From Bullets to Ballots: The Election of 1800
and the First Peaceful Transfer of Political Power
Jefferson and Hamilton vie with each other for President Washington’s support
Thomas Jefferson’s Memorandum of a Conversation with George Washington
February 29, 1792
After breakfast we retired to his room & I unfolded my plan for the post-office, and after such an approbation of it as he usually permitted himself on the first presentment of any idea, and desiring me to commit it to writing, he, during that pause of conversation which follows a business closed, said in an affectionate tone that he had felt much concern at an expression which dropt from me yesterday & which marked my intention of retiring when he should. That as to himself, many motives obliged him to it. He had through the whole course of the war and most particularly at the close of it, uniformly declared his resolution to retire from public affairs & never to act in any public office; that he had retired under that firm resolution, that the government however which had been formed being found evidently too inefficacious, and it being supposed that his aid was of some consequence towards bringing the people to consent to one of sufficient efficacy for their own good, he consented to come into the [Constitutional] Convention & on the same motive, after much pressing, to take a part in the new government and get it under way. That were he to continue longer, it might give room to say that having tasted the sweets of office he could not do without them; that he really felt himself growing old, his bodily health less firm, his memory, always bad, becoming worse, and perhaps the other faculties of his mind showing a decay to others of which he was insensible himself, that this apprehension particularly oppressed him, that he found moreover his activity lessened, business therefore more irksome, and tranquility & retirement become an irresistible passion. That however he felt himself obliged for these reasons to retire from the government, yet he should consider it as unfortunate if that should bring on the retirement of the great officers of the government, and that this might produce a shock on the public mind of dangerous consequence. I told him that no man had ever had less desire of entering into public offices than myself; that the circumstance of a perilous war, which brought everything into danger & called for all the services which every citizen could render, had induced me to undertake the administration of the government of Virginia, that I had both before & after refused repeated appointments of Congress to go abroad in that sort of office, which if I had consulted my own gratification, would always have been the most agreeable to me, that at the end of two years, I resigned the government of Virginia & retired with a firm resolution never more to appear in public life, that a domestic loss however happened and made me fancy that absence & a change of scene for a time might be expedient for me, that I therefore accepted a foreign appointment limited to two years, that at the close of that, Dr. Franklin having left France, I was appointed to supply his place, which I had accepted, & tho’ I continued in it three or four years, it was under the constant idea of remaining only a year or two longer; that the revolution in France coming on, I had so interested myself in the event of that, that when obliged to bring my family home, I had still an idea of returning & awaiting the close of that to fix the era of my final retirement; that on my arrival here I found he had appointed me to my present office, that he knew I had not come into it without some reluctance, that it was on my part a sacrifice of inclination to the opinion that I might be more serviceable here than in France, & with a firm resolution in my mind to indulge my constant wish for retirement at no very distant day: that when, therefore, I received his letter written from Mount Vernon on his way to Carolina & Georgia (April 1791) and discovered from an expression in that that he meant to retire from the government ere long, & as to the precise epoch there could be no doubt, my mind was immediately made up to make that the epoch of my own retirement from those labors of which I was heartily tired. That, however, I did not believe there was any idea in either of my brethren in the administration of retiring, that on the contrary I had perceived at a late meeting of the trustees of the sinking fund that the Secretary of the Treasury had developed the plan he intended to pursue, & that it embraced years in its view.He said that he considered the Treasury Department as a much more limited one, going only to the single object of revenue, while that of the Secretary of State, embracing nearly all the objects of administration, was much more important, & the retirement of the officer therefore would be more noticed: that tho’ the government had set out with a pretty general good will of the public, yet that symptoms of dissatisfaction had lately shown themselves far beyond what he could have expected, and to what height these might arise in case of too great a change in the administration, could not be foreseen.
