Bushrod Washington and Alexander Hamilton

Next year there will be many Bushrod Washington posts from me as my research on this book heats up.  (I’ve been going through the correspondence between Bushrod and George, which contains many gems.)

I thought I’d take a moment to say something about Bushrod’s interactions with Alexander Hamilton, as the musical continues to be a pop culture phenomenon. One fact that made Bushrod important has that George Washington gave him all of his papers. Naturally, many people wanted to look at these materials, and the Justice was forced to think about he should handle such requests. One came from Alexander Hamilton in 1801, though it is not known what Hamilton was requesting. Evidently he wanted a copy of a memo he gave to the President as Treasury Secretary. Justice Washington refused, on the grounds that if he gave Hamilton access then he would feel obliged to give similar materials to everyone. He added that this would mean that some of Washington’s papers would be used for partisan purposes, and that he did think that was in keeping with the President’s wishes. Here is how Washington discussed his thinking to Hamilton:

The opinions delivered to the President by the heads of departments were those I presume of a private council and intended for his information. From hence I conclude that they were not put upon the files of any of the public offices and are to be found only amongst the papers of the General. They could therefore be obtained from no person but myself. Other measures of that administration may be again censured, discussed, and condemned by one party, and vindicated by the other, whilst both must or at least may resort to the same quiver of arms to fight with. Acting with the fairness which shall always mark my conduct, I could not upon such a subject refuse to one what I have granted to the other party, and thus the papers might be used in a way very different from that which I am persuaded was intended by the person who confided them to my care.


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