Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson were two of the most important political leaders of the young United States. Hamilton had been George Washington’s aide-de-camp during the Revolutionary War and was a leading advocate for a strong central government during the Constitutional Convention. The Federalist Papers, which he wrote along with James Madison and John Jay, are the most extended and influential defense of the U.S. Constitution. Thomas Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence and an influential leader of the other political faction, the Anti-Federalists. Hamilton was a New Yorker and an advocate for merchants and city-dwellers. Jefferson came from rural Virginia and envisioned the United States as a nation of farmers. Despite their disagreements, President Washington brought both men into his cabinet, Hamilton as Secretary of Treasury and Jefferson as Secretary of State. The letters below show one of their squabbles. As you read, note phrases that show each man’s personality.
Letter to George Washington - Alexander Hamilton
Source: This letter was written by Alexander Hamilton to President George Washington on September 9, 1792. Hamilton was Secretary of the Treasury in Washington’s administration.
September 9, 1792
I have received your letter of August 26th. I sincerely regret that you have been made to feel uneasy in your administration. I will do anything to smooth the path of your administration, and heal the differences, though I consider myself the deeply injured party.
I know that I have been an object of total opposition from Mr. Jefferson. I know from the most authentic sources, that I have been the frequent subject of most unkind whispers by him. I have watched a party form in the Legislature, with the single purpose of opposing me. I believe, from all the evidence I possess, that the National Gazette [a newspaper] was instituted by Jefferson for political purposes, with its main purpose to oppose me and my department.
Nevertheless, I can truly say that, besides explanations to confidential friends, I never directly or indirectly responded to these attacks, until very recently.
But when I saw that they were determined to oppose the banking system, which would ruin the credit and honor of the Nation, I considered it my duty to resist their outrageous behavior.
Nevertheless, I pledge my honor to you Sir, that if you shall form a plan to reunite the members of your administration, I will faithfully cooperate. And I will not directly or indirectly say or do a thing to cause a fight.
With the most affectionate and faithful attachment, etc.
Letter to George Washington - Thomas Jefferson
Source: This letter was written by Thomas Jefferson to President George Washington on September 9, 1792. Jefferson was Secretary of State in Washington’s administration.
I received your letter of August 23rd. You note that there have been internal tensions in your administration. These tensions are of great concern to me. I wish that you should know the whole truth.
I have never tried to convince members of the legislature to defeat the plans of the Secretary of Treasury. I value too highly my friendships with them to . I admit that I have, in private conversations, disapproved of the system of the Secretary of Treasury. However, this is because his system stands against liberty, and is designed to undermine and demolish the republic.
I would like for these tensions to fade away, and my respect for you is enough motivation to wait to express my thoughts until I am again a private citizen. At that point, however, I reserve the right to write about the issues that concern the republic.
I will not let my retirement be ruined by the lies of a man who history—if history stoops to notice him—will remember a person who worked to destroy liberty. –Still, I repeat that I hope I will not have to write such a thing.
I trust that you know that I am not an enemy to the republic, nor a waster of the country’s money, nor a traitor, as Hamilton has written about me.
In the meantime & ever I am with great and sincere affection & respect, dear Sir, your most obedient and most humble servant.
Use both the Hamilton and Jefferson letters to answer the following questions.
Using BOTH letters by Hamilton and Jefferson, answer the questions below:
Sourcing: When were these letters written? What do you predict they will say?
Context: Why are both Hamilton and Jefferson writing to George Washington? Based on both of these letters, what seems to have been happening in George Washington’s administration? How can you tell?
Close reading: Which letter is angrier? What specific words and phrases support your claim?
- What do the letters indicate about each man’s personality? What specific quotations support your claim?
Corroboration: Who do you believe “started” the fight? Based on what they wrote, whom do you trust more: Hamilton or Jefferson? Why?