The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book IV. "Alexander the Great"
Hamilton looked forward to the next Congressional term with no delusions. He polished his armour until it was fit to blind his adversaries, tested the temper of every weapon, sharpened every blade, arranged them for immediate availment. In spite of the absorbing and disconcerting interests of the summer, he had followed in thought the mental processes of his enemies, kept a sharp eye out for their new methods of aggression. Themselves had had no more intimate knowledge of their astonishment, humiliation, and impotent fury at the successive victories of the invulnerable Secretary of the Treasury, than had Hamilton himself. He knew that they had confidently hoped to beat him by their combined strength and unremitting industry, and by the growing power of their party, before the finish of the preceding term. The Federalists no longer had their former majority in Congress upon all questions, for many of the men who, under that title, had been devoted adherents of the Constitution, were become alarmed at the constant talk of the monarchical tendencies of the Government, of the centralizing aristocratic measures of the Secretary of the Treasury, at the "unrepublican" formalities and elegance of Washington's "Court," at his triumphal progresses through the country, and at the enormous one-man power as exhibited in the person of Hamilton. Upon these minds Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe had worked with unremitting subtlety. It was not so much that the early Federalists wished to see Hamilton dragged from his lofty position, for they admired him, and were willing to acknowledge his services to the country; but that the idea grew within them that he must be properly checked, lest they suddenly find themselves subjects again. They realized that they had been running to him for advice upon every matter, great and insignificant, since the new Congress began its sittings, and that they had adopted the greater part of his counsels without question; they believed that Hamilton was becoming the Congress as he already was the Administration; and overlooked the fact that legislative authority as against executive had no such powerful supporter as the Secretary of the Treasury. But it was not an era when men reasoned as exhaustively as they might have done. They were terrified by bogies, and the blood rarely was out of their heads. "Monarchism must be checked," and Hamilton for some months past had watched the rapid welding of the old anti-Federalists and the timid Federalists into what was shortly to be known, for a time, as the Republican party. That Jefferson had been at work all summer, as during the previous term, with his subtle, insinuating, and convincing pen, he well knew, and for what the examples of such men as Jefferson and Madison counted--taking their stand on the high ground of stemming the menace to personal liberties. The Republican party was to be stronger far than the old anti-Federal, for it was to be a direct and constant appeal to the controlling passion of man, vanity; and Hamilton believed that did it obtain the reins of power too early in the history of the Nation, confusion, if not anarchy, would result: not only was it too soon to try new experiments, diametrically opposed to those now in operation, but, under the tutelage of Jefferson, the party was in favour of vesting more power in the masses. Hamilton had no belief in entrusting power to any man or body of men that had not brains, education, and a developed reasoning capacity. He was a Republican but not a Democrat. He recognized, long before the rival party saw their mistake in nomenclature, that this Jefferson school marked the degeneracy of republicanism into democracy. Knowing how absurd and unfounded was all the hysterical talk about monarchism, and that time would vindicate the first Administration and its party as Republican in its very essence, he watched with deep, and often with impersonal, uneasiness the growth of a party which would denationalize the government, scatter its forces, and interpret the Constitution in a fashion not intended by the most protesting of its framers. Hamilton had in an extraordinary degree the faculty which Spencer calls representativeness; but there were some things he could not foresee, and one was that when the Republicans insinuated themselves to power they would rest on their laurels, let play the inherent conservatism of man, and gladly accept the goods the Federal party had provided them. The three men who wrote and harangued and intrigued against Hamilton for years, were to govern as had they been the humblest of Hamiltonians. But this their great antagonist was in unblest ignorance of, for he, too, reasoned in the heat and height and thick of the fray; and he made himself ready to dispute every inch of the ground, checkmate every move, force Jefferson into retirement, and invigorate and encourage his own ranks. The majority in both Houses was still Federal, if diminished, and he determined that it should remain so.
