Alexander Hamilton Papers

Catullus No. I, [15 September 1792]

Catullus No. I1

[Philadelphia, September 15, 1792]

To Aristides2

Though there would be no great hazard of mistake, in inferring the Writer of the Paper under the signature of Aristides, from “the appropriate and prominent features” which characterise the stile of that paper; yet I forbear to imitate the example which has been set with too little decorum, by naming or describing the supposed author. The similitude of stile or any other circumstance, merely probable, is too slight a foundation for so improper a procedure.

Peculiar circumstances, which it is not necessary to explain, uniting with the conjecture which is indulged, respecting the real Aristides, lead to a change of the original party to the charges. The discussion will be taken up and pursued by one, who is willing to be responsible for the allegations he shall make, and who consequently will not refuse to be known, on proper terms, to the Officer concerned. It is however not meant to invite inquiry on that head. It is most adviseable, that none should be made. For any public purpose, none will be requisite. For any personal one, none will be proper. What shall be said will merely apply to public conduct, and will be supported by proof and argument.

Why then (it may be asked) the intimation of a willingness to be known, if required? The answer is—Merely to put an end to the epithets “cowardly assassin” “striking in the dark” and other tropes and figures of a similar nature. Some rhetoric may be spoiled, but the elucidation of truth will be promoted.

It occurs at once, to an observant reader, that Aristides passes over in total silence, the leading article of charge brought by the “American” against Mr. Jefferson—namely that he is the Institutor and Patron of a certain Gazette, published in this City, the object and tendency of which are to vilify and depreciate the government of the United States—to misrepresent and traduce the administration of it, except in the single department, of which that Gentleman is the head; implicating in the most virulent censure the majorities of both houses of Congress, the heads both of the Treasury and War departments; and sparing not even the Chief Magistrate himself; that in the support of this paper, thus hostile to the government, in the administration of which he holds so important a trust, he has not scrupled to apply the money of that very government; departing by this conduct from the rules of official propriety and obligation, and from the duty of a discreet and patriotic citizen.

This is the leading and main charge which has been brought by the American against Mr. Jefferson, which he supports in several ways—

1st By direct proof of an official connection between the Secretary of State and the Editor of the National Gazette, coeval with, or rather antecedent to the first establishment of that paper.

2 By the suggestion of his being opposed to the present Government of the UStates, while it was under the consideration of the People.

3 By the suggestion of his being opposed to the principal measures, which have been adopted in the course of its administration, particularly those relating to the Finances.

The object of the above recapitulation is to shew the true original state of the question; in order that it may be seen how intirely Aristides, in his defence, loses sight of the principal point—and contents himself with an indirect endeavour to involve it in uncertainty, by disputing or denying some positions, which form only the collateral evidence.

It will now remain to see how the charges of the American have been and can be supported.

As to the connection between the Secretary of State and the Editor of the National Gazette, neither of the following facts can or will be disputed—If any of them should be denied it will be proved beyond the possibility of doubt—

1   That the Editor of the National Gazette is a Clerk in the department of State for foreign languages, and as such receives a salary of [two hundred and fifty]3 Dollars a year.

2   That he became so antecedent to the establishment of his Gazette; having actually received his salary from the 17th of August 1791 and not having published the first number of his paper till the [31st of October]4 following.

3   That at the time he became so, there was another character, a Clerk in the same department,5 who understood the French language; and that the Editor of the National Gazette is a translator of that language only.

4   That the appointment was not made under any special provision, marking out a particular clerkship of the kind, its duties or its emoluments; but under a general authority to appoint Clerks, and allow them salaries, not exceeding the average of 500 Dollars to each.

5   That the Editor of the National Gazette immediately preceding the establishment of that paper was the Superintendent or Conductor of a paper belonging to Childs and Swaine, printed at New York.6

These are the facts: The conclusion is irresistible. The secret intentions of men being in the repositories of their own breasts, it rarely happens and is therefore not to be expected, that direct and positive proof of them could be adduced. Presumptive facts and circumstances must afford the evidence; and when these are sufficiently strong, they ought to decide.

We find the head of a department taking the Editor of a Gazette into his employment, as a Clerk, with a stated salary—not for any special purpose, which could not have been accomplished otherwise; for he had, at the time, in his department, a Clerk who was capable of performing the very service required, and could without difficulty have procured others similarly qualified; nor from any particular necessity, arising from a too limited allowance, or any other cause; for he had it in his power to allow an adequate compensation to a character, who might have been regularly attached to the Department. The very existence of such a connection, then, is alone a sufficient foundation for believing, that the design of the arrangement was to secure an influence over the paper, the Editor of which was so employed. But the circumstances which attend it explain the nature of it beyond a doubt. That which has been just mentioned, namely there having been previously a clerk in the department qualified to render the service, is a weighty one. The coming of a new Printer, from another state to institute a new paper—his having been appointed a clerk in the department prior to his removal to this City—his having been compensated before he was even present, to satisfy the appearance of rendering service—these circumstances give a point and energy to the language of the transaction which render it unequivocal. There perhaps never was a more flimsey covering for the pensioning of a Printer. Some ostensible ground for giving him the public money was necessary to be contrived. The Clerkship of foreign languages was deemed a plausible pretext. But No man acquainted with human nature, or with the ordinary expedients of political intrigue, can be deceived by it.

