The controversial founder's own views on liberty, representative government, monarchy, money, taxation, and his much-maligned reputation. Also citations of Hamilton in the press today.

Location: Pennsylvania, United States

This blogger runs both "Alexander Hamilton Speaks" and "Thomas Jefferson Speaks" on Both blogs present opinions & ideas of these Founders which are probably not familiar to many Americans.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Quotations from Alexander Hamilton

If you have subscribed to the libels of his enemies, Hamilton’s views will surprise you. Here he is, in his own words.

Democracy and Representative Government

“The true principle of a republic is that the people should choose whom they please to govern them. Representation is imperfect, in proportion as the current of popular favor is checked. The great source of free government, popular election, should be perfectly pure, and the most unbounded liberty allowed.”

Speech to NY Legislature, June 21, 1788 (LOA p. 493)

"Were the people of America, with one voice, to ask, What shall we do to perpetuate our liberties and secure our happiness? The answer would be, 'govern well, and you will have nothing to fear either from internal disaffection or external hostility.' "

A Letter from Phocion, 1784

“That instability is inherent in the nature of popular governments, I think very disputable … A representative democracy, where the right of election is well secured and regulated & the exercise of the legislature, executive, and judiciary authorities, is vested in select persons, chosen really and not nominally by the people, will in my opinion be most likely to be happy, regular and durable.”

Letter to Gouvernor Morris, May 19, 1777

“I trust that the proposed Constitution affords a genuine specimen of representative and republican government—and that it will answer, in an eminent degree, all the beneficial purposes of society.”

Speech to NY Legislature, June 21, 1788 (LOA p. 495)

"The republican principle demands, that the deliberate sense of the community should govern the conduct of those to whom they entrust the management of their affairs; but it does not require an unqualified complaisance to every sudden gust of passion, or every transient impulse which the people may receive from the arts of men, who flatter their prejudices to betray their interests. It is a just observation that the people commonly intend the PUBLIC GOOD. This often applies to their very errors. But their good sense would despise the adulator, who should pretend that they always reason right about the means of promoting it. They know from experience, that they sometimes err; and the wonder is, that they so seldom err, beset as they continually are by the wiles of parasites and sycophants, by the snares of the ambitious, the avaricious, the desperate; by the artifices of men, who possess their confidence more than they deserve it, and those who seek to possess, rather than to deserve it. When occasions present themselves in which the interests of the people are at variance with their inclinations, it is the duty of the persons whom they have appointed to be the guardians of those interests, to withstand the temporary delusion, in order to give them time and opportunity for more cool and sedate reflection. Instances might be cited, in which a conduct of this kind has saved the people from the very fatal consequences of their own mistakes, and has procured lasting monuments of their gratitude to the men, who had courage and magnanimity enough to serve them at the peril of their displeasure."The Federalist 71


“I desire above all things to see the equality of political rights exclusive of all hereditary distinction firmly established by a practical demonstration of its being consistent with the order and happiness of society.”

Letter to Edward Carrington, May 26th 1792

“While property continues to be pretty equally divided, and a considerable share of information pervades the community, the tendency of the people’s suffrages will be to elevate merit even from obscurity. As riches increase and accumulate in a few hands; as luxury prevails in society, virtue will be in a greater degree considered as only a graceful appendage of wealth, and the tendency of things will be to depart from the republican standard.”

Speech to NY Legislature, June 21, 1788 (LOA p. 492)

"The highest toned propositions, which I made in the Convention, were for a President, Senate, and Judges during good behavior--a house of representatives for three years. Though I would have enlarged the Legislative power of the General Government, yet I never contemplated the abolition of State Governments; but on the contrary, they were, in some particulars, constituent parts of my plan.

"This plan was, in my conception conformable with the strict theory of a Government purely republican; the essential criteria of which are that the principal organs of the Executive and Legislative departments be elected by the people and hold their offices by a responsible and temporary, or defeasible, tenure ...If I sinned against Republicanism, Mr. Madison is no less guilty...

"I may truly then say, that I never proposed either a President or a Senate for life, and that I neither recommended nor meditated the annihilation of the State Governments....

[He protests that it was his understanding during the early days of the convention that members would offer "experimental propositions" might be made in the spirit of "free investigation."]

"Accordingly, it is a fact, that my final opinion was against an Executive during good behavior, on account of the increased danger to the public tranquility incident to the election of a Magistrate of this degree of permanancy. In the plan of a Constitution, which I drew up, while the convention was sitting, and which I communicated to Mr. Madison about the close of it, perhaps a day or two after, the Office of President has no greater duration than for three years."

