The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book IV. "Alexander the Great"
Hamilton laid down a copy of Freneau's Gazette, whose editorial columns were devoted, as usual, to persuading the people of the United States that they were miserable, and that they owed their misery to the Secretary of the Treasury. It also contained a shameful assault upon the President. As he lifted another paper from the pile on his library table, his eyes fell on the following address to himself:--
In the Aurora he was denounced as the foe of France and the friend of Great Britain and Spain, the high priest of tyranny, the bitterest enemy of the immortal French trio, Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite; the subtle and Machiavellian adviser of Washington, who, relieved of this pernicious influence, would acknowledge the debts of gratitude and follow the will of the American people.
"Are they mad?" he thought, flinging the entire pile into the waste-basket. "Or are they merely so eager for power and our ruin that they are indifferent to the fact that the Administration, and the foundations upon which it stands, never has needed the support of the people more than now? Can only the party in power afford to be patriotic? What a spectacle is this, that I, an alien born, am wearing out my life and sacrificing my character, to save from themselves a people who pant for my ruin! Has the game been worth the candle? Debt, my family crowded into a house not half large enough to hold them, my health almost gone, my reputation, in spite of repeated vindications, undermined by daily assault--for the fools of the world believe what they are told, and I cannot compromise my dignity by replying to such attacks as these; above all, a sickening and constant disgust for life and human nature! Is the game worth the candle? Had I remained at the bar, I should have given my family abundance by now; with only the kind and quantity of enemies that stimulate. It is only politics that rouse the hellish depths in the human heart. It is true that I have saved the country, made it prosperous, happy, and honoured. But what guaranty have I that this state will last beyond the administration of Washington? With the Republicans in power the whole edifice may be swept away, the country in a worse plight than before, and the author of its brief prosperity forgotten with his works. I shall have lived in vain, and leave my sons to be educated, my family to be supported, by my father-in-law."
He was in no mood to see the reverse side of the picture; and indeed his cares were so many and overwhelming at this time that it is little wonder he believed he had lost for ever the gay buoyancy of his spirits. In addition to the predominating trials, financial matters were demanding all the leisure he should have given to rest, heavy failures in England having seriously affected the money concerns of the United States; and the rebellions in the West against the Excise Law were sounding a new alarm. Moreover, his constant efforts to obtain Duer's release were unavailing; he could get no word of Lafayette; and the last packet had brought a rumour of the murder of Gouverneur Morris by the mob. Altogether, he may be excused for forgetting that he was still the most dazzling figure in America, in the full tide of actual success, and an object of terrified hatred to a powerful ring who could reach their zenith over his political corpse, and by no other means whatever.
He picked up his hat, and went forth reluctantly to a Cabinet meeting. It was early, and he saw Washington for a few moments alone in the library. The President was in a no more cheerful or amiable frame of mind than himself. His responsibilities in this terrible crisis wore on his spirits and temper; and the daily fear that his Secretaries would come to blows,--for Jefferson was in the worst humour of the quintette,--to say nothing of the assaults of the press, made him openly regret the hour he was persuaded into the Executive Chair. But his entire absence of party spirit, despite his secret sympathy with every measure of Hamilton's, his attitude of stern neutrality, never emerged more triumphantly from any trial of his public career; nor did he ever exhibit the magnanimity of his character more strikingly than in his undisturbed affection for Hamilton, while daily twitted with being the tool of his "scheming and ambitious Secretary."
Hamilton saw a copy of Freneau's Gazette in the waste-basket, but by common consent they ignored the subjects which would be unavoidable in a few moments, and spoke of the stifling heat, of the unhealthy state of Philadelphia, the menace of the San Domingo refugees pouring into the city, of the piles of putrid coffee and hides on the wharves at the foot of Mulberry Street, and of the carcasses of rotting hogs and horses which lay everywhere.
"Thank Heaven, we can get our women and children out of it," said the President. "And unless we can finish this business in another week, I shall take the Government to the country. I suppose we are entitled to escape with our lives, if they leave us nothing else."