The medium of negotiation between the Secretary of State and Mr. Freneau, in order to the institution of his Paper, is known. Documents are possessed, which ascertain the person. But they are at present witheld, from considerations of a particular nature. These are the more readily yielded to; because the facts, which have been stated, render it unnecessary to exhibit them.

Those facts prove to the satisfaction of every impartial mind, that Mr. Jefferson is the Institutor and Patron of the National Gazette.

As to the complexion and tendency of that Gazette, a reference to itself is sufficient. No man, who loves the Government or is a friend to the public tranquillity, but must reprobate it as an incendiary and pernicious publication, and condemn the auspices under which it is supported.

In another paper, the charges which have occasioned so much umbrage to Aristides, will be more correctly stated and enforced. The precise terms of the advice, which was given by Mr. Jefferson to Congress respecting the transfer of the French debt, to a company of Hollanders will be recited.7

This characteristic trait, in the political principles of that Gentleman, will be submitted to the honest feeling not only of the great body of the yeomanry, to whom such affected appeals are so often made, but of honest men of whatsoever class or condition.

ADf, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; [Philadelphia] Gazette of the United States, September 15, 1792.

1This essay is the first of a series. The other essays in the series are dated September 19, 29, October 17, November 24, December 22, 1792.

2“Catullus No. I” was written in reply to “Aristides,” whose first article, dated September 4, 1792, appeared in the Gazette of the United States on September 8, 1792. “Aristides” had written in reply to two articles by H, both of which are entitled “An American” and are dated August 4 and 11, 1792. The first article by “Aristides” reads as follows:

“In your Gazettes of the 4th and 11th of last month, there appeared two publications under the signature of ‘An American,’ replete with the most virulent abuse of Mr. Jefferson; and containing charges against him, founded in the basest calumny and falshood. The intemperance of this writer, and his utter disregard of truth and candor, will be readily perceived by an impartial public, when they refer to one of his concluding suggestions in the first publication, to wit—that Mr. Jefferson is the patron and promoter of national disunion, national insignificance, public disorder and discredit;—a suggestion, made on no better foundation, than his being opposed to some of the principles of the funding system, of the national bank, and of certain other measures of the Secretary of the Treasury; an offence, which, I fear, if criminal, will involve a great majority of the independent yeomanry of our country in equal guilt. How long Mr. Jefferson has been distinguished as the Cataline of the day, or as the ambitious incendiary, who would light a torch to the ruin of his country, may be matter of useful speculation; and whether he is now, for the first time, thus distinguished, because of the manly freedom with which he declares his abhorrence of some of the leading principles of Mr. Hamilton’s fiscal administration; or, that because of his known attachment to republicanism, he is feared, as the decided opponent of aristocracy, monarchy, hereditary succession, a titled order of nobility, and all the other mock-pageantry of kingly government, will be the subject of future enquiry; in which it will be considered, how far the distinguishing traits I have glanced at, form the appropriate and prominent features in the character of another political luminary, and of the measures of his administration. An enquiry like this may be useful, has been invited by the writer I refer to, and, as the invitation will not be refused, may, in the test of comparative merit, disclose facts and principles in relation to public men, which, however important for the public to know, are now concealed in the arcana of a certain convention, or remain involved in all the obscurity of political mystery and deception. At present my sole purpose is, by a reference to certain facts, of which I have been possessed by a gentleman in this city, to exonerate Mr. Jefferson from the two principal charges made against him, and, in so doing, to prove the malignity and falshood of them. The first charge is, ‘that Mr. Jefferson was opposed to the present constitution of the United States’ and the other is, ‘that Mr. Jefferson, when Minister to the Court of France, advised Congress to negociate a transfer of its debt due to the French nation to the hands of individuals in Holland, upon the idea, that if the United States should fail in making a provision for the debt, 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 creditors, and may afterwards be defrauded without danger.’

“In respect to the first charge, and any rational or candid inference to be derived from it, it surely could not mean that Mr. Jefferson was friendly to, and recommended the adoption of the Constitution; and yet, such is the plain and simple fact, which this writer for his own insidious purpose has tortured into an inference, that Mr. Jefferson was opposed to the constitution, and is yet an enemy to that, and to the American Union.

