Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from James McHenry, 31 December 1800

From James McHenry1

Baltimore 31 Decr. 1800

My dear Sir.


I have recd. a letter from Mr. W.2 this morning in which he says.

“I have made enquiry respecting the declaration of Mr. Adams while in London in Nov. 1783—it seems he thought negociations could be better conducted there than in a foreign country, and observes—‘Here with the most perfect politeness to ministers we may keep them in awe; a visit to a distinguished member of opposition, even though nothing should be said at it, would have more weight than all our arguments. Mr Jay, I believe also thinks so.’3 The above is I believe a true extract though the idea which you possessed was correct, yet you will see the mode of expression is different.”

So much for my recollection of a letter read about seventeen years ago.

What think you of the crisis? Seneca, or somebody for him observes, “Whatever happens, think that it ought to happen, and cast no reproach upon nature.”4 Some of our Federalists, who have been here on a christmas visit seemed inclined, if not determined to run Mr. Burr notwithstanding his letter to Genl. Smith.5 They do not consider Mr. Burrs declarations in this letter as committing him—not to accept of the Presidency if elected by the House of Representatives. They hope, by the attempt, should it even fail of sucess to plant the seeds of disunion between him and his party; and should it succeed, to get in him a man who will not suffer the Executive power to be frittered into insignificance. For myself, I do not calculate upon their succeeding to elect him, and I believe besides, that he will not make terms with them to obtain a chance for the Presidency. Is it, in the present state of things, an attempt that ought to be made? If made and fails, how will it affect the federal cause in the opinions of the great body of the people?

We undoubtedly are threatened with a change in some most essential points in government and our national affairs; but who will venture to say, that equal evils did not await us, had Mr. Adams been elected. The case at least affords us this kind of consolation.

Let me hear from you, and believe me always & affectionately yours

J McHenry

Alexr Hamilton Es

ADfS, James McHenry, Library of Congress.

1For background to this letter, see H to McHenry, November 13, 1800, note 3; McHenry to H, November 19, December 1, 1800.

2Oliver Wolcott, Jr.

4Seneca wrote: “Beatus est praesentibus, qualiacumque sunt, contentus amicusque rebus suis …” (“Ad Gallionem, De Vita Beata,” Liber VII, Ch. VI, verse 2, D. Annaei Senecae Dialogorum from Seneca Moral Essays, with an English translation by John W. Basere, in three volumes, Vol. II [London, 1932], 114–15).

5See Gouverneur Morris to H, December 19, 1800, note 15. At the time that McHenry wrote this letter, at least one Federalist had made overtures to Burr. On December 24, 1800, Robert G. Harper wrote to Burr: “The votes of Tennessee are come in, and decide the tie. The language of the democrats is, that you will yield your pretensions to their favourite; and it is whispered that overtures to this end are to be, or are made to you. I advise you to take no step whatever, by which the choice of the house of representatives can be impeded or embarrassed. Keep the game perfectly in your own hands, but do not answer this letter, or any other that may be written to you by a federal man, nor write to any of that party” ([Baltimore] Niles’ Weekly Register, January 4, 1823, 282).

For Federalist opinion of Burr’s candidacy, see H to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., December 16, 1800, note 1.

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