pernicious mistake and must be corrected. How-
ever important it is to give form and efficiency to
your interior constitutions and police, it is infinitely
more important to have a wise general council;
otherwise a failure of the measures of the Union will
overwhelm all your labors for the advancement of
your particular good, and ruin the common cause.
You should not beggar the councils of the United
States to enrich the administration of the several
members. Realize to yourself the consequence of
having a Congress despised at home and abroad. How
can the common force be exerted if the power of col-
lecting it be put in weak, foolish, and unsteady hands ?
How can we hope for success in our European nego-
tiations, if the nations of Europe have no confidence
in the wisdom and vigor of the great Continental
Government? This is the object on which their eyes
are fixed; hence it is, America will derive its im-
portance or insignificance in their estimation.
Arguments to you, sir, need not be multiplied to
126 Alexander Hamilton
enforce the necessity of having a good general coun-
cil ; neither do I think we shall very widely differ as to
the fact that the present is very far from being such.
The sentiments I have advanced are not fit for the
vulgar ear ; and circumstanced as I am now, I should
with caution utter them except to those in whom I
may place an entire confidence. But it is time that
men of weight and understanding should take the
alarm, and excite each other to a proper remedy.
For my part, my insignificance allows me to do no-
thing more than to hint my apprehensions to those
of that description who are pleased to favor me with
their confidence. In this view I write to you.
As far as I can judge, the remarks I have made do
not apply to your State nearly so much as to the
other twelve. You have a Duane, a Morris, and,
may I not add, a Duer? But why do you not send
your Jay, and your R. R. Livingston? I wish Gen-
eral Schuyler was either explicitly in the army or in
Congress. For yourself, sir, though I mean no com-
pliments, you must not be spared from where you
But the design of this letter is not so much that
you may use your influence in improving or enlarg-
ing your own representation, as in discreetly giving
the alarm to other States through the medium of
your confidential friends. Indeed, sir, it is necessary
there should be a change. America will shake to its
centre if there is not.
You and I had some conversation when I had the
pleasure of seeing you last, with respect to the exist-
ence of a certain faction. Since I saw you I have
Private Correspondence 127
discovered such convincing traits of the monster that
I cannot doubt its reahty in the most extensive
sense. I dare say you have heard enough to settle
the matter in your own mind. I beheve it unmasked
its batteries too soon, and begins to hide its head ;
but as I imagine it will only change the storm to a sap,
all the true and sensible friends to their country,
and of course to a certain great man, ought to be
upon the watch to counterplot the secret machina-
tions of his enemies. Have you heard any thing of
Conway's ' history? He is one of the vermin bred in
the entrails of his chimera dire, and there does not
exist a more villainous calumniator and incendiary.
He is gone to Albany on a certain expedition.''
TO GOVERNOR GEORGE CLINTON ^
Headquarters, March 12, 1778.
Captain Coleman delivered me your two letters of
the 5th and 6th instant.
The pleasure I have in corresponding with you will
dispose me, whenever I have any thing to communi-
cate that may be worth your attention, or that ap-
pears to me so, to trouble you with my sentiments.
But I shall not expect you to make an equal return
either in quantity or frequency. You will in this
entirely consult your own convenience.
I had previously flattered myself that your ideas
* The leader of the intrigue against Washington which has become
famous as the "Conway Cabal."
* Endorsed "private" by Governor Clinton, and answered by him
3 From the Clinton papers.
128 Alexander Hamilton
and mine would correspond on certain matters, and
I am glad to find I was not mistaken. I doubt not
the defects of a certain synod will appear to you not
the subject of speculation only, but as disorders
in the State that require a remedy, and will, as far
as your influence reaches, contribute to it. Shall I
speak what seems to me a most melancholy truth ?
It is this : that with the most adequate means to in-
sure success in our contest, the weakness of our coun-
cils will, in all probability, ruin us. Arrangements on
which the existence of the army depends, and almost
the possibility of another campaign, are delayed in
a most astonishing manner, and I doubt whether
they will be adopted at all.
