Alexander Hamilton Papers
Documents filtered by: Author="Hamilton, Alexander" AND Period="Washington Presidency" AND Project="Hamilton Papers"
sorted by: author

An American No. I, [4 August 1792]

An American No. I1

[Philadelphia, August 4, 1792]

For the Gazette of the United States

Mr. Fenno2

It was easy to foresee, when the hint appeared in your Gazette of [25th July]3 that the Editor of the National Gazette4 received a salary from the General Government, advantage would be taken of its want of explicitness and particularity to make the circumstance matter of merit in Mr. Freneau and an argument of his independent disinterestedness. Such a turn of the thing cannot be permitted to succeed. It is now necessary that the whole truth should be told, and that the real state of the affair should be well understood.

Mr. Freneau before he came to this City to conduct the National Gazette was employed by Childs & Swaine5 Printers of the Dayly Advertiser in the City of New York in capacity of [editor or superintendant].6 A paper more devoted to the views of a certain party of which Mr. Jefferson is the head than any to be found in this City was wanted. Mr. Freneau was thought a fit instrument. His talents for invective and abuse had before been tried as Conductor of the Freemans Journal in this City.7 A negotiation was opened with him, which ended in the establishment of the National Gazette under his direction. There is good ground to believe that Mr. Madison while in New York in the summer of  8 was the medium of that Negotiation.

Mr. Freneau came here at once Editor of the National Gazette and Clerk for foreign languages in the department of Mr. Jefferson, Secretary of State; an experiment somewhat new in the history of political manœvres in this Country; a news paper instituted by a public officer, and the Editor of it regularly pensioned with the public money, in the disposal of that officer; an example savouring not a little of that spirit, which in the enumeration of European abuses is the continual theme of declamatory censure with the party whose leader is the author of it; an example which could not have been set by any other head of a department without having long since rung throughout the UStates.

Mr. Freneau is not then, as he would have supposed, the Independent Editor of a News Paper, who though receiving a salary from Government has firmness enough to expose its maladministration. He is the faithful and devoted servant of the head of a party, from whose hand he receives the boon. The whole complexion of his paper is an exact copy of the politics of his employer foreign and domestic, and exhibits a decisive internal evidence of the influence of that patronage under which he acts.

Whether the services rendered by him are an equivalent for the compensation he receives is best known to his employer and himself. There is however some room for doubt. Tis well known that his employer is himself well acquainted with the French language; the only one of which he is the translator; and it may be a question how often his aid is necessary.

It is somewhat singular too that a man acquainted with but one foreign language engaged in a particular trade, which it may be presumed occupies his whole time and attention, the Editor of a News Paper, should be the person selected as the Clerk for foreign languages, in the department of the United States for foreign affairs. Could no person have been found acquainted with more than one foreign language, and who, in so confidential a trust, could have been regularly attached to, in the constant employ of the department and immediately under the eye of the head of it?

But it may be asked—Is it possible that Mr. Jefferson, the head of a principal department of the Government can be the Patron of a Paper, the evident object of which is to decry the Government and its measures? If he disapproves of the Government itself and thinks it deserving of opposition, could he reconcile to his own personal dignity and the principles of probity to hold an office under it and employ the means of official influence in that opposition? If he disapproves of the leading measures, which have been adopted in the course of its administration, could he reconcile it with the principles of delicacy and propriety to continue to hold a place in that administration, and at the same time to be instrumental in vilifying measures which have been adopted by majorities of both branches of the Legislature and sanctionned by the Chief Magistrate of the Union?

These questions would certainly be natural. An answer to them might be left to the facts which establish the relation between the Secretary of State and the Editor of the National Gazette, as the text, and to the general tenor of that paper as the Commentary. Let any intelligent man read the paper, from the commencement of it, and let him determine for himself, whether it be not a paper virulently hostile both to the Government and to its measures. Let him then ask himself, whether considering the connection which has subsisted between the Secretary of State and the Editor of that Paper, cœval with its first establishment, it be probable that the complexion of the paper is contrary to the views of that officer.

If he wishes a confirmation of the inference, which he cannot fail to draw, as a probable one, let him be informed in addition—

1   That while the Constitution of the United States was depending before the People of this Country, for their consideration and decision, Mr. Jefferson, being in France, was opposed to it, in some of its most important feautures, and wrote his objections to some of his friends in Virginia. That he, at first, went so far as to discountenance its adoption; though he afterwards recommended it, on the ground of expediency, in certain contingencies.9

2   That he is the declared opponent of almost all the important measures which have been devised by the Government; more especially the provision which has been made for the public Debt, the institution of the Bank of the United States, and such other measures as relate to the Public Credit and the Finances of the UStates.

