Sunday, November 11, 2007

Hamilton's Religion as Seen Through His "Soul Entering Into Bliss"

Before I delve into writing "Alexander Hamilton's Religion: Part Four," I will take a moment to explain a poem, or "hymn" as his son John Church Hamilton called it, which was written by Hamilton either some days after the devastating hurricane which Hamilton survived, or when he was in America going to school. Because of its overt "evangelical" tone, it has been often overlooked by the mainstream writing crowd, when they examine Hamilton's life, or even his religion.

Let us examine this piece, which was obviously important for the early generations of Hamilton's succeeding family and lineage. According to a note left by the editors of The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, Hamilton's wife, grandsons, and great-grandsons hand-copied this hymn.

"Although it is impossible to determine beyond dispute that Hamilton was the author of this poem, it is attributed to him by J. C. Hamilton (John Church Hamilton, a son of Alexander Hamilton), who refers to it as 'a hymn,' but ascribes it to the period when Hamilton attended school in Elizabethtown, New Jersey (The Life of Alexander Hamilton, Hamilton, J.C., vol. I, 10 and The Works of Alexander Hamilton, editor Hamilton, J.C., vol. I, 48). In the Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress, there is a copy of an unidentified writing of the first three verses of this poem. At the end of the third verse is written in the same hand: "Written by A.H. when 18 years old." At the bottom of the page in still another handwriting is written: "This is a copy in pencil by Alex: Hamilton, my uncle – P.S." The "P.S" presumably refers to the Philip Schuyler who was the son of George L. Schuyler. George L. Schuyler had married Hamilton's granddaughter, Mary Hamilton, daughter of James A. Hamilton. The Alexander Hamilton who copied the poem was probably the son of James A. Hamilton, brother-in-law of George Schuyler and uncle of Philip Schuyler." --from The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, volume 1

Now let us examine the work itself.

"AH! whither, whither am I flown,
A wandering guest in worlds unknown?
What is that I see and hear?
What heav'nly music fills mine ear?
Etherial glories shine around;
More than Arabias sweets abound."

Hamilton is obviously speaking of a Christian entering into heaven. Included in the original title of the poem, in The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, was a notification that this piece was inspired by Alexander Pope's "A Christian Dying to His Soul."

Hark! hark! a voice from yonder sky!
Methinks I hear my Saviour cry,
Come gentle spirit come away,
Com to thy Lord without delay;
For thee the gates of bliss unbar'd
Thy constant virtue to reward."

The "Savior" referred to in this verse can be no other than Jesus Christ. Hamilton, as indicated from this portion of his writings, as well as others (the "hurricane letter," "The Stand, No. I," his deathbed profession of faith, etc.), demonstrates unequivocally that Hamilton believed that Jesus was the divine Son of God, and the one who atoned for the human race. There is not the slightest implication in his writings that he ever became skeptical of this claim, but there are places in his writings, such as the one here, which show that he did acknowledge the divinity of Christ.

"I come oh Lord! I mount, I fly,
On rapid wings I cleave the sky;
Stretch out thine arm and aid my flight;
For oh! I long to gain that height,
Where all celestial beings sing
Eternal praises to their King."

This verse suggests Hamilton's familiarity with, and belief in, the Book of Revelation -- the last book of the Bible. For instance:

Revelation 4:8
"Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.' "

"O Lamb of God! thrice gracious Lord
Now, now I feel how true thy word;
Translated to this happy place,
This blessed vision of thy face;
My soul shall all thy steps attend
In songs of triumph without end."

This writings suggests that Hamilton's religious sentiments were not merely temporary, as David Loth, in his biography of Hamilton, claimed. That event had a long-lasting impact on Hamilton, as is seen from this poem, and from the eyewitness accounts of his friends and contemporaries when he came to America.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Elizabeth Hamilton to Her Brother Philip Schuyler

May 13, 1805

My dear Brother from what you will tell me in your Letter of the 20 of April I have made up my mind to impower Mr. Hoffman (who has obligingly offered to do my any service in his power) to meet the partys at Claverich to make an adjustment of my mothers property, this I know will be very satisfactory to you from the desire you have [illegible] in your former Letters to me that a person should be appointed and that their [sic] should be a final settlemetn. I aslo shall direct as I [illegible] to be made and to in [illegible] the power for selling, I am told a farm has lately been sold at the rate of six dollars per Acre and the payment made to Uncle Sams this information & have from a person residing in the neighborhood of the farm who has been with me, my mother expected a handsome Inheritance and certainly their was a considerable tract, the moneys you mentioned in former Letter that [illegible] to be [illegible] to one during the Course of the Last Month have not yet cum to hand, with respect to the Saratoga property, the selling of it at present must be at a Considerable & {illegible] and my [2] friend Mr. Gracia as well as others wish me to make every other exertion that to make a sacrifice I have seen some of the tenents four of my farms are in fee, I have made an appointment to take Charge of that property with respect to selling any part of the Claverich I am quite averse to until I know the exact situation I hope my Sister is in better health, Philip is well and attentive to his studies.
Your affectionate sister
E. Hamilton

The Lord is watchful over those
That love and keep his laws
Like Isaac and Abraham of old
Who loved and feared the Lord
A [illegible] my heart most gracious king
And every gloom disperse
That I may still thy Praises Sing
And in thy Mercy Trust
May all my [illegible] and all my fears
Be banished by thy word
That I may still enabled be
To lean upon, my Lord
That I may still with living Faith
Unto my Jesus look
And claim that righteousness divine
That promised in his Book
That from every inbred vine.
By thee may be made [illegible]
[Illegible] work my Lord [illegible] work within
And make me [illegible] for thee.

This was written almost a year after Hamilton died.

This letter was retrieved from the transcript available here.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Alexander Hamilton's Religion: Part Three

During his time at college, two major changes occurred in the direction of Hamilton's life. First, he changed his plan for a career. When he entered King's College, he did so with the intent of studying medicine. Several college mates would later recount how they would pass by the dorm-room of Hamilton, a natural workaholic, who was staying up late, pacing back and forth, memorizing the bones of the foot. Young Hamilton had the privilege of studying under one of the earliest pioneers in surgery at the time, and so Hamilton's knowledge of the human body, though never applied in his career, came in handy as a father who tenderly cared for the health of his children. Hamilton, in the middle of his attendance at college, suddenly changed his academic focus from the study of medicine to the study of law. The reasons for this sudden change could be manifold; Robert Troup, Hamilton's close friend and college roommate, was studying law under John Jay, so it is possible that Troup's studies lured Hamilton. About this time also, Hamilton expressed an increased concern for the public affairs of man rather than the physical health of man, although his medical studies did interest him throughout his life. In earlier years, he had been sympathetic to the crown of England, and felt that the colonists were merely in an uproar about taxation. His discussions with patriotic classmates, and especially those with Hercules Mulligan, in whose home Hamilton lodged during his college years, had convinced him that the British government, and not the American colonists, were at fault. His subsequent writings in favor of the cause of American independence show his astounding knowledge of the history of America, of their forms of government, of their colonial charters, and the legal relationship between America and Great Britain. It is also noteworthy that Hamilton, at the age of eighteen, had a profound understanding of both the science of law and the particulars of legal documents. This new political persuasion was not a departure from, but rather a direct result of, his conviction that the rights of mankind were granted to them BY GOD HIMSELF, and that because these rights were God-given, man had not authority to take them away.

