To an Unidentified Friend

Historian Broadus Mitchell suggests that Hamilton wrote this jaunty letter to Catherine Livingston, the daughter of the Governor of New Jersey. Apart from the romantic raillery, the significance of the letter seems to lie in Hamilton's conflicting senses of duty and peacefulness in bringing about the "freedom and independence" for which the colonists were fighting.

Head Quarters. Morris Town

May 1777

When I was almost out of patience and out of humour at your presumptous delay, in not showing yourself duly sensible of the honor done you, by me, your epistle opportunely came to hand, and has put all matters tolerably to rights.

As I thought it well enough written, and no discredit to you, I ventured to show it to a Gentleman of our family. He was silly enough to imagine, that I did this through vanity, and a desire to display my own importance, in having so fair and so sensible a correspondent; as he indulgently called you; but I hope you will not be so vain as to entertain, a single moment, the most distant imagination of the same kind. It would be paying yourself too high a compliment, and give room to suspect you are strongly infected with that extreme self-complacency, commonly attributed to your sex.

But as I have reason to believe this Gentleman has serious thoughts of becoming my rival, to give, at once, a mortal blow to all his hopes, I will recount what passed on this occasion. After attentive[ly] perusing your letter during which, the liveliest emotions [of] approbation were pictured in his face, 'Hamilton!' cries he, 'when you write to this divine girl again, it must be in [the] stile of adoration: none but a goddess, I am sure, could 'have penned so fine a letter!' As I know you have [an] invincible aversion to all flattery and extravagance, I [will] not be afraid, that a Quixot, capable of uttering him[self] in the language of knight-errantry, will ev[er be] able to supplant me in the good graces of a lady of yo[ur] sober understanding.

I am glad you are sensible of the oblig[ati]ons, you are under to me, for my benevolent and disinteres[ted] conduct, in making so currageous an effort, under all the imaginary terrors you intimate, without my tolerable prospect of compensation. I am very willing to continue my kindness, even though it meet with no better a return than in the last instance, provided you will stipulate on your part, that it shall meet with no worse. But to g[ive] a more perfect idea of what you owe me for this condes[cending] generosity, let me inform you, that I exercise it at th[e risk] of being anathematized by grave censors, for dedicating so much of my time, to so trifling and insignificant a toy as a woman; and, on the other hand, of being run through the body by saucy inamorato's, who will envy me the prodigious favor, forsooth, of your correspondence. So that between the morose apathy of some and the envious Sensibility of others, I shall probably be in a fine way. But ALL FOR LOVE is my motto. You may make what comments you please. Now for politics---

'Tis believed by our military Connoisseurs, that the enemy are preparing to quit the Jerseys, and make some expedition by water. Many suppose up the North River. But my opinion is that, if they abandon the Jerseys, they will content themselves with enjoying quiet quarters on Staten Island, 'till re-inforced. Perhaps, however, the appearances, which give rise to an opinion of an evacuation of the Jerseys, are only preparatory to an attack upon us. They would admit such an interpretation, if an attempt of the kind were not too hazardous to be consistent with prudence. Should they leave this State, your return home would be the more safe and agreeable; but you need not be precipitate.

Your sentiments respecting war are perfec[tly] just. I do not wonder at your antipathy to it. Every finer feeling of a delicate mind revolts from the idea of sheding human blood and multiplying the common evils o[f] life by the artificial methods incident to that state. Were it not for the evident necessity and in defence of all that is valuable in society, I could never be reconciled to a mili[tary] character; and shall rejoice when the restoration of pe[ace] on the basis of freedom and independence shall put it [in] my power to renounce it. That my fugitive friend [will] soon be restored to those peaceful and secure abodes, she [hopes] for, is not more her own wish, than that of

Alexr. Hamilton

Reprinted from Broadus Mitchell, Heritage from Hamilton, 1957.