Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson: Representative Selections

Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson: Representative Selections

Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson: Representative Selections

Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson: Representative Selections

Excerpt

The inclusion of Hamilton and Jefferson in a series devoted to American literature may at first seem questionable. Neither of these men was a writer of books. Jefferson indeed made "Notes on Virginia," not intending them for publication, which have probably been more often reprinted than any other work produced in the South; and, like Franklin, he left at his death an incomplete "Autobiography," which is of the highest interest. But during a long career he wrote surprisingly little over his own name, and indeed he prided himself on not writing for the press. Hamilton has the air of a man too busy to write books even if he had wished. In general both men, like Franklin, wrote only in the course of business. But both had to write much, and both are now represented by a generous number of volumes. Those of Hamilton include his official papers, his political speeches and essays--among them, in the Federalist a work of the first rank--and his letters, which are almost entirely political in subject. Those of Jefferson, besides the two notable works mentioned, include his official papers--among them his draft for the Declaration of Independence and his inaugural addresses--and a great number of letters, on a wide range of subjects, which are among the most interesting America has produced. Men of this kind--like Franklin and Lincoln--practical in their pur[pose and too intent on their subject-matter to ornament it, often attain a directness and natural ness not given to professed men of letters. At any rate, both these men wrote well--Hamilton with an orderly clearness and masterful confidence, perhaps sometimes betrayed by rapidity; Jefferson with a happy combination of the slight formality and slight negligence proper to a Virginia gentleman, and, as John Adams remarked, with "a peculiar felicity of expression." Not . . .

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