I told him that in my opinion there was only a single source of these discontents. Tho’ they had indeed appeared to spread themselves over the War Department also, yet I considered that as an overflowing only from their real channel, which would never have taken place if they had not first been generated in another department, to wit that of the treasury. That a system had there been contrived for deluging the states with paper money instead of gold & silver, for withdrawing our citizens from the pursuits of commerce, manufactures, buildings, & other branches of useful industry, to occupy themselves & their capitals in a species of gambling destructive of morality & which had introduced its poison into the government itself. That it was a fact, as certainly known as that he & I were then conversing, that particular members of the legislature, while those laws were on the carpet, had feathered their nests with paper, had then voted for the laws, and constantly since lent all the energy of their talents & instrumentality of their offices to the establishment & enlargement of this system: that they had chained it about our necks for a great length of time, & in order to keep the game in their hands had from time to time aided in making such legislative constructions of the Constitution as made it a very different thing from what the people thought they had submitted to; that they had now brought forward a proposition far beyond every one ever yet advanced, & to which the eyes of many were turned as the decision was to let us know whether we live under a limited or an unlimited government. He asked me to what proposition I alluded? I answered to that in the Report on Manufactures which, under color of giving bounties for the encouragement of particular manufactures, meant to establish the doctrine that the power given by the Constitution to collect taxes to provide for the general welfare of the U.S. permitted Congress to take everything under their management which they should deem for the public welfare & which is susceptible of the application of money: consequently that the subsequent enumeration of their powers was not the description to which resort must be had, & did not at all constitute the limits of their authority: that this was a very different question from that of the bank, which was thought an incident to an enumerated power: that therefore this decision was expected with great anxiety: that indeed I hoped the proposition would be rejected, believing there was a majority in both houses against it, and that if it should be, it would be considered as a proof that things were returning into their true channel; & that at any rate I looked forward to the broad representation which would shortly take place for keeping the general constitution on its true ground, & that this would remove a great deal of the discontent which had shown itself. The conversation ended with this last topic. It is here stated nearly as much at length as it really was, the expressions preserved where I could recollect them, and their substance always faithfully stated.
Letter from Thomas Jefferson to George Washington
May 23, 1792
I have determined to make the subject of a letter what for some time past has been a subject of inquietude to my mind without having found a good occasion of disburthening itself to you in conversation during the busy scenes which occupied you here. Perhaps too you may be able, in your present situation, or on the road, to give it more time & reflection than you could do here at any moment.
When you first mentioned to me your purpose of retiring from the government, tho’ I felt all the magnitude of the event, I was in a considerable degree silent. I knew that to such a mind as yours, persuasion was idle & impertinent: that before forming your decision, you had weighed all the reasons for & against the measure, had made up your mind on full view of them, & that there could be little hope of changing the result. Pursuing my reflections too I knew we were some day to try to walk alone; and if the essay should be made while you should be alive & looking on, we should derive confidence from that circumstance & resource if it failed. The public mind too was calm & confident, and therefore in a favorable state for making the experiment. Had no change of circumstances intervened, I should not, with any hope of success, have now ventured to propose to you a change of purpose. But the public mind is no longer confident and serene; and that from causes in which you are in no ways personally mixed. Tho these causes have been hackneyed in the public papers in detail, it may not be amiss, in order to calculate the effect they are capable of producing, to take a view of them in the mass, giving to each the form, real or imaginary, under which they have been presented.
It has been urged then that a public debt, greater than we can possibly pay before other causes of adding new debt to it will occur, has been artificially created, by adding together the whole amount of the debtor & creditor sides of accounts instead of taking only their balances, which could have been paid off in a short time: That this accumulation of debt has taken forever out of our power those easy sources of revenue which, applied to the ordinary necessities and exigencies of government, would have answered them habitually and covered us from habitual murmurings against taxes & taxgatherers, reserving extraordinary calls for those extraordinary occasions which would animate the people to meet them. That though the calls for money have been no greater than we must generally expect for the same or equivalent exigencies, yet we are already obliged to strain the impost till it produces clamor and will produce evasion & war on our own citizens to collect it: and even to resort to an Excise law, of odious character with the people, partial in its operation, unproductive unless enforced by arbitrary & vexatious means, and committing the authority of the government in parts where resistance is most probable & coercion least practicable. They cite propositions in Congress and suspect other projects on foot still to increase the mass of debt. They say that by borrowing at 2/3 of the interest, we might have paid off the principal in 2/3 of the time: but that from this we are precluded by its being made irredeemable but in small portions & long terms: That this irredeemable quality was given it for the avowed purpose of inviting its transfer to foreign countries. They predict that this transfer of the principal, when completed, will occasion an exportation of 3 millions of dollars annually for the interest, a drain of coin of which as there has been no example, no calculation can be made of its consequences: That the banishment of our coin will be completed by the creation of 10 millions of paper money in the form of bank bills, now issuing into circulation. They think the 10 or 12 percent annual profit paid to the lenders of this paper medium taken out of the pockets of the people, who would have had without interest the coin it is banishing. That all the capital employed in paper speculation is barren & useless, producing, like that on a gaming table, no accession to itself, and is withdrawn from commerce & agriculture where it would have produced addition to the common mass: That it nourishes in our citizens habits of vice and idleness instead of industry & morality: That it has furnished effectual means of corrupting such a portion of the legislature as turns the balance between the honest voters whichever way it is directed: That this corrupt squadron, deciding the voice of the legislature, have manifested their dispositions to get rid of the limitations imposed by the Constitution on the general legislature, limitations on the faith of which the states acceded to that instrument: That the ultimate object of all this is to prepare the way for a change from the present republican form of government to that of a monarchy, of which the English constitution is to be the model. That this was contemplated in the Convention is no secret, because its partisans have made none of it. To effect it then was impracticable, but they are still eager after their object, and are predisposing everything for its ultimate attainment. So many of them have got into the legislature that, aided by the corrupt squadron of paper dealers, who are at their devotion, they make a majority in both houses. The republican party, who wish to preserve the government in its present form, are fewer in number. They are fewer even when joined by the two, three, or half dozen anti-federalists, who, tho they dare not avow it, are still opposed to any general government: but being less so to a republican than a monarchical one, they naturally join those whom they think pursuing the lesser evil.
