Alexander Hamilton Papers
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From Alexander Hamilton to Rufus King, 3 June 1802

To Rufus King

By duplicate

New York June 3. 1802

My Dear Sir

I have been long very delinquent towards you, as a correspondent, and am to thank you that you have not cast me off altogether as an irretrievable reprobate. But you knew how to appreciate the causes and you have made a construction equally just and indulgent.

In your last you ask my opinion about a matter delicate and important both in a public and in a personal view.1 I shall give it with the frankness to which you have a right, and I may add that the impressions of your other friends, so far as they have fallen under my observation do not differ from my own. While you were in the midst of a negotiation interesting to your country, it was your duty to keep your post. You have now accomplished the object2 and have the good fortune not very common of having the universal plaudit.3 This done, it seems to me most adviseable that you return home. There is little probability that your continuance in your present station will be productive of much positive good. Nor are circumstances such as to give reason to apprehend that the substitute for you, whoever he may be, can do much harm. Your stay or return therefore, as it regards our transatlantic concerns, is probably not material: While your presence at home may be useful in ways which it is not necessary to particularise. Besides, it is questionable whether you can continue longer in the service of the present adminis⟨tration⟩ consistently with what is due as well to your own character as to the common cause. I am far from thinking that a man is bound to quit a public office, merely because the administration of the Government may have changed hands. But when those who have come into power are undisguised persecutors of the party to which he has been attached and study with ostenstation to heap upon it every indignity and injury—he ought not in my opinion to permit himself to be made an except⟨ion⟩ or to lend his talents to the support of such characters. If in addition to this, it be true that the principles and plans of the men at the head of affairs tend to the degradation of the Government and to their own disgrace it will hardly be possible to be in any way connected with them without sharing in the disrepute which they may be destined to experience.

I wish I had time to give you a comprehensive & particular map of our political situation. But more than a rude outline is beyond my leisure, devoted as I am more than ever to my professional pursuits.4

You have seen the course of the Administration hitherto, especially during the last session of Congress; and I am persuaded you will agree in opinion with me that it could hardly have been more diligent in mischief. What you will ask, has been and is likely to be the effect on the public mind?

Our friends are sanguine that a great change for the better has been wrought and is progressive.5 I suppose good has been done— that the Fœderalists have been reconciled and cemented—have been awakened and alarmed. Perhaps too there may be some sensible and moderate men of the adverse party who are beginning to doubt. But I as yet discover no satisfactory symptoms of a revolution of opinion in the mass “informe in gens cui lumen ademptum.”6 Nor do I look with much expectation to any serious alteration until inconveniences are extensively felt or until time has produced a disposition to coquet it with new lovers. Vibrations of power, you are aware, are of the genius of our Government.

There is however a circumstance which may accelerate the fall of the present party. There is certainly a most serious seism between the chief and his heir apparent; a scism absolutely incurable, because founded in the breasts of both in the rivalship of an insatiable and unprincipled ambition. The effects are already apparent,7 and are ripening into a more bitter animosity between the partizans of the two men than ever existed between the Fœderalists and Antifœderalists.

Unluckily we are not as neutral to this quarrel as we ought to be. You saw how far our friends in Congress went in polluting themselves with the support of the second personage for the presidency.8 The Cabal did not terminate there. Several men, of no inconsiderable importance among us, like the enterprising and adventurous character of this man, and hope to soar with him to power. Many more through hatred to the Chief and through an impatience to recover the reins are linking themselves with the vice-Chief, almost without perceiving it and professing to have no other object than to make use of him; while he knows that he is making use of them. What this may end in, it is difficult to foresee.

Of one thing only I am sure, that in no event will I be directly or indirectly implicated in a responsibility for the elevation or support of either of two men, who in different senses, are in my eyes equally unworthy of the confidence of intelligent or honest men.

