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.

Images of Hamilton: Jefferson’s Bust of Hamilton

In my post on Monday about Elizabeth Hamilton, I mentioned her affection for a bust of Hamilton created by Giuseppe Ceracchi that Mrs. Hamilton showed visitors to her DC home.  Ron Chernow’s description states:

“…the tour’s highlight stood enshrined in the corner: a marble bust of her dead hero, carved by an Italian sculptor, Giuseppe Ceracchi, during Hamilton’s heyday as the first Treasury secretary.  Portrayed in the classical style of a noble Roman senator, a toga draped across one shoulder, Hamilton exuded a brisk energy and a massive intelligence in his wide brow, his face illuminated by the half smile that often played about his features.

Interestingly, Jefferson also has a history with the bust of Hamilton created by Ceracchi.  In 1792, Jefferson wrote a letter recommending Ceracchi to his colleagues in 1792, and endorsed him as a “”a very celebrated sculptor of Rome.”

Image 1016 of 1309, Thomas Jefferson to Robert R. Livingston, March 6,

Jefferson placed two busts, a likeness of himself and his political opponent Alexander Hamilton, opposite one another in the Entrance Hall. Both were modeled by the Italian sculptor Giuseppe Ceracchi in Philadelphia in 1793 and 1794. In the Life of Thomas Jefferson, Henry Stephens Randall (Jefferson’s grandson and biographer) noted:

“After gazing a moment at these objects, the eye settled with a deeper interest on busts of Jefferson and Hamilton, by Ceracchi, placed on massive pedestals on each side of the main entrance ‘opposed in death as in life,’ as the surviving original sometimes remarked, with a pensive smile, as he observed the notice they attracted.”

Bust of Alexander Hamilton. Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.
Image from Monticello 

In Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic, Joanne Freeman writes:

“Jefferson went to his grave struggling to cast his relationship with Hamilton in the right light, trying to depict himself as a liberal, right-minded leader rather than the petty and vindictive politician he often appeared to be.  It was concern for his reputation that inspired him to put Hamilton’s bust in the main entrance way to Monticello; there could be no nobler act than to acknowledge the greatness of one’s enemies– and only the greatest of men could defeat such a foe.”

David Bernard Dearinger writes that “Ceracchi’s bust became the best-known image of Hamilton and was used extensively by later artists for posthumous portraits of him.”

Hamilton’s Legacy

 

 

 

Today, July 12, 2013 marks the 209th anniversary of Alexander Hamilton’s death at age 47.  Hamilton died at a significantly younger age than his fellow political luminaries: Jefferson survived until age 83, Madison lived to 85, Adams to 90, and Burr to 80.  However, in his 47 years, he fundamentally shaped America’s political and financial foundations.  Hamilton rose from obscurity in Nevis and, without a formal education or financial backing, became an influential revolutionary thinker, a military hero, Washington’s most influential aide, the driving force of the Federalist Papers and the push for the Constitution, the architect of America’s financial future as the first Secretary of Treasury, and so much more.

The inscription at Hamilton’s grave site says it well:

The patriot of incorruptible integrity.

The soldier of approved valour.

The statesman of consummate wisdom.

Whose talents and virtues will be admired by grateful posterity long after this marble shall have mouldered into dust.

I also love this excerpt from the Eulogy on General Alexander Hamilton by the citizens of Boston written by Harrison G. Otis:

But in the man whose loss we deplore, the interval between manhood and death was so uniformly filled by a display of the energies of his mighty mind, that this world has scarcely paused to enquire into the story of his infant or puerile years.  He was a planet, the dawn of which was not perceived; which rose with full splendor, and emitted a constant stream of glorious light, until the hour of its sudden and portentous eclipse.

If you’re in New York, come join the series of exciting events throughout NYC today to commemorate Hamilton’s passing.  If you’re not in the city, check out the live stream of Thomas Fleming’s author talk at Trinity Church here.

The Bank of New York and the Museum of American Finance

The Bank of New York was the first bank in New York City, founded by Alexander Hamilton and opened on June 9, 1784.  Hamilton was the chief architect of the new bank.  Hamilton wrote the constitution of the bank and was one of the original 13 directors.  He also made the decision that the bank should be based on specie (gold and silver) rather than land.  Hamilton’s constitution was used as the “model upon which all the bank charters granted in New York were framed prior to 1825.”  Hamilton’s voting structure restricted the power of larger shareholders, rather than a one share-one vote scheme.

http://www.nps.gov/ner/hagr/parknews/images/Bank-of-New-York7.gif

In Alexander Hamilton and the Growth of the New Nation, John Chester Miller described Hamilton’s attachment to the Bank he founded:

Hamilton’s concern for the welfare of the Bank of New York cannot be left out of account.  He might have said of the institution that although it was a small bank, there were those who loved it.