"The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of Divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power." (1)
It is true that this statement does not directly contradict deism or theistic rationalism; however, this statement is perfectly in line with the Scripture, and therefore, Hamilton's above statement is biblical. Hamilton's above statement cannot be classed as "deistic" or "theistic rationalistic," because even though his statement does agree with the basic principles of both deism and theistic rationalism, he does not place man's reason above divine revelation, as deism and theistic rationalism both do. Hamilton's statement is biblical, because he acknowledges that man was created by God (Genesis 1:26-27), and that God gave man inalienable rights, since man was created in God's image. This concept is key to the understanding of our Founding Era, and, of more primary importance in our case, to understanding Hamilton's beliefs concerning his religion, and therefore his politics. Man is distinguished from the animals, by having been created in God's image. Being created in God's image means that man is capable of making choices between right and wrong, unlike the animals, who live their lives according to their God-given instinct. Because God has given man the power of choice, man has the ability to reason; for without reason, man can decide nothing for himself. The fact that man has been created in God's image also means that man has some sort of inherent value -- a value greater than animal or plant life, even though those things are also the creation of God. Man became "a living soul" (which implies the power of will, reason, and man's value) according to Genesis 2:7; therefore, man is more than just flesh and bones -- he has an eternal soul, so no other man has the right to take another man's life, unless a man should, by transgressing that right of others, forfeit his own right to life.

It has been assumed that Hamilton's mention of the idea of the "state of nature" makes him a theistic rationalist. I do not understand the logic of this assertion; however, I can say that Hamilton quite frankly rejected the humanistic idea of Thomas Hobbes' "state of nature" theory. Hamilton wrote to a tory opponent:
"There is so strong a similitude between your political principles and those maintained by Mr. Hobbes, that, in judging from them, a person might very easily mistake you for a disciple of his. His opinion was exactly coincident with yours, relative to man in a state of nature. He held, as you do, that he was then perfectly free from all restraint of law and government. Moral obligation, according to him, is derived from the introduction of civil society; and there is no virtue but what is purely artificial, the mere contrivance of politicians for the maintenance of social intercourse. But the reason he ran into this absurd and impious doctrine was, that he disbelieved the existence of an intelligent, superintending principle, who is the governor, and will be the final judge, of the universe. As you sometimes swear by Him that made you, I conclude your sentiments do not correspond with his in that which is the basis of the doctrine you both agree in; and this makes it impossible to imagine whence this congruity between you arises. To grant that there is a Supreme Intelligence who rules the world and has established laws to regulate the actions of His creatures, and still to assert that man, in a state of nature, may be considered as perfectly free from all restraints of law and government, appears, to a common understanding, altogether irreconcilable." (bold italics added) (2)
What God-given laws is Hamilton referring to? If the reader continues, he finds that Hamilton is referring to the "law of nature." Christians, theistic rationalists, and deists believe that this law is God-given. Hamilton cannot be proven one of the above with just this quote. However, if we take Hamilton's words in the context of what he believed throughout his life, it is very reasonable to assume that Hamilton was speaking from a Christian worldview. Hamilton never said anything that affirms his belief in theistic rationalism (i.e., that man's reason is superior to divine revelation). He did make statements, however, that affirm that he believed the opposite. These quotations have been cited on this blog, and one of them has been examined in a recent post; but I shall dig into the others in their chronological order. In the mean time, we shall examine Hamilton's religion during his college years and early involvement in the American Revolution. It is extremely unlikely that Hamilton became a theistic rationalist during his college years. Remember the testimony of his roommate Robert Troup, which was quoted in "Alexander Hamilton's Religion: Part Two":
"'At this time,' Troup relates, 'the "General" was attentive to public worship, and in the habit of praying on his knees night and morning. I lived in the same room with him for some time, and I have often been powerfully affected by the fervor and eloquence of his PRAYERS. He had read many of the polemical writers on religious subjects, and he was a ZEALOUS BELIEVER in the FUNDAMENTAL DOCTRINES OF CHRISTIANITY. I confess that the ARGUMENTS with which he was ACCUSTOMED to JUSTIFY HIS BELIEF, have tended in no small degree to confirm my own FAITH IN REVEALED RELIGION.' " (capitals and italics added) (3)
* * *
In examining Hamilton's pamphlets in defense of the American liberty and independence, one notices the emphasis he places upon religious liberty, and its connection to true liberty in society:
"But being ruined by taxes is not the worst you have to fear. What security would you have for your lives? How can any of you be sure you would have the free enjoyment of your religion long? Would you put your religion in the power of any set of men living? Remember civil and religious liberty always go together: if the foundation of the one be sapped, the other will fall of course." A Full Vindication" (1774) (4)
"Is it not better, I ask, to suffer a few present inconveniences, than to put yourselves in the way of losing every thing that is precious? Your lives, your property, your religion, are all at stake. I do my duty. I warn you of your danger. If you should still be so mad as to bring destruction upon yourselves; if you still neglect what you owe to God and man, you cannot plead ignorance in your excuse. Your consciences will reproach you for your folly; and your children's children will curse you." (4)
"May God give you wisdom to see what is your true interest, and inspire you with becoming zeal for the cause of virtue and mankind!" (4)
"Good and wise men, in all ages, ... have supposed that the Deity, from the relations we stand in to Himself and to each other, has constituted an eternal and immutable law, which is indispensably obligatory upon all mankind, prior to any human institution whatever." The Farmer Refuted (1775) (4)

"No Protestant Englishman would consent to let the free exercise of his religion depend upon the mere pleasure of any man, however great or exalted. The privilege of worshiping the Deity in the manner his conscience dictates, which is one of the dearest he enjoys, must in that case be rendered insecure and precarious." Remarks on the Quebec, Part Two (1775) (5)

"The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. they are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power." The Farmer Refuted (1775) "The fundamental source of all your [tory's] errors, sophisms, and false reasonings, is a total ignorance of the natural rights of mankind. Were you once to become acquainted with these, you could never entertain a thought, that all men are not, by nature, entitled to a parity of privileges. You would be convinced that natural liberty is a gift of the beneficent Creator to the whole human race, and that civil liberty is founded in that, and cannot be wrested from any people without the most manifest violation of justice." The Farmer Refuted (1775) (6)
There is also another quick excerpt from Hamilton's pamphlets which is worth noting, as relates to his piety and morality. Some have argued, and do argue, that Hamilton was irreverent and impious in his youth, or that he thought less of religion and virtue as he advanced in years and became swept up in Revolutionary fervor. This is certainly not very arguable at this point in Hamilton's life.
In Hamilton's "A Full Vindication," he remarked:
"By Him—but, with your leave, my friends, we’ll try, if we can, to do without swearing. I say, it is enough to make a man mad to hear such ridiculous quibbles offered, instead of sound argument; but so it is,—the piece I am writing against [the Tory pamphlet written most likely by Samuel Seabury, Anglican clergyman] contains nothing else.

"When a man grows warm he has a confounded itch for swearing. I have been going, above twenty times, to rap out an oath, By Him that made me; but I have checked myself with the reflection, that it is rather unmannerly to treat Him that made us, with so much freedom." (7)
Hamilton's pamphlets had such a profound effect on New Yorkers, and were so well-written, that it was supposed that John Jay had authored them (Hamilton had merely signed his name as "A Friend to America").

