Teamwork Made the Dream Work: Washington and Hamilton

One great example of the legendary collaboration between Washington and Hamilton during Washington’s presidency is in the written correspondence they shared in the summer of 1792.  Washington described concerns that were raised to him about the administration’s policy’s, most of which had been built and enacted by Hamilton himself.  In response, Hamilton (unsurprisingly) drafted a lengthy, 10,000+ word response that addressed each of the objections Washington presented.  I’ve included excerpts of some of the objections and Hamilton’s responses that I found most interesting below along with some commentary and analysis, but I encourage you to read the full letters, available from Founders Online.  You can find Washington’s July 29, 1792 letter here, and Hamilton’s August 18, 1792 response here.

Image from Mount Vernon

Washington wrote to Hamilton from Mt. Vernon about his conversations with others about the state of the government:

“On my way home, and since my arrival here, I have endeavoured to learn from sensible & moderate men—known friends to the Government—the sentiments which are entertained of public measures. These all agree that the Country is prosperous & happy; but they seem to be alarmed at that system of policy, and those interpretations of the Constitution which have taken place in Congress.”

Washington divided the concerns into twenty-one categories, and asked Hamilton to respond to those criticisms “as soon as you can make it convenient to yourself.”  Most of the criticisms focused on financial policy.  Hamilton responded about three weeks later with a lengthy point-by-point defense of the policies he had put into place.

The first and foremost concern Washington expressed was that the public debt was “greater than we can possibly pay” and that the amount of the debt had been miscalculated.  Summing up the criticisms he had heard, he wrote:

 “That the public debt is greater than we can possibly pay before other causes of adding new debt to it will occur; and that this has been artificially created by adding together the whole amount of the debtor & creditor sides of the accounts, instead of taking only their balances; which could have been paid off in a short time.”

First, Hamilton defended the amount of the debt:

“The public Debt was produced by the late war. It is not the fault of the present government that it exists; unless it can be proved, that public morality and policy do not require of a Government an honest provision for its debts.”

Hamilton responded, ridiculing the assumptions of the critics who had spoken to Washington:

“The thirteen States in their joint capacity owed a certain sum. The same states, in their separate capacities, owed another sum. These two sums constituted the aggregate of the public Debt. The public, in a political sense, compounded of the Governments of the Union and of the several states, was the debtor. The individuals who held the various evidences of debt were the creditors. It would be non-sense to say, that the combining of the two parts of the public Debt is adding together the Debtor and Creditor sides of the account. So great an absurdity cannot be supposed to be intended by the objection. Another meaning must therefore be sought for.”

Hamilton also discussed the general benefits of having a public debt:

“The general inducements to a provision for the public Debt are—I   To preserve the public faith and integrity by fulfilling as far as was practicable the public engagements. II   To manifest a due respect for property by satisfying the public obligations in the hands of the public Creditors and which were as much their property as their houses or their lands their hats or their coats. III   To revive and establish public Credit; the palladium of public safety. IV   To preserve the Government itself by shewing it worthy of the confidence which was placed in it, to procure to the community the blessings which in innumerable ways attend confidence in the Government and to avoid the evils which in as many ways attend the want of confidence in it.”

After an extensive justification of his financial policy, Hamilton responded to the political points raised by critics.  One of the objections Washington included was that Hamilton’s ultimate goal was to change the present republican form of Government.  Critics today have sometimes leveled the same criticism of Hamilton.

Hamilton’s response to the charge was very direct:

“To this there is no other answer than a flat denial—except this that the project from its absurdity refutes itself.

The idea of introducing a monarchy or aristocracy into this Country, by employing the influence and force of a Government continually changing hands, towards it, is one of those visionary things, that none but madmen could meditate and that no wise men will believe.

If it could be done at all, which is utterly incredible, it would require a long series of time, certainly beyond the life of any individual to effect it. Who then would enter into such plot? For what purpose of interest or ambition?

To hope that the people may be cajoled into giving their sanctions to such institutions is still more chimerical. A people so enlightened and so diversified as the people of this Country can surely never be brought to it, but from convulsions and disorders, in consequence of the acts of popular demagogues.

The truth unquestionably is, that the only path to a subversion of the republican system of the Country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion. Tired at length of anarchy, or want of government, they may take shelter in the arms of monarchy for repose and security.”

