The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book IV. "Alexander the Great"
The following political year was a lively one for Hamilton, perhaps the liveliest of his career. As it approached, those interested in public affairs had many subjects for constant and excited discussion: the possible Vice-President, whose election was to determine the future status of the Secretary of State, and cement or weaken the centralized powers of the Administration; the battle in the two Gazettes, with the laurels to Hamilton, beyond all controversy, and humiliation for Jefferson and Madison; the growing strength of the "Republican" party under Madison's open and Jefferson's literary leadership; the probable policy of the Administration toward the French Revolution, with Jefferson hot with rank Democracy, and Hamilton hotter with contempt for the ferocity of the Revolutionists; the next move of the Virginians did Hamilton win the Vice-Presidency for the Administration party; and the various policies of the Secretary of the Treasury and their results. At coffee-houses, at public and private receptions, and in Mrs. Croix's drawing-room, hardly another subject was broached.
"A fool could understand politics in these days," said Betsey, one evening in December, with a sigh. "Not a word does one hear of clothes, gossip, husbands, or babies. Mrs. Washington told me the day after she returned that she had deliberately thought of nothing but butter and patchwork during the entire recess, that her poor brain might be able to stand the strain of the winter. Shall you have to work harder than ever?"
"I do not know," replied Hamilton, and at that moment he did not. He was correcting a French exercise of his son's, and feeling domestic and happy. Jefferson and he had made no pretence at formal amiability this season; they did not speak at all, but communicated on paper when the business of their respective departments required an interchange of opinion. He had vanquished his enemy in print, made him ridiculous in the eyes of all who read the Gazettes. Moreover, Washington, disturbed during the summer by the constant nagging of Jefferson and his agents, respecting the "monarchical schemes" and "corrupt practices" of the Secretary of the Treasury, had formulated the accusations and sent them to Hamilton for refutation. The vindication, written without passion, as cold, clear, consistent, and logical, as if dealing with an abstract proposition, had convinced, and finally, all to whom it was shown; with the exception of Jefferson, who had no intention of being convinced. Hamilton was conscious that there was no vulnerable point in his public armour. Of his private he was not so sure; Reynolds was in jail, for attempting, in company with one Clingman, to suborn a witness to commit perjury, and had appealed to him for aid. He had ignored him, determined to submit to no further blackmail, be the consequences what they might. But he was the last man to anticipate trouble, and on the whole he was in the best of humours as the Christmas holidays approached, with his boys home from their school on Staten Island, his little girl growing lovelier and more accomplished, and his wife always charming and pretty; in their rare hours of uninterrupted companionship, piquant and diverting. He had gone out with her constantly since Congress assembled, and had enjoyed the recreations of society after his summer of hard work and angry passions. Everywhere he had a triumphal progress; men and women jostled each other about him, eager for a word, a smile, making him talk at length, whether he would or not. The confidence in him was stronger than ever, but his enemies were the most powerful, collectively and individually, that had ever arrayed against a public man: Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, with the South behind them; the Livingstons and the Clinton faction in New York; Burr, with his smiling subterranean industry; the growing menace of the Republican party. Pamphlets were circulating in the States warning voters against all who supported the Secretary of the Treasury. It was one man against odds of appalling strength and resource; for by common consent both of friends and enemies Hamilton was the Federal party. Did he fall, it must go; all blows were aimed at him alone. Could any one man stand for ever an impregnable fortress before such a battery? Many vowed that he would, for "he was more than human," but others, as firm in their admiration, shrugged their shoulders. The enemy were infuriated at the loss of the Vice-Presidency, for again Hamilton had been vindicated and Adams reflected. What would be their next move?
Betsey knew that her husband had enemies, but the fact gave her little concern; she believed Hamilton to be a match for the allied forces of darkness. She noticed when his hair was unpowdered that it was turning gray and had quite lost its boyish brightness; here and there work and care had drawn a line. But he was handsomer, if anything, and of the scars on his spirit she knew nothing. In the peace and pleasant distractions of his home his mercurial spirits leaped high above his anxieties and enmities, and he was as gay and happy, as interested in the manifold small interests of his family, as were he a private man of fortune, without an ambition, an enemy, or a care. When most absorbed or irritated he never victimized his household by moods or tempers, not only because they were at his mercy, but because his nature spontaneously gave as it received; his friends had his best always, his enemies the very worst of which his intense passionate nature was capable. Naturally his family adored him and studied his happiness.
Betsey continued her somewhat rambling remarks, "The only variety is the French Revolution."
