Writings

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Author: Thomas Jefferson  | Date: 1895

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An Opinion of Hamilton (1792)

BY SECRETARY THOMAS JEFFERSON

PHILADELPHIA May 23. 1792.

. . . WHEN you first mentioned to me your purpose of retiring from the government, tho’ I felt all the magnitude of the event, I was in a considerable degree silent. . . . I knew we were some day to try to walk alone . . . The public mind . . . was calm & confident, and therefore in a favorable state for making the experiment. Had no change of circumstances intervened, I should not, with any hope of success, have now ventured to propose to you a change of purpose. But the public mind is no longer confident and serene; and that from causes in which you are in no ways personally mixed. . . .

It has been urged . . . that a pubic debt, greater than we can possibly pay before other causes of adding new debt to it will occur, has been artificially created, by adding together the whole amount of the debtor & creditor sides of accounts, instead of taking only their balances, which could have been paid off in a short time: That this accumulation of debt has taken for ever out of our power those easy sources of revenue, which, applied to the ordinary necessities and exigencies of government, would have answered them habitually, and covered us from habitual murmurings against taxes & tax-gatherers, reserving extraordinary calls, for those extraordinary occasions which would animate the people to meet them: That though the calls for money have been no greater than we must generally expect, for the same or equivalent exigencies, yet we are already obliged to strain the impost tilt it produces clamour, and will produce evasion, & war on our own citizens to collect it: and even to resort to an Excise law, of odious character with the people, partial in it’s operation, unproductive unless enforced by arbitrary & vexatious means, and committing the authority of the government in parts where resistance is most probable, & coercion least practicable. They cite propositions in Congress and suspect other projects on foot still to increase the mass of debt. They say that by borrowing at

of the interest, we might have paid off the principal in

of the time: but that from this we are precluded by it’s being made irredeemable but in small portions & long terms: That this irredeemable quality was given it for the avowed purpose of inviting it’s transfer to foreign countries. They predict that this transfer of the principal, when compleated, will occasion an exportation of 3. millions of dollars annually for the interest, a drain of coin, of which as there has been no example, no calculation can be made of it’s consequences: That the banishment of our coin will be compleated by the creation of 10. millions of paper money, in the form of bank bills, now issuing into circulation. They think the 10. or 12. percent annual profit paid to the lenders of this paper medium taken out of the pockets of the people, who would have had without interest the coin it is banishing: That all the capital employed in paper speculation is barren & useless, producing, like that on a gaming table, no accession to itself, and is withdrawn from commerce & agriculture where it would have produced addition to the common mass: That it nourishes in our citizens habits of vice and idleness instead of industry & morality: That it has furnished effectual means of corrupting such a portion of the legislature, as turns the balance between the honest voters which ever way it is directed: That this corrupt squadron, deciding the voice of the legislature, have manifested their dispositions to get rid of the limitations imposed by the constitution on the general legislature, limitations, on the faith of which, the stales acceded to that instrument: That the ultimate object of all this is to prepare the way for a change, from the present republican form of government, to that of a monarchy, of which the English constitution is to be the model. That this was contemplated in the Convention is no secret, because it’s partisans have made none of it. To effect it then was impracticable, but t hey are still eager after their object, and are predisposing every thing for it’s ultimate attainment. So many of them have got into the legislature, that, aided by the corrupt squadron of paper dealers, who are at their devotion, they make a majority in both houses. . . .

Of all the mischiefs objected to the system of measures before mentioned, none is so afflicting, and fatal to every honest hope, as the corruption of the legislature. As it was the earliest of these measures, it became the instrument for producing the rest, & will be the instrument for producing in future a king, lords & commons, or whatever else those who direct it may chuse. Withdrawn such a distance from the eye of their constituents, and these so dispersed as to be inaccessible to punic information, & particularly to that of the conduct of their own representatives, they wilt form the most corrupt government on earth, if the means of their corruption be not prevented. The only hope of safety hangs now on the numerous representation which is to come forward the ensuing year. Some of the new members will probably be either in principle or interest, with the present majority, but it is expected that the great mass will form an accession to the republican party. They will not be able to undo all which the two preceding legislatures, & especially the first, have done. Public faith & right will oppose this. But some parts of the system may be rightfully reformed; a liberation from the rest unremittingly pursued as fast as right will permit, & the door shut in future against similar commitments of the nation. . . . But should the majority of the new members be still in the same principles with the present, & shew that we have nothing to expect but a continuance of the same practices, it is not easy to conjecture what would be the result, nor what means would be resorted to for correction of the evil. True wisdom would direct that they should be temperate & peaceable, but the division of sentiment & interest happens unfortunately to be so geographical, that no mortal can say that what is most wise & temperate would prevail against what is most easy & obvious? I can scarcely contemplate a more incalculable evil than the breaking of the union into two or more parts. Yet when we review the mass which opposed the original coalescence, when we consider that it lay chiefly in the Southern quarter, that the legislature have availed themselves of no occasion of allaying it, but on the contrary whenever Northern & Southern prejudices have come into conflict, the latter have been sacrificed & the former soothed; that the owners of the debt are in the Southern & the holders of it in the Northern division; that the Auti-federal champions are now strengthened in argu-meat by the fulfilment of their predictions; that this has been brought about by the Monarchical federalists themselves, who, having been for the new government merely as a stepping stone to monarchy, have themselves adopted the very constructions of the constitution, of which, when advocating it’s acceptance before the tribunal of the people, they declared it insusceptible; that the republican federalists, who espoused the same government for it’s intrinsic merits, are disarmed of their weapons, that which they denied as prophecy being now become true history: who can be sure that these things may not proselyte the small number which was wanting to place the majority on the other side?

And this is the event at which I tremble, & to prevent which I consider your continuance at the head of affairs as of the last importance. . . . North & South will hang together, if they have you to hang on; and, if the first correction of a numerous representation should in it’s effect, your presence will give time for trying others not inconsistent with the union & peace of the states.

Thomas Jefferson, (edited by Patti Leicester Ford, New York, etc., 1895), VI, 1–5 passim.

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Chicago: Thomas Jefferson, "An Opinion of Hamilton (1792)," Writings, ed. Patti Leicester Ford in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1902), 287–289. Original Sources, accessed July 5, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=VIK9QXDXD9JFDX6.

MLA: Jefferson, Thomas. "An Opinion of Hamilton (1792)." Writings, edited by Patti Leicester Ford, Vol. VI, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 3, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1902, pp. 287–289. Original Sources. 5 Jul. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=VIK9QXDXD9JFDX6.

Harvard: Jefferson, T, 'An Opinion of Hamilton (1792)' in Writings, ed. . cited in 1902, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York, pp.287–289. Original Sources, retrieved 5 July 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=VIK9QXDXD9JFDX6.