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Art. XLIV.

Letter from Alexander Hamilton,
concerning the Public Conduct and
Character of
John Adams, Esq.
President of the United States.
8vo. pp. 54. 4th Edition. New-
Lang. 1800.

OF all modes ever devised or
practised, for exercising that
censorial power which is deemed es-
sential to the preservation of a free
government, that of a free press is
the most formidable and efficacious.
It is a power, which, in the hands
of genius and virtue, and guided by
a sacred regard for truth, becomes
irresistible in its effects, and tre-
mendous to the magistrate against
whom it is directed. In propor-
tion to the magnitude of this power
is the danger of its abuse, and the
necessity of that wisdom and dis-

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cretion which should preside over
and controul its operations.

On few occasions has its exercise
been viewed with greater curiosity
and interest, by the impartial spec-
tator of public events, than in that
of the publication now before us.
A man of known discernment and
eminent abilities, and an important
actor in the great scene of political
affairs, has undertaken to arraign a
most distinguished leader in the re-
volution, and the chief magistrate,
of the United States, before the bar
of the people; and to bring his pub-
lic conduct, his intellectual and mo-
ral character, to a severe scrutiny.

The portrait of such a person,
drawn by his contemporary and co-
adjutor in the administration of go-
vernment, will be regarded by the
present age, and by future students
and historians, as of great value.—
While the spirit of political dissen-
sion remains alive it will never be
viewed in its true light. While
the world of readers is divided
between his friends and his ene-
mies, the judgment passed upon the
painter will be perverted by per-
sonal considerations.—To look at
the present scene with the same un-
impassioned tranquillity as we re-
gard the revolutions of Parthia or
China, is, considering the moral
structure of man, perhaps, impossi-
ble; nor would a frigid indifference
to the happiness of those around
us have much claim to the appro-
bation of virtue. Yet to pronounce
a judgment impartial and just, it is
necessary to withdraw from the tu-
multuous throng of contending par-
ties, beyond the reach of the im-
mediate influence of friends or foes.
In doing this, there is danger of
shocking the prejudices of both par-
ties, and being reviled and neglected
by both. It is with much diffi-
dence, therefore, that we venture
to scrutinize the picture before us,
and to weigh the credit it deserves
as a faithful copy of nature. Its

fidelity can be measured only by
our own knowledge of the original,
or the genius, knowledge, and im-
partiality of the artist.

The qualities of this picture af-
ford an object for consideration
very different from the motives of
the artist in bestowing his talents on
the execution of it, or in exhibit-
ing it, at this time, to the public
view. We may suppose him to be
actuated by a laudable regard to the
public welfare, which requires that
we should do all in our power to
enable mankind to form a right
judgment of the character of those
who are proposed as their governors;
and, for this purpose, to employ the
means and embrace the opportunity
most efficacious to this end. Or, we
may imagine him incited by resent-
ment, on account of some real or ima-
gined injury, inflicted by the pour-
on the pourtrayer. Or, in the
third place, we may, from a due re-
gard to the ineradicable selfishness of
human nature, and its occasional ge-
nerosity, be allowed to conclude,
as is most prudent to do in all cases,
and as, from the representations of
the artist himself, we are obliged to do
in this case, that the motives of the
man were complicated; that per-
sonal resentment has had a consi-
derable share in guiding and invi-
gorating the pencil, but that he has
likewise designed the benefit of his

The great outlines and favour-
able touches in this portrait are pa-
triotism and integrity, and talents of
a certain kind; high claims upon
the public gratitude, a substan-
tial worth of character
atoning for
great defects.—The objectionable
parts are, a sublimated and eccen-
tric imagination; unsoundness of
judgment; want of perseverance;
a boundless vanity; extreme egot-
ism; impatience of inferiority even
to Washington; disgusting arro-
gance; distempered jealousy; un-
governable indiscretion; indecent

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irrascibility; absolute unfitness for
the post of chief magistrate.

