Topics Alexander Hamilton Quotations
Alexander Hamilton was an American politician, statesman, writer, lawyer, and soldier. He was the principal author of the Federalist Papers, the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, the son-in-law of Philip Schuyler, and was killed in a duel by Aaron Burr.
- A national debt, if it is not excessive, will be to us a national blessing.
- Letter to Robert Morris (1781-04-30)
- For my own part, I sincerely esteem it a system which without the finger of God, never could have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interests.
- Statement after the Constitutional Convention (1787)
- It has been observed that a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.
- Speech in New York, urging ratification of the U.S. Constitution (1788-06-21)
- Here, sir, the people govern; here they act by their immediate representatives.
- Remarks on the U.S. House of Representatives, at the New York state convention on the adoption of the Federal Constitution, Poughkeepsie, New York (1788-07-27)
- Every power vested in a government is in its nature sovereign, and includes by force of the term a right to employ all the means requisite...to the attainment of the ends of such power.
- Opinion on the Constitutionality of the Bank (1791-02-23)
- If the end be clearly comprehended within any of the specified powers, and if the measure have an obvious relation to that end, and is not forbidden by any particular provision of the Constitution, it may safely be deemed to come within the compass of the national authority.
- If it be asked, What is the most sacred duty and the greatest source of our security in a Republic? The answer would be, An inviolable respect for the Constitution and Laws — the first growing out of the last... A sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principle, the sustaining energy of a free government.
- Essay in the American Daily Advertiser (1794-08-28)
- The passions of a revolution are apt to hurry even good men into excesses.
- Essay (1795-08-12)
- I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be.
- Letter (1802-04-16)
- Men are rather reasoning than reasonable animals, for the most part governed by the impulse of passion.
- A garden, you know, is a very usual refuge of a disappointed politician. Accordingly, I have purchased a few acres about nine miles from town, have built a house, and am cultivating a garden.
- Letter to Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (1802-12-29)
- I have resolved, if our interview is conducted in the usual manner, and it pleases God to give me the opportunity, to reserve and throw away my first fire, and I have thoughts even of reserving my second fire.
- Letter written the night before his duel with Aaron Burr (1804-07-10)
The Farmer Refuted (1775)
- The origin of all civil government, justly established, must be a voluntary compact, between the rulers and the ruled; and must be liable to such limitations, as are necessary for the security of the absolute rights of the latter; for what original title can any man or set of men have, to govern others, except their own consent? To usurp dominion over a people, in their own despite, or to grasp at a more extensive power than they are willing to entrust, is to violate that law of nature, which gives every man a right to his personal liberty; and can, therefore, confer no obligation to obedience.
- The right of parliament to legislate for us cannot be accounted for upon any reasonable grounds. The constitution of Great Britain is very properly called a limited monarchy, the people having reserved to themselves a share in the legislature, as a check upon the regal authority, to prevent its degenerating into despotism and tyranny. The very aim and intention of the democratical part, or the house of commons, is to secure the rights of the people. Its very being depends upon those rights. Its whole power is derived from them, and must be terminated by them.
- The fundamental source of all your 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. Civil liberty is only natural liberty, modified and secured by the sanctions of civil society. It is not a thing, in its own nature, precarious and dependent on human will and caprice; but it is conformable to the constitution of man, as well as necessary to the well-being of society.
- 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.
Debates of the Federal Convention (1787-05-14–1787-09-17)
- I believe the British government forms the best model the world has ever produced...This government has for its object public strength and individual security.
- All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and wellborn, the other the mass of the people...The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second, and as they cannot receive any advantage by a change, they therefore will ever maintain good government.
- We are now forming a republican government. Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments.
The Federalist Papers (1787–1788)
- It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.
- In politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.
- No. 1
- The rights of neutrality will only be respected, when they are defended by an adequate power. A nation, despicable by its weakness, forfeits even the privilege of being neutral.
- Let Americans disdain to be the instruments of European greatness! Let the thirteen States, bound together in a strict and indissoluble Union, concur in erecting one great American system, superior to the control of all transatlantic force or influence, and able to dictate the terms of the connection between the old and the new world!
