“The ladder of his ambition”- Hamilton, Burr, and the 1804 New York Gubernatorial Race

In 1804, as Thomas Jefferson was running for a second term as President of the U.S., the race to be governor of New York was heating up.  Burr (who was still the sitting vice president) ran against Morgan Lewis (a Democratic-Republican) on a Federalist platform.  Although Burr had previously run for political office as a Democratic-Republican, he tried to build Federalist support for his campaign.  (The popular sitting governor of New York, George Clinton, was replacing Aaron Burr in the presidential race as Thomas Jefferson’s choice for Vice President, and would be Vice President of the U.S. until his death in 1812… it’s a tangled web)

Morgan Lewis from Hall of Governors NY

Hamilton’s notes, from a February 10, 1804 speech at a Federalist meeting in Albany lay out eight reasons why the Federalists should not support Burr for Governor and should instead support a Democratic-Republican candidate.

The first reason centered on Hamilton’s belief that Burr was a calculated politician, governed by his own ambition rather than by set principles.  He wrote that Burr had been aligned with the Democratic-Republicans, either because he believed in those values (“from principle”) or because he thought that it would make it easier for him to win (“from calculation”).  If Burr’s decision was based on his principles, Hamilton stated that he would not change his principles at a time when the Federalist party was struggling.  If Burr had made a strategic decision, he was not going to “relinquish the ladder of his ambition” for the good of the Federalist party.

“Col Burr has steadily pursued the ⟨track⟩ of democratic policies. This he has done either from principle or from calculation. If the former he is not likely now to change his plan, when the federalists are prostrate and their enemies predominent. If the latter, he will certainly not at this time relinquish the ladder of his ambition and espouse the cause or views of the weaker party.”

Second, Hamilton described with begrudging respect that Burr was a talented politician who would be able to rally people around him

“it will be no difficult task for a man of talents intrigue and address possessing this chair of Government to rally the great body of them under his standard and thereby to consolidate for personal purposes the mass of Clintonians, his own adherents among the democrats and such federalists as from personal good will or interested motives may give him support.”

Hamilton also expressed his fear that Burr becoming governor would unite the democratic party:

 “The effect of his elevation will be to reunite under a more adroit able and daring chief the now scattered fragments of the democratic party and to reinforce it by a strong detachment from the federalists.”

Hamilton expressed the fear that Burr would capitalize on the tendency of popular governments to “dissolution and disorder” and would build up popular prejudices and vices.

If he be truly, as the federalists have believed, a man of irregular and insatiable ambition; if his plan has been to rise to power on the ladder of Jacobinic principles, it is natural to conclude that he will endeavor to fix himself in power by the same instrument, that he will not lean on a fallen ⟨and⟩ falling party, generally speaking of a character not to favour usurpation and the ascendancy of a despotic chief. Every day shews more and more the much to be regretted tendency of Governments intirely popular to dissolution and disorder. Is it rational to expect, that a man who had the sagacity to foresee this tendency, and whose temper would permit him to bottom his aggrandisement on popular prejudices and vices would desert this system at a time, when more than ever the state of things invites him to adhere to it?

Although Lansing was a political enemy and an anti-Federalist who had vigorously opposed the Constitution and ruled against Hamilton as a judge, Hamilton believed that Lansing’s strength of personal character would protect the office.

If Lansing is Governor his personal character affords some security against pernicious extremes, and at the same time renders it morally certain, that the democratic party already much divided and weakened will moulder and break asunder more and more. This is certainly a state of things favorable to the future ascendancy of the wise and good. May it not lead to a recasting of parties by which the fœderalists will gain a great accession of force from former opponents?

Burr ultimately lost the election, and Morgan Lewis became the Governor of New York.  Burr’s loss, in April 1804, happened just a few months before his duel with Hamilton in July 1804.

Hamilton’s Hurricane Experience

As people try to recover and rebuild from Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, the hurricane coverage brought to mind Hamilton’s experience as a teenager living in St. Croix when it was hit by a destructive hurricane in 1772.

Hamilton wrote on September 6, 1772:

It seemed as if a total dissolution of nature was taking place. The roaring of the sea and wind, fiery meteors flying about it in the air, the prodigious glare of almost perpetual lightning, the crash of the falling houses, and the ear-piercing shrieks of the distressed, were sufficient to strike astonishment into Angels. A great part of the buildings throughout the Island are levelled to the ground, almost all the rest very much shattered; several persons killed and numbers utterly ruined; whole families running about the streets, unknowing where to find a place of shelter; the sick exposed to the keeness of water and air without a bed to lie upon, or a dry covering to their bodies; and our harbours entirely bare. In a word, misery, in all its most hideous shapes, spread over the whole face of the country.