They entered the Council Chamber and found the others in their accustomed seats. Jefferson's brow was corrugated, his weak and mincing mouth pressed out of shape. He had just finished reading the last of Hamilton's "No Jacobin" papers, published that morning, in which Genet's abominable breaches of decorum, violation of treaties, and deliberate insults to the Executive--and through him to the American people--had been set forth in so clear pointed and dispassionate a manner, that no thinking Republican who read could fail to be convinced of the falseness of his position in supporting this impudent and ridiculous Frenchman. Furthermore, the Secretary of State had been forced, through the exigencies of his position, to sign despatch after despatch, letter after letter, in violation of his private sympathies. He was feeling not only as angry as a cornered bull, but extremely virtuous. He hated what he firmly believed to be the cold and selfish policy of the Administration, as he hated every other policy it had executed; and the knowledge that he had sacrificed his personal feelings to save his country from discord, made him feel a far better man than the Secretary of the Treasury, who had a diabolical talent for getting his own way. He had some reason to be pleased with his conduct, and with his share in contributing to a series of measures which later on won for the Cabinet at that crucial period the encomiums of history; and when time had abated the fevers, Hamilton would have been the first to acknowledge that Jefferson not only was the brake which the Administration needed at that time, but that, owing to his popularity with the French and the masses of the United States, he reduced the danger of a popular uprising.
As Hamilton took his seat this morning, however, the blood was in his head, and he and Jefferson exchanged a glance of sullen hate which made Washington extend his long arms at once. All went well until the President, with a premonitory sigh, introduced the dynamic name, Genet. Hamilton forgot his debility, and was all mind, alert and energetic. Jefferson, who had come to hate Genet as an intolerable nuisance, would have been the first at another moment to counsel the demand for recall which he knew was now inevitable, but he was in too bad a humour to-day to concur in any measure agreeable to Hamilton.
The latter had replied promptly to Washington's remark that the time had come to take definite action with regard to the light-headed Frenchman, who continued to fit out and despatch privateers, and was convulsing the country generally.
"Pray send him home, bag and baggage, sir. He is not entitled to the dignity or consideration of the usual formalities. Moreover, he is the trigger of the United States so long as he remains at liberty in it. I estimate that there is a new Jacobin club formed daily. At any moment he may do something which will drive these fools, under their red caps and cockades, mad with admiration."
Jefferson brought his brows down to the root of his nose. "'Fools' is not the word for an honest enthusiasm for liberty, sir. I regret the present excitement--its manifestations at this moment--as much as anyone--"
"Indeed? I am amazed. Who, then, is responsible for them?"
"Not I, sir."
"Oh, let us have no more hypocrisy, at all events," said Hamilton, contemptuously. He had his wrath under control, but he suddenly determined to force the climax. "If you had employed your secret pen to better purpose, or not employed it at all, there would not be a Jacobin club in the country; this ridiculous Frenchman, unencouraged by your private sympathy, by your assurances of my inability to withhold the residue of the debt, would have calmed down long since. I accuse you here, deliberately and publicly, instead of writing private letters to the public, both because I have not your commanding talent for patient and devious ways, and because I wish you to declare, unequivocally, whether or not you purpose to continue this policy of obstruction. Time presses. We must act at once with regard to this Frenchman. Reserve subterfuge for some more opportune time, and let us know what you intend to do."
Jefferson looked with appeal at Washington, who usually interposed when his Secretaries arrived at personalities. But Washington, although his face was as immobile as stone, was so sick with anger and disgust over the whole situation, at what appeared to be the loss of the popular faith in himself, and the ridicule and abuse which had filled the columns of Freneau's paper that morning, that it was a relief to him to hear Hamilton explode.
"I repudiate every word you have said, sir," growled Jefferson. "More I will not say. As to Citizen Genet, with whom I have never had a word of private intercourse--" Here, even Washington lifted his head, and Hamilton laughed outright. Jefferson continued, determined upon martyrdom rather than rouse the terrible passions opposite: "As to Citizen Genet, if the Cabinet agree that it is best he leave this country. I shall demand that his recall be requested in the regular manner, in accordance with every principle of international courtesy. He may be imprudent, intoxicated with the glorious wine of liberty, but he is a Frenchman, a distinguished citizen of the great country that came so nobly to our rescue, and I protest against the base ingratitude which would fling insults in the teeth of an unfortunate people."