- No. 11
- Government implies the power of making laws. It is essential to the idea of a law, that it be attended with a sanction; or, in other words, a penalty or punishment for disobedience.
- Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without constraint.
- No. 15
- Has it been found that bodies of men act with more rectitude or greater disinterestedness than individuals? The contrary of this has been inferred by all accurate observers of the conduct of mankind; and the inference is founded upon obvious reasons. Regard to reputation has a less active influence, when the infamy of a bad action is to be divided among a number than when it is to fall singly upon one. A spirit of faction, which is apt to mingle its poison in the deliberations of all bodies of men, will often hurry the persons of whom they are composed into improprieties and excesses, for which they would blush in a private capacity.
- No. 15
- The militia is a voluntary force not associated or under the control of the States except when called out; a permanent or long standing force would be entirely different in make-up and call.
- A tolerable expertness in military movements is a business that requires time and practice. It is not a day, or even a week, that will suffice for the attainment of it. To oblige the great body of the yeomanry, and of the other classes of the citizens, to be under arms for the purpose of going through military exercises and evolutions, as often as might be necessary to acquire the degree of perfection which would entitle them to the character of a well-regulated militia, would be a real grievance to the people, and a serious public inconvenience and loss. It would form an annual deduction from the productive labor of the country, to an amount which, calculating upon the present numbers of the people, would not fall far short of the whole expense of the civil establishments of all the States. To attempt a thing which would abridge the mass of labor and industry to so considerable an extent, would be unwise: and the experiment, if made, could not succeed, because it would not long be endured. Little more can reasonably be aimed at, with respect to the people at large, than to have them properly armed and equipped; and in order to see that this be not neglected, it will be necessary to assemble them once or twice in the course of a year.
- If circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little, if at all, inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights and those of their fellow-citizens. This appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it, if it should exist.
- No. 29
- If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no recourse left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government, and which against the usurpations of the national rulers may be exerted with infinitely better prospect of success than against those of the rulers of an individual State. In a single State, if the persons entrusted with supreme power become usurpers, the different parcels, subdivisions, or districts of which it consists, having no distinct government in each, can take no regular measures for defense. The citizens must rush tumultuously to arms, without concert, without system, without resource; except in their courage and despair.
- No. 29
- In the usual progress of things, the necessities of a nation in every stage of its existence will be found at least equal to its resources.
- Let us recollect that peace or war will not always be left to our option; that however moderate or unambitious we may be, we cannot count upon the moderation, or hope to extinguish the ambition of others.
- The President, and government, will only control the militia when a part of them is in the actual service of the federal government, else, they are independent and not under the command of the president or the government. The states would control the militia, only when called out into the service of the state, and then the governor would be commander in chief where enumerated in the respective state constitution.
- When occasions present themselves, in which the interests of the people are at variance with their inclinations, it is the duty of the persons whom they have appointed to be the guardians of those interests, to withstand the temporary delusion, in order to give them time and opportunity for more cool and sedate reflection.
- The Courts must declare the sense of the law; and if they should be disposed to exercise will instead of judgement; the consequences would be the substitution of their pleasure for that of the legislative body.
- There are men who could neither be distressed nor won into a sacrifice of their duty; but this stern virtue is the growth of few soils; and in the main it will be found that a power over a man's support is a power over his will. If it were necessary to confirm so plain a truth by facts, examples would not be wanting, even in this country, of the intimidation or seduction of the Executive by the terrors or allurements of the pecuniary arrangements of the legislative body.
- The history of human conduct does not warrant that exalted opinion of human virtue which would make it wise in a nation to commit interests of so delicate and momentous a kind as those which concern its intercourse with the rest of the world to the sole disposal of a magistrate, created and circumstanced, as would be a President of the United States.
- I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and, on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?
- The system, though it may not be perfect in every part, is, upon the whole, a good one; is the best that the present views and circumstances of the country will permit; and is such an one as promises every species of security which a reasonable people can desire.
