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Alexander Hamilton’s Last Letter to John Laurens

Lieutenant Colonel John Laurens

South Carolina’s Revolutionary abolitionist, Lieutenant Colonel John Laurens, was Alexander Hamilton’s closest friend. On August 15, 1782, two years after they fought together at the victorious Battle of Yorktown, Hamilton wrote to Laurens with news of his delegation to Congress and a desire to convince Laurens to join him in realizing their mutual political objectives in the newly independent United States. It is not likely that Laurens ever read that letter as he was sadly killed at the Battle of the Combahee River on August 27, 1782.

To Lieutenant Colonel John Laurens

[Albany, August 15, 1782]

I received with great Pleasure, My Dear Laurens, the letter which you wrote me in last.

Your wishes in one respect are gratified; this state has pretty unanimously delegated me to Congress. My time of service commences in November. It is not probable it will result in what you mention. I hope it is too late. We have great reason to flatter ourselves peace on our own terms is upon the carpet. The making it is in good hands. It is said your father is exchanged for Cornwallis and gone to Paris to meet the other commissioners and that Grenville on the part of England has made a second trip there, in the last instance, vested with Plenipotentiary powers.

I fear there may be obstacles but I hope they may be surmounted.

Peace made, My Dear friend, a new scene opens. The object then will be to make our independence a blessing. To do this we must secure our union on solid foundations; an herculean task and to effect which mountains of prejudice must be levelled!

It requires all the virtue and all the abilities of the Country. Quit your sword my friend, put on the toga, come to Congress. We know each others sentiments, our views are the same: we have fought side by side to make America free, let us hand in hand struggle to make her happy.

Remember me to General Greene with all the warmth of a sincere attachment.

Yrs for ever

A Hamilton

Albany Aug. 15. 1782

After hearing the news of Lauren’s death, Hamilton wrote to Major General Nathanael Greene on October 12, 1782:

I feel the deepest affliction at the news we have just received of the loss of our dear and ⟨inesti⟩mable friend Laurens. His career of virtue is at an end. How strangely are human affairs conducted, that so many excellent qualities could not ensure a more happy fate? The world will feel the loss of a man who has left few like him behind, and America of a citizen whose heart realized that patriotism of which others only talk. I feel the loss of a friend I truly and most tenderly loved, and one of a very small number.” (2)

  1. Alexander Hamilton, “From Alexander Hamilton to Lieutenant Colonel John Laurens, 15 August 1782,” National Archives Founders Online, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Hamilton/01-03-02-0058.
  2. Alexander Hamilton, “From Alexander Hamilton to Major General Nathanael Greene, 12 October 1782,” National Archives Founders Online, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Hamilton/01-03-02-0090.

Martha Washington’s Comments on George’s Presidency, 1789

Best Revolutionary War Tour NYC

In a heartfelt letter to Mercy Otis Warren written in New York City on December 26, 1789, Martha Washington expresses her inner feelings about her husband becoming president.

MY DEAR MADAM,

Your very friendly letter of the 27th of last month has afforded me much more satisfaction than all the formal compliments and empty ceremonies of mere etiquette could possibly have done. I am not apt to forget the feelings that have been inspired by my former society with good acquaintances, nor to be insensible to their expressions of gratitude to the President of the United States; for you know me well enough to do me the justice to believe that I am only fond of what comes from the heart.

Under a conviction that the demonstrations of respect and affection which have been made to the President originate from that source, I cannot deny that I have taken some interest and pleasure in them. The difficulties which presented themselves to view on his first entering upon the Presidency seem thus to be in some measure surmounted. It is owing to this kindness of our numerous friends in all quarters, that my new and unwish’d-for situation is not indeed a burden to me. When I was much younger, I should, probably, have enjoyed the innocent gaities of life as much as most of my age; but I had long since placed all the prospects of my future worldly happiness in the still enjoyments of the fireside at Mount Vernon.

I little thought, when the war was finished, that any circumstances could possibly have happened which would call the General into public life again. I had anticipated that from this moment we should have been left to grow old in solitude and tranquility together. That was, my dear madam, the first and dearest wish of my heart; but in that I have been disappointed. I will not, however, contemplate with too much regret disappointments that were inevitable. Though the General’s feelings and my own were perfectly in unison with respect to our predelection for private life, yet I cannot blame him for having acted according to his ideas of duty in obeying the voice of his country. The consciousness of having attempted to do all the good in his power, and the pleasure of finding his fellow-citizens so well satisfied with the disinterestedness of his conduct, will doubtless be some compensation for the great sacrifices which I know he has made. Indeed, in his journeys from Mount Vernon to this place,—in his late tour through the Eastern States,—by every public and every private information which has come to him,—I am persuaded that he has experienced nothing to make him repent his having acted from what he conceived to be alone a sense of indispensable duty. On the contrary, all his sensibility has been awakened in receiving such repeated and unequivocal proofs of sincere regard from all his countrymen.

