The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book IV. "Alexander the Great"
When the 17th of June approached, Hamilton, John Jay, Chancellor Livingston, and James Duane, started on horse for Poughkeepsie, not daring, with Clinton on the spot, and the menace of an immediate adjournment, to trust to the winds of the Hudson. General Schuyler had promised to leave even a day sooner from the North, and the majority of Federal delegates had gone by packet-boat, or horse, in good season.
The old post road between New York and Albany was, for the greater part of the way, but a rough belt through a virgin forest. Occasionally a farmer had cleared a few acres, the lawns of a manor house were open to the sun, the road was varied by the majesty of Hudson and palisade for a brief while, or by the precipitous walls of mountains, so thickly wooded that even the wind barely fluttered their sombre depths. Man was a moving arsenal in those long and lonely journeys, for the bear and the panther were breeding undisturbed. But the month was hot, and those forest depths were very cool; the scenery was often as magnificent as primeval, and a generous hospitality at many a board dispelled, for an interval, the political anxiety of Hamilton and his companions.
Hamilton, despite a mind trained to the subordination of private interests to public duty, knew that it was the crisis of his own destiny toward which he was hastening. He had bound up his personal ambitions with the principles of the Federalist party--so called since the publication in book form of the Publius essays; for not only was he largely responsible for those principles, but his mind was too well regulated to consider the alternative of a compromise with a possibly victorious party which he detested. Perhaps his ambition was too vaulting to adapt itself to a restricted field when his imagination had played for years with the big ninepins of history; at all events, it was inseparably bound up with nationalism in the boldest sense achievable, and with methods which days and nights of severe thought had convinced him were for the greatest good of the American people. Union meant Washington in the supreme command, himself with the reins of government in both hands. The financial, the foreign, the domestic policy of a harmonious federation were as familiar to his mind as they are to us to-day. Only he could achieve them, and only New York could give him those reins of power.
It is true that he had but to move his furniture over to Philadelphia to be welcomed to citizenship with acclamation by that ambitious town; but not only was his pride bound up in the conquest of New York from Clintonism to Federalism, but New York left out of the Union, dividing as she did New England from the South and North, of the highest commercial importance by virtue of her central position and her harbour, meant civil war at no remote period, disunion, and the undoing of the most careful and strenuous labours of the nation's statesmen. That New York should be forced into the Union at once Hamilton was determined upon, if he had to resort to a coup which might or might not meet with the approval of the rest of the country. Nevertheless, he looked forward to the next few weeks with the deepest anxiety. An accident, an illness, and the cause was lost, for he made no mistake in estimating himself as the sole force which could bear Clinton and his magnificent organization to the ground. Hamilton was no party manipulator. He relied upon his individual exertions, abetted by those of his lieutenants,--the most high-minded and the ablest men in the country,--to force his ideas upon the masses by their own momentum and weight. Indeed, so individual did he make the management of the Federalist party, that years later, when the "Republican" leaders determined upon its overthrow, they aimed all their artillery at him alone: if he fell the party must collapse, on top of him; did he retain the confidence of the people, he would magnetize their obedience, no matter what rifts there might be in his ranks.
He had established a horse-express between Virginia and Poughkeepsie, and between New Hampshire and the little capital. Eight States having ratified, the signature of New Hampshire, the next in order, would mean union and a trial of the Constitution, a prospect which could not fail to influence the thinking men of the anti-Federal party; but it was from the ratification of Virginia that he hoped the greatest good. This State occupied much the same position in the South that New York did in the North, geographically, commercially, historically, and in the importance of her public men. And she was as bitterly opposed to union, to what a narrow provincialism held to be the humiliation of the States. Patrick Henry, her most powerful and eloquent leader, not through the selfish policy of a Clinton, but in the limitations of a too narrow genius, was haranguing with all his recuperated might against the sinister menace to the liberties of a people who had freed themselves of one despotism so dearly; and even Randolph, with characteristic hesitancy when approaching a point, was deficient in enthusiasm, although he intimated that he should vote for the unconditional adoption of the Constitution he had refused to sign. He and Marshall were Madison's only assistants of importance against the formidable opponent of union, and it was well understood among leaders that Jefferson, who was then American minister in France, gave the Constitution but a grudging and inconsistent approval, and would prefer that it failed, were not amendments tacked on which practically would nullify its energies. But although Hamilton had such lieutenants as John Jay, Philip Schuyler, Duane, and Robert Livingston, Madison had the inestimable, though silent, backing of Washington. The great Chief had, months since, forcibly expressed his sentiments in a public letter; and that colossal figure, the more potent that it was invisible and mute, guided as many wills as Madison's strenuous exertions and unanswerable dispassionate logic.