Of all the mischiefs objected to the system of measures before mentioned, none is so afflicting and fatal to every honest hope as the corruption of the legislature. As it was the earliest of these measures, it became the instrument for producing the rest, & will be the instrument for producing in future a king, lords & commons, or whatever else those who direct it may choose. Withdrawn such a distance from the eye of their constituents, and these so dispersed as to be inaccessible to public information, & particularly to that of the conduct of their own representatives, they will form the most corrupt government on earth, if the means of their corruption be not prevented. The only hope of safety hangs now on the numerous representation which is to come forward the ensuing year. Some of the new members will probably be, either in principle or interest, with the present majority, but it is expected that the great mass will form an accession to the republican party. They will not be able to undo all which the two preceding legislatures, & especially the first, have done. Public faith & right will oppose this. But some parts of the system may be rightfully reformed; a liberation from the rest unremittingly pursued as fast as right will permit, & the door shut in future against similar commitments of the nation. Should the next legislature take this course, it will draw upon them the whole monarchical & paper interest. But the latter I think will not go all lengths with the former, because creditors will never, of their own accord, fly off entirely from their debtors. Therefore this is the alternative least likely to produce convulsion. But should the majority of the new members be still in the same principles with the present, & show that we have nothing to expect but a continuance of the same practices, it is not easy to conjecture what would be the result, nor what means would be resorted to for correction of the evil. True wisdom would direct that they should be temperate & peaceable, but the division of sentiment & interest happens unfortunately to be so geographical that no mortal can say that what is most wise & temperate would prevail against what is most easy & obvious. I can scarcely contemplate a more incalculable evil than the breaking of the union into two or more parts. Yet when we review the mass which opposed the original coalescence, when we consider that it lay chiefly in the Southern quarter, that the legislature have availed themselves of no occasion of allaying it, but on the contrary whenever Northern & Southern prejudices have come into conflict, the latter have been sacrificed & the former soothed; that the owners of the debt are in the Southern & the holders of it in the Northern division; that the Antifederal champions are now strengthened in argument by the fulfilment of their predictions; that this has been brought about by the Monarchical federalists themselves, who, having been for the new government merely as a stepping stone to monarchy, have themselves adopted the very constructions of the Constitution of which, when advocating its acceptance before the tribunal of the people, they declared it insusceptible; that the republican federalists, who espoused the same government for its intrinsic merits, are disarmed of their weapons, that which they denied as prophecy being now become true history: who can be sure that these things may not proselyte the small number which was wanting to place the majority on the other side? And this is the event at which I tremble, & to prevent which I consider your continuance at the head of affairs as of the last importance. The confidence of the whole union is centered in you. Your being at the helm will be more than an answer to every argument which can be used to alarm & lead the people in any quarter into violence or secession. North & South will hang together if they have you to hang on; and, if the first correction of a numerous representation should fail in its effect, your presence will give time for trying others not inconsistent with the union & peace of the states.
I am perfectly aware of the oppression under which your present office lays your mind & of the ardor with which you pant for retirement to domestic life. But there is sometimes an eminence of character on which society have such peculiar claims as to control the predilection of the individual for a particular walk of happiness, & restrain him to that alone arising from the present & future benedictions of mankind. This seems to be your condition & the law imposed on you by providence in forming your character & fashioning the events on which it was to operate; and it is to motives like these, & not to personal anxieties of mine or others who have no right to call on you for sacrifices, that I appeal from your former determination & urge a revisal of it, on the ground of change in the aspect of things. Should an honest majority result from the new & enlarged representation; should those acquiesce whose principles or interest they may control, your wishes for retirement would be gratified with less danger as soon as that shall be manifest, without awaiting the completion of the second period of four years. One or two sessions will determine the crisis; and I cannot but hope that you can resolve to add one or two more to the many years you have already sacrificed to the good of mankind .
