How Hamilton And Jefferson Agreed on The Jefferson Allegiance
Here is an excerpt from the book, The Jefferson Allegiance, where Hamilton and Jefferson agree to write it.
This book was a #2 national bestseller at Barnes and Noble when it came out!
27 July 1803
President Thomas Jefferson waited, no doubt in his mind that Alexander Hamilton was late to prove a point. Hamilton always had to prove a point, even if there was none.
Jefferson was alone in an office in Philosophical Hall on Independence Square in the heart of the nation’s largest city: Philadelphia. Jefferson tipped his chair back, placed his feet on the desk and stretched out his long legs. The ride from Washington had been made in darkness and thus in difficulty, the carriage driver unable to see all the ruts and holes in the road from the United States new capitol to the original capitol.
Thinking of the city he’d come from, Jefferson looked up at the painting of its namesake on the wall. Good old George. Gone less than four years now, one would think the man a saint the way the papers and people still went on about him. Jefferson gave a fond smile, remembering how Washington, in the early days of the Continental Congress, had protested loudly that he did not wish to be Commander of the fledgling Colonial forces, yet somehow had managed to put on his old French & Indian War uniform every day when he came to protest not becoming that which his clothing clearly demonstrated he dearly desired.
Watch what a man does, rather than what he says, Jefferson thought. And Hamilton being late said much.
The door to the room swung open and then slammed shut. Hamilton strode across the room as if he owned it. The way he walked into every room.
Jefferson got to his feet. “Mister Hamilton.” He extended his hand.
Hamilton barely shook the hand, then, without a word, went to the other side of the table and sat down. A breach of etiquette in the presence of the country’s President, but Jefferson knew Hamilton felt brazen, having been the instrument three years ago to swing Congress to vote Jefferson into office over Burr, when the two had been tied in the Electoral College. It had not been a sign of support for himself, Jefferson knew, but Hamilton’s intense distaste of Burr that had been the deciding factor.
“Shall we get to business?” Hamilton said.
Jefferson sat down. He’d considered how to approach this on the ride from Washington. “As you know, I was not present during the drafting of the Constitution.”
Hamilton tapped the top of the desk irritably. “And? Is that your excuse for your recent unconstitutional action regarding the Louisiana Purchase?”
“No,” Jefferson said. “I make no excuse. You are quite correct. It was unconstitutional.”
Hamilton sat up straighter, his eyes narrowing, suspecting a trap. “You admit as much?”
“I just did.” Jefferson held up a hand to forestall his long-time opponent. “I’ll give you my arguments so you can ignore all the tripe in the papers. And then I’ll tell you what I have learned from my own actions, and what I propose, and why I ask for your assistance.”
The line between Hamilton’s eyes got even deeper, but he nodded.
“Briefly then,” Jefferson began. “New Orleans controls the Mississippi. He who controls the Mississippi, controls all our country’s river traffic west of the Appalachians. When I took office, we thought New Orleans was under Spanish Control. What I quickly discovered was that Napoleon, in secret, had gained control of New Orleans from Spain in eighteen hundred. Learning of this, and fearing loss of access to the port, I secretly sent emissaries to Paris to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans.”
Hamilton started to speak once more.
“Please,” Jefferson said. “Hear me out, good sir. I know I did not have the Constitutional right to be doing such negotiations in secret. However, I felt the importance of New Orleans and the danger of an Imperial French presence on our country’s borders superseded my executive limitations, and time was of the essence. I was acting for the greater good.”
Jefferson quickly went on. “I also knew, through my own sources, that Napoleon was in trouble. He was building a fleet of barges to invade England. That was his focus. However, the slave revolt in Haiti was draining his resources, troops and money. The slaves, hard as it might be to believe, were defeating his forces. As they continue to do to this day. I fear the end is close in Haiti, and it will be the slaves who prevail.
“Please believe me when I say my ambassadors only went to Paris to purchase New Orleans. We offered Napoleon ten million for the city and river rights. When Napoleon’s man countered with an offer of the entire Louisiana territory for fifteen million, my ambassadors were astounded, to say the least.”
Hamilton finally got some words in. “I had not heard this about New Orleans. The report was your people went looking for it all.”
“No, sir,” Jefferson said. “But even you will admit it was too great an offer to refuse. It was an offer that ended the French presence on our boundary and doubled the size of our country at less than three cents per acre.”
Hamilton snorted. “But you don’t have the money. Is that why I am here? You finally agree with me on the national bank?”
Jefferson nodded. “Yes. We must have one to finance the purchase.”
Hamilton could not hold back his triumphant smile.
Jefferson continued. “I’ve already directed Treasury Secretary Gallatin to contact you and ask for your help.”
Hamilton shook his head. “Gallatin will want to issue stock for it. He’s already — “
Jefferson quickly cut in. “No stocks. We’ll have a debt as you wish. Gallatin doesn’t like it, but I’ve already given him the order.”
Hamilton’s smile faded, wary. “Then what do you want of me? Absolution of your illegal act in making the purchase in the first place? I could have my people in Congress move to impeach you.”
It was Jefferson’s turn to snort. “You think that would get far?”
Hamilton leaned forward. “Then why did you have me come here in the middle of the night and meet in secret?”
