Book IV. "Alexander the Great"
Chapter XXV
 

Congress adjourned while the excitement was at its height. Washington went to Mount Vernon, the Cabinet scattered, and there was an interval of peace. Philadelphia in summer was always unhealthy, and liable to an outbreak of fever at any moment. Hamilton sent his family to the Schuyler estate at Saratoga. Mrs. Croix had gone as early as May to the New England coast; for even her magnificent constitution had felt the strain of that exciting session, and Philadelphia was not too invigorating in winter. Hamilton remained alone in his home, glad of the abundant leisure which the empty city afforded to catch up with the arrears of his work, to design methods for financial relief against the time to apply them, and to prepare his Report on Manufactures, a paper destined to become as celebrated and almost as widespread in its influence as the great Report on Public Credit. It required days and nights of thinking, research, correspondence, comparison, and writing; and how in the midst of all this mass of business, this keen anxiety regarding the whirlwind of speculation--which was involving some of the leading men in the country, and threatening the young Government with a new disaster; how, while sitting up half the night with his finger on the public pulse, waiting for the right moment to apply his remedies, he managed to entangle himself in a personal difficulty, would be an inscrutable mystery, were any man but Alexander Hamilton in question.

I shall not enter into the details of the Reynolds affair. No intrigue was ever less interesting. Nor should I make even a passing allusion to it, were it not for its political ultimates. A couple of blackmailers laid a trap for the Secretary of the Treasury, and he walked into it, as the wisest of men have done before and since, when the woman has been sufficiently attractive at the right moment. This woman was common and sordid, but she was young and handsome, and her affectation of violent attachment, if ungrammatical, was plausible enough to convince any man accustomed to easy conquest; and the most astute of men, provided his passions be strong enough, can be fooled by any woman at once designing and seductive. Ardent susceptibility was in the very essence of Hamilton, with Scotland and France in his blood, the West Indies the mould of his youthful being, and the stormy inheritance of his parents.

But although Hamilton might succumb to a woman of Mrs. Reynold's type, she could not hold him. After liberally relieving the alleged pecuniary distress of this charmer, and weary of her society, he did his best to get rid of her. She protested. So did he. It was then that he was made aware of the plot The woman's husband appeared, and announced that only a thousand dollars would heal his wounded honour, and that if it were not immediately forthcoming, he would write to Mrs. Hamilton.

Hamilton was furious. His first impulse was to tell the man to do his worst, for anything in the nature of coercion stripped him for the fray at once. But an hour of reflection cooled his blood. No one was to blame but himself. If he had permitted himself to be made a fool of, it was but just that he should take the consequences, and not cruelly wound the woman he loved the better for his vagaries. Moreover, such a scandal would seriously affect the high office he filled, might indeed force him to resignation; not only thwarting his great ambitions, but depriving the country of services which no other man had the ability or the will to render. And a few moments forecast of the triumph of his enemies, not only over himself but possibly over his party, in case of his downfall, was sufficient in itself to force him to terms. Few are the momentous occasions in which men are governed by a single motive. Hamilton's ambitions were welded into the future happiness and glory of the country he had so ardently adopted. And if love of power was his ruling passion, it certainly was directed to the loftiest of ends. To desire to create a nation out of the resources of a vast understanding, controlled by wisdom and honour, is an ambition which should be dignified with a higher name. Small and purely personal ambitions were unknown to Hamilton, his gifts were given him for the elevation of the human race; but he would rather have reigned in hell than have sunk to insignificance on earth. As he remarked once to Kitty Livingston, the complexity of man so far exceeds that of the average woman, complexity being purely a matter of brain and having no roots whatever in sex, that it were a waste of valuable time to analyze its ramifications, and the crossings and entanglements of its threads. Hamilton paid the money, yielded further to the extent of several hundred dollars, then the people disappeared, and he hoped that he had heard the last of them. Fortunately his habits were methodical, the result of his mercantile training on St. Croix, and he preserved the correspondence.