A late resolve directs G. W.' to fix the number of
men under which G. H.^ shall not send any parties
out of his lines on pain of being treated as marauders.
The folly of this is truly ridiculous; but as there is
perhaps nothing but folly in it, it may be excused
in them. Another resolve made for punishing kid-
nappers or persons who aid the enemy in carrying
off the peaceable inhabitants, has a retrospective
view to those who; have assisted, as well as a pro-
spective one to those who shall assist, in such prac-
tices. Thus we have gotten into the spirit of making
ex post facto laws, or rather, violating all law. An-
other resolve by plain implication acknowledges a
thing not founded on fact, which is very injurious to
us â€” to wit, that we have enlisted prisoners of war.
This silences all our complaints against the enemy for
a similar practice and furnishes them with a damn-
* General Washington. * General Howe.
Private Correspondence 129
ing answer to any thing we can say on the subject.
This is at least an instance of folly and inconsidera-
tion, and serves to prove the general charge.
These men seem also to have embraced a system
of infidelity. They have violated the convention of
Saratoga, and I have reason to believe the ostensible
motives for it were little better than pretences, that
had no foundation. I have lately seen some letters
from Burgoyne on the subject. There was, however,
a strong temptation for this, and it may be excused,
though I cannot say the measure is to my taste.
Lately a flag with provisions and clothing for the
British prisoners with G. W.'s passport was seized
at Lancaster. The affair was attended with circum-
stances of violence and meanness that would disgrace
Hottentots. Still more lately, G. W. 's engagements
with G. H. for an exchange of prisoners have been
most shamefully violated, Congress have resolved
that no exchange shall take place till all accounts are
settled and the balance due the U. S. paid. The
beauty of it is, on a fair settlement, we shall without
doubt be in Mr. Howe's debt; and, in the meantime,
we detain his officers and soldiers as a security for the
payment â€” perhaps forever. At any rate, it cannot
take place all next summer.
It is thought to be bad policy to go into an ex-
change; but, admitting this to be true, it is much
worse policy to commit such frequent breaches of
faith and ruin our national character. Whatever re-
fined politicians may think, it is of great consequence
to preserve a national character; and, if it should
once seem to be a system in any State to violate
I30 Alexander Hamilton
its faith whenever it is the least inconvenient to
keep it, it will unquestionably have an ill effect upon
foreign negotiations, and tend to bring Government
at home in contempt, and, of course, to destroy its
influence. The general notions of justice and human-
ity are implanted in almost every human breast
and ought not to be too freely shocked. In the
present case the passions of the country and army
are on the side of an exchange, and a studied attempt
to avoid it will disgust both and serve to make the
source odious. It will injure drafting and recruiting,
discourage the militia, and increase the discontents
of the army. The prospects of hopeless captivity
cannot but be very disagreeable to men constantly
exposed to the chance of it. Those whose lot it is to
fall into it, will have little scruple to get out of it by
joining the enemy.
It is said not to be our present interest to exchange,
because we shall endeavor, by and by, to take ad-
vantage of the enemy's weakness to strike some de-
cisive blow. If we should fail in this, which I believe
we shall, when they get reinforced, we shall not think
it our interest to add to the strength of an enemy,
already strong enough, and so on ad infinitum. The
truth is, considered in the mere view of barter, it can
never be our interest to exchange ; the constitution
of our army, from the short term of enlistments and
the dependence we are obliged to place in the militia,
are strongly opposed to it; and if the argument of
present interest be adhered to, we never can ex-
change. I may venture to assert there never can be
a time more proper than the present, or, rather, a
Private Correspondence 131
month or two hence; and go about it as soon as we
please, the previous negotiations necessary and other
circumstances will, of course, procrastinate it for
some time. And I would ask whether, in a republican
State and a republican army, such a cruel policy
as that of exposing those men who are foremost in
defense of their country, to the miseries of hopeless
captivity, can succeed?
For my own part, I have so much of the milk of
humanity in me, that I abhor such Neronian maxims ;
and I look upon the old proverb that honesty is the
best policy to be so generally true, that I can never
expect any good from a system at real deviation from
it; and I never can adopt the reasonings of some
American politicians, deducible from their practice,
that no regard is to be paid to national character
or the rules of good faith.