At this point, George Washington Parke Custis, the adopted grandson of George Washington, and the son of John Parke Custis who attended King's College along with Hamilton, related in his book Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington, page 342, Hamilton was running out of funds to continue his studies in college, and was considering returning to the West Indies. His patriotic friends in college, who had come to deeply appreciate his fervent patriotism, begged him to change his mind. They asked that he would remain, and use his talents to fight for the cause of American independence.
" 'Well, my friends,' said the gallant youth, 'if you are determined that I should remain among you, and take part in your JUST and HOLY cause, you must raise for me a full company of artillery.'" (emphasis added)
In 1776, Alexander Hamilton, at the age of nineteen, became the captain of the New York Artillery Company, a volunteer corps which comprised of any patriotic male New-Yorker willing to join. The company consisted of about thirty men, including some of Hamilton's patriotic college mates such as Robert Troup and Nicholas Fish (father of Hamilton Fish, named for guess-who, who later became Governor of New York). Hamilton knew how to manage the company well, having privately studied mathematics and artillery during his college years. During that time, he and several of his patriotic college mates had participated in a local militia company commanded by a Captain Fleming, an old veteran who had once fought with the British. Hercules Mulligan, Hamilton's friend and host, was also connected with this company, and related a somewhat humorous anecdote as the two were on a mission to confiscate 24 pieces of artillery to keep them from the British:
"I was engaged in hauling off one of the cannons, when Mister Hamilton came up and gave me his musket to hold and he took hold of the rope. . . . Hamilton [got] away with the cannon. I left his musket in the Battery and retreated. As he was returning, I met him and he asked for his piece. I told him where I had left it and he went for it, notwithstanding the firing continued, with as much concern as if the [Asia] had not been there." (8)
To avoid the notice of the college President, Hamilton and his fellow patriots would rise early, put on their green jackets with the words "Freedom or Death," no doubt taken from the speech which made Patrick Henry immortal, pinned to their lapels a tin heart on which was engraved "God And Our Right," pulled their muskets out from beneath their beds, and gathered to the green of St. George's Chapel, were they drilled. It was this company, named the "Hearts of Oak," which provided the experience and skills he needed as Captain of the New York Artillery Company. He embraced the work heartily, and his bravery and devotion won the hearts and loyalty of his men, who were all older than him. Until Baron von Steuben came a few years later and gave the Continental Army a system of articulate procedure and drilling, Hamilton's Company became renowned as the most efficient, courageous, well-disciplined, and calculated regiment which followed the Continental troops under Washington's command.

In my next post, we shall take a look at Hamilton's life and religion during the his years as a soldier during the Revolution.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

An Interesting Side-note

When I have some more time to pursue the discourse on Alexander Hamilton's religion, I will quickly resume the project.

But for the present, in this busy season, I couldn't help but give my readers the exciting little sneak-peak that they would have had to wait for, if I had decided to address it in its chronological order. Come over to my new little blog Herculean Reflections to see what it is!

Monday, October 1, 2007

"An Association" ... HAS been formed!

In my latest post, I announced (somewhat late) of the establishment of the Alexander Hamilton Institute on September 17, 2007.

I am now thrilled to present the just recently-established CHRISTIAN CONSTITUTIONAL SOCIETY. I do not yet know exactly who or when this Society came into being, but it has been JUST recently, as they have just gotten their website up.

It is a Christians-only, non-partisan organization that permits both men and women to join. Their organization follows the pattern set forth in Hamilton's letter. To learn more about the history of Hamilton's plan and proposal, see the me two posts "Let An Association Be Formed ..." parts one and two.

Please visit their website, and bookmark it, because they will be adding much more to it. But there is already a wealth of information about their society and their positions already up.

"Justice shall be done to the memory of my Hamilton."
~Elizabeth Schuyler (Mrs. Alexander) Hamilton (1757-1854)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A New Trend in Celebrating the Legacy of Alexander Hamilton

This post will briefly interrupt the series of posts that have been centering on Hamilton's religion, and steer to recent events that do distantly relate to that very same subject.

This post is quite late to announce the establishment of the Alexander Hamilton Institute in Clinton, New York, on this year's September 17 -- Constitution Day.

The history of the Institution's establishment is interesting.

Several professors from Hamilton College, which is also based in Clinton, desired to establish a center or program honoring Hamilton's life, legacy, and his ideals of freedom and capitalism. Initially, the program was to rest under the mantle of the College; but the College abruptly withdrew from sponsoring and becoming affiliated with the program, since the program is coming from a point of view which honors our true constitutional and biblical foundations, whereas Hamilton College is does not tolerate such a viewpoint.

Although I am happy that the standpoint of the Alexander Hamilton Institute is so favorable towards Alexander Hamilton's real political and religious views was strong enough to make Hamilton College back off, I think that it is unfortunate that their religious and political biases make them opposed to those of the institution, and not in favor of them. Hamilton College never used to be that way, and was never intended to be that way. Alexander Hamilton, for whom the university was named, was a Christian, and its founder, Samuel Kirkland (who buried on the campus of the college) was a Christian missionary to the Iroquois Indians. In fact, this school was to be a great extension of Kirkland's missionary work, and said that among its purposes would be to teach the Indians "the more plain and express doctrines of Christianity." (1) Kirkland's journal relates that in 1793, he traveled to Philadelphia, and sought out the support of Alexander Hamilton, then Secretary of the Treasury, and President George Washington. Kirkland offered Hamilton the position of honorary trustee of the academy, which position, Hamilton accepted, and added that he would do whatever was in his power to do for the benefit of the university. George Washington also expressed his warm wishes for the success of the academy. It was named in Hamilton's honor, first as the Hamilton Oneida Academy, and later, when it became a university in 1812, as Hamilton College. It is sad to see that such an institution drifted so far from its original and glorious foundations.

I am thrilled that such a fantastic organization as the Alexander Hamilton Institute is is underway, and that its headquarters are based in my own Upstate New York. I am confident that the establishment of this institution is a great leap forward, not only in the understanding of Alexander Hamilton and our true history, but also in how to apply Hamilton's Christian principles and the true principles of freedom, to present-day New York and present-day America.

Updates on the college can be found at the website of the Hamilton College Alumni for Governance and Reform. The charter of the Institute is also available here.

Monday, September 10, 2007


Fellow-patriots, new readers, loyal readers, and readers who disagree with my theme:

The handy-dandy resource which Hercules Mulligan has proudly presented to the public, The Founders' Bookshelf, has been relocated. It now has a blog of its own, to which I will add posts (from time to time, this will not be updated frequently) on some handy-dandy homework tips on the Founders' writings, as well as how to most successfully search the online editions.

