Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Arthur St. Clair, 14 April 1799

From Arthur St. Clair

Cincinnati [Territory Northwest of the River Ohio]
14th. April 17991

Dear Sir,

Under the same cover with this I have taken the liberty to enclose to you some observations of mine on a Letter from George Nicholas of Kentuckey to his friend in Virginia.2 You will perceive that I have treated you very familiarly,3 but I am under no apprehension that the purpose will be mistaken. It was a mortification that I could not get them out in proper time, when I had the vanity to suppose they might have done some good farther abroad than Kentuckey. The severity of the Winter which disapointed the Printer in paper was the cause. It will not now miss entirely of effect in the Country for which it was chiefly intended.

Be that as it may, it has afforded me an opportunity, which I embrace with great pleasure of assuring you of the great regard with which I ever am

Dear Sir   Your obedient servant

Ar St. Clair

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1This letter is dated March 14, 1799, in JCHW description begins John C. Hamilton, ed., The Works of Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1851–1856). description ends , VI, 403–04.

2George Nicholas, a veteran of the American Revolution, was a prominent politician in Virginia and Kentucky. His brother, Wilson Cary Nicholas, helped to frame Thomas Jefferson’s Kentucky resolutions of 1798. George Nicholas wrote a defense of the Kentucky resolutions in a pamphlet entitled A Letter from George Nicholas of Kentucky, to his Friend, in Virginia. Justifying the Conduct of the Citizens of Kentucky, as to some of the Late Invasions of the General Government; and Correcting Certain False Statements, which have been made in the Different States. Of the Views of Actions of the People of Kentucky (Lexington: Printed by John Bradford, on Main-Street, 1798). St. Clair answered Nicholas in a pamphlet entitled Observations on a Letter from George Nicholas; of Kentucky; to his Friend in Virginia; in which, Some of the Errors, Misstatements, and False Conclusions in that Letter are corrected, and the late measures of the Government, which have been complained of in Kentucky, are justified by an inhabitant of the North-Western Territory (Cincinnati: Printed and Sold by Edmund Freeman, Front Street, February 14, 1799).

3St. Clair mentions H twice in his Observations. The first reference reads: “But, there is danger in this army, discovered by mr. Nicholas which is truly alarming:—The monarchy-loving Hamilton is now so fixed as to be able, with one step, to fill the place of our present commander in chief. I am glad he is not the democracy-loving Hamilton, because, I respect that gentleman’s character, and if I believed he had the least tincture of that love, I should despise him, notwithstanding the great services he has rendered to this country—greater than all the tribe of democrats, put together, would have been able to render had they been willing, and who would not have been willing had they been able. Then indeed, with an able democrat at their head, an army would be dangerous, and the historic page from whence mr. Nicholas has drawn his illustrations, give excellent instruction on the ambition, the cruelty, and the rapacity of democratic armies. But softly mr. Nicholas; if mr. Hamilton does really love a monarchy, which is not quite so clear, as he was with you, very early engaged in destroying the authority of one of this country, and persevered in it until it was effected, he is not within your one step of the command of the army. Were general Washington to resign tomorrow, the office of commander in chief would not devolve upon him, or upon any one else—and tho’ a major general and the principal staff officer, he has not advanced a single step towards it. In no other country is that office ever filled but by the special appointment of the sovereign power, without regard to succession. It is too important to be left to a rule that might bring forward a man without talents, or any positive merit. In this country the appointment must be made in the constitutional way; and this has always been the case here: For since the resignation of general Washington, after the revolutionary war, tho’ we have always had an army, we never had a commander in chief, until lately that he has been reappointed; so that mr. Hamilton, as to his being hereafter commander in chief, is just where he was before his appointment of major general and inspector” (St. Clair, Observations, 35–36).

The second reference reads: “That terrible fellow Hamilton, mr. Nicholas allows, argues well on the security of liberty from the constitution, and that he always argues as it is in the power of man to do, when he has truth on his side. One might be led to infer from that observation, that mr. Nicholas thinks a man may argue well when he has not truth on his side; but I differ from him:—ingeniously he may argue; and we have not a few specimens of it in the course of the letter we are considering …” (St. Clair, Observations, 39).

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