~~Alexander Hamilton to John Laurens, August 15, 1782
Anyone who has followed my blog and the past "discussions" that transpired there probably remembers my post "Thoughts on Reason, Revelation, and the Bible." The proponent of the "theistical rationalist-Founders" theory did not answer the post itself, probably because he believed the post to be a dissertation on the subject. True, the post did not directly address the issue at hand ("Did the Founding Fathers believe that revelation was inferior to man's reason?"), but it did, I believe, draw the line between reason and revelation in Christian theology. With those ideas in mind, I believed that it would provide a clear view into what the Founders meant when they praised reason (NOTE: In none of the Founders' writings, except those of the men who were definitely not Christian, such as Jefferson, did they say that reason was superior to the divine revelation.)
Of course, I was accused of misinterpreting the Founders' writings and intent. I don't mind that accusation when presented at first; however, I have a very difficult time retaining my patience when I quote the Founders, and their meaning is indisputable, and then that meaning is construed by the reader over and over again.
I knew that I had a case in point, but I was delighted when, upon doing some research, I found a near replica of my "Thoughts" essay, not in the book of a theologian, but rather in The Federalist Papers.
The "essay" to which I refer is found in the beginning paragraphs of The Federalist No. 31, which is one of the issues that was indisputably written by Hamilton. (1)
Of course, in this issue of the Federalist, it was not Hamilton's goal to discuss religion or to teach a course on philosophy, exactly. But it was the habit of the authors of The Federalist Papers, and it was the lifetime habit of Hamilton, to, before delving immediately into the issue at hand, to begin by laying the groundwork for basic truths and principles, and then flesh them out into whatever the issue at hand was. This method is what made The Federalist Papers, and indeed Hamilton himself, so convincing and so persuasive, or, in the words of his opponent Jefferson, "a colossus."
Here is the "essay":
To the People of the State of New York: What is interesting to note here, is that not only are his views and logic identical to those presented in my essay "Thoughts on Reason, Revelation, and the Bible," but that it was written YEARS before "his son died." Obviously, from this selection of the Federalist Papers, Hamilton had a conviction in Christianity that went deeper than his brain, and into his conscience. Without this inner conviction, Hamilton would probably have blamed God for the death of his son, instead of resting in the assurance of God's mercy and justice.
In disquisitions of every kind, there are certain primary truths, or first principles, upon which all subsequent reasonings must depend. These contain an internal evidence which, antecedent to all reflection or combination, commands the assent of the mind. Where it produces not this effect, it must proceed either from some defect or disorder in the organs of perception, or from the influence of some strong interest, or passion, or prejudice. Of this nature are the maxims in geometry, that the whole is greater than its part; things equal to the same are equal to one another; two straight lines cannot enclose a space; and all right angles are equal to each other. Of the same nature are these other maxims in ethics and politics, that there cannot be an effect without a cause; that the means ought to be proportioned to the end; that every power ought to be commensurate with its object; that there ought to be no limitation of a power destined to effect a purpose which is itself incapable of limitation. And there are other truths in the two latter sciences which, if they cannot pretend to rank in the class of axioms, are yet such direct inferences from them, and so obvious in themselves, and so agreeable to the natural and unsophisticated dictates of common-sense, that they challenge the assent of a sound and unbiased mind, with a degree of force and conviction almost equally irresistible.
The objects of geometrical inquiry are so entirely abstracted from those pursuits which stir up and put in motion the unruly passions of the human heart, that mankind, without difficulty, adopt not only the more simple theorems of the science, but even those abstruse paradoxes which, however they may appear susceptible of demonstration, are at variance with the natural conceptions which the mind, without the aid of philosophy, would be led to entertain upon the subject. The infinite divisibility of matter, or, in other words, the infinite divisibility of a finite thing, extending even to the minutest atom, is a point agreed among geometricians, though not less incomprehensible to common-sense than any of those mysteries in religion, against which the batteries of infidelity have been so industriously leveled.
But in the sciences of morals and politics, men are found far less tractable. To a certain degree, it is right and useful that this should be the case. Caution and investigation are a necessary armor against error and imposition. But this untractableness may be carried too far, and may degenerate into obstinacy, perverseness, or disingenuity. Though it cannot be pretended that the principles of moral and political knowledge have, in general, the same degree of certainty with those of the mathematics, yet they have much better claims in this respect than, to judge from the conduct of men in particular situations, we should be disposed to allow them. The obscurity is much oftener in the passions and prejudices of the reasoner than in the subject. Men, upon too many occasions, do not give their own understandings fair play; but, yielding to some untoward bias, they entangle themselves in words and confound themselves in subtleties. (2)
As far as the historical evidence shows, Hamilton never believed himself to be a deist OR a theistic rationalist.
One quick note: When Hamilton makes reference to the "mysteries of religion," the religion he is obviously referring to is the CHRISTIAN religion. How do I know that? So far as I know, Islam, or Zen Buddhism were totally irrelevant to influencing Europe and America at that time, and so those kinds of religions would not have suffered under (quoting Hamilton) "the batteries of infidelity." "Infidelity" is not a positive term, so obviously Hamilton's use of that word, as well as the context of the portion of The Federalist which is being discussed makes it clear that Hamilton was DEFENDING, in some way or other, the validity of "religion." Today, we are exposed to different religions in this nation on a daily basis, but this was not the case in America. Usually, the Founding Fathers used the word "religion" to reference to Christianity, because an overwhelming majority of the people at the time considered themselves to be, really or nominally, Christian. And so far as I know, and so far as applies to the sphere of the Founders, no other religion suffered under the "industrious leveling" of the "batteries of infidelity" (at least not that the Founders were concerned about) than Christianity. Also bear in mind that Hamilton never evinced sympathy toward any other religion than Christianity. So here, he is discussing Christianity.
In addition to this, Hamilton cannot be a theistic rationalist, because he is obviously defending the "mysteries of religion," that is, those tenets of religion which cannot be completely solved by human reason, which theistic rationalism holds as the highest authority. So Hamilton seems to be expressing a religious and philosophical difference with theistic rationalism, or rationalism of any kind.