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-Burrn: Hamilton’s Letter on John Adams (Part 1)

Perhaps Hamilton’s most famous and most influential burn was his influential letter “Concerning the Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, Esq. President of the United States.”  Hamilton wrote the letter in October of 1800.  I strongly encourage everyone to read the full letter on Founders Online, but I’ve compiled my favorite sections for your reading pleasure, with some context.

Hamilton gave the ultimate half-compliment/full-insult, acknowledging Adams’ patriotism, integrity, and possession of some talents, but stating that in the interests of honesty, he had to make clear his view that Adams was unfit to be President both because of his lack of talent, and because of “great and intrinsic” defects in his character.

Not denying to Mr.Adams patriotism and integrity, and even talents of a certain kind, I should be deficient in candor, were I to conceal the conviction, that he does not possess the talents adapted to the Administration of Government, and that there are great and intrinsic defects in his character, which unfit him for the office of Chief Magistrate.

Hamilton then described how he had many opportunities to closely scrutinize Adams, including as a Congressman.  He stated that after close observation, he had determined about Adams that:

“…he is a man of an imagination sublimated and eccentric; propitious neither to the regular display of sound judgment, nor to steady perseverance in a systematic plan of conduct; and I began to perceive what has been since too manifest, that to this defect are added the unfortunate foibles of a vanity without bounds, and a jealousy capable of discoloring every object.”

Hamilton excoriated Adams for his failure to rely on his cabinet members and consult others for advice.  He contrasted Adams’ arrogance with Washington’s thoughtfulness and resolution.

When, unhappily, an ordinary man dreams himself to be a Frederick, and through vanity refrains from counselling with his constitutional advisers, he is very apt to fall into the hands of miserable intriguers, with whom his self-love is more at ease, and who without difficulty slide into his confidence, and by flattery, govern him.

The ablest men may profit by advice. Inferior men cannot dispense with it; and if they do not get it through legitimate channels, it will find its way to them, through such as are clandestine and impure.

Very different from the practice of Mr. Adams was that of the modest and sage Washington. He consulted much, pondered much, resolved slowly, resolved surely.

Hamilton also strongly criticized Adams’ treatment of his cabinet members, particularly of James McHenry, who had originally been appointed Secretary of War by President Washington in 1796, but was asked to resign by President Adams in May of 1800.  Hamilton noted that one of the many charges that President Adams had complained of regarding Secretary McHenry involved McHenry’s praise of President Washington.

The dismission of the Secretary at War took place about the same time. It was declared in the sequel of a long conversation between the President and him, of a nature to excite alternately pain and laughter; pain, for the weak and excessive indiscretions of a Chief Magistrate of the United States; laughter at the ludicrous topics which constituted charges against this officer.

A prominent charge was, that the Secretary, in a Report to the House of Representatives,had eulogized General Washington, and had attempted to eulogize General Hamilton, which was adduced as one proof of a combination, in which the Secretary was engaged, to depreciate and injure him, the President.

Wonderful! passing Wonderful! that an Eulogy of the dead patriot and hero, of the admired and beloved Washington, consecrated in the affections and reverence of his country, should, in any shape, be irksome to the ears of his successor!

McHenry’s description of his meeting with President Adams in a May 20, 1800 letter to his nephew is below:

He requested to see me on the 5th instant. The business appeared to relate to the appointment of a Purveyor, and to disembarrass himself of any engagement on that head. This settled, he took up other subjects, became indecorous and at times outrageous. General Washington had saddled him with three Secretaries, Wolcott, Pickering, and myself. I had not appointed a gentleman in N. Carolina, the only elector who had given him a vote in that State, a captain in the army, and afterwards had him appointed a lieutenant, which he refused. I had biased General Washington to place Hamilton in his list of Major Generals, before Knox. I had Eulogized General Washington, in my report to Congress, and had attempted in the same report, to praise Hamilton. In short there was no bounds to his jealousy. I had done nothing right. I had advised a suspension of the mission. Every body blamed me for my official conduct and I must resign. I resigned the next morning. Mr. Pickering was thrown out a few days after. Mr. Wolcott is retained for a while, only because he is afraid of derangements in affairs of the Treasury. And I predict, should he be elected, (which I think cannot happen) Stoddert and Lee will be dismissed the moment he is persuaded the measure will strengthen him in his seat or answer a present or temporary purpose.