But Washington, although sufficiently revered by New Yorkers, was not their very own, as was he the Virginians'; was by no means so impinging and insistent as his excellency, Governor Clinton, he whose powerful will and personality, aided by an enterprise and wisdom that were not always misguided, for eleven years had compelled their grateful submission. It was difficult to convince New Yorkers that such a man was wholly wrong in his patriotism, particularly when their own interests seemed bound so firmly to his. It was this dominant, dauntless, resourceful, political nabob that Hamilton knew he must conquer single-handed, if he conquered him at all; for his lieutenants, able as they were, could only second and abet him; they had none of his fertility of resource. As he rode through the forest he rehearsed every scheme of counterplay and every method that made for conquest which his fertile brain had conceived. He would exercise every argument likely to appeal to the decent instincts of those ambitious of ranking as first-class citizens, as well as to the congenital selfishness of man, which could illuminate the darker recesses of their Clintonized understandings, and effect their legitimate conversion; then, if these higher methods failed, coercion.
"What imperious method are you devising, Hamilton?" asked Livingston. "Your lips are set; your eyes are almost black. I've seen you like that in court, but never in good company before. You look as if considering a challenge to mortal combat."
Hamilton's brow cleared, and he laughed with that mercurial lightness which did more to preserve the balance of what otherwise would have been an overweighted mind than any other quality it possessed.
"Well, am I not to fight a duel?" he asked. "Would that I could call Clinton out and settle the question as easily as that. I disapprove of duelling, but so critical a moment as this would justify anything short of trickery. We'll leave that to Clinton; but although there is no vast difference between my political and my private conscience, there are recourses which are as fair in political as in martial warfare, and I should be found ingenuous and incapable did I fail to make use of them."
"Well, you love a fight," said Jay, without experiencing the humour of his remark. "I believe you would rather fight than sit down in good company at any time, and you are notoriously convivial. But easy conquest would demoralize you. If I do not mistake, you have the greatest battle of your career, past or present, immediately ahead of you--and it means so much to all of us--I fear--I fear--"
"I will listen to no fears," cried Hamilton, who at all events had no mind to be tormented by any but his own. "Are we not alive? Are we not in health? Are not our intellectual powers at their ripest point of development? Can Clinton, Melancthon Smith, Yates, Lansing, Jones, make a better showing?"
"We are nineteen against forty-six," said Jay, with conceivable gloom.
"True. But there is no reason why we should not shortly be forty-six against nineteen."
"We certainly are Right against the most unstatesman-like Selfishness the world has ever seen," observed Duane.
"Would that experience justified us in thinking well enough of the human race to gather courage from that fact," replied Hamilton. "It is to the self-interest of the majority we shall have to appeal. Convince them that there is neither career nor prosperity for them in an isolated State, and we may drag them up to a height which is safer than their mire, simply because it is better, or better because it is safer. This is a time to practice patriotism, but not to waste time talking about it."
"Your remarks savour of cynicism," replied Jay, "but I fear there is much truth in them. It is only in the millennium, I suppose, that we shall have the unthinkable happiness of seeing on all sides of us an absolute conformity to our ideals."
In spite of the close, if somewhat formal, friendship between Jay and Hamilton, the latter was often momentarily depressed by the resemblance of this flawless character to, and its rigid contrasts from, his dead friend Laurens. Jay was all that Laurens had passionately wished to be, and apparently without effort; for nature had not balanced him with a redeeming vice, consequently with no power to inspire hate or love. Had he been a degree greater, a trifle more ambitious, or had circumstances isolated him in politics, he would have been an even lonelier and loftier figure than Washington, for our Chief had one or two redeeming humanities; as it was, he stood to a few as a character so perfect that they marvelled, while they deplored his lack of personal influence. But his intellect is in the rank which stands just beneath that of the men of genius revealed by history, and he hangs like a silver star of the tropics upon the sometimes dubious fields of our ancestral heavens. Nevertheless, he frequently inspired Hamilton with so poignant a longing for Laurens that our impetuous hero was tempted to wish for an exchange of fates.