To justify the laying on of these
colours a view is taken of the con-
duct of Mr. Adams, previous and
subsequent to his elevation to the
office of president. His conduct,
as negociator at the close of the re-
volution, obtains an ambiguous ap-
probation. He is praised, not as
the world in general has approved
of him, as a principal or leader,
but merely as cordially co-operat-
ing with, or seconding the efforts
of, another.

A quotation of a journal, kept
by Mr. Adams while in Paris, is
then introduced; from which it is
inferred, that the journalist has a
puerile degree of vanity. The pro-
priety of this quotation, and the
soundness of the inference drawn
from it, is liable to some doubt.
An air of contempt is assumed by
Mr. H. by no means suitable to the
occasion. Instead of a common
ceremonial, in performing which
there is no merit, though there
would be incivility in omitting it,
the writer skilfully exhibits the am-
bassador's behaviour in a light as if
it were awkward and impertinent;
and what was probably nothing
more than the current coin of French
is unwarrantably repre-
sented as a sarcasm.

We cannot be much pleased with
this quotation, nor with the stress
that is laid, throughout this per-
formance, on symptoms of a foible
the most common, the most harm-
less, and more frequently associated
with estimable qualities than any
other. Every man has vanity, and
the difference, as to merit, between
vain men, lies in the degree and
the objects of their vanity. He who
seeks the praise of knowledge and
skill is surely far less culpable than
he who derives pleasure from the
imputation of qualities, which,
though they argue a certain degree
of dexterity and address, are yet,

in a moral view, in a high degree,
despicable and pernicious.

Candour will always balance de-
fects against excellences; and will
scarcely suffer its veneration for
talents and worth to be impaired by
proofs of undue dependance on the
approbation of others. These it
will regard with sincere regret, and
take pleasure in remarking, that
though the thirst of praise is di-
splayed in an inordinate degree, yet
the judgment, as to what is praise-
worthy, is perfectly correct.

It is true, that the importance of
certain qualities depends, in a great
degree, on the light in which the
character is viewed; whether as
acting in the narrow limits of pri-
vate and domestic life, or in the
elevated station of a magistrate and
ruler, on the wisdom of whose con-
duct often depends the tranquillity
and happiness of millions.—A foi-
ble which, in the one case, may be
innocent, or only render its pos-
sessor less worthy of admiration,
may, in the other, if predominant,
mislead the actor himself, or be
managed, by the artful and design-
ing, to turn him aside from the
path of wisdom, to aid some sinis-
ter and mischievous purpose.

The writer proceeds to support
the charge of vanity by various in-
stances. He acknowledges, how-
ever, that Mr. Adams's conduct
as Vice-President was satisfactory;
and that his concurrence with him,
in the management of the sinking
fund, “won from him an unfeigned
return of amicable sentiments.”

After some remarks upon the
transactions which terminated in
the election of Mr. Adams as Vice-
President, a well known letter to
Tench Coxe is made the subject of
an ample commentary. No one
will withhold his tribute of admi-
ration from the ingenuity and skill,
at least, of the commentator. This
letter is supposed to evince an inor-
dinate jealousy, stimulated by ill-

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will, “and blind to the most ob-
vious consequences.” It is, indeed,
mentioned as a proof of something
more, for he goes on to ask:

“How will Mr. Adams answer to the
government and to his country, for hav-
ing thus wantonly given the sanction of
his opinion to the worst of the asper-
sions which the enemies of the admi-
nistration have impudently thrown upon
it? Can we be surprised that such a
torrent of slander was poured out against
it, when a man, the second in official
rank, the second in the favour of the
friends of the government, stooped to
become himself one of its calumniators?
It is peculiarly unlucky for Mr. Adams,
in this affair, that he is known to have
desired, at the time, the appointment
which was given to Mr. Pinckney.”

The writer seems to have for-
gotten that this wanton calumny,
this furtherance of the schemes of
an hostile party, was a confidential
letter to a co-partizan, and publish-
ed directly against the will of the
writer; and has, at least, been en-
deavoured to be explained away.