I dwell upon the faults of Congress, because I think
they strike at the vitals of our opposition and of our
future prosperity; and with this idea, I cannot but
wish that every gentleman of influence in the country
should think with me.
We have nothing new in camp, save that Capt.
Barry, late of a continental frigate, has destroyed,
with a few gun-boats, two large ships belonging to
the enemy, laden with forage from Rhode Island.
He also took an armed schooner, which he has since
been obliged to run on shore, after a gallant defence.
'T is said he has saved her cannon and stores ; among
the ordnance, four brass howitzers. Some accounts
say the enemy are preparing to evacuate Philadel-
phia. Sed credat Judceus Apelles, non ego.
132 Alexander Hamilton
TO WILLIAM DUER, M.C."
Headquarters, June 18, 1778.
I take the liberty to trouble you with a few hints
on a matter of some importance. Baron Steuben,
who will be the bearer of this, waits on Congress to
have his office arranged upon some decisive and per-
manent footing. It will not be amiss to be on your
guard. The Baron is a gentleman for whom I have
a particular esteem, and whose zeal, intelligence, and
success, the consequence of both, entitle him to the
greatest credit. But I am apprehensive, with all his
good qualities, that a fondness for power and im-
portance, natural to every man, may lead him to
wish for more extensive prerogatives in his depart-
ment than it will be for the good of the service to
grant. I should be sorry to excite any prejudice
against him on this account ; perhaps I may be
mistaken in my conjecture. The caution I give will
do no harm if I am; if I am not, it may be useful.
In either case, the Baron deserves to be considered as
a valuable man and treated with all the deference
which good policy will warrant.
On the first institution of this office, the General
allowed him to exercise more ample powers than
would be proper for a continuance. They were
necessary in the commencement, to put things in a
train with a degree of dispatch which the exigency
of our affairs required; but it has been necessary to
^ Baron Steuben was appointed Inspector-general of the Army May
5, 1778, and this letter, which is vindated in the edition of 1850, refers
to that office.
Private Correspondence 133
restrain them, even earlier than was intended. The
novelty of the ofifice excited questions about its
boundaries; the extent of its operations alarmed the
officers of every rank for their own rights. Their
jealousies and discontents were rising fast to a height
that threatened to overturn the whole plan. It be-
came necessary to apply a remedy. The General has
delineated the functions of the Inspectorship in gen-
eral orders, a copy of which will be sent to Congress.
The plan is good and satisfactory to the army in
It may be improved, but it will be unsafe to deviate
essentially from it. It is of coiu-se the General's
intention, that whatever regulations are adopted
by him, should undergo the revision and receive
the sanction of Congress ; but it is indispensable, in
the present state of our army, that he should have the
power, from time to time, to introduce and authorize
the reformations necessary in our system. It is a
work which must be done by occasional and gradual
steps, and ought to be intrusted to a person on the
spot who is thoroughly acquainted with all our de-
fects and has judgment sufficient to adopt the pro-
gressive remedies they require. The plan established
by Congress, on a report of the Board of War, when
Conway was appointed, appears to me exception-
able in many respects. It makes the Inspector
independent of the Commander-in-chief ; confers
powers which would produce universal opposition in
the army; and, by making the previous concurrence
of the Board of War requisite to the introduction of
every regulation which should be found necessary,
134 Alexander Hamilton
opens such a continual source of delay as would
defeat the usefulness of the institution. Let the
Commander-in-chief introduce, and the Legislature
afterwards ratify or reject, as they think proper.
Perhaps you will not differ much from me when I
suppose, that, so far as relates to the Board of War,
the former scheme was a brat of faction, and therefore
ought to be renounced.
There is one thing which the Baron has much at
heart, which, in good policy, he can by no means be
indulged in ; it is the power of enforcing that part of
discipline which we understand by subordination or
an obedience to orders. This power can only be
properly lodged with the Commander-in-chief, and
would inflame the whole army if put into other hands.