With respect to myself, I sometimes think the arrangement is not quite as it ought to have been; that I, who had much rather be at home, should occupy a place with which a great many younger and gayer women would be prodigiously pleased.

As my grandchildren and my domestic connections made up a great portion of the felicity which I looked for in this world, I shall hardly be able to find any substitute that would indemnify me for the loss of a part of such endearing society. I do not say this because I feel dissatisfied with my present situation. No. God forbid! for every body and every thing conspire to make me as contented as possible in it. Yet I know too much of the vanity of human affairs to expect felicity from the splendid scenes of public life. I am still determined to be cheerful and to be happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances. We carry the seeds of the one or the other about with us, in our minds, wherever we go.

I have two of my grandchildren with me, who enjoy advantages in point of education, and who, I trust, by the goodness of Providence, will continue to be a great blessing to me. My other two grandchildren are with their mother in Virginia.

The President’s health is quite re-established by his little journey. Mine is much better than it used to be. I am sorry to hear that General Warren has been ill: hope, before this time, that he may be entirely recovered. We should rejoice to see you both. To both I wish the best of Heaven’s blessings, and am,

My dear madam,

With esteem and regard,

Your friend and hble sert,

M. WASHINGTON. (1)

  1. Martha Washington, “Letter from Martha Washington to Mrs. General Warren, New York, December 26, 1789,” American Historical and Literary Curiosities, Part 12, ed. John Jay Smith (New York: Charles B. Richardson, 1860), Project Gutenberg, 2004, last accessed June 7, 2022, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/7912/7912-h/7912-h.htm.

Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted, and Calvert Vaux

Secret Places of Central Park Tour

The Creation of Central Park

In 1844, lamenting the lack of public areas in New York City for “health and recreation,” William Cullen Bryant, the romantic poet, journalist, and editor of the New-York Evening Post, advocated for “an extensive pleasure ground.”[1]  A few years later, the most prominent landscape gardener in the United States, Andrew Jackson Downing, wrote a public letter commenting that “What are called parks in New-York, are not even apologies for the thing.”[2]  Downing believed that a great park would boost New York’s standing with European cities and elevate the working man to a gentleman.[3]  Initially, the city looked to purchase a privately-owned 153-acre tract of land along the East River called Jones’ Wood, but in 1853, the city used eminent domain to acquire a less expensive, more centrally located 778-acre plot—expanded to 843 acres ten years later.[4]  The park would also protect wealthy, uptown landowners from further incursion by immigrants and African Americans and remove the approximately sixteen hundred “poor and wretched people” already settled there.[5]  An October 1857 advertisement in the New York Herald announced a design competition for the park.[6]  The winners were the team of journalist Frederick Law Olmsted, recently appointed Superintendent of the parkland, and the British-born architect Calvert Vaux, protégé of the recently deceased Downing.  Their plan was named “Greensward.”  Vaux wrote that their mission was to “translate Democratic ideas into Trees and Dirt” in creating a public park to serve the diverse, divided, and growing metropolis.[7]  In 1857, Olmsted was appointed Park Superintendent and Architect-in-Chief.  Construction began the following year during the Panic of 1857, providing work for thousands of unemployed laborers—20,000 by 1866.[8]  Together, Olmstead and Vaux managed the ambitious transformation of hundreds of acres of hilly, rocky, and swampy land into a fully-designed naturalistic landscape and the first large-scale urban public park in the United States.  Olmsted was confident that his artistic creation would alleviate many of the ills of urban life and calm the “rough element of the city.”[9]

In the 1973 FLO: A Biography of Frederick Law Olmsted, Laura Wood Roper, with cooperation from Olmsted’s son, set out to revive the co-designer’s status after it had “fallen upon neglect.”[10]  She describes his “almost religious belief in democracy” and his desire for “communicativeness,” which “distinguished the civilized man from the barbarian.”[11]  According to Roper, communicativeness involved creating community “regardless of regional, class, economic, color, religious, or whatever differences.”[12]  For Olmsted, this union of diverse people was “the essence of democracy,” a justification for the park’s creation, “and the last, best hope of earth.”[13]  By Roper’s account, Olmstead believed that government should play a role in encouraging “taste and refinement,” and public parks and gardens could serve that purpose.[14]  Besides being a pleasure ground for the wealthy, the park would be a means of cultivating genteel standards of good taste and behavior in the working class.[15]  According to Roper, under Olmsted’s guidance, landscape design went from “decorative to social aims,” and his work in civilizing urban life for the benefit of all people “constituted a heroic undertaking.”[16]  The biography set a standard for other works in the 1970s in telling the story of the park from Olmsted’s perspective.

