The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book IV. "Alexander the Great"
Hamilton for many months was far too busy with the reports he sent to Congress in rapid succession, above all with the one concerning the establishment of a National Bank, to be presented at the opening of the next Session, and with the routine of business connected with his department, to interfere in politics. He warned General Schuyler, however, and hoped that the scandal connected with the State lands, in which Burr was deeply implicated, would argue for the statesman in his contest with a mere politician. But Burr, in common with the other commissioners, was acquitted, although no satisfactory explanation of their astounding transactions was given, and General Schuyler lost the election as much through personal unpopularity as through the industry of Burr and the determined efforts of the Livingstons. Schuyler, the tenderest of men in his friendships, was as austere in his public manner as in his virtues, and inflexible in demanding the respect due to his rank and position. Of a broad intelligence, and a statesman of respectable stature, he knew little of the business of politics and cared less. He took his defeat with philosophy, regretting it more for the animosity toward his son-in-law it betokened than because it removed him temporarily from public life, and returned with his family to Albany, Hamilton was annoyed and disgusted, and resolved to keep his eye on Burr in the future. While he himself was in power the United States should have no set-backs that he could prevent, and if Burr realized his reading of his character he should manage to balk his ambitions if they threatened the progress of the country. Kitty Livingston he did not see again for many months, for her father died on July 25th. Hamilton heard of William Livingston's death with deep regret, for Liberty Hall was among the brightest of his memories; but events and emotions were crowding in his life as they never had crowded before, and he had little time for reminiscence.
Congress adjourned on the 12th of August to meet in Philadelphia in December. New York followed Washington to the ferry stairs upon the day of his departure, weeping not only for that great man's loss, but for the glory that went with him. "That vile Philadelphia," as Angelica Church, in a letter to Betsey of consolatory lament, characterized the city where Independence was born, was to be the capital of the Nation once more, New York to console herself with her commerce and the superior cleanliness of her streets. Those who could, followed the "Court," and those who could not, travelled the weary distance over the corduroy roads through the forests, and over swamps and rivers, as often as circumstances would permit. Of the former was Mrs. Croix, whose particular court protested it must have the solace of her presence in a city to which few went willingly. Clinton heaped her with reproaches, but she argued sweetly that he was outvoted, and that she should ever go where duty called. "She felt politics to be her mission," and in truth she enjoyed its intrigues, the double game she played, with all her feminine soul. Hamilton would not help himself in her valuable storehouse, but it pleased her to know that she held dangerous secrets in her hands, could confound many an unwary politician. And she had her methods, as we have seen, of springing upon Hamilton many a useful bit of knowledge, and of assisting him in ways unsuspected of any. She established herself in lodgings in Chestnut Street, not unlike those in which she had spent so many happy hours for two years past, inasmuch as they were situated on the first floor and communicated with a little garden. Her removal was looked upon as quite natural, and so admirably did she deport herself that even Mrs. Washington received her in time.
Philadelphia was a larger city than New York, with wide ill-kept streets, good pavements, and many fine houses and public buildings. Chestnut Street was the great thoroughfare, shopping district, and promenade. It was a city renowned for social activity and "crucifying expenses." Naturally its press was as jubilant over the revival of its ancient splendour as that of disappointed New York was scurrilous and vindictive. When the latter was not caricaturing Robert Morris, staggering off with the Administration on its back, or "Miss Assumption and her bastard brats," its anti-Federal part was abusing Hamilton as the arch-fiend who had sold the country, and applying to him every adjective of vituperation that fury and coarseness could suggest. There were poems, taunts, jibes, and squibs, printed as rapidly as the press and ingenuity could turn them out. If our ancestors were capable of appreciating the literary excellence of their pamphleteers, as many of those who have replaced them to-day could not, it must be admitted that we do not rage and hate so violently. The most hysteric effusions of our yellow press, or the caustic utterances of our reputable newspapers, are tame indeed before the daily cyclones of a time when everybody who did not love his political neighbor hated him with a deadly virulence of which we know little to-day. We may be improved, merely commercialized, or more diffuse in our interests. In those days every man was a politician first and himself after.
