James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Paul Hamilton, 30 December 1812

From Paul Hamilton

City of Washington December 30th. 1812


Having devoted unremittedly more than thirty years of my life to public service, in various situations, in all of which, I feel a consciousness of having done my duty according to my best judgment and understanding; and being now about to withdraw from the Office of the Secretary of the Navy with which you honored me, permit me to ask you whether, in your opinion, there has been any thing in the course of my conduct, in that station, reprehensible.1

Your goodness of heart, Sir, will induce you, as I trust, readily to excuse this intrusion, when you reflect that if this enquiry is answered as my conscience leads me to expect it will be, you will put me in possession of what may be a valuable Legacy to my Children. Wishing you Sir every earthly blessing I have the honor to be with great respect yrs.

Paul Hamilton

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM with the added notation “his resignation.”

1According to rumors circulating in the capital, this letter was written after two meetings between JM and Hamilton. At the first, held on 28 Dec. 1812, JM mentioned that there had been complaints about Hamilton’s management of the Navy Department; during the second, held at JM’s request the next day, the president informed Hamilton that Congress would not vote for naval appropriations until there had been a change in the department. Hamilton attempted to vindicate his conduct, then submitted his resignation. On 31 Dec. 1812 the National Intelligencer announced that “in pursuance of what he has for some time past contemplated, the hon. Paul Hamilton has resigned the office of Secretary of the Navy.” Hamilton took offense, declaring that the wording of the announcement was “erroneous,” and complained of “the harsh conduct of the President towards him.” On 8 Jan. 1813, after a discussion with the editors of the National Intelligencer, Hamilton wrote a letter of clarification in which he conceded that the newspaper had not misrepresented the situation with respect to its announcement of his resignation, adding that he had hoped to retire “with the return of peace” but that “things have taken a different course” (John A. Harper to William Plumer, 5 Jan. 1813 [DLC: William Plumer Papers]; James A. Bayard to Caesar A. Rodney, 31 Jan. 1813, “James Asheton Bayard Letters, 1802–1814,” Bulletin of the New York Public Library 4 [1900]: 239–40; Daily National Intelligencer, 11 Jan. 1813).

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