The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book IV. "Alexander the Great"
The next seven years of Hamilton's life must be reviewed very rapidly. Interesting as they might be made, space diminishes, and after all they were but the precursor of the last great battle of the giants.
In the spring of 1794 the Virginian ring rallied for their final assault in Congress. Their spokesman this time was a worthless man, named Fraunces, and he brought forth a charge against the Secretary of the Treasury of unfaithfulness in office. Hamilton promptly demanded another investigation. The result may be found in the following letters from eminent Federals in Virginia. The first is from Colonel Carrington, dated Richmond, July 9th.
On July 20th, Thomas Corbin wrote to Hamilton deploring the political conditions in Virginia created by Thomas Jefferson, in which these significant passages occur:--
In the autumn the whiskey disturbances in western Pennsylvania assumed such serious proportions that Hamilton insisted upon recourse to arms. With his usual precision he had calculated the numbers of the insurgents, and the amount of troops necessary to overwhelm them. Washington issued requisitions for fifteen thousand men, and set out with the troops, his first intention being to command in person. Hamilton accompanied him, and upon the President's return to Philadelphia, assumed the general superintendence of the army, whose commander, Henry Lee, was one of his devoted adherents. Many motives have been ascribed to Hamilton for this exceptional proceeding, and Washington was bitterly assailed for "not being able to move without his favourite Secretary at his elbow," and for giving additional conspicuousness to a man whose power already was a "menace to Republican liberties." Randolph, then the nominal Secretary of State, but quite aware that while Hamilton remained in the Cabinet he was but a figurehead, was so wroth, that later, in his futile "Vindication," following what practically was his expulsion from the Cabinet, he animadverted bitterly upon a favour which no one but Hamilton would have presumed to ask. Fauchet, the successor of Genet, in the intercepted letter to his government, which brought about the fall of Randolph, convicting him of corruption and treachery, has this to say:--
There were depths in Hamilton's mind which no wise mortal will ever attempt to plumb. It is safe to say he did nothing without one eye on a far-reaching policy; and aside from the pleasure of being in the saddle once more, riding over the wild Alleghanies in keen October weather, after four years of the stenches and climatic miseries of Philadelphia, aside from his fear of Governor Miffin's treachery, and his lack of implicit confidence in Lee's judgement, it is quite likely that he had some underlying motive relative to the advantage of his party, which had been weakened by the incessant assaults upon himself. By going with the army he not only demonstrated the perfect confidence reposed in him by Washington, and his determination that his laws should be enforced, but he gave emphasis to his belief that the resistance to the Excise Law had been deliberately instigated by the Republicans under the leadership of his avowed enemies. In this connection the following extract from Fauchet's letter is highly interesting, intimate as he was with the Republican leaders.
The rioters, sobered by the organized force and its formidable numbers, surrendered without bloodshed.
In January of the following year Hamilton resigned from the Cabinet. The pressing need of his services was over, and he had many reasons for retiring from office: his health was seriously impaired, he had a growing family of boys to educate; he expected his father by every ship from the Windward Islands, to spend his last years in the home to which his son had so often invited him; Mrs. Mitchell was now a widow and almost penniless; and his disgust of office was so uncompromising that no consideration short of an imperative public duty would have induced him to continue. But his principal reason, as he wrote to Mrs. Church, was that he wished to indulge his domestic happiness more freely. Washington let him go with the less reluctance because he promised immediate response to any demand the President might make upon him. He went with his wife, Angelica, and the younger children to Albany and the Saratoga estate, where he remained until the first of June, endeavouring to regain his health in the forest and on the river. Young Lafayette lived with him until his return to France, in 1798.
Upon Hamilton's return to New York he immediately engaged in practice, which he supplemented by coaching students; but he continued to be Washington's chief adviser, and the correspondence was continuous upon every problem which confronted the harassed President. Indeed, when one reads its bulk, one wonders if the Cabinet did anything but execute Hamilton's suggestions. Randolph kicked his heels in impotent wrath, and his successor's correspondence with Hamilton was almost as voluminous as Washington's. So was Wolcott's, who hardly cancelled a bond without his former chief's advice; William Smith, the auditor-general, was scarcely less insistent for orders. Hamilton wrote at length to all of them, as well as to the numerous members of Congress who wanted advice, or an interpretation of some Constitutional provision hitherto on the shelf. What time he had for his practice and students would remain a mystery, were it not for the manifest price he paid in the vigours of all but will and brain.