More on Hamilton’s letter and its eventual publication to follow in a post next week.  (Hamilton wrote 14,000+ words, so there’s a lot of shade to analyze!)

Hamil-Burrns: A Twisted Tale

I’ve written before about how John Adams maintained a lifelong hatred of Hamilton, even after Hamilton’s death.  Hamilton also distrusted Adams and had an integral role in ensuring his loss in the Election of 1800 by drafting a letter “Concerning the Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, Esq. President of the United States.”  A few months before Hamilton’s letter was released, he criticized Adams and his administration in a private July 1, 1800 letter to Maryland politician Charles Carroll.  Hamilton said of Adams:

“That this gentleman ought not to be the object of the federal wish, is, with me, reduced to demonstration. His administration has already very materially disgraced and sunk the government. There are defects in his character which must inevitably continue to do this more and more. And if he is supported by the federal party, his party must in the issue fall with him. Every other calculation will, in my judgment, prove illusory.

Doctor Franklin, a sagacious observer of human nature, drew this portrait of Mr. Adams:—“He is always honest, sometimes great, but often mad.” I subscribe to the justness of this picture, adding as to the first trait of it this qualification—“as far as a man excessively vain and jealous, and ignobly attached to place can be.”

Hamilton’s reference was to a July 1783 letter from Ben Franklin that has an interesting and twisted history of its own.

On July 22, 1783, Franklin wrote to Robert Livingston complaining of Adams’ persistent and public hostility to the French and warning that his attitude could have grave political consequences:

“I ought not however to conceal from You, that one of my Collegues is of a very different Opinion from me in these Matters. He thinks the french Minister one of the greatest Enemies of our Country; that he would have straitned our Boundaries to prevent the Growth of our people; contracted our Fishery to obstruct the Increase of our Seamen; and retained the Royalists amongst Us to keep us divided—that he privately opposes all our Negotiations with foreign Courts, and afforded us during the War the Assistance We received, only to keep it alive that We might be so much the more weakened by it. That to think of Gratitude to France, is the greatest of Follies, and that to be influenced by it, would ruin us. He makes no Secret of his having these opinions, expresses them publickly, sometimes in presence of the english Minister, and speaks of hundreds of Instances which he could produce in proof of them. None however have yet appeard to me, unless the Conversation and Letter above mentioned are reckoned such. If I were not convinced of the real Inability of the Court to furnish the farther Supplies We asked, I should suspect these Discourses of a person in his station, might have influenced the Refusal; but I think they have gone no farther than to occasion a Suspicion that We have a considerable party of Antigalicans in America, who are not Tories, and consequently to produce some Doubts of the Continuance of our Friendship. As such Doubts may hereafter have a bad Effect, I think We cannot take too much Care to remove them: and it is therefore I write this to put you on your Guard (beleiving it to be my Duty, tho I know that I hazzard by it a mortal Enmity) and to caution You respecting the Insinuations of this Gentleman against the Court, and the Instances he supposes of their Ill Will to us, which I take to be as imaginary as I know his Fancies to be that the Count de V[ergennes] and myself are continually plotting against him, and employing the News writers of Europe to depreciate his Character &c., but as Shakespear says “Trifles light as Air” &c.  Persuaded however that he means well for his Country, is always an honest Man, often a Wise one, but sometimes and in somethings absolutely out of his Senses.”

Robert Livingston then sneakily provided Franklin’s confidential letter to Abigail Adams via Elbridge Gerry in order to keep her informed about what Franklin was saying about her husband.  (This proves that you don’t need email or social media to get in trouble  about indiscreet past correspondence).  In his letter to Mrs. Adams, Gerry wrote:

Inclosed is an Extract of an official Letter from Doctor F—to Mr. Livingston Secretary of foreign affairs dated July 22d., which is calculated to give a private Stab to the Reputation of our Friend; at least it appears so to me. By the Doctors Observation that by writing the Letter “he hazzarded a mortal Enmity,” I think it evident, he did not intend the Letter should be seen by Mr. Adams’s particular Friends, but that Mr. Livingston should make a prudent Use of it to multiply Mr. Adams’ Enemies. Mr. L. could easily do this, by not communicating to Congress the paragraph: but being now out of Office,the Doctor’s Craft is apparent. You will please to keep the Matter a profound Secret, excepting to Mr. Adams, General Warren and Lady; and let the Channel of Communication be likewise a secret.