The conduct of the President in
his negociation with France is next
examined. Amidst abundance of
censure, expressed or insinuated, of
the President in these negociations,
the following strains of approbation
unexpectedly occur:

“The expediency of the step was sug-
gested to Mr. Adams, through a federal
channel, a considerable time before he
determined to take it. He hesitated
whether it could be done, after the re-
jection of Gen. Pinckney, without na-
tional debasement. The doubt was an
honourable one. it was afterwards very
properly surrendered to the cogent rea-
sons which pleaded for a further experi-

“Without imitating the flatterers of
Mr. Adams, who, in derogation from
the intrinsic force of circumstances, and
from the magnanimity of the nation, as-
cribe to him the whole merits of produc-
ing the spirit which appeared in the
community, it shall, with cheerfulness,
be acknowledged, that he took, upon
the occasion, a manly and courageous
lead—that he did all in his power to

rouse the pride of the nation—to inspire
it with a just sense of the injuries and
outrages which it had experienced, and
to dispose it to a firm and magnanimous
resistance—and that his efforts contri-
buted materially to the end.”

The second mission is then men-
tioned with the strongest marks of
disapprobation. “It was wrong,”
says he, “in mode and substance.”
This is a question on one side of
which Mr. H. has reasoned plau-
sibly and forcibly; but, no doubt,
much may likewise be plausibly
said in opposition. At least those
who regard success as the grand
criterion in state affairs, will consi-
der all argumentation as superfluous
while the event is unknown, which,
in a very short time, will give or
withhold the only proof of political
wisdom, on which they will place
their confidence. Of the versatility
of Mr. Adams's conduct on this
occasion Mr. H. gives this proof.

“The session which ensued the pro-
mulgation of the dispatches of our com-
missioners was about to commence. Mr.
Adams arrived at Philadelphia from his
seat at Quincey. The tone of his mind
seemed to have been raised rather than

“It was suggested to him, that it
might be expedient to insert, in his
speech to Congress, a sentiment of this
import: That after the repeatedly re-
jected advances of this country, its dig-
nity required that it should be left with
France, in future, to make the first over-
ture; that if, desirous of reconciliation,
she should evince the disposition by send-
ing a minister to this government, he
would be received with the respect due
to his character, and treated with in the
frankness of a sincere desire of accommo-

“The suggestion was received in a
manner both indignant and intemperate.

“Mr. Adams declared, as a sentiment,
which he had adopted on mature reflec-
tion, ‘That if France should send a mi-
nister to-morrow, he would order him
back the day after.”

“So imprudent an idea was easily re-
futed. Little argument was requisite to
show, that by a similar system of retalia-
tion, when one government, in a parti-

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cular instance, had refused the envoy of
another, nations might entail upon each
other perpetual hostility—mutually bar-
ring the avenues of explanation.

“In less than forty-eight hours from
this extraordinary sally, the mind of Mr.
Adams underwent a total revolution. He
resolved not only to insert in his speech
the sentiment which had been proposed
to him, but to go farther, and to declare,
that if France would give explicit assu-
rances of receiving a minister from this
country, with due respect, he would
send one.”

The following remarks, upon
the duty of a supreme magistrate,
are admirable, “both in mode and
substance;” and the reasoning ap-
pears to us satisfactory and conclu-

“A President is not bound to conform
to the advice of his minsters He is
even under no positive injunction to ask
or require it. But the constitution pre-
sumes that he will consult them; and the
genius of our government and the public
good recommend the practice.

“As the President nominates his mi-
nisters, and may displace them when he
pleases, it must be his own fault if he be
not surrounded by men, who for ability
and integrity deserve his confidence.
And if his ministers are of this character,
the consulting of them will always be
likely to be useful to himself and to the
state. Let it even be supposed that he
is a man of talents superior to the col-
lected talents of all his ministers (which
can seldom happen, as the world has seen
but few Fredericks), he may, neverthe-
less, often assist his judgment by a com-
parison and collision of ideas. The
greatest genius, hurried away by the ra-
pidity of its own conceptions, will occa-
sionally overlook obstacles which ordi-
nary and more phlegmatic men will dis-
cover, and which, when presented to
his consideration, will be thought by
himself decisive objections to his plans.