During the summer of 1794 Talleyrand visited the United States. He brought a package from Mrs. Church to Mrs. Hamilton, and a cordial letter from the same important source to the statesman whom he ranked higher than any man of his time. "He improves upon acquaintance," wrote Mrs. Church to her sister; "I regret that you do not speak French." But her sister's husband spoke French better than any man in America, and after the resignation from the Cabinet, Talleyrand spent most of his time in the little red brick house at 26 Broadway, where Hamilton was working to recover his lost position at the bar. "I have seen the eighth wonder of the world," wrote the Frenchman, one morning, after a ramble in the small hours, which had taken him past the light in Hamilton's study, "I have seen the man who has made the fortune of a nation, toiling all night to supply his family with bread." The men found great delight in each other's society. Hamilton was the most accomplished and versatile man in America, the most brilliant of conversationists, the most genial of companions, and hospitable of hosts. Talleyrand epitomized Europe to him; and the French statesman had met no one in his crowded life who knew it better. If he gave to Hamilton the concentrated essence of all that ardent brain had read and dreamed of, of all that fate had decreed he never should see in the mass, Talleyrand placed on record his tribute to Hamilton's unmortal powers of divination, and loved and regretted him to the close of his life.
Different as the men were in character, they had two points in common,--a passionate patriotism, and the memory of high ideals. Public life had disposed of Talleyrand's ideals, and Hamilton, after an education in the weakness and wickedness of human nature which left nothing to be desired, would have been equally destitute, had it not been for his temperamental gaiety and buoyant philosophy. There were times when these deserted him, and he brooded in rayless depths, but his Celtic inheritance and the vastness of his intellect saved him from despair until the end. Talleyrand was by no means an uncheerful soul; but his genius, remarkable as it was, flowed between narrower lines, and was unwatered by that humanity which was Hamilton's in such volume. Both men had that faculty of seeing things exactly as they are, which the shallow call cynicism; and those lost conversations appeal to the imagination of the searcher after truth.
Jay's treaty was the most formidable question with which Hamilton was called upon to deal before the retirement of Washington to private life, and it gave him little less trouble than if he had remained in the Cabinet.
It had been his idea to send a special envoy to England to remonstrate with the British Government for her abominable oppressions and accumulating outrages, decide if possible upon a treaty with her which would soothe the excitement in the United States,--as wild in the spring of 1794 as the Jacobin fever,--and avert war. It was the desire of Washington and the eminent Federalists that this mission be undertaken by Hamilton, for he had an especial faculty for getting what he wanted: however obstinate he might be, his diplomacy was of the first order when he chose to use it. But he believed that, having suggested the mission, he could not with propriety accept it, and that his services could be given more effectively in the Cabinet. Moreover, the violent opposition which the proposal immediately raised among the Republicans, notably Randolph and Monroe,--the latter so far transcending etiquette as to write to Washington, denouncing his Secretary of the Treasury,--made it probable that his enemies would defeat his confirmation in the Senate. He suggested the name of Chief Justice Jay; and after the usual bitter preliminaries, that exalted but not very forcible personage sailed for England in the latter part of April, 1794. Negotiations were very slow, for Britain still felt for us a deep and sullen resentment, nourished by our Jacobin enthusiasms. In January, however, news came that the treaty was concluded; and Hamilton, supposing that the matter was settled, resigned from the Cabinet. It has been asserted that when he read this famous instrument, he characterized it as "an old woman's treaty," and it is very probable that he did. Nevertheless, when, after a stormy passage through the Senate, it was launched upon the country, and, systematically manipulated by the practised arts of Jacobinism, carried the United States almost to the verge of civil war, Hamilton accepted the treaty as the best obtainable, and infinitely preferable to further troubles. He took up his pen, having previously been stoned while attempting to speak in its defence, and in a series of papers signed "Catullus," wrote as even he had not done since the days of "The Federalist." Their effect was felt at once; and as they continued to issue, and Hamilton's sway over the public mind, his genius for moulding opinion, became with each more manifest, Jefferson, terrified and furious, wrote to Madison:--
But Madison had had enough of pen encounter with Hamilton. "He who puts himself on paper with Hamilton is lost," Burr had said; and Madison agreed with him, and entered the lists no more. The excitement gradually subsided. It left ugly scars behind it, but once more Hamilton had saved his party, and perhaps the Union. In connection with the much disputed authorship of the Farewell Address I will merely quote a statement, heretofore unpublished, made by Mrs. Hamilton, in the year 1840.
