The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book IV. "Alexander the Great"
On January 28th Hamilton sent to Congress his Report on Manufactures, and how anybody survived the fray which ensued can only be explained by the cast-iron muscles forged in the ancestral arena. Hamilton had no abstract or personal theories regarding tariff, and would have been the first to denounce the criminal selfishness which distinguishes Protection to-day. The situation was peculiar, and required the application of strictly business methods to a threatening and immediate emergency. Great Britain was oppressing the country commercially by every method her council could devise. Defensive legislation was imperative. Moreover, if the country was to compete with the nations of the world and grow in independent wealth, particularly if it would provide internal resources against another war, it must manufacture extensively, and its manufactures must be protected. Such, in brief, was the argument of one of the ablest State papers in any country, for whose exhaustive details, the result of two years of study and comparison, of research into the commercial conditions of every State in Europe, there is no space here. The battle was purely political, for the measure was popular with the country from the first. It was opposed by the planters, with Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe in the lead. They argued that the measure would burden the people at large; that the country was too remunerative not to be able to take care of itself; that progress should be natural and not artificial; that the measure was unconstitutional; above all, as the reader need hardly be told, that no proposition had yet been advanced by the monarchical Secretary of the Treasury so "paternal," so conclusive of his ultimate designs. "To let the thirteen States, bound together in a great indissoluble union, concur in erecting one great system, superior to the control of transatlantic force and influence, and able to dictate the connection between the old and the new world," was but another subtle device to consolidate the States for sudden and utter subversion when Hamilton had screwed the last point into his crown. That in the Twentieth Century the United States would be an object of uneasiness daily approaching to terror in the eyes of Great Britain and Europe, as a result of this Report, even Hamilton himself did not foresee, much less the planters; nor that it would carry through the War of 1812 without financial distress. Above all, did no one anticipate that the three Virginians, in their successive incumbencies of the Executive Chair, would pursue the policy of protection in unhesitating obedience to the voice of the people. The first result of this Report was the great manufacturing interests of Paterson, New Jersey, which celebrated their centennial a few years ago. Paterson was Hamilton's personal selection, and it still throbs with something of his own energy.
Meanwhile he was being elected an honorary member of colleges and societies of arts and letters, and persecuted by portrait painters and sculptors. Every honour, public and private, was thrust upon him, and each new victory was attended by a public banquet and a burst of popular applause. He was apparently invulnerable, confounding his opponents and enemies without effort. Never had there been such a conquering hero; even the Virginian trio began to wonder uneasily if he were but mortal, if he were not under some mighty and invisible protection. As for the Federalists, they waxed in enthusiasm and devotion. His career was at its zenith. No man in the United States was--nor has been since--so loved and so hated, both in public and in private life. Even Washington's career had not been more triumphant, and hardly so remarkable; for he was an American born, had always had a larger measure of popular approval, and never had discovered the faculty of raising such bitter and powerful enemies. Nor had he won an extraordinary reputation until he was long past Hamilton's present age. Certainly he had never exhibited such unhuman precocity.
But although Hamilton had, by this time, extancy to suffice any man, and was hunted to his very lair by society, he had no thought of resting on his labours. He by no means regarded himself as a demi-god, nor the country as able to take care of itself. He prepared, and sent to Congress in rapid succession, his Reports on Estimates for Receipts and Expenditures for 1791-92, on Loans, on Duties, on Spirits, on Additional Supplies for 1792, on Remission of Duties, and on the Public Debt.
Nor did his labours for the year confine itself to reports. On August 4th, his patience with the scurrilities of Freneau's Gazette came to an end, and he published in Fenno's journal the first of a series of papers that Jefferson, in the hush of Monticello, read with the sensations of those forefathers who sat on a pan of live coals for the amusement of Indian warriors. Hamilton was thorough or nothing. He had held himself in as long as could be expected of any mortal less perfected in his self-government than George Washington: but when, finally, he was not only stung to fury by the constant and systematic calumnies of Jefferson's slanting art, but fearful for the permanence of his measures, in the gradual unsettling of the public mind, he took off his coat; and Jefferson knew that the first engagement of the final battle had begun in earnest, that the finish would be the retirement of one or other from the Cabinet.