Elizabeth Barlow’s Frederick Law Olmsted’s New York, published in 1972, and the companion to a retrospective celebrating Olmsted’s work, also adheres to the narrative of the designer’s reformer and democratic ambitions.  In Jeffersonian terms, Olmsted wrote that the government’s primary responsibility was to protect citizens in their “pursuit of happiness” against impediments “otherwise insurmountable.”[17]  Barlow states that he believed that public parks could serve that purpose and “humanize the city.”[18]  Both Roper and Barlow take a “great man” approach to Central Park’s history.  In the following decade, historians responded to the 1970s biographies, separating the park from Olmsted’s stated democratic ambitions and exploring it through social history.

Explore this history and more on the Secret Places of Central Park walking tour!


[1] William Cullen Bryant, “A New Public Park,” Bryant Library, last modified October 24, 2020, https://www.bryantlibrary.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=158:wc-bryant-and-the-origins-of-central-park&catid=15&Itemid=181.

[2] Morrison H. Heckscher, Creating Central Park, (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 2011), 12.

[3] Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 790-791.

[4] Heckscher, Creating Central Park, 15.

[5] Burrows and Wallace, Gotham, 791-792; Roy Rosenzweig and Elizabeth Blackmar, The Park and the People: A History of Central Park (New York: Cornell University Press, 1998), 67.

[6] Heckscher, Creating Central Park, 21.

[7] David M. Scobey, Empire City: The Making and Meaning of the New York City Landscape, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002), 9.

[8] Rosenzweig, Blackmar, Park and the People, 150.

[9] Geoffrey Blodgett, “Frederick Law Olmsted: Landscape Architecture as Conservative Reform,” Journal of American History 62, no. 4 (March 1976): 878; Catherine McNeur, Taming Manhattan: Environmental Battles in the Antebellum City (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014), 176.

[10] Laura Wood Roper, FLO: A Biography of Frederick Law Olmsted (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983 Reprint), xiii.

[11] Roper, FLO, 157, xiv.

[12] Ibid., xiv.

[13] Ibid. 

[14] Ibid., 344.

[15] Ibid., 93.

[16] Ibid., xiii-xiv.

[17] Elizabeth Barlow, Frederick Law Olmsted’s New York (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1972), 30.

[18] Ibid., 8, 20.

Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address

George Washington Farewell Address

In Honor of George Washington’s Birthday here is his “1796 Farewell Address”

Friends and Citizens:

The period for a new election of a citizen to administer the executive government of the United States being not far distant, and the time actually arrived when your thoughts must be employed in designating the person who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprise you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made.

I beg you, at the same time, to do me the justice to be assured that this resolution has not been taken without a strict regard to all the considerations appertaining to the relation which binds a dutiful citizen to his country; and that in withdrawing the tender of service, which silence in my situation might imply, I am influenced by no diminution of zeal for your future interest, no deficiency of grateful respect for your past kindness, but am supported by a full conviction that the step is compatible with both.

The acceptance of, and continuance hitherto in, the office to which your suffrages have twice called me have been a uniform sacrifice of inclination to the opinion of duty and to a deference for what appeared to be your desire. I constantly hoped that it would have been much earlier in my power, consistently with motives which I was not at liberty to disregard, to return to that retirement from which I had been reluctantly drawn. The strength of my inclination to do this, previous to the last election, had even led to the preparation of an address to declare it to you; but mature reflection on the then perplexed and critical posture of our affairs with foreign nations, and the unanimous advice of persons entitled to my confidence, impelled me to abandon the idea.

I rejoice that the state of your concerns, external as well as internal, no longer renders the pursuit of inclination incompatible with the sentiment of duty or propriety, and am persuaded, whatever partiality may be retained for my services, that, in the present circumstances of our country, you will not disapprove my determination to retire.

The impressions with which I first undertook the arduous trust were explained on the proper occasion. In the discharge of this trust, I will only say that I have, with good intentions, contributed towards the organization and administration of the government the best exertions of which a very fallible judgment was capable. Not unconscious in the outset of the inferiority of my qualifications, experience in my own eyes, perhaps still more in the eyes of others, has strengthened the motives to diffidence of myself; and every day the increasing weight of years admonishes me more and more that the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it will be welcome. Satisfied that if any circumstances have given peculiar value to my services, they were temporary, I have the consolation to believe that, while choice and prudence invite me to quit the political scene, patriotism does not forbid it.

In looking forward to the moment which is intended to terminate the career of my public life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgment of that debt of gratitude which I owe to my beloved country for the many honors it has conferred upon me; still more for the steadfast confidence with which it has supported me; and for the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of manifesting my inviolable attachment, by services faithful and persevering, though in usefulness unequal to my zeal. If benefits have resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals, that under circumstances in which the passions, agitated in every direction, were liable to mislead, amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of fortune often discouraging, in situations in which not unfrequently want of success has countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected. Profoundly penetrated with this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing vows that heaven may continue to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free Constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; that, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation which is yet a stranger to it.

