & dangerous a man as any country can boast; as true a Cataline as ever met in midnight conclave.

With sincere esteem & regard I am

A. H.

LC, MS Division, New York Public Library; copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1On July 16, 1800, William Samuel Johnson submitted a letter of resignation to the trustees of Columbia College (“Minutes of the Trustees of Columbia College,” Vol. II, Part I, 4 May 1784 to 22 February 1809 [typescript, Office of the Secretary of the University, Columbia University]). Johnson, a lawyer and the son of the Reverend Samuel Johnson, the first president of King’s College, had become president of Columbia College in 1787.

2H wrote the first part of this letter in his capacity as a trustee of Columbia College. See Samuel L. Mitchell to H, February 15–16, 1799, note 1.

3The Reverend Charles H. Wharton, a native of Maryland, was a Catholic chaplain at Worcester, England, in the seventeen-seventies. He returned to America in 1783. In 1784 he became an Episcopalian, and in 1798 he became rector of St. Mary’s Church in Burlington, New Jersey.

At a meeting at City Hall on May 4, 1801, the trustees of Columbia College nominated Wharton and three other candidates for the office of president. On May 25 Wharton was elected unanimously (“Minutes of the Trustees of Columbia College,” Vol. II, Part I, 4 May 1784 to 22 February 1809 [typescript, Office of the Secretary of the University, Columbia University]). He served as president from May to December 11, 1801, when he resigned (“Minutes of the Trustees of Columbia College,” Vol. II, Part I, 4 May 1784 to 22 February 1809 [typescript, Office of the Secretary of the University, Columbia University]).

4H is referring to John Christoff Kunze, professor of Oriental languages, or Antoine Villette de Marcellin, professor of French, or the Reverend Elijah D. Rattoone, professor of Greek and Latin.

5John Kemp was professor of mathematics and natural philosophy from 1785 to 1800.

6Samuel L. Mitchell, who had received his medical degree from the University of Edinburgh and who subsequently studied law, was appointed professor of chemistry, natural history, and philosophy at Columbia College in 1792. From 1791 to 1798 he was a member of the New York Assembly.

7For background to the remainder of this letter, which deals with the presidential campaign of 1800, see the introductory note to H to Theodore Sedgwick, May 4, 1800.

8John T. Gilman, a New Hampshire politician, financier, and Federalist, was state treasurer from 1783 to 1788 and from 1792 to 1794, a member of the state Ratifying Convention in 1788, and governor from 1794 to 1805 and from 1813 to 1816.

9In an effort to convince Adams Federalists to support Adams and Pinckney equally, Robert G. Harper wrote to Harrison Gray Otis on August 28, 1800: “I fear you and your friends in Boston are ruining every thing. We understand here, that a party in Boston, which is called Mr. Adams’s Party and led by Messrs [Samuel] Dexter [Harrison Gray] Otis [Henry] Knox [William] Cushing [Jonathan] Jackson & [Elbridge] Gerry, is making the utmost exertion to get the vote of that state thrown away from Genl Pinckney, in order to favour, exclusively, the election of Mr. Adams.… The federalists here, & in South Carolina, are making the fairest & the most zealous exertions in favour of Mr. Adams. They wish to secure the election to him if possible, but knowing that to be doubtful, they think themselves obliged, by every principle of duty to their cause & their Country, to support Genl Pinckney at the same time, in order to avail themselves of his popularity in the southern states, should their other hope fail. But can it be expected that they will continue the same efforts, if they know that this hope also is to be taken from them, through the exclusive attachment of Mr. Adams’s friends in Massachusetts, to his interests? …” (Morison, Harrison Gray Otis description begins Samuel Eliot Morison, The Life and Letters of Harrison Gray Otis, Federalist, 1765–1848 (Boston and New York, 1913). description ends , I, 192–93).

10For Aaron Burr’s activities in Rhode Island, see H to Sedgwick, May 4, 1800, note 25. Burr had made a trip to New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont in late August and early September, 1800. On August 9, 1800, Robert Troup wrote to Rufus King: “I understand he [Burr] is in a day or two going to the Eastward, and I presume, on business of the ensuing election. He seems from his manners to be very sanguine of success” (King, The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King description begins Charles R. King, ed., The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King (New York, 1894–1900). description ends , III, 290). On September 14, 1800, Troup again wrote to King: “Burr has just returned from the Eastward where he has been for the purpose of effecting a division in the New England vote” (King, The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King description begins Charles R. King, ed., The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King (New York, 1894–1900). description ends , III, 300). See also Burr to William Eustis, August 16, 1800 (ALS, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston).

Troup, a New York City and Albany lawyer, had been a close friend of H since the time when they had been students at King’s College. A veteran of the American Revolution, Troup served as secretary to the Board of War in 1778 and 1779 and secretary of the Board of Treasury in 1779 and 1780. In 1786 he was a member of the New York Assembly. Troup was involved in land speculation in western New York and was associated with Charles Williamson in the development of the Pulteney purchase in the Genesee country.

King was United States Minister Plenipotentiary to Great Britain.

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