In 1797 Hamilton was forced by treachery and the malignancy of Jacobinism into the most painful and mortifying act of his public career. He had been hailed by certain enthusiastic Federalists as the legitimate successor of Washington. It was a noble ambition, and there is no doubt that Hamilton would have cherished it, had he been less of a philosopher, less in the habit of regarding a desire for the impossible as a waste of time. Not only were older men in the direct line of promotion, but he knew that as the author of the Excise Law he was hated by one section of the Commonwealth, and that as the parent of the manufacturing interest, to say nothing of the Assumption measure, he had incurred the antagonism of the entire South. Lest these causes for disqualification be obscured by the brilliancy of his reputation, Jefferson's unresting and ramifying art had indelibly impressed the public mind with the monarchical-aristocratical tendencies and designs of the former Secretary of the Treasury, and of his hatred for a beloved cause overseas. Hamilton had given an absolute negative to every suggestion to use his name; but one at least had found its way into print, and so terrified the enemy that they determined upon one more powerful blow at his good name. Monroe had a fresh cause for hatred in his humiliating recall from France, which he ascribed to the influence of Hamilton. No doubt the trio were well satisfied for a time with their carefully considered scheme. The pamphlet published in 1797, called "The History of the United States for 1796," and edited by a disreputable man named Callender, was the concentrated essence of Jacobinical fury and vindictiveness against Alexander Hamilton. It surpassed any attack yet made on him, while cleverly pretending to be an arraignment of the entire Federalist party; shrieking so loudly at times against Washington, Adams, and Jay, that the casual reader would overlook the sole purport of the pamphlet. "It is ungenerous to triumph over the ruins of declining fame," magnanimously finished its attack upon Washington. "Upon this account not a word more shall be said!"
It omitted a recital of the two Congressional attacks upon Hamilton's financial integrity, as to refrain from all mention of the vindications would have been impossible; but it raked up everything else for which it had space, sought to prove him a liar by his defence of the Jay treaty in the Camillus papers, and made him insult Washington in language so un-Hamiltonian that to-day it excites pity for the desperation of the Virginians. When it finally arrived at the pith and marrow of the assault, however, it was with quite an innocent air. This was a carefully concocted version of the Reynolds affair. Callender had obtained possession of the papers which Monroe, Muhlenberg, and Venable had prepared to submit to the President, before hearing Hamilton's explanation. He asserted that this explanation was a lie, and that the Secretary of the Treasury had not only speculated with the public funds, but that he had made thirty thousand pounds by the purchase of army certificates. It was also alleged that Hamilton ordered his name withdrawn as a Presidential candidate, in consequence of a threat that otherwise these same papers would be published.
It is a curious instance of the fatuity of contemporaries, that Hamilton's enemies reckoned upon a sullen silence, in the face of damning assault, from the greatest fighter of his time. Indubitably, they argued that he would think it best to pass the matter over; no man could be expected to give to the public the full explanation. But they reckoned with an insufficient knowledge of this host, as they had done many a time before. Hamilton had no desire to hold office again, but he was still the great leader of a great party, as determined as ever that at no cost should there be a stain on his public honour. He consulted with his closest friends, among them his wife. As the sin was now five years old--and the woman a derelict--Mrs. Hamilton found it easier to forgive than an unconfessed liaison with the most remarkable woman of her time. Although she anticipated the mortification of the exposure quite as keenly as her husband, she cherished his good name no less tenderly, and without hesitation counselled him to give the facts to the public. This he did in a pamphlet which expounded the workings of the "Jacobin Scandal Club," told the unpleasant story without reserve, and went relentlessly into the details of the part played in it by Monroe, Muhlenberg, and Venable. He forced affidavits from those bewildered gentlemen, the entire correspondence was published, and the pamphlet itself was a masterpiece of biting sarcasm and convincing statement. It made a tremendous sensation, but even his enemies admired his courage. The question of his financial probity was settled for all time, although the missile, failing in one direction, quivered in the horrified brains of many puritanical voters. Mrs. Reynolds, now living with Clingman, made no denial, and it is doubtful if even she would have echoed the one animadversion of the discomfited enemy,--that Hamilton had given the name of a mistress to the public. It is a weak and dangerous sentimentalism which would protect a woman of commerce against the good name of any man. The financial settlement makes her a party in a contract, nothing more, and acquits the payer of all further responsibility. She has no good name to protect; she has asked for nothing but money; she is a public character, whom to shield would be a thankless task. When this Reynolds woman added the abomination of blackmail to her trade, and further attempted the ruin of the man who had shown her nothing but generosity and consideration, it need hardly be added that Hamilton would have been a sentimental fool to have hesitated on any ground but detestation of a public scandal.