As early as October his watching eye caught the first flash in the sunlight of a new blade in the enemies' armoury. One Freneau had come to town. He had some reputation as a writer of squibs and verses, and Hamilton knew him to be a political hireling utterly without principle. When, therefore, he heard incidentally that this man had lately been in correspondence and conference with the Virginian junta, and particularly that he had been "persuaded by his old friend Madison to settle in Philadelphia," had received an appointment as translating clerk in the Department of State, and purposed to start a newspaper called the National Gazette in opposition to Fenno's Administration organ, The United States Gazette, he knew what he was to expect. Fenno's paper was devoted to the Administration, and to the Secretary of the Treasury in particular; it was the medium through which Hamilton addressed most of his messages to the people. Naturally it was of little use to his enemies; and that Jefferson and his aides had realized the value of an organ of attack, he divined very quickly. He stated his suspicions to Washington immediately upon the President's arrival, and warned him to expect personal assault and abuse.
"There is now every evidence of a strong and admirably organized cabal," he added. "And to pull us down they will not stop at abuse of even you, if failure haunts them. I shall get the most of it, perhaps all. I hope so, for I am used to it."
He laughed, and quite as light-heartedly as ever; but Washington looked at him with uneasiness.
"You are a terrible fighter, Hamilton," he said. "I have never seen or dreamed of your equal. Why not merely oppose to them a massive resistance? Why be continually on the warpath? They give you a tentative scratch, and you reply with a blow under the jaw, from which they rise with a sullener determination to ruin you, than ever. When you are alone with your pen and the needs of the country, you might have the wisdom of a thousand years in your brain, and I doubt if at such times you remember your name; you are one of the greatest, wisest, coolest statesmen of any age; but the moment you come forth to the open, you are not so much a political leader as a warlike Scot at the head of his clan, and readier by far to make a dash into the neighbouring fastness than to wait for an attack. Are you and Jefferson going to fight straight through this session?--for if you are, I shall no longer yearn so much for the repose of Mount Vernon as for the silences of the tomb."
Washington spoke lightly, as he often did when they were alone, and he had returned from Virginia refreshed; but Hamilton answered contritely:--
"We both behaved abominably last year, and it was shocking that you should bear the brunt of it. I'll do my best to control myself in the Cabinet--although that man rouses all the devil in me; but not to fight at the head of my party. Oh! Can the leopard change his spots? I fear I shall die with my back against the wall, sir, and my boots on." "I haven't the slightest doubt of it. But be careful of giving too free and constant a play to your passions and your capacity for rancour, or your character will deteriorate. Tell me," he added abruptly, narrowing his eyes and fixing Hamilton with a prolonged scrutiny, "do you not feel its effects already?"
By this time the early, half-unwilling, half-magnetized affection which the boy in Hamilton had yielded to his Chief had given place to a consistent admiration for the exalted character, the wisdom, justice, and self-control of the President of the United States, and to a devoted attachment. The bond between the two men grew closer every day, and only the end of all things severed it. Hamilton, therefore, replied as frankly as if Washington had asked his opinion on the temper of the country, instead of probing the sacred recesses of his spirit:--
"There have been times when I have sat down and stared into myself with horror; when I have felt as if sitting in the ruins of my nature. I have caught myself up again and again, realizing where I was drifting. I have let a fiend loose within me, and I have turned upon it at times with a disgust so bitter and a terror so over-mastering that the mildness which has resulted has made me feel indifferent and even amiable to mine enemies. Whether this intimate knowledge of myself will save me, God knows; but when some maddening provocation comes, after reaction has run its course, I rage more hotly than ever, and only a sense of personal dignity keeps me from using my fists. I am two-thirds passion, and I am afraid that in the end it will consume me. I live so intensely, in my best and my worst! I would give all I possess for your moderation and balance."
"No, you would not," said Washington. "War is the breath of your nostrils, and peace would kill you. Not that the poise I have acquired brings me much peace in these days."
Hamilton, who had spoken dejectedly, but with the deep relief which every mortal feels in a moment of open and safe confession, sprang to his feet, and stood on the hearth rug, his eyes sparkling with humour. "Confess, sir," he cried gaily. "You do not like Jefferson any better than I do. Fancy him opposite to you day after day, stinging you with honeyed shafts and opposing you with obstacle after obstacle, while leering with hypocrisy. Put yourself in my place for an instant, and blame me if you can."
"Oh," said Washington, with a deep growl of disgust, "o-h-h!" But he would not discuss his Secretary of State, even with Hamilton.