I hope you like the new changes and find them beneficial. I might add, the page makes it feel more ... old-style -- which I like. It is reminiscent (to me, anyway) of that electric feeling one gets when he walks into a library, dusts off books that have been neither read, studied, or reprinted in ages, and embarks upon that little journey through our nation's hidden past. That kind of sense is one of the things that makes studying history an unstoppable obsession (I hear my family snicker). I just want my fellow-explorers, new and old, to share that same passion.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Alexander Hamilton's Religion: Part Two

In "Alexander Hamilton's Religion: Part One," we left off on Hamilton's trip the United States, where he was to attend an American university. He arrived in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1773, where he finished up some business for his former employer Nicholas Cruger, and collected his wages. He then took a trip to New York City, where he presented the introductory letters from Doctor Knox to the Reverends Mason and Rodgers, who were to become valuable friends of Hamilton. Hamilton boarded in the house of Hercules Mulligan, a friend of both the ministers and possible of Hugh Knox. Hamilton and Mulligan became instant friends, and Mulligan recollected much of this friendship in his "Narrative of Alexander Hamilton" many years later. Hamilton's education, however, had hence far been so menial, that he needed to attend an academy in order to prepare himself for college. Hamilton continued his journey to New Jersey, where he attended Francis Barber's Academy, and hoped to attend a university. Upon his arrival in Elizabethtown (now just "Elizabeth"), New Jersey -- the hometown of the academy -- Hamilton gave the introductory letters that Knox had sent with him to William Livingston and Elias Boudinot, two influential (would-be) Founding Fathers and New Jersey statesmen. Hamilton spent time among the families of both these men, and both had a deep impact upon his education, and perhaps even his religious temperament. Both of these men were dedicated Christians, and even spent parts of their lives in some sort of ministry or theological pursuit.

William Livingston, though known for his statesmanship on behalf in New Jersey, grew up in New York state, along with his brother Philip Livingston (who signed the Declaration of Independence as a delegate from New York) and their cousin Robert R. Livingston (who was on the Committee which drafted the Declaration, and swore George Washington in as first United States President). At the tender age of fourteen, William ventured into the wilderness of western New York as an aide to a Christian missionary to the Mohawk Indians. William later moved to New Jersey, where he was apparently swept up in the fervor of the Great Awakening, and changed his denomination from the family denomination of Dutch Reformed to Presbyterian. He even went to the dangerous extent of publicly criticizing the Anglicans who opposed the leaders of the Great Awakening. This deed was indeed very dangerous because the Anglican denomination was the established church of England -- mother country -- and the head of that church was none other that the King of England; therefore, to publicly criticize his denomination came very close to committing an act of treason against the crown. William Livingston settled down in the town of Elizabethtown, where he lived at the time he boarded Hamilton in his home. Livingston, although not a licensed preacher, was nevertheless a layman pastor of a congregation in that town. Interestingly, he called himself a Calvinist, but openly rejected John Calvin's philosophy of predestination as unscriptural and reducing men to "mere machines" (On Two Wings, by Michael Novak; p. 153). So Livingston, who probably had a part in Hamilton's early education, most likely left the indelible stain of Christianity on young Hamilton.

Elias Boudinot had much in common with Livingston. Elias Boudinot,
too, was greatly influenced in favor of the Great Awakening. Like Hamilton, Boudinot was a direct descendant of a French Huguenot family, who had immigrated not to the West Indies, but to America, to escape the horrific persecution of Christians under the rule of Louis XIV. Boudinot was converted under the preaching of George Whitefield, and was baptized by Whitefield himself (1). Elias Boudinot went on to display himself as a strong believer in the Bible and in Christian evangelism. In later life, Boudinot became the first President of the American Bible Society (2), and earlier in life, he defended the Bible from the attacks of skeptics such as Thomas Paine. Boudinot appears to have been very familiar with the events of the Great Awakening as they occurred in New Jersey, for he wrote a biography of William Tennet, which is available from the New York State Library and elsewhere. Boudinot and Hamilton remained good friends for life. During the time when Hamilton was soldiering during the Revolutionary War, he and Boudinot, who was a member of the War Committee of the Continental Congress, often exchanged letters as to what really happened on the battlefield. Boudinot also served under Hamilton in the early years of the United States under the Constitution, as the director of the United States Mint. Boudinot, too, no doubt, left an indelible impression upon Hamilton's mind and soul concerning Christianity. John Church Hamilton wrote a footnote on page 48 of his History of the Republic of the United States, volume 1 (which book was a look at the Founding Era through the life and eyes of Alexander Hamilton and the writings of his contemporaries):

The excellent family of the Boudinots relate that he [Hamilton] occasionally made a family prayer in their presence.
Hamilton, after finishing a year at the academy, and now ready for college, had only to choose a university. According to Hercules Mulligan, Hamilton desired to attend Princeton University, for it was more "republican" in principle than the other colleges open to him in New York. Mulligan prepared an interview for Hamilton with the prestigious president of Princeton, the Reverend Doctor John Witherspoon, who was, like most of Hamilton's other mentors, a Presbyterian American patriot. During the interview, Witherspoon became deeply aware of Hamilton's intense mind and love for hard work, discipline, and study. Hamilton, however, made a request that Witherspoon was not certain would be granted: Hamilton said that it was his great desire that he would be able to work at his own pace, and be allowed to speed as quickly as his abilities permitted him through the course. Witherspoon, knowing that such was strictly against the policies of the university, presented Hamilton's request before the college board in hopes of squeezing Hamilton in as a unique admission to the university. His efforts failed, and a disappointed Witherspoon gave Hamilton his apologies, because he believed that Hamilton would have been "an ornament" to the academy.

And so Hamilton returned to New York City, where he attended King's College (after the Revolutionary War it was renamed Columbia University). Here, he would make a host of friends who would prove invaluable to him, and him to them. Among those friends was Robert Troup, who was Hamilton's roommate at the university. Years later, he recounted about Hamilton's character at college, to Hamilton's son John, who said:
'At this time,' Troup relates, 'the "General" was attentive to public worship, and in the habit of praying on his knees night and morning. I lived in the same room with him for some time, and I have often been powerfully affected by the fervor and eloquence of his prayers. He had read many of the polemical writers on religious subjects, and he was a zealous believer in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. I confess that the arguments with which he was accustomed to justify his belief, have tended in no small degree to confirm my own faith in revealed religion.' (3)
This is not the description of a deist or a theistic rationalist. Anyone who lives a life of prayer -- not just religious prayer, but powerful prayer, as Hamilton's were described above as being -- and defends the "Christianity", its "fundamental doctrines," and has the ability to defend "revealed religion" so as to strengthen someone else's faith in it, has to be a fervent Christian.

John Church Hamilton writes that "
a hymn of some merit written at this time, entitled 'The soul entering into bliss,' is preserved." (4) The exact date of writing is uncertain; John C. Hamilton dates it at the time that Hamilton was attending school in America, but the editors of The Papers of Alexander Hamilton date it October 10, 1772 (read their footnote at the bottom of the page) when Hamilton was still in the West Indies. Whatever the case, it was written after the 1772 hurricane, and, combined with the testimony of Troup, this writing refutes the theory, advocated by David Loth (discussed in the previous post) that Hamilton was insincere in his sudden outburst of Christian fervor in his "hurricane letter." Troup's testimony also collaborates with the claim of the Boudinot family that Hamilton was a praying man.

Samuel Smucker, a biographer of Hamilton, commented on Hamilton's college years. His comments were obviously based upon the evidence presented above:
Now also he experienced the most fervent religious emotions, examined the evidences of Christianity, and gave utterance to devotional feeling in prayers and hymns whose eloquence was long traditional. There was nothing morbid or fanatical in this phase of his college career; but, as with all natures rich alike in sensibility and in intelligence, as life and consciousness awakened, and their problems demanded solution, he meekly and ardently, and from a spiritual necessity, sought communion with Eternal Truth; and amid the excitements, the ambition, the daring speculations, the brave and absorbing enterprise, the glory and the errors of after years, the convictions thus borne in upon his youthful heart were never effaced. (5)
The next post, "Alexander Hamilton's Religion: Part Three," will explore two important changes that occurred in Hamilton's life during his college years, and shall explore the religious basis of his early political expression.