He never traced the betrayal of a secret which all concerned had promised to keep inviolate, but he had his suspicions. Mrs. Croix, now living in a large house on the Bowling Green, was the animated and resourceful centre of Jacobinism. She wore a red cap to the theatre and a tri-coloured cockade on the street. Her salon was the headquarters of the Republican leaders, and many a plot was hatched in her inspiring presence. The Virginian Junta were far too clever to put themselves in the power of a drunkard like Callender, but they were constantly in collusion with Mrs. Croix. They knew that she feared nothing under heaven, and that she had devoted herself to Hamilton's ruin. Callender drew upon her for virus whenever his own supply ran down, and would have hailed the Reynolds concoction, even had it gone to him naked and begging. Hamilton saw the shadow of a fair hand throughout the entire pamphlet, and, indeed, could have traced many an envenomed shaft, since 1793, to a source which once had threatened to cloy him with its sweetness.
Meanwhile John Adams had been elected President of the United States, and Thomas Jefferson, Vice-President. Hamilton had made no secret of the fact that he should prefer to see Thomas Pinckney succeed Washington, for he contemplated the possibility of Adams in the Executive Chair, with distrust and uneasiness. In spite of that eminent statesman's intrepidity, integrity, and loyal Federalism, he was, in Hamilton's opinion, too suspicious, jealous of influence, and hot headed, to be a safe leader in approaching storms. With Pinckney as a brilliant and popular figurehead, Hamilton well knew that his own hand would remain on the helm. With the irascible old gentleman from Massachusetts in the Chair, his continued predominance was by no means certain. Washington once said of Hamilton that he undoubtedly was ambitious, but that his ambition was of that laudable kind which prompts a man to excel in whatever he takes in hand; adding that his judgement was intuitively great. The truth was that Hamilton regarded the United States as his child. He had made her wealthy and respected, he foresaw a future importance for her equal to that of any state in Europe. "I anticipate," he wrote to Rufus King, "that this country will, ere long, assume an attitude correspondent with its great destinies--majestic, efficient, and operative of great things. A noble career lies before it." The first of the "Imperialists," he had striven for years to awaken the Government to the importance of obtaining possession of Louisiana and the Floridas, and he also had his eye on South America. Naturally, he wanted no interruption; the moment the security of the country was threatened, he was as alert and anxious as if his nursery were menaced with an Indian invasion. Without conceit or vanity no man ever was more conscious of his great powers; moreover, no American had made such sacrifices as he. Washington and almost all the leading men possessed independent fortunes. Hamilton had manifested his ability from the first to equal the income of the wealthiest, did he give his unbroken services to the pursuit of his profession. But he had lived for years upon a pittance, frequently driven to borrow small sums from his friends, that he might devote his energies entirely to his country. And no man ever gave more generously or with less thought of reward; although he would have been the last to deny his enjoyment of power. For a born leader of men to care little whether he had a few trusted friends or an army at his back, would merely indicate a weak spot in his brain.