Hamilton’s letter was published by the Royal Danish Gazette the following month.

VIEW IN ANTIGUA: EFFECTS PRODUCED UPON THE HOUSE AT CLARK'S HILL BY THE HURRICANE IN 1772 (1775-6)

A contemporary newspaper account published by Will Johnson at the Saba Islander states:

“From the advices just come to hand from America, is selected the following melancholy account of the effects of the Great Storm on August 31st, at the Caribbean islands.—St. Eustatia, 400 houses on the higher grounds destroyed, or rendered untenantable ; many houses carried ten or twelve yards, and others quite into the sea. Plantation-houses all down, except two, and the canes on the ground all twisted up. The Dutch church blown into the sea.—At Saba, 180 houses blown down, and the cattle carried away from their stakes.- At. St.Martin’s scarce a house standing, all their plantations destroyed. —St. Croix a every house almost at Christianstad, and all the plantations and negro houses leveled. Only three houses left standing at Frederickstadt, and numbers of people killed. At St. Kitts’s, almost all the estates are destroyed, there being scarce a mill or boiling house left standing.”

Hamilton Papers Digitized on Library of Congress Website!!

In exciting news, the Library of Congress has digitized its extensive collection of Hamilton microfilm and made them publicly accessible.  This gives us all unprecedented access to original Hamilton documents that you would previously need to review and request on microfilm.

The Library of Congress description states:

The collection, consisting of approximately 12,000 items dating from 1708 to 1917, documents Hamilton’s impoverished Caribbean boyhood (scantily); events in the lives of his family and that of his wife, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton; his experience as a Revolutionary War officer and aide-de-camp to General George Washington; his terms as a New York delegate to the Continental Congress (1782-1783) and the Constitutional Convention (1787); and his careers as a New York state legislator, United States treasury secretary (1789-1795), political writer, and lawyer in private practice. Most of the papers date from 1777 until Hamilton’s death in 1804.

The Library of Congress finding aid has more information on all the information included in each of the reels.

The collection is organized into these eight categories:

  • General Correspondence, 1734-1804 (Reels 1-21)
    Hamilton’s correspondence begins with his boyhood employment with merchant Nicholas Cruger in St. Croix and continues through his service in the Revolutionary War, his participation as a New York delegate in the Constitutional Convention, and as treasury secretary. It ends with his last letters to his wife before his death in a duel with Aaron Burr in July 1804.
  • Speeches and Writings, 1778-1804 (Reels 21-23)
    Drafts, copies, and notes of reports; political essays, speeches, New York legislative acts, and more composed by Hamilton from the American Revolution until his death. Of note is an outline of the speech he delivered at the Constitutional Convention on June 18, 1787; his notes on debates and speeches at New York’s ratifying convention, June 1788; drafts of the four major economic reports he wrote as treasury secretary (on public credit, creation of a national bank, establishment of a mint, and development of manufacturing); drafts of the speeches he wrote for George Washington, including Washington’s 1796 farewell address; notes he took at New York’s constitutional convention of 1787; and drafts of some of his political essays. None of Hamilton’s Federalistessays are included.
  • Legal File, 1708-1804 (Reels 23-29)
    Papers documenting Hamilton’s career as a lawyer, which began in 1782. Most of these are ordered alphabetically by case. Some of the landmark cases included in his papers are Rutgers v. Waddington, People v. Croswell, Hylton v. United States, and cases forming the LeGuen v. Gouverneur and Kemble litigation.
  • Financial Papers, 1782-1804 (Reel 29)
    The financial papers, which form the smallest segment of the collection, consist of two volumes of accounts relating to Hamilton’s law practice, and a folder of miscellaneous receipts. Some of the receipts are for money Hamilton paid engineer William Pearce on behalf of the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures to provide machinery for manufacturing cotton, 1791-1792.
  • Family Papers, 1737-1917 (Reels 29-31)
    Letters and other documents of members of the Hamilton, Schuyler, and related families, but not including Alexander Hamilton himself. The series contains letters from Angelica Church (Hamilton’s sister-in-law) and Philip Schuyler (Hamilton’s father-in-law) to Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton; from Philip Schuyler to his grandson, Philip Hamilton; and from Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton to her sister, Catherine Cochran, and to her son, Philip Hamilton. Through the marriage of Philip Hamilton to Rebecca McLane, several McLane family letters were incorporated into the papers. Most of the nonfamily correspondence of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton relates to the management of her properties and to arrangements for the publication of Hamilton’s papers. Scattered letters addressed to Alexander Hamilton (Alexander and Elizabeth’s grandson), James A. Hamilton, John Church Hamilton, and to members of the McLane family are also included.
  • Miscellany, 1711-1820 (Reels 31-34)
    A mixture of original and copied documents. Included are certificates, military papers, legislative papers, newspaper clippings, writings, school exercises attributed to Hamilton, Hamilton family papers including Hamilton’s will, printed material, notes on the collection, and more.
  • 1998 Addition, 1780-1820
    This series, consisting of material acquired by gift and purchase since the collection was microfilmed in 1981, was added to the Hamilton Papers in 1998. Originals include a letter from Nicholas Everton to Hamilton concerning legal matters and a Treasury Department circular. Photocopied material includes letters by Hamilton, miscellaneous images, and a page from a church register recording his marriage.
  • 2017 Addition, 1790-1804
    This series consists of fifty-five letters, originally owned by Hamilton descendants, purchased by the Library of Congress at Sotheby’s in January 2017. Fifty-one of these, 1790-1804, are from Philip Schuyler (1733-1804) to his son-in-law Alexander Hamilton and daughter Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton. The remainder consists of two additional family letters, a letter from Charles Pierre L’Enfant to Hamilton, July 14, 1801, concerning L’Enfant’s renovation of City Hall in New York into Federal Hall, and a fragment of a will in Hamilton’s hand, [July 1795].
  • Oversize
    Correspondence, reports, annotated drafts of the Constitution, writings, deeds, agreements, contracts, financial papers, certificates, and printed matter. These items were microfilmed in their original locations before their physical removal to this series. Included here are samples of lace made by women in Ipswich, Massachusetts. The lace was collected for Hamilton as an example of American manufacturing as he wrote his “Report on Manufactures,” 1791.

