The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book IV. "Alexander the Great"
On the 13th of December Hamilton sent to the House of Representatives his second Report on Public Credit--no longer a nomen of bitter sarcasm--and the Report in favour of a National Bank. Congress was once more on edge. Since his first Great Report, it had considered and wrangled over his successive Reports on State Debits and Credits, West Point, Public Lands, Estimates, and Renewal of Certificates; and it had lived through the hot summer on the prospect of the excitement which the bold and creative Secretary would surely provide. Even his enemies loved Hamilton in their way, for life was torpid when he rested on his labours.
The anti-Federalists, had they needed an additional incentive for the coming battle, a condition to rouse all their strength and mettle, found it in the rapidly increasing prosperity of the country, which had raised Hamilton to a height of popularity from which it would be an historic triumph to drag him down. He was, indeed, almost at the zenith of a reputation which few men have achieved. From end to end of the Union his name was on every lip, sometimes coupled with a hiss, but oftener with every expression of honour and admiration that the language could furnish. Even in the South he had his followers, and in the North and East it was hardly worth a man's nose to abuse him. He was a magician, who could make the fortunes of any man quick enough to seize his opportunities, and the saviour of the national honour and fortunes. His fame obscured that of Washington, and abroad he was by far the most interesting and significant figure in the young country. No wonder the anti-Federalists trembled for the future, and with all the vigour of hardened muscles fought his scheme for allying the moneyed classes with the Government.
Hamilton made no secret of his design so closely to attach the wealthy men of the country to the central Government that they must stand or fall with it, coming to its rescue in every crisis; and time has vindicated his far-sighted policy. But when the National Bank was in the preliminary stages of its journey, certain of its hosts in Congress saw but another horrid menace to the liberties of the people, another step toward the final establishment of a monarchy after the British pattern. The old arguments of subservience to British institutions in the matter of funding, and other successful pets of the Secretary, were dragged forth and wrangled over, in connection with this new and doubly pernicious measure of a National Bank.
Hamilton recommended that a number of subscribers should be incorporated into a bank, to be known as the Bank of the United States; the capital to be ten million dollars; the number of shares twenty-five thousand; the par value of each share four hundred dollars; the Government to become a subscriber to the amount of two millions, and to require in return a loan of an equal sum, payable in ten yearly instalments of two hundred thousand dollars each. The rest of the capital stock would be open to the public, to be paid for, one-quarter in gold and silver, and three-quarters in the six or three per cent certificates of the national debt. The life of the bank was to end in 1811. As an inducement for prompt subscriptions a pledge would be given that for twenty years to come Congress would incorporate no other.
It is odd reading for us, with a bank in every street, not only those old diatribes in Congress against banks of all sorts, but Hamilton's elaborate arguments in favour of banks in general, the benefits and conveniences they confer upon individuals as well as nations. But in those days there were but three banks in the Union, and each had been established against violent opposition, Hamilton, in particular, having carried the Bank of New York through by unremitting personal effort. The average man preferred his stocking. Representatives from backwoods districts were used to such circulating mediums as military warrants, guard certificates, horses, cattle, cow-bells, land, and whiskey. They looked askance at a bank as a sort of whirlpool into which wealth would disappear, and bolt out at the bottom into the pockets of a few individuals who understood what was beyond the average intellect. But by far the most disquieting objection brought forward against this plan of the Secretary's was its alleged unconstitutionality.
Monroe, although a new man, and speaking seldom, exerted a systematic opposition in the Senate, and Madison, in the House, argued, with lucidity and persistence, that the Constitution had no power to grant a charter to any such institution as the Secretary proposed. Others argued that the success of this new scheme would infringe upon the rights of the States, and still others thundered the everlasting accusations of monarchical design. Nevertheless, the bill for granting the required charter passed both Houses by a handsome majority. The able Federalists had contemptuously dissected the arguments against it with greater skill than even Madison could command; and confidence in Hamilton, by this time, practically was a religion. The bill was sent to Washington to sign or veto, and the anti-Federalists, disconcerted and alarmed by their signal defeat in Congress, rested their final hope on Jefferson.
