Book III. The Little Lion
Chapter VIII
 

Washington was in temporary quarters--a cramped and wretched tavern--at Liberty Pole, New Jersey. The inaction being oppressive, Hamilton concentrated his thoughts on the condition and needs of the country.

I am sorry that the same spirit of indifference to public affairs prevails, [he wrote to Sears]. It is necessary we should rouse and begin to do our business in earnest, or we shall play a losing game. We must have a government with more power. We must have a tax in kind. We must have a foreign loan. We must have a bank on the true principles of a bank. We must have an administration distinct from Congress, and in the hands of single men under their orders. We must, above all things, have an army for the war.... We are told here there is to be a Congress of the neutral powers at the Hague for meditating of peace. God send it may be true. We want it; but if the idea goes abroad, ten to one if we do not fancy the thing done, and fall into a profound sleep till the cannon of the enemy waken us next campaign. This is our national character.

Hamilton, the High Priest of Energy, had long since declared war against the genius of the American people, who believed in God and the art of leisure. Hamilton believed in God and a cabinet of zealous ministers. He was already a thorn in the side of estimable but hesitant patriots, and in times to come his unremitting and remorseless energy was to be a subject of reproach by associates and enemies alike. Even Jefferson, that idol of the present as of the past democracy, had timidly declared against separation in 1774, while Hamilton, a boy of seventeen, had been the first to suggest the resort to arms, and incessant in his endeavours until the great result was accomplished. He had countless other schemes, and he knew that eventually he would succeed in driving the American people before the point of his quill. That his task would be long and arduous did not daunt him for a moment. By this time he knew every want of the country, and was determined upon the reorganization of the government. The energy which is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the American nation to-day was generated by Hamilton, might, indeed, be said to be the persistence and diffusion of his ego. For the matter of that, all that is greatest in this American evolution of a century was typified in Hamilton. Not only his formidable energy, but his unqualified honour and integrity, his unquenchable optimism, his extraordinary nimbleness of mind and readiness of resource, his gay good-nature, high spirits, and buoyancy, his light philosophy effervescing above unsounded depths, his inability to see when he was beaten, his remorseless industry, his hard common sense, combined with a versatile cleverness which makes for shallowness in another race, his careless generosity, his aptitude for detail and impatience of it, his reckless bravery in war and intrepidity in peace, even his highly strung nerves, excitability, and obliging readiness at all times for a fight, raise him high above history as the genius of the American race. The reverse side of the national character we owe to the greatest of his rivals; as will be seen hereafter.

During the sojourn at Liberty Pole, Washington and he sat through many nights discussing the imperative need of the reorganization of the government, and the best methods by which it could be accomplished. The result was Hamilton's letter to James Duane, an important member of the Congress.

This letter, no doubt the most remarkable of its kind ever written, and as interesting to-day as when Hamilton conceived it, is far too long to be quoted. It began with an exhaustive analysis of the reasons for the failure of Congress to cope with a situation which was becoming more threatening every hour, and urged the example of the Grecian republics and the Swiss cantons against the attempted confederation of the States without a strong centralized government. Lacking a common tie of sufficient strength, the States would inevitably drift toward independent sovereignty, and they had given signal proof in the matter of raising troops, contributing money, and in their everlasting disputes about boundary lines, as to the absolute lack of any common public spirit. His remedy, in brief, was a convention of the States for the purpose of creating a Federal Constitution, the distributing of the powers of government into separate departments, with Presidents of War, Marine, and Trade, a secretary of Foreign Affairs, and a Financier, defining their prerogatives; the States to have no privileges beyond an internal police for the protection of the property and the rights of individuals, and to raise money by internal taxes; the army to be recruited on a permanent establishment. In addition, there was an elaborate system of taxation, by which the country could be supported in all its emergencies. His favourite plan of a National Bank was elaborated in minute detail, the immediate necessity for a foreign loan dwelt upon with sharp reproof, and examples given of the recruiting of armies in European states.

