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Speech at a Meeting of Federalists in Albany, [10 February 1804]

Speech at a Meeting of Federalists in Albany1

[Albany, February 10, 1804]

Reasons why it is desirable that Mr. Lansing rather than Col. Burr should succeed.

1. Col Burr has steadily pursued the ⟨track⟩2 of democratic policies. This he has done either from principle or from calculation. If the former he is not likely now to change his plan, when the fœderalists are prostrate and their enemies predominent. If the latter, he will certainly not at this time relinquish the ladder of his ambition and espouse the cause or views of the weaker party.

2   Though detested by some of the leading Clintonians,3 he is certainly not personally disagreeable to the great body of them, and it will be no difficult task for a man of talents intrigue and address possessing this chair of Government to rally the great body of them under his standard and thereby to consolidate for personal purposes the mass of Clintonians, his own adherents among the democrats and such fœderalists as from personal good will or interested motives may give him support.

3   The effect of his elevation will be to reunite under a more adroit able and daring chief the now scattered fragments of the democratic party and to reinforce it by a strong detachment from the fœderalists. For though virtuous fœderalists who from miscalculation may support him, would afterwards relinquish his standard a large number from various motives would continue attached to it.

4   A further effect of his elevation by the aid of fœderalists will be to present to the confidence of New England a man already the man of the democratic leaders of that Country, and towards whom the mass of the people have no weak predilection as their countryman, as the Grandson of President Edwards, and the son of President Burr.4 In vain will certain men resist this predilection when it can be said that he was chosen Governor of this state, in which he was best known principally or in a great degree by the aid of fœderalists.

5. This will give him fair play to disorganize New England if so disposed; a thing not very difficult when the strength of the democratic party in each of the N E states in considered and the natural tendency of our civil institutions is duly weighed.

6. The ill opinion of Jefferson and jealousy of the ambition of Virginia is no inconsiderable prop of good principles in that Country. But these causes are leading to an opinion that a dismemberment of the Union is expedient. It would probably suit Mr. Burrs views to promote this result to be the chief of the Northern portion—And placed at the head of the state of New York no man would be more likely to succeed.

7   If he be truly, as the fœderalists have believed, a man of irregular and insatiable ambition; if his plan has been to rise to power on the ladder of Jacobinic principles, it is natural to conclude that he will endeavor to fix himself in power by the same instrument, that he will not lean on a fallen ⟨and⟩ falling party, generally speaking of a character not to favour usurpation and the ascendancy of a despotic chief. Every day shews more and more the much to be regretted tendency of Governments intirely popular to dissolution and disorder. Is it rational to expect, that a man who had the sagacity to foresee this tendency, and whose temper would permit him to bottom his aggrandisement on popular prejudices and vices would desert this system at a time, when more than ever the state of things invites him to adhere to it?

8   If Lansing is Governor his personal character affords some security against pernicious extremes, and at the same time renders it morally certain, that the democratic party already much divided and weakened will moulder and break asunder more and more. This is certainly a state of things favorable to the future ascendancy of the wise and good. May it not lead to a recasting of parties by which the fœderalists will gain a great accession of force from former opponents? At any rate, is it not wiser in them to promote a course of things by which scism among the democrats will be fostered and increased, ⟨than one likely, upon a⟩ fair calculation to give them a chief better able than any they have yet had to unite and direct them and in a situation to infuse rottenness in the only part of our Country which still ⟨remains⟩ sound—the fœderal states of New England.5

AD, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress[@LOC].

1This speech concerns the New York gubernatorial election of 1804. In describing this document, John Church Hamilton wrote: “On the fifteenth of February, five days prior to the nomination of Burr in the city of New York, [John] Lansing[, Jr.] was nominated by a large vote of the Democratic members of the State legislature, as successor to Clinton; by whom he had recently been appointed Chancellor. What course the Federalists should pursue at this election, for though too weak to elect a member of their own party, it was in their power to decide the result, was the important question. Five days previous to Lansing’s nomination, a few leading Federalists held an informal conference at Albany to consider the expediency of nominating a Federal candidate; if deemed not expedient, whether, as a party, they ought to support either candidate of their opponents.

“Hamilton viewing it as a question far beyond the politics of New York, but as, in fact, a question of the preservation or dissolution of the Union, was present at this conference. He avoided taking any part in the conference until the moment when the interview was about to end. Then he arose and read a paper, which, in order to guard against any misconception, he had prepared, assigning the reasons for a preference of Lansing. That this preference was solely on public grounds is shown by the fact, that the personal ill feeling of Lansing towards him, seen in the Convention of New York, which adopted the Constitution, had manifested itself recently during an important trial.” (Hamilton, History description begins John C. Hamilton, Life of Alexander Hamilton, a History of the Republic of the United States of America (Boston, 1879). description ends , VII, 769–70.)