It is proper that these facts should be known. If the People of the UStates believe, that their happiness and their safety are connected with the existence and maintenance of an efficient National or Fœderal Government—if they continue to think that, which they have created and established, worthy of their confidence, if they are willing, that the powers they have granted to it should be exercised with sufficient latitude to attain the ends they had in view in granting them and to do the essential business of the Nation—If they feel an honest pride in seeing the Credit of their country, so lately prostrate, elevated to an equal station with that of any Nation upon earth—if they are conscious that their own importance is increased by the increased respectability of their Country, which from an abject and degraded state, owing to the want of government, has, by the establishment of a wise constitution and by the measures which have been pursued under it, become a theme for the praise and admiration of mankind—if they experience that their own situation is improved and improving—that commerce and navigation have advanced—that manufactures are progressing—that agrigulcure is thriving—that property is more secure than it was—industry more certain of real not nominal reward, personal liberty perfectly protected—that notwithstanding the unavoidable demands upon them to satisfy the justice retrieve the reputation and answer the exigencies of the Country they are either less burthened than they were or more equal to the burthen which they have to sustain—if these are their opinions and their experience, let them know and understand, that the sentiments of the officer who has been mentioned, both as to the principles and the practice of the Constitution, which was framed by them and has been administered by their representatives, freely chosen, are essentially different from theirs.

If on the contrary—The People of the United States are of opinion that they erred in adopting their present constitution—that it contains pernicious principles and dangerous powers—that is has been administered injudiciously and wickedly—that men whose abilities and patriotism were tried in the worst of times have entered into a league to betray and oppress them—that they are really oppressed and ruined or in imminent danger of being so—If they think the preservation of National Union a matter of no or small consequence—if they are willing to return to the situation, from which they have just escaped, and to strip the government of some of the most necessary powers with which they have cloathed it—if they are desirous that those which are permitted to remain should be frittered away by a narrow timid and feeble exercise of them—If they are disposed to see the National Government transformed into the skeleton of Power—and the separate omnipotence of the state Governments exalted upon its ruins—If they are persuaded that Nations are under no ties of moral obligation that public Credit is useless or something worse—that public debts may be paid or cancelled at pleasure; that when a provision is not likely to be made for them, the discontents to be expected from the omission may honestly be transferred from a Government able to vindicate its rights to the breasts of Individuals who may first be encouraged to become the Substitutes to the Original Creditor, and afterwards defrauded without danger.* If to National Union, national respectability Public Order and public Credit they are willing to substitute National disunion, National insignificance, Public disorder and discredit—then let them unite their acclamations and plaudits in favour of Mr. Jefferson: Let him be the toast of every political club, and the theme of every popular huzza. For to those points, without examining his motives do assuredly tend the political tenets, real or pretended, of that Gentleman.

These strictures are made from a Conviction, that it is important to the People to know the characters intrusted with their public affairs.

As Mr. Jefferson is emulous of being the head of a party, whose politics have constantly aimed at elevating State-power, upon the ruins of National Authority—Let him enjoy all the glory and all the advantage of it. But Let it at the same time be understood by those, who are persuaded that the real and permanent welfare of the Country is to be promoted by other means that such are the views by which he is actuated.

An American

ADf, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford; two copies, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; [Philadelphia] Gazette of the United States, August 4, 1792.

1This is the first of three articles by “An American.” The other two are dated August 11, 18, 1792.

2John Fenno, editor of the [Philadelphia] Gazette of the United States.

3Space left blank in MS. The date within brackets has been taken from the printed version of this letter in the Gazette of the United States. See “T. L. No. 1,” July 25, 1792.

4Philip Freneau, editor of the [Philadelphia] National Gazette. See H to Edward Carrington, May 26, 1792, note 8, and H to Rufus King, July 25, 1792, note 6.

5Francis Childs and John Swaine.

6Space left blank in MS. Material within brackets has been taken from the Gazette of the United States, August 4, 1792.

7This sentence was omitted in the version of this letter printed in the Gazette of the United States.

The first issue of The [Philadelphia] Freeman’s Journal: or the North-American Intelligencer, established by Francis Bailey, appeared on April 25, 1781. By the end of June, 1781, Freneau had become the editor of the newspaper, and he continued as editor until he became a clerk in the Postmaster General’s department in the fall of 1782. The Freeman’s Journal supported the Constitutionalist party in Pennsylvania, and, according to Lewis Leary, neither of the opposition newspapers “which attempted to maintain a judicious attitude in defense of the Dickinsonian group, were any match for the slander and abuse with which contributors to the Freeman’s Journal attacked them” (Lewis Leary, That Rascal Freneau [New York, 1924], 110).

8This space left blank in MS. The sentence was not used in the version in the Gazette of the United States. H is referring to the trip which Thomas Jefferson and James Madison made through New York and New England in the summer of 1791. See Robert Troup to H, June 15, 1791.

9For an extended discussion of this charge, see “Catullus No. II,” September 19, 1792, and “Catullus No. IV,” October 17, 1792.

10This charge is discussed at length in “Catullus No. V,” November 24, 1792, and “Catullus No. VI,” December 22, 1792.