Thomas Jefferson’s Memorandum of a Conversation with George Washington
July 10, 1792
My letter of [23 May 1792] to the President, directed to him at Mt. Vernon, had not found him here, but came to him here. He told me of this & that he would take an occasion of speaking with me on the subject. He did so this day. He began by observing that he had put it off from day to day because the subject was painful, to wit his remaining in office which that letter solicited. He said that the declaration he had made when he quitted his military command of never again acting in public was sincere. That however when he was called on to come forward to set the present government in motion, it appeared to him that circumstances were so changed as to justify a change in his resolution: he was made to believe that in 2 years all would be well in motion & he might retire. At the end of two years he found some things still to be done. At the end of the 3d year he thought it was not worthwhile to disturb the course of things as in one year more his office would expire & he was decided then to retire. Now he was told there would still be danger in it. Certainly, if he thought so, he would conquer his longing for retirement. But he feared it would be said his former professions of retirement had been mere affectation, & that he was like other men, when once in office he could not quit it. He was sensible too of a decay of his hearing; perhaps his other faculties might fall off & he not be sensible of it. That with respect to the existing causes of uneasiness, he thought there were suspicions against a particular party which had been carried a great deal too far, there might be desires, but he did not believe there were designs to change the form of government into a monarchy. That there might be a few who wished it in the higher walks of life, particularly in the great cities, but that the main body of the people in the Eastern states were as steadily for republicanism as in the Southern. That the pieces lately published, & particularly in Freneau’s paper, seemed to have in view the exciting opposition to the government. That this had taken place in Pennsylvania as to the excise law, according to information he had received from General Hand, that they tended to produce a separation of the Union, the most dreadful of all calamities, and that whatever tended to produce anarchy, tended of course to produce a resort to monarchical government. He considered those papers as attacking him directly, for he must be a fool indeed to swallow the little sugar plumbs here & there thrown out to him. That in condemning the administration of the government they condemned him, for if they thought there were measures pursued contrary to his sentiment, they must conceive him too careless to attend to them or too stupid to understand them. That tho indeed he had signed many acts which he did not approve in all their parts, yet he had never put his name to one which he did not think on the whole was eligible. That as to the bank, which had been an act of so much complaint, until there was some infallible criterion of reason, a difference of opinion must be tolerated. He did not believe the discontents extended far from the seat of government. He had seen & spoken with many people in Maryland & Virginia in his late journey. He found the people contented & happy. He wished however to be better informed on this head. If the discontent were more extensive than he supposed, it might be that the desire that he should remain in the government was not general.
My observations to him tended principally to enforce the topics of my letter. I will not therefore repeat them except where they produced observations from him. I said that the two great complaints were that the national debt was unnecessarily increased, & that it had furnished the means of corrupting both branches of the legislature. That he must know & everybody knew there was a considerable squadron in both whose votes were devoted to the paper & stock-jobbing interest, that the names of a weighty number were known & several others suspected on good grounds. That on examining the votes of these men they would be found uniformly for every treasury measure, & that as most of these measures had been carried by small majorities they were carried by these very votes. That therefore it was a cause of just uneasiness when we saw a legislature legislating for their own interests in opposition to those of the people. He said not a word on the corruption of the legislature, but took up the other point, defended the assumption, & argued that it had not increased the debt, for that all of it was honest debt. He justified the excise law, as one of the best laws which could be past, as nobody would pay the tax who did not choose to do it. With respect to the increase of the debt by the assumption, I observed to him that what was meant & objected to was that it increased the debt of the general government and carried it beyond the possibility of payment. That if the balances had been settled & the debtor states directed to pay their deficiencies to the creditor states, they would have done it easily and by resources of taxation in their power and acceptable to the people, by a direct tax in the South & an excise in the North. Still he said it would be paid by the people. Finding him really approving the treasury system I avoided entering into argument with him on those points.
Letter from Alexander Hamilton to George Washington
Objections and Answers Respecting the Administration of the Government
Objection 1. The public debt is greater than we can possibly pay before other causes of adding to it will occur; and this has been artificially created by adding together the whole amount of the debtor and creditor sides of the account.
Answer. 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. Whether it is greater than can be paid before new causes of adding to it will occur is a problem incapable of being solved but by experience; and this would be the case if it were not one fourth as much as it is. If the policy of the country be prudent, cautious and neutral towards foreign nations, there is a rational probability that war may be avoided long enough to wipe off the debt. The Dutch, in a situation not near so favorable for it as that of the U States, have enjoyed intervals of peace longer than with proper exertions would suffice for the purpose. The debt of the U States compared with its present and growing abilities is really a very light one. It is little more than 15,000,000 of pounds sterling, about the annual expenditure of Great Britain.