(1) Original Intent: The Courts, the Constitution, and Religion, by David Barton; Appendix C: "Boudinot, Elias"

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Alexander Hamilton's Religion: Part One

The debate has long raged over the religion of the Founding Fathers. One side asserts that all of the Founders were deists, while the other side claims that the Founders were Christians instead. At the same time, some claim that the Founders were perhaps neither of the above, but were rather something in between. In perusing the Founders writings, any unbiased mind finds that it would be very erroneous indeed to paint all of the Founders with a broad brush in regard to their religion; not all of the Founders believed exactly the same thing.

In the case of Alexander Hamilton, he has been portrayed as being all of the above each at a different point in his life. In the next several articles, we shall examine in depth both the claims and the evidence for and against those claims. Not being a long-time historian (yet), I continue to study this subject. However, I have studied intensely for the past 3-and-a-half years, and what my research has yielded thus far is more than what any historian or professor (that I have ever read) has henceforth revealed.

In this post, I wish to examine the early period of Hamilton's life, focusing particularly upon his religion.

Our narrative begins, of course, when Hamilton was born on the island of Nevis, which John Adams called "a speck more obscure than Corsica." (1) Obscure it was and still is, for it is hardly a pin-prick on a map, and most people in America would not be able to locate it, for many have never heard of it. The exact year of Hamilton's birth is still disputed. According to a legal document that was drawn up by the court of St. Croix (where Hamilton spent his childhood) upon the death of Hamilton's mother in 1768, Hamilton's birth was in 1755. Hamilton, however, claimed that he was born on January 11, 1757. It is difficult to discern which one is more accurate, but since my motto is "When in doubt, listen to the Founders themselves," I will use 1757 as a base for all figures of Hamilton's age.

Little of Hamilton's childhood is known, since he hardly wrote anything that has survived to this present day, and since he hardly ever spoke of his childhood to anyone. Hamilton, did, however, make an exception in one incident. John Church Hamilton, one of Alexander's sons, would later recollect:

"As an instance of which [AH's early education], rarely as he alluded to his personal history, he mentioned with a smile, his having been taught to repeat the Decalogue {the Ten Commandments] in Hebrew, at the school of a Jewess, when so small that he was placed standing by her side upon a table." (2)
Of the earliest writings of Hamilton which still survive (besides his famous letter to Edward Stevens, a childhood friend), are chiefly those which shed great light upon his religion. Most noticeable of these is a key writing, one which not only is key to discovering Hamilton's religion, but which writing itself is what brought Hamilton out of the Caribbean to America.

But before I introduce the letter, I will introduce the background of it.

Earlier that same year, 1772, a Reverend Hugh Knox from America arrived in on the island of St. Croix, apparently for the purpose of missionary work. At that time, the Caribbean Islands were notorious for their decadence and vice. The practice of the slave trade was the most horrifying on the seaports of the Caribbean Islands, dueling was frequent and gruesome, and all kinds of fornication, though generally looked down upon, prospered in the crowded port-cities of the Caribbean. Knox, who had personal connections to the newspaper editor of St. Croix, and well as to the illustrious New York/West Indian merchant Nicholas Cruger.

Ron Chernow's book Alexander Hamilton has shed some fascinating light upon the background of Knox. Knowledge of this background is significant to the study of Hamilton's life in two ways: (1) it sheds light upon Knox's religious and political convictions, and thus sheds light upon the man and mind who would influence Hamilton's earliest reflections on those two fields, and (2) Knox's background helps the student of Hamilton's life to see the bigger picture beyond Hamilton, and into the Providential plan that manifested itself throughout Hamilton's dramatic life.

Hugh Knox was born in Northern Ireland, and immigrated to the state of Delaware, where he became a schoolmaster. Chernow relates that Knox was at this time anything but fit for a preacher; Knox mocked the local pastor of the town, the Reverend John Rodgers, a friend of the Reverend George Whitefield, in order to impress his own friends. But one Sunday morning, as Knox sat in his church pew mocking to his friends beside him, the words of Rodger's sermon on repentance from dead works to faith toward God began to deeply move Knox. The result was his total transformation from the life of a skeptic, to a passionate believer who committed himself to the ministry. He went on to attend Princeton College (more commonly known at that time as the College of New Jersey), where he was ordained a Presbyterian minister. In one of histories great ironies, Knox's college tutor (who was then the president of the university) was Aaron Burr, Sr., Jonathan Edwards' son-in-law and the father of the very man who would murder Knox's greatest protege, Alexander Hamilton.

As will be demonstrated later, Knox made some very important connections in the Mid-Atlantic states, and most all of these people would go on to be leaders in local and national spheres as American patriots. But Knox felt the urge to leave that circle and confront the horrors and frights of tropical seaport decadence. He believed that God was calling him to leave the American continent and sail to the West Indies, in order to reach those who had been the victims of the most hideous forms of sin in those parts of the world. Little did Knox know that his giant leap of faith would result in a giant leap forward in the history of humankind.

Hugh Knox was not a total stranger when he arrived in the West Indies. A good friend of his, a merchant by the name of Nicholas Cruger, ran a business in both New York City and St. Croix. Cruger was proud of his fifteen-year-old employee, Alexander Hamilton, who only a year previously had come to Cruger seeking employment as a penny-less, home-less, name-less orphan, who was now capable of managing the business in Cruger's absence. Cruger introduced Hamilton and Knox to one another, and it was then that a life-long friendship developed that would prove extremely beneficial to both parties. Knox quickly observed Hamilton's sharp mind, which was constantly preoccupied with the timeless questions of human history and human nature. Knox took Hamilton under his wing, and fed Hamilton's keen appetite for knowledge, and his tireless ambition to study the history of human government. This desire of Hamilton never wained, for near the very end of his life, Hamilton expressed a desire to embark, with the help of several friends, upon a boldly ambitious project to spend the retiring years of his life in a thorough study of governments throughout human history to a close friend Chancellor James Kent, to whom Hamilton wished to assign the project of researching "ecclesiastical history." (3)

John Church Hamilton, in writing of Hamilton's early years and his relationship with Dr. Knox, of whom Hamilton probably spoke of to his own children, wrote:
"There is reason to believe, from the low state of education in the West Indies, that the circle of his [Hamilton's] youthful studies was very limited, probably embracing little more than the English and French languages, which he wrote and spoke with fluency. With a strong propensity to literature, he became a lover of books, and the time that other youths devote to classical learning, was by him employed in miscellaneous reading, happily directed by the advice of Doctor Knox, a respectable Presbyterian divine, who was delighted with the precocity of his mind, took a deep interest in its development.
"The fervent piety of this gentleman gave a strong religious bias ["bias" in the era of J. C. Hamilton's writing was not always used in the negative sense; it simply meant "leaning" or "inclination" or "preferred viewpoint"] to his feelings, the topics of their conversation opening to him [Hamilton] a glimpse of those polemical controversies which have called forth the highest efforts of intellect." (4)
Before Hamilton's mind was ever opened to the theories and ideas of "secular" philosophers from the Enlightenment, Hamilton was influenced by a Bible-believing preacher of the Gospel.