For lieutenant governor, the Republicans nominated John Broome. Broome, a New York City merchant, had been a member of the New York Committee of One Hundred in 1775, the Provincial Congress in New York City in 1776 and 1777, and the committee which drew up the New York Constitution of 1777. In 1804 he served in the state Senate.

Dissenting Republicans met in Albany on February 18 (“Nomination At a respectable Meeting of Republican Citizens,… on … the 18th day of February, 1804 …” [Broadside Collection, New York Public Library]) and in New York on February 20 (New-York Evening Post, February 21, 1804) and nominated Aaron Burr for governor. Oliver Phelps, a land speculator who at this time lived in Ontario County, was nominated for lieutenant governor.

For Lansing’s opposition to H in the New York Ratifying Convention, see PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , V, passim. For the “important trial” in the case of the People v Levi Weeks, 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 , I, 693–774.

2Words within broken brackets in this document have been taken from Hamilton, History description begins John C. Hamilton, Life of Alexander Hamilton, a History of the Republic of the United States of America (Boston, 1879). description ends , VII, 770–72.

3The conflict between the Clintonians and the Burrites began after George Clinton’s election as governor in 1801. Clinton’s supporters, including his nephew, DeWitt Clinton, and Ambrose Spencer, refused to give any appointments to Burr’s followers. During 1802 and 1803 both factions attacked each other in a series of political pamphlets. By 1804 Burr knew that he would not be renominated for the Vice Presidency. He hoped to win office in New York, but the Clinton-Livingston group controlled the state’s Republican party. For the standard accounts of the struggle between the Clintonians and the Burrites, see Dixon Ryan Fox, The Decline of Aristocracy in the Politics of New York (New York, 1919), 57–69; Jabez D. Hammond, The History of Political Parties in the State of New York from the Ratification of the Federal Constitution to December, 1840 (Albany, 1842), I, 164–209; Samuel H. Wandell and Meade Minnigerode, Aaron Burr (New York and London, 1927), I, 239–73.

DeWitt Clinton, a New York City lawyer, was a member of the New York Assembly in 1798 and the state Senate from 1798 to 1802. In 1802 he was elected to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of John Armstrong. In 1803 he resigned from the Senate to become mayor of New York City.

4Burr’s father, Aaron Burr, was the president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) from 1748 until his death in 1757, when Jonathan Edwards, the most renowned American clergyman of his day, succeeded him. Edwards was the father-in-law of Aaron Burr, Senior.

5On February 23, 1804, the New-York Evening Post printed a letter concerning H’s speech, dated “Albany, February 18.” This letter reads in part: “This celebrated speech, it is said, opens the eyes of the Republicans, to the falsity of those charges which declared that Col. Burr, was acting in concert with Gen. Hamilton. It is one of the most fortunate occurrences that could have taken place, to elevate Mr. Burr in the esteem of the republicans. On the other hand, Gen. Hamilton’s harrangue has soured his own party. The spirit of disappointed rivalship it bespeaks, is censured by all. It is generally presumed, that he has spoken without previous consultation, and that he rather over rates his controuling influence. The Clintonians are delighted. They laugh in their sleeves, pronounce the General’s opinion binding on his party, and boast of the federal interest as certainly with them.”

An editorial, which follows this letter, reads in part: “The above is given to our readers merely for the purpose of observing that, without departing from that neutrality which we yesterday recommended, the federalists in this city cannot be too much on their guard against the practices that, we are well assured, are at this time resorted to, for the purpose of dividing, weakening, and finally destroying them as a party.

“The following is all the foundation for the above letter. Some gentlemen in Albany one evening desired that there might be a few of the leading federalists collected for the purpose of interchanging sentiments on two questions: First, whether it would be expedient to set up a federal candidate at all; 2d, whether the federalists ought as a party to side with either of the candidates proposed by our political opponents? At this meeting, not a formal one, and at which no vote was taken nor designed to be taken, several gentlemen expressed their opinions on both questions. General Hamilton so far from taking a lead, did not offer his sentiments till just before it broke up, when he said that he could not think it adviseable for the federal party, as a party, to lend themselves to either, but to remain neuter between them; that every gentleman might be left to act for himself; that for his part, speaking as an individual, if it became necessary for him to act at all, he should vote for Mr. Lansing in preference to Mr. Burr. But it is not true that he made a formal speech of ‘two hours, inculcating the necessity and propriety of supporting Mr. Lansing in preference to Mr. Burr.’”

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