The President, according to law, had but ten days in which to sign or veto a bill: if he hesitated but a moment beyond the constitutional limit, the bill became a law without his signature. It may safely be said that these ten days were the most miserable of Washington's life so far, although they were but the forerunner of many to come.
By this time the Cabinet had acquired the habit of assembling for conference about a council table in the President's house. Washington sat at the head of the table, with Hamilton on his left, and Jefferson on his right. Knox, who would have frowned upon the Almighty had he contradicted Hamilton, sat beside his Captain. Randolph sat opposite, his principles with Jefferson, but his intellect so given to hair-splitting, that in critical moments this passion to weigh every side of a proposition in turn frequently resulted in the wrench of a concession by Hamilton, while Jefferson fumed. As time went on, Washington fell into the habit of extending his long arms upon the table in front of him, and clasping his imposing hands in the manner of a rampart.
Jefferson began a tentative showing of his colours while the bill was fighting its stormy way through Congress, and Hamilton was a brief while perceiving his drift and appreciating his implacable enmity. The first time that Jefferson encountered the lightning in Hamilton's eye, the quivering of his nostril, as he half rose from his chair under the sudden recognition of what he was to expect, his legs slid forward limply, and he turned his head toward the door. Washington suppressed a smile, but it was long before he smiled again, Hamilton would have no hints and innuendoes; he forced his enemy to show his hand. But although he wrung from Jefferson his opposition to the Bank and to every scheme the Secretary of the Treasury had proposed, he could not drag him into the open. Jefferson was deprecating, politely determined to serve the country in his own way, lost in admiration of this opponent's intellect, but forced to admit his mistakes--the mistakes of a too ardent mind. The more bitter and caustic the sarcasms that leaped from Hamilton's tongue, the more suave he grew, for placidity was his only weapon of self-preservation; a war of words with Hamilton, and he would be made ridiculous in the presence of his colleagues and Washington. Occasionally the volcano flared through his pale eyes, and betrayed such hate and resentment that Washington elevated his hands an inch. The President sat like a stoic, with a tornado on one side of him and a growling Vesuvius on the other, and exhibited an impartiality, in spite of the fact that Jefferson daily betrayed his hostility to the Administration, which revealed but another of his superhuman attributes. But there is a psychological manifestation of mental bias, no matter what the control, and some men are sensitive enough to feel it. Jefferson was quite aware that Washington loved Hamilton and believed in him thoroughly, and he felt the concealed desire to side openly with the Secretary to whom, practically, had been given the reins of government. Washington, rather than show open favouritism, even to Hamilton, to whom he felt the profoundest gratitude, would have resigned his high office; but the desire was in his head, and Jefferson felt it. The campaign open, he kept up a nagging siege upon Washington's convictions in favour of his aggressive Secretary's measures, finding constant excuses to be alone with the President. Hamilton, on the other hand, dismissed the subject when left alone with Washington, unless responding to a demand. He frequently remained to the midday meal with the family, and was as gay and lively as if Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe were in the limbo to which he gladly would have consigned them. His nature was mercurial in one, at least, of its essences, and a sudden let-down, followed by congenial company, restored his equilibrium at once. But Washington watched the development of the blackness and violence of his deeper passions with uneasiness and regret, finally with alarm.
Hamilton, in truth, was roused to his dregs. The sneaking retreat of Madison from his standard and affections, the rancorous enmity of Monroe, with whom he had fought side by side and been well with whenever they had been thrown together in the bitter winters of inaction; the slow, cool, determined, deadly opposition of Jefferson, whom he recognized as a giant in intellect and despised as a man with that hot contempt for the foe who will not strip and fight in the open, which whips a passionate nature to the point of fury, had converted Hamilton into a colossus of hate which, as Madison had intimated, far surpassed the best endeavours of the powerful trio. He hated harder, for he had more to hate with,--stronger and deeper passions, ampler resources in his intellect, and an energy of temperament which Jefferson and Madison, recruited by Monroe, could not outweigh. He saw that he was in for the battle of his life, and that its finish might be deferred for years; for he made no such mistake as to underrate the strength and resources of this triple enemy; he knew that it would last until one or the other were worn out. Hamilton had no thought of defeat; he never contemplated it for a moment; his faith in himself and in the wisdom of his measures was absolute; what he looked forward to with the deepest irritation was the persistent opposition, the clogging of his wheels of progress, the constant personal attacks which might weaken him with the country before his multitudinous objects should be accomplished. He suggested resource after resource to his faithful and brilliant disciples in Congress, and he determined to force Jefferson to leave the Cabinet.
