Alexander Hamilton Papers

Alexander Hamilton’s Notes, [18 June 1787]

Alexander Hamilton’s Notes

I Importance of the occasion
II Solid plan without regard to temporary opinion.
III If an ineffectual plan be again proposed it will beget despair & no government will grow out of consent
IV There seem to be but three lines of conduct
I A league offensive and defensive, treaty of commerce, & apportionment of the public debt.
II An amendment of the present confederation by adding such powers as the public mind seems nearest being matured to grant.
III The forming a new government to pervade the whole with decisive powers in short with complete sovereignty.
B Last seems to be the prevailing sentiment—
I   Its practicability to be examined—
Immense extent unfavourable to representation—
Vast expence—
double setts of officers—
Difficulty of judging of local circumstances—
Distance has a physical effect upon mens minds—
Difficulty of drawing proper characters from home—
Execution of laws feeble at a distance from government—
particularly in the collection of revenue—
SENTIMENT of Obedience
11 Objections to the present confederation
I Entrusts the great interests of the nation to hands incapable of managing them—
All matters in which foreigners are concerned—
The care of the public peace: DEBTS
Power of treaty without power of execution
Common defence without power to raise troops—have a fleet—raise money
Power to contract debts without the power to pay—
These great interests of the state must be well managed or the public prosperity must be the victim—
LEGISLATES upon communities—
Where the legislatures are to act,
they will deliberate— { TO ASK MONEY
not to collect
No sanction— & by an unjust
C Amendment of CONFEDERATION according to present Ideas
1—Difficult because not agreed upon any thing
To ascertain practicability of this let us examine the principles of civil obedience—2
I INTEREST to Support it
II OPINION of Utility & necessity
III HABITUAL sense of obligation
C Particular & general interests
Esprit de Corps—
Vox populi vox Dei
II Opinion of Utility & necessity
1—First will decrease with the growth of the states.
III Necessity
This does not apply to Fœderal Government—
This may dissolve & yet the order of the community continue—
Anarchy not a necessary consequence
IV HABITUAL SENSE of obligation
This results from administration of private justice—
DEMAND of service or money odious.
V FORCE of two kinds.
COERTION of laws COERTION of arms.
First does not exist—& the last useless
Attempt to use it a war between the states—
DELINQUENCY not confined to one.
1 from municipal Jurisdiction
2 appointment of Officers3
4 Military Jurisdiction
5 FISCAL Jurisdiction
D All these4 now reside in particular states Their governments are the chief sources of honor and emolument.


To effect any thing PASSIONS must be turned towa⟨rd⟩ general government?
PRESENT Confederation cannot be amended unless the most important powers be given to Congress constituted as they are—
This would be liable to all objections against any form of general government with the addition of the want of Checks
E PERPETUAL EFFORT in each member
Influence of Individuals in office employed to excite jealousy & clamour
EXPERIENCE corresponds
Grecian Republics
Demosthenes says5
Athens 73 years
Lacedaemon 27
Thebans after battle of Leuctra

PHOCIANS consecrated ground
charlemagne & his successors
DIET Recesses—
ELECTORS now 7 excluding other
Two diets—
opposite alliances
To strengthen the Foerderal government powers too great must be given to a single branch!
H Leag[u]e Offensive & Defensive &c
particular Govs. might exert themselves in &c
But liable to usual VICISSI [tudes]—
PROXIMITY of situation—natural enemies—
Partial confederacies from unequal extent
Power inspires ambition—
Weakness begets jealousy

Western territory

Obj: Genius of republics pacific—

Answer—Jealousy of commerce as well as jealousy of power begets war—
Sparta Athens Thebes Rome
Carthage Venice Hanseatic League8
ENGLAND as many
Popular as Royal Wars
Lewis the 14th—AUSTRIA BOURBON9
William & Anne—

Wars depend on triffling circumstances every where—
Dutchess of Malboroughs Glov[es]10

Distractions set afloat Vicious humours12
STANDING armies by dissensions
Monarchy in Southern States—

Foederal Rights Fisheries
Wars destructive
I Loss of advantages
—Foreign nations would not respect our rights nor grant us reciprocity—
Would reduce us to a PASSIVE COMMERCE
Fisheries Navigation of the lakes, of the MISSISSIPPI


The general government must, in this case, not only have a strong soul, but strong organs by which that soul is to operate.