Hamilton threw back his head impatiently, and drummed with his fingers on the table. "The primary motive of France for the assistance she gave us was, obviously, to enfeeble a hated and powerful rival. A second motive was to extend her relations of commerce in the new world, and to acquire additional security for her possessions there, by forming a connection with this country when detached from Great Britain. To ascribe to her any other motives, to suppose that she was actuated by friendship toward us, is to be ignorant of the springs of action which invariably regulate the cabinets of princes. A despotic court aid a popular revolution through sympathy with its principles! For the matter of that, if you insist upon American statesmen being sentimental fools, the class that assisted us has been murdered by the rabble, which I refuse to recognize as France. And if it be your object to reduce this country to a similar position that you may climb over maddened brains to power--"
"Hear!" roared Jefferson, justly indignant. "I? Never a man loved peace as I do. My life has been hell since you have forced me into daily conflict, when, God knows, I perish with desire for the peace of my homely life in Virginia. Power! I scorn it, sir. I leave that to restless upstarts like yourself--"
He stopped, choking. Hamilton laughed contemptuously. "You are at work with your pen day and night, strengthening your misnamed party, and preparing the way by which you can lift yourself to a position where you can undo all that the party you hate, because it is composed of gentlemen, has accomplished for the honour and prosperity of your country. You are perfectly well aware that Genet was sent here to stir up a civil war, and embroil us with Europe at the same time, and you have secretly sympathized with and encouraged him. I cannot make up my mind whether you are a villain, or merely the victim of a sublimated and paradoxical imagination. But in either case, I wish to be placed on record as asserting that you are the worst enemy the United States is cursed with to-day."
This was too much for Jefferson, who had convinced himself that he was a high-minded and self-sacrificing statesman, stooping to devious ways for the common good. He forgot his physical fear, and shouted, pounding the table with his fist:--
"How dare you, sir? How dare you? It is you who are ruining, corrupting, and dishonouring this unhappy country, with your Banks, your devilish methods to cement the aristocracy, your abominable Excise Law--"
"Oh, but you have counteracted that so effectively! I was coming to that point. I conceived a measure by which to meet an imperative financial demand, and you, by your agents, by your secret machinations, have been the author of insurrection after insurrection, of the most flagrant breaches of the laws of your country. You have cost innumerable men, engaged in the pursuit of plain duty, their self-respect, and in several cases their lives. Another hideous problem is approaching--one, I am persuaded, that can be solved by arms and bloodshed alone; and to your pen, to your deliberate unsettling of men's minds, to the hatred you have inspired for the lawful government of this country, to you, and to you alone--"
"It's a lie! a lie!" shouted Jefferson. "You are speaking to an honourable man, sir! one who occupies a position in this country both by birth and breeding that you would give your soul--you adventurer!--to possess. Go back to your Islands! You have no place here among men of honourable birth. It's monstrous that this country should be ruled by a foreign bastard--!"
For a moment, every one present had a confused idea that a tornado was in the room. Then two doors were wrenched open, Jefferson fled down the street, with Randolph, bearing his hat, in pursuit; Knox was holding Hamilton firmly in his arms; and Washington, who had risen some moments since, and stood staring in grim disgust, awaiting the end, was divided between a desire to laugh, and to give way to a burst of fury himself.
Hamilton had made no attempt to struggle when Knox caught him, but he now withdrew from the relaxing arms, and the Secretary of War left the room hastily. Hamilton, to Washington's astonishment, flung himself into a chair, and dropped his head on his arms. In a moment, he began to sob convulsively. A malignant fever was breeding in his depressed system; the blood still surged in his head. He had a despairing sense that his character was in ruins; he was humiliated to his depths; he despised himself so bitterly that he forgot the existence of Jefferson.
The humour and anger died out of Washington. He went forward hastily and locked the door. Then he stooped over Hamilton, and pressed him closely in his arms.
"My dear boy!" he said huskily. "My dear boy!"