Human Nature Quotes

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To better understand Alexander Hamilton’s quotes on human nature, it’s helpful to know his philosophical and intellectual influences. In addition to studying many classical texts from the ancient Greeks and Romans, Alexander Hamilton also read many of his contemporary Enlightenment thinkers.

As Dorinda Outram describes the Enlightenment period, it was dominated by “a desire for human affairs to be guided by rationality rather than by faith, superstition, or revelation.”¹ Alexander Hamilton was a notable Enlightenment thinker in his own right, and the concept of reforming society based on reason is apparent in Hamilton’s belief in establishing the nation’s government structure on “God-given rights” and social contracts.

Many of Hamilton’s quotes in the collection below focus on “human passions.” These texts echo classical schools of thought such as the Stoics, who discussed how the “human passions” detract from reason. The Stoic scholar Epitectus talked about the “passions which make it impossible for us even to listen to reason.”² As is apparent in the quotes below, both classical and Enlightenment thinkers, coupled with personal experiences and religious beliefs, shaped the way in which Hamilton viewed human nature.

Note: As true of most quotes, context often gives a richer understanding of what the person wanted to convey. While reading the quotes, don't forget to scroll down to read the "Get the Context" section. Here you can find fuller passages for some of the quotes that provide a better idea of Hamilton's message.

Sources

¹ Dorina Outram (1995). The Enlightenment. Cambridge U.P.. p. 3.
² W. A. Oldfield trans. (1978). Epitectus: The Discourses Vol II. London. p. 23


Human Nature


A fondness for power is implanted in most men, and it is natural to abuse it when acquired. *

-Alexander Hamilton, "The Farmer Refuted," February 23, 1775


...great Ambition, unchecked by principle, or the love of Glory, is an unruly Tyrant...

-Alexander Hamilton, Letter to James A. Bayard, January 16, 1801


There may be in every government a few choice spirits, who may act from more worthy motives. One great error is that we suppose mankind more honest than they are. Our prevailing passions are ambition and interest…

-Alexander Hamilton, as recorded by Robert Yates in the Constitutional Convention, June 22, 1787 See: Speeches in the Constitutional Convention - Alexander Hamilton


Ambition without principle never was long under the guidance of good sense.

-Alexander Hamilton, Letter to James A. Bayard, January 16, 1801


It is a general principle of human nature, that a man will be interested in whatever he possesses, in proportion to the firmness or precariousness of the tenure by which he holds it…*

-Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 71 "The Duration in Office of the Executive," New York Packet, March 18, 1788


Quotes on Human Passions 


Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without constraint.

-Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 15, "The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union," Independent Journal, December 1, 1787


Men are rather reasoning than reasonable animals for the most part governed by the impulse of passion.*

-Alexander Hamilton, Letter to James A. Bayard, April 16, 1802


Take mankind as they are, and what are they governed by? Their passions.

-Alexander Hamilton, as recorded by Robert Yates from the Constitutional Convention, June 22nd, 1787. See: Speeches in the Federal Convention – Alexander Hamilton


The passions of a revolution are apt to hurry even good men into excesses.

-Alexander Hamilton, Philo Camillus No. 3 Essay, August 12, 1795


"Has it not. . . invariably been found that momentary passions, and immediate interests, have a more active and imperious control over human conduct than general or remote considerations of policy, utility and justice?"

-- Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No 6, "Concerning Dangers from Dissensions Between the States," Independent Journal, November 14, 1787


The same state of the passions which fits the multitude, who have not a sufficient stock of reason and knowledge to guide them, for opposition to tyranny and oppression, very naturally leads them to a contempt and disregard of all authority."

-Alexander Hamilton, Letter to John Jay, November 26, 1775


Take mankind in general, they are vicious--their passions may be operated upon.*

-Alexander Hamilton, as recorded by Robert Yates in the Constitutional Convention, June 22, 1787 See: Speeches in the Constitutional Convention - Alexander Hamilton


Get The Context

Longer excerpts from selections above give a broader context and are interesting quotes in their own right


 

A fondness for power is implanted in most men, and it is natural to abuse it when acquired. This maxim, drawn from the experience of all ages, makes it the height of folly to intrust any set of men with power which is not under every possible control; perpetual strides are made after more as long as there is any part withheld.

-Alexander Hamilton, "The Farmer Refuted," February 23, 1775

 


 

It is a general principle of human nature, that a man will be interested in whatever he possesses, in proportion to the firmness or precariousness of the tenure by which he holds it; will be less attached to what he holds by a momentary or uncertain title, than to what he enjoys by a durable or certain title; and, of course, will be willing to risk more for the sake of the one, than for the sake of the other.

-Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 71 "The Duration in Office of the Executive," New York Packet, March 18, 1788

 


 

Men are rather reasoning than reasonable animals for the most part governed by the impulse of passion. This is a truth well understood by our adversaries who have practised upon it with no small benefit to their cause. For at the very moment they are eulogizing the reason of men & professing to appeal only to that faculty, they are courting the strongest & most active passion of the human heart - VANITY!

-Alexander Hamilton, Letter to James A. Bayard, April 16, 1802

 


 

In all general questions which become the subjects of discussion, there are always some truths mixed with falsehoods. I confess, there is danger where men are capable of holding two offices. Take mankind in general, they are vicious, their passions may be operated upon. We have been taught to reprobate the danger of influence in the British government, without duly reflecting how far it was necessary to support a good government. We have taken up many ideas upon trust, and at last, pleased with our own opinions, establish them as undoubted truths.

-Alexander Hamilton, as recorded by Robert Yates in the Constitutional Convention, June 22, 1787 See: Speeches in the Constitutional Convention - Alexander Hamilton


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