If you’re interested in reading more on the relationship and collaboration between Washington and Hamilton, here are some suggested reading titles:

 

Review of the Hamiltour in LA

After watching the original cast at the Public and on Broadway several times, I got to experience the Hamilton tour in Los Angeles at the Pantages Theater during previews and again at the September 10, 2017 show.  I’m going one more time in December, but wanted to share my thoughts on the LA production.

The touring production went all out with the set design and costumes.  The set design was elaborate, perfectly complementing the choreography.  The ensemble was fantastic both times I saw the show, and they utilized the spacing of the stage in such a cool way.

You have to appreciate costume designer Paul Tazewell’s eye for detail, especially with how the costumes subtly change over time to show the trends of the decade involved.

I really enjoyed watching the touring cast put their own spin on the show.  Each actor added their own unique flourishes to the characters and songs.  Julia Harriman, who was substituting for Eliza on September 10th really captured the spirit of Eliza Hamilton and has an amazing voice.  Emmy Raver-Lampman, who was always an eye-catching dancer in the ensemble of the original Broadway cast, made a fantastic Angelica.  The entire cast was able to make the material their own rather than imitating others who have performed it before.

Whether you saw the show and want more Hamilton, or you didn’t get tickets, check out my post on how to get your Hamilton fix in Los Angeles.

Hamilton’s Condolences to Martha Washington

George Washington died on December 14, 1799.  On January 12, 1800, Hamilton wrote to Martha Washington to express his condolences:

He first noted that he had waited to write in order to give her some privacy with her grief:

“I did not thing it proper, Madam, to intrude amidst the first effusions of your grief.”

He then said that after two weeks had passed, he needed to convey his sympathy:

But I can no longer restrain my sensibility from conveying to you an imperfect expression of my affectionate sympathy in the sorrows you experience.

Hamilton wrote that he would not offer consolation to Mrs. Washington because only her acceptance of the will of Heaven could help alleviate her suffering.

No one, better than myself, knows the greatness of your loss, or how much your excellent heart is formed to feel it in all its extent. Satisfied that you cannot receive consolation, I will attempt to offer none. Resignation to the will of Heaven, which the practice of your life ensures, can alone alleviate the sufferings of so heart-rending an affliction.

Hamilton mentioned his close relationship with Washington, which made him feel the loss of his commander and mentor so strongly.  He spoke of how Washington’s confidence in him had been integral in developing his own future.

There can be few, who equally with me participate in the loss you deplore. In expressing this sentiment, I may without impropriety allude to the numerous and distinguished marks of confidence and friendship, of which you have yourself been a Witness; but I cannot say in how many ways the continuance of that confidence and friendship was necessary to me in future relations.

Hamilton talked about Washington’s death as a “calamity” for the mourning nation, and ruminated that having a closer relationship to Washington and therefore being more effected was perhaps “even a privilege:”

Vain, however, are regrets. From a calamity, which is common to a mourning nation, who can expect to be exempt? Perhaps it is even a privilege to have a claim to a larger portion of it than others.

In closing his letter, Hamilton asked Mrs. Washington to call  upon him if he ever needed anything, stating that it would be a “real and a great happiness” for him to serve her:

I will only add, Madam, that I shall deem it a real and a great happiness, if any future occurrence shall enable me to give you proof of that respectful and cordial attachment with which I have the honor to be

Your obliged & very obedient servant

Martha Washington died about two and a half years after her husband, and was interred with him at Mount Vernon.

I’m a General! Whee! John Laurens’ Duel with Charles Lee (Pt. 2)

On December 5, 1778, John Laurens wrote to Hamilton after reading Charles Lee’s Vindication:

“You have seen, and by this time considered, General Lee’s infamous publication. I have collected some hints for an answer; but I do not think, either that I can rely upon my own knowledge of facts and style to answer him fully, or that it would be prudent to undertake it without counsel. An affair of this kind ought to be passed over in total silence, or answered in a masterly manner.”

Laurens challenged Lee to a duel shortly after writing to Hamilton.  The duel took place on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1778.  Hamilton was Laurens’ second in the duel, and Lee’s former aid, Major Evan Edwards, served as Lee’s second.  (Interestingly, Edwards named his son Charles Lee Edwards, after the general).

