Book II. Alexander Hamilton
Chapter XIV
 

In the spring of 1774 Hamilton visited Boston during a short holiday. His glimpse of this city had been so brief that it had impressed his mind but as a thing of roofs and trees, a fantastic woodland amphitheatre, in whose depths men of large and solemn mien added daily to the sum of human discomfort. He returned to see the important city of Boston, but with no overwhelming desire to come in closer contact with its forbidding inhabitants. He quickly forgot the city in what those stern sour men had to tell him. For to them he owed that revelation of the tragic justice of the American cause which enabled him to begin with the pen his part in the Revolution, forcing the crisis, taking rank as a political philosopher when but a youth of seventeen; instead of bolting from his books to the battlefield at the first welcome call to arms. Up to this time he had adhered to his resolution to let nothing impede the progress of his education, to live strictly in the hour until the time came to leave the college for the world. Therefore, although he had heard the question of Colonies versus Crown argued week after week at Liberty Hall, and at the many New York houses where he dined of a Sunday with his friends, Stevens, Troup, and Fish, he had persistently refused to study the matter: there were older heads to settle it and there was only one age for a man's education. Moreover, he had grown up with a deep reverence for the British Constitution, and his strong aristocratic prejudices inclined him to all the aloofness of the true conservative. So while the patriots and royalists of King's were debating, ofttimes concluding in sequestered nooks, Hamilton remained "The young West Indian," an alien who cared for naught but book-learning, walking abstractedly under the great green shade of Batteau Street while Liberty Boys were shouting, and British soldiers swaggered with a sharp eye for aggression. This period of philosophic repose in the midst of electric fire darting from every point in turn and sometimes from all points at once, endured from the October of his arrival to its decent burial in Boston shortly after his seventeenth birthday.

Boston was sober and depressed, stonily awaiting the vengeance of the crown for her dramatic defiance in the matter of tea. Even in that rumbling interval, Hamilton learned, the Committee of Correspondence, which had directed the momentous act, had been unexcited and methodical, restraining the Mohawks day after day, hoping until the last moment that the Collector of Customs would clear the ships and send the tea whence it came. Hamilton heard the wrongs of the colonies discussed without any of the excitement or pyrotechnical brilliancy to which he had become accustomed. New York was not only the hot-bed of Toryism, but even such ardent Republicans as William Livingston, George Clinton, and John Jay were aristocrats, holding themselves fastidiously aloof from the rank and file that marched and yelled under the name of Sons of Liberty. To Hamilton the conflict had been spectacular rather than real, until he met and moved with these sombre, undemonstrative, superficially unpleasing men of Boston; then, almost in a flash, he realized that the colonies were struggling, not to be relieved of this tax or that, but for a principle; realized that three millions of people, a respectable majority honourable, industrious, and educated, were being treated like incapables, apprehensive of violence if they dared to protest for their rights under the British Constitution. Hamilton also learned that Boston was the conspicuous head and centre of resistance to the crown, that she had led the colonies in aggressiveness since the first Stamp Act of 1765 had shocked them from passive subjects into dangerous critics. He had letters which admitted him to clubs and homes, and he discussed but one subject during his visit. There were no velvet coats and lace ruffles here, except in the small group which formed the Governor's court. The men wore dun-coloured garments, and the women were not much livelier. It was, perhaps, as well that he did not see John Hancock, that ornamental head-piece of patriotic New England, or the harmony of the impression might have been disturbed; but, as it was, every time he saw these men together, whether sitting undemonstratively in Faneuil Hall while one of their number spoke, or in church, or in groups on Boston Common, it was as if he saw men of iron, not of flesh and blood. Every word they uttered seemed to have been weighed first, and it was impossible to consider such men giving their time and thought, making ready to offer up their lives, to any cause which should not merit the attention of all men. Although Hamilton met many of them, they made no individual impression on him; he saw them only as a mighty brain, capable of solving a mighty question, and of a stern and bitter courage.

He returned to New York filled with an intense indignation against the country which he had believed too ancient and too firm in her highest principles to make a colossal mistake, and a hot sympathy for the colonists which was not long resolving itself into as burning a patriotism as any in the land. It was not in him to do anything by halves, it is doubtful if he ever realized the half-hearted tendency of the greater part of mankind. He studied the question from the first Stamp Act to the Tea Party. The day he was convinced, he ceased to be a West Indian. The time was not yet come to draw the sword in behalf of the country for which he conceived a romantic passion, which satisfied other wants of his soul, but he began at once on a course of reading which should be of use to her when she was free to avail herself of patriotic thinkers. He also joined the debating club of the college. His abrupt advent into this body, with his fiery eloquence and remarkable logic, was electrical. In a day he became the leader of the patriot students. There were many royalists in King's, and the president, Dr. Myles Cooper, was a famous old Tory. He looked upon this influential addition to the wrong side with deep disfavour, and when he discovered that the most caustic writer of Holt's Whig newspaper, who had carved him to the quick and broken his controversial lances again and again, was none other than his youngest and most revolutionary pupil, his wrath knew no bounds.

With the news of the order to close the port of Boston, the wave of indignation in the colonies rose so high that even the infatuated clergy wriggled. Philadelphia went so far as to toll her muffled bells for a day, and as for New York, then as now, the nerve-knot of the country, she exploded. The Sons of Liberty, who had reorganized after the final attempt of England to force tea on the colonies, paraded all day and most of the night, but were, as yet, more orderly than the masses, who stormed through the streets with lighted torches, shrieking and yelling and burning the king and his ministers in effigy.

The substantial citizens also felt that the time was come to prepare for the climax toward which their fortunes were hastening. That spiteful fist would be at their own skulls next, beyond a doubt. The result of a long and hot debate in the Exchange between the Sons of Liberty and the more conservative patriots was an agreement to call a Congress of the Colonies. The contest over the election of delegates was so bitter, however, the Committee of the Assembly, which was largely ministerial, claiming the right to nomination, that it was determined to submit the question to the people at large.