But whether the public debt shall be extinguished or not within a moderate period depends on the temper of the people. If they are rendered dissatisfied by misrepresentation of the measures of the government, the government will be deprived of an efficient command of the resources of the community towards extinguishing the debt. And thus, those who clamor are likely to be the principal causes of protracting the existence of the debt.
As to having been artificially increased, this is denied; perhaps indeed the true reproach of the system which has been adopted is that it has artificially diminished the debt as will be explained by and by.
The assertion that the debt has been increased by adding together the whole amount of the debtor and creditor sides of the account, not being very easy to be understood, is not easy to be answered .
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 showing 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.
The particular inducements to an assumption of the state debts were I. To consolidate the finances of the country and give an assurance of permanent order in them, avoiding the collisions of thirteen different and independent systems of finance under concurrent and coequal authorities and the scramblings for revenue which would have been incident to so many different systems. II. To secure to the Government of the Union, by avoiding those entanglements, an effectual command of the resources of the Union for present and future exigencies. III. To equalize the condition of the citizens of the several states in the important article of taxation, rescuing a part of them from being oppressed with burthens beyond their strength, on account of extraordinary exertions in the war and through the want of certain adventitious resources, which it was the good fortune of others to possess.
A mind naturally attached to order and system and capable of appreciating their immense value, unless misled by particular feelings, is struck at once with the prodigious advantages which in the course of time must attend such a simplification of the financial affairs of the country as results from placing all the parts of the public debt upon one footing under one direction regulated by one provision. The want of this sound policy has been a continual source of disorder and embarrassment in the affairs of the United Netherlands.
The true justice of the case of the public debt consists in that equalization of the condition of the citizens of all the states which must arise from a consolidation of the debt and common contributions towards its extinguishment. Little inequalities, as to the past, can bear no comparison with the more lasting inequalities which, without the assumption, would have characterized the future condition of the people of the U States, leaving upon those who had done most or suffered most a great additional weight of burthen.
If the foregoing inducements to a provision for the public debt (including an assumption of the state debts) were sufficiently cogent then the justification of the excise law lies within a narrow compass. Some further source of revenue, besides the duties on imports, was indispensable, and none equally productive would have been so little exceptionable to the mass of the people.
Other reasons cooperated in the minds of some able men to render an excise at an early period desirable. They thought it well to lay hold of so valuable a resource of revenue before it was generally preoccupied by the state governments. They supposed it not amiss that the authority of the national government should be visible in some branch of internal revenue, lest a total non-exercise of it should beget an impression that it was never to be exercised & next that it ought not to be exercised. It was supposed too that a thing of the kind could not be introduced with a greater prospect of easy success than at a period when the government enjoyed the advantage of first impressions when state-factions to resist its authority were not yet maturedwhen so much aid was to be derived from the popularity and firmness of the actual Chief Magistrate.
Facts hitherto do not indicate the measure to have been rash or ill advised. The law is in operation with perfect acquiescence in all the states north of New York, though they contribute most largely. In New York and New Jersey it is in full operation, with some very partial complainings fast wearing away. In the greatest part of Pennsylvania it is in operation and with increasing good humor towards it. The four western counties continue exceptions. In Delaware it has had some struggle, which by the last accounts was surmounted. In Maryland and Virginia, it is in operation and without material conflict. In South Carolina it is now in pretty full operation, though in the interior parts it has had some serious opposition to overcome. In Georgia, no material difficulty has been experienced. North Carolina, Kentucky, & the four western counties of Pennsylvania present the only remaining impediments of any consequence to the full execution of the law. The latest advices from NC & Kentucky were more favorable than the former .
The debt existed. It was to be provided for. In whatever shape the provision was made the object of speculation and the speculation would have existed. Nothing but abolishing the debt could have obviated it. It is therefore the fault of the Revolution not of the government that paper speculation exists.
An unsound or precarious provision would have increased this species of speculation in its most odious forms. The defects & casualties of the system would have been as much subjects of speculation as the debt itself.
The difference is that under a bad system the public stock would have been too uncertain an article to be a substitute for money & all the money employed in it would have been diverted from useful employment without anything to compensate for it. Under a good system the stock becomes more than a substitute for the money employed in negotiating it .
Objection 11. Paper Speculation nourishes in our citizens &c.
