Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vol. IV: Literature of the Republic, Part I., Constitutional period, 17881820
Financial Condition and Prospects of the United States
By Alexander Hamilton (17571804)
[Born in the Island of Nevis, West Indies, 1757. Died in New York, N. Y., 1804. Letter to Robert Morris.The Works of Alexander Hamilton. Edited by John C. Hamilton. 1850.]
SIR: I was among the first who were convinced that an administration, by single men, was essential to the proper management of the affairs of this country. I am persuaded, now, it is the only resource we have, to extricate ourselves from the distresses which threaten the subversion of our cause. It is palpable that the people have lost all confidence in our public councils; and it is a fact, of which I dare say you are as well apprised as myself, that our friends in Europe are in the same disposition. I have been in a situation that has enabled me to obtain a better idea of this than most others; and I venture to assert that the Court of France will never give half the succors to this country, while Congress hold the reins of administration in their own hands, which they would grant, if these were intrusted to individuals of established reputation, and conspicuous for probity, abilities, and fortune .
Our allies have five thousand men at Rhode Island, which, in the worst event that can happen, will be recruited to eight, to co-operate with us on a defensive plan. Should our army amount to no more than fifteen thousand men, the combined forces, though not equal to the expulsion of the enemy, will be equal to the purpose of compelling them to renounce their offensive, and content themselves with maintaining one or two capital points. This is on the supposition that the public have the means of putting their troops in activity. By stopping the progress of their conquests, and reducing them to an unmeaning and disgraceful defensive, we destroy the national expectation of success, from which the ministry draw their resources. It is not a vague conjecture, but a fact founded on the best information, that, had it not been for the capture of Charleston and the victory of Camden, the ministry would have been in the utmost embarrassment for the supplies of this year. On the credit of those events they procured a loan of five-and-twenty millions. They are in a situation where a want of splendid successes is ruin. They have carried taxation nearly to its extreme boundary; they have mortgaged all their funds; they have a large unfunded debt, besides the enormous mass which is funded. This must necessarily create apprehensions in their most sanguine partisans: and if these are not counteracted by flattering events, from time to time, they cannot much longer continue the delusion. Indeed, in this case, I suppose they must themselves despair.
The game we play is a sure game, if we play it with skill. I have calculated in the preceding observations on the most disadvantageous side. Many events may turn up in the course of the summer to make even the present campaign decisive.
If we compare the real ability of France, for revenue, with that of Great Britain; the economy and sagacity in the conduct of the finances of the former; the extravagance and dissipation which are overwhelming those of the latter; there will be found every reason to believe that the resources of France will outlast those of her adversary. Her fleet is not much inferior, independent of that of Spain and Holland. Combined with that of Spain, it is greatly superior. If the Dutch enter into the war in earnest, and add their fleet, the superiority will be irresistible. Notwithstanding the injury they may sustain in the first instance, the Dutch will be still formidable: they are rich in credit, and have extensive means for maritime power.
There are two classes of men among us, equally mistaken: one who, in spite of daily experience, of accumulated distress, persist in a narrow line of policy, and, amidst the most threatening dangers, fancy everything in perfect security. Another, who, judging too much from the outside, alarmed by partial misfortunes and the disordered state of our finances, without estimating the real faculties of the parties, give themselves up to an ignorant and ill-founded despondency. We want to learn to appreciate our true situation and that of the enemy. This would preserve us from a stupid insensibility to danger on the one hand, and inspire us with a reasonable and enlightened confidence on the other.
But let us suppose the worst, that we shall, after all, fail in our independence; our return to Great Britain, whenever it should happen, would be by compact. The war would terminate by a mediation. It cannot be supposed that the mediator would be so devoted to Great Britain, or would have so little consideration for France, as to oblige us to revert to our former subjection by an unconditional surrender. While they might confirm his dominion over us, they would endeavor to save appearances for the honor of France, and stipulate terms as favorable to us as would be compatible with a state of dependence. A general amnesty, and the security of private property (of course the payment of public debts), would be among the most simple and most indispensable. This would comprehend the concerns of the Bank; and if, unfortunately for our virtue, such a circumstance could operate as an inducement, it might be added that our enemies would be glad to find, and to encourage, such an institution among us for their own benefit.
A question may arise concerning the abilities of these States to pay their debts after the establishment of their independence; and though any doubt on this head must originate in gross ignorance, it may be necessary to oppose it with more than general argument, as has been done heretofore. A very summary and obvious calculation will show that there is nothing to be dreaded on this head .
This calculation supposes the ability of these States for revenue to continue the same as they now are, which is a supposition both false and unfavorable. Speaking within moderate bounds, our population will be doubled in thirty years; there will be a confluence of emigrants from all parts of the world; our commerce will have a proportionable progress; and of course our wealth and capacity for revenue. It will be a matter of choice if we are not out of debt in twenty years, without at all encumbering the people.
A national debt, if it is not excessive, will be to us a national blessing. It will be a powerful cement of our Union. It will also create a necessity for keeping up taxation to a degree which, without being oppressive, will be a spur to industry, remote as we are from Europe, and shall be from danger. It were otherwise to be feared our popular maxims would incline us to too great parsimony and indulgence. We labor less now than any civilized nation of Europe; and a habit of labor in the people is as essential to the health and vigor of their minds and bodies as it is conducive to the welfare of the State. We ought not to suffer our self-love to deceive us in a comparison upon these points.
I have spun out this letter to a much greater length than I intended. To develop the whole connection of my ideas on the subject, and place my plan in the clearest light, I have indulged myself in many observations which might have been omitted. I shall not longer intrude upon your patience than to assure you of the sincere sentiments of esteem with which I have the honor to be,
Sir, your most obedient and humble servant, A. HAMILTON.