Christianity's influence on Hamilton through Knox is made clear in the famed "hurricane letter" which Hamilton wrote during the horrific hurricane that swept the island of St. Croix in 1772. The flow of Hamilton's writing indicates that he probably wrote this letter just as the hurricane was ravaging the town around him. For a young man with little or no security in life from his fellow man, to see the horrors of death around him (and young Hamilton definitely feared for his life at this point) must have certainly been a very unnerving experience. At this dreadful time, Hamilton had no one in whom to physically confide his feelings, except his father, whom Hamilton had not seen in six years. It probably gave Hamilton some comfort to express his feelings on paper, and then eventually send the letter to his father, which he did.

In the beginning of the letter, Hamilton gave a very vivid account of the hurricane, almost as if he were a reporter for the local newspaper. After giving his frightening descriptions, he then wrote down his thoughts and reflections as they came to him.
"Where now, oh! vile worm, is all thy boasted fortitude and resolution? What is become of thine[(original reads "they")] arrogance and self sufficiency? Why dost thou tremble and stand aghast? How humble, how helpless, how contemptable [sic] you now appear. And for why? The jarring of elements – the discord of clouds? Oh! impotent and presumptuous fool! how durst thou offend that Omnipotence, whose nod alone were sufficient to quell the destruction that hovers thee, or crush thee into atoms? See thy wretched and helpless state, and learn to know thyself. Learn to know thy best support. Despise[(original reads "despite")] thyself, and adore thy God. How sweet, how unutterably sweet were now the voice of an approving conscience; Then couldst thou say, hence ye idle alarms, why do I shrink? What have I to fear? A pleasing calm suspense! A short repose from calamity to end in eternal bliss? Let the Earth rend. Let the planets forsake their course. Let the Sun be extinguished and the Heavens burst asunder. Yet what have I to dread? My staff can never be broken – in Omnip[o]tence I trusted.

"He who gave the winds to blow, and the lightnings to rage – even him I have always loved and served. His precepts I have observed. His commandments I have obeyed – and his perfections have I adored. He will snatch me from ruin. He will exalt me to the fellowship of Angels and Seraphs, and to the fullness of never ending joys."
This selection reads like one of the impassioned sermons of the Great Awakening, and indeed, Hamilton's words show his great familiarity with Christianity and with the life and mindset of the believer. However, Hamilton knew then, as death looked him squarely in the eye, that such was not his case, and that he had not only death but hell itself to fear. He continued:
"But alas! how different, how deplorable, how gloomy the prospect! Death comes rushing on in triumph veiled in a mantle of tenfold darkness. His unrelenting scythe, pointed, and ready for the stroke. On his right hand sits destruction, hurling the winds and belching forth flames: Calamity on his left threatening famine disease and distress of all kinds. And Oh! thou wretch, look still a little further; see the gulph [sic] of eternal misery open. There mayest thou shortly plunge – the just reward of thy vileness. Alas! wither canst thou fly? Where hide thyself? Thou canst not call upon thy God; thy life has been a continual warfare with him.
"Hark – ruin and confusion on every side. 'Tis thy turn next; but one short moment, even now, Oh Lord help. Jesus be merciful!"
Thus did I reflect, and thus at every gust of wind 'till it pleased the Almighty to allay it. Nor did my emotions proceed either from the suggestions of too much natural fear, or a conscience over-burthened [sic] with crimes of an uncommon cast. I thank God, this was not the case. The scenes of horror exhibited around us, naturally awakened such ideas in every thinking breast, and aggravated the deformity of every failing of our lives. It were a lamentable insensibility indeed, not to have had such feelings, and I think inconsistent with human nature.
"Our distressed, helpless condition taught us humility and contempt of ourselves. The horrors of the night, the prospect of an immediate, cruel death – or, as one may say, of being crushed by the Almighty in his anger—filled us with terror. And every thing that had tended o weaken our interest with him, upbraided us in the strongest colours, with our baseness and folly. That which, in a calm unruffled temper, we call a natural cause, seemed then like the correction of the Deity. Our imagination represented him as an incensed master, executing vengeance on the crimes of his servants. The father and benefactor were forgot, an in that view, a consciousness of our guilt filled us with despair."
At this time, when Hamilton thought he had his last moments on earth, he cried out to God for another chance to be reconciled to God. Up to this point, Hamilton had respected Knox, and saw religion as good and useful, and perhaps even true. His letter indicates that he always knew and believed in the existence of God, and that he believed that the Bible was true. If Hamilton had not thought so, then he would not have been convicted, as this letter indicates he was.

Just as Hamilton believed that he was about to die as a result of the "wrath of the Almighty," and fervently prayed for mercy, the storm began to calm, and Hamilton knew that his prayer had been instantly answered.
"But see, the Lord relents. He hears our prayer. The Lighting ceases. The winds are appeased. The warring elements are reconciled and all things promise peace The darkness is dispell'd and drooping nature revives at the approaching dawn. Look back Oh! my soul, look back and tremble. Rejoice at thy deliverance, and humble thyself in the presence of thy deliverer."
This letter is indisputably Hamilton's own account of his spiritual regeneration.

Hamilton's letter then takes a sharp turn in a different direction. Instead of focusing his attentions upon himself, he then turned his attention to the welfare of his fellow man. His moving descriptions and reflections are a far cry from the Hamilton that has been portrayed in our current textbooks as a hater of the poor and a protector of the rich.
"Yet hold, Oh vain mortal! Check thy ill timed joy. Art thou so selfish to exult because thy lot is happy in a season of universal woe? Hast thou no feelings for the miseries of thy fellow-creatures? And art thou capable of the soft pangs of sympathetic sorrow? Look around thee and shudder at the view. ... Oh sights of woe! Oh distress unspeakable! My heart bleeds, but I have no power to solace! O ye, who revel in affluence, see the afflictions of humanity and bestow your superfluity to ease them. Say not, we have suffered also, and thence withhold your compassion. What are you[r] sufferings compared to those? Ye still have more than enough left. Act wisely. Succour [sic] the miserable and lay up treasure in Heaven" [Matthew 6:19-20; 19:21].
One biographer of Hamilton, David Loth, wrote that Hamilton's expression of concern for his own soul was temporary if it was genuine at all. Loth made this statement, but offered no evidence for his evidently erroneous assertion. Although many more recent biographers of Hamilton do not see Hamilton as having been a truly regenerate Christian throughout his entire life, I am not aware of their hearty support for this theory. There is much evidence against Loth's assertion in Hamilton's subsequent writings that the theory becomes impossible to defend. The evidence for this will be covered further covered in "Alexander Hamilton's Religion: Part Two," in its place in the chronology which not long after followed the "hurricane letter."

Hamilton did not intend for this letter to be viewed by the public. It was completely private correspondence with his father. However, Hugh Knox discovered a copy of it, and upon reading it, was fascinated by Hamilton's powers of writing and Hamilton's power to think deeply. He showed the letter to several of his own friends, who were of some wealth and influence, and they afterwards asked Hamilton for permission to publish it in the newspaper, for the purpose of giving a description of the late hurricane, and of collecting funds for Hamilton to be sent to a university in America. At first, Hamilton was hesitant to consent to his private and rather personal letter being published for the whole island to read; but Knox and the other gentleman convinced him, and the letter appeared in The Danish Royal Gazette. Funds were collected from the public, from Knox's congregation, and from one of Hamilton's relatives, and he set sail for America in August of 1773. Knox, who was still managing his ministry and congregation in St. Croix, did not accompany Hamilton, who sailed alone. However, Knox gave letters of introduction to several of his own friends back in America: William Livingston, Elias Boudinot, the Reverend John Rodgers, and the Reverend John Mitchell Mason, Sr. These men would become Hamilton's early American mentors, as well as staunch patriots upon the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War.

