Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from David Ross, 25 April 1793

From David Ross1

Baltimore April 25. 1793

Dear Sir

As it is probable the enclosed2 might not have come to your knowledge from its contracted circulation I have sent it and you will see my reply to it in the Baltimore Journal of Monday next.3 Co Mercer has lodged the communications, with Mr. Angell4 except your last. Mr Angell does not mean to publish them unless he shall give more explicit directions than are contained in his of the 18th of April. Co Mercer will I expect be sufficiently known to prevent the necessity of any thing personal between you. I have not let any one see or know of yours & Co Mercers last5 nor shall I without your permission.

Yours in haste

David Ross

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

2The enclosure to which Ross is referring is a statement by Mercer published in The [Annapolis] Maryland Gazette, April 18, 1793. It reads as follows:

“Major Ross, restless to display the splendour of his literary accomplishments beyond the limits of Maryland, has pursued me to my farm in a retired part of Virginia, with more of his works, republished from the Baltimore paper, in one of the Gazettes of that state. No jaded horse ever returned to a beaten track and endless journey, with more reluctance than I do, to this tiresome man and exhausted controversy.

“A sound heart is seldom united with an unsound mind—and the perversion of the understanding almost invariably deranges the morality of a man; hence it is that we frequently observe the folly of a weak and vain head blended with the apparent malice and low cunning of a very wicked heart—where this compound exists, it is to be cautiously guarded against—it operates like a masked battery—it is dangerous because it is unsuspected.

“Major Ross accuses me of a design to mislead the public, by some inference that may be drawn from my last publication in Mr. [James] Angell’s paper. When every document relative to the transaction had been previously deposited with the Printer, who could have supposed that I meant to create an impression not warranted by those papers, and thus to expose myself to the contempt of every ingenuous mind that should make the examination? He did not surely see in my publication a mirror that reflected back so disordered a mind and half witted a policy! …

“But major Ross’s publication alone would not have dragged me again into the news-papers, had I not both written and published that matter of opinion only, and not matter of fact, were now at issue between Mr. Hamilton and myself, posterior to which I have received a letter from that gentleman, wherein he asserts, that there has been a general denial of the facts that are the basis of the exceptionable suggestions on my part, and that there is not one of them that is not wholly or substantially unfounded. I had before declared, that I would enter into no farther epistolary explanation with him, as I considered the question as to facts to have ceased. But it is now necessary that this matter should be so far understood at least, that if there has been a departure from veracity, the public, to whom the assertion has been thus committed, may be enabled to decide with whom and on whom that departure rests. If there has been any such general denial before, it has escaped me—but a general denial is always admitted to be no answer to a specific charge—the papers must speak for themselves—but as they cannot well be all now published, or taken in one view, I shall offer a brief recapitulation of the different points that have occurred in this controversy, the whole of which I pledge myself will be found to be unequivocally established by the testimony lodged with Mr. Angell, in Baltimore. The original foundation of Mr. Hamilton’s first letter to me, and that to major Ross, which was published in hand bills during my election, was grounded solely, as it will appear, on this single fact, ‘That I had accused Mr. Hamilton, ⟨to the citizens of⟩ this district, of buying and selling stock on his private account.’ This assertion, resting altogether on the veracity or comprehension of major Ross, which thus became the basis of so exceptionable a procedure, was fully and unequivocally disproved by the certificates of six as respectable characters as any in the union, both with regard to my public address at the time and place specified, as well as my private and confidential communications—they were Mr. [David] Craufurd, Mr. [Walter] Bowie and Mr. [Clement] Hill, as to my public address; Mr. [William] Paca and the two Mr. Chases [Jeremiah and Samuel] as to my private conversation—and as far as I can recollect, not one of the numerous certificates procured by major Ross from the most virulent of my opponents, furnishes the slightest evidence of the fact which he had asserted, and which, as it was the ground-work of the procedure he was called on to authenticate in the most peculiar and pressing manner, could it have been effected with the least regard to truth—but on the contrary, they entirely corroborate the certificates of the gentlemen above named as to that fact—and the whole district at this day know that this assertion of major Ross was entirely without foundation.

