Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Fragment on the French Revolution

Alexander Hamilton wrote the following observations on the French Revolution at the time that the Revolution was sparking much controversy in the United States. The exact date on which Hamilton penned the following is not known, largely because this piece was never published, until it was discovered while Henry Cabot Lodge (whose 12-volume collection of Hamilton's works the following writing is taken) was preparing to publish his own set of Hamilton's writings. Another point about this writing is worth noticing. The incompletion of it, and the fact that it was never published, suggests that this is another surviving example of Hamilton writing down his thoughts on paper, without, necessarily, the intent of publishing them in a pamphlet or newspaper. This proves that the outrage expressed by Hamilton in the following over the French rejection of Christianity and their violent attempts to remove it from the face of the earth was not artificial. This writing was not conjured up by Hamilton for the purpose of convincing the public that he was a Christian statesman or to manipulate the public by using religious language; he never published it. Furthermore, not only in his public writings did he piously allude to Christianity; he did it more frequently in his private correspondence.

Here is what Hamilton wrote:

"Facts, numerous and unequivocal, demonstrate that the present ÆRA is among the most extraordinary which have occurred in the history of human affairs. Opinions, for a long time, have been gradually gaining ground, which threaten the foundations of religion, morality, and society. An attack was first made upon the Christian revelation, for which natural religion was offered as the substitute. The Gospel was to be discarded as a gross imposture, but the being and attributes of GOD, the obligations of piety, even the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments, were to be retained and cherished.

"In proportion as success has appeared to attend the plan, a bolder project has been unfolded. The very existence of a Deity has been questioned and in some instances denied. The duty of piety has been ridiculed, the perishable nature of man asserted, and his hopes bounded to the short span of his earthly state. DEATH has been proclaimed an ETERNAL SLEEP; "the dogma of the immortality of the soul a cheat, invented to torment the living for the benefit of the dead." Irreligion, no longer confined to the closets of conceited sophists, nor to the haunts of wealthy riot, has more or less displayed its hideous front among all classes.

"Wise and good men took a lead in delineating the odious character of despotism, in
exhibiting the advantages of a moderate and well-balanced government, in inviting nations to contend for the enjoyment of national liberty. Fanatics in political science have since exaggerated and perverted their doctrines. Theories of government unsuited to the nature of man, miscalculating the force of his passions, disregarding the lessons of experimental wisdom, have been projected and recommended. These have everywhere attracted sectaries, and everywhere the fabric of government has been in different degrees undermined.

A league has at length been cemented between the apostles and disciples of irreligion and of anarchy. Religion and government have both been stigmatized as abuses; as unwarrantable restraints upon the freedom of man; as causes of the corruption of his nature, intrinsically good; as sources of an artificial and false morality which tyrannically robs him of the enjoyments for which his passions fit him, and as clogs upon his progress to the perfection for which he was destined.

As a corollary from these premises, it is a favorite tenet of the sect that religious opinion of any sort is unnecessary to society; that the maxims of a genuine morality and the authority of the magistracy and the laws are a sufficient and ought to be the only security for civil rights and private happiness.

As another corollary, it is occasionally maintained by the same sect that but a small portion of power is requisite to government; that even this portion is only temporarily necessary, in consequence of the bad habits which have been produced by the errors of ancient systems; and that as human nature shall refine and ameliorate by the operation of a more enlightened plan, government itself will become useless, and society will subsist and flourish free from shackles.

If all the votaries of this new philosophy do not go the whole length of its frantic creed, they all go far enough to endanger the full extent of the mischiefs which are inherent in so wild and fatal a scheme, every modification of which aims a mortal blow at the vitals of human happiness.

The practical development of this pernicious system has been seen in France. It has served as an engine to subvert all her ancient institutions, civil and religious, with all the checks that served to mitigate the rigor of authority; it has hurried her headlong through a rapid succession of dreadful revolutions, which have laid waste property, made havoc among the arts, overthrown cities, desolated provinces, unpeopled regions, crimsoned her soil with blood, and deluged it in crime, poverty, and wretchedness; and all this as yet for no better purpose than to erect on the ruins of former things a despotism unlimited and uncontrolled; leaving to a deluded, an abused, a plundered, a scourged, and an oppressed people, not even the shadow of liberty to console them for a long train of substantial misfortunes, of bitter suffering.