Of course, Abigail then sent the letter to John Adams in December of 1783, adding a scathing criticism that Franklin was one of many fools accidentally placed in a position of stature in public opinion of which he was unworthy:

“A Friend of yours in Congress some months ago, sent me an extract of a Letter, requesting me to conceal his Name, as he would not chuse to have it known by what means he procured the Coppy. From all your Letters I discoverd that the treatment you had received, and the suspence You was in, was sufficiently irritating without any thing further to add to Your vexation. I therefore surpresst the extract; as I knew the author was fully known to you: but seeing a letter from G[e]n. W[arre]n to you, in which this extract is alluded to; and finding by your late Letters, that your situation is less embarrassing, I inclose it; least you should think it much worse than it really is: at the same time I cannot help adding an observation which appears pertinant to me; that there is an ingredient necessary in a Mans composition towards happiness, which people of feeling would do well to acquire—a certain respect for the follies of Mankind. For there are so many fools whom the opinion of the world entittles to regard; whom accident has placed in heights of which they are unworthy, that he who cannot restrain, his contempt or indignation at the sight, will be too, often Quarrelling with the disposal of things to realish that Share, which is allotted to himself.” And here my paper obliges me to close the subject—without room to say adieu.”

Bad Blood: Abigail Adams on Hamilton

I’ve posted previously about the enmity and bitterness that John Adams felt towards Alexander Hamilton, even after Hamilton’s death.  Amanda Norton of the Massachusetts Historical Society, has a great blog post summarizing some of the highlights of Abigail Adams’ choice words about Hamilton, which focused on what she saw as his unbounded ambition, his influence over prominent statesmen, and his failed marriage vows.  I’ve included some quotes from Adams’ letters below.

In a December 31, 1796 letter to her husband, Abigail wrote:

“You may recollect, that I have often said to you, H. is a Man ambitious as Julius Ceasar. A subtle intriguer, his abilities would make him dangerous if he was to espouse a wrong side. His thirst for Fame is insatiable. I have ever kept my Eye upon him. He has obtaind a great influence over some of the most worthy and amiable of our acquaintance whom I could name.”

On January 28, 1797, a few months before the Adams administration began, Abigail wrote to John complaining of Hamilton’s cunning in trying to influence the 1796 election.  She remarked about Hamilton’s “wicked eyes,” claiming that “the very devil is in them.”

Mr. Black told me the other day on his return from Boston that Col. H. was loosing ground with his Friends in Boston, On what account I inquired. Why for the part he is said to have acted in the late Election. Aya what was that? Why they say that he tried to keep out both Mr. A–s and J–n, and that he behaved with great duplicity. He wanted to bring in Pinckney that he himself might be the dictator. So you see according to the old adage, Murder will out. I despise a Janus tho I do not feel a disposition to rail at or condemn the conduct of those who did not vote for you, because it is my firm belief that if the people had not been imposed upon by false reports and misrepresentations, the vote would have been nearly unanimous. H–n dared not risk his popularity to come out openly in opposition, but he went secretly cunningly as he thought to work, and as his influence is very great in the N England States, he imposed upon them. Ames you know has been his firm friend. I do not believe he suspected him, nor Cabot neither whom I believe he play’d upon. Smith of S C was duped by him I suspect.  Beware of that spair Cassius, has always occured to me when I have seen that cock sparrow. O I have read his Heart in his wicked Eyes many a time. The very devil is in them. They are laciviousness itself, or I have no skill in Physiognomy.

Pray burn this Letter. Dead Men tell no tales. It is really too bad to survive the Flames. I shall not dare to write so freely to you again unless you assure that you have complied with my request.

In a January 12, 1799 letter, Abigail described the idea of Hamilton having a top ranking position in the army in the Adams administration.  She complained that Hamilton’s nomination to such a position would “ill suit[]” the New England stomach.  She also alluded to his public affair with Maria Reynolds, stating that he was damned to “everlasting Infamy.”

