Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Fisher Ames, 31 August 1793

From Fisher Ames1

Boston Augt. 31 1793

My dear Sir

I am happy to see the good effect of the exertions which have been made to keep our country from meddling with the war. Our fears have in a degree subsided. They have been strong enough to give their full impression to the services of the officers of govt. The public mind seems to be open to receive the truth. Such periods occur rarely & ought not to pass away in vain. There are many topics which ought to be touched. I have supposed one, among many good ones, to be the attempt to point out the inconsistency of our Jacobins. The execution is defective in two particulars at least: the catalogue wants additions as well as a better arrangement—and the very words, used by them at different times might be quoted from the Gazettes with some effect. Something might be added or altered to the inclosed,2 if a proper person would do it. There will be no objection made to any alterations.

The press is busy here—rather overdone. The enragés are remarkably in check.

I look forward to the next campaign with concern. I wish nothing may be omitted to make the people understand the truth, so well as to disarm the faction who distort it.

My principal object in writing at this time is, to mention to you the subject of a state being sued. It was raised here, as you must have seen. The people understand the matter imperfectly and on the whole, I conceive the entire active force of the state politics to be hostile to the decision. It is supposed, the Legislature will vote their censure of the suableness of a state & request congress to propose an amendment—or instruct their Senators & request their Representatives to move such an amendment. Is this regular? The Constitution authorises two modes of amending. Either Congress may propose alterations to the state, or a convention may be called. If specific amendments should be moved by states to congress, is there not a great mischief lurking in the precedent?3 However I wave the ceremony of any reply from you, which busy as you are, is needless. I wish to call your reflections to the subject—which I think will be stir’d. We cannot doubt it will be so managed as if possible to make difficulty.

I hope your unremitted cares do not impair your health.

I am, my dear Sir,   Yours truly

Fisher Ames

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1Ames was a Federalist member of the House of Representatives from Massachusetts.

2Ames apparently enclosed two undated articles attacking the Republicans which were evidently intended for the newspapers. Copies of these articles in Ames’s handwriting may be found in the Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

3This question resulted from a Supreme Court order in Chisholm v Georgia that a default judgment be entered against Georgia in this action against the state by a citizen of another state. Such a case was brought against Massachusetts in Vassall v Massachusetts. On March 18, 1793, the Massachusetts legislature had appointed a committee to inquire into the Supreme Court’s decision and to present all the circumstances relating to the case to the legislature (“Journal of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, commencing 30 May 1792, ending 28 March 1793,” 412 [D, Microfilm Collection of Early State Records, Library of Congress]). On September 18, 1793, Governor John Hancock in an address to both houses of the Massachusetts legislature pointed out the dangers to the sovereignty of the states inherent in the doctrine that a state might be sued (The Boston Gazette and the Country Journal, September 23, 1793). On September 27 both houses concurred in the following resolution:

“Whereas a decision has been had in the Supreme Judicial Court of the United States, that a State may be sued in the said Court, by a Citizen of another State, which decision appears to have been grounded on the second section of the third article in the Constitution of the United States.

Resolved, That a power claimed, or which may be claimed, of compelling a State to be made defendant in any Court of the United States, at the suit of an individual or individuals is, in the opinion of this Legislature, unnecessary and inexpedient; and in its exercise, dangerous to the peace, safety and independence of the several States; and repugnant to the first principles of a federal government.

Therefore, Resolved, that the Senators from this State, in the Congress of the United States be, and they hereby are instructed, and the Representatives requested, to adopt the most speedy and effectual measures in their power to obtain such amendments in the Constitution of the United States, as will remove any clause or article of the said Constitution, which can be construed to imply or justify a decision, that, a State is compellable to answer in any suit by an individual or individuals in any Court of the United States.…” (The Boston Gazette and the Country Journal, September 30, 1793.)

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