Answer. This proposition within certain limits is true. Jobbing in the funds has some bad effects among those engaged in it. It fosters a spirit of gambling and diverts a certain number of individuals from other pursuits. But if the proposition be true that stock operates as capital, the effect upon the citizens at large is different. It promotes among them industry by furnishing a larger field of employment. Though this effect of a funded debt has been called in question in England by some theorists, yet most theorists & all practical men allow its existence. And there is no doubt, as already intimated, that if we look into those scenes among ourselves where the largest portions of the debt are accumulated we shall perceive that a new spring has been given to industry in various branches.
But be all this as it may, the observation made under the last head applies here. The debt was the creature of the Revolution. It was to be provided for. Being so, in whatever form, it must have become an object of speculation and jobbing.
Objection 12. The funding of the debt has furnished effectual means of corrupting &c.
Answer. This is one of those assertions which can only be denied and pronounced to be malignant and false. No facts exist to support it, and being a mere matter of fact, no argument can be brought to repel it.
The assertors beg the question. They assume to themselves and to those who think with them infallibility. Take their words for it, they are the only honest men in the community. But compare the tenor of men’s lives and at least as large a proportion of virtuous and independent characters will be found among those whom they malign as among themselves.
A member of a majority of the legislature would say to these defamers
“In your vocabulary, Gentlemen, creditor and enemy appear to be synonymous terms the support of public credit and corruption of similar import an enlarged and liberal construction of the Constitution for the public good and for the maintenance of the due energy of the national authority of the same meaning with usurpation and a conspiracy to overturn the republican government of the country every man of a different opinion from your own an ambitious despot or a corrupt knave. You bring everything to the standard of your narrow and depraved ideas, and you condemn without mercy or even decency whatever does not accord with it. Every man who is either too long or too short for your political couch must be stretched or lopped to suit it. But your pretensions must be rejected. Your insinuations despised. Your politics originate in immorality, in a disregard of the maxims of good faith and the rights of property, and if they could prevail must end in national disgrace and confusion. Your rules of construction for the authorities vested in the Government of the Union would arrest all its essential movements and bring it back in practice to the same state of imbecility which rendered the old confederation contemptible. Your principles of liberty are principles of licentiousness incompatible with all government. You sacrifice everything that is venerable and substantial in society to the vain reveries of a false and new fangled philosophy. As to the motives by which I have been influenced, I leave my general conduct in private and public life to speak for them. Go and learn among my fellow citizens whether I have not uniformly maintained the character of an honest man. As to the love of liberty and country, you have given no stronger proofs of being actuated by it than I have done. Cease then to arrogate to yourself and to your party all the patriotism and virtue of the country. Renounce if you can the intolerant spirit by which you are governedand begin to reform yourself instead of reprobating others, by beginning to doubt of your own infallibility.
Such is the answer which would naturally be given by a member of the majority in the legislature to such an objector. And it is the only one that could be given, until some evidence of the supposed corruption should be produced.
As far as I know, there is not a member of the legislature who can properly be called a stock-jobber or a paper dealer. There are several of them who were proprietors of public debt in various ways. Some for money lent & property furnished for the use of the public during the war, others for sums received in payment of debts and it is supposeable enough that some of them had been purchasers of the public debt with intention to hold it as a valuable & convenient property, considering an honorable provision for it as matter of course.
It is a strange perversion of ideas, and as novel as it is extraordinary, that men should be deemed corrupt & criminal for becoming proprietors in the funds of their country. Yet I believe the number of members of Congress is very small who have ever been considerably proprietors in the funds.
And as to improper speculations on measures depending before Congress, I believe never was any body of men freer from them.
There are indeed several members of Congress who have become proprietors in the Bank of the United States, and a few of them to a pretty large amount, say 50 or 60 shares; but all operations of this kind were necessarily subsequent to the determination upon the measure. The subscriptions were of course subsequent & purchases still more so. Can there be anything really blameable in this? Can it be culpable to invest property in an institution which has been established for the most important national purposes? Can that property be supposed to corrupt the holder? It would indeed tend to render him friendly to the preservation of the Bank; but in this there would be no collision between duty & interest, and it could give him no improper bias in other questions.
To uphold public credit and to be friendly to the Bank must be presupposed to be corrupt things before the being a proprietor in the funds or of bank stock can be supposed to have a corrupting influence. The being a proprietor in either case is a very different thing from being, in a proper sense of the term, a stock jobber. On this point of the corruption of the legislature one more observation of great weight remains. Those who oppose a funded debt and mean any provision for it contemplate an annual one. Now, it is impossible to conceive a more fruitful source of legislative corruption than this. All the members of it who should incline to speculate would have an annual opportunity of speculating upon their influence in the legislature to promote or retard or put off a provision. Every session the question whether the annual provision should be continued would be an occasion of pernicious caballing and corrupt bargaining. In this very view when the subject was in deliberation, it was impossible not to wish it declared upon once for all & out of the way.