Truly, My dear Sir, the prospects of our Country are not brilliant. The mass is far from sound. At headquarters a most visionary theory presides. Depend upon it this is the fact to a great extreme. No army,9 no navy10 no active commerce11—national defence, not by arms but by embargoes,12 prohibition of trade &c.—as little government as possible within—these are the pernicious dreams which as far and as fast as possible will be attempted to be realized. Mr. Jefferson is distressed at the codfish having latterly emigrated to the Southern Coast lest the people there should be tempted to catch them, and commerce of which we have already too much receive an accession. Be assured this is no pleasantry, but a very sober anecdote.

Among Fœderalists old errors are not cured. They also continue to dream though not quite so preposterously as their opponents. “All will be very well (say they) when the power once more gets back into Fœderal hands. The people convinced by experience of their error will repose a permanent confidence in good men.” Rescum teneatis—Adieu.

Yrs. ever

A H

R King Esq

P.S. The bearer our acquaintance Wm Bayard13 continues worthy of high esteem & regard.

A H

ALS, New-York Historical Society, New York City.

2The Convention Regarding Articles 6 and 7 of the Jay Treaty and Article 4 of the Definitive Treaty of Peace was signed by Rufus King and Robert Banks Jenkinson, Lord Hawkesbury, at London on January 8, 1802 (Miller, Treaties, II description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America (Washington, 1931), II. description ends , 488–91). For the documents on King’s negotiations with the British government, see ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, II, 382–428.

3The Senate ratified the Convention with Great Britain by a vote of nineteen to two on April 26, 1802 (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 421–22). On May 3, 1802, Congress passed “An Act making an appropriation for carrying into effect the Convention between the United States of America and His Britannic Majesty” (2 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, II (Boston, 1850). description ends 192), which appropriated $2,664,000 to carry out the provisions of the Convention.

4On June 6, 1802, Robert Troup wrote: “The fatigue occasioned by the constant sitting of our courts exhausted us all very much. I find that Hamilton’s health, notwithstanding the quickness and enormous strength of his mind, is impairing, as well as mine. This man’s mind, by the by, seems to be progressing to greater and greater maturity; such is the common opinion of our bar; and I may say with truth that his powers are enormous! and the only chance we have of success is now and then when he happens to be on the weaker side: and yet he is always complaining that he does not get his fair share of judgments and decrees!” (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 , IV, 135).

5On May 11, 1802, George Cabot wrote: “From Maryland to New Hampshire inclusively the career of Jacobinism is arrested & in most places the tide of opinion sets the other way” (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 , IV, 125). On April 16, 1802, Fisher Ames wrote to Thomas Dwight: “The only chance of safety lies in the revival of the energy of the federalists, who alone will or can preserve liberty, property or Constitution. This revival is most encouragingly indicated by the late election. It is a victory which we ought to reap the fruits of” (Seth Ames, ed., Works of Fisher Ames With a Selection From His Speeches and Correspondence [Reprinted: New York, 1971], I, 298). See also Gouverneur Morris to H, March 11, 1802; Charles Cotesworth Pinckney to H, May 3, 1802.

6H is quoting from Vergil’s Aeneid, Third Book, line 659. The entire quotation reads: “Monstrum horrendum informe ingens cui lumen ademptum,” which can be translated “a dreadful monster, shapeless, huge, blind.” It is part of a description of the Cyclops Polyphemus after Ulysses had put out its eye.

Although Henry Adams states that H on one occasion at a New York dinner said: “Your people, sir,—your people is a great beast” (History of the United States of America During the First Administration of Thomas Jefferson [New York, 1889], I, 85), he does not give any source, and no such quotation has been found in H’s surviving papers. The closest H came to such sentiments in his extant writings is the quotation from the Aeneid in the letter to Rufus King printed above.