“When, unhappily, an ordinary man
dreams himself to be a Frederick, and,
through vanity, refrains from counselling
with his constitutional advisers, he is
very apt to fall into the hands of miser-
able intriguers, with whom his self-love
is more at ease, and who, without diffi-

culty, slide into his confidence, and, by
flattery, govern him.

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

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

“And, as surely, Mr. Adams might
have benefited by the advice of his mi-

“The stately system of not consulting
ministers is likely to have a further dis-
advantage. It will tend to exclude from
places of primary trust the men most fit
to occupy them.

“Few and feeble are the interested
inducements to accept a place in our ad-
ministration. Far from being lucrative,
there is not one which will not involve
pecuniary sacrifice to every honest man of
pre-eminent talents. And has not expe-
rience shown, that he must be fortunate
indeed, if even the successful execution
of his task can secure to him considera-
tion and fame? Of a large harvest of
obloquy he is sure.

“If excluded from the counsels of the
executive chief, his office must become
truly insignificant. What amiable and
virtuous man will long consent to be so
miserable a pageant?

“Every thing that tends to banish
from the administration able men, tends
to diminish the chances of able counsels.
The probable operation of a system of
this kind must be to consign places of
the highest trust to incapable honest
men, whose inducement will be a liveli-
hood—or to capable dishonest men, who
will seek indirect indemnifications for
the deficiency of direct and fair induce-

New proofs are next exhibited
of jealousy, vanity, and irrascibi-
lity; and an attempt is successfully
made to vindicate himself from the
charge of any selfish or sordid pre-
ference of the interests of Great-

“I never advised any connection* with
Great-Britain other than a commercial
* “I mean a lasting connection From what I recollect of the train of my ideas,
it is possible I may at some time have suggested a temporary connection, for the pur-

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one; and, in this, I never advocated the
giving to her any privilege or advantage
which was not to be imparted to other
nations. With regard to her pretentions
as a belligerent power in relation to
neutrals, my opinions, while in the ad-
ministration, to the best of my recollec-
tion, coincided with those of Mr. Jeffer-
son. When, in the year 1793, her de-
predations on our commerce discovered a
hostile spirit, I recommended one defini-
tive effort to terminate differences by
negociation, to be followed, if unsuc-
cessful, by a declaration of war. I urged,
in the most earnest manner, the friends
of the administration in both houses of
Congress, to prepare, by sea and land,
for the alternative, to the utmost extent
of our resources; and to an extent far
exceeding what any member of either
party was found willing to go. For this
alternative, I became so firmly pledged
to the friends and enemies of the ad-
ministration, and especially to the Pre-
sident of the United States, in writing as
well as verbally, that I could not after-
wards have retracted without a glaring
and disgraceful inconsistency: and, being
thus pledged, I explicity gave it as my
opinion to Mr. Jay, envoy to Great-Bri-
tain, that “unless an adjustment of the dif-
ferences with her could be effected on solid
terms, it would be better to do nothing.”

When the treaty arrived, it was not
without full deliberation, and some hesi-
tation, that I resolved to support it. The
articles relative to the settlement of dif-
ferences, were, upon the whole, satisfac-
tory; but there were a few of the others
which appeared to me of a different cha-
racter. The article respecting contra-
band, though conformable with the ge-
neral law of nations, was not in all its
features such as could have been wished.
The 25th article, which gave asylum, in
our ports, under certain exceptions, to
privateers with their prizes, was in itself
an ineligible one, being of a nature to
excite the discontent of nations against
whom it should operate, and deriving its
justification from the example before set
of an equivalent stipulation in our treaty
with France. The 12th article was in
my view inadmissible. The enlightened
negociator, not unconscious that some
parts of the treaty were less well arrang-
ed than was to be desired, had himself