Letter to Timothy Pickering, Sept. 16, 1803


“I would die to preserve the law on a solid foundation; but take away liberty and the foundation is destroyed.”

A Full Vindication of the Measures of Congress, 1774

“Remember civil and religious liberty always go together, if the foundation of the one be sapped, the other will fall of course.”

A Full Vindication of the Measures of Congress, 1774

“The meaning of the word liberty has been contested. Its true sense must be the enjoyment of the common privileges of subjects under the same government…[not] a mere exemption from personal imprisonment!”

A Letter from Phocion, 1784

“The violent destruction of life and property incident to war—the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty, to resort for repose and security, to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they, at length, become willing to run the risk of being less free.”

The Federalist 8

A Free Press

“To watch the progress of such endeavors is the office of a free press. To give us early alarm and put us on our guard against encroachments of power. This then is a right of utmost importance, one for which, instead of yielding it up, we ought rather to spill our blood. “

Courtroom speech, 1803 (quoted in Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton 2004, p. 670)

“The Liberty of the press consists in the right to publish with impunity Truth with good motives for justifiable ends [al]though reflecting on government, magistracy, or individuals.”

Propositions on the Law of Libel, 1804

The Federal Government

“There are some things which the General [Federal] 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 and well-disposed men may differ.”

Letter to George Washington, 1792

Habeas Corpus

“The establishment of the writ of habeas corpus, the prohibition of ex post facto laws and of TITLE OF NOBILITY... are perhaps greater securities to liberty and republicanism than any it [the Constitution] contains. ...[T]he creation of crimes after the fact ... and the practice of arbitrary imprisonments have been, in all ages, the favorite and most formidable instruments of tyranny. The observations of the judicious [British 18th century legal scholar] Blackstone, in reference to the latter, are well worthy of recital:

'To bereave a man of life,' says he, 'or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism, as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole nation; but confinement of the person, by secretly hurrying him to jail, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten, is a less public, a less striking, and therefore a more dangerous engine of arbitrary government.''' [Emphasis Hamilton's.]

The Federalist 84 (LOA 468-69)

Human Nature

“The supposition of universal venality in human nature is little less an error in political reasoning than the supposition of universal rectitude. The institution of delegated power implies that there is a portion of virtue and honor among mankind, which may be a reasonable foundation of confidence. And experience justifies the theory. It has been found to exist in the most corrupt periods of the most corrupt governments. “

The Federalist 76

An Independent Judiciary

“The judiciary is beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments of government … It can never attack with success either of the other two; and all possible care is requisite to enable it to defend itself against their attacks … As liberty can have nothing to fear from the judiciary alone, [it] would have everything to fear from its union with either of the other departments [executive and legislative] … The complete independence of the courts of justice is peculiarly essential in a limited constitution.”

The Federalist 78

Money and Property

“When avarice takes the lead in a state, it is commonly a forerunner of its fall.”

A Letter from Publius, October-November 1778

“I hate money-making men.” Letter to John Laurens, 1778

“An indifference to property enters into my character too much.”

Letter to Elizabeth Schuyler, August 1780

“I don’t want to be rich and if I cannot live in splendor in Town, with a moderate fortune moderately acquired, I can at least live in comfort in the country and I am content to do so.”

Letter to Robert Troup, April 13, 1795


“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 …

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.”

Letter to George Washington, 1792


“As too much power leads to despotism, too little leads to anarchy, and both eventually to the ruin of the people.”

The Continentalist, 1781

Race and Slavery

“An essential part of the plan [to enlist African-Americans as soldiers in the Revolution] is to give them their freedom with their muskets. This will secure their fidelity, animate their courage, and I believe will have a good influence on those that remain by opening a door to their emancipation. This circumstance, I confess, has no small weight in inducing me to wish the success of the project; for the dictates of humanity and true policy equally interest me in favour of this unfortunate class of men.”

Letter to John Jay, March 14, 1779

“In the interpretation of treaties, things odious or immoral are not to be presumed. The abandonment of negroes, who had been induced to quit their masters on the faith of official proclamations, promising them liberty, to fall again under the yoke of their masters and into slavery is as odious and immoral a thing as can be conceived. It is odious not only as it imposes an act of perfidy on one of the contracting parties, but as it tends to bring back into servitude men once made free.” 1795 (Quoted in Chernow, 213)

His Reputation

"What reasonable man, for the precarious enjoyment of rank and power, would establish a system, which would reduce his nearest friends and his posterity to slavery and ruin? If they [those who oppose ratifying the constitution] imagine, that I contemplate, with an ambitious eye, the immediate honors of the government; yet, let them consider that I have my friends--my family--my children, to whom the ties of nature and of habit have attached me. If, to day, I am among the favored few; my children, tomorrow, may be among the oppressed many. These dearest pledges of my patriotism ... I have troubled the committee with these observations to show that it cannot be the wish of any reasonable man to establish a government unfriendly to the liberties of the people."

