A Host Within Himself: Hamilton’s 1795 Defense of the Jay Treaty

In 1795, Thomas Jefferson complained bitterly about Hamilton’s campaign to support the Jay Treaty after its provisions were made known to the public in 1795.  Jeffersonians took up the cry: “Damn John Jay! Damn every one that won’t damn John Jay!  Damn every one that won’t put lights in his windows and sit up all night damning John Jay!!!”

Hamilton risked his popularity, and even his safety to defend Jay’s Treaty.  In fact, a mob attempted to stone Hamilton at a public meeting in New York for his defense of the treaty.  However, as noted in Henry Cabot Lodge’s edition of the Works of Alexander Hamilton, Hamilton’s Camillus letters “did more to check an apparently irresistible popular feeling and turn it the other way, than anything else.”

On August 3, 1795, Jefferson wrote to Madison about Hamilton’s activities in support of the treaty:

You will percieve by the inclosed that Hamilton has taken up his pen in support of the treaty. [Return it to me.] He spoke on it’s behalf in the meeting at New York, and his party carried a decision in favor of it by a small majority. But the Livingstonians appealed to stones and clubs and beat him and his party off the ground. This from a gentleman just from Philadelphia. Adieu.

P.S. Richmond has decided against the treaty. It is said that not even Carrington undertakes to defend it.

On September 21, 1795, Jefferson wrote to Madison about the state of the Federalist Party and his fears that Hamilton’s singular talents with the pen were a viable threat to the Jeffersonian Republicans despite the fact that the Federalists were outnumbered.

Hamilton is really a colossus to the antirepublican party. Without numbers, he is an host within himself. They have got themselves into a defile, where they might be finished; but too much security on the Republican part, will give time to his talents & indefatigableness to extricate them. We have had only midling performances to oppose to him. In truth, when he comes forward, there is nobody but yourself who can meet him. His adversaries having begun the attack, he has the advantage of answering them, & remains unanswered himself. A solid reply might yet completely demolish what was too feebly attacked, and has gathered strength from the weakness of the attack.

Jefferson implored Madison to take action and draft a sufficient reply to Hamilton’s words.

The merchants were certainly (except those of them who are English) as open-mouthed at first against the treaty as any. But the general expression of indignation has alarmed them for the strength of the government. They have feared the shock would be too great, and have chosen to tack about & support both treaty & government, rather than risk the government: thus it is that Hamilton, Jay &c in the boldest act they ever ventured on to undermine the constitution have the address to screen themselves & direct the hue & cry against those who wished to drag them into light. A bolder party-stroke was never struck. For it certainly is an attempt of a party which finds they have lost their majority in one branch of the legislature to make a law by the aid of the other branch, & of the executive, under color of a treaty, which shall bind up the hands of the adverse branch from ever restraining the commerce of their patron-nation. There appears a pause at present in the public sentiment, which may be followed by a revulsion. This is the effect of the desertion of the merchants, of the President’s chiding answer to Boston & Richmond, of the writings of Curtius & Camillus, and of the quietism into which the people naturally fall, after first sensations are over. For god’s sake take up your pen, and give a fundamental reply to Curtius & Camillus.

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