Jefferson placed both hands on the table. “I am not blind to what I have done. I am aware I overstepped my Executive authority. Only two other men have worn the title of President of the United States. General Washington — “ Jefferson used the term he knew Hamilton preferred for the late President, as the two men had served together for many years in uniform — “was a great man. You and I know the nation and Congress would have voted him President for life if he desired it.”
“I wanted him to be President for life from the very beginning,” Hamilton countered.
“That argument was defeated during the writing of the Constitution,” Jefferson said. “And, besides, you know that General Washington wanted no part of staying in power. He desired to go back to Mount Vernon and Martha, and live the rest of his days in peace.”
“He was tired of the heavy burden he bore,” Hamilton acknowledged.
Jefferson saw his opening. “I bear that burden now. And there will be those beyond me who will bear it. Perhaps you. I circumvented Congress on the negotiations for the Louisiana Purchase. It made me recognize that this office that I hold is at the whim of any elected Caesar in Presidential clothing.”
Jefferson could hear the crowing of roosters in the distance as dawn came to Philadelphia, and he waited to see how Hamilton would react.
“What are you proposing, then?” Hamilton asked. “You’re pointing out the obvious: that the checks and balances written into the Constitution aren’t adequate to prevent the Republic from failing. It is flawed. I said so then, and subsequent events have proven me correct.”
“You are correct. And I know what you and your Cincinnatians are up to. I have the votes in Congress to outlaw you and your group as enemies to the state. The bill is already drawn up and my people ready to present it. President Adams got his Alien and Sedition Act passed; I have no doubt I could resurrect the Sedition portion and use it on your Cincinnatians.”
Hamilton leapt to his feet. “How dare you threaten — “
“It is not a threat, Mister Hamilton. It is a negotiation. Please sit down.”
Hamilton did not do so, but he stopped yelling. “What negotiation? What do you want?”
“I want there to be a secret check on power run amok, primarily by the President, but also to prevent a group like your Cincinnatians from toppling the freely elected government or gaining undue influence. To maintain the country as we envisioned and wrote into the Constitution and Bill of Rights.”
“And how do you propose such a secret check be enacted?”
“We’ve already agreed that the Constitution, as currently written, is not sufficient to keep the country on course. Our country has just doubled in size. The United States will grow more and more powerful. As it does, the office of President, by nature, will attract the power-hungry. At a distance, the people have a limited ability to identify Presidents with sufficient emotional stability to ‘know thyself.’ Thus, the office of the President is run by the personality of the man holding it. You’ve seen what I just did with the Purchase.
“At the same time, business will grow. Money will be consolidated in the hands of a powerful few who control that commerce and industry. Your Cincinnatians. It is a repugnant inevitability. That’s a very dangerous thing for a Republic. We don’t want our country to go the way Rome did.”
Hamilton slowly sat down. “You want a new Amendment to the Constitution?”
“No,” Jefferson said. “I’m not stupid, Mister Hamilton. Presenting that admits my own malfeasance in the Purchase. As I said, this must be done in secret. I want you and I, as heads of the two parties, to agree to an Allegiance. The Jefferson-Hamilton Allegiance. We will take this Allegiance back to our parties and get just enough members we trust to sign it in secret to pass, and then I will sign it into law. No one is to speak of it. It will be hidden away. But it will be law and it will be the final check on the President and the power-hungry rich who do not have the country’s best interests at heart.”
Hamilton was silent for a few seconds. “What is this Allegiance you wish to put my name to?”
“Did you know this chair I am in,” Jefferson said, “is the exact same one in which I was seated when I wrote the Declaration of Independence?”
“Show me this Allegiance,” Hamilton snapped, but Jefferson knew his reference to the classic document he had penned was now in Hamilton’s head.
Jefferson walked over to a bookcase and picked up a piece of parchment. He brought it back. Hamilton unrolled the paper. It only took a few seconds to read. “I do not want my name on the title of this.” He looked up. “So this is why you founded the Military Academy last year? I thought that a most strange move for you.”
“I dwell in reality,” Jefferson said. He waited a moment. “Does that mean you agree to the body of the Allegiance?”
Hamilton hesitated. “In exchange for not attacking the Society of the Cincinnati? And establishing the national bank?”
Hamilton grabbed a fountain pen, dipped it in the ink well, and signed his name at the bottom. “I will bring it back to you with the signatures needed.”
“I know what you’re thinking,” Jefferson said. “You’re thinking what you hold is no great matter. That it would never be enacted. I hope that is true. But it is the ultimate check against a President who seeks to be King, and against your Cincinnatians or any group like it.”
Hamilton rolled up the parchment. He tucked it under his arm and stood. “When I bring it back, and then your people and you sign it, what is to be done with it?”
“Let me worry about that. I will have people appointed to be caretakers. People that can be trusted with such power, desiring none of their own. People that can keep a secret.”
Hamilton laughed. “Remember what old Benjamin said about people keeping secrets. Three might if two are dead.”
Jefferson met his adversary’s eyes. “Let us hope it does not come to that.”
Hamilton gave the half-smile that Jefferson had always interpreted as the man thinking he held the winning hand. Perhaps he did, Jefferson allowed as Hamilton departed. But there was more to Jefferson’s plan for the Allegiance than he had told Hamilton.
Jefferson laughed. And given Hamilton’s insistence, it had a new, simpler name:
Tomorrow– how the Allegiance was invoked against President Polk
Originally published at bobmayer.com on July 18, 2018.