From Alexander Hamilton
RC (LC: Madison Papers). Unsigned but in Hamilton’s hand. Cover missing. Docketed by JM, “Alex. Hamilton Philadelphia July 6h. 1783.”
6 July 1783
On my arrival in this city1 I am more convinced than I was before of the necessity of giving a just state of facts to the public. The current runs strongly against Congress and in a great measure for want of information. When facts are explained they make an impression and incline to conclusions more favourable to us2—I have no copy of the reports in my possession, which puts it out of my power to publish them: Will you procure and send me one without loss of time? Without appearing I intend to give them to the public with some additional explanations. This done with moderation will no doubt have a good effect.3
The prevailing idea is that the actors in the removal of Congress*4 were influenced by the desire of getting them out of the city, and the generality of the remainder by timidity—some say passion; few give a more favourable interpretation.5
I will thank you in your letter to me to answer the following question.
What appeared to be my ideas and disposition respecting the removal of Congress—did I appear to wish to hasten it, or did I not rather show a strong disposition to procrastinate it?6
I will be obliged to you in answering this question to do it fully. I do not intend to make any public use of it, but through my friends to vindicate myself, from the insinuation I have mentioned, and withal to confute the supposition that the motive assigned did actuate the members on whom it fell to be more particularly active.7
1. The time of Hamilton’s arrival in Philadelphia is unknown. He had been in Princeton on 2 July (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 424; Syrett and Cooke, Papers of Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and Jacob E. Cooke, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (15 vols. to date; New York, 1961——). description ends , III, 411).
2. JM to Randolph, 30 June, n. 7. For additional evidence that the removal of Congress to Princeton was a subject of sharp criticism, and rarely of defense, by residents of Philadelphia, see Pa. Packet, 28 June, 3 July; Pa. Gazette, 9 July; Pa. Journal, 28 June, 5 July, 12 July; JM to Randolph, 8 July 1783.
3. The Pennsylvania Packet of 10 July and the Pennsylvania Journal of 12 July published copies of resolutions, committee reports, letters, and instructions of Congress or President Elias Boudinot relating to the mutiny of the troops and dating between 19 and 23 June 1783. The editor of the Pennsylvania Packet stated that a “correspondent” had furnished these documents. If the “correspondent” was Hamilton, he apparently did not accompany them with “additional explanations.”
4. A postscript to which this asterisk seemingly refers may have been excised by the unknown person who clipped Hamilton’s signature from the letter.
5. In the draft of his letter to JM of 29 June, probably withheld from the post, Hamilton wrote:
“I am informed that among other disagreeable things said about the removal of Congress from Philadelphia it is insinuated that it was a contrivance of some members to get them out of the state of Pennsylvania into one of those to which they belonged—and I am told that this insinuation has been pointed at me in particular.
“Though I am persuaded that all disinterested persons will justify Congress in quitting a place where they were told they were not to expect support (for the conduct of the Council amounted to that) yet I am unwilling to be held up as having had an extraordinary agency in the measure for interested purposes—when the fact is directly the reverse. As you were a witness to my conduct and opinions through the whole of the transaction, I am induced to trouble you for your testimony upon this occasion.”
6. In his draft mentioned in n. 5, Hamilton elaborated upon this question as follows:
“Did that part of the resolutions which related to the removal of Congress originate with me or not?
“Did I as a member of the Committee appear to press the departure; or did I not rather manifist a strong disposition to postpone that event as long as possible, even against the general current of opinion?
“I wish you to be as particular & full in your answer as your memory will permit. I think you will recollect that my idea was clearly this—that the mutiny ought not to be terminated by negotiation—that Congress were justifiable in leaving a place where they did not receive the support which they had a right to expect; but as their removal was a measure of critical and delicate nature—might have an ill appearance in Europe—and might from events be susceptible of an unfavorable interpretation in this country—it was prudent to delay it ’till its necessity became apparent—not only ’till it was manifest there would be no change in the spirit which seemed to activate the council, but ’till it was evident complete submission was not to be expected from the troops—that to give full time for this, it would be proper to delay the departure of Congress ’till the latest period which would be compatible with the idea of meeting in Trenton or Princeton on thursday—perhaps even ’till thursday morning.”
For “the Committee” and the measures to which Hamilton referred, see JM Notes, 19 June, and nn. 6, 7; 20 June, and n. 1; 21 June, and nn. 1–7. Although Hamilton may not have originated the committee’s recommendation that Congress “assemble at Princeton or Trenton on Thursday the 26 instant,” the entire report of the committee, including that recommendation, is in his hand. Hamilton’s position in the present letter is consistent with his seconding on 2 July, when he and JM were together in Congress, an abortive motion by Mercer to adjourn “to meet at the City of Philadelphia on conformable to their said intention till they shall determine on the place of their permanent residence agreeable to their resolution of” 4 June 1783. In a letter, probably written late in September 1783 to President John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, Hamilton described at length his own views and activities during the mutiny; particularly mentioned his close association with JM at that time; and said that Richard Peters and Oliver Ellsworth, his colleagues on “the Committee,” had overcome his own “opposition” to the removal of Congress from the city (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 381–82, 416–21, 421, nn. 1, 2, 424; Syrett and Cooke, Papers of Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and Jacob E. Cooke, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (15 vols. to date; New York, 1961——). description ends , III, 399–407, 401, n. 1; 438–58, and esp. 448; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 233–34).
7. By what JM would call “singular ill luck,” the present letter did not reach him until 15 October (JM to Hamilton, 16 Oct. 1783). Hamilton was then in New York, having left Congress at Princeton about 27 July (Syrett and Cooke, Papers of Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and Jacob E. Cooke, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (15 vols. to date; New York, 1961——). description ends , III, 418–19). JM appears to have been in Philadelphia between 6 and 16 July 1783.