This horrid system seemed awhile to threaten the subversion of civilized society and the introduction of general disorder among mankind. And though the frightful evils which have been its first and only fruits have given a check to its progress, it is to be feared that the poison has spread too widely and penetrated too deeply to be as yet eradicated. Its activity has indeed been suspended, but the elements remain, concocting for new eruptions as occasion shall permit. It is greatly to be apprehended that mankind is not near the end of the misfortunes which it is calculated to produce, and that it still portends a long train of convulsion, revolution, carnage, devastation, and misery.

Symptoms of the too great prevalence of this system in the United States are alarmingly visible. It was by its influence that efforts were made to embark this country in a common cause with France in the early period of the present war; to induce our government to sanction and promote her odious principles and views with the blood and treasure of our citizens. It is by its influence that every succeeding revolution has been approved or excused; all the horrors that have been committed justified or extenuated; that even the last usurpation, which contradicts all the ostensible principles of the Revolution, has been regarded with complacency, and the despotic constitution engendered by it slyly held up as a model not unworthy of our imitation.

In the progress of this system, impiety and infidelity have advanced with gigantic
strides. Prodigious crimes heretofore unknown among us are seen. The chief and idol of
* * * "
[The rest is wanting.] by Alexander Hamilton

Footnotes [of H. C. Lodge]
1. This fragment, now first printed, from the Hamilton MSS., vol. xv., p. 117, has no
date, but is of interest as showing the effect produced upon his mind by the French
Revolution, and why that great convulsion so affected and colored the views of the
Federalists and of the more conservative classes of every community.

SOURCE: "Fragment on the French Revolution," The Works of Alexander Hamilton, edited by Henry Cabot Lodge, volume 8


Our Founding Truth said...

An attack was first made upon the Christian revelation, for which natural religion was offered as the substitute. The Gospel was to be discarded as a gross imposture, but the being and attributes of GOD, the obligations of piety, even the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments, were to be retained and cherished.>

The date is the key on this, and I think it's 1794, possibly 1793, but probably 1794. Here's why:

"Another anti-clerical uprising was made possible by the installment of the Revolutionary Calendar on 24 October 1793. Against Robespierre's concepts of Deism and Virtue, Hébert's (and Chaumette's) atheist movement initiated a religious campaign in order to dechristianize society. The climax was reached with the celebration of the Goddess "Reason" in Notre Dame Cathedral on 10 November."

This may be the reason Hamilton is talking about the discarding of Christianity. The French officially threw Christianity away in late 1793, so the date of his letter is most likely 1794, unless he received this news fairly quickly.

Rowe and the secularists may say this is after his work forming the nation, but I disagree with that; there's no evidence his views changed, say, from 1785 on, his walk may have been closer after 1801, but that's it.

In the Lord

Hercules Mulligan said...

Yes, OFT; I think your estimation of the date of the writing of this manuscript is accurately estimated. To be liberal, this document, according to my research, was written some time from 1793-1798, no earlier, no later. The only reason why I extend it to the year 1798 is because of the document's close resemblance to Hamilton's pamphlet "The Stand, No. III," which is dated April 1798. Since this draft was never published, and was incomplete, it is possible, though not certain, that this "Fragment" was the rough draft of "The Stand, No. III." However, I think your dating it 1793-1794 is also plausible, since it was at that time that he wrote other works against the suppression of Christianity in France, and that was at a time when there was increasing awareness of these activities in France, and when many Americans expressed considerable alarm.

Hamilton's political and ethical ideology was based upon biblical principles, as can be seen from his writings. His personal Christian life is not as thoroughly documented, and so it requires more detective work. However, expressions of his faith do appear in the little nuances in his writings, such as in this "Fragment."

I did some more research on "natural religion." It can apply to theistic rationalism as well as deism, which is a stricter form of natural religion. But nevertheless, "natural religion" encompasses theistic rationalism as well as deism. Given Hamilton's context of "natural religion" here in this "Fragment," he is obviously including theistic rationalism by saying that Christian revelation was discarded. In theistic rationalism, you may as well discard it since you acknowledge reason to be a higher authority. And remember that Hamilton essentially refuted theistic rationalism in his "Federalist #31."

Thanks for the comment and your input.

Our Founding Truth said...

Hamilton is definitely refuted theistic rationalism or any other ism in this fragment, because the Gospel is an enemy to all of them, and that's what he's talking about.

Herc, we now, have plenty of evidence to refute ANYONE claims Hamilton was not a Christian. He affirms the millenium in 1793, the Gospel in 1794, and with my quotes I've uncovered in ??? ha ha. The date is too much of a clue, you'd find it.

Anyway, when you were debating Rowe on this subject, I thought you would have brought up this point; Hamilton rejected natural religion, which is deism or rationalism.

Your humble servant


Thanks for Reading!