Here, perhaps, I ought to stop. But a solicitude for your welfare, which cannot end but with my life, and the apprehension of danger, natural to that solicitude, urge me, on an occasion like the present, to offer to your solemn contemplation, and to recommend to your frequent review, some sentiments which are the result of much reflection, of no inconsiderable observation, and which appear to me all-important to the permanency of your felicity as a people. These will be offered to you with the more freedom, as you can only see in them the disinterested warnings of a parting friend, who can possibly have no personal motive to bias his counsel. Nor can I forget, as an encouragement to it, your indulgent reception of my sentiments on a former and not dissimilar occasion.

Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to fortify or confirm the attachment.

The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.

But these considerations, however powerfully they address themselves to your sensibility, are greatly outweighed by those which apply more immediately to your interest. Here every portion of our country finds the most commanding motives for carefully guarding and preserving the union of the whole.

The North, in an unrestrained intercourse with the South, protected by the equal laws of a common government, finds in the productions of the latter great additional resources of maritime and commercial enterprise and precious materials of manufacturing industry. The South, in the same intercourse, benefiting by the agency of the North, sees its agriculture grow and its commerce expand. Turning partly into its own channels the seamen of the North, it finds its particular navigation invigorated; and, while it contributes, in different ways, to nourish and increase the general mass of the national navigation, it looks forward to the protection of a maritime strength, to which itself is unequally adapted. The East, in a like intercourse with the West, already finds, and in the progressive improvement of interior communications by land and water, will more and more find a valuable vent for the commodities which it brings from abroad, or manufactures at home. The West derives from the East supplies requisite to its growth and comfort, and, what is perhaps of still greater consequence, it must of necessity owe the secure enjoyment of indispensable outlets for its own productions to the weight, influence, and the future maritime strength of the Atlantic side of the Union, directed by an indissoluble community of interest as one nation. Any other tenure by which the West can hold this essential advantage, whether derived from its own separate strength, or from an apostate and unnatural connection with any foreign power, must be intrinsically precarious.

While, then, every part of our country thus feels an immediate and particular interest in union, all the parts combined cannot fail to find in the united mass of means and efforts greater strength, greater resource, proportionably greater security from external danger, a less frequent interruption of their peace by foreign nations; and, what is of inestimable value, they must derive from union an exemption from those broils and wars between themselves, which so frequently afflict neighboring countries not tied together by the same governments, which their own rival ships alone would be sufficient to produce, but which opposite foreign alliances, attachments, and intrigues would stimulate and embitter. Hence, likewise, they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty. In this sense it is that your union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.

These considerations speak a persuasive language to every reflecting and virtuous mind, and exhibit the continuance of the Union as a primary object of patriotic desire. Is there a doubt whether a common government can embrace so large a sphere? Let experience solve it. To listen to mere speculation in such a case were criminal. We are authorized to hope that a proper organization of the whole with the auxiliary agency of governments for the respective subdivisions, will afford a happy issue to the experiment. It is well worth a fair and full experiment. With such powerful and obvious motives to union, affecting all parts of our country, while experience shall not have demonstrated its impracticability, there will always be reason to distrust the patriotism of those who in any quarter may endeavor to weaken its bands.

In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection. The inhabitants of our Western country have lately had a useful lesson on this head; they have seen, in the negotiation by the Executive, and in the unanimous ratification by the Senate, of the treaty with Spain, and in the universal satisfaction at that event, throughout the United States, a decisive proof how unfounded were the suspicions propagated among them of a policy in the General Government and in the Atlantic States unfriendly to their interests in regard to the Mississippi; they have been witnesses to the formation of two treaties, that with Great Britain, and that with Spain, which secure to them everything they could desire, in respect to our foreign relations, towards confirming their prosperity. Will it not be their wisdom to rely for the preservation of these advantages on the Union by which they were procured ? Will they not henceforth be deaf to those advisers, if such there are, who would sever them from their brethren and connect them with aliens?

To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a government for the whole is indispensable. No alliance, however strict, between the parts can be an adequate substitute; they must inevitably experience the infractions and interruptions which all alliances in all times have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon your first essay, by the adoption of a constitution of government better calculated than your former for an intimate union, and for the efficacious management of your common concerns. This government, the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.

All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.

However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.

Towards the preservation of your government, and the permanency of your present happy state, it is requisite, not only that you steadily discountenance irregular oppositions to its acknowledged authority, but also that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretexts. One method of assault may be to effect, in the forms of the Constitution, alterations which will impair the energy of the system, and thus to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown. In all the changes to which you may be invited, remember that time and habit are at least as necessary to fix the true character of governments as of other human institutions; that experience is the surest standard by which to test the real tendency of the existing constitution of a country; that facility in changes, upon the credit of mere hypothesis and opinion, exposes to perpetual change, from the endless variety of hypothesis and opinion; and remember, especially, that for the efficient management of your common interests, in a country so extensive as ours, a government of as much vigor as is consistent with the perfect security of liberty is indispensable. Liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian. It is, indeed, little else than a name, where the government is too feeble to withstand the enterprises of faction, to confine each member of the society within the limits prescribed by the laws, and to maintain all in the secure and tranquil enjoyment of the rights of person and property.