By the time Hamilton became Treasury Secretary, he instructed the bank cashier to sell his stocks, despite losing significant profits as the Bank’s stock rose dramatically.  Hamilton felt that the political consequences of having a stake in a bank would compromise his position and eschewed the profitable stocks in favor of maintaining his political reputation.

Currently, the Bank of New York building is home to the Museum of American Finance.  Summer is a great time for museum hopping in NYC and the museum is offering a Groupon deal for 50% off admission!  The museum is located at 48 Wall Street and is open to the public on Tuesday – Saturday, from 10 am – 4 pm..  If you go, make sure to check out the Hamilton Room, focusing specifically on Hamilton’s legacy.

Alexander Hamilton Room
Picture from http://www.moaf.org/exhibits/hamilton/index

Also note, MOAF is hosting a Hamilton vs. Jefferson Debate next Thursday, July 11th from 5:30-7 pm, as part of the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society’s Celebrate Hamilton 2013 events.  The description of the event from the event flyer is below:

National Hamilton Scholar Dr. William G. Chrystal will become Alexander Hamilton for the evening to both entertain and educate attendees in a “debate” with Thomas Jefferson. After the presentation, a Q&A session will be held, followed by a reception.
Register to attend the debate here.  I’ll be there!

Hamilton on Jury Nullification

Jury nullification, or the ability of a jury to find a defendant not guilty because they disagree with law has been an important part of American history, and was successfully used by both William Penn and John Peter Zenger against British laws in the pre-Revolution period.  The most influential instance of jury nullification was in the 1735 trial of John Peter Zenger, who was charged with printing seditious libels against the British government of New York.  Under the law in the colonies, truth was not a defense to libel (the same law that Hamilton argued against in the Croswell case).  Zenger’s lawyer, Andrew Hamilton (no relation to Alexander) urged the jury to reach their own conclusions about the legal issue, notwithstanding the judge’s firm instruction.  The jury did so and acquitted Zenger completely, much to the chagrin of the British government.

In the Croswell case, Hamilton argued the case on behalf of a publisher who was charged with libel for publishing information about Thomas Jefferson.  Under the laws of New York at the time, libel was a crime regardless of the truth of the statement.  However, Hamilton argued that this interpretation of the law was incorrect and unethical.  Hamilton’s outline is interesting, both because of the points about libel and because of its focus on the jury’s responsibility to follow their conscience rather than the letter of the law.

Hamilton’s entire brief outline is below, with the passages about the power of the jury bolded :