“The Idea which prevails here, is that Hamilton will be first in command, as there is very little Idea that Washington will be any thing more than, Name as to actual Service, and I am told that it ill suits the N England Stomack. They say He is not a Native, and beside He has so damnd himself to everlasting Infamy, that He ought not to be Head of any thing. The Jacobins Hate him and the Federilists do not Love him. Serious people are mortified; and every Uriah must tremble for his Bathsheba”

Death Feud: John Adams’ Obsession with Hamilton’s Legacy

The rivalry between Alexander Hamilton and John Adams during Hamilton’s lifetime is well documented.  During Washington’s presidency, Adams was openly suspicious of Hamilton’s role in the administration and his ambitions. When Adams was running for a second term, Hamilton published a letter to his supporters Concerning the Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, Esq. President of the United States.  When this letter was published more widely, it damaged Adams’ hopes of winning the election and fractured the Federalist Party. (You can read more about Hamilton’s role in that election here).

But what happened after Hamilton’s death is less known and just as interesting.  While Jefferson reportedly expressed admiration for his former rival after the fatal duel and even enacted a bust of Hamilton opposite his own at Monticello, Adams went on a private quest to sink Hamilton’s reputation.  Adams shared rumors about Hamilton’s romantic indiscretions and ambitions to many powerful people in his private circles, including Dr. Benjamin Rush and Adams’ cousin, William Cunningham.

http://etc.usf.edu/clipart/0/81/adams_4_lg.gif

In 1806, Adams wrote to Dr. Rush of the pamphlet and of Hamilton’s “delirium of ambition.”  In this letter, Adams referred to Hamilton as the “bastard brat of a Scotch pedlar” and spoke of rumors that Hamilton had, before his death, threatened to publish an unflattering memoir of George Washington:

Although I read with tranquility and suffered to pass without adversion in silent contempt the base insinuations of vanity and a hundred lies besides published in a pamphlet against me by an insolent coxcomb who rarely dined in good company, where there was good wine, without getting silly and vaporing about his administration like a young girl about her brilliants and trinkets, yet I lose all patience when I think of a bastard brat of a Scotch pedlar daring to threaten to undeceive the world in their judgment of Washington by writing an history of his battles and campaigns. This creature was in a delirium of ambition; he had been blown up with vanity by the tories, had fixed his eyes on the highest station in America, and he hated every man, young or old, who stood in his way or could in any manner eclipse his laurels or rival his pretensions. . . .

In a decades-long correspondence with his cousin William Cunningham, Adams suggested that Hamilton should have been branded with “everlasting infamy” because of the circumstances of his birth and not given a chance to participate in respectable society,  Adams reportedly wrote (per Cunningham’s quote of an undiscovered Adams letter):

“Conjugal fidelity is the fountain of all virtue. Statesmen, philosophers, and the Christian Religion, unite in representing adultery & fornication, as the worst of crimes; and Hamilton, for his insult to this essence of a good education, deserved to be branded with everlasting infamy.”

Adams was obsessed with Hamilton’s lack of morality, and seemed to take gleeful pleasure in recounting stories of Hamilton’s sexual exploits, particularly rumors about Hamilton’s sisters-in-law.  Adams also wrote about Hamilton’s ambitions ruining the country.  On a September 27, 1808 letter, Adams stated:

” Hamilton’s Ambition, intrigues and Caucuses have ruined the cause of rational federalism by encumbering and entangling it with men and measures that ought never to have been brought forward.”

In an April 1811, Cunningham implored Adams to take back some of the unfounded accusations he had leveled against Hamilton, calling them a “poisoned chalice.”

Should you now refuse to recal the calumny you have spread of Hamilton in secret; or to supply the evidence of your heinous charges, will you not oblige his friends to strip from your hands, before you slip out of life, the poisoned chalice whose contents you have infused into the minds of many around you, to work, like canine madness in the veins, after its propagator has perished?

Adams’ actions came to light in 1823, when a political pamphlet containing the correspondence between Adams and Cunningham from 1803-1812 was published in order to sink John Quincy Adam’s chances of becoming president.  You can read the entire pamphlet for free on Google Books, or read some of the correspondence on Founders Online (highly recommended- this is gripping stuff).

A contemporary review of the correspondence noted:

It appears by Cunningham’s letters to Mr. Adams, that the latter had written two concerning Hamilton, filled with matters of such a character that he would not leave them in Cunningham’s hands : he insisted on their being returned to him, and they were returned : but their contents are intimated in Cunningham’s answers. The accusations are of atrocious vices. One, that Hamilton was totally destitute of integrity. The whole of the world where Hamilton was Known will acquit him of this charge, and with scorn repel the foul calumny.