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositaries, and constituting each the guardian of the public weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit, which the use can at any time yield.

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?

Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.

As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it, avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertion in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should co-operate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in mind that towards the payment of debts there must be revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment, inseparable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties), ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue, which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.

Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it – It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it ? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue ? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?

In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.

So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils. Such an attachment of a small or weak towards a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people under an efficient government. the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?

It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.

Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.

Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing (with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the government to support them) conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that, by such acceptance, it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.

In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But, if I may even flatter myself that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated.

How far in the discharge of my official duties I have been guided by the principles which have been delineated, the public records and other evidences of my conduct must witness to you and to the world. To myself, the assurance of my own conscience is, that I have at least believed myself to be guided by them.

In relation to the still subsisting war in Europe, my proclamation of the twenty-second of April, I793, is the index of my plan. Sanctioned by your approving voice, and by that of your representatives in both houses of Congress, the spirit of that measure has continually governed me, uninfluenced by any attempts to deter or divert me from it.

After deliberate examination, with the aid of the best lights I could obtain, I was well satisfied that our country, under all the circumstances of the case, had a right to take, and was bound in duty and interest to take, a neutral position. Having taken it, I determined, as far as should depend upon me, to maintain it, with moderation, perseverance, and firmness.

The considerations which respect the right to hold this conduct, it is not necessary on this occasion to detail. I will only observe that, according to my understanding of the matter, that right, so far from being denied by any of the belligerent powers, has been virtually admitted by all.

The duty of holding a neutral conduct may be inferred, without anything more, from the obligation which justice and humanity impose on every nation, in cases in which it is free to act, to maintain inviolate the relations of peace and amity towards other nations.

The inducements of interest for observing that conduct will best be referred to your own reflections and experience. With me a predominant motive has been to endeavor to gain time to our country to settle and mature its yet recent institutions, and to progress without interruption to that degree of strength and consistency which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, the command of its own fortunes.

Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will never cease to view them with indulgence; and that, after forty five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.

Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love towards it, which is so natural to a man who views in it the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several generations, I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government, the ever-favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers.

Geo. Washington. (1)

  1. George Washington, “Washington’s Farewell Address 1796,” The Avalon Project, last accessed February 22, 2022, https://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/washing.asp.

Hamilton’s 1780 Thoughts on Empowering the Congress

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Alexander Hamilton, in a September 1780 letter to Founder James Duane, almost eight years before the Constitution was ratified, and the year prior to the Articles of Confederation being ratified in 1781, presciently noted the “defects” of the Articles and the “want of power in Congress.” The Articles had provided an “excess” of “liberty” to the individual states that overshadowed the Congress and, according to Hamilton, was leading the country toward “ruin.” The Constitution, which Hamilton played an important role in ratifying and served as a New York delegate, united the country by creating a more powerful Federal Government with inherent checks and balances to avoid political oppression. Here is an excerpt from that letter:

Dr. Sir

Agreeably to your request and my promise I sit down to give you my ideas of the defects of our present system, and the changes necessary to save us from ruin. They may perhaps be the reveries of a projector rather than the sober views of a politician. You will judge of them, and make what use you please of them.

The fundamental defect is a want of power in Congress. It is hardly worth while to show in what this consists, as it seems to be universally acknowleged, or to point out how it has happened, as the only question is how to remedy it. It may however be said that it has originated from three causes—an excess of the spirit of liberty which has made the particular states show a jealousy of all power not in their own hands; and this jealousy has led them to exercise a right of judging in the last resort of the measures recommended by Congress, and of acting according to their own opinions of their propriety or necessity, a diffidence in Congress of their own powers, by which they have been timid and indecisive in their resolutions, constantly making concessions to the states, till they have scarcely left themselves the shadow of power; a want of sufficient means at their disposal to answer the public exigencies and of vigor to draw forth those means; which have occasioned them to depend on the states individually to fulfil their engagements with the army, and the consequence of which has been to ruin their influence and credit with the army, to establish its dependence on each state separately rather than on them, that is rather than on the whole collectively.

It may be pleaded, that Congress had never any definitive powers granted them and of course could exercise none—could do nothing more than recommend. The manner in which Congress was appointed would warrant, and the public good required, that they should have considered themselves as vested with full power to preserve the republic from harm. . . . (1)

A. Hamilton

  1. Alexander Hamilton, “From Alexander Hamilton to James Duane, 3 September 1780,” National Archives Founders Online, last accessed January 28, 2022, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Hamilton/01-02-02-0838.