7By June, 1802, news of the break between Jefferson and Burr was common knowledge, and members of both parties could point to several specific incidents of conflict between the two men. First, since becoming Vice President, Burr seemed to have gone out of his way to seek and gain the support of the Federalist party (H to Morris, March 4, 1802; James A. Bayard to H, April 12, 1802). Second, on January 26, 1802, during the debate in the Senate on the bill to repeal the Judiciary Act of 1801, Burr broke a tie by voting in favor of a Federalist motion to recommit the bill to a select committee (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and all the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1852). description ends , XI, 148–50). Third, after Jefferson took office, he refused to comply with Burr’s proposals and requests concerning Republican patronage in New York State (see, for example, Burr to Albert Gallatin, June 28, 1801, March 25, 1802 [ALS, New-York Historical Society, New York City]; Gallatin to Jefferson, September 12, 1801 [ALS, Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress]; Jefferson to Gallatin, September 18, 1801 [ALS, letterpress copy, Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress]; Jefferson to Burr, November 18, 1801 [ALS, letterpress copy, Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress]). Finally, James Cheetham, Republican editor of the [New York] American Citizen and General Advertiser, began a vituperative and sustained attack against Burr in December, 1801 (“Some account of the plans and views of aggrandisement of a faction in the City of New York, Respectfully Submitted to the Consideration of the President of the United States” [ADS, Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress], enclosed in Cheetham to Jefferson, December 10, 1801 [AL, Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress]; Cheetham to Jefferson, December 29, 1801 [ALS, Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress]; American Citizen and General Advertiser, May 26, 1802; Cheetham, A Narrative of the Suppression by Col. Burr of the History of the Administration of John Adams [New York: Printed by Denniston and Cheetham, 1802]; Cheetham, A View of the Political Conduct of Aaron Burr, Esq. VicePresident of the United States [New York: Printed by Denniston and Cheetham, 1802]).

9At the time Jefferson became President the United States Army consisted of the general staff, four regiments of infantry, two regiments of artillerists and engineers, and two troops of light dragoons, all of which totaled 4,436 men (Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, From Its Organization, September 29, 1789, to March 2, 1903 [Washington, 1903], II, 568). See also “An Act supplementary to the act to suspend part of an act, intituled ‘An act to augment the Army 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 85–86 [May 14, 1800]). In his first annual message to Congress on December 8, 1801, Jefferson stated: “A statement has been formed by the Secretary of War, on mature consideration, of all the posts and stations where garrisons will be expedient, and of the number of men requisite for each garrison. The whole amount is considerably short of the present Military Establishment.… the only force which can be ready at every point, and competent to oppose them, is the body of neighboring citizens, as formed into a militia” (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and all the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1852). description ends , XI, 14). On March 16, 1802, Congress passed “An Act fixing the military peace establishment of the United States” (2 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, II (Boston, 1850). description ends 132–37), which provided for an army composed of one regiment of artillerists, two regiments of infantry, and a corps of engineers, not to exceed twenty men including officers, and fixed the number of officers and men in the Army at 3,287 (Heitman, United States Army, II, 569).

10On February 16, 1802, Jefferson sent to Congress a “roll of persons having employment under the United States,” which contains a list of three hundred and nineteen naval offices that he had abolished (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Miscellaneous, I, 260–319). These cutbacks were reflected in the appropriation which Congress made for the Navy for the year 1802, amounting to nine hundred thousand dollars, or less than one-third of the amount appropriated for the Navy for 1801. See “An Act making appropriations for the Navy of the United States, for the year one thousand eight hundred and one” (2 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, II (Boston, 1850). description ends 122 [March 3, 1801]); “An Act making an appropriation for the support of the Navy of the United States, for the year one thousand eight hundred and two” (2 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, II (Boston, 1850). description ends 178–79 [May 1, 1802]).

11The value of United States exports had declined from $94,115,925 in 1801 to $72,483,160 in 1802. The value of imports had declined from $111,363,511 in 1801 to $76,330,000 in 1802. By 1805, however, the value of both exports and imports exceeded that of any single year when the Federalists were in office (Timothy Pitkin, A Statistical View of the Commerce of the United States of America … [New Haven: Durrie & Peck, 1835], 51, 259; Emory R. Johnson, et al., History of Domestic and Foreign Commerce of the United States [Washington, 1915], II, 20).

12For Jefferson’s earlier views on embargoes, see his report on “The Privileges and Restrictions on the Commerce of the United States …,” which he presented to the House of Representatives on December 16, 1793 (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, I, 300–04).

13Bayard, a New York City merchant, was a member of the firm of Herman LeRoy, Bayard, and James McEvers, which represented the Holland Land Company in the United States.

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