"Alexander Hamilton's Religion, Part Two," will cover Hamilton's religion over the first several years that he spent in America.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Quote in Question

While Henry Cabot Lodge was preparing his own edition of Alexander Hamilton's works (John Church Hamilton had published his own in the 1840s and 1850s), he discovered an incomplete writing of Hamilton's that had never been published. The piece itself was an extraordinary criticism of the French Revolution, and Hamilton usually did, he started his denunciations of the French Revolution by denouncing their blatant rejection of Christianity. The work was undated, but several clues lead me to believe that it was written sometime in the mid-1790s:

(1) Hamilton's language is very strong, passionate, and fervent, as if the news of the infidelity of France was still fresh in Hamilton's mind, and he sat down and scrawled down his thoughts on paper (as was his habit).

(2) The words, phrases, and structure are very similar to Hamilton's published pamphlet The Stand, No. III, which was published in 1798. It is probable that this writing in question, which Lodge titled "Fragment on the French Revolution," was a rough draft of The Stand, No. III.

The "Fragment" began,

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. (1)
Here, Hamilton is clearly attacking atheism and deism (that defeats the popular argument that Hamilton became a deist). And yet there is a new theory that is being popularized by the secularists. They are losing the "The Founders were deists" argument, and so now they are giving the Founders labels such as "religious, but not Christian" and "theistic rationalists." And a theistic rationalist accepts the existence of God, has respect for Jesus as a "good teacher," and accepts parts of the Bible to be true, perhaps even inspired. It believes that divine revelation does exist, but that man's rational faculties are superior to anything with the label "divine revelation" on it. Now, to any rational and unprejudiced mind, Hamilton is not defending theistic rationalism, but rather Christianity. Here's the proof:

(1) He refers specifically to the "Christian revelation" and "the Gospel." He never uses any language that is distinctly "rationalist," but rather "Christian."

(2) "Theistic rationalism" may not discard ALL of the "Christian revelation," but it cannot accept "the Gospel," to which Hamilton not only makes direct reference, but implies an equation of "Christian revelation" and "the Gospel." Theistic rationalism is incompatible with the Gospel, and if one takes Hamilton's definition of "natural religion" at face value, one must admit the following obvious facts:

Theistic rationalism is incompatible with the Gospel, and may be categorized ultimately as "natural religion" (because theistic rationalism ultimately holds the dictates of man's reason and the laws of nature to be the sources of absolute truth). The Gospel, according to the rationalist, is fundamentally erroneous.

The basic tenets of the Gospel are as follows:

(1) Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who became a human being as the son of a chaste virgin.

According to the mind of any rationalist, this is impossible, as it goes beyond the comprehension of reason and it is contrary to the laws of nature.

(2) Jesus Christ performed the miracles described in the Gospels, and fulfilled the divinely-inspired prophesies of the Old Testament.

According to theistic-rationalistic reasoning, the miracles that Jesus performed (multiplying fishes and loaves, casting out demons, walking on water, etc.) are merely myths or parables, since it is impossible for such things to REALLY happen because they transgress the bounds of reason and natural laws.

(3) Jesus Christ died on the cross to atone for the sins of the human race, and accomplished what moral codes alone could not accomplish.

Atonement is impossible, according to the theistic rationalist, because only God incarnate could possible and truly atone for humanity's sins, and since theistic rationalism has ruled out the possibility of God being incarnate, and being born of a virgin, atonement is rationally impossible.

(4) Jesus Christ truly died, and yet He arose from the grave physically alive, just as the Gospels record.

According to theistic rationalism, this is rationally incomprehensible, and once again, it transgresses the bounds of natural law.

Theistic rationalism, although not specifically referred to by Hamilton in the above quotation, must then be included in the philosophies which "attack ... the Christian revelation" and discard the Gospel "as a gross imposture." If you reject some of Christian revelation, you reject all of it, because you acknowledge a higher source than revelation. If the basic tenets of the Gospel are untrue, than the Gospel is untrue, and is, according to the theistic rationalist, "a gross imposture," although he may not refer to the Gospel in such strong terms.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Reverend John M. Mason to William Coleman

The following letter is extremely rare. It has not been reprinted in many decades (perhaps because it contains Hamilton's ardent profession of belief in the Gospel).
It is now given by itself for the first time on the Internet.

