alexander hamilton complains -- 1/05/16
Today's selection -- from A Second Treasury of Great Letters ed. by Wallace Brockway & Bart Keith Winer. In 1778, after Alexander Hamilton had spent one year on the personal staff of George Washington, and less than two years after the forming of the First Continental Congress, he wrote a letter to Washington lamenting the character of the American Congress. Hamilton was an advocate for a strong central government. Here read the beginnings of his federalist argument:
"There is a matter, which often obtrudes itself upon my mind, and which requires the attention of every person of sense and influence among us; I mean a degeneracy of representation in the great council of America. It is a melancholy truth, Sir, the effects of which we daily see and feel, that there is not so much wisdom in a certain body as there ought to be, and as the success of our affairs absolutely demands. Many members of it are no doubt men, in every respect, fit for the trust; but this cannot be said of it as a body. Folly, caprice, a want of foresight, comprehension, and dignity, characterize the general tenor of their actions. Of this, I dare say, you are sensible, though you have not perhaps so many opportunities of knowing it as I have.
"Their conduct, with respect to the army especially, is feeble, indecisive, and improvident; insomuch that we are reduced to a more terrible situation than you can conceive. False and contracted views of economy have prevented them, though repeatedly urged to it, from making that provision for officers, which was requisite to interest them in the service. This has produced such carelessness and indifference to the service, as is subversive of every officer-like quality. ...
"America once had a representation, that would do honor to any age or nation. The present falling off is very alarming and dangerous. What is the cause? and How is it to be remedied? are questions that the welfare of these States requires should be well attended to. The great men, who composed our first council, -- are they dead, have they deserted the cause, or what has become of them? Very few are dead, and still fewer have deserted the cause; they are all, except the few who still remain in Congress, either in the field or in the civil offices of their respective States; far the greater part are engaged in the latter. The only remedy then is to take them out of these employments, and return them to the place where their presence is infinitely more important.
"Each State, in order to promote its own internal government and prosperity, has selected its best members to fill the offices within itself, and conduct its own affairs. Men have been fonder of the emoluments and conveniences of being employed at home; and local attachment, falsely operating, has made them more provident for the particular interests of the States to which they belonged, than for the common interests of the confederacy. This is a most pernicious mistake, and must be corrected. However important it is to give form and efficiency to your interior constitutions and police; it is infinitely more important to have a wise general council; otherwise a failure of the measures of the Union will overturn all your labors for the advancement of your particular good, and ruin the common cause. You should not beggar the councils of the United States to enrich the administration of the several members. Realize to yourself the consequences of having a Congress despised at home and abroad. How can the common force be exerted, if the power of collecting it be put in weak, foolish, and unsteady hands? How can we hope for success in our European negotiations, if the nations of Europe have no confidence in the wisdom and vigor of the great Continental government? This is the object on which their eyes are fixed; hence it is, America will derive its importance or insignificance in their estimation.
You and I had some conversation, when I had the pleasure of seeing you last, with respect to the existence of a certain faction. Since I saw you, I have discovered such convincing traits of the monster, that I cannot doubt its reality in the most extensive sense. I dare say you have seen and heard enough to settle the matter in your own mind. I believe it unmasked its batteries too soon, and begins to hide its head; but, as I imagine it will only change the storm to a sap, all the true and sensible friends to their country, and of course to a certain great man, ought to be upon the watch, to counterplot the secret machinations of his enemies.