- I should esteem it the extreme of imprudence to prolong the precarious state of our national affairs, and to expose the Union to the jeopardy of successive experiments, in the chimerical pursuit of a perfect plan. I never expect to see a perfect work from imperfect man. The result of the deliberations of all collective bodies must necessarily be a compound, as well of the errors and prejudices, as of the good sense and wisdom, of the individuals of whom they are composed.
- No. 85
About Alexander Hamilton
- This I can venture to advance from a thorough knowledge of him, that there are few men to be found, of his age, who has a more general knowledge than he possesses, and none whose Soul is more firmly engaged in the cause, or who exceeds him in probity and Sterling virtue.
- George Washington (1781)
- Hamilton is really a colossus... without numbers, he is a host unto himself.
- I was duped ... by the Secretary of the treasury, and made a fool for forwarding his schemes, not then sufficiently understood by me; and of all the errors of my political life, this has occasioned the deepest regret.
- Thomas Jefferson in a letter to George Washington (1792-09-09)
- I invited them to dine with me, and after dinner, sitting at our wine, having settled our question, other conversation came on, in which a collision of opinion arose between Mr. Adams and Colonel Hamilton, on the merits of the British Constitution, Mr. Adams giving it as his opinion, that, if some of its defects and abuses were corrected, it would be the most perfect constitution of government ever devised by man. Hamilton, on the contrary, asserted, that with its existing vices, it was the most perfect model of government that could be formed; and that the correction of its vices would render it an impracticable government. And this you May be assured was the real line of difference between the political principles of these two gentlemen. Another incident took place on the same occasion, which will further delineate Mr. Hamilton's political principles. The room being hung around with a collection of the portraits of remarkable men, among them were those of Bacon, Newton and Locke. Hamilton asked me who they were. I told him they were my trinity of the three greatest men the world had ever produced, naming them. He paused for some time: “The greatest man,” said he, “that ever lived, was Julius Caesar.” Mr. Adams was honest as a politician as well as a man; Hamilton honest as a man, but, as a politician, believing in the necessity of either force or corruption to govern men.
- Hamilton, the most brilliant American statesman who ever lived, possessing the loftiest and keenest intellect of his time, was of course easily the foremost champion in the ranks of the New York Federalists; second to him came Jay, pure, strong and healthy in heart, body, and mind. Both of them watched with uneasy alarm the rapid drift toward anarchy; and both put forth all their efforts to stem the tide. They were of course too great men to fall in with the views of those whose antagonism to tyranny made them averse from order. They had little sympathy with the violent prejudices produced by the war. In particular they abhorred the vindictive laws directed against the persons and property of Tories; and they had the manliness to come forward as the defenders of the helpless and excessively unpopular Loyalists. They put a stop to the wrongs which were being inflicted on these men, and finally succeeded in having them restored to legal equality with other citizens, standing up with generous fearlessness against the clamor of the mob.
- He stands at the front rank of a generation never surpassed in history, but whose countrymen seem to have never duly recognized his splendid gifts.
- When America ceases to remember his greatness, America will no longer be great.
- Hamilton was the greatest constructive mind in all our history and I should come pretty near saying... in the history of modern statesmen in any country.
- There is an elegant memorial in Washington to Jefferson, but none to Hamilton. However, if you seek Hamilton's monument, look around. You are living in it. We honor Jefferson, but live in Hamilton's country, a mighty industrial nation with a strong central government.
- George Will, Restoration: Congress, Term Limits and the Recovery of Deliberative Democracy (1992)
- Hamilton is really a Colossus to the anti-republican party. When he comes forward, there is nobody but yourself who can meet him.
- Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Madison (1795)
- Jefferson was not entirely wrong to fear Hamilton's vision for the country, for we have always been in a constant balancing act between self-interest and community, market and democracy, the concentration of wealth and power and the opening up of opportunity.
- About Hamilton. Quoted in "The Audacity of Hope" - Page 193 - by Barack Obama
- If Jefferson provided the essential poetry of American political discourse, Hamilton established the prose of American statecraft.
- Ron Chernow, "Alexander Hamilton"
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