It was quite natural, therefore, that he thought upon John Adams's idiosyncrasies with considerable disquiet. Nevertheless, with the high priest of Jacobinism in the field, his first object was to secure the office for the Federalist party. The race was too close for serious consideration of any other ultimate. He counselled every Federalist to cast his vote for Adams and Pinckney; better a tie, with the victory to Adams, than Thomas Jefferson at the head of the Nation. Of course there was a hope that Pinckney might carry the South. But the Adams enthusiasts dreaded this very issue, and threw away their votes for the Vice-Presidency. Pinckney's followers in the South pursued the same policy. The consequence was that Adams won by three votes only. Again his pride was bruised, and again he attributed his mortification to Hamilton. If he had disliked him before, his dislike in a constant state of irritation through the ascendency and fame of the younger man, he hated him now with a bitterness which formed a dangerous link between himself and the Republican leaders. The time came when he was ready to humiliate his country and ruin his own chance of reelection, to dethrone his rival from another proud eminence and check his upward course. Another source of bitterness was Hamilton's continued leadership of the Federalist party, when himself, as President, was entitled to that distinction. But that party was Hamilton's; he had created, developed it, been its Captain through all its triumphant course. Even had he been content to resign his commission,--which he did not contemplate for a moment,--the great majority of the Federalists would have forced it into his hand again. Adams declared war. Hamilton, always ready for a fight, when no immediate act of statesmanship was involved, took up the gauntlet. Adams might resist his influence, but the Cabinet was his, and so were some of the most influential members of Congress, including Theodore Sedgwick of Massachusetts, the president pro tem. of the Senate. It was some time before Adams realized the full extent of this influence; but when he did discover that his Secretary of State, Timothy Pickering, his Secretary of the Treasury, Oliver Wolcott, and his Secretary of War, James M'Henry, were in the habit of consulting Hamilton upon every possible question before giving the President their valuable opinions, and that upon one occasion, at least, a letter of Hamilton's had been incorporated by the Secretary of War into a Presidential Message, he was like to die of apoplexy. He wrote, in his wrath:--
But the President's advisers were free to seek advice without the Cabinet if they chose, and Washington had encouraged them to go to Hamilton. Hamilton was at liberty to give it, and Adams could find no evidence that he had counselled rebellion against himself; nor that he had used his great influence for any purpose but the honour of the country.
And never had the country needed his services more. When Adams, grim and obstinate, stepped forward as head of the Nation, he found himself confronted with the menace of France. In retaliation for Genet's disgrace, the Revolutionists had demanded the recall of Gouverneur Morris, whose barely disguised contempt, and protection of more than one royalist, had brought him perilously near to the guillotine. Burr had desired the vacant mission, and his pretensions were urged by Monroe and Madison. Washington recognized this as a device of the Opposition to embarrass him, and he had the lowest opinion of Burr's rectitude and integrity. Pressure and wrath produced no effect, but he offered to appoint Monroe. It might be wise to send a Jacobin, and the President hoped that ambition would preserve this one from compromising the country. He made the mistake of not weighing Monroe's mental capacity more studiously. The least said of the wild gallop into diplomacy of our fifth President the better. He was recalled, and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney sent in his place. The French, who had found Monroe entirely to their taste, refused to receive the distinguished lawyer and soldier. To escape indignity he was forced to retire to Holland. The new Republic violated her treaties with increasing insolence, and Bonaparte was thundering on his triumphant course. France was mocking the world, and in no humour to listen to the indignant protests of a young and distant nation. To dismember her by fanning the spirit of Jacobinism, and, at the ripe moment,--when internal warfare had sufficiently weakened her,--reduce her to a French colony, was a plot of which Hamilton, Rufus King, then minister to England, and other astute statesmen more than suspected her. But although Hamilton abhorred France and was outraged at her attitude, the spirit of moderation which had regulated all his acts in public life suffered no fluctuation, and he immediately counselled the sending of a commission to make a final attempt before recourse to arms. War, if inevitable, but peace with honour if possible; it was not fair to disturb the prosperity of the young country except as a last resort. For once he and Adams were agreed. Hamilton suggested Jefferson or Madison as a sop to the Revolutionists, with two Federalists to keep him in order. But the President would have his own commissioners or none. He despatched Marshall and Gerry and ordered C.C. Pinckney to join them. Talleyrand refused them official reception, and sent to them, in secret, nameless minions--known officially, later on, as X.Y.Z.