Here I shall give my sentiments of the best form of government—not as a thing attainable by us, but as a model which we ought to approach as near as possible.

British constitution best form.


Society naturally divides itself into two political divisions—the few and the many, who have distinct interests.

If government in the hands of the few, they will tyrannize over the many.

If (in) the hands of the many, they will tyrannize over the few. It ought to be in the hands of both; and they should be separated.

This separation must be permanent.

Representation alone will not do.

Demagogues will generally prevail.

And if separated, they will need a mutual check.

This check is a monarch.

Each principle ought to exist in full force, or it will not answer its end.

The democracy must be derived immediately from the people.

The aristocracy ought to be entirely separated; their power should be permanent, and they should have the caritas liberorum.

They should be so circumstanced that they can have no interest in a change—as to have an effectual weight in the constitution.

Their duration should be the earnest of wisdom and stability.

’Tis essential there should be a permanent will in a community.

Vox populi, vox Dei.

Source of government—the unreasonableness of the people—separate interests—debtors and creditors, &c.

There ought to be a principle in government capable of resisting the popular current.

No periodical duration will come up to this.

This will always imply hopes and fears.

Creature and Creator.

Popular assemblies governed by a few individuals.

These individuals seeing their dissolution approach, will sacrifice.

The principle of representation will influence.

The most popular branch will acquire an influence over the other.

The other may check in ordinary cases, in which there is no strong public passion; but it will not in cases where there is—the cases in which such a principle is most necessary.

Suppose duration seven years, and rotation.

One-seventh will have only one year to serve.

One-seventh——two years.

One-seventh——three years.

One-seventh——four years.

A majority will look to a dissolution in four years by instalments.

The monarch must have proportional strength. He ought to be hereditary, and to have so much power, that it will not be his interest to risk much to acquire more.

The advantage of a monarch is this—he is above corruption—he must always intend, in respect to foreign nations, the true interest and glory of the people.

Republics liable to foreign corruption and intrigue—Holland—Athens.

Effect of the British government.

A vigorous execution of the laws—and a vigorous defence of the people, will result.

Better chance for a good administration.

It is said a republican government does not admit a vigorous execution.

It is therefore bad; for the goodness of a government consists in a vigorous execution.

The principle chiefly intended to be established is this—that there must be a permanent will.

Gentlemen say we need to be rescued from the democracy. But what the means proposed?

A democratic assembly is to be checked by a democratic senate, and both these by a democratic chief magistrate.

The end will not be answered—the means will not be equal to the object.

It will, therefore, be feeble and inefficient.


I. Impossible to secure the union by any modification of fœderal government.

II. League, offensive and defensive, full of certain evils and greater dangers.

III. General government, very difficult, if not impracticable, liable to various objections.

What is to be done?

Answer. Balance inconveniences and dangers, and choose that which seems to have the fewest objections.

Expence admits of this answer. The expense of the state governments will be proportionably diminished.

Interference of officers not so great, because the objects of the general government and the particular ones will not be the same—Finance—Administration of private justice. Energy will not be wanting in essential points, because the administration of private justice will be carried home to men’s doors by the particular governments.

And the revenues may be collected from imposts, excises, &c. If necessary to go further, the general government may make use of the particular governments.

The attendance of members near the seat of government may be had in the lower branch.

And the upper branch may be so constructed as to induce the attendance of members from any part.

But this proves that the government must be so constituted as to offer strong motives.

In short, to interest all the passions of individuals.

And turn them into that channel.

AD, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1The portion of H’s notes beginning with “Objections to the present confederation” and ending with “No Sanction” have no counterpart in the versions of the speech made by Madison, Yates, Lansing, and King.

2At this point H wrote and crossed out the following heading: “I. Maxim Particular Interests General Int. Esprit de Corps.”

3At this point H wrote and crossed out “3. Fiscal Jurisdiction.”

4At this point H wrote and crossed out the word “powers.”

5The example from Demosthenes was probably the same used later in essay 18 of The Federalist. In describing the weakness of the confederacies of antiquity, Athens was used as an example: “Athens, as we learn from Demosthenes, was the arbiter of Greece 73 years. The Lacedemonians next governed it 29 years; at a subsequent period, after the battle of Leuctra, the Thebans had their turn of domination.”