"If he only would take himself out of that room with a defiant admission that he intended to head the opposite party and fight me to the death!" he exclaimed to Mrs. Croix, one day. "What right has he to sit there at Washington's hand, a member of his Cabinet, ostensibly in its first place, and at war with every measure of the Administration? He cannot oppose me without involving the President, under whom he holds office, and if he had a grain of decent feeling he would resign rather than occupy such an anomalous position."
"He intends to force you to resign."
"You don't mean to say that he is coming here?" asked Hamilton, in disgust. "Who next?"
"Mr. Jefferson succumbed quite three weeks ago," said Mrs. Croix, gaily. "He amuses me, and I am instilling the conviction that no human being can force you to do anything you don't want to do, and that the sooner he retreats gracefully the better."
Hamilton shrugged his shoulders and made no answer. He had ceased remonstrance long since. If it pleased her to think she was fighting the battles he was forced to fight with undiminished vigour himself, he should be the last to interfere with her amusement. She was a born intrigante, and would have been miserable freckling her complexion in the open sunlight. He was too grateful to her at this time to risk a quarrel, or to condemn her for any of her violations of masculine standards. It was to her he poured out his wrath, after an encounter with Jefferson which had roused him too viciously for reaction at Washington's board or at his own. His wife he spared in every way. Not only was her delicate health taxed to the utmost with social duties which could not be avoided, the management of her household affairs, and an absorbing and frequently ailing family, but he would have controlled himself had he burst, before he would have terrified her with a glimpse of passions of whose existence she had not a suspicion. To her and his family he was ever the most amiable and indulgent of men, giving them every spare moment he could command, and as delighted as a schoolboy with a holiday, when he could spend an hour in the nursery, an evening with his wife, or take a ramble through the woods with his boys. He took a deep pride in his son Philip, directed his studies and habits, and was as pleased with every evidence of his progress as had he seen Madison riding a rail in a coat of tar and feathers. He coddled and petted the entire family, particularly his little daughter Angelica, and they adored him, and knew naught of his depths.
But Mrs. Croix knew them. In her management of Hamilton she made few mistakes, passionately as she loved him. It was in her secluded presence he stormed himself cool, was indignantly sympathized with first, then advised, then soothed. He was made to understand that the more he revealed the black and implacable deeps of his nature, the more was he worshipped, the more keen the response from other and not dissimilar deeps. His wife was necessary to him in many ways, his Egeria in many more. Although he would have sacrificed the last to the first, had it come to an issue, he would have felt as if one-half of him had been cruelly divorced. Few women understand this dual nature in men, and few are the men who do not. It has been known to exist in those who make no pretensions to genius, and in Hamilton was as natural as the versatility of his intellect. When with one he locked the other in the recesses of his mind as successfully as when at college he had accomplished herculean feats of mental accumulation by keeping but one thing before his thought at a time. What he wanted he would have, so long as his family were in no way affected; and had it not been for Mrs. Croix at this time, it might have been worse for Betsey. She cooled his fevers; her counsel was always sound. And her rooms and herself were beautiful. She had her way of banishing the world by drawing her soft blue curtains and lighting her many candles. Had she been a fool, Hamilton would have tired of her in a month; as it was, he often thought of her as the most confidential and dispensing of his friends, and no more.
During the preceding two years of their acquaintance there had been many quarrels, caused by furious bursts of temper on the part of the lady, when Hamilton forgot her for a month or more. There were times when she was the solitary woman of Earth, and others when she might have reigned on Mars. He was very busy, and he had countless interests to absorb time and thought. He never pretended to more than a romantic passion for her, and deep as was her own infatuation, it was sometimes close to hate; for she was a woman whose vanity was as strong as her passions. At this time, however, he felt a frequent need of her, and she made the most of the opportunity.