Each captain is vested with it in his company, each
colonel in his regiment, each general in his particular
command, and the Commander-in-chief in the whole.
When I began this letter I did not intend to meddle
with any other subject than the inspectorship, but
one just comes into my head which appears to me of
no small importance. The goodness or force of an
army depends as much, perhaps more, on the compo-
sition of the corps which form it, as on its collective
number. The composition is good or bad â€” not only
to the quality of the men, but in proportion to the
completeness or incompleteness of a corps in respect
to numbers. A regiment, for instance, with a full
complement of officers and fifty or sixty men, is not
half so good as a company with the same number of
men. A colonel will look upon such a command as
unworthy his ambition, and will neglect and despise
Private Correspondence 135
it: a captain would pride himself in it, and take all
the pains in his power to bring it to perfection. In
one case we shall see a total relaxation of discipline
and negligence of every thing that constitutes mili-
tary excellence; in the other there will be attention,
energy, and every thing that can be wished. Opinion,
whether well- or ill-founded, is the governing princi-
ple of human affairs. A corps much below its estab-
lishment, comparing what it is with what it ought to
be, loses all confidence in itself, and the whole army
loses that confidence and emulation which are essen-
tial to success. These, and a thousand other things
that will occur to you, make it evident that the most
important advantages attend the having complete
corps, and proportional disadvantages the reverse.
Ten thousand men, distributed into twenty imperfect
regiments, will not have the efficiency of the same
number in half the number of regiments. The fact
is, with respect to the American army, that the want
of discipline and other defects we labor under, are as
much owing to the skeleton state of our regiments as
to an}'^ other cause. What then ?
Have we any prospects of filling our regiments?
My opinion is, that we have nearly arrived at our ne
plus ultra. If so, we ought to reduce the number of
corps, and give them that substance and consistency
which they want, by incorporating them together, so
as to bring them near their establishment. By this
measure the army would be infinitely improved ; and
the State would be saved the expense of maintaining
a number of superfluous officers.
In the present condition of our regiments, they are
136 Alexander Hamilton
incapable even of performing their common exercises
without joining two or more together: an expedient
reluctantly submitted to by those officers who see
themselves made second in command of a battalion,
instead of first, as their commission imports; which
happens to every younger colonel whose regiment is
united with that of an elder.
What would be the inconveniencies, while the
officers who remain in command, and who might be
selected from the others on account of superior merit,
would applaud themselves in the preference given
them, and rejoice at a change which confers such
additional consequence on themselves?
Those who should be excluded by the measure
would return home discontented, and make a noise,
which would soon subside and be forgotten among
matters of greater moment. To quiet them still
more effectually, if it should be thought necessary,
they might be put upon half -pay for a certain time.
If, on considering this matter, you should agree
with me in sentiment, it were to be wished the scheme
could be immediately adopted, while the arrange-
ment now in hand is still unexecuted. If it is made,
it will be rather inconvenient, immediately after, to
unhinge and throw the whole system again afloat.
When you determined upon your last arrangement,
you did not know what success the different States
might have had in draughting and recruiting. It
would then have been improper to reduce the number
of corps, as proposed. We have now seen their suc-
cess: we have no prospect of seeing the regiments
filled; we should reduce them.
Private Correspondence 137
2Sth June, 1778.
We find, on our arrival here, that the inteUigence
received on the road is true. The enemy have all
filed off from Allen Town, on the Monmouth road.
Their rear is said to be a mile westward of Lawrence
Taylor's tavern, six miles from Allen Town. General
Maxwell is at Hyde's Town, about three miles from
this place. General Dickinson is said to be on the
enemy's right flank ; but where, cannot be told. We
can hear nothing certain of General Scott; but, from
circumstances, he is probably at Allen Town. We
shall, agreeably to your request, consider and appoint
some proper place of rendezvous for the union of our
force, which we shall communicate to Generals Max-
well and Scott, and to yourself. In the meantime, I
would recommend to you to move toward this place
as soon as the convenience of your men will permit.
