Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to James A. Bayard, [16–21] April 1802

To James A. Bayard

New-York April [16–21] 18021

Dear Sir.

Your letter of the 12th inst. has relieved me from some apprehension. Yet it is well that it should be perfectly understood by the truly sound part of the Fœderalists, that there do in fact exist intrigues in good earnest, between several individuals not unimportant, of the Fœderal Party, and the person in question; which are bottomed upon motives & views, by no means auspicious to the real welfare of the country. I am glad to find that it is in contemplation to adopt a plan of conduct. It is very necessary; & to be useful it must be efficient & comprehensive in the means which it embraces, at the same time that it must meditate none which are not really constitutional & patriotic. I will comply with your invitation by submitting some ideas which from time to time have passed through my mind. Nothing is more fallacious than to expect to produce any valuable or permanent results, in political projects, by relying merely on the reason of men. Men are rather reasoning tha[n] reasonable animals for the most part governed by the impulse of passion. This is a truth well understood by our adversaries who have practised upon it with no small benefit to their cause. For at the very moment they are eulogizing the reason of men & professing to appeal only to that faculty, they are courting the strongest & most active passion of the human heart—VANITY!

It is no less true that the Fœderalists seem not to have attended to the fact sufficiently; and that they erred in relying so much on the rectitude & utility of their measures, as to have neglected the cultivation of popular favour by fair & justifiable expedients. The observation has been repeatedly made by me to individuals with whom I particularly conversed & expedients suggested for gaining good will which were never adopted. Unluckily however for us in the competition for the passions of the people our opponents have great advantages over us; for the plain reason, that the vicious are far more active than the good passions, and that to win the latter to our side we must renounce our principles & our objects, & unite in corrupting public opinion till it becomes fit for nothing but mischief. Yet unless we can contrive to take hold of & carry along with us some strong feelings of the mind we shall in vain calculate upon any substantial or durable results. Whatever plan we may adopt, to be successful must be founded on the truth of this proposition. And perhaps it is not very easy for us to give it full effect; especially not without some deviations from what on other occasions we have maintained to be right. But in determining upon the propriety of the deviations, we must consider whether it be possible for us to succeed without in some degree employing the weapons which have been employed against us, & whether the actual state & future prospect of things, be not such as to justify the reciprocal use of them. I need not tell you that I do not mean to countenance the imitation of things intrinsically unworthy, but only of such as may be denominated irregular, such as in a sound & stable order of things ought not to exist. Neither are you to infer that any revolutionary result is contemplated. In my opinion the present Constitution is the standard to which we are to cling. Under its banners, bona fide must we combat our political foes—rejecting all changes but through the channel itself provides for amendments. By these general views of the subject have my reflections been guided. I now offer you the outline of the plan which they have suggested. Let an Association be formed to be denominated, “The Christian Constitutional Society.” It’s objects to be

1st The support of the Christian Religion.
2nd The support of the Constitution of the United States.2

Its Organization.

1st A directing council consisting of a President & 12 Members, of whom 4 & the President to be a quorum.
2nd A sub-directing council in each State consisting of a Vice-President & 12 Members, of whom 4 with the Vice-President to be a quorum & 3rd As many societies in each State, as local circumstances may permit to be formed by the Sub-directing council.

The Meeting at Washington to Nominate the President & Vice-President together with 4 Members of each of the councils, who are to complete their own numbers respectively.

Its Means.

1st The diffusion of information. For this purpose not only the Newspapers but pamphlets must be la[r]gely employed & to do this a fund must be created. 5 dollars annually for 8 years, to be contributed by each member who can really afford it, (taking care not to burden the less able brethren) may afford a competent fund for a competent time. It is essential to be able to disseminate gratis useful publications. Whenever it can be done, & there is a press, clubs should be formed to meet once a week, read the newspapers & prepare essays paragraphs &ct.
2nd The use of all lawful means in concert to promote the election of fit men. A lively correspondence must be kept up between the different Societies.
3rd The promoting of institutions of a charitable & useful nature in the management of Fœderalists. The populous cities ought particularly to be attended to. Perhaps it will be well to institute in such places 1st Societies for the relief of Emigrants—2nd. Academies each with one professor for instructing the different Classes of Mechanics in the principles of Mechanics
especially confidential { & Elements of Chemistry. The cities have been employed by the Jacobins to give an impulse to the country. And it is believed to be an alarming fact, that while the question of Presidential Election was pending in the House of Rs. parties were organized in several of the Cities, in the event of there being no election, to cut off the leading Fœderalists & sieze the Government.3

An Act of association to be drawn up in concise general terms. It need only designate the “name” “objects” & contain an engagement to promote the objects by all lawful means, and particularly by the diffusion of Information.4 This act to be signed by every member.

The foregoing to be the principal Engine. In addition let measures be adopted to bring as soon as possible the repeal of the Judiciary law5 before the Supreme Court. Afterwards, if not before, let as many Legislatures as can be prevailed upon, instruct their Senators to endeavour to procure a repeal of the repealing law. The body of New-England speaking the same language will give a powerful impulse. In Congress our friends to propose little, to agree candidly to all good measures, & to resist & expose all bad. This is a general sketch of what has occurred to me. It is at the service of my friends for so much as it may be worth. With true esteem & regard

Dr Sir   Yours


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

1In JCHW description begins John C. Hamilton, ed., The Works of Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1851–1856). description ends , VI, 540–43, and HCLW description begins Henry Cabot Lodge, ed., The Works of Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1904). description ends , X, 432–37, this letter is dated “April, 1802.”