Hamilton began by mathematically demonstrating that Freneau was the tool of Jefferson, imported and suborned for the purpose of depressing the national authority, and exposed the absurdity of the denials of both. When he had finished dealing with this proposition, its day for being a subject of animated debate was over. He then laid before the public certain facts in the career of Jefferson with which they were unacquainted: that he had first discountenanced the adoption of the Constitution, and then advised the ratification of nine of the States and the refusal of four until amendments were secured,--a proceeding which infallibly would have led to civil war; that he had advocated the transfer of the debt due to France to a company of Hollanders in these words: "If there is a danger of the public debt not being punctual, I submit whether it may not be better, that the discontents which would then arise should be transferred from a court of whose good-will we have so much need to the breasts of a private company"--an obviously dishonourable suggestion, particularly as the company in view was a set of speculators. It was natural enough, however, in a man whose kink for repudiation in general led him to promulgate the theory that one generation cannot bind another for the payment of a debt. Hamilton, having disposed of Jefferson's attempts, under the signature of Aristides, to wriggle out of both these accusations, discoursed upon the disloyal fact that the Secretary of State was the declared opponent of every important measure which had been devised by the Government, and proceeded to lash him for his hypocrisy in sitting daily at the right hand of the President while privately slandering him; of exercising all the arts of an intriguing mind, ripened by a long course of European diplomacy, to undermine an Administration whose solidity was the only guaranty for the continued prosperity and honour of the country. Hamilton reminded the people, with a pen too pointed to fail of conviction, of the increase of wealth and happiness which had ensued every measure opposed by the Secretary of State, and drew a warning picture of what must result were these measures reversed by a party without any convictions beyond the determination to compass the downfall of the party in power. He bade them choose, and passed on to a refutation of the several accusations hurled at the Administration, and at himself in particular.
He wrote sometimes with temperance and self-restraint, at others with stinging contempt and scorn. Jefferson replied with elaborate denials, solemn protests of disinterested virtue, and counter accusations. Hamilton was back at him before the print was dry, and the battle raged with such unseemly violence, that Washington wrote an indignant letter to each, demanding that they put aside their personal rancours and act together for the common good of the country. The replies of the two men were characteristic. Hamilton wrote a frank and manly letter, barely alluding to Jefferson, and asserting that honour and policy exacted his charges and refutations. He would make no promise to discontinue his papers, for he had no intention of laying down his pen until Jefferson was routed from the controversial field, and the public satisfied of the truth. Jefferson's letter was pious and sad. It breathed a fervent disinterestedness, and provided as many poisoned arrows for his rival as its ample space permitted. It was a guinea beaten out into an acre of gold leaf and steeped in corrosive sublimate.
But during that summer of 1792 Hamilton had little time for personal explosions except in brief. The Presidential elections approached, and the greater part of his time was given to party management and counsel. Washington's renomination and election were assured. The only obstacle encountered had been Washington himself, but his yearning for peace had again retired before duty. The parties were arrayed in a desperate struggle for the Vice-Presidency, the issue to determine the vindication or the condemnation of the measures of Hamilton. Adams himself was unpopular in the anti-Federalist ranks, on account of his aristocratic tastes and his opposition to the French Revolution; but the time was propitious for a tremendous trial of strength with the omnipotent Secretary of the Treasury, and any candidate of his would have been opposed as bitterly.
Jefferson and Burr were each suggested for the office, but Hamilton brought down his heavy hand on both of them promptly, and the fight settled into a bitter struggle between Adams and Clinton. The latter's strength in the State of New York was still very great, and he was as hardy a fighter as ever. But his political past was studded with vulnerable points, and the Federalists spared him not.