Objection 13. The Corrupt Squadron &c.
Here again the objectors beg the question. They take it for granted that their constructions of the Constitution are right and that the opposite ones are wrong, and with great good nature and candor ascribe the effect of a difference of opinion to a disposition to get rid of the limitations on the government.
Those who have advocated the constructions which have obtained have met their opponents on the ground of fair argument and they think have refuted them. How shall it be determined which side is right?
There are some things which the general government has clearly a right to do there are others which it has clearly no right to meddle with, and there is a good deal of middle ground, about which honest & well disposed men may differ. The most that can be said is that some of this middle ground may have been occupied by the national legislature; and this surely is no evidence of a disposition to get rid of the limitations in the Constitution, nor can it be viewed in that light by men of candor.
The truth is one description of men is disposed to do the essential business of the nation by a liberal construction of the powers of the government; another from disaffection would fritter away those powersa third from an overweening jealousy would do the same thing a fourth from party & personal opposition are torturing the Constitution into objections to everything they do not like.
The Bank is one of the measures which is deemed by some the greatest stretch of power; and yet its constitutionality has been established in the most satisfactory manner.
And the most incorrigible theorist among its opponents would in one month’s experience as head of the Department of the Treasury be compelled to acknowledge that it is an absolutely indispensable engine in the management of the finances and would quickly become a convert to its perfect constitutionality.
Objection 14. The ultimate object of all.
To this there is no other answer than a flat denialexcept 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.
Those, then, who resist a confirmation of public order are the true artificers of monarchy not that this is the intention of the generality of them. Yet it would not be difficult to lay the finger upon some of their party who may justly be suspected. When a man unprincipled in private life, desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits despotic in his ordinary demeanour known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty when such a man [Aaron Burr?] is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity to join in the cry of danger to liberty to take every opportunity of embarrassing the general government & bringing it under suspicion to flatter and fall in with all the nonsense of the zealots of the day It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may “ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.”
It has aptly been observed that Cato was the ToryCaesar the Whig of his day. The former frequently resisted the latter always flattered the follies of the people. Yet the former perished with the Republic; the latter destroyed it.
No popular government was ever without its Catalines & its Caesars. These are its true enemies.
As far as I am informed, the anxiety of those who are calumniated is to keep the government in the state in which it is, which they fear will be no easy task, from a natural tendency in the state of things to exalt the local on the ruins of the national government. Some of them appear to wish, in a constitutional way, a change in the judiciary department of the government, from an apprehension that an orderly and effectual administration of justice cannot be obtained without a more intimate connection between the state and national tribunals. But even this is not an object of any set of men as a party. There is a difference of opinion about it on various grounds among those who have generally acted together. As to any other change of consequence, I believe nobody dreams of it.
Tis curious to observe the anticipations of the different parties. One side appears to believe that there is a serious plot to overturn the state governments and substitute monarchy to the present republican system. The other side firmly believes that there is a serious plot to overturn the general government & elevate the separate power of the states upon its ruins. Both sides may be equally wrong, & their mutual jealousies may be materially causes of the appearances which mutually disturb them and sharpen them against each other .
No man, that I know of, contemplated the introducing into this country of a monarchy. A very small number (not more than three or four) manifested theoretical opinions favorable in the abstract to a constitution like that of Great Britain, but everyone agreed that such a constitution except as to the general distribution of departments and powers was out of the question in reference to this country. The member who was most explicit on this point (a member from New York) declared in strong terms that the republican theory ought to be adhered to in this country as long as there was any chance of its successthat the idea of a perfect equality of political rights among the citizens, exclusive of all permanent or hereditary distinctions, was of a nature to engage the good wishes of every good man, whatever might be his theoretic doubtsthat it merited his best efforts to give success to it in practicethat hitherto from an incompetent structure of the government it had not had a fair trial, and that the endeavor ought then to be to secure to it a better chance of success by a government more capable of energy and order.
Letter from Thomas Jefferson to George Washington
September 9, 1792
I now take the liberty of proceeding to that part of your letter wherein you notice the internal dissentions which have taken place within our government, & their disagreeable effect on its movements. That such dissentions have taken place is certain, & even among those who are nearest to you in the administration. To no one have they given deeper concern than myself: to no one equal mortification at being myself a part of them. Tho’ I take to myself no more than my share of the general observations of your letter, yet I am so desirous ever that you should know the whole truth, & believe no more than the truth, that I am glad to seize every occasion of developing to you whatever I do or think relative to the government; & shall therefore ask permission to be more lengthy now than the occasion particularly calls for, or could otherwise perhaps justify.