“Let those who regard the truth, recur to the Debates of the Virginia Convention, pages 100 and 101—where, in the speech of Mr. [Edmund] Pendleton, the President of that Convention, they will find the following sentiments:

“‘I was surprised when I heard introduced the opinion of a gentleman (Mr. Jefferson) whom I highly respect. I know the great abilities of that gentleman. Providence has, for the good of mankind, accompanied those abilities with a disposition to make use of them for the good of his fellow beings; and I wish, with all my heart, that he was here to assist us on this interesting occasion. As to his letter, impressed, as I am, with the force of his authority, I think it was improper to introduce it on this occasion. The opinion of a private individual, however enlightened, ought not to influence our decision. But admitting, that this opinion ought to be conclusive with us, it strikes me in a different manner from the honorable gentleman. I have seen the letter, in which this gentleman has written his opinion upon this subject. It appears that he is possessed of that Constitution, and has in his mind the idea of amending it. He has in his mind the very question of subsequent or previous amendments, which is now under consideration. His sentiments on this subject are as follow: “I wish with all my soul, that the nine first Conventions may accept the New Constitution, because it will secure to us the good it contains, which I think great and important. I wish the four latest, whichever they be, may refuse to accede to it, till amendments are secured.” He then enumerates the amendments, which he wishes to be secured, and adds “We must take care, however, that neither this, nor any other objection to the form, produce a schism in our Union. That would be an incurable evil; because friends falling out, never cordially re-unite.” Are these sentiments in favor of those who wish to prevent its adoption by previous amendment? He wishes the first nine States to adopt it. What are his reasons? Because it will secure to us the good it contains, which, he thinks, great and important; and he wishes the other four may refuse it, because he thinks it will tend to obtain necessary amendments. But he would not wish that a schism should take place in the Union, on any consideration. If then we are to be influenced by his opinion at all, we will ratify it, and secure thereby the good it contains.’

“The public will observe, that this part of Mr. Pendleton’s speech was made in reply to another member of that Convention, who then made the same attempt to pervert Mr. Jefferson’s sentiments, which the present writer has now done—and that the unexpected quotation of Mr. Jefferson’s letter, with the just and judicious comment upon it, made by Mr. Pendleton, arrested the influence of the poison, in that instance, as I trust it will now do, to the satisfaction of an enlightened and impartial public, to whom, without farther animadversion, it is submitted.

“In respect to the other charge of the advice given by Mr. Jefferson to the former Congress concerning the French debt, it is worthy remark, that the accuser skulks from the charge, when, in a note subjoined to his publication, he says ‘The precise terms are not now recollected, but the substance may be depended upon; the poor Hollanders were to be the victims.’ Thus stabbing the reputation of an old meritorious public servant, by an unwarrantable conclusion, whilst he disavows a recollection of the facts, on which alone the conclusion could be justified. But the pitiful evasion will not avail him; he has produced a solemn charge at the tribunal of the public—a charge, which, involving no small degree of moral turpitude, will render the accused, if guilty, unworthy the confidence of his fellow citizens. It is his duty, therefore, to substantiate his charge, not by vague and unfounded inference, but by an appeal to truth, a reference to plain and simple facts, and a recital of the precise terms of the advice given by Mr. Jefferson; without a knowledge of which, the public cannot be enabled to render a just or impartial judgment. If he fails in this, the public will regard him as a base and wicked calumniator. I have no hope, however, that he will ever attempt to bring forward the proofs of this charge—satisfied with the time, manner and effect of his calumny, he will now retreat behind an anonymous signature, and vent his slanders at the reputation of any other honest man he meets, like a cowardly assassin, who strikes in the dark, and securely wounds, because he is unseen.

I say, he will retreat, because he well knows, notwithstanding any affected ignorance on the subject, that by an appeal to facts, the truth will appear that Mr. Jefferson gave advice to Congress expressly contrary to that which he has ascribed to him. That this was the case, and that Mr. Jefferson even pointed out a mode by which the honor and credit of the United States might be preserved, can and will be proved to the public, if the present accuser shall dare to bring forward the proof in support of his charge.

“It has been said, Mr. Fenno, that a certain head of a department is the real author or instigator of this unprovoked and unmanly attack on Mr. Jefferson—and that the time of that gentleman’s departure from this city, on a visit to his home, was considered as best suited to answer the design it was intended to effect. Be that as it may, or whether the writer be of this or that state, or of this or that party, certain it is, that no man can envy the depravity of heart he possesses.


([Philadelphia] Gazette of the United States, September 8, 1792.)

3Space left blank in MS. Material within brackets has been taken from the Gazette of the United States

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

5H is presumably referring to George Taylor, Jr., who had been promoted to chief clerk in the Department of State in the spring of 1792. On August 18, 1792, a letter addressed “To the American,” and signed by “Fair Play,” was published in the Gazette of the United States; it reads as follows:

“Being in possession of two facts which are of a nature to throw full light upon the subject you have brought into public view, I think it due to truth and to the community, to make you acquainted with them in the only manner which situation permits. One is, that the Editor of the National Gazette has received a Salary, as Clerk in the Department of State, from the 17th August 1791, near two months and an half prior to the Commencement of his paper, and prior to the Commencement of his residence in this city.

“The other, that Mr. Taylor, who long before was, and still is a Clerk in the Department of State, an intelligent and respectable man, has a competent knowledge of the French Language,—the only one, of which Mr. Freneau is the Translator.” ([Philadelphia] Gazette of the United States, August 18, 1792.)

6Francis Childs and John Swaine were the publishers of The [New York] Daily Advertiser.

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