I had read about Adams’ attacks on Hamilton’s reputation in several biographies of Hamilton, but reading some of the actual correspondence was interesting because it shows how deeply ingrained and consuming Adams’ hatred of Hamilton was even decades after Hamilton’s death and Adams’ retirement from the political scene.  Talk about holding a grudge!

The Election of 1800: Hamilton’s Role

Michael Austin has written an interesting story for History News Network on the presidential election of 1800.  Austin draws parallels between the current state of partisan politics and the bitter rivalries that emerged during the presidential contest between incumbent John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

During that election, Hamilton and other high Federalists painted Jefferson and the Republicans as morally depraved atheists and fiery anti-government radicals who planned to set up guillotines on the banks of the Potomac and fill the new capital with blood. Republicans, on the other hand, portrayed Federalists as crypto-monarchists and usurpers of the Constitution. They pointed to the recent Alien and Sedition Acts as proof that Federalists would roll back the Bill of Rights at every available opportunity until they could declare Hamilton president-for-life and, from there, King of America.

And it got worse. Both Jeffersonians and Hamiltonians savaged the incumbent president, John Adams, a moderate Federalist who never quite managed to make either side happy. Hamiltonians worked as hard to throw the election to the other Federalist candidate, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, as Republicans did to elect their hero Jefferson.

The unintended circulation of the Letter from Alexander Hamilton, Concerning the Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, Esq. President of the United States was considered a major factor in Adams’s defeat.  If you haven’t read the letter before- I highly recommend it- full text available from Open Library

In the letter, Hamilton begins with this premise: “Not denying to Mr. Adams patriotism and integrity, and even talents of a certain kind, I should be deficient in candour, were I to conceal the conviction, that he does not possess the talents adapted to the administration of government, and that there are great and intrinsic defects in his character, which unfit him for the office of chief magistrate.”

He describes Adams’s miliary plans during the Revolution and how these plans would have contributed to the defeat of the Continental Army.  For example, Adams “was represented to be of the number of those” who favored shorter troop enlistment rather than Washington’s policy of having soldiers enlist for the term of the war.  Hamilton also criticized Adams for ignoring the advice of his cabinet.  He accused Adams of rash decisionmaking, particularly when related to the quasi-war with France and drew a comparison between Adams and “the modest and sage Washington,” who “consulted much, pondered much, resolved slowly, resolved surely.”  Hamilton showcased instances of Adams’s uncertainty and found him to be “so much at variance with himself, as well as with sound policy, that we are driven to seek a solution for it in some system of concession to his political enemies.”  The purpose of Hamilton’s letter was to draw support from within the Federalist Party towards Charles Pinckney, a Southern Federalist.  However, after Adams won the Federalist nomination, the letter was circulated throughout the country by the Jeffersonians.  Hamilton’s reasoned and damning attack on Adams played a part in the contentious election.  Although Hamilton could have adopted the party line and backed Adams, he took the opposite course, understanding that he would lose the support of half his party in future races.  For better and for worse, Hamilton was a man of convictions and of impulse.

Mock Politics produced a humorous set of Jefferson v. Adams attack ads:

In an interesting post-script to the election, Hamilton eventually persuaded fellow Federalists to choose Jefferson over Aaron Burr.  Smithsonian Magazine has a great piece explaining the deadlock- because of the system in place, Congress had to decide between Jefferson and his running mate Aaron Burr.  Many Federalists saw Jefferson as the ultimate enemy and were pushing for a Burr presidency.  Hamilton stated:

Mr. Jefferson, though too revolutionary in his notions, is yet a lover of liberty and will be desirous of something like orderly Government.–Mr. Burr loves nothing but himself-Thinks of nothing but his own aggrandizement–and will be content with nothing short of permanent power in his own hands.–No compact, that he should make with any passion in his breast except Ambition, could be relied upon by himself.–How then should we be able to rely upon our agreement with him? Mr. Jefferson I suspect will not dare much. Mr. Burr will Dare every thing in the sanguine hope of affecting every thing.