The violence of party feeling engendered once more by the debates over Hamilton's Report spread over the country like a prairie fire, and raged until, in the North at least, it was met by the back fire of increasing prosperity. As the summer waned farmers and merchants beheld the prices of public securities going up, heard that in Holland the foreign loan had gone above par, and that two hundred and seventy-eight thousand dollars of the domestic debt had been purchased and cancelled at a cost of one hundred and fifty thousand, saw trade reviving, felt their own burdens lighten with the banishment of the State debt. To sing the praises of the Assumption Bill was but a natural sequence, and from thence to a constant panegyric of Hamilton. The anti-Federalist press was drowned in the North by the jubilance of the Federal and its increasing recruits, but in the South everything connected with the Government in general and Hamilton in particular was unholy, and the language in which the sentiment was expressed was unholier.
Meanwhile, Hamilton was established in a little house in Philadelphia, at work upon his second Report on the Public Credit, and elaborating his argument in favour of a National Bank. Betsey had been more fortunate than many in getting her house in order within a reasonable time, for others were camping in two rooms while the carpenters hammered over the rest of the neglected mansions. Washington arrived in November and took possession of the stately home of Robert Morris, although he grumbled that the stables would hold but twelve horses. It was a splendid mansion, however, and filled not only with the fine collections of the rich merchant, but with many beautiful works of art that the President brought from Mount Vernon. Congress opened on the 6th of December.
If Hamilton had given only an occasional half-amused, half-irritated attention to the journalistic and pamphlet warfare in which he had been the target, he now found a domestic engagement confronting him which commanded his attentions and roused all the fighting Scotch blood in his composition. Jefferson had done much and distressful thinking during the summer recess. In the leisure of his extensive, not to say magnificent, Virginia estates, and while entertaining the neighbouring aristocracy, he had moved slowly to the conclusion that he approved of nothing in the Administration, and that Hamilton was a danger to the Nation and a colossus in his path. Assumption he held to be a measure of the very devil, and fumed whenever he reflected upon his part in its accomplishment. "I was made to hold a candle!" he would explain apologetically. "He hoodwinked me, made a fool of me."
For a statesman of forty-seven, and one of the most distinguished and successful men in the country, the literary author of The Declaration of Independence, the father of many beneficent and popular laws in his own State, a minister to foreign courts and one of the deepest and subtlest students of human nature of his century, to find himself fooled and played with by a young man of thirty-three, relegated by him to a second place in the Cabinet and country, means--meant in those days, at least--hate of the most remorseless quality. Jefferson was like a volcano with bowels of fire and a crater which spilled over in the night. He smouldered and rumbled, a natural timidity preventing the splendour of fireworks. But he was deadly.
He and Madison met often during these holidays, and an object of their growing confidence was James Monroe, the new Senator from Virginia. Monroe was a fighter, and hatred of Hamilton was his religion. Moreover, he disapproved with violence of every measure of the new government, and everybody connected with it, from Washington down, Jefferson excepted; Randolph he held to be a trimmer, and overlooked the fact that although he himself had opposed the Constitution with all his words, he was one of the first to take office under it. Jefferson needed but this younger man's incentive to disapprove more profoundly not only assumption, but Hamilton's design to establish a National Bank. That was the most criminal evidence of an ultimate dash for a throne which the Secretary of the Treasury, whose place in the Cabinet should have been second to his own, but who was the very head and front of the Administration, had yet betrayed. And as for the triumphal progress of Washington through the States in the previous autumn, and again before leaving for Mount Vernon upon the close of the last Congress, a king could have done no more. The new Republic was tottering on its rotten foundations, and Jefferson and his able lieutenants vowed themselves to the rescue. Madison was the anti-government leader in the House, Monroe would abet him in the Senate, and Jefferson would undertake the fight in the Cabinet. It cannot be said that he liked the prospect, for he read his fellow-beings too well to mistake the mettle of Hamilton. He was a peaceable soul, except when in his study with pen in hand, but stem this monarchical tide he would, and bury Hamilton under the dam.
"We are three to one," he said reassuringly to his coadjutors. "He is brilliant. I do not deny it. But against a triple power--"
"He is worth any three men I ever knew," said Madison, drearily. "We shall have to work harder than he will."
Jefferson lifted his pen, and squinted thoughtfully at its point. Monroe, who was the youngest of the trio, laughed aloud.
And these were the forces of which Hamilton felt the shock shortly after the convening of Congress.