In 1786 Etienne Clavière, on behalf of a group of Amsterdam bankers, made an offer to Charles-Alexandre de Calonne, the Comptroller General of France, to purchase the debt owed by the United States to France. Jefferson wrote to John Jay concerning the offer on September 26, 1786. The paragraph in Jefferson’s letter concerning the French debt was copied and referred by Congress to the Board of Treasury on February 2, 1787. The Board of Treasury’s report of February 19, 1787, reads as follows:

“The Board of Treasury to whom was referred an extract of a Letter from the honorable Mr. Jefferson Minister plenipotentiary to the Court of France, having reported,

“That the said Minister states, ‘That a proposition has been made to Monsieur de Calonne, Minister of the Finances of France, by a company of Dutch Merchants to purchase the debt due from the United States to the Crown of France; giving for the said debt, amounting to Twenty four million of Livres, the sum of Twenty million of Livres. That information of this proposition has been given to him by the Agent of the said Company, with the view of ascertaining whether the proposed Negotiation should be agreeable to Congress.’

“That the said Minister suggests ‘That if there is a danger of the public payments not being punctual, whether it might not be better that the discontents which would then arise should be transferred [from] a Court, of whose good will we have so much need, to the breasts of a private Company.’

“‘That the credit of the United States is sound in Holland; and that it would probably not be difficult to borrow in that Country, the whole sum of money due to the Court of France; and to discharge that debt without any deduction, thereby doing what would be grateful to the Court, and establishing with them confidence in our honor.

“On a mature consideration of the circumstances above mentioned, the Board beg leave to observe,

“That at the time the debt due from the United States to the Crown of France was contracted, it could not have been foreseen, that the different Members of the Union, would have hesitated to make effectual provision for the discharge of the same; since it had been contracted for the security of the Lives, Liberties and property of their several citizens, who had solemnly pledged themselves for its redemption; and that therefore the honor of the United States cannot be impeached for having authorized their Minister at the Court of France to enter into a formal Convention acknowledging the amount of the said debt, and stipulating for the reimbursement of the principal and interest due thereon.

“That should the United States at this period, give any sanction to the transfer of this debt, or attempt to make a Loan in Holland for the discharge of the same, the persons interested in the transfer or loan would have reason to presume that the United States in Congress would make effectual provision for the punctual payment of the principal and interest.

“That the prospect of such provision being made within a short period, is by no means flattering; and though the credit of the United States is still sound in Holland, from the exertions which have been made to discharge the interest due to the Subscribers to the Loans in that Country; yet in the opinion of this Board it would be unjust, as well as impolitic, to give any public sanction to the proposed negociation. Unjust, because the Nation would contract an engagement, without any well grounded expectation of discharging it with proper punctuality. Impolitic, because a failure in the payment of interest accruing from this negociation (which would inevitably happen) would justly blast all hopes of credit with the Citizens of the United Netherlands, when the exigencies of the Union might render new Loans indispensably necessary.

“The Board beg leave further to observe, that although a grateful sense of the services rendered by the Court of France would undoubtedly induce the United States in Congress to make every possible exertion for the reimbursement of the Monies advanced by his Most Christian Majesty; yet that they cannot presume, that it would tend to establish in the mind of the French Court, an idea of the National honor of this Country, to involve Individuals in a heavy Loan at a time when Congress were fully sensible, that their resources were altogether inadequate to discharge even the interest of the same; much less the installments of the principal which would from time to time become due. How far the idea of transferring the discontents which may prevail in the French Court, for want of the punctual payment of interest to the breasts of the private Citizens of Holland would be consistent with sound policy, the Board forbear to enlarge on.

“It may be proper however to observe that, the public integrity of a Nation, is the best shield of defence, against any calamities, to which in the course of human events, she may find herself exposed.

“This principle so far as it respects the conduct of the United States in contracting the Loans with France cannot be called in question. The reverse would be the case, should the sanction of the United States be given, either to the transfer of the French debt, or to the Negociation of a Loan in Holland for the purpose of discharging it.

“If it be further considered, that the consequences of a failure in the punctual payment of interest on the Monies borrowed by the United States, can by no means be so distressing to a Nation (and one powerful in resources) as it would be to Individuals, whose dependence for support is frequently on the interest of the Monies loaned, the Board presume that the proposed negociation cannot be considered at the present juncture in any point of view, either as eligible or proper. Under these circumstances they submit it as their Opinion,

“That it would be proper without delay to instruct the Minister of the United States at the Court of France not to give any sanction to any negociation which may be proposed for transferring the debt due from the United States, to any State or company of Individuals who may be disposed to purchase the same.” (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (Washington, 1904–1937). description ends , XXXIII, 589–93.) A copy of this report may be found in the Oliver Wolcott Papers, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford.

The full text of Jefferson’s letter to John Jay may be found in Boyd, Papers of Thomas Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd, ed., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Princeton, 1950– ). description ends , X, 405–06. For a defense of Jefferson and a charge that H unfairly and unscrupulously quoted Jefferson out of context, see Dumas Malone, Jefferson and the Rights of Man (Boston, 1951), 188–89, 470–71. For a defense of H’s charge, see Mitchell, Hamilton description begins Broadus Mitchell, Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1957–1962). description ends , II, 212–13.

Authorial notes

[The following note(s) appeared in the margins or otherwise outside the text flow in the original source, and have been moved here for purposes of the digital edition.]

* Such was the advice given by Mr. Jefferson, when Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of France, to Congress, respecting the debt due to France. The precise terms are not recollected but the substance may be depended upon. The poor Hollanders were to be the victims.10

Index Entries