Remarks on Gouverneur Morris's Funeral Oration on General Hamilton
REMARKS ON GOUVERNEUR MORRIS'S FUNERAL ORATION ON GENERAL HAMILTON
Philip Foner's introduction:
This article by Paine was originally published in William Duane's Philadelphia Aurora of August 7, 1804 but, though it created considerable discussion at the time it appeared in print, it has never been included in any collection of Paine's writings or even reprinted since 1804. Yet it contains some extremely effective attacks upon those who longed for a stronger government in order to keep popular movements in check. The concluding paragraph represents Paine at his best. The following sentences will undoubtedly take their place in all collections of quotations illustrating the democratic spirit: "Make it the interest of the people to live in a state of government, and they will protect that which protects them. But when they are harassed with alarms which time discovers to be false, and burdened with taxes for which they can see no cause, their confidence in such government withers away, and they laugh at the energy that attempts to restore it."
THE QUOTATIONS FROM THE ORATION ARE TAKEN FROM
CHEETHAM'S N[EW] YORK COUNTRY PAPER,
THE WATCH-TOWER, OF JULY 18.
AS GOUVERNEUR MORRIS is fond of criticizing others, he becomes a fair object for criticism himself. Give and take is fair play.
In all Gouverneur's harangues, let the purpose be what it may, there is always a great deal of what the players call stage trick, that is, an extraneous attempt to excite surprise. Of this kind was his speech in Congress on the judiciary bill, when putting himself in an attitude of marvellous solemnity, and holding out his hand in awful position as if he was going to announce the sound of the last trump he cried, "Pause! Pause! for Heaven s sake Pause!" Heaven, however, did not listen to his call, for laughter followed where he expected a groan.
In his funeral oration on Hamilton he said "his life (pointing at the corpse) was one of honor and glory." This pointing scene (like the ghost in Hamlet pointing with its finger) was a sort of stage trick, and, in this place, injudiciously introduced, for you cannot say the life of a corpse, and consequently not "his life" pointing to a corpse. The proper expression would have been, the life of our departed friend, but the sedateness of this would have excluded the stage trick of the finger scene, and Government cannot go on long in any thing, without some sort of tricks. As to "the honor and glory" we'll let that pass. Least said is soonest mended. Perhaps what the ill-fated duke of Wharton said in one of his last epistles to a friend would have suited quite as well, and made a better impression than this wholesale encomium of Gouverneur
"Be kind to my remains; and O defend
Against your judgment, your deceased friend."
"When our revolution began" (says Gouverneur) "his fame was heard of before his person was seen." This is undoubtedly true if his fame was heard of, or prophesied of before he was born; but in any other case it is one of the Gouverneur's bulls; neither is it correct to the circumstance, for Hamilton was unknown when the revolution began.
Our orator goes on, "Washington, says he, that excellent judge of human nature, perceived his virtues, appreciated his talents, etc." This is one of Gouverneur's sly tricks, for it includes the idea, that "Washington, that excellent judge of human nature," perceived my virtues, yes, my virtues, and appreciated my talents, for he appointed me minister to France-and a very injudicious and unfortunate appointment it was.
From hence Gouverneur goes to Yorktown in Virginia, where Cornwallis was taken, and where Hamilton had a command, at the head (says he) of a forlorn hope, attacked the redoubt (a redoubt) of the enemy and "was victorious. This occurrence gave us peace." Hold, not quite so fast Mr. Orator, Burgoyne and his army had been taken before, and General Greene (the best general in the American army) had triumphed to the southward, and recovered the southern states. But if there is any one circumstance that contributed more than another to the capture of Cornwallis, it was the French fleet of thirty-one sail of the line shutting Cornwallis up in the Chesapeake, and preventing the English fleet taking him off; and in addition to this, a frigate loaded with money brought from France by Col. John Laurens and Thomas Paine, arrived at Boston the twenty-fifth of August, almost two months before Cornwallis surrendered. This timely supply enabled Congress to go on, and the army to proceed to Yorktown. (It took sixteen ox teams to remove the money brought by this frigate, the Resolve, from Boston to Philadelphia. Thomas Willing, now president of the U. S. bank received it.-Author.) Gouverneur knows all these matters (for he was at that time a sort of a deputy financier to Robert Morris), but it did not suit his tricks even to allude to them, and therefore he sacrificed them all to the merit of taking a redoubt. But Gouverneur is no soldier-he did not lose a leg in battle.
From hence our orator conducts Hamilton to the convention which met in Philadelphia in 1787, to form the federal constitution. "Here" says he, (Gouverneur Morris was not appointed to the convention by his own state, for he had lost its confidence-but Robert Morris managed to get him appointed for Pennsylvania, to which he did not belong.-Author.) "I saw him labor indejatigably"-for what?-"for his country's good" continues the orator. No Sir. He labored to establish a constitution that would have deprived the citizens of every description of the right of election, and have put himself, and you too, Mr. Prate-a-pace, in possession of part of the government for life.
"When (continues our orator) the labors of the convention were closed, he frankly expressed a doubt of the fitness of the constitution to maintain with necessary energy public freedom." Gouverneur Morris has got to learn the principles of civil government, but he will talk about it, for
"On all things talkable he boldly talks."
