Remember: These are out of context! At various times in Hamilton’s life he felt elation, despair, hope, and gloom. His quotes presented here are mostly because they are the ones that struck Hal as amusing, enlightening, interesting, or odd. For more information about the context of the quotes, please feel free to email Hal. Many of these quotes are extracted from one or more of the key source readings Hal has done to prepare for the Hamilton role. Please see the Hamilton Resources page to find a full listing of these fine texts.
On Aaron Burr
- [He is] “For or against nothing, but as it suits his interests or ambition. I feel the religious duty to oppose his career.”
- “If we have an embryo-Caesar in the United States, ’tis Burr”
- To Oliver Wolcott Jr. (Hamilton’s successor as Sec. of Treasury) about 1800 election and Burr, “There is no doubt that upon every virtuous and prudent calculation Jefferson is to be preferred. He is by far not so dangerous a man and he has pretensions to character.”
- “The passiveness of the sheep in their compositions” it was almost impossible to rouse Americans from “the lethargy of voluptuous indolence”
- “our countrymen have all the folly of the ass and all the passiveness of the sheep in their compositions. They are determined not to be free and they can neither be frightened, discouraged nor persuaded to change their resolution. If we are saved France and Spain must save us. I have the most pigmy-feelings at the idea.”
On His Birth and Ancestry
- James his father was fourth son of a Scottish Lord. Thus he had “better pretensions fore most of those who in this country plume themselves on ancestry”
- [His birth was] “not free from blemish”
On the Assumption of Debts, The Debt Itself
- “States, like individuals, who observe their engagements are respected and trusted, while the reverse is the fate of those who pursue an opposite conduct.”
- “The consumption of ardent spirits is carried to an extreme which is truly to be regretted, as well in regard to the health and morals as to the economy of the community.”
- “It is a well-known fact that, in countries in which the national debt is properly funded, and an object of established confidence, it answers most of the purposes of money”
- Rep. James Jackson wrote of the report, “my soul rises indignant at the avaricious and immoral turpitude which so vile a conduct displays.” He was not a fan of Mr. Hamilton.
On the Congress
Hamilton lambasted Congress for its “folly, caprice [and] a want of foresight. For its ductility and inconstancy, for its feeble indecisive and improvident treatment of the Army.” During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress was woefully inefficient in providing for the troops. Hamilton used his own limited monies to pay for uniforms, food, blankets, and other supplies for the men in his own command. His growing frustration with the Congress is noted here and in the following quotes.
- “3/4 of the members of Congress were mortal enemies to talent and that 3/4 of the remainder were contemptuous of integrity.”
- “The Army is now a mob… without clothing, without pay, without provision, without morals, without discipline. We begin to hate the country for its neglect of us; the country begins to hate us for our oppressions love them.”
- “The poor state of the Army comprises 3/4 of our civil embarrassments.”
On The Constitution
- Written in Federalist 84, “the Constitution itself, in every rational sense, and to every useful purpose, is a bill of rights.”
In the Case of Croswell v New York
Here Hamilton may have had his greatest moments in a courtroom. He defended the Federalist publisher Croswell from a libel suit. Hamilton argued his case using two seldom used legal concepts (at least for 1804): First he proffered that truth should be a defense in a libel suit. Simply put, he stated to the Court that if the published statement is true, it can’t be libel. Secondly, he told the jury that they represented the only real defense the common man had when attacked by a powerful government agency. The second quote below tells the jurors their duty, and rather dramatically so.
- [A juror should] “endure the rack before he would immolate his convictions on the alter of power”
- “We ought to resist, resist, resist until we hurl the demagogues and tyrants from their imagined thrones.”
In Hamilton’s First Major Political Publication, The Farmer Refuted, Written at Age 18
- Samuel Seabury claimed that Parliament could legally tax the Colonies, Hamilton responded with defense of natural rights (below), at age 18, “If you will follow my advice, there still may be hopes for your reformation. Apply yourself, without delay, to the study of the law of nature. I would recommend to your perusal, Grotius Puffendorf, Locke, Montesquiue, and Burlemaqui.”
- In perhaps his most powerful statement on liberty and rights, Hamilton noted “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.”
On His Very Expensive Home ($30,000), The Grange
The Grange occupied some 32 acres of farmland in what is now Harlem in New York City. It was a remarkable home for its time, and was a massive drain on Hamilton’s meager funds. He had hoped to raise some produce to help defray costs, but as you see below, it did not work out that way.
- “The greatest part of my little farm will be dedicated to grass”
- [Total Grange farming profits: $18 over three years, selling strawberries, cabbages, asparagus]
On Hamilton’s Grave Marker in New York
- “The patriot of incorruptible integrity, the soldier of approved valour, the statesman of consummate wisdom, where talents and virtue will be admired by grateful posterity long after this marble shall have moldered into dust.”
On Government in General
- In response to the troubles in France with Napoleon Hamilton noted “A government must be fitted to a nation as much as a coat to an individual…What may be good at Philadelphia may be bad in Paris and ridiculous at Petersburg [St Petersburg]
Hamilton at age 12
The first existent written communications from Hamilton is to his friend Ned. From the squalor of his impoverished Caribbean home, Hamilton was already looking for a way to leave behind the anonymous misery he felt his life to be.
- “I would willingly risk my life though not my character to excel my station… I wish there was a war.”
On Earning Money
At least twice Hamilton refused offers to speculate in lands and perhaps currency that would have made him a rich man, and would also have allowed him to leave his economic troubles behind. Both times he refused as a matter of personal and public honor. He believed such deals would compromise his ability to serve honorably.