Out of a multitude of suggestions a few were adopted within a short time, but the great central suggestion, the calling of a convention for the purpose of creating a Federal Constitution, was to be hammered at for many weary years before jealous States and unconfident patriots could be persuaded to a measure so monarchical and so bold. But the letter is on record, and nothing more logical, far-sighted, and comprehensive ever was written. It contained the foundation-stones upon which this government of the United States stands to-day. Congress put on its spectacles and read it with many grunts, magnanimously expressing admiration for a youth who had fearlessly grappled with questions which addled older brains; but its audacious suggestions of a government greater than Congress, and of a bank which would add to their troubles, were not taken seriously for a moment.

Hamilton also found time to write a good many love letters. Here is one of them:--

I would not have you imagine, Miss, that I write you so often to gratify your wishes or please your vanity; but merely to indulge myself, and to comply with that restless propensity of my mind which will not be happy unless I am doing something in which you are concerned. This may seem a very idle disposition in a philosopher and a soldier, but I can plead illustrious examples in my justification. Achilles liked to have sacrificed Greece and his glory to a female captive, and Anthony lost a world for a woman. I am very sorry times are so changed as to oblige me to go to antiquity for my apology, but I confess, to the disgrace of the present time, that I have not been able to find as many who are as far gone as myself in the laudable Zeal of the fair sex. I suspect, however, if others knew the charm of my sweetheart as I do, I could have a great number of competitors. I wish I could give you an idea of her. You can have no conception of how sweet a girl she is. It is only in my heart that her image is truly drawn. She has a lovely form and still more lovely mind. She is all goodness, the gentlest, the dearest, the tenderest of her sex. Ah, Betsey, how I love her!

His reiterated demand for a foreign loan, and the sending of a special envoy to obtain it, at last wrung a reluctant consent from Congress. Lafayette was his politic suggestion, and Congress would have indorsed it, but that adventurous young hero had not come to America to return and beg money on his own doorstep. There was a prospect of fighting in the immediate future, and he was determined to add to his renown. The choice then lay between Hamilton and Laurens, who had received the thanks of Congress for his distinguished services in the field, and whose father had been a president of that body. Lafayette and all the Frenchmen were anxious that the mission be given to Hamilton. The former went to Philadelphia and talked to half the Congress. He offered Hamilton private letters which would introduce him to the best society of Europe; adding, "I intend giving you the key of the cabinet, as well as of the societies which influence them."

Laurens, by this time, was eager to go. His father, who had started for Holland as Minister Plenipotentiary, had been captured by the British and confined in the Tower of London; the foreign mission would give him an opportunity to attempt his liberation. Moreover, life was very dull at present, and he knew himself to be possessed of diplomatic talents. But he was also aware of Hamilton's ardent desire to visit Europe, all that it would mean to that insatiate mind, his weariness of his present position. Washington would give his consent to the temporary absence of Hamilton, for the French money was the vital necessity of the Republic's life, and he knew that his indomitable aide would not return without it Therefore Laurens wrote to Hamilton, who was in Albany awaiting his wedding-day, that he should resign in his favour, and congratulated him on so brilliant and distinguished a honeymoon.

The struggle in Hamilton's mind was brief. The prospect of sailing with his bride on a long and delightful journey that could not fail to bring him highest honour had made his blood dance. Moreover, in the previous month Washington had again refused his request for an independent command. It took him but a short time to relinquish this cherished dream when he thought of the unhappy plight of Mr. Laurens, and remembered the deep anxiety of the son, often expressed. He wrote to Laurens, withdrawing in the most decisive terms. Laurens was not to be outdone. He loved his father, but he loved Hamilton more. He pressed the appointment upon his friend, protesting that the affairs of the elder Laurens would be quite as safe in his hands. Hamilton prevailed, and Congress, having waited amiably while the two martial youths had it out, unanimously appointed Laurens. He could not sail until February, and as soon as the matter was decided obtained leave of absence and repaired in all haste to Albany, to be present at Hamilton's wedding.