"By the way, Washington has had a distressing letter from Madame Lafayette. She begs him to receive her boy--George Washington--and keep him until the trouble is over. The Chief fears that in the present temper of the public his reception of Lafayette's son would be given an embarrassing significance, and yet it is impossible to refuse such a request,--with Lafayette in an Austrian dungeon, his wife in daily danger of prison or guillotine, and this boy, his only son, with no one but a tutor to protect him. I offered at once to receive the child into my family--subject, of course, to your approval. Should you object? It would add to your cares--"
"I have no cares, sir. I shall be delighted; and he can talk French with the children."
"I shall send him to Staten Island with Philip and Alex. Washington will make him a liberal allowance for school and clothing. I confess I am anxious to receive him, more than anxious to show that my old friendship is undiminished. I fear to open every packet from Europe, lest I hear of Lafayette's death. Fortunately, Morris was able to render some assistance to Madame Lafayette. Morris is a source of sufficient worry himself, for he is much too independent and bold for a foreign envoy in the thick of mob rule, mad with blood."
"I hate to think of old friends in trouble," said Betsey, removing a tear. "Poor Kitty Duer! I had another letter from her to-day. It is pitiful to think of her and the poor little children, with nothing but what Lady Sterling, who has so little, and Lady Mary can give them. Is there no way of getting Colonel Duer out of Debtor's prison?"
"I've moved heaven and earth, but certain of his creditors are inexorable. Still, I hope to have him out and on his feet before long. You are not to worry about other people this evening, for I am particularly happy. Philip is really remarkable, and I believe that Angelica is going to turn out a musical genius. What a delight it is to have one person in the world to whom one can brag about one's offspring without apology."
"Why, of course they are the most remarkable children in the world--all five of them," said Betsey, placidly.
Edward Stevens came in and threw himself on the sofa. "What a relief to come into this scene of domestic tranquillity, after the row outside!" he exclaimed. "All the world is in the streets; that is to say, all the daft American world that sympathizes with that bloody horror in France. The news that the allied armies have been beaten and the Duke of Brunswick was in full retreat when the packets sailed, has apparently driven them frantic with joy. They are yelling 'Ca ira,' bonfires are flaring everywhere, and bells ringing. All of the men are drunk, and some of the women. And yet the statesman who must grapple with this portentous problem is gossiping with his wife, and looking as if he had not a care in the world. Thank Heaven!"
"I can do nothing to-night," said Hamilton, smiling. "I have had too much experience as a practical philosopher not to be happy while I can."
"You have the gift of eternal youth. What shall you do in this French matter, Alexander the Great? All the world is waiting to know. I should worry about you if I had time in this reeking town, where it is a wonder any man has health in him. Oh, for the cane-fields of St. Croix! But tell me, what is the policy to be--strict neutrality? Of course the President will agree with you; but fancy Jefferson, on his other side, burning with approval for the very excesses of the Revolution, since they typify democracy exultant. And of course he is burrowing in the dark to increase his Republican party and inspire it with his fanatical enthusiasm for those inhuman wretches in France. I believe he would plunge us into a war to-morrow."
"No, he is an unwarlike creature. He would like to trim, keep this country from being actually bespattered with blood, but coax the Administration to give the Revolutionists money and moral support. He will do nothing of the sort, however. The policy of this remote country is absolute, uncompromising, neutrality. Let Europe keep her hands off this continent, and we will let her have her own way across the water. The United States is the nucleus of a great nation that will spread indefinitely, and any further Europeanizing of our continent would be a menace which we can best avoid by observing from the beginning a strictly defensive policy. To weaken it by an aggressive inroad into European politics would be the folly of schoolboys not fit to conduct a nation. We must have the Floridas and Louisiana as soon as possible. I have been urging the matter upon Washington's attention for three years. Spain is a constant source of annoyance, and the sooner we get her off the continent the better--and before Great Britain sends her. We need the Mississippi for navigation and must possess the territories that are the key to it. How idiotic, therefore, to antagonize any old-world power!"
"You are long-headed!" exclaimed Stevens. "Good heavens! Listen to that! The very lungs of Philadelphia are bellowing. Our people must be mad to see in this hideous French Revolution any resemblance to their own dignified and orderly struggle for freedom."
"It is so easy to drive men mad," said Hamilton, contemptuously. "Particularly when they are in constant and bitter opposition to the party in power, and possess a leader as subtle and venomous as Thomas Jefferson--'Thomas,' as he signed a letter to Washington the other day. You may imagine the disgust of the Chief."
"Not another word of politics this night!" exclaimed Mrs. Hamilton. "I have not uttered a word for just twenty-five minutes. Alexander, go and brew a beaker of negus."