Looking for a letter from John Adams — October 19, 2016

Looking for a letter from John Adams

The interview with Alex Horwitz on the latest episode of The Room Where It’s Happening includes this amazing line:

[The Founding Fathers] said ABYSMAL things about each other. There are letters … there’s a letter by Adams about Hamilton that is one of the most R-rated things you can ever read … it’s something like “that brash bastard son of a Scottish pedlar — his drive, his exuberance comes no doubt … from an excess of secretions which he couldn’t find whores enough to absorb.”

I started this post because I wanted to ask the web for the letter in which Hamilton says this. With the aid of a helpful Reddit post, I found the actual quote; it is

Alexander Hamiltons project of raising an Army of fifty thousand Men, ten thousand of them to be Cavalry and his projects of Sedition Laws and Alien Laws and of new Taxes to Support his army, all arose from a superabundance of secretions which he could not find Whores enough to draw off

It comes from a letter from Adams to Benjamin Rush. It’s surely an insult, but I actually think there’s more to it than I have the context to understand. In particular, it’s in the middle of a long explanation of how the four humors manifest in human behavior. So I can’t tell, offhand, how much of Adams’s discussion here is bawdy (yet dry) humor, and how much is earnest hypothesizing about Hamilton’s physiology. I’m sure it’s a hefty amount of both, but I don’t know what the balance is.

Alexander Hamilton on Hillary Clinton — October 17, 2016

Alexander Hamilton on Hillary Clinton

Was it not to have been expected that these repeated demonstrations of the injustice of the accusations hazarded against me would have abashed the enterprise of my calumniators? However natural such an expectation may seem, it would betray an ignorance of the true character of the Jacobin system. It is a maxim deeply ingrafted in that dark system, that no character, however upright, is a match for constantly reiterated attacks, however false. It is well understood by its disciples, that every calumny makes some proselites and even retains some; since justification seldom circulates as rapidly and as widely as slander. The number of those who from doubt proceed to suspicion and thence to belief of imputed guilt is continually augmenting; and the public mind fatigued at length with resistance to the calumnies which eternally assail it, is apt in the end to sit down with the opinion that a person so often accused cannot be entirely innocent.

(from the Reynolds pamphlet (damn))

The Compromise of 1790 — August 28, 2016

The Compromise of 1790

I’m completely obsessed with Hamilton. I’ll be seeing it in New York shortly, and have been listening to an unhealthy degree to the soundtrack. Tonight I was listening to “The Room Where It Happens”, which made me want to read what “Thomas [Jefferson] [actually] claim[ed]”. I went back to The Age Of Federalism, a wonderful Bancroft Prize winner by Elkins and McKitrick which I’ve thought about often over the years; the discussion of the Compromise of 1790, and specifically Jefferson’s views on it, are on pages 155 et seq.. The National Archives have the full text of Jefferson’s account. Elkins and McKitrick point to Jefferson’s other account of the Compromise, which appeared in a letter to Washington:

I was duped […] 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.

I’d recommend that part of Elkins and McKitrick, also, for their masterly walk through what the bargain actually accomplished. There were three factions vying for a Federal district: the Pennsylvanians, who wanted it to be at least temporarily in Philadelphia; the South, which wanted it along the Potomac; and the New Englanders and New Yorkers, who just wanted it to not be on the Potomac. Most the votes were seemingly lined up before the Jefferson/Madison/Hamilton dinner, but Elkins and McKitrick explain the moral force behind those three men’s support, and what it meant for the eventual compromise.

This makes me want to reread The Age of Federalism, and perhaps reread Chernow.