Hamilton on the Death of John Laurens

On August 27, 1782, John Laurens was killed while leading a party of American soldiers in a skirmish against the British.  Hamilton and Lauren had been extremely close, and Hamilton struggled with the news as he began his Congressional career.

Hamilton and Laurens became friends when both were aides-de-camp to Washington during the Revolution, and the two had an extremely close bond.

In April 1779, Hamilton wrote:

“Cold in my professions, warm in ⟨my⟩ friendships, I wish, my Dear Laurens, it m⟨ight⟩be in my power, by action rather than words, ⟨to⟩ convince you that I love you. I shall only tell you that ’till you bade us Adieu, I hardly knew the value you had taught my heart to set upon you. Indeed, my friend, it was not well done. You know the opinion I entertain of mankind, and how much it is my desire to preserve myself free from particular attachments, and to keep my happiness independent on the caprice of others. You sh⟨ould⟩ not have taken advantage of my sensibility to ste⟨al⟩ into my affections without my consent. But as you have done it and as we are generally indulgent to those we love, I shall not scruple to pardon the fraud you have committed, on condition that for my sake, if not for your own, you will always continue to merit the partiality, which you have so artfully instilled into ⟨me⟩.”

 

In 1779, Laurens left Washington’s service when he was elected to the South Carolina state legislature.  In that position, he attempted to win support for his plan for the enlistment of Black troops in the Continental Army.  On July 14, 1779, Laurens wrote:

Ternant will relate to you how many violent struggles I have had between duty and inclination—how much my heart was with you, while I appeared to be most actively employed here—but it appears to me that I shd be inexcusable in the light of a Citizen if I did not continue my utmost efforts for carrying the plan of black levies into execution, while there remains the smallest hope of success.

Image of John Laurens from Wikimedia

Just two weeks before Lauren died in South Carolina, Hamilton wrote him a letter on August 15, 1782 imploring him to join Congress and help him with the country’s next steps after the Revolution.

It requires all the virtue and all the abilities of the Country. Quit your sword my friend, put on the toga, come to Congress. We know each others sentiments, our views are the same: we have fought side by side to make America free, let us hand in hand struggle to make her happy.

Unfortunately, they never had that chance.  After Laurens’ death Hamilton wrote to his friend Nathaniel Greeene on October 12, 1782:

“I feel the deepest affliction at the news we have just received of the loss of our dear and ⟨inesti⟩mable friend Laurens. His career of virtue is at an end. How strangely are human affairs conducted, that so many excellent qualities could not ensure a more happy fate? The world will feel the loss of a man who has left few like him behind, and America of a citizen whose heart realized that patriotism of which others only talk. I feel the loss of a friend I truly and most tenderly loved, and one of a very small number.”

Getting Your Hamilton Fix in Los Angeles!

Now that the Hamilton Tour has arrived in Los Angeles, excitement is building!  Here are some thoughts on experiencing Hamilton-esque exhibits in Los Angeles before or after you get your fix of the musical at the Pantages.  While Hamilton obviously never lived in Los Angeles (although one of his sons is buried in Northern California), there are several places in town to see art and exhibits that relate to Hamilton and his era.