- “There must be some public fools who sacrifice private to public interest.” Hamilton felt he needed to keep “in a situation best calculated to render service”
On His Mother
Rachel Faucette Lavien, Hamilton’s mother, died when he was still a lad. Her domestic situation was, shall we say, unusual, it that she was married to an abusive man, but lived for a while with another, James Hamilton. Alexander wrote only briefly of his mother, saying she was of
- “Superior intellect, elevated and generous sentiments, unusual elegance of person and manner”
On Mrs. Benedict Arnold
Hamilton was always somewhat easily taken in by the ladies. This problem is demonstrated by his response to the spouse of that great traitor, Benedict Arnold. Mrs. Arnold was certainly in on the plot with her husband, and her pathetic appearance before Hamilton was certainly an act. Hamilton was, however swayed. He wrote a letter to his wife Elizabeth, noting Mrs. Arnold’s situation.
- ” …She is very apprehensive the resentment of her country will fall upon her for the guilt of her husband. She received us in bed, with every circumstance that would interest our sympathy. Her suffering’s were so eloquent than I wished myself her brother, to have a right to become her defender. As he is, I had entreated her to enable me to give her proofs of my friendship.”
On the Reynolds Affair
A very great deal could be said here about the Reynolds Affair. Here Hamilton’s judgment and fidelity were tested and found wanting. Simply put, he allowed himself to be ensnared in a blackmail plot, not once but twice. He was suddenly placed in the awkward position of having to defend both is public and private honor. His accusers suggested Hamilton had engaged in currency speculation with James Reynolds, when in fact the real crime had been Hamilton’s affair with Mrs. Reynolds. Foolishly, Hamilton wrote a lengthy pamphlet that he hoped would clear his name. He entitled it Observations on Certain Documents Contained in No. V & VI of “The History of the United States for the Year 1796,” In Which the Charge of Speculation Against Alexander Hamilton, Late Secretary of the Treasury, is Fully Refuted. Written by Himself.”
- Hamilton wrote of Mrs. Reynolds “the variety of shapes she could assume was endless”
- Explaining their first meeting, when Reynolds had appeared at Hamilton’s door claiming abandonment and poverty, Hamilton visited her lodgings later. He stated “I took the bill out of my pocket and gave it to her–Some conversation ensued from which it was quickly apparent that other than pecuniary consolation would be acceptable.”
- After Hamilton had made his first blackmail payment, James Reynolds wrote “I have not the least objection to your calling as a friend” Maria: “Do something to ease my heart or else I no not what I shall do for so I cannot live.” Hamilton foolishly began again to ‘ease her heart.’
Hamilton was a man of great interest to ladies, and they to him. These two quotes illustrate that point well.
- At the Revolutionary Army’s Headquarters, Martha Washington named the house pet, a big-headed extremely amorous tomcat “Hamilton”
- At party with Peggy and Angelica Schuyler [sisters-in-law], Angelica lost bow from shoe. Peggy put it in Hamilton’s button hole and said “there, brother, I have made you a knight” Angelica: “but of what order? He can’t be a knight of the garter in this country.” Peggy: “true sister, but he would be if you would let him.”
On President Washington
Hamilton was Washington’s favorite aide during the War, and called upon him twice more to serve. First as Secretary of the Treasury, and later as his second in command during the 1798 undeclared war with France. Washington served as Hamilton’s protector many times. Upon Washington’s death, Hamilton wrote to the late president’s personal secretary, Tobias Lear.
- [Washington’s death] “…filled my heart with bitterness. Perhaps no man in this community has equal cause with myself to deplore the loss. I have been much indebted to the kindness of the General, and he was an aegis very essential to me. … If virtue can secure happiness in another world, he is happy. In this, the seal is now put upon his glory. It is no longer in jeopardy from the fickleness of fortune.”
On the Properties of a Good Wife
- [In whimsy Hamilton wrote] “she must be young, handsome (I lay most stress on a good shape) sensible (a little learning will do), well bred… chaste and tender (I am an enthusiast in my notions of fidelity and fondness) of some good nature, a great deal of generosity (she must neither love money nor scolding, for I dislike equally a termagent or an oteconomist). In politics, I am indifferent what side she may be of; I think have arguments that will easily convert her to mine. As to religion a moderate stock will satisfy me. She must believe in God and hate a saint. But as to Fortune, the larger stock of that the better.”
- In a letter to wife late in life: “Indeed my Eliza, you are very essential to me. Your virtues more and more endear you to me and experience more and more convinces me that true happiness is only to be found in the bosom of one’s own family.”
The next quote is a remarkable one, and absolutely one of my favorites. Elizabeth Hamilton survived her husband by fifty full years, finally dying at the age of 97. Years after the duel, Mr. Monroe came to call. By now he was a former president, but Betsy remembered his role in slandering Alexander during the Reynolds affair. Initially, she refused to see him but was prevailed upon by younger family members. Mr. Monroe entered but was not offered a chair. He gave a brief speech about forgiving and forgetting and Betsy answered with these words.
- “Mr. Monroe, if you have come to tell me that you repent, that you are sorry, very sorry, for the misrepresentations and the slanders, and the stories you have circulated against my dear husband, if you have come to say this, I understand it. But, otherwise, no lapse of time, no nearness to the grave, makes any difference.”
Jefferson on Hamilton:
- In a letter to Madison 1795, “Hamilton is really a colossus… without numbers, he is a host within himself.”
- “When this government was first established, it was possible to have kept it going on true principles but…the ideas of Hamilton destroyed that hope in the bud. We can pay off his debts in fifteen years: but we can never get rid of his financial system.”
Hamilton on Jefferson
- On his farming troubles at Grange: [I am] “as little fitted to be a farmer as Jefferson to guide the helm of the United States”