The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book IV. "Alexander the Great"
The three long and exhaustive reports, accounting honourably for every penny entrusted to the Secretary of the Treasury, and justifying every payment, measure, and investment, had gone to the Congress. Nine days later Giles brought forward nine resolutions of censure against the Secretary of the Treasury. But by this time Congress had made up its mind, and many of the Republicans were disgusted and humiliated. The Federalists were triumphant, and amused themselves with Giles, drawing him on, to confound him with ridicule and proof of the absurdity of his charges. Madison, desperate, lost his head and the respect of many of his colleagues, by asserting hysterically that the House was impotent to change the truth of the accusations, and that in the tribunal of public opinion the Secretary would be condemned. But Hamilton was triumphantly vindicated by Congress and the Nation at large. His house was in a state of siege for weeks from people of all parts of the country, come to congratulate him; his desk obliterated by letters he had no time to read. The Federals were jubilant. Their pride in Hamilton was so great that a proclamation from above would not have disturbed their faith, and they were merciless to the discomfited enemy. In truth, the Virginian trio and their close adherents were mortified and confounded. In their hearts they had not believed Hamilton guilty of dishonesty, but they had been confident that his affairs were in chaos, that large sums must have escaped, not conceiving that any mortal could at the same time create gigantic schemes, and be as methodical as a department clerk in every detail of his great office.
Although Hamilton had commanded his brain to dwell exclusively upon the vindication and its means, the deeps below were bitter and hot. When the work was over, and exhausted in body and mind he went about his duties mechanically, or attempted to find distraction in his family, he felt as if the abundant humanity in him were curdled; and he longed for a war, that he might go out and kill somebody. It was small compensation that the Virginian ring were grinding their teeth, and shivering under daily shafts of humiliation and ridicule. So terrible was the position in which they had placed him, so immeasurably had they added to the sum of his contempt for human kind, that individually they occupied, for a time, but a corner of his thought.
His only solace during this trial had been Washington; he had been too busy and too frozen for Mrs. Croix. But that closest of his friends, although forced by his high office to a position of stern neutrality, did all he could in private to convince Hamilton of his unaltered affection and regard. As soon as the vindication was complete he fell into the habit of finishing his daily walk with an hour in Hamilton's library. But if his visits were a pleasure to his Secretary, they were wretchedness unleavened for two other members of the family. The President never failed to ask for Angelica and George Washington Lafayette; and upon their prompt but unwilling advent he would solemnly place one on either knee, where they remained for perhaps half an hour in awe-stricken misery. They had orders to show no distress, and they behaved admirably; but although young Lafayette was rapidly learning English, the fact did not lessen his fear of this enormous man, who spoke so kindly, and looked as if he could have silenced the Terror with the awful majesty of his presence. Angelica, being an independent little American, was less overwhelmed, but she was often on the verge of hysterics. It was the short session of Congress, and in March, George, with scalding but dignified tears, accompanied his godfather to Mount Vernon, whence he wrote Hamilton a daily letter of lament, until habit tempered his awe; from that point he passed with Gallic bounds into an ardent affection for the great man, who, if of an unearthly dignity, was always kind, and, when relieved of the cares of State, uniformly genial.
The respite in Philadelphia was brief. In April came the first news of the beheading of the French king; and the same tardy packets brought word that France was at war with England and Spain. Hamilton sent the news, express haste, to Washington, and dismissed every consideration from his brain but the terrible crisis forced upon the United States, and the proper measures to save her from shipwreck. In the early stages of the French Revolution he had predicted the developments with such accuracy to Henry Walter Livingston that the new Secretary of Legation, upon his arrival in Paris, told Gouverneur Morris--United States minister since 1792--that to his astonishment he found nothing to surprise him. Therefore the prophet had long been determined upon the policy the United States should pursue when this crisis shot out of the eastern horizon; he had now but to formulate it in such a manner that every point could be grasped at once by the Cabinet, and acted upon. When Washington arrived in Philadelphia and summoned his advisers, Hamilton presented twelve questions for discussion, the most pressing of which were: Shall a proclamation issue for the purpose of preventing interferences of the citizens of the United States in the war between France and Great Britain, etc.? Shall it contain a declaration of neutrality? Shall a minister from this Republic of France be received? Jefferson was in a far less enviable position than Hamilton. He neither wished for war, nor dared he machinate for it; but with all his democratic soul he loved the cause which was convulsing the world from its ferocious centre in France. Had Jefferson come of stout yeoman stock, like John Adams, or of a long line of patrician ancestors, like Hamilton, and, to a lesser degree, like Washington, he might, judging from certain of his tastes, and his love of power, have become, or been, as aristocratic in habit and spirit as were most men of his wealth, position, and importance in the young country. But the two extremes met in his blood. The plebeianism of his father showed itself in the ungainly shell, in the indifference to personal cleanliness, and in the mongrel spirit which drove him to acts of physical cowardice for which his apologists blush. But his mother had belonged to the aristocracy of Virginia, and this knowledge induced a sullen resentment that he should be so unlike her kind, so different in appearance from the courtly men of his State. Little was wanting to accelerate his natural desire to level his country to a plane upon which with his gifts he easily could loom as a being of superior mould; but when a British sovereign publicly turned his back upon him, and the English court, delighted with its cue, treated him with an unbearable insolence, nothing more was needed to start the torrent of his hate against all who stood for aristocracy. Democracy rampant on all sides of him, during his sojourn in France, found in him not only an ardent sympathizer, but a passionate advocate. He quite overlooked the fact that he failed to persuade the country of his enthusiasm to accord the United States fair commercial treatment: it embodied and demonstrated his ideal of liberty, equality, fraternity, and he was its most devoted friend, unresting until he had insinuated his own admiration into the minds of his followers in America, and made Jacobinism a party issue.