New York Convention, June 1788 (during which Hamilton persuades his opponents to ratify the Constitution. He is New York's sole signer.)

“I trust that I shall always be able to bear, as I ought, imputations of error of Judgment; but I acknowledge that I cannot be entirely patient under charges, which impeach the integrity of my public motives or conduct. I feel, that I merit them in no degree; and expressions of indignation sometimes escape me, in spite of every attempt to suppress them.”

Letter to George Washington, August 18, 1792 (LOA, p. 760)

“Never was there a more ungenerous persecution of any man than myself. Not only are the worst constructions put upon my conduct as a public man, but it seems my birth is the subject of the most humiliating criticism.”

Letter to William Jackson, 1800

“I never advised any connection with Great Britain, other than a commercial one; and in this I never advocated the giving to her any privilege or advantage which was not to be imparted to other nations.”

Letter Concerning John Adams [who had accused Hamilton of leading a “British faction,” to Hamilton’s outrage]


“They [taxes] will in the end be borne by all classes; yet it is of the greatest importance that no one should sink under the immediate pressure. The great art is to distribute the public burdens well and not suffer them, either first, or last, to fall too heavily upon parts of the community; else distress and disorder must ensue. A shock given to any part of the political machine vibrates through the whole.”

The Continentalist VI, 1782

“The public necessities must be satisfied; this can only be done by contributions of the whole society. “

The Continentalist VI

“Experience will teach us that no government costs so much as a bad one.”

The Continentalist VI (LOA, p. 115)

“Every proposal for a specific tax is sure to meet with opposition … It must be the province of the legislature to hold the scales with a judicious hand and balance one by another. The rich must be made to pay for their luxuries; which is the only proper way of taking their superior wealth.”

The Continentalist VI

“Taxes are never welcome to a community. They seldom fail to excite uneasy sensations more or less extensive. Hence a too strong propensity, in the Governments of Nations, to anticipate and mortgage the resources of posterity, rather than encounter the inconveniences of a present increase in taxes.

But this policy, when not dictated by very peculiar circumstances, is of the worst kind. Its obvious tendency is, by enhancing the permanent burdens of the people, to produce lasting distress, and its natural issue is in National Bankruptcy.”

Report to the Speaker of the House, March 16-17, 1792


“A Firm Union will be of the utmost moment to the peace and liberty of the States as a barrier against domestic faction and insurrection. It is impossible to read the history of the petty Republics of Greece and Italy without feeling sensations of horror and disgust … [at how] they were kept in a state of perpetual vibration, between the extremes of tyranny and anarchy.” The Federalist, 9

"The immense exertions of Massachusetts during the late war [American Revolution] are known to every well informed man. It would not be too strong to say, that they were in a great degree the pivot of the revolution. The exertions sufferings sacrifices and losses of South Carolina need not be insisted upon. The other States have comparatively none or inconsiderable Debts. Can that policy be condemned which aims at putting the burdened states upon an equal footing with the rest? Can that policy be very liberal which resists so equitable an arrangement? ... Massachusetts threw her Citizens into Rebellion [Shays Rebellion] by heavier taxes than were paid in any other state..."

Letter to George Washington, August 18, 1792 (LOA, pp. 768-69)


“Wars oftener proceed from angry and perverse passions than from cool calculations of interest.” Quoted in Chernow, 216.

“Your sentiments respecting war are perfec[tly] just. I do not wonder at your antipathy to it. Every finer feeling of a delicate mind revolts from the idea of shedding human blood and multiplying the common evils o[f] life by the artificial methods incident to that state. Were it not for the evident necessity and in defence of all that is valuable in society, I could never be reconciled to a mili[tary] character; and shall rejoice when the restoration of pe[ace] on the basis of freedom and independence shall put it [in] my power to renounce it.”

Letter to Catherine Livingstone, May 1777


LOA= Library of America edition of Hamilton's Writings, edited by Joanne Freeman


Blogger Rob Scot said...

Great blog; thanks for getting the word out about Hamilton. I can't think of a better way to do it than by providing his own words; they are powerful still.

4:41 PM  
Blogger Enlightened Despot said...


9:52 PM  

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