Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to Marquis de Lafayette, 6 January 1799

To Marquis de Lafayette

New York January 6. 17991

I have been made happy my dear friend by the receipt of your letter of the 12th of August last. No explanation of your political principles was necessary to satisfy me of the perfect consistency and purity of your conduct. The interpretation may always be left to my attachment for you. Whatever difference of opinion may on any occasion exist between us can never lessen my conviction of the goodness both of your head and heart. I expect from you a return of this sentiment so far as concerns the heart. Tis needless to detail to you my political tenets. I shall only say that I hold with Montesquieu that a government must be fitted to a nation as much as a Coat to the Individual,2 and consequently that what may be good at Philadelphia may be bad at Paris and ridiculous at Petersburgh.

I join with you in regretting the misunderstanding between our two countries. You will have seen by the Presidents speech that a door is again opened for terminating them amicably.3 And you may be assured that we are sincere, and that it is in the power of France by reparation to our merchants for past injury and the stipulation of justice in future to put an end to the controversy.

But I do not like much the idea of your being any way implicated in the affair, lest you should be compromitted in the opinion of one or the other of the parties. It is my opinion that it is best for you to stand aloof. Neither have I abandonned the idea that ’tis most adviseable for you to remain in Europe ’till the difference is adjusted. It would be very difficult for you here to steer a course which would not place you in a party and remove you from the broad ground which you now occupy in the hearts of all.4 It is a favorite point with me that you shall find in the universal regard of this country all the consolations which the loss of your own (for so I consider it) may render requisite.

Mrs Church5 and Mrs Hamilton unite in assurance of their affectionate remembrance. Believe me always

Your very cordial & faithful friend


Marquis de la Fayette

Copy, in the handwriting of Philip Church, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1In JCHW description begins John C. Hamilton, ed., The Works of Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1851–1856). description ends , VI, 504, this letter is incorrectly dated “1801.”

2This is a reference to the following statement: “Law in general is human reason, inasmuch as it governs all the inhabitants of the earth; the political and civil laws of each nation ought to be only the particular cases in which this human reason is applied.

“They should be adapted in such a manner to the people for whom they are made, as to render it very unlikely for those of one nation to be proper for another.

“They should be relative to the nature and principle of the actual, or intended government; whether they form it, as in the case of political laws, or whether they support it, as may be said of civil institutions.

“They should be relative to the climate of each country, to the quality of the soil, to its situation and extent, to the manner of living of the natives, whether husbandmen, huntsmen, or shepherds: they should have a relation to the degree of liberty which the constitution will bear; to the religion of the inhabitants, to their inclinations, riches, number, commerce, manners, and customs. In fine, they have relations amongst themselves, as also to their origin, to the intent of the legislator, and to the order of things on which they are established; in all which different lights they ought to be considered.” (Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws, trans. Mr. Nugent [3d ed.; 2 vols.; London: Printed for J. Nourse and P. Vaillant in the Strand, 1758], Book I, Ch. 3, 8–9.)

3The President’s speech on December 8, 1798, to both the Senate and the House of Representatives reads in part: “… You will, at the same time, perceive that the French Government appears solicitous to impress the opinion that it is averse to the rupture of this country, and that it has, in a qualified manner, declared itself willing to receive a Minister from the United States, for the purpose of restoring a good understanding.… It is peace that we have uniformly and perseveringly cultivated, and harmony between us and France may be restored at her option” (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 , IX, 2420–24).

4On June 17, 1799, Robert Liston, British Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States, wrote to Lord Grenville, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, concerning the rumor that France might send Lafayette as an ambassador or envoy extraordinary to the United States. Liston then wrote: “That this plan has actually been in contemplation, seems probable from a letter lately written by M. de La Fayette to General Hamilton (formerly Secretary of the Treasury) consulting him as an old friend, with regard to the probability of his accepting of it. General Hamilton informs me that if his advice is complied with, the project will not take place, for that he has represented the task as extremely arduous, if not impracticable in the present moment, and has told M. de La Fayette that he would in all probability commit himself with both countries, without effecting the object in view” (ALS, PRO: F.O. [Great Britain] description begins Public Record Office of Great Britain. description ends 5/25a). For Lafayette’s refusal to serve as French Minister to the United States, see Lafayette to H, February 10, 1801.

5Angelica Church was the wife of John B. Church and the sister of Elizabeth Hamilton.

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