--who made shameful proposals, largely consisting of inordinate demand for tribute. Marshall and Pinckney threw up the commission in disgust. The Opposition in Congress demanded the correspondence; and Adams, with his grimmest smile, sent it to the Senate. It was a terrible blow to the Jacobins, not only the manner in which France had prejudiced her interests in this country; some of the disclosures were extremely painful to ponder upon. "Perhaps," one of the backstairs ambassadors had remarked, "you believe that, in returning and exposing to your countrymen the unreasonableness of the demands of this Government, you will unite them in resistance to those demands. You are mistaken. You ought to know that the diplomatic skill of France, and the means she possesses in your country, are sufficient to enable her, with the French party in America, to throw the blame, which will attend the rupture, on the Federalists, as you term yourselves, but the British party, as France terms you; and you may assure yourselves this will be done." Jefferson retired to weep alone. Several of the faction resigned from Congress. Hamilton published his pamphlets, "The Stand," "France," and "The Answer," and the whole country burst into a roar of vengeance, echoing Pinckney's parting shot: "Millions for defence, not a cent for tribute!" "Hail Columbia" was composed, and inflamed the popular excitement. Federalist clubs paraded, wearing a black cockade, and one street riot followed another. Brockholst Livingston had his nose pulled, and killed his man. With the exception of the extreme Jacobins, who never swerved from their devotion to France and the principles she had promulgated with the guillotine, the country was for war to a man, and the President inundated with letters and memorials of encouragement. The immediate result was the augmentation of the Federalist party, and the decline of Jacobinism.
For a long while past, Hamilton had been urging naval and military preparations. A bold front, he thought, would be more effective than diplomacy; and the sequel proved his wisdom. When the crisis came a bill for a Provisional Army was passed at once, another for the increase of the Navy, and liberal appropriations were made. The proposed alliance with Great Britain, Hamilton effectually opposed, for he was almost as exasperated with England as with France; in her fear that the French party in the United States would triumph and declare war upon her, she had renewed her depredations upon our commerce.
Few believed that Washington would serve again, and the Nation turned naturally to Hamilton as its General-in-chief. He had manifestly been born to extricate them from difficulties. Even the Presidential faction put their pride in their pockets, and agreed that he was the one man in the country of matchless resource and military genius; they passed over the veterans of the war without controversy. But there was one man who never put his pride in his pocket, and that was John Adams. Rather than present to Alexander Hamilton another opportunity for distinction and power, he would himself cull fresh laurels for George Washington; the supply of his old rival was now so abundant that new ones would add nothing. Hamilton already had written to Washington as peremptorily as only he dared, urging that he must come forth once more and without hesitation. Washington replied that he would as cheerfully go to the tombs of his ancestors, but admitted the obligation, and asked Hamilton would he serve with him? Hamilton answered that he would on condition that he be second in command to himself; he would make no further sacrifice for an inconsiderable reward. When Washington, therefore, received Adams's invitation, he made his acceptance conditional upon being given the power to appoint his generals next in rank. Adams, meanwhile, without waiting for his answer, had sent his name to the Senate, and it had been confirmed as a matter of course. Washington was irritated, but persisted in his condition, and sent in the names of Alexander Hamilton for Inspector-General, with the rank of Major-General, C.C. Pinckney and Knox for Major-Generals, and a list of Brigadiers and Adjutant-Generals. Adams, fuming, sent the names to the Senate, and they were confirmed in the order in which Washington had written them; but when they came back, jealousy and temper mastered him, and he committed the intemperate act which tolled the death-knell of the Federalist party: he ordered the commissions made out with Hamilton's name third on the list. Knox and Pinckney, he declared, were entitled to precedence; and so the order should stand or not at all. He had not anticipated an outcry, and when it arose, angry and determined, he was startled but unshaken. The leading men in Congress waited upon him; he received a new deluge of letters, and the most pointed of them was from John Jay. Hamilton alone held his peace. He saw the terrible mistake Adams had made, and dreaded the result. He wrote to Washington that he should be governed entirely by his wishes, that he should not embarrass him in any manner, and that it never should be said of himself that his ambition or interest had stood in the way of the public welfare. But when Adams stood with his head down, like an angry bull, and it was plain to be seen that his astonishing attitude was prompted by personal hatred alone, when the Cabinet and all the eminent men in the Nation, with the exception of the Republican leaders, faced him with an equally determined front, there was nothing for Hamilton to do but to stand his ground; and he stood it. Washington put an end to the unfortunate controversy. He gave Adams his choice between submission or the selection of another General-in-chief. Adams submitted, but Hamilton had in him an enemy no less malignant than Thomas Jefferson himself. Adams had roused the deep implacability of Hamilton's nature. All hope of even an armed truce for party advantage between the two great Federalists was over. Hamilton had one cause for resentment which alone would have made him ardently desire retaliation: General Knox, who had loved him devotedly for twenty years, was bitterly alienated, and the breach was never healed.
