Thomas Jefferson Papers

Notes of a Conversation with Alexander Hamilton, 13 August 1791

Notes of a Conversation with Alexander Hamilton

Aug. 13. 1791.

Th:J mentioned to him a letter received from J. A. disavowing Publicola, and denying that he ever entertained a wish to bring this country under a hereditary executive or introduce an hereditary branch of legislature &c. See his letter. A. H. condemning Mr. A’s writings and most particularly Davila, as having a tendency to weaken the present government, declared in substance as follows. ‘I own it is my own opinion, tho’ I do not publish it in Dan and Bersheba, that the present government is not that which will answer the ends of society, by giving stability and protection to it’s rights, and that it will probably be found expedient to go into the British form. However, since we have undertaken the experiment, I am for giving it a fair course, whatever my expectations may be. The1 success indeed so far is greater than I had expected, and therefore at present success seems more possible than it had done heretofore, and there are still other and other stages of improvement which, if the present does not succeed, may be tried and ought to be tried before we give up the republican form altogether,2 for that mind must be really depraved which would not prefer the equality of political rights which is the foundation of pure republicanism, if it can be obtained consistently with order. Therefore whoever by his writings disturbs the present order of things, is really blameable, however pure his intentions may be, and he was sure Mr. Adams’s were pure.’—This is the substance of a declaration made in much more lengthy terms, and which seemed to be more formal than usual for a conversation between two, and as if intended to qualify some less guarded expressions which had been dropped on former occasions.—Th:J has committed it to writing in the moment of A. H’s leaving the room.

MS (DLC); entirely in TJ’s hand; at head of text: “Notes of a conversation between A. Hamilton and Th:J.” Entry in SJPL reads: “[Aug.] 13. Notes of conversation between A. Ham. and Th:J. on our constitution.”

Hamilton was moved to make this guarded expression of support for republican government as a result of the controversy attendant upon TJ’s endorsement of Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man; see Editorial Note on Rights of Man, at 26 Apr. 1791. John Adams correctly denied authorship of the Publicola essays, which were written to rebut Paine’s work, in the letter referred to by TJ. But he neglected to reveal that they came from the pen of his son, John Quincy Adams, one of whose aims was to defend the Vice-President against the charges of monarchism arising from the publication of the elder Adams’ Discourses on Davila in the Gazette of the United States between April 1790 and April 1791 (see Adams to TJ, 29 July 1791, Vol. 20: 305–7).

1TJ first wrote “They are” but crossed it out.

2Word interlined, perhaps later.

Index Entries