History of the Republic of the United Slates

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Author: Alexander Hamilton  | Date: 1792

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An Opinion of Jefferson (1792)

BY SECRETARY ALEXANDER HAMILTON

[Philadelphia, May 26, 1792.]

IT was not, till the last session, that I became unequivocally convinced of the following truth, "that Mr. Madison, co-operating with Mr. Jefferson, is at the head of a faction, decidedly hostile to me, and my administration; and actuated by views, in my judgment, subversive of the principles of good government, and dangerous to the Union, peace and happiness of the country." . . .

This conviction in my mind, is the result of a long train of circumstances; many of them minute. To attempt to detail them all, would fill a volume. I shall therefore confine myself to the mention of a few.

First, As to the point of opposition to me, and my administration.

Mr. Jefferson, with very little reserve, manifests his dislike of the funding system, generally; calling in question, the expediency of funding a debt, at all. Some expressions, which he has dropped in my own presence, (sometimes without sufficient attention to delicacy,) will not permit me to doubt on this point, representations, which I have had from various respectable quarters. I do not mean, that he advocates directly the undoing of what has been done; but he censures the whole, on principles, which, if they should become general, could not but end in the subversion of the system.

In various conversations with foreigners, as well as citizens, he has thrown censure on my principles of government, and on my measures of administration. He has predicted, that the people would not long tolerate my proceedings; and, that I should not long maintain my ground. Some of those, whom he immediately and notoriously moves, have even whispered suspicions of the rectitude of my motives and conduct. In the question concerning the Bank, he not only, delivered an opinion in writing against its constitutionality and expediency; but he did it in a stile and manner, which I felt as partaking of asperity and ill humor towards me. As one of the trustees of the Sinking fund, I have experienced, in almost every leading question, opposition from him. When any turn of things in the community has threatened either odium or embarrassment to me, he has not been able to suppress the satisfaction, which it gave him. . . .

I find a strong confirmation in the following circumstances. Freneau, the present printer of the "National Gazette," who was a journeyman, with Childs & Swain, at New York, was a known Anti-federalist. It is reduced to a certainty, that he was brought to Philadelphia, by Mr. Jefferson to be the conductor of a newspaper. It is notorious, that cotemporarily with the commencement of his paper, he was a clerk in the department of State, for foreign languages. Hence a clear inference, that his paper has been set on foot, and is conducted, under the patronage, and not against the views of Mr. Jefferson. What then is the complexion of this paper? Let any impartial man peruse all the numbers down to the present day; and, I never was more mistaken, if he does not pronounce, that it is a paper, devoted to the subversion of me and the measures in which I have had an agency; and, I am little less mistaken, if he do not pronounce, that it is a paper, of a tendency generally unfriendly to the Government of the United States.

It may be said, that a newspaper being open to all the publications, which are offered to it, its complexion may be influenced by other views, than those of the editor. But the fact here is, that, whenever the editor appears, it is in a correspondent dress. The paragraphs which appear as his own, the publications, not original, which are selected for his press, are of the same malignant and unfriendly aspect; so, as not to leave a doubt, of the temper which directs the publication. . . .

Secondly, As to the tendency of the views of the two gentlemen, who have been named. . . .

In almost all the questions, great and small, which have arisen, since the first session of Congress, Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison have been found among those who are disposed to narrow the Federal authority. . . .

In respect to our foreign politics, the views of these gentlemen are, in my judgment, equally unsound, and dangerous. THEY HAVE A WOMANISH ATTACHMENT TO FRANCE, AND A WOMANISH RESENTMENT AGAINST GREAT BRITAIN. They would draw us into the closest embrace of the former, and involve us in all the consequences of her politics; and they would risk the peace of the country, in their endeavors, to keep us at the greatest possible distance from the latter. This disposition goes to a length, particularly in Mr. Jefferson, of which, till lately, I had no adequate idea. Various circumstances prove to me, that, if these gentlemen were left to pursue their own course, there would be, in less than six months, AN OPEN WAR BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND GREAT BRITAIN. . . .

Having delineated to you, what I conceive, to be the tree complexion of the politics of these gentlemen, I will now attempt a solution of these strange appearances.

Mr. Jefferson, it is known, did not, in the first instance, cordially acquiesce in the new Constitution for the United States; he had many doubts, and reserves. He left this country, before we had experienced the imbecilities of the former.

In France, he saw government, only on the side of its abuses. He drank deeply of the French philosophy, in religion, in science, in politics. He came from France, in the moment of a fermentation, which he had a share in exciting; and in the passions and feelings of which, he shared, both from temperament and situation. He came here, probably with a too partial idea of his own powers; and, with the expectation of a greater share in the direction of our councils, than he has, in reality, enjoyed. I am not sure, that he had not peculiarly marked out for himself, the department of the finances.

He came, electrified plus with attachment to France, and with the project of knitting together, the two countries, in the closest political bands. . . .

Attempts were made by these gentlemen, in different ways, to produce a commercial warfare with Great Britain. In this, too, they were disappointed. And, as they had the liveliest wishes on the subject, their dissatisfaction has been proportionably great; and, as I had not favored the project, I was comprehended in their displeasure. . . .

Another circumstance has contributed to widening the breach. ’Tis evident, beyond a question, from every movement, that Mr. Jefferson aims, with ardent desire, at the Presidential chair. This, too, is an important object of the party — politics. It is supposed, from the nature of my former personal and political connections, that I may favor some other candidate, more than Mr. Jefferson, when the question shall occur, by the retreat of the present gentleman. My influence, therefore, with the community, becomes a thing, on ambitious and personal grounds, to be resisted and destroyed. . . .

It is possible, too, (for men easily heat their imaginations when their passions are heated,) that they have, by degrees, persuaded themselves of what they may have at first only sported, to influence others; namely, that there is some dreadful combination against State Government, and Republicanism; which, according to them, are convertible terms. But there is so much absurdity in this supposition, that the admission of it tends to apologize for their hearts, at the expense of their heads.

Under the influence of all these circumstances, the attachment to the Government of the United States, originally weak in Mr. Jefferson’s mind, has given way to something very like dislike in Mr. Madison’s, it is so counteracted by personal feelings, as to be more an affair of the head than of the heart . . .

In such a state of mind, both these gentlemen are prepared to hazard a great deal to effect a change. Most of the important measures of every Government are connected with the Treasury. To subvert the present head of it, they deem it expedient to risk rendering the Government itself odious; perhaps, foolishly thinking, that they can easily recover the lost affections and confidence of the people; and not appreciating, as they ought to do, the natural resistance to Government, which, in every community, results from the human passions, the degree to which this is strengthened by the organized rivality of State Governments; and the infinite danger that the National Government, once rendered odious, will be kept so by these powerful and indefatigable enemies.

They forget an old, but a very just, though a coarse saying, that it is much easier to raise the devil than to lay him.

John C. Hamilton, (New York, 1859), IV, 524–537 passim.

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Chicago: Alexander Hamilton, "An Opinion of Jefferson," History of the Republic of the United Slates, ed. John C. Hamilton in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1902), 290–292. Original Sources, accessed July 2, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CBWN537IFCI7JG9.

MLA: Hamilton, Alexander. "An Opinion of Jefferson." History of the Republic of the United Slates, edited by John C. Hamilton, Vol. IV, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 3, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1902, pp. 290–292. Original Sources. 2 Jul. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CBWN537IFCI7JG9.

Harvard: Hamilton, A, 'An Opinion of Jefferson' in History of the Republic of the United Slates, ed. . cited in 1902, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York, pp.290–292. Original Sources, retrieved 2 July 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CBWN537IFCI7JG9.