Book IV. "Alexander the Great"
Chapter XX

Jefferson had arrived on March 21st, and entered at once upon his duties as Secretary of State. He disapproved of the assumption measure, but was so absorbed in the perplexing details of his new office, in correspondence, and in frequent conferences with the President on the subject of foreign affairs, that he gave the matter little consecutive thought. Moreover, he was dined every day for weeks, all the distinguished New Yorkers, from Hamilton down, vying with each other in attentions to a man whose state record was so enlightened, and whose foreign so brilliant, despite one or two humiliating failures. He rented a small cottage in Maiden Lane, and looked with deep disapproval upon the aristocratic dissipations of New York, the frigid stateliness of Washington's "Court." The French Revolution and the snub of the British king had developed his natural democratism into a controlling passion, and he would have preferred to find in even the large cities of the new country the homely bourgeois life of his highest ideals.

No one accused him of inconsistency in externals. With his shaggy sandy hair, his great red face, covered with freckles, his long loose figure, clad in red French breeches a size too small, a threadbare brown coat, soiled linen and hose, and enormous hands and feet, he must have astounded the courtly city of New York, and it is certain that he set Washington's teeth on edge. It is no wonder that when this vision rises upon the democratic horizon of to-day, he is hailed as a greater man than Washington or Hamilton.

Shortly after the final recommitment of the resolution in favour of assumption, the Federalist leader met this engaging figure almost in front of Washington's door, and a plan which had dawned in his mind a day or two before matured on the instant. He had no dislike for Jefferson at the time, and respected his intellect and diplomatic talents, without reference to differences of opinion. Jefferson grinned as Hamilton approached, and offered his great paw amiably. He did not like his brother secretary's clothes, and his hitherto averted understanding was gradually moving toward the displeasing fact that Hamilton was the Administration; but he had had little time for reflection, and he succumbed temporarily to a fascination which few resisted.

Hamilton approached him frankly. "Will you walk up and down with me a few moments?" he asked. "I have intended to call upon you. You have returned at a most opportune time. Do you realize, sir, that the whole business of this nation is at a deadlock? There is nothing in this talk of the North seceding, but so great is the apprehension that the energies of the country are paralyzed, and no man thinks of anything but the possible failure of the Government. I am convinced that assumption is not only necessary to permanent union, to the solution of the financial problem, but to the prosperity of the States themselves." He then proceeded to convince Jefferson, who listened attentively, wondering, with a sigh, how any man could pour out his thoughts so rapidly and so well. "Will you turn this over in your mind, and let me see you again in a day or two?" asked Hamilton, as he finished his argument. "Let me reiterate that there is no time to lose. The Government is at a standstill in all matters concerning the establishment of the country on a sound financial basis, until this subordinate matter is settled."

"You alarm and deeply interest me," said Jefferson. "I certainly will give the matter my attention. Will you dine with me to-morrow? We can then discuss this matter at leisure. I will ask one or two others."

The next day, at Mr. Jefferson's epicureous board, Hamilton played his trump. Having again wrought havoc with his host's imagination, but by no means trusting to the permanence of any emotion, he proposed a bargain: if Jefferson would use his influence with the Virginians and other Southern anti-assumptionists in Congress, he and Robert Morris would engage to persuade obstinate Northerners to concede the Capital city to the South. Hamilton made no sacrifice of conviction in offering this proposition. There was no reason why the Government should not sit as conveniently on the banks of the Potomac as elsewhere, and if he did not carry the Union through this new crisis, no one else would. All his great schemes depended upon his bringing the hostile States to reason, and with his usual high-handed impatience he carried his object in his own way.

Jefferson saw much virtue in this arrangement. The plan was an almost immediate success. White and Lee of Virginia were induced to change their votes, and assumption with some modifications passed into a law. The Government, after a ten years' sojourn in Philadelphia, would abide permanently upon the Potomac.