hesitated to sign: but he had resigned
his scruples to the conviction that nothing
better could be effected; and that, ag-
gregately considered, the instrument
would be advantageous to the United
States. On my part, the result of ma-
ture reflection was, that as the subjects
of controversy which had threatened the
peace of the two nations, and which im-
plicated great interests of this country,
were, in the essential points, well adjust-
ed; and as the other articles would expire
in twelve years after the ratification of
the treaty, it would be wise and right to
confirm the compact, with the exception
of the 12th article. Nevertheless, when
an account was received that the British
cruizers had seized provisions going to
ports of the French dominions, not in
fact blockaded or besieged, I advised the
President to ratify the treaty condition-
ally only, that is, with express instruc-
tions not to exchange ratifications, unless
the British government would disavow a
construction of the instrument authoris-
ing the practice, and would discontinue

“After the rejection of Mr. Pinckney
by the government of France, immedi-
ately after the installment of Mr. Adams
as President, and long before the measure
was taken, I urged a member of Con-
gress, then high in the confidence of the
President, to propose to him the immedi-
ate appointment of three Commissioners,
of whom Mr. Jefferson or Mr. Madison to
be one, to make another attempt to ne-
gociate. And when afterwards Commis-
sioners were appointed, I expressly gave
it as my opinion, that indemnification for
spoliations should not be a sine qua non of
accommodation. In fine, I have been dis-
posed to go greater lengths to avoid a
rupture with France than with Great-
Britain; to make greater sacrifices for
reconciliation with the former than with
the latter.

“In making this avowal, I owe it to
my own character to say, that the
disposition I have confessed did not pro-
ceed from predilection for France (revo-
lutionary France, after her early be-
ginnings, has been always to me an ob-
ject of horror), nor from the supposition
that more was to be feared from France,
as an enemy, than from Great-Britain
(I thought that the maritime power of
pose of co-operating against France, in the event of a definitive rupture; but of this
I am not certain, as I well remember that the expediency of the measure was always
problematical in my mind, and that I have occasionally discouraged it.”

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the latter could do us most mischief),
but from the persuasion, that the senti-
ments and prejudices of our country
would render war with France a more
unmanageable business than war with

“Let any fair man pronounce, whe-
ther the circumstances which have been
disclosed bespeak the partizan of Great-
Britain, or the man exclusively devoted
to the interests of this country. Let any
delicate man decide, whether it must not
be shocking to an ingenous mind, to
have to combat a slander so vile, after
having sacrificed the interests of his fa-
mily, and devoted the best part of his
life to the service of that country, in
counsel and in the field.”

After this the following recapi-
tulation appears:

“The statement which has been made,
shows that Mr. Adams has committed
some positive and serious errors of admi-
nistration; that, in addition to these, he
has certain fixed points of character,
which tend naturally to the detriment
of any cause of which he is the chief, of
any administration of which he is the
head; that, by his ill humours and jea-
lousies, he has already divided and dis-
tracted the supporters of the government;
that he has furnished deadly weapons to
its enemies, by unfounded accusations,
and has weakened the force of its friends,
by decrying some of the most influential
of them to the utmost of his power; and
let it be added, as the necessary effect of
such conduct, that he has made great
progress in undermining the ground
which was gained for the government
by his predecessor, and that there is real
cause to apprehend it might torter, if
not fall, under his future auspices. A
new government, constructed on free
principles, is always weak, and must
stand in need of the props of a firm and
good administration, till time shall have
rendered its authority venerable, and for-
tified it by habits of obedience.

“Yet, with this opinion of Mr. Adams,
I have finally resolved not to advise the
withholding from him a single vote.
The body of federalists, for want of suffi-
cient knowledge of facts, are not con-
vinced of the expediency of relinquishing

The conclusion of this perform-
ance is the least satisfactory part of
it. It is, indeed, in style and sen-
timent, perplexed and obscure.

