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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Character of Hamilton

By Harrison Gray Otis (1765–1848)

[Born in Boston, Mass., 1765. Died there, 1848. From the Eulogy pronounced before the Citizens of Boston, 26 July, 1804.]

SUCH was the untimely fate of Alexander Hamilton, whose character warrants the apprehension, that “take him for all in all, we ne’er shall look upon his like again.”

Nature, even in the partial distribution of her favors, generally limits the attainments of great men within distinct and particular spheres of eminence. But he was the darling of nature, and privileged beyond the rest of her favorites. His mind caught at a glance that perfect comprehension of a subject for which others are indebted to a patient labor and investigation. In whatever department he was called to act, he discovered an intuitive knowledge of its duties, which gave him an immediate ascendency over those who had made them the study of their lives; so that, after running through the circle of office, as a soldier, statesman and financier, no question remained for which he had been qualified, but only in which he had evinced the most superlative merit. He did not dissemble his attachment to a military life, nor his consciousness of possessing talents for command; yet no man more strenuously advocated the rights of the civil over the military power, nor more cheerfully abdicated command and returned to the rank of the citizen, when his country could dispense with the necessity of an army.

In his private profession, at a bar abounding with men of learning and experience, he was without a rival. He arranged, with the happiest facility, the materials collected in the vast storehouse of his memory, surveyed his subject under all its aspects, and enforced his arguments with such powers of reasoning, that nothing was wanting to produce conviction, and generally to insure success. His eloquence combined the nervousness and copious elegance of the Greek and Roman schools, and gave him the choice of his clients and his business. These wonderful powers were accompanied by a natural politeness and winning condescension, which forestalled the envy of his brethren. Their hearts were gained before their pride was alarmed; and they united in their approbation of a pre-eminence which reflected honor on their fraternity.

From such talents, adorned by incorruptible honesty and boundless generosity, an immense personal influence over his political and private friends was inseparable; and by those who did not know him, and who saw the use to which ambition might apply it, he was sometimes suspected of views unpropitious to the nature of our government. The charge was inconsistent with the exertions he had made to render that government, in its present form, worthy of the attachment and support of the people, and his voluntary relinquishment of the means of ambition, the purse-strings of the nation. He was, indeed, ambitious, but not of power; he was ambitious only to convince the world of the spotless integrity of his administration and character. This was the key to the finest sensibilities of the heart. He shrunk from the imputation of misconduct in public life; and if his judgment ever misled him, it was only when warped by an excessive eagerness to vindicate himself at the expense of his discretion. To calumny, in every other shape, he opposed the defence of dignified silence and contempt.

Had such a character been exempt from foibles and frailties, it would not have been human. Yet so small was the catalogue of these, that they would have escaped observation, but for the unparalleled frankness of his nature, which prompted him to confess them to the world. He did not consider greatness as an authority for habitual vice; and he repented with such contrition of casual error, that none remained offended but those who never had a right to complain. The virtues of his private and domestic character comprised whatever conciliates affection and begets respect. To envy he was a stranger, and of merit and talents the unaffected eulogist and admirer. The charms of his conversation, the brilliance of his wit, his regard to decorum, his ineffable good-humor, which led him down from the highest range of intellect to the level of colloquial pleasantry, will never be forgotten, perhaps never equalled.