Hamilton is ill of the [yellow] fever as is said. He had two physicians out at his house the night before last. His family think him in danger, & he puts himself so by his excessive alarm. He had been miserable several days before from a firm persuasion he should catch it. A man as timid as he is on the water, as timid on horseback, as timid in sickness, would be a phænomenon if the courage of which he has the reputation in military occasions were genuine. His friends, who have not seen him, suspect it is only an autumnal fever he has.
Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, September 8, 1793
In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, the nation’s capital at the time, which killed 5,000 of the city’s 50,000 residents.
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
It is hard for a leader to cut a serious opponent any slack.
This is the final except from a letter from President Washington’s Secretary of State to his good friend Madison, about the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, the nation’s capital.
Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton was ill, perhaps with the fever. Jefferson believed Hamilton made himself worse by worrying in advance that he might get sick, then over-reacting when he did.
He found Hamilton to be a timid man, on the sea, on horseback and now in illness. How could he be as brave in military endeavors as he claimed to be?
Jefferson would resign his position at the end of 1793. He was eager to retire to Monticello after much absence in the previous nine years. He was also eager to be done with the near-constant confrontation with Hamilton in the President’s cabinet. The two men were like oil and water.