2For some of H’s earlier statements indicating his willingness to employ religious ideas to achieve political objectives, see H to Timothy Pickering, March 22, 1797; H to William Loughton Smith, April 10, 1797; “The Stand, No. III,” April 7, 1798. From 1798 to 1802 the only references to Christianity which have been found in his correspondence concern the deaths of his son Philip and his sister-in-law Margarita Van Rensselaer. See H to Elizabeth Hamilton, March 16, 1801; Benjamin Rush to H, November 26, 1801; H to Rush, March 29, 1802; John Dickinson to H, November 30, 1801; H to Dickinson, March 29, 1802; James McHenry to H, December 4, 1801; George W. P. Custis to H, December 5, 1801; Charles Cotesworth Pinckney to H, December 24, 1801; Rufus King to H, January 12, 1802.

Historians who have written about the Christian Constitutional Society, including Allan McLane Hamilton, Broadus Mitchell, and Douglass Adair and Marvin Harvey, agree that H’s plan was for the most part an extension of his earlier attempt to use religion as a political device to counteract what he considered revolutionary ideas and activities in the United States during the late seventeen-nineties (Hamilton, Intimate Life description begins Allan McLane Hamilton, The Intimate Life of Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1910). description ends , 334–35; Mitchell, Hamilton description begins Broadus Mitchell, Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1957–1962). description ends , II, 513–14; Adair and Harvey, “Was Alexander Hamilton a Christian Statesman?” The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., XII, no. 2 [April, 1955], 308–29). These historians have also tried to explain why in 1802 H proposed that religion be employed as a political weapon. Allan McLane Hamilton believes that H turned to religion because of his “fear for the future welfare of his country,” and Mitchell states that “Hamilton was returning to his early sacred beliefs, from which his attention had long been distracted by the public tasks he had in hand.” Adair and Harvey, who have devoted more attention to this problem than other scholars, conclude that H was motivated by a combination of his earlier political attitudes as well as by genuine religious beliefs which developed after his loss of power in the Federalist party and the death of his son Philip in 1801.

3On January 10, 1801, the [Philadelphia] Aurora. General Advertiser stated: “The extract from a speech delivered at a town meeting held at the State-House on the evening of Monday last, appears to be as correct as could be expected from the candor or capacity which guide the Philadelphia Gazette. It is, however, calculated to convey an idea very different from that of the speaker, who after adverting to the audacity and contempt of the public voice and disregard of the public security, with which the federalists threatened to carry their measures, expressed an apprehension that on the 4th of March next we might not have either Jefferson or Burr for President; but that the business might be (as had been threatened) settled at the point of the bayonet.

“He likewise said it would be improper to fix on a day of rejoicing, on account of the success of republican principles, when perhaps on that very day people from different parts of the United States may be marching to the city of Washington to hurl from his seat an Usurper. But he did not then assert that circumstance as an actual certainty, but as a possible contingency, arising out of the temper manifested, and the declarations made by persons hostile to the choice of the people.

“That there is a disposition to usurpation we have abundance of evidence, of past times and of present. At Washington city the most open declarations are made of such a design, even by members of Congress, who declare it to be their purpose that the Senate shall elect a President. Whether such declarations or such designs, are calculated to produce power, liberty, security and harmony—or to engender the horrors of civil war the people will determine. And the people are now timely called to a consideration of the design. And how far they are willing to permit or suffer it to be matured!

On February 12, 1801, an article in the [Georgetown] Washington Federalist stated: “But say the bold and impetuous partizans of Mr. Jefferson, and that too, in the Teeth of the assembled Congress of America—‘Dare to designate any other whatever, even temporarily, to administer the government in the event of a non-agreement on the part of the House of Representatives, and we will march and dethrone him as an usurper. Dare (in fact) to execute the right of opinion, and place in the presidential chair any other than the philosopher of Monticello, and ten thousand republican swords will instantly leap from their scabbards, in defence of the violated rights of the people!!!!’” See also the Washington Federalist, January 16, 26, 1801. For an assertion that the failure of the House of Representatives to elect Jefferson president would result in the dissolution of the Government and the destruction of the Constitution, see an article entitled “On the Election of President,” signed by “Aristides” in the National Intelligencer and Washington Advertiser, January 7, 1801.

On May 8, 1848, Albert Gallatin wrote to Henry A. Muhlenberg: “… it was threatened by some persons of the Federal party to provide by law that, if no election should take place, the executive power should be placed in the hands of some public officer. This was considered as a revolutionary act of usurpation, and would, I believe, have been put down by force if necessary.…

“I always thought that the threatened attempt to make a President by law was impracticable.… It was only intended to frighten us, but it produced an excitement out-of-doors in which some of our members participated. It was threatened that if any man should be thus appointed President by law and accept the office, he would instantaneously be put to death. It was rumored, and though I did not know it from my own knowledge I believe it was true, that a number of men from Maryland and Virginia, amounting, it was said, to fifteen hundred (a number undoubtedly greatly exaggerated), had determined to repair to Washington on the 4th of March for the purpose of putting to death the usurping pretended President.” (Henry Adams, The Life of Albert Gallatin [Philadelphia, 1879], 248–49.)

4This sentence and the one that follows it are omitted in JCHW description begins John C. Hamilton, ed., The Works of Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1851–1856). description ends , VI, 540–43, and HCLW description begins Henry Cabot Lodge, ed., The Works of Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1904). description ends , X, 432–37.

5“An Act to repeal certain acts respecting the organization of the Courts of the United States; and for other purposes” (2 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, II (Boston, 1850). description ends 132 [March 8, 1802]). See “Remarks on the Repeal of the Judiciary Act,” February 11, 1802, note 1.

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