Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from James A. Bayard, 7 January 1801

From James A. Bayard1

Washington 7. Jany. 1801.

Dear Sir.

I have been but a few days in this City,2 but since my arrival have had the pleasure to receive the letter which you did me the honor to write on the 27. Ult. I am fully sensible of the great importance of the Subject to which it relates and am therefore extremely obliged by the information you have been so obliging as to communicate.

You have probably Seen a letter addressed by Col. Burr to General Smith constituting him his Proxy to disavow the least design on his part to interfere with the intention of his Party to place Mr. Jefferson in the chair of President.3 I mention this letter merely for the opportunity of stating, that it is here understood to have proceeded either from a false calculation as to the result of the electoral votes or was intended as a cover to blind his own Party.

By persons friendly to Mr. Bur it is distinctly Stated that he is willing to consider the Federalistes as his friends & to accept the office of President as their gift. I take it for granted that Mr. B would not only gladly accept the office, but will neglect no means in his power to secure it. Certainly he cannot succeed without the aid of the Federalists, and it is even much to be doubted whether their concurrence will give him the requisite number of States. It is considered that at least in the first instance Georgia N. Carolina Virginia Tennessee Kentucky Pennsylvania N Jersey & N York will vote for Mr. Jefferson. It is probable that Maryland & Vermont will be divided. It is therefore counted that upon the first ballot, it would be possible to give to Mr. Bur, Six votes. It is calculated however and strongly insisted by some gentlemen that a persevering opposition to Mr. J. would bring over N. York. N Jersey & Maryland. What is the probability relative to NY your means enable you to form the most correct opinion. As to N Jersey & Maryland it would depend upon Mr. Lynn4 of the former and Mr. Dent5 of the latter State.

I assure you Sir there appears to be a strong inclination in a majority of the federal Party to support Mr. B. The current has already acquired considerable force and is manifestly increasing. The vote which the representative of a State enables me to give would decide the question in favor of Mr. J. At present I am by no means decided as to the object of preference. If the federal Party Should take up Mr. B, I ought certainly to be impressed with the most undoubting conviction before I separated myself from them. With respect to the personal qualities of the competitors, I should fear as much from the sincerity of Mr. J (as he is sincere) as from the want of probity in Mr. Bur. There would be really cause to fear that the government would not survive the course of moral & political experiments to which it would be subjected in the hands of Mr. Jefferson.

But there is another view of the subject which gives me some inclination in favor of Bur. I consider the State ambition of Virginia as the source of present Party. The Faction who govern that State aim to govern the UStates. Virginia will never be satisfied, but when this state of things exists. If Bur should be the President they will not govern, and his acceptance of the office which would disappoint their views which depend upon Jefferson, would I apprehend immediately create a Schism in the Party which would soon rise into open opposition.

I cannot deny however that there are strong considerations which give a preference to Mr. Jefferson. The subject admits of many and very doubtful views and before I resolve on the part I shall take, I shall wait the approach of the crisis which may probably bring with it circumstances decisive of the event.6

The federal Party meet on friday for the purposes of forming a resolution as to their line of conduct. I have not the least doubt of their agreeing to support Bur.7

Their determination will not bind me, for tho it might cost me a painful struggle to disappoint the views & wishes of many gentlemen with whom I have been accustomed to act, yet the magnitude of the subject forbids the sacrifice of a strong conviction.

I cannot answer for the coherence of my letter as I have undertaken to write to you from the chamber of Representatives with an Attention divided by the debate which occupies the House.

I have not considered myself at liberty to shew your letter to any one, tho I think it would be serviceable if you could trust my discretion in the communication of it.

I am with great consideration   your very Obt. Sert.

James A Bayard

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1For background to this letter, see H to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., December 16, 1800, note 1.

2Bayard arrived in Washington from Wilmington, Delaware, on January 2, 1801, to attend Congress.

3For the text of this letter, see Gouverneur Morris to H, December 19, 1800, note 15.

4James A. Linn was a Republican member of the House of Representatives from New Jersey from 1799 to 1801.

5George Dent.

6As the only Representative in the House from Delaware, Bayard was in a position to play a major role in Jefferson’s election to the presidency. On February 11, 1801, when the balloting for President began in the House, Bayard cast his vote (and therefore Delaware’s vote) for Burr, and he continued to support Burr through the thirty-fifth ballot (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 , X, 1028–30). When it became apparent to Bayard that Burr was either unwilling or unable to reach an agreement with the Federalists, he withdrew his support. On February 17, when the last ballot was taken, he and Federalists from South Carolina, Vermont, and Maryland cast blank ballots, and by doing so made it possible for Jefferson to receive a majority of the votes. See Bayard to Richard Bassett, February 16, 17, 1801 (Donnan, “Papers of James A. Bayard,” description begins Elizabeth Donnan, ed., “Papers of James A. Bayard, 1796–1805,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1913 (Washington, 1915), II. description ends 126–27).

Jefferson was convinced that Bayard had tried to bribe at least one Republican to vote for Burr. On February 12, 1801, he wrote in the “Anas”: “Edward Livingston tells me, that Bayard applied today or last night to General Samuel Smith, and represented to him the expediency of his coming over to the States who vote for Burr, that there was nothing in the way of appointment which he might not command, and particularly mentioned the Secretaryship of the Navy. Smith asked him if he was authorized to make the offer. He said he was authorized. Smith told this to Livingston, and to W[ilson] C[ary] Nicholas who confirms it to me. Bayard in like manner tempted Livingston, not by offering any particular office, but by representing to him his, Livingston’s, intimacy and connection with Burr; that from him he had everything to expect, if we would come to him” (AD, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress). Bayard denied this charge, and in testimony taken on April 3, 1806, he asserted that he had made an agreement with Smith, who was acting as Jefferson’s agent, that the Federalists would vote for Jefferson if he agreed to maintain and continue certain Federalist policies and officeholders (Documents Relating to the Presidential Election in the Year 1801: Containing a Refutation of Two Passages in the Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Aspersing the Character of the Late James A. Bayard of Delaware [Philadelphia: Mifflin and Parry, Printers, 1831], 11–13). In response to Bayard’s assertion, Jefferson recorded in the “Anas” on April 15, 1806: “This is absolutely false. No proposition of any kind was ever made to me on that occasion by General Smith, nor any answer authorized by me. And this fact General Smith affirms at this moment” (AD, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress). See also Davis, Burr description begins Matthew L. Davis, Memoirs of Aaron Burr. With Miscellaneous Selections From His Correspondence. 2 vols. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1836–1837). description ends , II, 89–141; Interrogatories administered to Robert Goodloe Harper and Samuel Smith, 1805, in the case of Aaron Burr v James Cheetham (Miscellaneous Manuscripts, County Clerk’s Office, New York City).

7On Friday, January 9, 1801, Gouveneur Morris wrote in his diary: “… There is to be what they call a Caucus this Evening and I think the Gentlemen from the Eastward will not succeed in their Plan of electing Burr.… Learn the Event of the Caucus to have been what I foresaw & foretold” (AD, Gouverneur Morris Papers, Library of Congress). On January 16, 1801, the following article appeared in the [Philadelphia] Aurora. General Advertiser: “On Friday Night, the 9th instant, a Federal Caucus was held at the city of Washington, for the express object of organizing measures for defeating the election of Mr. Jefferson, or, to use the words of a member present, ‘of any Election of a President;’ however, it appears, that the Maryland members will not go into the measures of these projectors of mischief, and without that state they can do nothing; so that the Caucus broke up without concluding upon any decisive measures. The opinion being that firmness enough to carry the plan through was not to be expected.”

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