When I embarked in the government, it was with a determination to intermeddle not at all with the legislature, & as little as possible with my co-departments. The first and only instance of variance from the former part of my resolution, I was duped into by the Secretary of the Treasury and made a tool for forwarding his schemes, not then sufficiently understood by me; and of all the errors of my political life, this has occasioned me the deepest regret. It has ever been my purpose to explain this to you, when, from being actors on the scene, we shall have become uninterested spectators only. The second part of my resolution has been religiously observed with the war department; & as to that of the Treasury, has never been farther swerved from than by the mere enunciation of my sentiments in conversation, and chiefly among those who, expressing the same sentiments, drew mine from me. If it has been supposed that I have ever intrigued among the members of the legislatures to defeat the plans of the Secretary of the Treasury, it is contrary to all truth. As I never had the desire to influence the members, so neither had I any other means than my friendships, which I valued too highly to risk by usurpations on their freedom of judgment, & the conscientious pursuit of their own sense of duty. That I have utterly, in my private conversations, disapproved of the system of the Secretary of the treasury, I acknolege & avow: and this was not merely a speculative difference. His system flowed from principles adverse to liberty, & was calculated to undermine and demolish the republic, by creating an influence of his department over the members of the legislature. I saw this influence actually produced, & its first fruits to be the establishment of the great outlines of his project by the votes of the very persons who, having swallowed his bait were laying themselves out to profit by his plans: & that had these persons withdrawn, as those interested in a question ever should, the vote of the disinterested majority was clearly the reverse of what they made it. These were no longer the votes then of the representatives of the people, but of deserters from the rights & interests of the people: & it was impossible to consider their decisions, which had nothing in view but to enrich themselves, as the measures of the fair majority, which ought always to be respected. If what was actually doing begat uneasiness in those who wished for virtuous government, what was further proposed was not less threatening to the friends of the Constitution. For, in a Report on the subject of manufactures (still to be acted on) it was expressly assumed that the general government has a right to exercise all powers which may be for the general welfare, that is to say, all the legitimate powers of government: since no government has a legitimate right to do what is not for the welfare of the governed. There was indeed a sham-limitation of the universality of this power to cases where money is to be employed. But about what is it that money cannot be employed? Thus the object of these plans taken together is to draw all the powers of government into the hands of the general legislature, to establish means for corrupting a sufficient corps in that legislature to divide the honest votes & preponderate, by their own, the scale which suited, & to have that corps under the command of the Secretary of the Treasury for the purpose of subverting step by step the principles of the constitution, which he has so often declared to be a thing of nothing which must be changed. Such views might have justified something more than mere expressions of dissent, beyond which, nevertheless, I never went. Has abstinence from the department committed to me been equally observed by him? To say nothing of other interferences equally known, in the case of the two nations with which we have the most intimate connections, France & England, my system was to give some satisfactory distinctions to the former, of little cost to us, in return for the solid advantages yielded us by them; & to have met the English with some restrictions which might induce them to abate their severities against our commerce. I have always supposed this coincided with your sentiments. Yet the Secretary of the treasury, by his cabals with members of the legislature, & by high-toned declamation on other occasions, has forced down his own system, which was exactly the reverse. He undertook, of his own authority, the conferences with the ministers of those two nations, & was, on every consultation, provided with some report of a conversation with the one or the other of them, adapted to his views. These views, thus made to prevail, their execution fell of course to me; & I can safely appeal to you, who have seen all my letters & proceedings, whether I have not carried them into execution as sincerely as if they had been my own, tho’ I ever considered them as inconsistent with the honor & interest of our country. That they have been inconsistent with our interest is but too fatally proved by the stab to our navigation given by the French. So that if the question be By whose fault is it that Colo Hamilton & myself have not drawn together? the answer will depend on that to two other questions; whose principles of administration best justify, by their purity, conscientious adherence? and which of us has, notwithstanding, stepped farthest into the controul of the department of the other?
To this justification of opinions, expressed in the way of conversation, against the views of Colo Hamilton, I beg leave to add some notice of his late charges against me in Fenno’s gazette; for neither the stile, matter, nor venom of the pieces alluded to can leave a doubt of their author. Spelling my name & character at full length to the public, while he conceals his own under the signature of “an American” he charges me 1. With having written letters from Europe to my friends to oppose the present constitution while depending. 2. With a desire of not paying the public debt. 3. With setting up a paper to decry & slander the government. 1. The first charge is most false. No man in the U.S. I suppose, approved of every title in the constitution: no one, I believe approved more of it than I did: and more of it was certainly disproved by my accuser than by me, and of its parts most vitally republican.