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From Alexander Hamilton to James A. Bayard, 6 April 1802

To James A. Bayard1

New-York April 6th. 1802.

Amidst the humiliating circumstances which attend our country, all the sound part of the community must find cause of triumph in the brilliant display of talents which have been employed though without success, in resisting the follies of an infatuated administration. And your personal friends will not have much reason for mortification on account of the part you have performed2 in the interesting scene. But my dear Sir we must not content ourselves with a temporary effort to oppose the approach of the evil. We must derive instruction from the experience before us; and learning to form a just estimate of the things to which we have been attached, there must be a systematic & persevering endeavour to establish the fortune of a great empire on foundations much firmer than have yet been devised. What will signify a vibration of power, if it cannot be used with confidence or energy, & must be again quickly restored to hands which will prostrate much faster than we shall be able to rear under so frail a system? Nothing will be done till the structure of our National Edifice shall be such as naturally to controul excentric passions & views, and to keep in check demagogues & knaves in the disguise of Patriots. Yet I fear a different reasoning will prevail, and an eagerness to recover lost power will betray us into expedients which will be injurious to the country, & disgraceful & ruinous to ourselves. What meant the apparition & the toast which made part of the afterpiece of the birth day festival?3 Is it possible that some new intrigue is about to link the Fœderalists with a man, who can never by anything else than the bane of a good cause? I dread more from this, than from all the contrivances of the bloated & senseless junta of Virginia. The Fœds. & Antifœds. of this state united in certain amendments to the constitution now before your house, having for objects, 1st to discriminate the candidates for the Presidency & Vice-Presidency, 2nd to have the electors of these officers chosen by the people in districts under the direction of Congress.4 Both these appear to me points of importance in true Fœderal calculation. Surely the scene of last session ought to teach us the intrinsic demerits of the existing plan. It proved to us, how possible it is for a man in whom no party has confidence, & who deserves the confidence of none, by mere intrigue & accident, to acquire the first place in the Government of our Nation; and it also proved to us how serious a danger of convulsion & disorder is incident to the plan. On this point things have come to my knowledge, improper for a letter, which would astonish you.5 Surely we ought by this time to have learnt, that whatever multiplied the opportunities & means of Cabal is more favorable to our adversaries than to us. They have certainly the advantage in the game, by greater zeal activity and subtlety, & especially by an abandonment of principle. On all these accounts it is our true policy to abridge the facilities to Cabal as Much as possible in all our public institutions & measures. As to the Second of the amendments, it has ever appeared to me as sound principle, to let the Fœderal Government rest as much as possible on the shoulders of the people, and as little as possible on those of the State Legislatures. The proposition accords with this principle & in my view it is further recommended by its tendency to exclude combination which I am persuaded in the general & permanent course of things will operate more against, than for us. Col: Burr without doubt will resist these amendments. And he may induce some of our friends to play into his hands. But this will be a very bad calculation even admitting the inadmissible idea, that he ought to be adopted as a Chief of the Fœderal Party. We never can have him fairly in our power, till we render his situation absolutely hopeless with his old friends. While the indiscriminate voting prevails he will find it his interest to play fast & lose and to keep himself in a state to be at the head of the Antifœderal Party. If these hopes are cut off, he will immediately set about forming a third party of which he will be the head, and then if we think it worth the while we can purchase him with his flying squadron. These observations are of course hypothetical. For to My Mind the elevation of Mr Burr by Fœderal Means to the Chief Magistracy of the U. States will be the worst kind of political suicide.6

Adieu my dear Sir   Yours very sincerely

A. Hamilton

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, 536, and HCLW description begins Henry Cabot Lodge, ed., The Works of Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1904). description ends , X, 429, the addressee of this letter is incorrectly given as Gouverneur Morris.

2On February 19 and 20, 1802, Bayard delivered a speech in the House of Representatives in defense of the Judiciary Act of 1801 (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, 1834–1849). description ends , XI, 602–50). John Adams thought Bayard’s argument was “the most comprehensive masterly and compleat … that has been published in either house” and that it “already had [had] more effect and influence upon the public mind than all other publications on the subject” (Adams to Bayard, April 10, 1802 [Donnan, “Papers of James A. Bayard,” description begins Elizabeth Donnan, ed., “Papers of James A. Bayard, 1796–1805,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1913 (Washington, 1915), II. description ends II, 152]).

5H is referring to his belief that some Federalist leaders were secretly negotiating with Aaron Burr on the assumption that he could and would lead the party to victory (H to Bayard, April 16–20, 1802). No evidence of such negotiations has been found.

6On April 9, 1802, Robert Troup wrote: “If Burr should be taken up by the federalists, and brought forward for any conspicuous office, Hamilton and many of us will secede from the federal party and remain passive spectators. We think there can be no coalition with him without a desecration of all that is virtuous and all that is honorable in character” (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, 102).

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