It is impossible, whatever one's predilections, not to admire Clinton for his superb fighting qualities. He was indomitable, and in ability and resourcefulness second only to Hamilton himself, in party management far superior; for he had greater patience, a tenderer and more intimate concern for his meaner followers, and less trust in his own unaided efforts and the right of his cause. Hamilton by no means was blind to the pettier side of human nature, but he despised it; instead of truckling and manipulating, he would scatter it before him or grind it to pulp. There is no possible doubt that if Hamilton had happened into a country at war with itself, but with strong monarchical proclivities, he would have seized the crown and made one of the wisest and kindest of autocrats. His lines cast in a land alight from end to end with republican fires, he accepted the situation with his inherent philosophy, burned with a patriotism as steady as Washington's own, but ruled it in his own way, forced upon it measures in whose wisdom he implicitly believed, and which, in every instance, time has vindicated. But his instinct was that of the amiable despot, and he had no conciliation in him.
His opponents saw only the despot, for time had not given them range of vision. Therefore, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Clinton, and his other formidable enemies have a large measure of excuse for their conduct, especially as they were seldom unstung by mortifying defeat. It is doubtful if the first three, at least, ever admitted to themselves or each other that they hated Hamilton, and were determined for purely personal reasons to pull him down. Every man knows how easy it is to persuade himself that he is entirely in the right, his opponent, or even he who differs from him, entirely in the wrong. The Virginian trio had by this, at all events, talked themselves into the belief that Hamilton was a menace to the permanence of the Union, and that it was their pious duty to relegate him to the shades of private life. That in public life he would infallibly interfere with their contemplated twenty-four years Chair Trust may have been by the way. They were all men with a consciousness of public benefits to their credit, and some disinterested patriotism. If their ignoble side is constantly in evidence in their dealings with Hamilton, it by no means follows that two, at least, of our most distinguished Presidents--Monroe was a mere imitationist--had no other. Had that been the case, they would have failed as miserably as Burr, despite their talents, for the public is not a fool. But that their faults were ignoble, rather than passionate, their biographers have never pretended to deny. In many instances no apology is attempted. On the other hand, the most exhaustive research among the records of friends and enemies has failed to bring to light any evidence of mean and contemptible traits in Hamilton. No one will deny his faults, his mistakes; but they were the mistakes and faults of passion in every instance; of a great nature, capable of the extremest violence, of the deadliest hate and maddest blows, but fighting always in the open; in great crises unhesitatingly sacrificing his personal desires or hatreds to the public good. Even his detractors--those who count in letters--have admitted that his nature and his methods were too high-handed for grovelling and deceit, that the mettle of his courage was unsurpassed. Jefferson and Madison had the spirit of the mongrel in comparison; Monroe was a fighter, but cowardly and spiteful. In point of mettle alone, Adams and Clinton were Hamilton's most worthy opponents.
Burr had not shown his hand as yet. He was at war with Clinton himself, and an active and coruscating member of the Senate. But Hamilton, by this, knew him thoroughly. He read his lack of Public spirit in every successive act of his life, recognized an ambition which would not hesitate to sacrifice his best friend and the country he was using, and a subtlety and cunning which would, with his lack of principle and property, make him the most dangerous man in America should he contrive to grasp the reins of power. Therefore he checkmated his every move, careless of whether he made another powerful enemy or not.
Hamilton attempted no delusions with himself. He knew that he hated Jefferson with a violence which threatened at times to submerge all the good in him, horrified him when he sat down and looked into himself. On the other hand, he knew himself to be justified in thwarting and humiliating him, for the present policy of the country must be preserved at any cost. But he was too clear and practised an analyst to fail to separate his public from his personal rancour. He would drive Jefferson from public office for the public good, but he would experience the keenest personal pleasure in so doing. Such was Hamilton. Could a genius like his be allied in one ego with a character like Washington's, we should have a being for which the world has never dared to hope in its most Biblical moments. But genius must ever be imperfect. Life is not long enough nor slow enough for both brain and character to grow side by side to superhuman proportions.