Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to Isaac Gouverneur, Junior, [March 1786]

To Isaac Gouverneur, Junior1

[New York, March, 1786]


Mr Bremar2 last evening delivered me your Letter inclosing a Copy of your Correspondence with Mr Lewis.3

In a personal Altercation between two Gentlemen where their passions have evidently become pritty warmly engaged, and for both whom I always had Esteem, I should not be willing to give my Opinion on the conduct of one of them, especially when the appeal was not made to me by both. On this head I shall only take the Liberty to say, that I would not advise publication which has always a disagreeable appearance, and seldom turns out to the Advantage of either party.

In another respect I feel myself painfully Situated. Having received favourable impressions of your Character, I am sorry to observe any thing to have come from you which I am oblige[d] to consider as exceptionable. Your Second Letter to Mr Lewis contains a general and of Course an unjustifiable Reflection on the profession to which I belong and of a Nature to put it out of my power to attempt to render you any service in the line of that profession. I readily believe you did not attend to the full force of the Expression, when you tell Mr Lewis “Attorney like” to make the most of his bill of Costs: but it contains in it an insinuation which cannot be pleasing to any man in the Profession and which must oblige anyone that has proper dilicacy to decline the business of one who professedly entertains such an Idea of the Conduct of his profession.

I make allowances for your feelings when you wrote that Letter, and am therefore reluctantly drawn into these Observations.4

I remain with Esteem   Sir   your Obedient sevt.

A Hamilton

Copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1James A. Hamilton gives the addressee of this letter as “Mr. Gouverneur” (Reminiscences, 6). Allan McLane Hamilton states that the addressee was Isaac Gouverneur, a New York City merchant (Hamilton, Intimate Life description begins Allan McLane Hamilton, The Intimate Life of Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1910). description ends , 169), and in the Lodge edition of Hamilton’s works the addressee is Nicholas Gouverneur, who was also a New York City merchant (HCLW description begins Henry Cabot Lodge, ed., The Works of Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1904). description ends , IX, 500). The New York Herald, which printed this letter on May 21, 1856, dates the letter “New York, 1796,” while James A. Hamilton and Lodge date it “1792.” Allan McLane Hamilton suggests that it was written during the protracted series of cases involving Louis Le Guen on the one hand and Isaac Gouverneur and Peter Kemble on the other.

This letter was actually written in reply to Isaac Gouverneur, Jr., to H, February 24, 1786, which is calendared in PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , III, 650. The full text of the calendared letter reads: “As I wish to have you my principal attorney for what I may have occasion to do in the law way—before I publish to the World the enclosed correspondence between Col. Lewis and myself, shoud be glad to submit it to your opinion as a Gentleman and a Man of honour: whether this treatment from that person ought to be consider’d otherways than extremely indecent and improper.

“I was this morning obliged to find Bail for Mr. Bremar, and have now to request you also take measures to set the Suit aside, for reasons that have already been assigned both to Col. Lewis & Mr. Curson.

“I woud waite on you in person, but am confined to my Room by ill health; that I have for some time been troubled with.” (ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.)

Gouverneur was the son of Samuel Gouverneur and was called junior to distinguish him from his uncle, Isaac Gouverneur.

Samuel Curson and Gouverneur were New York merchants and business partners. In July, 1785, H had served as their attorney in the New York Supreme Court in George Cherry v Samuel Curson and Isaac Gouverneur (defendant’s plea, July 21, 1785 [copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress]). See also PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , III, 63; “Bill of Costs, Curson & Gouverneur adsm Cherry,” December 29, 1785 (AD, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress).

By 1788 Gouverneur’s partnership with Curson had expired or dissolved, and Gouverneur became a partner with his older brother, Nicholas, and his brother-in-law, Peter Kemble, in the New York mercantile firm of Gouverneur and Kemble. For H’s role as attorney to Gouverneur and Kemble, see Goebel, Law Practice description begins Julius Goebel, Jr., and Joseph H. Smith, eds., The Law Practice of Alexander Hamilton: Documents and Commentary (New York and London, 1964– ). description ends , II, 48–164.

In addition, H helped Isaac Gouverneur obtain a divorce from his wife, Elizabeth, on the ground of adultery. For H’s role in this matter in the New York legislature in 1787, see PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , IV, 70–71. H also represented Gouverneur in the proceedings concerning the settlement of the divorce in the Court of Chancery. See Isaac Gouverneur [Junior] v Elizabeth Gouverneur (MS Minutes of the New York Court of Chancery, 1785–1789, under dates of January 18, 30, October 10, 1788 [Hall of Records, New York City]; Bill of Chancery, filed March 31, 1787, and decree, dated October 18, 1788, and enrolled May, 1789 [Historical Records Collection, on deposit at Queens College, City University of New York]).

2“Mr. Bremar” may have been John Bremar of Rensselaerwyck, Albany County, New York.

3Morgan Lewis was a New York City attorney.

On the MS “Mr Lewis” has been inked out at this point and twice in the following paragraph.

4The endorsement on this letter, much of which has been inked out, reads: “I am much gratified to learn the addressee of this letter. It is my opinion that no publication ought to be made of any of the correspondence referring to private differences and should this be given to the public, it ought to be done without the name of the person to whom it was addressed.


“Perhaps it would do best to publish this letter as it gives the opinion of the author on the question.”

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