Book IV. "Alexander the Great"
Chapter XXIV

Meanwhile, Washington, deeply disturbed by the arguments in the press and Congress against the constitutionality of the National Bank, had privately asked for the written opinions of Jefferson and Randolph, and for a form of veto from Madison. They were so promptly forthcoming that they might have been biding demand. Washington read them carefully, then, too worried and impatient for formalities, carried them himself to Hamilton's house.

"For God's sake read them at once and tell me what they amount to," he said, throwing the bundle of papers on the table. "Of course you must prepare me an answer in writing, but I want your opinion at once. I will wait."

Long years after, when Betsey was an old woman, someone asked her if she remembered any incidents in connection with the establishment of the great Bank. She replied, "Yes, I remember it all distinctly. One day General Washington called at the house, looking terribly worried. He shut himself up in the study with my husband for hours, and they talked nearly all the time. When he went away he looked much more cheerful. That night my husband did not go to bed at all, but sat up writing; and the next day we had a Bank."

Hamilton's answer, both verbally and in a more elaborate form, was so able and sound a refutation of every point advanced by the enemy that Washington hesitated no longer and signed the bill during the last moments remaining to him. Years later, when the same question was raised again, Chief Justice Marshall, the most brilliant ornament, by common consent, the Supreme Court of the United States has had, admitted that he could add nothing to Hamilton's argument. It must, also, have convinced Madison; for while President of the United States, and his opportunity for displaying the consistencies of his intellect, unrivalled, he signed the charter of the Second National Bank. Monroe, whose party was in power, and able to defeat any obnoxious measure of the Federalists, advocated; the second Bank as heartily as he had cursed the first. His defence of his conduct was a mixture of insolent frankness and verbiage. He said: "As to the constitutional objection, it formed no serious obstacle. In voting against the Bank in the first instance, I was governed essentially by policy. The construction I gave to the Constitution I considered a strict one. In the latter instance it was more liberal but, according to my judgement, justified by its powers." If anyone can tell what he meant, doubtless his own shade would be grateful.

Hamilton's second Report on the Public Credit had beer buffeted about quite as mercilessly as the Report in favour of a bank. The customs officers had, during the past year collected $1,900,000, which sufficed to pay two-thirds of the annual expenses of the Government. There was still a deficit of $826,000, and to meet future contingencies of a similar nature, the Secretary of the Treasury urged the passage of an Excise Bill.

Even his enemies admired his courage, for no measure could be more unpopular, raise more widespread wrath. It was regarded as a deliberate attempt to deprive man of his most cherished vice; and every argument was brought forth in opposition, from the historic relation of whiskey to health and happiness, to the menace of adopting another British measure. The bill passed; but it was a different matter to enforce it, as many an excise officer reflected, uncheerfully, whilst riding a rail. On the 28th of January Hamilton sent in his Report in favour of the establishment of a mint, with details so minute that he left the framers of the necessary bill little excuse for delay; but it had the same adventurous and agitated experience of its predecessors, and only limped through, in an amended form, after the wildest outburst of democratic fanaticism which any of the measures of Hamilton had induced. The proposition to stamp the coins with the head of the President was conclusive of an immediate design to place a crown upon the head of Washington. Doubtless the leaders of the Federal party, under the able tuition of their despot, had their titles ready, their mine laid. Jefferson, in the Cabinet, protested with such solemn persistence against so dangerous a precedent, and Hamilton perforated him with such arrows of ridicule, that Washington exploded with wrath, and demanded to know if neither never intended to yield a point to the other.

During this session of Congress, Hamilton also sent in Reports on Trade with India and China, and on the Dutch Loan. He was fortunate in being able to forget his enemies for days and even weeks at a time, when his existence was so purely impersonal that every capacity of his mind, save the working, slept soundly. By now, he had his department in perfect running order; and his successors have accepted his legacy, with its infinitude of detail, its unvarying practicality, with gratitude and trifling alterations. When Jefferson disposed himself in the Chair of State, in 1801, he appointed Albert Gallatin--the ablest financier, after Hamilton, the country has produced--Secretary of the Treasury, and begged him to sweep the department clean of the corruption amidst which Hamilton had sat and spun his devilish schemes. Gallatin, after a thorough and conscientious search for political microbes, informed his Chief that in no respect could the department be improved, that there was not a trace of crime, past or present. Jefferson was disconcerted; but, as a matter of fact, his administrations were passed complacently amidst Hamilton legacies and institutions. Jefferson's hour had come. He could undo all that he had denounced in his rival as monarchical, aristocratical, pernicious to the life of Democracy. But the administrations of Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, ran from first to last on those Federal wheels which are still in use, protected within and without by Federal institutions. But their architect was sent to his grave soon after the rise of his arch-enemy to power, was beyond humiliation or party triumph; it would be folly to war with a spirit, and greater not to let well enough alone. But that is a far cry. Meanwhile the Bank was being rushed through, and its establishment was anticipated with the keenest interest, and followed by a season of crazy speculation, dissatisfaction, and vituperation. But this Hamilton had expected, and he used his pen constantly to point out the criminal folly and inevitable consequences of speculation.