George Washington and New York as the “Empire” State

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It is believed that the source of New York’s moniker as “The Empire State” is from a 1785 letter from George Washington to the City of New York. Mayor James Duane sent Washington “an Address of the City, and the freedom thereof in a very handsome golden Box.”

Subsequently, this is the letter that Washington wrote “To The Honble the Mayor, Recorder, Alderman & Commonalty of the City of New York:”

Gentlemen, I receive your Address, and the freedom of the City with which you have been pleased to present me in a golden Box, with the sensibility and gratitude which such distinguished honors have a claim to. The flattering expression of both, stamps value on the Acts; & call for stronger language than I am master of, to convey my sense of the obligation in adequate terms.

To have had the good fortune amidst the viscissitudes of a long and arduous contest ‘never to have known a moment when I did not possess the confidence and esteem of my Country.’ And that my conduct should have met the approbation, and obtained the Affectionate regard of the State of New York (where difficulties were numerous & complicated) may be ascribed more to the effect of divine wisdom, which had disposed the minds of the people, harrassed on all sides, to make allowances for the embarrassments of my situation, whilst with fortitude & patience they sustained the loss of their Capitol, and a valuable part of their territory—and to the liberal sentiments, and great exertion of her virtuous Citizens, than to any merit of mine.

The reflection of these things now, after the many hours of anxious sollicitude which all of us have had, is as pleasing, as our embarrassments at the moments we encountered them, were distressing—and must console us for past sufferings & perplexities. “I pray that Heaven may bestow its choicest blessings on your City—That the devastations of War, in which you found it, may soon be without a trace—That a well regulated & benificial Commerce may enrichen your Citizens. And that, your State (at present the Seat of the Empire) may set such examples of Wisdom & liberality, as shall have a tendency to strengthen & give permanency to the Union at home—and credit & respectability to it abroad. The accomplishment whereof is a remaining wish, & the primary object of all my desires (1)

George Washington, “From George Washington to James Duane, 10 April 1785,” Note 1, National Archives Founders Online, last accessed January 6, 2022, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-02-02-0347.

Brooklyn’s Plymouth Church, Henry Ward Beecher, and Abraham Lincoln

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One of the stops on the Best of Brooklyn/Brooklyn Revolution Walking Tour is Plymouth Church. The National Historic Landmark church, along with its founding minister, the charismatic Henry Ward Beecher, had a long history of abolitionist activism from its inception in 1847 through the Civil War.  The Reverend Beecher’s arresting sermons were attended by the likes of Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth.  Douglass was engrossed as the impassioned Beecher “poured forth one continuous strain of eloquence for more than an hour,” even subduing “the miserable attempts at interruption” from opponents of his anti-slavery speech.[1]  Eventually aligning with the Republican party, Plymouth countered the prevailing Democratic political and social attitudes in Brooklyn and neighboring New York City.  They used the church basement as a stop on the Underground Railroad to shelter escaped slaves along their journey and advocated for manumission through sermons and journal articles.  Moreover, Plymouth and Beecher were influential in Lincoln’s breakthrough “Right Makes Might” speech at the Cooper Institute in New York City in February 1860, facilitating his subsequent rise to the presidency.[2]

Beecher’s most remarkable achievement during the Civil War was his advocacy for the Union cause in the United Kingdom.  In October 1863, through a series of five speeches given throughout Great Britain—and of his own accord—Beecher helped thwart the potentially devastating effects of Britain’s economic and military support of the Confederacy.  His provocative speeches to the laboring classes were both a rebuke of the British in their attempts to secure Southern cotton and a humanitarian plea to the British people to support the Union cause and American freedom.  Both the British and American press praised him for contributing to the Union victory.  Furthermore, near the end of the war, President Abraham Lincoln acknowledged the contribution of Beecher’s adroit and unofficial diplomacy.  When planning the rededication of Fort Sumter in South Carolina on April 14, 1865, a grateful Lincoln personally demanded that Beecher give the speech for the raising of the American flag, “because if it had not been for Beecher, there would have been no flag to raise.”[3] 


[1] Frederick Douglass, “Anniversary of the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society,” The North Star (Rochester, N.Y.), May 16, 1850, 2, Library of Congress, last accessed October 16, 2021, https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn84026365/1850-05-16/ed-1/?sp=2&r=0.39,0.026,0.447,0.186,0.

[2] Frank Decker, Brooklyn’s Plymouth Church in the Civil War: A Ministry of Freedom (Charleston: The History Press, 2013), 95-97.

[3] Emanuel Hertz, “Emanuel Hertz to William C. Beecher, December 10, 1926, Beecher Family Papers, Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University, New Haven.

Alexander Hamilton’s 1772 Hurricane Letter

Alexander Hamilton

This is a very impressive and precocious letter written by Alexander Hamilton in St. Croix on September 6, 1772, to his father who at the time was in St. Kitts. It is about a devastating hurricane that took place on August 31, 1772. The letter was subsequently published in the Royal Danish American Gazette on October 3, 1772, If Hamilton was born, as he claimed, in 1772, he would have been fifteen when he composed the letter.