To turn his back upon France, therefore, to help her neither in money nor moral support, was a policy he had no intention to pursue, could he avoid it; but knowing his weakness in the Cabinet, he suggested an extra session of Congress. It would then be an easy matter to throw the responsibility upon his followers in both Houses, while he stood to the country as working consistently and harmoniously in his great office.
But Hamilton, who understood him thoroughly, would listen to no proposition which would involve weeks of delay, inflame further the public mind, and give Jefferson an opportunity to make political capital. Moreover, he would have no such confession of weakness go out from the Administration. He prevailed, and in that first meeting Jefferson was forced to consent also to the immediate issue of a proclamation to the people. He argued with such fervour, however, against the use of the word "neutrality," declaring that the Executive had no constitutional authority so far to commit the people, that Washington, to humour him, omitted the word, while declaring authoritatively for the substance. It was also agreed that Genet, the new Minister from France, sent by the Revolutionists to succeed M. Ternant, should be received. The first meeting closed tranquilly, for both Hamilton and Jefferson had tacitly admitted that it was no time for personal recrimination.
But the Cabinet met daily, and other subjects, notably Hamilton's contention that their treaties made with a proper French government no longer existed, came up for elaborate discussion; Hamilton had an exhaustive report prepared on each of them. The two Secretaries, who hated each other as two men hardly have hated before or since, and who realized that they had met for their final engagement in official life, soon dismissed any pretence at concord, and wrangled habitually--with cutting sarcasm or crushing force on Hamilton's part, with mild but deadly venom on Jefferson's; until he too was maddened by a jagged dart which momentarily routed his tender regard for his person. Jefferson wrenched one victory from the Cabinet despite Hamilton's determined opposition: Genet's reception should be absolute. But on all other important points the Secretary of the Treasury scored, and stone by stone built up the great policy of neutrality which prevailed until the year 1898; impressed into the Government the "Doctrine"--he had formulated it in "The Federalist"--which was to immortalize the name of a man who created nothing. Hamilton, with all the energy and obstinacy of his nature, was resolved that the United States should not have so much as a set-back for the sake of a country whose excesses filled him with horror, much less run the risk of being sucked into the whirlpool of Europe; and he watched every move Jefferson made, lest his secret sympathies commit the country. When, after a triumphal procession through miles of thoughtless enthusiasts, who remembered only the services of France, forgot that their friends had been confined entirely to the royalty and aristocracy that the mob was murdering, and were intoxicated by the extreme democracy of the famous Secretary of State, Genet arrived in Philadelphia, inflated and bumptious, his brain half crazed by the nervous excitement of the past two years, and was received with frigid politeness by Washington, Hamilton was not long discovering that Jefferson was in secret sympathy and intercourse with this dangerous fire-brand. The news had preceded and followed the new minister that he had been distributing blank commissions to all who would fit out privateers to prey upon British commerce, opening headquarters for the enlistment of American sailors into the French service, and constituting French consuls courts of admiralty for the trial and condemnation of prizes brought in by French privateers.
As soon as he arrived in Philadelphia he demanded of Hamilton the arrears of the French debt, which the Secretary had refused to pay until there was a stable government in France to receive it. Hamilton laughed, locked the doors of the Treasury, and put the key in his pocket. To Genet's excited volubility and pertinacity he paid as little attention as to Jefferson's arguments. Moreover, he reversed all Citizen Genet's performances in the South; and in course of time, even the captured British ships, to the wrath and disgust of Jefferson, were returned to their owners.
Freneau's Gazette supported the Secretary of State with the desperation of an expiring cause; in this great final battle, were Jefferson driven from the Cabinet, his faithful organ must scurry to the limbo of its kind. It assailed the Administration for ingratitude and meanness, then turned its attention almost exclusively to the Secretary of the Treasury. It accused him of abstracting the moneys due to France, of plundering the industrious farmer with the Excise Law, destroying the morals of the people by Custom House duties; resurrected the old discrimination cry and asserted vehemently that he, and he alone, had robbed the poor soldiers. It raked every accusation, past and present, from its pigeon holes. Jefferson, on the other hand, was held up as a model of the disinterested statesman, combining virtues before which those falsely attributed to Washington paled and expired; and as the only man fit to fill the Executive Chair. Genet accepted all this as gospel, fortunately, perhaps, for the country; for his own excesses and impudence, his final threat to appeal from the President to the people, ruined him with the cooling heads of the Republican party, and finally lost him even the support of Jefferson.
Meanwhile, after stormy meetings of the Cabinet, Hamilton, in the peace of his library, with Angelica sorting his pages,--until she went to the North,--had written a series of papers defending the proclamation. They were so able and convincing, so demonstrable of the treasonable efforts of the enemy to undermine the influence of the Administration, so cool and so brilliant an exposition of the rights and powers of the Executive, that on July 7th Jefferson wrote to Madison: "For God's sake, my dear sir, take up your pen. Select the most striking heresies, and cut him to pieces in the face of the public."
Madison hastened to obey his chief in a series of papers which tickled the literary nerve, but failed to convince. That the laurels were to Hamilton was another bitter pill which Jefferson was forced to swallow. Nevertheless, Hamilton, despite his victories, felt anything but amiable. He was so exhausted that he was on the verge of a collapse, and triumphs were drab under the daily harassment of Jefferson, Genet, and Freneau. Matters came to a climax one day in August, shortly before the outbreak of yellow fever.