The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book II. Alexander Hamilton
It was not long after this that he wrote the pamphlets in reply to the tracts assailing the Congress and aimed particularly at setting the farmers against the merchants. These tracts were by two of the ablest men on the Tory side, and were clever, subtle, and insinuating. Hamilton's pamphlets were entitled, "A Full Vindication of the Measures of Congress from the Calumnies of Their Enemies," and "The Farmer Refuted; or a More Comprehensive and Impartial View of the Disputes between Great Britain and the Colonies, Intended as a Further Vindication of the Congress." It is not possible to quote these pamphlets, and they can be found in his "Works," but they were remarkable not only for their unanswerable logic, their comprehensive arraignment of Britain, their close discussion of the rights of the colonists under the British Constitution, their philosophical definition of "natural rights," and their reminder that war was inevitable, but for their anticipation of the future resources of the country, particularly in regard to cotton and manufactures, and for the prophecies regarding the treatment of the colonies by Europe. The style was clear, concise, and bold, and with a finish which alone would have suggested a pen pointed by long use.
These pamphlets, which created a profound sensation, were attributed to William Livingston and John Jay, two of the ablest men on the patriot side. That side was profoundly grateful, for they put heart into the timid, decided the wavering, and left the Tory writers without a leg to stand on. Nothing so brilliant had been contributed to the cause.
It was not long before the public had the author's name. Troup had been present at the writing of the pamphlets, and he called on Dr. Cooper, one day, and announced the authorship with considerable gusto.
"I'll not believe it," exclaimed the president, angrily; "Mr. Jay wrote those pamphlets, and none other. A mere boy like that--it's absurd. Why do you bring me such a story, sir? I don't like this Hamilton, he's too forward and independent--but I have no desire to hear more ill of him."
"He wrote them, sir. Mulligan, in whose house he lives, and I, can prove it. He's the finest brain in this country, and I mean you shall know it."
He left Dr. Cooper foaming, and went to spread the news elsewhere. The effect of his revelation was immediate distinction for Hamilton. He was discussed everywhere as a prodigy of intellect; messages reached him from every colony. "Sears," said Willets, one of the leaders of the Liberty party, "was a warm man, but with little reflection; McDougall was strong-minded; and Jay, appearing to fall in with the measures of Sears, tempered and controlled them; but Hamilton, after these great writings, became our oracle."
Congress met in May, 1775, and word having come that Chatham's conciliation bill had been rejected, and that Britain was about to send an army to suppress the American rebellion, this body assumed sovereign prerogatives. They began at once to organize an army; Washington was elected Commander-in-chief, and they ordered that five thousand men be raised to protect New York, as the point most exposed. The royal troops were expelled, and the city placed in command of General Charles Lee, an English soldier of fortune, who had fought in many lands and brought to the raw army an experience which might have been of inestimable service, had he been high-minded, or even well balanced. As it was, he very nearly sacrificed the cause to his jealousy of Washington and to his insane vanity.
Hamilton, meanwhile, published his two pamphlets on the Quebec Bill, and took part in a number of public debates. At one of these, as he rose to speak, a stranger remarked, "What brings that lad here? The poor boy will disgrace himself." But the merchants, who were present in force, listened intently to all he had to say on the non-importation agreement, and admitted the force of his arguments toward its removal, now that war practically had been declared. One of the most interesting of the phenomena in the career of Hamilton was the entire absence of struggle for an early hearing. People recognized his genius the moment they came in contact with it, and older men saw only the extraordinary and mature brain, their judgement quite unaffected by the boyish face and figure. Those who would not admit his great gifts were few, for except in the instances where he incurred jealous hate, he won everybody he met by his charming manner and an entire absence of conceit. He was conscious of his powers, but took them as a matter of course, and thought only of what he would do with them, having no leisure to dwell on their quality. In consequence, he already had a large following of unhesitating admirers, many of them men twice his age, and was accepted as the leading political philosopher of the country.
Dr. Cooper sent for him after his third pamphlet. He, too, was a patriot in his way, and although he bristled whenever Hamilton's name was mentioned, he had come in contact with too many minds not to recognize ability of any sort; he knew that Hamilton would be invaluable to the Royalist cause.
"Ask your own price, sir," he said, after suggesting the higher service to which he could devote his pen. "You will find us more liberal--" But Hamilton had bolted. It is impossible to knock down one's venerable president, and his temper was still an active member in the family of his faculties. To the numerous other offers he received from the Tory side he made no reply, beyond inserting an additional sting into his pen when writing for Holt's Journal. In the press he was referred to, now, as "The Vindicator of Congress," and it was generally conceded that he had done more to hasten matters to a climax, by preparing and whetting the public mind, than anyone else in America.
