The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book IV. "Alexander the Great"
Hamilton was not long kept in ignorance of the next tactics of his enemies. They made their deadliest assault soon after Christmas. Immediately upon the assembling of Congress it was suggested that the Secretary of the Treasury be asked to furnish a plan for reducing the public debt. Madison arose and fired the first gun. What Congress wanted was not a plan, but a statement of the national finances. The Federalists replied that the information would come in due course, and that the House was in duty bound to ask the Secretary to furnish a scheme. The Republicans, led by Madison, protested that already too much power had been invested in the Secretary of the Treasury, that it had exceeded constitutional limits. Moreover, he overwhelmed them with volumes, deliberately calculated to confuse their understandings. One Giles, who did the dirty work of the party, announced that the Secretary was not fit to make plans, and added the numerous and familiar denunciations. But the Republicans were outvoted, and the suggestions were called for. Hamilton furnished them immediately. His plan to reduce the debt was met by so strenuous an opposition from the Republicans that it was defeated, and by the party which had been most persistent in their detestation of the obnoxious burden. Rather than add to the laurels of Hamilton, they would shoulder it with equanimity. But this defeat was but an incident. The Secretary of the Treasury, as the result of a series of resolutions, was bidden to lay before Congress an account of the moneys borrowed at Antwerp and Amsterdam; the President to furnish a statement of the loans made by his authority, their terms, what use had been made of them, how large was the balance; the chiefs of departments to make a return of the persons employed and their salaries. Hamilton, by this time, was fully alive to the fact that he was about to be subjected to fresh persecution, and the agility of his enemies could not keep pace with his. He furnished the House with an itemized list--which it took the Committee days to plod through--of his bookkeepers, clerks, porters, and charwomen, and the varying emoluments they had received since the Department was organized, three years and a half before. He further informed them that the net yield of the foreign loan was eighteen millions six hundred and seventy-eight thousand florins, that the loans were six in number, that three bore five per cent interest, two four and a half, and one four per cent The enemy was disconcerted but not discouraged. Five fresh resolutions were moved almost immediately. Impartial historians have agreed that Jefferson suggested these shameful resolutions, and that Madison drew them up. Giles brought them forward. In a vociferous speech he asserted that no man could understand the Secretary's report, that his methods and processes were clothed in a suspicious obscurity. It was his painful duty to move the adoption of the following resolutions: That copies of the papers authorizing the foreign loans should be made; that the names of the persons to whom and by whom the French debt had been paid be sent to Congress; that a statement of the balances between the United States and the Bank be made; that an account of the sinking-fund be rendered, how much money had come into it and where from, how much had been used for the purchase of the debt and where the rest was deposited. The fifth demanded an account of the unexpended revenue at the close of the preceding year. Giles charged that a serious discrepancy existed between the report of the Secretary and the books of the Bank--not less than a million and a half. It had been the purpose of Jefferson and Madison to bring forward the resolutions with an air of comparative innocence. But the vanity of Giles carried him away, and his speech informed Congress, and very shortly the country, that the honesty of the Secretary of the Treasury had been impeached, and that he was called upon to vindicate himself.
In crises Hamilton never lost his temper. The greater the provocation, as the greater the danger, the colder and more impersonal he became. Nor was it in his direct impatient nature to seek to delay an evil moment any more than it was to protect himself behind what the American of to-day calls "bluff." In this, the severest trial of his public career, he did not hesitate a moment for irritation or protest. He called upon his Department to assist him, and with them he worked day and night, gathering, arranging, elaborating all the information demanded by Congress. When he was not directing his subordinates, he was shut up in his library preparing his statements and replies. His meals were taken to him; his family did not see him for weeks, except as he passed them on his way to or from the front door. He sent in report after report to Congress with a celerity that shattered his health, but kept his enemies on the jump, and worked them half to death. The mass of manuscript he sent would have furnished a modest bookstore, and the subjects and accounts with which he was so familiar drove Madison and others, too opposed to finance to master the maze of it, close upon the borders of frenzy. It had been their uncommunicated policy to carry the matter over to the next session, but Hamilton was determined to have done with them by adjournment.
And in the midst of this tremendous pressure arrived George Washington Lafayette.
It was on the first Saturday of his retirement into the deep obscurity of his library, with orders that no one knock under penalty of driving him from the house, that Hamilton, opening the door suddenly with intent to make a dash for his office, nearly fell over Angelica. She was standing just in front of the door, and her face was haggard.
"How long have you been here?" demanded her father.
"Three hours, sir."
"Three! Have you stood all that time?"
Angelica nodded. She was determined not to cry, but she was wise enough not to tax the muscles of her throat.
Hamilton hesitated. If the child fidgeted, she would distract his attention, great as were his powers of concentration; but another searching of her eyes decided him.
"Very well," he said. "Go in, but mind you imagine that you are a mouse, or you will have to leave."
When he returned, she was sitting in a low chair by his desk, almost rigid. She had neither doll nor book. "This will never do," he thought. "What on earth shall I do with the child?" His eye fell upon the chaos of his manuscript. He gathered it up and threw it on the sofa. "There," he said, "arrange that according to the numbers, and come here every five minutes for more."
And Angelica spent two hours of every day in the library, useful and happy.
One day Hamilton was obliged to attend a Cabinet meeting, and to spend several hours at his office just after. Returning home in the early winter dusk, he saw two small white faces pressed against the hall window. One of them was Angelica's, the other he had never seen. As he entered, his daughter fell upon him.
"This is George Washington Lafayette," she announced breathlessly. "He came to-day, and he doesn't speak any English, and he won't go near Betsey or anyone but me, and he won't eat, and I know he's miserable and wretched, only he won't cry. His tutor's ill at the Inn."
The little Frenchman had retired to the drawing-room. Angelica darted after him and dragged him forward into the light. He was small for his age, but his features had the bold curious outline of his father's. He carried himself with dignity, but it was plain that he was terrified and unhappy. Hamilton gave him a warm embrace, and asked him several questions in French. The boy brightened at once, answered rapidly and intelligently, and took firm possession of his new friend's hand.
"I am more happy now," he announced. "I don't like the other people here, except this little girl, because they do not speak French, but you are a Frenchman, and I shall love you, as my father said I should--long ago! I will stay with you day and night."
"Oh, you will?" exclaimed Hamilton. "I am going to send you to school with my boys."
"Oh, not yet, sir! not yet!" cried the boy, shrilly. "I have seen so many strangers on that dreadful ship, and in France--we hid here, there--moving all the time. I wish to live with you and be your little boy."
"And so you shall, but I am uncommonly busy."
"He is a very quiet little boy," interposed Angelica, who was three years his junior. "He would not move if he sat in your room, and I will take him for a walk every day. He will die if he has to sit in a room by himself all day."
"I shall sleep with you, sir, I hope?" asked young Lafayette, eagerly. "I have thought all day of the dark of to-night. I have seen such terrible things, sir!"
"Good Heaven!" thought Hamilton, "is it not enough to be dry nurse to a nation?" But he could not refuse, and during the few hours he snatched for sleep he was half strangled. By day the boy sat quietly in a corner of the library, and studied the text-books his guardian bought him. Betsey did all she could to win him, but he had no faith in people who could not speak his language. Angelica, like all of Hamilton's children, knew something of French, and he liked her and accepted her motherly attentions; but Hamilton he adored. The moment his absorbed friend made for the front door he was after him, and Hamilton let him run at his heels, lest he get neither air nor exercise. He had no time at present to take him to call on his august godfather, and, in truth, he dreaded the prospect. Washington knew nothing of children, and his diminutive namesake would probably be terrified into spasms.