35. Denunciation of Aaron Burr by Alexander Hamilton, Letter by Alexander Hamilton to James McHenry


My Dr. Sir,


I was at Albany when your letter got here. I have snatched the full hour from my avocation to sketch to you my thoughts in a rude shape.


Yrs. Affecty.




N York Jany 4. 1801


My dear Mack,


By yesterday’s post I received your letter of the 31 of December. I was just about to write to you on the principal subject of it.


Nothing has given me so much chagrin on the Intelligence that the Federalist party were thinking seriously of supporting Mr. Burr for President– I should consider the execution of the plan as devoting the country and signing them our death warrant. Mr. Burr will probably make stipulations but he will laugh in his sleeve while he makes them and he will break them the first moment it may serve his purpose. But will not his interest govern him? It doubtless will, as he understands it. But stable power and great wealth being his objects, and these being unattainable by means that the sober part of the Federalists will countenance, he will certainly deceive and disappoint them. A H – Lee etc., etc. may find their account in it but good men or the Country never will. At least such ought to be the calculation; from a profligate, a bankrupt, a man who laughing at democracy has played the whole game of Jacobinism nothing better ought to be expected. Nor should a mere chapter of accidents be hazarded; it ought to be enough for us to know that he is certainly one of the most unprincipled men in the U. States.


Very different ought to be our game. Under the uncertainty of the event we ought to seek to obtain these assurances from Mr. Jefferson as the motive of our cooperation in him – 1 The support of the present fiscal system. 2 An adherence to the present neutral plan – 3 The preservation and gradual increase of the Navy. 4 The keeping in office all our Federal Friends except in the Great Departments. These and in other matters he ought to be free.


Be assured, you cannot better serve your Country than by exerting your influence with your friends to detach them effectually from the idea of supporting Mr. Burr.


Adieu Yrs. truly


  1. Hamilton


Very Confidential

1- He is in every sense a profligate, a voluptuary in the extreme, with uncommon habits of expence; in his profession extortionate to a proverb; suspected on strong grounds of having corruptly served the views of the Holland Company, in the Capacity of a Member of our Legislature (He cooperated in obtaining a law to permit Aliens to hold and convey lands and he is supposed to have been largely remunerated) and he is understood to have been guilty of several breaches of probity in his pecuniary transactions. His very friends do not insist upon his integrity.


2- He is without doubt insolvent for a large deficit. All his visible property is deeply mortgaged, and he is known to owe other large debts for which there is no specific Security. Of the number of these is a judgement in favour of Mr. Angersteen for a sum which with interest amounts to about 80,000 Dollars­.


3- The fair emoluments of any station under our government will not equal his expenses in that station; still less will they suffice to extricate him from his embarrassments and he must therefore from the necessity of his situation have recourse to unworthy expedients. There may be a bargain and sale with some foreign power, or combinations with public agents in projects of gain by means of the public monies; perhaps and probably, to enlarge the sphere– a War.


4- He has no pretensions to the station from services. He acted in different capacities in the last war finally with the rank of Lt. Col in a Regiment, and gave indications of being a good officer; but without having had the opportunity of performing any distinguished action. At a critical period of the war, he resigned his commission, assigning for cause ill health, and went to reside at Paramus in the state of New Jersey. If his health was bad he might without difficulty have obtained furlough and was not obliged to resign. He was afterwards seen in his usual health. The circumstances excited much jealousy of his motives. In civil life he has never projected nor aided in producing a single measure of important public utility.


  1. He has constantly sided with the party hostile to federal measures before and since the present constitution of the United States. In opposing the adoption of this Constitution he was engaged covertly and insidiously; because, as he said at the time “it was too strong and too weak,” and he has been uniformly the opposer of the Federal Administration.
  2. No Mortal can tell what his political principles are. He has talked all around the compass. At times he has dealt in all the Jargon of Jacobinism; at other times he has proclaimed decidedly the total insufficiency of the Federal Government & the necessity of changes to one far more energetic. The truth seems to be that he has no plan but that of getting power by any means and keeping it by all means. It is probable that if he has any theory ‘tis that of simple despotism. He has intimated that he thinks the present French Constitution not a bad one.
  3. He is of a temper bold enough to think no enterprize too hazardous and sanguine enough to think none too difficult. He has censured the leaders of the federal party as wanting in vigour and enterprize, for not having established a strong Government when they were in possession of the power and influence.
  4. Descerning men of all parties agree in ascribing to him an irregular and inordinate ambition. Like Cataline, he is indefatigable in courting young men and profligates. He knows well the weak sides of human nature and takes care to play in with the passions of all with whom he has intercourse. By natural disposition, the haughtiest of men, he is at the same time the most creeping to answer his purposes. Cold and collected by nature or habit, he never loses sight of his object and scruples no means of accomplishing it. He is artful and intriguing to an inconceivable degree. In short all his conduct indicates that he has in view nothing less than the establishment of Supreme Power in his own person. Of this nothing can be a surer index than that having in fact high-toned notions of Government he has never the less constantly opposed the federal & courted the popular party. As he never can effect his wishes by the aid of good men, he will court and employ able and daring scoundrels of every party and by availing himself of their assistance and of all the bad passions of society, he will in all likelihood attempt an usurpation.
  5. Within the last three weeks at his own table, he drank these toasts successively 1. The French Republic. 2. The Commissioners on both sides who negotiated the Convention. 3. Buonaparte. 4. La Fayette and he countenanced and seconded the positions openly advanced by one of his guests that it was the interest of this country to leave it free to the Belligerent Powers to sell their prizes in our ports and to build and equip ships for their respective uses, a doctrine which evidently aims at turning all the naval resources of the United States into the channel of France; and by making these states the most pernicious enemy of G. Britain to oblige her to go to war with us.
  6. Through possessing infinite art, cunning and address, he is yet to give proof of great or solid abilities. At the bar he is more remarkable for dexterity than sound judgment or logic. From the character of his understanding and heart it is likely that any innovations, which he may effect will be such as to serve the turn of his own power rather, than such as will issue in establishments favourable to the permanent security and prosperity of the Nation founded upon the principles of a strong free and regular Government.