Hamilton made his headquarters in New York, where he could, after a fashion, attend to his law practice,--he was now the leading counsel at the bar,--but he entered upon his new duties with all his old spirit and passionate energy. Although France might be discomfited by the readiness and resource of the United States, the imposing front erected by a universal indignation, there were reasons which made the reverse possible; and Hamilton thrilled with all the military ardours of his youth at the prospect of realizing those half-forgotten ambitions. He had, in those days, sacrificed his burning desire for action and glory to a sense of duty which had ruled him through life like a tyrannical deity. Was he to reap the reward at this late hour? finish his life, perhaps, as he had planned to begin it? Once more he felt a boundless gratitude for the best friend a mortal ever made. Washington passed Hamilton over the heads of those superior in military rank, because he knew that he alone was equal to the great task for which himself was too old and infirm; but Hamilton never doubted that he did it with a deep sense of satisfied justice and of gratitude.
Never had Hamilton's conspicuous talent for detail, unlimited capacity for work, genius for creating something out of nothing, marshalled for more active service than now. He withheld his personal supervision from nothing; planning forts, preparing codes of tactics, organizing a commissariat department, drafting bills for Congress, advising M'Henry upon every point which puzzled that unfinished statesman, were but a few of the exercises demanded of the organizer of an army from raw material. The legislation upon one of his bills finally matured a pet project of many years, the Military Academy at West Point. Philip Church, the oldest son of Angelica Schuyler, was his aide; John Church, after a brilliant career as a member of Parliament, having returned to American citizenship, his wife to as powerful a position as she had held in London.
It is hardly necessary to inform any one who has followed the fortunes of Hamilton as far as this that he purposed to command an army of aggression as well as defence. A war with France unrolled infinite possibilities. Louisiana and the Floridas should be seized as soon as war was declared, and he lent a kindly ear to Miranda, who was for overthrowing the inhuman rule of Spain in South America. "To arrest the progress of the revolutionary doctrines France was then propagating in those regions, and to unite the American hemisphere in one great society of common interests and common principles against the corruption, the vices, the new theories of Europe," was an alluring prospect to a man who had given the broadest possible interpretation to the Constitution, and whose every conception had borne the stamp of an imperialistic boldness and amplitude.
But these last of his dreams ended in national humiliation. This time he had sacrificed his private interests, his vital forces, for worse than nothing. One enemy worked his own ruin, and Louisiana was to add to the laurels of Jefferson.
Talleyrand, astonished and irritated by these warlike preparations and the enthusiasm of the infant country, wisely determined to withdraw with grace while there was yet time. He sent a circuitous hint to President Adams that an envoy from the United States would be received with proper respect. For months Adams had been tormented with the vision of Hamilton borne on the shoulders of a triumphant army straight to the Presidential chair. His Cabinet were bitterly and uncompromisingly for war; Hamilton had with difficulty restrained them in the past. Adams, without giving them an inkling of his intention, sent to the Senate the name of William Vans Murray, minister resident at The Hague, to confirm as envoy extraordinary to France.
For a moment the country was stupefied, so firm and uncompromising had been the President's attitude hitherto. Then it arose in wrath, and his popularity was gone for ever. As for the Federalist party, it divided into two hostile factions, and neither had ever faced the Republicans more bitterly. A third of the party supported the President; the rest were for defeating him in the Senate, and humiliating him in every possible way, as he had humiliated the country by kissing the contemptuous hand of France the moment it was half extended.