There is no doubt that the swiftness and suddenness of Hamilton's conversion, his abrupt descent from a background of study and alien indifference, gave him a clearer and more comprehensive view of the wrongs and needs of the colonists than they possessed themselves. They had been muttering ever since the passage of the first stamp tax, threatening, permitting themselves to be placated, hoping, despairing, hoping again. Hamilton, from the first moment he grasped the subject, saw that there was no hope in ministerial England, no hope in anything but war. Moreover, his courage, naturally of the finest temper, and an audacity which no one had ever discouraged, leapt out from that far background of the West Indies into an arena where the natives moved in an atmosphere whose damps of doubt and discouragement had corroded them for years. Even among men whose courage and independence were of the first quality, Hamilton's passionate energy, fearlessness of thought, and audacity of expression, made him remarkable at once; and they drew a long breath of relief when he uncompromisingly published what they had long agreed upon over the dining-table, or built up the doctrine of resistance with argument as powerful as it was new.
But the time rapidly approached for deeds, and Hamilton had been occupied in other ways than writing pamphlets. During the past six months he had studied tactics and gunnery, and had joined a volunteer corps in order to learn the practical details of military science. All his friends belonged to this corps, which called itself "Hearts of Oak," and looked very charming in green uniforms and leathern caps, inscribed "Freedom or Death." They soon attracted the attention of General Greene, a superior man and an accomplished officer. He took an especial fancy to Hamilton, and great as was their disparity in years, they were close friends until the General's death. It was Greene who first attracted Washington's attention to the youngest of his captains, and Hamilton was able to render the older man, whose services and talents have even yet not been properly recognized by his country, exceptional service. The company exercised in the churchyard of St. George's chapel, early in the morning; for in spite of the swarms of recruits clad in every variety of uniform, deserted houses, and daily flights of the timid into Jersey, earthworks and fortifications, college went on as usual.
It was not long before the "Hearts of Oak" had an opportunity to distinguish themselves. The provincial committee ordered them to remove the cannon stationed at the Battery. In the harbour was the British war-ship, Asia, which immediately sent off a boat to enquire into this proceeding. A large number of armed citizens had escorted the little corps to the Battery, and several lost their heads and fired at the boat. There was an immediate broadside from the Asia. Three of the militia were wounded, and one fell dead by Hamilton's side. "It is child's play to a hurricane," he thought. "I doubt if a man could have a better training for the battlefield." They removed the guns.
The result of this attack was another explosion of New York's nerves. The Sons of Liberty made it unsafe for a Tory to venture abroad. They marched through the streets shouting vengeance, burning in effigy, and making alarming demonstrations before the handsome houses of certain loyalists. Suddenly, about ten o'clock at night, they were animated by a desire to offer up Dr. Cooper, and they cohered and swarmed down toward King's. Hamilton and Troup happened to be walking in the grounds when the sudden flare of torches and the approaching tide of sound, warned them of the invasion. They ran like deer to head them off, but reached the portico only a moment ahead of the mob, which knew that it must be sudden and swift to be victorious.
"I can talk faster than you," whispered Hamilton, "I'll harangue them, and it won't take Dr. Cooper long to understand and flee through the back door--and may the devil fly away with him."
"A moment!" he cried, "I've something to say, and I may not have another chance, war is so close upon us."
"'Tis young Hamilton," cried someone in the crowd. "Well, make us a speech; we're always glad to hear you, but we'll not go home without old Cooper. Don't think it."
Hamilton never remembered what nonsense he talked that night. Fortunately words always came with a rush, and he could mix up politics, wrongs, the clergy, and patriotism, in so picturesque a jumble that an excited crowd would not miss his usual concise logic. "Do you suppose he's gone?" he whispered, pausing to take breath.
"Go on, go on," said Troup nervously, "I hear someone moving."
There was a wild yell from the crowd, and a hoarse roar from above. Hamilton and Troup looked up. Dr. Cooper's infuriated visage, surrounded by a large frill, projected from his bedroom window. "Don't listen to him," he shrieked, thrusting his finger at Hamilton. "He's crazy! He's crazy!"
"The old fool," fumed Troup, "he thinks you're taking your just revenge. If I could get inside--"
Dr. Cooper was jerked back by a friendly hand and the window slammed. "Someone understands," whispered Troup, excitedly; "and they'll have him out in two minutes. Go on, for heaven's sake."
Hamilton, who had been tearful with laughter, began again:--
"I appeal to you, my friends, am I crazy?" Indignant shouts of "No! No!" "Then let me, I pray, make a few remarks on the possibility of holding New York against the advancing fleet, that you can testify to my sanity to-morrow, and save me from whatever unhappy fate this irascible gentleman has in store for me."
"Go ahead! Go ahead!" cried someone in the mob. "We won't let him touch you."
And again Hamilton harangued them, until Troup slipped round to the rear of the big building and returned with word that Dr. Cooper was safely over the back fence and on his way to the Asia. When Hamilton announced the flight, there was muttering, but more laughter, for the mob was in a better humour than when it came.
"Well, that silver tongue of yours did the old man a good turn to-night, but you shan't make fools of us again." And a few days later, when Alexander attempted to head off the same mob as it made for the press of Rivington, the Tory printer, they would not listen to him. But the effort raised him still higher in the estimation of the patriots, for they saw that his love of law and order was as great as his passion for war.