On publication this text prefaced the letter:

“The following letter was written the week after the late Hurricane, by a Youth of this Island, to his Father; the copy of it fell by accident into the hands of a gentleman, who, being pleased with it himself, shewed it to others to whom it gave equal satisfaction, and who all agreed that it might not prove unentertaining to the Publick. The Author’s modesty in long refusing to submit it to Publick view, is the reason of its making its appearance so late as it now does.” (1)

This is the letter:

“To The Royal Danish American Gazette

Honoured Sir,

I take up my pen just to give you an imperfect account of one of the most dreadful Hurricanes that memory or any records whatever can trace, which happened here on the 31st ultimo at night.

It began about dusk, at North, and raged very violently till ten o’clock. Then ensued a sudden and unexpected interval, which lasted about an hour. Meanwhile the wind was shifting round to the South West point, from whence it returned with redoubled fury and continued so ’till near three o’clock in the morning. Good God! what horror and destruction. Its impossible for me to describe or you to form any idea of it. It seemed as if a total dissolution of nature was taking place. The roaring of the sea and wind, fiery meteors flying about it in the air, the prodigious glare of almost perpetual lightning, the crash of the falling houses, and the ear-piercing shrieks of the distressed, were sufficient to strike astonishment into Angels. A great part of the buildings throughout the Island are levelled to the ground, almost all the rest very much shattered; several persons killed and numbers utterly ruined; whole families running about the streets, unknowing where to find a place of shelter; the sick exposed to the keeness of water and air without a bed to lie upon, or a dry covering to their bodies; and our harbours entirely bare. In a word, misery, in all its most hideous shapes, spread over the whole face of the country. A strong smell of gunpowder added somewhat to the terrors of the night; and it was observed that the rain was surprizingly salt. Indeed the water is so brackish and full of sulphur that there is hardly any drinking it.

My reflections and feelings on this frightful and melancholy occasion, are set forth in the following self-discourse.

Where now, oh! vile worm, is all thy boasted fortitude and resolution? What is become of thine arrogance and self sufficiency? Why dost thou tremble and stand aghast? How humble, how helpless, how contemptible you now appear. And for why? The jarring of elements—the discord of clouds? Oh! impotent presumptuous fool! how durst thou offend that Omnipotence, whose nod alone were sufficient to quell the destruction that hovers over thee, or crush thee into atoms? See thy wretched helpless state, and learn to know thyself. Learn to know thy best support. Despise3 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 have I always loved and served. His precepts have I observed. His commandments have I 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.

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 of eternal misery open. There mayest thou shortly plunge—the just reward of thy vileness. Alas! whither 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 the wind, did I conclude, ’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 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 to 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, and in that view, a consciousness of our guilt filled us with despair.

But see, the Lord relents. He hears our prayer. The Lightning 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.

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 incapable of the soft pangs of sympathetic sorrow? Look around thee and shudder at the view. See desolation and ruin where’er thou turnest thine eye! See thy fellow-creatures pale and lifeless; their bodies mangled, their souls snatched into eternity, unexpecting. Alas! perhaps unprepared! Hark the bitter groans of distress. See sickness and infirmities exposed to the inclemencies of wind and water! See tender infancy pinched with hunger and hanging on the mothers knee for food! See the unhappy mothers anxiety. Her poverty denies relief, her breast heaves with pangs of maternal pity, her heart is bursting, the tears gush down her cheeks. 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 withold your compassion. What are you[r] sufferings compared to those? Ye have still more than enough left. Act wisely. Succour the miserable and lay up a treasure in Heaven.

I am afraid, Sir, you will think this description more the effort of imagination than a true picture of realities. But I can affirm with the greatest truth, that there is not a single circumstance touched upon, which I have not absolutely been an eye witness to.

Our General [Ulrich Wilhelm Roepstorff] has issued several very salutary and humane regulations, and both in his publick and private measures, has shewn himself the Man.” (2)

  1. Alexander Hamilton, “From Alexander Hamilton to The Royal Danish American Gazette, 6 September 1772,” National Archives Founders Online, last accessed December 30, 2021, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Hamilton/01-01-02-0042.
  2. Ibid.

Boston King’s Freedom in New York City

Boston King was an enslaved African American born in 1760 in South Carolina. With a British proclamation offering freedom to the enslaved (belonging to Patriots) for fighting with the British Army, King risked his life to escaped. After his self-liberation, he was captured by the Americans. He escaped again and eventually secured his freedom for his British service. In 1783, he left New York City for Canada on a British ship at the end of the war. He eventually helped to found Freetown in Sierra Leone. This is an edited excerpt from his memoirs published in 1798 in The Methodist Magazine.