A 1780 miniature portrait of Laurens, by Charles Willson Peale from Wikimedia

Hamilton wrote an account of the duel, available on Founders Online.  According to Hamilton, Laurens fired and hit Lee and then Laurens, Hamilton, and Edwards all came towards Lee to check on his injury.  Lee then stated that his wound was “inconsiderable” and tried to insist on a second round, which Hamilton, Laurens, and Edwards vigorously opposed.  Hamilton told Lee that unless Lee was “influenced by motives of personal enmity,” he should let the duel terminate.  Lee still insisted on continuing the duel, but then decided to let both of the seconds- Hamilton and Edwards- negotiate a peace.

They approached each other within about five or six paces and exchanged a shot almost at the same moment. As Col Laurens was preparing for a second discharge, General Lee declared himself wounded. Col Laurens, as if apprehending the wound to be more serious than it proved advanced towards the general to offer his support. The same was done by Col Hamilton and Major Edwards under a similar apprehension. General Lee then said the wound was inconsiderable, less than he had imagined at the first stroke of the Ball, and proposed to fire a second time. This was warmly opposed both by Col Hamilton and Major Edwards, who declared it to be their opinion, that the affair should terminate as it then stood. But General Lee repeated his desire, that there should be a second discharge and Col Laurens agreed to the proposal. Col Hamilton observed, that unless the General was influenced by motives of personal enmity, he did not think the affair ought to be persued any further; but as General Lee seemed to persist in desiring it, he was too tender of his friend’s honor to persist in opposing it. The combat was then going to be renewed; but Major Edwards again declaring his opinion, that the affair ought to end where it was, General Lee then expressed his confidence in the honor of the Gentlemen concerned as seconds, and said he should be willing to comply with whatever they should cooly and deliberately determine. Col. Laurens consented to the same.

Image of Lee from UVA’s George Washington Papers site

Hamilton and Edwards discussed the issue, and then Lee and Laurens talked about what resulted in the duel in the first place.  Lauren stated that he had been informed “that General Lee had spoken of General Washington in the grossest and most opprobrious terms of personal abuse.”  Lee stated that he had given a negative opinion of Washington’s “military character,” but had not attacked Washington’s personal character.

 

During the interview a conversation to the following purport past between General Lee and Col Laurens—On Col Hamilton’s intimating the idea of personal enmity, as beforementioned, General Lee declared he had none, and had only met Col. Laurens to defend his own honor—that Mr. Laurens best knew whether there was any on his part. Col Laurens replied, that General Lee was acquainted with the motives, that had brought him there, which were that he had been informed from what he thought good authority, that General Lee had spoken of General Washington in the grossest and most opprobrious terms of personal abuse, which He Col Laurens thought himself bound to resent, as well on account of the relation he bore to General Washington as from motives of personal friendship, and respect for his character. General Lee acknowleged that he had given his opinion against General Washingtons military character to his particular friends and might perhaps do it again. He said every man had a right to give his sentiments freely of military characters, and that he did not think himself personally accountable to Col Laurens for what he had done in that respect. But said he never had spoken of General Washington in the terms mentioned, which he could not have done; as well because he had always esteemed General Washington as a man, as because such abuse would be incompatible with the character, he would ever wish to sustain as a Gentleman.

The affair was then over.  Hamilton wrote that he was satisfied with the result:

“Upon the whole we think it a piece of justice to the two Gentlemen to declare, that after they met their conduct was strongly marked with all the politeness generosity coolness and firmness, that ought to characterise a transaction of this nature.”

Valley Forge National Park wrote this account of the duel:

December 1778 found Laurens involved in yet another escapade. The audacious young Lieutenant Colonel had challenged General Charles Lee to a duel. Lee had recently undergone a court martial in which he had not only verbally insulted Laurens, but also “spoken of General Washington in the grossest and most opprobrious terms of personal abuse.” The weapons of choice were pistols, and unlike most duels, Laurens and Lee started by facing each other, and then advanced until only about six paces separated them. Both men fired simultaneously; Laurens was not hit, but Lee was wounded in the side. However, Lee had only been grazed by the ball, and he insisted on reloading the weapons for another shot. Laurens voiced his acceptance. The seconds protested, saying that it should end. Eventually cooler heads prevailed, and it was declared that honor had been satisfied and the duel was over. Lee later declared that Laurens’s conduct on this occasion was gentlemanly, and he had gained an “odd sort of respect for him.”