I.—The liberty of the press consists in the right to publish with impunity truth, with good motives, for justifiable ends, though reflecting on government, magistracy, or individuals.
II.—That the allowance of this right is essential to the preservation of free government—the disallowance of it, fatal.
III.—That its abuse is to be guarded against by subjecting the exercise of it to the animadversion and control of the tribunals of justice; but that this control cannot safely be intrusted to a permanent body of magistracy, and requires the effectual co-operation of court and jury.
IV.—That to confine the jury to the mere question of publication and the application of terms, without the right of inquiry into the intent or tendency, referring to the court the exclusive right of pronouncing upon the construction, tendency, and intent of the alleged libel, is calculated to render nugatory the function of the jury; enabling the court to make a libel of any writing whatsoever, the most innocent or commendable.
V.—That it is the general rule of criminal law, that the intent constitutes the crime, and that it is equally a general rule that the intent, mind, or quo animo, is an inference of fact to be drawn by the jury.
VI.—That if there are exceptions to this rule, they are confined to cases in which not only the principal fact, but its circumstances can be and are specifically defined by statute or judicial precedent.
VII—That in respect to libel there is no such specific and precise definition of facts and circumstances to be found, that consequently it is difficult, if not impossible, to pronounce that any writing is per se and exclusive of all circumstances libellous; that its libellous character must depend on intent and tendency, the one and the other being matter of fact.
VIII.—That the definitions or descriptions of libels to be found in the books predicate them upon some malicious or mischievous intent or tendency, to expose individuals to hatred or contempt, or to occasion a disturbance or breach of the peace.
IX—That in determining the character of a libel, the truth or falsehood is in the nature of things a material ingredient, though the truth may not always be decisive, but being abused, may still admit of a malicious and mischievous intent which may constitute a libel.
X—That in the Roman law, one source of the doctrine of libel, the truth in cases interesting to the public, may be given in evidence. That the ancient statutes probably declaratory of the common law, make the falsehood an ingredient of the crime. That ancient precedents in the courts of justice correspond, and that these precedents to this day charge a malicious intent.
XI.—That the doctrine of excluding the truth as immaterial originated in a tyrannical and polluted source, the court of Star Chamber, and that though it prevailed a considerable length of time, yet there are leading precedents down to the Revolution, and even since, in which a contrary practice prevailed.
XII.—That this doctrine being against reason and natural justice, and contrary to the original principles of the common law enforced by statutory provisions, precedents which support it deserve to be considered in no better light than as malus usus which ought to be abolished.
XIII.—That in the general distribution of powers in our system of jurisprudence, the cognizance of law belongs to the court, of fact to the jury; that as often as they are not blended, the power of the court is absolute and exclusive. That in civil cases it is always so, and may rightfully be so exerted. That in criminal cases the law and fact being always blended, the jury, for reasons of a political and peculiar nature, for the security of life and liberty, is intrusted with the power of deciding both law and fact.
XIV.—That this distinction results: 1, from the ancient forms of pleading in civil cases, none but special pleas being allowed in matter of law; in criminal, none but the general issue; 2, from the liability of the jury to attaint in civil cases, and the general power of the court as its substitute in granting new trials, and from the exemption of the jury from attaint in criminal cases, and the defect of power to control their verdicts by new trials, the test of every legal power being its capacity to produce a definitive effect liable neither to punishment nor control.
XV.—That in criminal cases, nevertheless, the court are the constitutional advisers of the jury in matter of law; who may compromit their conscience by lightly or rashly disregarding that advice, but may still more compromit their consciences by following it, if exercising their judgments with discretion and honesty they have a clear conviction that the charge of the court is wrong.

Jury nullification, and the influence of the jury as an institution has been on the decline.  Currently, less than 1% of criminal and civil cases actually go before a jury.  Courts routinely tell juries that they have no power to disregard or interpret the law.  This discouragement makes sense in most cases: after all, allowing juries to decide cases purely on their emotions can lead to irrational appeals and decisions made from bias.  While jury nullification may help protect defendants from unfair laws, it may also have the unwanted effect of empowering community biases and racism.

However, despite these concerns, Hamilton’s vision of the jury and their power of conscience is a powerful one.

The Economist Blog  ran a story last year about the continuing right of nullification:

Juries do not only decide guilt or innocence; they can also serve as checks on unjust laws. Judges will not tell you about your right to nullify—to vote not guilty regardless of whether the prosecution has proven its case if you believe the law at issue is unjust. They may tell you that you may only judge the facts of the case put to you and not the law. They may strike you from a jury if you do not agree under oath to do so, but the right to nullify exists. There is reason to be concerned about this power: nobody wants courtroom anarchy. But there is also reason to wield it, especially today: if you believe that nonviolent drug offenders should not go to prison, vote not guilty.

New Hampshire passed a law last June that went into effect on January 1, 2013.  This law states:

“[A] Right of Accused. In all criminal proceedings the court shall permit the defense to inform the jury of its right to judge the facts and the application of the law in relation to the facts in controversy.”

Notwithstanding the New Hampshire legislation, the overwhelming trend of cases across the country is to limit jury nullification and discharge jurors who openly state they disagree with the law.  While this may maintain uniformity and a sense of law and order, I wonder if there should still be a place for Hamilton’s vision, in instances where jurors fundamentally feel that the law creates unjust results.

Hamilton’s Views on Race and Slavery: An Introduction

Paul Finkelman recently wrote a fascinating piece in the New York Times focusing on Thomas Jefferson’s views on race. Finkelman states:

Jefferson was always deeply committed to slavery, and even more deeply hostile to the welfare of blacks, slave or free. His proslavery views were shaped not only by money and status but also by his deeply racist views, which he tried to justify through pseudoscience.