(Visual from Digital History)

Those Who Stand For Nothing Fall For Anything

“Everybody Hates Hamilton”

I came across this Youtube video, “Everybody Hates Hamilton.”  The video is culled from clips of the HBO miniseries John Adams.  Although it is only based on one TV show (based on David McCullough’s biography of Adams), the theme of Hamilton as a scapegoat is echoed.  It boggles my mind that Hamilton, who came to New York as a penniless illegitimate teenager from the West Indies and became a champion of a new republic and the architect of its economy has been caricatured by so many people as a staunch monarchist and a ruthless and unprincipled politician.

In The American Commonwealth, Viscount James Bryce said Hamilton’s “countrymen seem to have never, either in his lifetime or afterwards, duly recognized his splendid gifts.”  Hamilton’s political enemies brought up the circumstances of his birth, cast doubt on his relationship with President Washington, and generally blamed him for having a vision that they couldn’t comprehend.  Adams called him the “bastard brat of a Scottish peddler.”  Jefferson wrote to Washington:

I will not suffer my retirement to be clouded by the slanders of a man whose history, from the moment at which history can stoop to notice him, is a tissue of machinations against the liberty of the country which has not only received him and given him bread, but heaped its honors on his head.

In many ways, this legacy continues today.  Historians regularly characterize Hamilton as a Machiavellian statesman.  One author has even gone so far as to say that “Hamilton’s Curse” must be repudiated in order for America to be truly free.

Why?

I contend that Hamilton’s steadfast commitment to his principles is at the root of his unpopularity.  Unlike Jefferson, Hamilton did not bow to the winds of popularity at the slightest inclination.  Instead, he faced the consequences of making unpopular decisions when he believed them to be morally or economically necessary.

Here are some examples:

Protecting the Tories

As a college student in New York, Hamilton became convinced of the Revolutionary cause and threw himself into it with all his physical and mental energy.  However, when an angry mob of patriots stood at the door of Myles Cooper, the president of King’s College, Hamilton held off the mob for hours in order to prevent Cooper from being attacked.  After the Revolution was won, a popular movement began to strip any Loyalists of their property and prevent them from becoming full citizens in the new republic.  Hamilton firmly opposed this movement and insisted that even Loyalists have the opportunity to be citizens in the new nation.

Theodore Roosevelt stated:

Hamilton, the most brilliant American statesman who ever lived, possessing the loftiest and keenest intellect of his time, was of course easily the foremost champion in the ranks of the New York Federalists; second to him came Jay…Both of them watched with uneasy alarm the rapid drift toward anarchy; and both put forth all their efforts to stem the tide…In particular they abhorred the vindictive laws directed against the persons and property of Tories; and they had the manliness to come forward as the defenders of the helpless and excessively unpopular Loyalists. They put a stop to the wrongs which were being inflicted on these men, and finally succeeded in having them restored to legal equality with other citizens, standing up with generous fearlessness against the clamor of the mob.

Economic Policies

Almost all of Hamilton’s economic policies, from establishing a National Bank to assuming the debts of the states to imposing an excise tax on whiskey, were politically unpopular but proved to be lifesaving for the new nation.  Hamilton took on every uphill battle and, sometimes by sheer force of will, pushed those around him into accepting his plans.  For example, Hamilton insisted that the government pay all of its war debts, including debts to speculators.  During the Revolution, the Continental Congress sold war bonds to many supporters, including soldiers.  However, over the long course of the war, many of the original owners of the bonds often sold them to speculators.  After the War, there was a popular movement to disregard the debt altogether.  Hamilton firmly believed that honoring this debt was essential to the financial progress of the nation.  He eventually convinced resistant Southern congressmen to back him by agreeing to move the nation’s capital to the South.

Throughout his life, Hamilton was willing to make politically unpopular choices when he believed them to be necessary, or morally right.  Hamilton is the ultimate historical underdog, and even as he rose to prominence in America, he never allowed the quest for popularity to overcome his moral convictions.  Humans have a tendency to take the easy route, to “get along” with everyone whenever possible, and to generally follow the status quo and take the path of least resistance.  As we all know, being part of the crow, or better yet, being the most popular person in the crowd can be a heady feeling.  On the other hand, facing down a mob or being the only voice advocating your beliefs is always a struggle.  Somehow, Hamilton maintained his public principles, even when they had unpleasant consequences.  Hamilton’s life presents us all with a challenge: can we  truly stand for what we believe in, no matter what the consequences?