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To Alexander Hamilton from Theodore Sedgwick, 27 January 1803

From Theodore Sedgwick1

Stockbridge [Massachusetts] 27. Jany. 1803.2

Dear Sir,

This will be handed to you by a Mr. Thomas Fitch;3 and, at his desire, is addressed to his case. He wishes for the honor of being known to you, and he hopes for the aid of your patronage, in the persuit of some object, of which I have no distinct knowledge. He is of an obscure, tho’ respectable family in this neighbourhood. The President of the college where he was educated,4 a good & respectable man, has spoken to me of his talents and acquirements in terms above the degree which would be expressed by the epithet decent, and of his moral character as perfectly pure.

I regret, exceedingly, that I had not the pleasure to see you here the last autumn.5 There is not a man, on the earth, whose company would have given me more pleasure. Of this enough, because you know the fact to be so without my affirmation.

What think you of democracy? Will it not progress successfully until its evils are felt? For myself I have no doubt that it will. Even in this state great sacrafices are made to popular passions & prejudices, and they are deemed necessary to retain the powers of our government in federal hands. There is one consolation, under all the humiliation which we endure, from a sense of the degradation of our national character—this state of things cannot long exist. The disorganization which is the inevitable effect, of the enfeebling policy of democracy, will produce such intolerable evils as will necessarily destroy their cause. All that good & enlightened men can hope is to be in such a state, as that their talents and experience, at that period, may be applied to the public benefit. For that purpose, union of conduct & sympathy of sentiment ought now to be cultivated. It is of the utmost importance that the conduct of certain men should be constantly regulated by these important considerations. Hence it was that I was pleased with the idea, which you suggested, when I last had the pleasure of seeing you, of a confidential meeting,6 and I have very much regreted that it did not take place.

It is very important that the federalists should retain and acquire the possession of state governments wherever in their power. For this reason, and indeed for many other I am glad Mr King is about to return home.7 With wisdom and prudence I think it probable that he may be placed at the head of the government of New York. He may there do infinitely more good than in the inefficient office of Vice-president. General Pinckney8 must, in all events, be considered as our candidate for the first office. I have been inexpressibly disgusted with some of our friends who have suggested that we ought to consider him only as designed for the second.9 There is, however, another consideration on this subject which ought to be considered as conclusive—we shall most certainly not succeed at the next election; nor is it, in my mind, desirable that we should. Should Mr. King be holden up for this office it would lessen, at least, the probability of his success for the government of New York.

There seems to me an inexcusable indolence, or a want of ability among our friends at Washington. The public interest has been shamefully neglected, or profligately sacraficed, in the affair of Louisiana,10 the compromise with Georgia,11 and in the attempt made to break down our system of navigation.12 These subjects either are not understood, or there is a criminal inattention to them.

Next week I go to Boston, where I wish you would have the goodness to address a letter to me. Present my sincere regards to Mrs. Hamilton, & believe as I truly am your friend,

Theodore Sedgwick

Genl Hamilton.

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1Sedgwick, a Massachusetts lawyer and Federalist, was a member of the House of Representatives from 1789 to 1796 and from 1799 to 1801. He was a member of the United States Senate from 1796 to 1799. In 1802 Sedgwick was appointed for life to the Supreme Court of Massachusetts.

2In a list entitled “Letters from T. S. [Theodore Sedgwick] to Genl. A. Hamilton” (William Livingston Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston), this letter is dated January 27, 1801.

3Fitch, a native of Salisbury, Connecticut, and a grandson of Thomas Fitch, who served as governor of Connecticut from 1756 to 1766, was graduated in 1798 from Williams College, of which Sedgwick was a trustee. He became a merchant, first in Vermont and later in Schoharie County, New York, and Vernon, New York.

4The Reverend Ebenezer Fitch was graduated from Yale in 1777 and served as a tutor in religion at Yale from 1780 to 1783 and from 1786 to 1791. In 1791 he became preceptor of a new academy in Williamstown, Massachusetts, which was chartered as Williams College in June, 1793. Fitch was president of Williams from 1793 to 1815. Ebenezer Fitch was not related to Thomas Fitch.

8Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.

9Although most Federalist leaders had generally agreed that Pinckney and King should be the party’s candidates in 1804, they had given little thought to the question of which one should head the ticket. On November 12, 1802, William Vans Murray reported to King: “For some time the Feds. have talked of running you & Genl. Pinckney as P. & V. P. fairly & side by side” (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, 181). On December 12, 1802, Robert Troup wrote to King: “The project on foot here seems to be to run you at the next election for Vice-President or President—which of the two is not determined” (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, 193). On the other hand, on November 21, 1802, William Hindman, a Federalist Senator from Maryland, wrote to King: “… your Friends … are anxious that you should be the next President …” (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, 183).

10This is a reference to the Federalist position that Thomas Jefferson should have opposed by force the cession of Louisiana to France. See 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 , XII, 83–89, and “For the Evening Post,” February 8, 1803.

11On April 24, 1802, three commissioners representing the United States (Secretary of State James Madison, Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin, and Attorney General Levi Lincoln) and six commissioners from Georgia, all of whom were Republicans, signed an agreement entitled “The Articles of Agreement and Cession” (Carter, Territorial Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter, ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States (Washington, 1934–1952). description ends , V, 142–46). Under this agreement, which is often referred to as the Georgia Compact, Georgia ceded fifty-four million acres of land between the state’s western boundary and the Mississippi River. The land in question, which formed part of the Mississippi Territory that had been organized in 1798, had been claimed by both Georgia and the United States. As compensation for the land cession, the Federal Government paid the state one and one-half million dollars, promised to extinguish Indian titles to the land within Georgia, and agreed to reserve five million acres to satisfy unsettled claims within the ceded area. Most such claims grew out of land sales by the state to land companies under the terms of the Yazoo Act of 1795 (H to James Greenleaf, October 9, 1795, note 3).

Federalists objected to the agreement on the ground that it was too favorable to the state’s interests (New-York Evening Post, May 14, 18, 20, 22, 25, 26, 1802). On May 3, 1802, Federalists in the House of Representatives unsuccessfully attempted to prevent the cession from going into effect before the next session of Congress (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, 1295).

12This is a reference to the Federalist reaction to the failure of the Jefferson administration to act aggressively following the Spanish withdrawal of the right of deposit at New Orleans on October 18, 1802. See H to Pinckney, December 29, 1802, notes 6 and 7; Troup to King, January 8, 1803 (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, 203).

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