There is, it is true, a compelling paradox about Jefferson: when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, announcing the “self-evident” truth that all men are “created equal,” he owned some 175 slaves. Too often, scholars and readers use those facts as a crutch, to write off Jefferson’s inconvenient views as products of the time and the complexities of the human condition.

But while many of his contemporaries, including George Washington, freed their slaves during and after the revolution — inspired, perhaps, by the words of the Declaration — Jefferson did not. Over the subsequent 50 years, a period of extraordinary public service, Jefferson remained the master of Monticello, and a buyer and seller of human beings.

Rather than encouraging his countrymen to liberate their slaves, he opposed both private manumission and public emancipation. Even at his death, Jefferson failed to fulfill the promise of his rhetoric: his will emancipated only five slaves, all relatives of his mistress Sally Hemings, and condemned nearly 200 others to the auction block. Even Hemings remained a slave, though her children by Jefferson went free.

Nor was Jefferson a particularly kind master. He sometimes punished slaves by selling them away from their families and friends, a retaliation that was incomprehensibly cruel even at the time. A proponent of humane criminal codes for whites, he advocated harsh, almost barbaric, punishments for slaves and free blacks. Known for expansive views of citizenship, he proposed legislation to make emancipated blacks “outlaws” in America, the land of their birth. Opposed to the idea of royal or noble blood, he proposed expelling from Virginia the children of white women and black men.

I was discussing the issue this weekend with Rand Scholet at the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society, and it is truly remarkable how progressive Hamilton’s views on race were compared to many of his contemporaries. Hamilton grew up in the West Indies and was surrounded by slavery: slaves accounted for almost 90% of the total population. He participated in the slave trade on an administrative basis as a young clerk, and developed a disgust towards the entire institution. When Hamilton was involved with the Revolution, he advocated allowing blacks to join the Continental Army, despite opposition from many of his contemporaries. Hamilton’s philosophies on race were comparatively extremely progressive. I plan to write a series of blog posts highlighting Hamilton’s stance on slavery and other racial issues including the incorporation of black soldiers into the Continental Army, the New York Manumission Society, and the rebellion in Haiti. For more background on this issue, see James Oliver Horton’s Alexander Hamilton: Slavery and Race in a Revolutionary Generation.

The Other Hamilton Duel: Philip Hamilton and George Eacker

While Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr’s 1804 duel is notorious in history and pop culture, a lesser-known deadly duel occurred three years earlier between Hamilton’s oldest son, Philip, and George Eacker, a critic of Hamilton and supporter of Burr.

Hamilton took great pride in his son’s academic achievements.  He wrote to him regularly while Philip was studying at boarding school, and created a rigorous set of rules to govern Philip’s study schedule.  In 1797, when Philip was a young teenager, he contracted a deadly illness and Hamilton reportedly “administered every dose of medicine” to his son during his recovery.

The close relationship between father and son may have contributed to Philip’s eagerness to defend his father’s name.  Eacker, a 27-year-old lawyer, had made a speech in July accusing Alexander Hamilton of being willing to overthrow Thomas Jefferson’s presidency by force.  In the speech, Eacker accused Hamilton of misusing his position as Inspector General during the Adams administration to intimidate his political enemies.  On November 20, 19-year-old Philip and his friend Richard Price confronted Eacker about the speech when the three men were at a social event. After Eacker insulted them, the boys challenged Eacker to a duel.  Dueling was already illegal in New York, so the men planned to meet in New Jersey.  Eacker and Richard Price took the field first at Weehawken, on November 22. They exchanged shots, but no one was injured; according to convention, honor was satisfied.  The next day, Philip faced Eacker and fell to a ball from Eacker’s smoothbore dueling pistol.  He died the next day.  The death caused a massive strain on the Hamilton family and led to the nervous breakdown of Hamilton’s daughter Angelica.

Robert Troup observed about Hamilton after Philip’s death in a December 5, 1801 letter to Rufus King:

Never did I see a man so completely overwhelmed with grief as Hamilton had been.  The scene I was present at, when Mrs. Hamilton came to see her son on his deathbed (he died about a mile out of the city) and when she met her husband and son in one room, beggars all description!  Young Hamilton was very promising in genius and acquirements, and Hamilton formed high expectations of his future greatness!”

Alexander Hamilton was killed three years later, on the same dueling grounds in Weehawken and with the same dueling pistols.