The only and declared tendency
of this performance is to prove Mr.
Adams's unfitness for the office of
President; and to show, that the
government is “likely to totter, if
not to fall, under his future aus-
pices.” Yet we are told of “the
extreme reluctance he feels to re-
frain from a decided opposition.”
He tells us, that this work is writ-
ten “to promote the co-operation
of the electors in favour of Mr.
Pinckney, and to defend his own

“Accordingly, it will be my endea-
vour to regulate the communication of
it in such a manner as will not be likely
to deprive Mr. Adams of a single vote.
Indeed, it is much my wish that its cir-
culation could forever be confined within
narrow limits. I am sensible of the in-
conveniences of giving publicity to a
similar developement of the character of
the chief magistrate of our country; and
I lament the necessity of taking a step
which will involve that result. Yet to
suppress truths, the disclosure of which
is so interesting to the public welfare, as
well as to the vindication of my friends
and myself, did not appear to me justi-

The necessity which is thus de-
plored is, perhaps, ideal; and to
conceal for a month longer truths,
the communication of which, when
made, is “designed to be so regu-
lated as not to take away a vote
from Adams,” it was no hard mat-
ter to justify. It is not easy to
conceive how the public good re-
quired the consecration of our
choice to the man, whose portrait
is thus odious and contemptible.

We eagerly relinquish the poli-
tical consideration of this pamphlet,
and hasten to view it in the less
doubtful, and more inoffensive,
light of a literary composition.—
The supereminent abilities of Mr.
H. as an advocate and an orator,
and his high and established repu-
tation as a political writer, renders
a critical examination of his style
more proper and more useful, as

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he cannot fail to have many ad-
mirers and imitators, and to be re-
garded as

——“The mark, and glass, and book,
    That fashions others.”

The present performance may
be considerd as a fair specimen of
his powers as a writer; and as con-
taining striking examples of the
good as well as bad qualities of his

Many passage display strong
views and luminous conceptions;
but the style is not always equal to
the sentiment. Terms are often
selected with too little discrimina-
tion, and with an apparent haste
that occasions the needless multi-
plication of words. Sentences may
be found prolix and circuitous, and
destitute of that precision which is
the result of an intimate knowledge
of the properties and powers of the
English language. We shall select
a few terms and phrases which will
be allowed as offending against pu-
rity, elegance, or perspicuity: such
as “disparage the motives; to advo-
the equal support; derogatory
a description of persons;
the prominent feature of an accusa-
tion; with reference to; to retros-
pect; bring home suggestions; sub-
limated imagination; egotism of
temper; fortuitous emanations of
momentary impulses; the import
of a sentiment; the mitigated form
of a measure; meet an extremity.”
Many of these and such like phrases
may plead the authority of forensic
usage in their favour, but will be
avoided by a correct writer.

We could proceed to explain, by
examples, the nature of our objec-
tion to that verboseness or redun-
dance of terms, arising, not from
luxuriance, but negligence; or from
that dearth of a choice collection of
words which seeks to supply the
place of one aptly significant by
many that are vague; but we fear
that we may be regarded over curi-

ous in this respect. Yet such a
minute and critical examination
would not be deemed, by those
who have a taste for fine writing, as
unprofitable; nor be viewed, even
by the author himself, with dis-
pleasure. It would only prove that
Mr. H.'s taste in composition is
not perfectly refined and correct.
The exhibition of faults which pro-
ceed, in some degree, from the fo-
rensic habits of the writer, might
not lessen our opinion of his gene-
ral merit, nor our esteem for the
ingenuity, sagacity, and extensive
knowledge which he has displayed:
Still those qualities would have ap-
peared to more advantage if the
purity and energy of the style had
always kept pace with the vigour of
the sentiment. But our readers will
think we detain them too long by
such remarks. Two letters, ad-
dressed by Mr. H. to Mr. Adams,
the 1st of August and the 1st of
October, concerning some charges
of a personal nature, noticed in
the preceding letter, are subjoined.
The silence of Mr. Adams, in re-
spect to them, was, probably, a
principal cause of the present pub-