Gouverneur Morris and others of his description, who have conceits instead of principles, and vanity instead of wisdom are very fond of this word energy, but they always mean the energy they are to act themselves, not that which they are to suffer. The same persons who were for what they called an energetic government, and a president for life in the time of Washington (who was of their own party) would oppose it, now the presidency is in the hands of Mr. Jefferson, and that the senate is no longer of their faction; which shows that those energy schemers do not act from principle, because principle, if right, is right at all times. The energy of the people has overthrown these schemes, but we do not hear them praise this sort of energy! No! No! It is the energy of themselves over the people that they mean. When the constitution for the federal city was to be formed, Gouverneur's first article was, There shall be a d-ned strong Jail. He certainly did not mean it for himself; but had he stayed a few days longer in France he would have known what a strong jail was, and energy too, for the committee of public safety had intercepted some letters and they sent a guard to the house where he used to live, to arrest and take him to prison. But fortunately for him he was off, with all his wagon loads of fine French furniture, for Gouverneur knew how to feather his nest.
The constitution being established, and Washington elected president, our orator thus proceeds with his harangue. "Washington, with whom he (Hamilton) had toiled, and by whose aid he had travelled through every stage of our revolutionary contest-Washington, who saw his manly struggle in the convention, and best knew how to promote his country's welfare, called him, under the new constitution, to preside over an important department of our government."-Secretary of the treasury.
Washington's choice of officers for the principal departments of government, was neither judicious nor fortunate, nor could it be so; for excepting Mr. Jefferson (who had just arrived from his ministry in France, and was appointed secretary of state, which he soon resigned) Washington appointed those only of the convention who supported arbitrary measures. "The manly struggles (of which Gouverneur speaks) "that Hamilton made in the convention," and which Washington saw with approbation, were exerted to lift Washington above his fellows, by making him President for life, with a senate of the same description, or something worse. "Here (continues our orator, that is, in the treasury) Hamilton displayed all the talents of a great financier" (for) "at this period we had no credit, but we had resources." This is putting the cart before the horse, which Gouverneur is very apt to do, for he seldom begins at the right end of any thing. The old Congress had no credit because it had no resources. The new constitution provided resources for the new congress, and credit, like the cart behind the horse, followed of consequence. Hamilton created neither the one nor the other; but he created an insurrection by his injudicious, vexatious, and unproductive tax upon stills; but this was energy. Our orator next proceeds to the period when an army of fifty thousand men were to be raised, of which Washington was appointed commander in chief by that poor creature John Adams.
"Menaced," says he, by dangers from without (this is an absolute falsehood with respect to a foreign invasion) "Washington was called from his beloved retirement to the field" (the bloodless field where the masquerade of danger was to be performed). Gouverneur then goes on, "that great man" (who made Gouverneur Morris a great man), "had not forgotten the young hero (Hamilton) who, early in the revolution attracted his notice. He viewed him as worthy of the second in command, and he was appointed major general of our army." As our orator had no deeds of "honor and glory" to rehearse on this dangerless occasion, he closes his account by saying, "Washington deemed him in case of accident" (it must be all accident where there is no danger) "perhaps the only man in whose hands, which now lie cold in his coffin" ( When an affair of business is said to be put into a person's hands, it means figuratively, his care and judgment; but Morris referring to the hands in the coffin, destroyed the figurative meaning of the phrase, and makes nonsense of it.-Author.) (this is a paltry attempt at the pathetic) "the sword and purse of America could be so safely entrusted." It is a thing of no consequence to us, what Washington thought of Hamilton when he appointed him to office of command, or what Hamilton thought of Washington when he called him an old fool; thank God those times are past and better are come in their place.
As to the danger of which our orator speaks, it marks one of those well-remembered circumstances which shows that the politics of that day were either foolish or worse. No man who possessed a grain of common sense could have supposed that while France and England were engaged in war, especially a land war, that either could spare a regiment, much less an army to send against America; neither was it ever thought of by either of them. The impossibility of the thing did not permit the existence of such a thought. What then was the army wanted for ? When we consider the parties engaged in it and know what their politics were, we have a right to conclude, that it was to accomplish by an armed force in the field, what had failed of success by projects in the convention. The chiefs however, did not draw cordially together. Between Washington, Adams, and Hamilton, there was a reciprocal jealousy and distrust, and some specimens of hatred; and they were well founded.
Our orator concludes his account of Hamilton's public career as follows:-"He toiled incessantly with manly firmness against popular zeal, and snatched you, in spite of yourselves" (this is an affront to the audience) "from impending ruin." (An orator ought not to take advantage of a funeral oration, to propagate things which are not facts. Morris ought to prove what he has said or retract it. Funeral orations give no protection to falsehoods.-Author.) -If somebody would be kind enough to snatch Gouverneur Morris from his "worst enemy," his foolish self, it might cure his otherwise incurable folly. Experience is lost upon him. In business he is a babe, and in politics a visionary; and the older he grows the more foolish he becomes.
Of civil government he knows nothing; he has yet to learn that the strength of government consists in the interest the people have in supporting it. The present administration is, for this reason, stronger than any that preceded it; and the next presidential election will show it. Mere politicians of the old school may talk of alliances, but the strongest of all alliances is that which the mildness, wisdom, and justice of government form, unperceived, with the people it govern[s]. It grows in the mind with the secrecy and fidelity of love, and reposes on its own energy. Make it the interest of the people to live in a state of government, and they will protect that which protects them. But when they are harassed with alarms which time discovers to be false, and burdened with taxes for which they can see no cause, their confidence in such government withers away, and they laugh at the energy that attempts to restore it. Their cry then is, as in the time of the terror ("not to your tents, 0! Israel), but to the NEXT ELECTION O! CITIZENS." It is thus the representative system corrects wrongs and preserves rights.