New-York, July 18th, 1804

To the Editor of the Commercial Advertiser:
    Having read, in your paper of the 16th, a very imperfect account of my conversation with General Hamilton, the day previous to his decease, I judge it my duty to lay the following narrative before the public.
    On the morning of Wednesday, the 11th inst. shortly after the rumor of the General’s injury had created an alarm in the city, a note from Dr. Post informed me that “that he was extremely ill at Mr. Wm. Bayard’s, and expressed a particular desire to see me as soon as possible.” I went immediately. The exchange of melancholy salutation, on entering the General’s apartment, was succeeded by a silence which he broke by saying, that he “had been anxious to see me, and have the sacrament administered to him; and that this was still his wish.” I replied, that “it gave me unutterable pain to receive from him any request to which I could not accede: that, in the present instance, a compliance was incompatible with all my obligations; as it is a principle in our churches never to administer the Lord’s supper privately to any person under any circumstances.” He urged me no further. I then remarked to him, that “the holy communion is an exhibition and pledge of the mercies which the Son of God has purchased; that the absence of the sign does not exclude from the mercies signified; which were accessible to him by faith in their gracious Author.” “I am aware,” said he, “of that. It is only as a sign that I wanted it.” A short pause ensued. I resumed the discourse, by observing that “I had nothing to address him in his affliction, but that same gospel of the grace of God, which it is my office to preach to the most obscure and illiterate: that in the sight of God all men are on a level, as all men have sinned and come short of his glory; and that they must apply to him for pardon and life, as sinners, whose only refuge is in his grace by righteousness through our Lord Jesus Christ.” “I perceive it to be so,” said he; “I am a sinner: I look to his mercy.” I then adverted to “the infinite merit of the Redeemer, as the propitiation for sin, the sole ground of our acceptance with God; the sole channel of his favor to us; and cited the following passages of scripture: There is no name given under heaven among men, whereby we must be saved, but the name of Jesus. He is able to save them to the uttermost who come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.” This last passage introduced the affair of the duel, on which I reminded the General, that he was not to be instructed as to its moral aspect, that the precious blood of Christ was as effectual and as necessary to wash away the transgression which had involved him in suffering, as any other transgression; and that he must there, and there alone, seek peace for his conscience, and a hope that should “not make him ashamed.” He assented, with strong emotions, to these representations, and declared his abhorrence of the whole transaction. “It was always,” added he, “against my principles. I used every expedient to avoid the interview; but I have found, for some time past, that my life must be exposed to that man. I went to the field determined not to take his life.” He repeated his disavowal of all intention to hurt Mr. Burr; the anguish of his mind in recollecting what had passed; and his humble hope of forgiveness from his God. I recurred to the topic of the divine compassions; the freedom of pardon in the Redeemer Jesus to perishing sinners. “That grace, my dear General, which brings salvation is rich, rich.” – “Yes,” interrupted he, “it is rich grace.” – “And on that grace,” continued I, “a sinner has the highest encouragement to repose his confidence, because it is tendered to him upon the surest foundation; the scripture testifying that “we have redemption through the blood of Jesus, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of his grace.” Here the General, letting go my hand, which he had held from the moment I sat down at his bedside, clasped his hands together, and, looking up towards heaven, said, with emphasis, “I have a tender reliance on the mercy of the Almighty, through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ.” He replaced his hand in mine, and appearing somewhat spent, closed his eyes. A little after, he fastened them on me, and I proceeded. “The simple truths of the Gospel, my dear sir, which require no abstruse investigation, but faith in the veracity of God who cannot lie, are best suited to your present condition, and they are full of consolation.” – “I feel them to be so,” replied he. I then repeated these texts of scripture: It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and of sinners the chief. I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” “This,” said he, “ is my support. Pray for me.” – “Shall I pray with you?” – “Yes.” I prayed with him, and heard him whisper as I went along, which I supposed to be his concurrence with the petitions. At the conclusion, he said, “Amen. God grant it.”
    Being about to part with him, I told him, “I had one request to make.” He asked “what it was!” I answered “that whatever might be the issue of his affliction, he would give his testimony against the practice of dueling.” “I will,” said he. “I have done it. If that,” evidently anticipating the event [ie., his death], “if that be the issue, you will find it in writing. If it please God that I recover, I shall do it in a manner which will effectually put me out of its reach in the future.” I mentioned, once more, the importance of renouncing every other dependence for the eternal world but the mercy of God in Christ Jesus; with a particular reference to the catastrophe of the morning. The General was affected, and said, “Let us not pursue the subject any further, it agitates me.” He laid his hands upon his breast, with symptoms of uneasiness, which indicated an increased difficulty of speaking. I then took my leave. He pressed my hand affectionately, and desired to see me again at a proper interval. As I was retiring, he lifted up his hands in the attitude of prayer, and said feebly, “God be merciful to--” His voice sunk, so that I heard not the rest distinctly, but understood him to quote the words of the publican in the Gospel, and to end with “me a sinner.”
    I saw him a second time, on the morning of Thursday [ie., July 12, 1804]; but from his appearance, and what I had heard, supposing that he could not speak without severe effort, I had no conversation with him. I prayed for a moment at his bedside, in company with his overwhelmed family and friends; and for the rest, was one of the spectators of his composure and dignity in suffering. His mind remained in its former state, and he viewed with calmness the approaching dissolution. I left him between twelve and one, and at two, as the public know, he breathed his last.
I am sir,
With much respect,

Your obedient servant,
J. M. Mason

SOURCE: Memoirs of John M. Mason, D. D., S. T. P., with Portions of His Correspondence, by Jacob Van Vetchen, pp. 182-185

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Memorandum on the French Revolution


In the early periods of the French Revolution, a warm zeal for its success was in this Country a sentiment truly universal. The love of Liberty is here the ruling passion of the Citizens of the U[nited] states pervading every class animating every bosom. As long therefore as the Revolution of France bore the marks of being the cause of liberty it united all hearts concentered all opinions. But this unanimity of approbation has been for a considerable time decreasing. The excesses which have constantly multiplied, with greater and greater aggravations have successively though slowly detached reflecting men from their partiality for an object which has appeared less and less to merit regard. Their reluctance to abandon it has however been proportioned to the ardor and fondness with which they embraced it. They were willing to overlook many faults—to apologize for some enormities—to hope that better justifications existed than were seen—to look forward to more calm and greater moderation, after the first shocks of the political earthquake had subsided. But instead of this, they have been witnesses to one volcano succeeding another, the last still more dreadful that the former, spreading ruin and devastation far and wide—subverting the foundations of right security and property, of order, morality and religion—sparing neither sex nor age, confounding innocence with guilt, involving the old and the young, the sage and the madman, the long tried friend of virtue and his country and the upstart pretender to purity and patriotism – the bold projector of new treasons with the obscure in indiscriminate and profuse destruction. They have found themselves driven to the painful alternative of renouncing an object dear to their wishes or of becoming by the continuance of their affection for it accomplices with Vice Anarchy Despotism and Impiety.

But though an afflicting experience has materially lessened the number of the admirers of the French Revolution among us and has served to chill the ardor of many more, who profess to still retain their attachment to it, from what they suppose to be its ultimate tendency; yet the effect of Experience has been thus far much less than could reasonably have been expected. The predilection for it still continues extensive and ardent. And what is extraordinary it continues to comprehend men who are able to form a just estimate of the information which destroys its title to their favour.

It is not among the least perplexing phenomena of the present times, that a people like that of the U[nited] states—exemplary for humanity and moderation surpassed by no other in the love of order and a knowledge of the true principles of liberty, distinguished for purity of morals and a just reverence for Religion should so long persevere in partiality for a state of things the most cruel sanguinary and violent that ever stained the annals of mankind, a state of things which annihilates the foundations of social order and true liberty, confounds all moral distinctions and substitutes to the mild and beneficent religion of the Gospel a gloomy persecuting and desolating atheism. To the eye of a wise man, this partiality is the most inauspicious circumstance, that has appeared in the affairs of this country. It leads involuntarily and irresistibly to apprehensions concerning the soundness of our principles and the stability of our welfare. It is natural to far that the transition may not be difficult from the approbation of bad things to the imitation of them; a fear which can only be mitigated by a careful estimate as the extraneous causes that have served to mislead the public judgment.

But though we may find in these causes a solution of the fact calculated to abate our solicitude for the consequences; yet we can not consider the public happiness as out of the reach of danger so long as our principles continue to be exposed to the debauching influence of admiration for an example which, it will not be too strong to say, presents the caricature of human depravity. And the pride of national character at least can find no alleviation for the wound which must be inflicted by so ill-judged so unfortunate partiality.

If there be any thing solid in virtue—the time must come when it will have been a disgrace to have advocated the Revolution of France in its late stages.

This is a language to which the ears of the people of this country have not been accustomed. Everything has hitherto conspired to confirm the pernicious fascination by which they are enchained. There has been a positive and a negative conspiracy against the truth which has served to shut out its enlightened ray. Those who always float with the popular gale perceiving the prepossession of the people have administered to it by all the acts in their power—endeavoring to recommend themselves by an exaggerated zeal for a favourite object. Others through timidity caution or an ill-judged policy unwilling to expose themselves to the odium of resisting the general current of feeling have betrayed by silence that Truth which they were unable not to perceive. Others, whose sentiments have weight in the community have been themselves sincere dupes of [blank; nothing printed here]. Hence the voice of reason has been stifled and the Nation has been left unadmonished to travel on in one of the most degrading delusions that ever disparaged the understanding of an enlightened people.

To recal them from this dangerous error—to engage them to dismiss their prejudices & consult dispassionately their own enthusiasm to their reason and humanity would be the most important service that could be rendered to the Ustates at the present juncture. The error entertained so not a mere speculative question. The French Revolution is a political convulsion. That in a great degree shakes the whole civilized world and it is of real consequence to the principles and of course to the happiness of a Nation to estimate it rightly.

SOURCE: reprinted in Hamilton: Writings, selected and edited by Joanne B. Freeman.

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

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