To Rufus King1
Kingston2 [New Jersey] Feby. 21. 1795
My Dear King
The unnecessary capricious & abominable assassination of the National honor by the rejection of the propositions respecting the unsubscribed debt in the House of Representatives haunts me every step I take, and afflicts me more than I can express.3 To see the character of the Government and the country so sported with, exposed to so indelible a blot puts my heart to the Torture. Am I then more of an American than those who drew their first breath on American Ground? Or What is it that thus torments me at a circumstance so calmly viewed by almost every body else? Am I a fool—a Romantic quixot—Or is there a constitutional defect in the American Mind? Were it not for yourself and a few others, I could adopt the reveries of De Paux4 as substantial truths, and would say with him that there is something in our climate which belittles every Animal human or brute.
I conjure you, my friend, Make a vigorous stand for the honor of your Country. Rouse all the energies of your mind, and measure swords in the Senate with the great Slayer of public faith—the hacknied Veteran in the violation of public engagements.5 Prevent him if possible from triumphing a second time over the prostrate credit * and injured interests of his Country. Unmask his false and horrid hypothesis. Display the immense difference between an able statesman and the Man of subtilties. Root out the distempered and noisome weed which is attempted to be planted in our political garden—to choak and wither in its infancy the fair plant of public credit.
I disclose to you without reserve the state of my mind. It is discontented and gloomy in the extreme. I consider the cause of good government as having been put to an issue & the verdict against it.
Introduce I pray you into the Senate, when the bill comes up the clause which has been rejected7 freed from embarrassment by the bills of Credit bearing interest on the nominal value.8 Press its adoption in this the most unexceptionable shape & let the yeas & nays witness the result.
Among other reasons for this is my wish that the true friends of public credit may be distinguished from its enemies. The question is too great a one not to undergo a thorough examination before the Community. It would pain me not to be able to distinguish. Adieu.
God bless you
P.S. Do me the favour to revise carefully the course of the bill respecting the unsubscribed Debt & let me know the particulars. I wish to be able to judge more particularly of the under plot I suspect.
Rufus King Esq
ALS, New-York Historical Society, New York City.
1. King was a Federalist and a United States Senator from New York.
For background to this letter, see the introductory note to H’s “Report on a Plan for the Further Support of Public Credit,” January 16, 1795. See also H to Theodore Sedgwick, February 18, 1795.
3. For H’s proposals on the unsubscribed debt and the reaction of Congress to these proposals, see the introductory note to the “Report on a Plan for the Further Support of Public Credit,” January 16, 1795, and H to Sedgwick, February 18, 1795, note 3.
4. Cornelius de Pauw, Recherches Philosophiques sur les Américains, ou Mémoires intéressants pour servir à l’Histoire de l’espece Humaine. Par M. de P…. (3 Vols., Berlin, 1770). H is referring to a passage in Volume I which reads: “Le climat de L’Amérique etoit au moment de la découverte, très-contraire à la plupart des animaux quadrupèdes, qui s’y sont trouvés plus petits d’un sixième que leurs analogues de l’ancien continent.
“Ce Climat étoit sur-tout pernicieux aux hommes abrutis, énervés & viciés dans toutes les parties de leur organisme d’une façon étonnante.” (I, 4.)
5. Without more conclusive evidence it is impossible to state whether this sentence refers to Aaron Burr or Oliver Ellsworth, a Connecticut Federalist, both of whom offered amendments to the bill which had been approved by the House (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , IV, 835, 842–43) and which was designed to transform into law most of H’s proposals in his “Report on a Plan for the Further Support of Public Credit,” January 16, 1795. The case for Burr has been stated by a recent biographer of Rufus King, who wrote that H’s sentence “is an allusion to Burr who had helped to throw out the Otsego returns that would have made Jay the governor of New York in 1792” (Robert Ernst, Rufus King, American Federalist [Chapel Hill, 1968], 204). For the disputed New York gubernatorial election of 1792, see Philip Schuyler to H, May 9, 1792, note 4; H to John Adams, June 25, 1792, note 2. For Burr’s opposition to the Otsego ballots, see H to King, June 28, 1792, note 1. The difficulty with this explanation, however, is that it cannot be reconciled with the statement concerning the “40 for 1 scheme” in H’s footnote to his next sentence in the letter printed above. This is an apparent reference to a report, adopted by the Continental Congress on March 18, 1780, for the revaluation of “old” Continental money at forty to one of specie (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress 1774–1789 (Washington, 1904–1937). description ends , XVI, 262–67). Burr was not a member of the Continental Congress when this report was adopted, but Ellsworth was, and he was, moreover, the author of the report (D, Papers of the Continental Congress, National Archives). Although the lack of an adequate record of the proceedings of the Senate in 1795 makes it impossible to ascertain the nature of Ellsworth’s opposition to either H’s report or the House bill, it nevertheless appears on balance that it was Ellsworth rather than Burr who was the object of H’s criticism in the letter printed above.
6. See note 5. For H’s views on how Continental finances should have been handled, see H to ——, December, 1779–March, 1780; H to James Duane, September 3, 1780; and H to Robert Morris, April 30, 1781.
7. When the bill to implement H’s “Report on a Plan for the Further Support of Public Credit,” January 16, 1795, was introduced into the House of Representatives, it included provisions for payment of the unsubscribed debt. This was in accordance with the first “proposition” in H’s report. Before the bill was passed by the House and sent to the Senate, the sections dealing with the payment of the unsubscribed debt were removed on a motion by James Hillhouse, a Federalist of Connecticut (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , IV, 1237–40). In his letter to King, H is asking that the provisions in question be restored by the Senate. For the legislative history of this bill, see the introductory note to the “Report on a Plan for the Further Support of Public Credit,” January 16, 1795.
8. On February 11, 1795, the House adopted fourteen resolutions which were based on the proposals in H’s “Report on a Plan for the Further Support of Public Credit,” January 16, 1795, and which formed the basis for the bill subsequently introduced in the House. The first of these resolutions reads: “Resolved, That provision be made by law for the payment of interest on the principal of the unsubscribed Debt of the United States, (except Loan Office certificates, bearing interest on their nominal value,) at the rate of six per cent. per annum, for one year, ending the thirty-first day of December, one thousand seven hundred and ninety five” (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , IV, 1209).