  • LACMA (The Los Angeles County Museum of Art) in Mid-Wilshire has a sculpture bust of Hamilton’s mentor called the “Portrait of George Washington” by French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon on view at the Art of the Americas building.  Although Houdon did not create a sculpt of Hamilton, he portrayed many of his contemporaries featured in the musical, including Thomas Jefferson and the marquis de Lafayette.

    LACMA Collection Information
  • The Becoming America exhibit at the Huntington Library in Pasadena has a collection of 18th- and early 19th-century American art works, including paintings, sculpture, furniture, ceramics, metal, needlework, and other related decorative arts.  Every day art and objects from Hamilton’s time are available as part of this collection.

Becoming America: Becoming America: Highlights from the Jonathan and Karin Fielding Collection

  • The American Heritage Library and Museum in Glendale, operated by the Sons of the Revolution in the State of California has a collection of historical objects and artifacts of the colonial and early periods of America’s history.  The museum is free of charge and open to the public.

Hamilton, Adams, and the “British Faction”

It’s Hamiltime is back!  I’ve been in trial mode for the past several months, but I’m back and will be updating this blog on a regular basis.

During the presidency of John Adams, Hamilton found himself at odds with the President, and the subject of swirling rumors that he was part of a “British faction.”

Hamilton wrote to his friend Oliver Wolcott, Jr. on July 1, 1800:

I have serious thoughts of writing to the President to tell him That I have heared of his having repeatedly mentioned the existence of a British Faction in this Country & alluded to me as one of that faction—requesting that he will inform me of the truth of this information & if true what have been the grounds of the suggestion.

On August 1, 1800 Hamilton sent a heated letter to Adams confronting him about the rumors:

“It has been repeatedly mentioned to me that you have, on different occasions, asserted the existence of a British Faction in this Country, embracing a number of leading or influential characters of the Federal Party (as usually denominated) and that you have sometimes named me, at other times plainly alluded to me, as one of this description of persons: And I have likewise been assured that of late some of your warm adherents, for electioneering purposes, have employed a corresponding language.

I must, Sir, take it for granted, that you cannot have made such assertions or insinuations without being willing to avow them, and to assign the reasons to a party who may conceive himself injured by them. I therefore trust that you will not deem it improper that I apply directly to yourself, to ascertain from you, in reference to your own declarations, whether the information, I have received, has been correct or not, and if correct what are the grounds upon which you have founded the suggestion.”

Image from Biography.com 

On October 1, 1800, Hamilton again wrote to Adams:

“The time which has elapsed since my letter of the first of August was delivered to you precludes the further expectation of an answer.

From this silence, I will draw no inference; nor will I presume to judge of the fitness of silence on such an occasion, on the part of The Chief Magistrate of a Republic, towards a citizen, who without a stain has discharged so many important public trusts.

But this much I will affirm, that by whomsoever a charge of the kind mentioned in my former letter may, at any time, have been made or insinuated against me, it is a base wicked and cruel calumny; destitute even of a plausible pretext to excuse the folly or mask the depravity which must have dictated it.”

Hamilton’s fierce defense of his honor and reputation shine through in these letters to Adams.  Just three weeks after sending this second letter to Adams, Hamilton wrote his influential Letter Concerning the Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, which greatly diminished Adams’ chances of re-election.

Hamil-Parenting: Rules for Philip Hamilton

After his oldest son, Philip, graduated from Columbia and began training as a law clerk in his father’s office, Hamilton laid out a detailed schedule for his study.  The schedule accounted for almost of all of Philip’s waking hours, from 6 am to 10 pm.  Under Hamilton’s rules, Philip would read Law for seven hours a day, and study other subjects for another three hours a day, with some breaks for eating. and some leisure time for “innocent recreations” on Sundays after church.  That is some intense scheduling!

Drawing of Philip Hamilton.
Image of Philip Hamilton from PBS

The full text of the rules, apparently from 1800, is reprinted below and available on Founders Online.

Rules for Mr Philip Hamilton from the first of April to the first of October he is to rise not later than Six Oclock—The rest of the year not later than Seven. If Earlier he will deserve commendation. Ten will be his hour of going to bed throughout the year.

From the time he is dressed in the morning till nine o clock (the time for breakfast Excepted) he is to read Law.

At nine he goes to the office & continues there till dinner time—he will be occupied partly in the writing and partly in reading law.

After Dinner he reads law at home till five O clock. From this hour till Seven he disposes of his time as he pleases. From Seven to ten he reads and Studies what ever he pleases.

From twelve on Saturday he is at Liberty to amuse himself.

On Sunday he will attend the morning Church. The rest of the day may be applied to innocent recreations.

He must not Depart from any of these rules without my permission.