Lot 1005
  • 1005

Alexander Hamilton

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  • Correspondence about His Reputation as a Soldier and a Gentleman Nearly Provoking a Duel, 1779
  • Paper, ink
A group of 9 autograph letters (including one draft) plus 3 copies (one complete, two being fragments) by and to Hamilton from John Brooks, Francis Dana, William Gordon, and David Henley, various formats, various places including West Point, Jamaica Plains, Cambridge, and Boston, July 1779–September 1779

Autograph letter signed, ([Lt. Colonel] J[ohn] Brooks), West Point, 4 July 1779, 2 pages on a bifolium, integral address leaf, informing him that someone had impugned his reputation recently in a Philadelphia coffee house; seal tear repaired slightly affecting text, address leaf a trifle soiled. — Autograph copy of a letter from Francis Dana"), Cambridge, 25 July 1779, 1 1/2 pages, admitting that he spoke out against Hamilton at the coffee house; browned. — Autograph letter signed ("J Brooks"), West Point, 8 August 1779, 2 pages, adamantly disagrees (with Dana) that he had conflated Dana's words with those of others; ink faded, repair to seal tear and a small fold separations. — Autograph letter signed ("William Gordon"), Jamaica Plain, [Massachusetts], 25 August 1779, one page, refusing to name the "author of the calumny," with 3 fragments of the same letter in Hamilton's hand. — Autograph letter signed ("Fra[ncis] Dana"), Boston, 25 August 1779, with a postscript signed by Artemis Ward, 3 pages plus a copy of the same letter in other hands, claiming that the "offensive observation" was not made by him but by another gentleman in company. — Autograph letter signed ("David Henley"), Boston, 1 September 1779, 2 pages on one sheet, convinced that Dr. Gordon was the cause "of this mischievous and false report"; browned, remargined, costing half of Henley's surname. — Autograph draft letter, Alexander Hamilton to William Gordon, [West Point, 5 September 1779], 5 pages bifolia, with an extra copy of the end portion of the letter written out in another hand, small square excised from the concluding portion of the letter in Hamilton's hand, closed tear on blank leaf. — Autograph letter signed ("David Henley"), Boston, 22 September 1779, one page, informing Hamilton that he had delivered Hamilton's letter to Gordon. — Autograph letter signed ("William Gordon"), Jamaica Plain, [Massachusetts], 23 September 1779, being a arch, cold reply to Hamilton's "expressions and innuendos."


Dana to Hamilton, 25 July 1779: Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Syrett, 2:108–109. With the exception of the aforementioned letter, Syrett knew of these other letters only through secondary sources: Hawks, The Official and Other Papers of Alexander Hamilton, and copies of the letters in Gordon's hand enclosed with his letter to George Washington, dated 1 March 1780

Catalogue Note

Intrigue, innuendo and other rascally remarks in a public coffee house calling Hamilton's honor into question.  In early July, Hamilton received a letter from Lt. Colonel John Brooks, reporting derogatory remarks Congressman Francis Dana had made about Hamilton's political views. "He fixed at length on Colonel Hamilton; who, he asserted, had declared ... that it was high time for the people to rise, join General Washington, and turn Congress out of doors. To render this account in the highest degree probable, he further observed, that Mr. Hamilton could in no ways be interested in the defence of this country; and therefore, was most likely to pursue such a line of conduct as his great ambition dictated." This letter precipitated a protracted and heated correspondence involving several individuals.

"The crime alleged to me is of such enormity, that, if I am guilty, it ought not to go unpunished; &, if I am innocent I should have an opportunity of indicating my innocence." Within days of receiving Brooks's letter, Hamilton demanded of Dana a retraction or a disclosure of his source. Dana insinuated that Dr. William Gordon, a Congregational clergyman in Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts, and harsh critic of Washington, was the author of the remarks. Gordon coyly avoided responsibility for the remarks and would name his source, only if Hamilton promised not to challenge him to a duel, a practice he opposed on religious grounds. On the other hand, Gordon, under a veiled threat, offered to disclose all before Congress. In the draft as well as in the final version of his letter to Gordon dated 5 September, Hamilton wrote: "It often happens, that our zeal is at variance with our understanding. Had it not been for this, you might have recollected, that we do not now live in the days of chivalry; & you would have judged your precautions, on the subject of duelling, at least useless. The good sense of the present times has happily found out, that to prove your innocence, or the malice of an accuser, the worst method you can take, is to run him through the body, or shoot him through the head. And permit me to add, that while you felt an aversion to duelling, you ought, in charity, to have supposed others possessed of the same scruples,—of whose impiety you had no proofs. ... The crime alleged to me is of such enormity, that, if I am guilty, it ought not to go unpunished; &, if I am innocent I should have an opportunity of indicating my innocence ... I shall not expose myself to the ridicule of self-importance by applying to Congress for an inquiry."

Had the duel taken place, it most likely would have been Hamilton's first (he had served as a second for Laurens in his duel with Charles Lee). While they never came to blows on the field of honor, Hamilton was thoroughly convinced that Gordon was indeed the source of the libel, and was perhaps influenced by comments in Henley's letter of 1 September: "I do think, upon examination, you will find Doctor *** the cause of this mischievous and false report. The other day he was proved a liar in the public street; and had it not been for his cloth, I am sure would have been most severely dealt with. He more than once has occasioned quarrels by his conduct."

Throughout the rest of the fall, Hamilton besieged Gordon with combative letters, stating he could not have possibly made such waspish statements about Congress. At the conclusion of this episode, Chernow hypothesized that because "Hamilton had been sniping at congressional ineptitude all year, he may well have said something critical of Congress that was either misconstrued by his enemies or reported faithfully" (Chernow, p. 125).