"In the millennium we will all tell the truth and hate each other," answered Hamilton. "And we either shall all be fools, or those irritants will be extinct; in any case we shall be happy, particularly if we have someone to hate."
"Ah, now you jest," said Duane, smiling. "For you are logical or nothing. You may be happy when on the warpath, but the rest of us are not. And you are the last man to be happy in a millennium by yourself."
They all laughed at this sally, for Hamilton was seldom silent. He answered lightly:--
"Someone to fight. Someone to love. Three warm friends. Three hot enemies. A sufficiency of delicate food and wine. A West Indian swimming-bath. Someone to talk to. Someone to make love to. War. Politics. Books. Song. Children. Woman. A religion. There you have the essence of the millennium, embroider it as you may."
"And scenery," added Jay, devoutly.
The road for the last quarter of an hour had led up a steep hill, above which other hills piled without an opening; and below lay the Hudson. As they paused upon the bare cone of the elevation, the river looked like a chain of Adirondack lakes, with dense and upright forests rising tier beyond tier until lost in the blue haze of the Catskills. The mountains looked as if they had pushed out from the mainland down to the water's edge to cross and meet each other. So close were the opposite crags that the travellers could see a deer leap through the brush, the red of his coat flashing through the gloomy depths. Below sped two packet-boats in a stiff breeze.
"Friends or enemies?" queried Livingston. "I wish I were with them, for I must confess the pleasures of horse travel for seventy-five miles must be the climax of a daily habit to be fully appreciated. It is all very well for Hamilton, who is on a horse twice every day; but as I am ten years older and proportionately stiffer, I shall leave patriotism to the rest of you for a day or two after our arrival."
Hamilton did not answer. He had become conscious of the delicate yet piercing scent of violets. Wild violets had no perfume, and it was long past their season. He glanced eagerly around, but without realizing what prompted a quick stirring of his pulses. There was but one tree on the crag, and he stood against it. Almost mechanically his glance sought its recesses, and his hand reached forward to something white. It was a small handkerchief of cambric and lace. The other men were staring at the scenery. He hastily glanced at the initials in the corner of the scented trifle, and wondered that he should so easily decipher a tangled E.C.C. But he marvelled, nevertheless, and thrust the handkerchief into his pocket.
They reached Poughkeepsie late in the afternoon. Main Street, which was the interruption of the post road, and East Street, which terminated the Dutchess turnpike, were gaily decorated with flags and greens, the windows and pavements crowded with people whose faces reflected the nervous excitement with which the whole country throbbed. The capital for ten years, the original village had spread over the hills into a rambling town of many avenues, straight and twisted, and there were pretentious houses and a certain amount of business. Hamilton and his party were stared at with deep curiosity, but not cheered, for the town was almost wholly Clintonian. The Governor had his official residence on the Dutchess turnpike, a short distance from town; and this was his court. Nevertheless, it was proudly conscious of the dignity incumbent upon it as the legislative centre of the State, and no matter what the suspense or the issue, had no mind to make the violent demonstrations of other towns. Nearly every town of the North, including Albany, had burned Hamilton in effigy, albeit with battered noses, for he had his followers everywhere; but here he was met with a refreshing coolness, for which the others of his party, at least, were thankful.
They went first to Van Kleek's tavern, on the Upper Landing Road, not far from the Court-house, to secure the rooms they had engaged; but finding an invitation awaiting them from Henry Livingston to make use of his house during the Convention, repaired with unmixed satisfaction to the large estate on the other side of the town. The host was absent, but his cousin had been requested to do the honours to as many as he would ask to share a peaceful retreat from the daily scene of strife.
"And it has the advantage of an assured privacy," said Hamilton. "For here we can hold conference nightly with no fear of eavesdropping. Moreover, to get a bath at Van Kleek's is as easy as making love to Clinton."
General Schuyler joined them an hour later. He had been in town all day, and had held several conferences with the depressed Federalists, who, between a minority which made them almost ridiculous, and uncomfortable lodgings, were deep in gloomy forebodings. As soon as they heard of their Captain's arrival they swarmed down to the Livingston mansion. Hamilton harangued them cheerfully in the drawing-room, drank with them, in his host's excellent wine, to the success of their righteous cause; and they retired, buoyant, confirmed in their almost idolatrous belief in the man who was responsible for all the ideas they possessed.