When I arrived at New-York, my friends rejoiced to see me once more restored to liberty… in 1783, the horrors and devastation of war happily terminated, and peace was restored between America and Great Britain, which diffused universal joy among all parties, except us, who had escaped from slavery and taken refuge in the English army; for a report prevailed at New-York, that all the slaves, in number 2000, were to be delivered up to their masters, altho’ some of them had been three or four years among the English. This dreadful rumour filled us all with inexpressible anguish and terror, especially when we saw our old masters coming from Virginia, North-Carolina, and other parts, and seizing upon their slaves in the streets of New-York, or even dragging them out of their beds. Many of the slaves had very cruel masters, so that the thoughts of returning home with them embittered life to us. For some days we lost our appetite for food, and sleep departed from our eyes.

The English had compassion upon us in the day of distress, and issued out a Proclamation, importing, That all slaves should be free, who had taken refuge in the British lines, and claimed the sanction and privileges of the Proclamations respecting the security and protection of Negroes. In consequence of this, each of us received a certificate from the commanding officer at New-York, which dispelled all our fears, and filled us with joy and gratitude. Soon after, ships were fitted out, and furnished with every necessary for conveying us to Nova Scotia. We arrived at Burch Town [Birchtown] in the month of August, where we all safely landed. Every family had a lot of land, and we exerted all our strength in order to build comfortable huts before the cold weather set in.

Boston King, “Memoirs of the Life of Boston King, a Black Preacher,” The Methodist Magazine March 1798, April 1798.

The Stamp Act in New York, 1765, Part III

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 In solidarity with the radical Sons of Liberty, women in New York and other colonies organized as the Daughters of Liberty, using the power of the purse to reject English goods such as tea and cloth.  Wives, mothers and daughters created a sisterhood of solidarity: they advertised in newspapers and organized “spinning bees” to create homespun and teach the craft to the uninitiated.[i]  Together with “a fighting army of amazons…armed with spinning wheels” they hoped to found “a new Arcadia.”  This was the aspirational language used by Charity Clarke, a young lady in New York City to describe her vision to a cousin in London.[ii]  “Though this body is not clad with silken garments,” she wrote to him, “these limbs are armed with strength, the Soul is fortified by Virtue, and the Love of Liberty is cherished with this bosom.”[iii]  The idealism of women like Clarke expressed feminine empowerment in this new political arena.

In 1767, the New-York Gazette published the “Address to the Ladies” originally circulated in Boston.  In response to the recent Townsend Acts, it encouraged women to take action, to do their own “Manufact’ry,” make that the new fashion, and choose Labradore North American herbal tea over British East India tea.  Playing into gender roles of the era, the writer promises an amorous reward for compliance:

Throw aside your Bohea, and your green Hyson tea,

And all things with a new fashion duty;

Procure a good store of the choice Labradore,

For there’ll soon be enough here to suit ye; . . .

These do without fear and to all you’ll appear

Fair, charming, true, lovely and clever;

Tho’ the times remain darkish, young men may be sparkish

And love you much stronger than ever. [iv]

Though humorous, these creative submissions encouraged women to change their habits in service to the cause of liberty.

            Once the war began in 1775, women became even more vital to the Patriot cause by producing saltpeter for gunpowder, holding scrap drives, melting down metal from pewter plates, lead window weights, and a statue of King George III in New York’s Bowling Green into ammunition, fundraising for the army, and spinning soldiers’ uniforms on their wheels and looms.  In 1778 and 1779, compliance became law as New York passed emergency legislation called an “Act to Procure Shoes and Stockings for the New York Troops.”  Patriotism was now compulsory as fines were imposed on women who did not meet their quotas.[v] 

            Women in New York, like their New England counterparts, were leaders in supporting the war effort until the British occupation of the city at the end of 1776.  Their participation was acknowledged along the way.  For example, a 1769 accolade in a New York newspaper credits the efforts of women: “[their participation] kindled a spirit of generous Emulation” and they hoped that “the same Spirit will spread thro’ the Continent.. . .That the Ladies while they vie with each other in Skill and Industry…may vie with the men, in contributing to the Preservation and Prosperity of their Country, and equally share the Honour of it.”[vi]  Just a few years before, a public statement acknowledging and commending the participation of women in service to their country would have been almost unimaginable.  While these women participated as civilians, other women served the military—this being a homefront war—and the next stop will cover many of their contributions.


[i] Ibid, 18.

[ii] Charity Clarke, “Charity Clarke to Joseph Jekyll, June 16, 1768,” Letter, Course Packet, Women in the American Revolution, Pace University, Spring 2020, 44.

[iii] Burrows and Wallace, Gotham, 216.

[iv] De Pauw, Four Traditions, 15.

[v] Ibid, 16; Emergency Legislation Passed Prior to December, 1917, United States Department of Justice (Washington Government Printing Office, 1918), 2.

[vi] De Pauw, Four Traditions, 16.

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