“In reply then to Mr. Hamilton’s letter, used as it was during my election—I stated clearly and precisely what I said, in which two facts only were asserted. The one, that of the public money laid out in the purchase of stock, on account of the sinking fund, more had been given than others had purchased for, at the open market, at the same time. In making this assertion, I quoted at the time, (as my sole authority) the public news-papers of Philadelphia and New York, from which I stated that I had read extracts in my place in congress to that effect, and I added, that the fact was not then controverted or denied in congress, nor had it been since, to my knowledge, although my speech to that effect had long appeared in print. The other fact—that when three parcels of stock were offered under sealed proposals, at three different prices, that part was taken of each, and part returned of each, by which means the public gave more than they were offered at. I have lodged with Mr [John] Beckley, clerk of the house of representatives, a certificate of Mr. [Benjamin] Hawkins, a senator from North Carolina, with respect to two parcels at different prices, parts of each of which were taken, and part of each returned, and the name of the witness, (who was in Philadelphia when I mentioned the fact in congress)—Mr. Hawkins will also (I have no doubt) add, that he gave me fully the information I have above stated with regard to three parcels of stock, at three different prices, although, when he gave me the certificate, as he could not recollect the authority for this latter case, he did not then insert it. Mr. Hamilton has no where, I assert, denied these specific facts—the latter was admitted and justified by one of my opponents, as may also be proved from good authority. These were all the facts that I had asserted—afterwards, by the disclosure of a private conversation, major Ross introduced another fact into discussion—that I had asserted, that Mr. Hamilton had interfered in my election previous to the letter. At the time I mentioned this as fact, I also stated to major Ross my authority—that authority is well known in this part of the district, it was not confined to the gentleman who was my immediate informant; and although the person who informed him may have been incorrect, yet the authority was sufficient justification of my belief and consequent conduct, and Mr. Hamilton will not assert, that his opinion on my election was withheld in this district previous to his letter. There is still another fact that has grown out of this discussion, that Mr. Hamilton offered me money to vote for the assumption. As this is a delicate subject, I will not hazard any thing respecting it, but the statement of the transaction, authenticated by unexceptionable testimony, together with a letter relative thereto from Mr. Hamilton, admitting fully the fact as I stated it, and my reply to his letter, all of which are among the papers in the hands of Mr. Angell, which I request him to publish. As to the other subjects, that the administration of Mr. Hamilton was unfriendly to the interests of the southern states—that his funding system was founded on false and ruinous principles of public credit, and admitted of dangerous interferences to raise and depress the value of that property, and sacrificed occasionally and unjustly other property to the interest of stockholders. That he had engrossed the legislative functions of government. They were all matters of opinion, on which I had a right, nay, was sacredly bound to form my judgement, from a great complexity of views, that from their nature will admit of no entire demonstration, or direct proof—they are the result of a variety of data that terminate in an opinion, which must and will remain disputable.

“There is one other point, respecting a preference shewn by Mr. Hamilton to Mr. [William] Duer, which I really considered as the only remaining subject of discussion reserved by that gentleman in his letter to me of March 2d. With regard to any pecuniary connexion between these two persons, I have always disavowed having suggested such in or out of this district. I did consider the connexion and consequent preference as the result of intimate and long established habits of intercourse and friendship—as such I consider my suggestion essentially a matter of opinion—but as it is a sole object, it will admit of a direct reference to those facts on which that opinion was founded. I hold myself therefore justified in that opinion by the supplementary report of the committee of inquiry, which in this instance, states facts fully before the committee at their first session; by that it will appear, that the transfer of the contract from [Theodosius] Fowler to Duer, on which transfer Mr. Hamilton rests and justifies the connexion of the public with Duer, was notified to him and lodged in his office long posterior to an official correspondence with Mr. Duer as contractor, and it was also long posterior to a consultation between Mr. Hamilton, the secretary at war, general [Arthur] St. Clair, and Mr. Duer as contractor, and that no correspondence was produced to the committee between the public offices and Fowler as contractor, although Fowler’s contract subsisted above six months before the notification and lodging of the transfer.

“Let my anxiety to retain any confidence that may have been reposed in me, justify this tedious detail. About to retire for the greater part of the summer to attend to a much neglected farm in a secluded part of the country, it must be a wanton attack that will interrupt pursuits, which, as a citizen, in the recess from public duties, I have some right to enjoy. Let it be also remembered, that captain [William] Campbell commenced an opposition of my re-election, grounded in a great measure, as appears from his own certificate, on the part I took in congress against the measures of Mr. Hamilton—that my defence of that conduct, when called before the citizens of the district, was confined to a reiteration of those reasons which I had given in my place in congress, and long published to the world. That Mr. Hamilton commenced an attack on me during my election, grounded on an unfounded assertion of major Ross—and that all these parties persist in pursuing the most malevolent objects against all rule, decorum and right.”

3Ross’s reply, dated April 20, 1793, to Mercer’s article of April 18 appeared in The Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser for April 30, 1793. After reiterating his charges against Mercer, Ross closed his statement with this observation: “Colonel Mercer appears to be so much in earnest when he wishes not to be again recalled to this subject, that otherwise it might have been a doubt with some, whether he had sensibility enough left to be really hurt by any thing that could be related of him; but since he has some left, it is a matter of course that this subject should be so disagreeable to him, and that he should feel himself like a ‘jaded horse,’ whenever he is again forced into it, since no view of it can possibly excite any agreeable sensation in him, and disagreeable ones must be as tiresome to the Colonel as to every other person, and the only thing that can now be recommended to make him feel more like a man and less like a ‘jaded horse,’ is to change the nature of his late pursuits, that have led him into this dilemma; and there can be no doubt but such a change of conduct would not only be advantageous to himself and his ‘neglected farm,’ but please numbers who have confidence in our government, and the present measures and officers of the administration.”

4James Angell, formerly associated with William Goddard in the publication of The Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, had become sole publisher of that paper with the issue of February 22, 1793.

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