Hamilton was furious. He had been in mighty tempers in his life, but this undignified and mortifying act of the President strained his statesmanship to the utmost. It stood the strain, however; he warned the Federalist leaders that the step taken was beyond recall and known to all the world. There was nothing to do but to support the President. He still had an opportunity for revenge while openly protecting the honour of the Nation. Did Murray, a man of insufficient calibre and prestige, go alone, he must fail; Adams would be disgraced; war inevitable, with glory, and greater glory, for himself. But when circumstances commanded his statesmanship, he ceased to be an individual; personal resentments slumbered. He insisted that Murray be but one of a commission, and Adams, now cooled and as disquieted as that indomitable spirit could be, saw the wisdom of the advice; Oliver Ellsworth and General Davie, conspicuous and influential men, were despatched. Once more Hamilton had saved his party from immediate wreck; but the strength which it had gathered during the war fever was dissipated by the hostile camps into which it was divided, and by the matchless opportunity which, in its brief period of numerical strength, it had given to Thomas Jefferson.
The Federalist party had ruled the country by virtue of the preponderance of intellect and educated talents in its ranks, and the masterly leadership of Alexander Hamilton. The Republican party numbered few men of first-rate talents, but the upper grade of the Federalist was set thick with distinguished patriots, all of them leaders, but all deferring without question to the genius of their Captain. For years the harmonious workings of their system, allied to the aggregate ability of their personnel, and the watchful eye and resourceful mind of Hamilton, the silent but sympathetic figure of Washington in the background, had enabled them to win every hard-fought battle in spite of the often superior numbers of the Opposition. That Jefferson was able in the face of this victorious and discouraging army to form a great party out of the rag-tag and bobtail element, animating his policy of decentralization into a virile and indelible Americanism, proved him to be a man of genius. History shows us few men so contemptible in character, so low in tone; and no man has given his biographers so difficult a task. But those who despise him most who oppose the most determined front to the ultimates of his work, must acknowledge that formational quality in his often dubious intellect which ranks him a man of genius.
His party was threatened with disorganization when the shameful conduct of the France he adored united the country in a demand for vengeance, and in admiration for the uncompromising attitude of the Government. Not until the Federalists, carried away by the rapid recruiting to their ranks, passed the Alien and Sedition laws, did Jefferson find ammunition for his next campaign. As one reads those Resolutions to-day, one wonders at the indiscretion of men who had kept the blood out of their heads during so many precarious years. Three-quarters of a century later the Chinese Exclusion Act became a law with insignificant protest; the mistake of the Federalists lay in ignoring the fears and raging jealousies of their time. If Hamilton realized at once that Jefferson would be quick to seize upon their apparent unconstitutionality and convert it into political capital, he seems to have stood alone, although his protests resulted in the modification of both bills.
In their modified form they were sufficiently menacing to democratic ideals, and Jefferson could have asked for nothing better. He immediately drafted his famous Kentucky Resolutions, and the obedient Madison did a like service for Virginia. The Resolutions of Madison, although containing all the seeds of nullification and secession, are tame indeed compared with the performance of a man who, enveloped in the friendly mists of anonymity, was as aggressive and valiant as Hamilton on the warpath. These Resolutions protested against the unconstitutionality of the Federal Government in exiling foreigners, and curbing the liberty of the press, in arrogating to itself the rights of the States, and assuming the prerogatives of an absolute monarchy. If Jefferson did not advise nullification, he informed the States of their inalienable rights, and counselled them to resist the centralizing tendency of the Federal Government before it was too late. Even in the somewhat modified form in which these Resolutions passed the Kentucky legislature, and although rejected by the States to which they were despatched, they created a sensation and accomplished their primary object. The war excitement had threatened to shove the Alien and Sedition laws beyond the range of the public observation. The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions roused the country, and sent the Republicans scampering back to their watchful shepherd. It is one of the master-strokes of political history, and Jefferson culled the fruits and suffered none of the odium. That these historic Resolutions contained the fecundating germs of the Civil War, is by the way.
Such was the situation on the eve of 1800, the eve of a Presidential election, and of the death struggle of the two great parties.
It was in December of this year of 1799 that Hamilton bent under the most crushing blow that life had dealt him. He was standing on the street talking to Sedgwick, when a mounted courier dashed by, crying that Washington was dead. The street was crowded, but Hamilton broke down and wept bitterly. "America has lost her saviour," he said; "I, a father."