I am told that Colonel Morgan is on the enemy's right
flank. We had a slight skirmish with their rear this
forenoon, at Robert Montgomery's, on the Monmouth
road, leading from Allen Town. We shall see Gen-
eral Maxwell immediately, and you will hear from us
again. Send this to the General after reading it.
Doctor Stile's House, Cranbury Town, 9 o'clock.
We are just informed that General Scott passed by
Hooper's tavern, five miles from Allen Town, this
afternoon, at five o'clock.
138 Alexander Hamilton
Robin's Tavern, 8 miles from Allen Town,
12 o'clock, June 26, 1778.
We have halted the troops at this place. The
enemy, by our last reports, were four miles from this
(that is, their rear), and had passed the road which
turns off toward South Amboy, which determines
their route toward Shrewsbury. Our reason for
halting, is the extreme distress of the troops for want
of provisions. General Wayne's detachment is al-
most starving, and seems both unwilling and unable
to march further till they are supplied. If we do not
receive an immediate supply, the whole purpose of
our detachment must be frustrated.
This morning we missed doing any thing, from a
deficiency of intelligence. On my arrival at Cran-
bury yester-evening, I proceeded, by desire of the
Marquis, immediately to Hyde's Town and Allen
Town, to take measures for co-operating with the
different parts of the detachment, and to find what
was doing to procure intelligence. I found every pre-
caution was neglected ; no horse was near the enemy,
nor could be heard of till late in the morning, so that
before we could send out parties and get the necessary
information, they were in full march: and as they
have marched pretty expeditiously, we should not be
able to come up with them during the march of the
day, if we did not suffer the impediment we do, on the
score of provisions. We are entirely at a loss where
the army is, which is no inconsiderable check to our
enterprise. If the army is wholly out of supporting
Private Correspondence 139
distance, we risk the total loss of the detachment in
making an attack.
If the army will countenance us, we may do some-
thing clever. We feel our personal honor, as well as
the honor of the army, and the good of the service,
interested; and are heartily desirous to attempt
whatever the disposition of our men will second, and
prudence authorize. It is evident the enemy wish
to avoid, not to engage us.
Desertions, I imagine, have been pretty consider-
able to-day. I have seen eight or ten deserters and
have heard of many more. We have had some little
skirmishing by detached parties : one attacked their
rear-guard with a degree of success, killed a few, and
took seven prisoners.
An officer has just come in, w^o informs that he
left the enemy's rear five miles off, still in march,
about half an hour ago. To ascertain still more
fully their route, I have ordered a fresh party on
their left, toward the head of their column. They
have three brigades in rear of their baggage.
June 28, 1778.
The result of what I have seen and heard, concern-
ing the enemy, is, that they have encamped with
their van a little beyond Monmouth Court House,
and their rear at Manalapan's river, about seven
miles from this place. Their march to-day has been
very judiciously conducted ; â€” their baggage in front,
140 Alexander Hamilton
and their flying army in the rear, with a rear-guard
of one thousand men about four hundred paces
from the main body. To attack them in this situa-
tion, without being supported by the whole army,
would be folly in the extreme. If it should be
thought advisable to give the necessary support, the
whole army can move to some position near the
enemy's left flank, which would put them in a very
awkward situation, with so respectable a body in
their rear ; and it would put it out of their power to
turn either flank, should they be so disposed. Their
left is strongly posted, and I am told their right also.
By some accounts one part of their army lies on the
road leading from the Monmouth road to South Am-
boy. It is not improbable that South Amboy may
be the object.
I had written thus far when your letter to the
Marquis arrived. This puts the matter on a totally
different footing. The detachment will march to-
morrow morning at three o'clock to English Town.
TO ELIAS BOUDINOT '
July 5, 1778.
We have made another detachment of a thousand
men under General Wayne, and formed all the de-
tached troops into an advanced corps, under the
^ The distinguished New Jersey patriot and statesman; at this time
member of Congress and Commissary General of Prisoners; afterwards
President of Congress, and from 1789-1795 member of the National
House of Representatives,
Private Correspondence 141
command of the Marquis de Lafayette. The project