6Examples of “Phocian” and “Philip” were developed more fully in essay 18 of The Federalist. In that essay the following example was given of the lessons to be learned from a study of ancient confederacies:

“As a weak government, when not at war, is ever agitated by internal dissentions; so these never fail to bring on fresh calamities from abroad. The Phocians having ploughed up some consecrated ground belonging to the temple of Apollo, the Amphyctionic Council, according to the superstition of the age, imposed a fine on the sacrilegious offenders. The Phocians, being abetted by Athens and Sparta, refused to submit to the decree. The Thebans, with others of the cities, undertook to maintain the authority of the Amphyctions, and to avenge the violated God. The latter being the weaker party, invited the assistance of Philip of Macedon, who had secretly fostered the contest. Philip gladly seized the opportunity of executing the designs he had long planned against the liberties of Greece.”

7H’s remarks on “Two diets” probably can be reconstructed by remarks on the Swiss Cantons in essay 19 of The Federalist: “The Protestant and Catholic Cantons have since had their separate diets; where all the most important concerns are adjusted, and which have left the general diet little other business than to take care of the common bailages.” His remarks on “opposite alliances Berne Lucerne” probably were similar to the following passage from the same number of The Federalist: “That separation had another consequence which merits attention. It produced opposite alliances with foreign powers; of Berne at the head of the Protestant association, with the United Provinces; and of Luzerne, as the head of the Catholic association, with France.”

8The examples given by H were explained in essay 6 of The Federalist, written a year later:

“Have there not been as many wars founded upon commercial motives, since that has become the prevailing system of nations, as were before occasioned by the cupidity of territory or dominion?

“Sparta, Athens, Rome, and Carthage, were all Republics; two of them, Athens and Carthage of the commercial kind. Yet were they as often engaged in wars, offensive and defensive, as the neighbouring Monarchies of the same times. Sparta was little better than a well regulated camp; and Rome was never sated of carnage and conquest.

“Carthage, though a commercial Republic, was the aggressor in the very war that ended in her destruction.”

9The references to “Lewis the 14th” and to “AUSTRIA BOURBON,” were explained by H when he treated the same subject in essay 6 of The Federalist:

“The Provinces of Holland … took a leading and conspicuous part in the wars of Europe. They had furious contests with England for the dominion of the sea; and were among the most persevering and most implacable of the opponents of Lewis XIV.…

“The cries of the nation [of England] and the importunities of their representatives have, upon various occasions, dragged their monarchs into war, or continued them in it contrary to their inclinations, and, sometimes, contrary to the real interests of the State. In that memorable struggle for superiority, between the rival houses of Austria and Bourbon which so long kept Europe in a flame, it is well known that the antipathies of the English against the French … protracted the war beyond the limits marked out by sound policy, and for a considerable time in opposition to the views of the Court.”

10H is referring to an incident which took place between Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough, and Queen Anne of England over a pair of gloves. There are at least two versions of this incident. In one the Duchess refused to surrender a pair of gloves when asked for them by the Queen. In the other, the Duchess, upon being asked by Abigail Hill Masham, a woman of the Bedchamber, for a pair of the Queen’s gloves, which the Duchess had inadvertently put on, said: “Ah! have I on anything that has touched the odious hands of that disagreeable woman?” (Mrs. Arthur Colville, Duchess Sarah [New York, 1904], 214–15). This remark was supposed to have been overheard by Queen Anne and to have been one of the many incidents that led to the rupture between the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and the Queen. Voltaire states that Queen Anne’s desire to complete the break led to the Peace of Utrecht and the end of Marlborough’s power in England (Jean François Marie Arouet de Voltaire, The Age of Louts XIV, 237–41).

11H’s use of Poland as an example in his argument can be conjectured by the similar use made of it in essay 19 of The Federalist. In that essay H discussed the perils of a weak government and described Poland “as a government over local sovereigns.… Equally unfit for self-government, and self defence.” That nation had, it was stated, “long been at the mercy of its powerful neighbours; who have lately had the mercy to disburden it of one third of its people and territories.”

12At this point H wrote and then crossed out: “Hats Caps.”

13H’s MS notes end with the word “Fleet.” The remaining notes, published below, are taken from Hamilton, Life description begins John C. Hamilton, The Life of Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1840). description ends , II, 486–89.

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