The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book V. The Last Battle of the Giants and the End
The sunlight moved along the table and danced on Hamilton's papers, flecking them and slanting into his eyes. He went to the window to draw the shade, and stood laughing, forgetting the grave anxieties which animated his pen this morning. In the garden without, his son Alexander and young Philip Schuyler, his wife's orphan nephew, who lived with him, were pounding each other vigorously, while Philip, Angelica, Theodosia Burr, and Gouverneur Morris sat on the fence and applauded.
"What a blessed provision for letting off steam," he thought, with some envy. "I would I had Burr in front of my fists this moment. I suppose he is nothing but the dupe of Jefferson, but he is a terrible menace, all the same."
The girls saw him, and leaping from the fence ran to the house, followed more leisurely by Morris.
"You are loitering," exclaimed Angelica, triumphantly, as she entered the room without ceremony, followed by Theodosia. "And when you loiter you belong to me."
She had grown tall, and was extremely thin and nervous, moving incessantly. But her face, whether stormy, dreamy, or animated with the pleasure of the moment, was very beautiful. Theodosia Burr was a handsome intellectual girl, with a massive repose; and the two were much in harmony.
"If I snatch a moment to breathe," Hamilton was beginning, when he suddenly caught two right hands and spread them open.
"What on earth does this mean?" he demanded. The little paws of the two most fastidious girls he knew were dyed with ink. Both blushed vividly, but Angelica flung back her head with her father's own action.
"We are writing a novel," she said.
"You are doing what?" gasped Hamilton.
"Yes, sir. All the girls in New York are. Why shouldn't we? I guess we inherit brains enough."
"All the girls in New York are writing novels!" exclaimed Hamilton. "Is this the next result of Jacobinism and unbridled liberty, the next development of the new Americanism as expounded by Thomas Jefferson? Good God! What next?"
"You have the prophetic eye," said Morris, who was seated on the edge of the table, grinning sardonically. (He was bald now, and looked more wicked than ever.) "What of woman in the future?"
"She has given me sufficient occupation in the present," replied Hamilton, drily. "Heaven preserve me from the terrors of anticipation." "Well, finish your novel. If you confine your pens to those subjects of which you know nothing, you will enjoy yourselves; and happiness should be sought in all legitimate channels. But as a favour to me, keep your hands clean."
The girls retired with some hauteur, and Morris said impatiently:--
"I thought I had left that sort of thing behind me in France, where Madame de Stael drove me mad. I return to find all the prettiest women running to lectures on subjects which they never can understand, and scarifying the men's nerves with pedantic allusions. I always believed that our women were the brightest on the planet, but that they should ever have the bad taste to become intellectual--well, I have known but one woman who could do it successfully, and that is Mrs. Croix. What has she to do with this sudden activity of Burr's? Is he handling French money?"
"Are you convinced that she is a French spy?"
"I believe it so firmly that her sudden departure would reconcile me to the Alien law. Where has Burr found the money for this campaign? He is bankrupt; he hasn't a friend among the leaders; I don't believe the Manhattan Bank, for all that he is the father of it, will let him handle a cent, and Jefferson distrusts and despises him. Still, it is just possible that Jefferson is using him, knowing that the result of the Presidential election will turn on New York, and that after himself Burr is the best politician in the country. I doubt if he would trust him with a cent of his own money, but he may have an understanding with the Aspasia of Bowling Green. Certainly she must have the full confidence of France by this time, and she is the cleverest Jacobin in the country."
"I wish that dark system could be extirpated, root and branch," said Hamilton. "I have been too occupied these past two years to watch her, or Burr either, for that matter. Organizing an army, and working for your bread in spare moments, gives your enemies a clear field for operations. I have had enough to do, watching Adams. Burr has stolen a march that certainly does credit to his cunning. That is the most marvellous faculty I know. He is barely on speaking terms with a leader--Jefferson, Clinton, the Livingstons, all turned their backs upon him long since, as a man neither to be trusted nor used. The fraud by which he obtained the charter of the Manhattan Bank has alienated so many of his followers that his entire ticket was beaten at the last elections. Now he will have himself returned for the Assembly from Orange, he is manipulating the lower orders of New York as if they were so much wax, using their secrets, wiping the babies' noses, and hanging upon the words of every carpenter who wants to talk: and has actually got Clinton--who has treated him like a dog for years--to let him use his name as a possible candidate for the Legislature. Doubtless he may thank Mrs. Croix for that conquest. But his whole work is marvellous, and I suppose it would be well if we had a man on our side who would stoop to the same dirty work. I should as soon invite a strumpet to my house. But I am fearful for the result. With this Legislature we should be safe. But Burr has converted hundreds, if not thousands, to a party for which he cares as much as he does for the Federal. If he succeeds, and the next Legislature is Republican, Jefferson will be the third President of the Unites States, and then, God knows what. Not immediate disunion, possibly, for Jefferson is cunning enough to mislead France for his own purposes; nor can he fail to see that Jacobinism is on the wane--but a vast harvest of democracy, of disintegration, and denationalization, which will work the same disaster in the end. If Burr could be taught that he is being made a tool of, he might desist, for he would work for no party without hope of reward. He may ruin us and gain nothing."
"It is a great pity we have not a few less statesmen in our party and a few more politicians. When we began life, only great services were needed; and the Opposition, being engaged in the same battle of ideas, fought us with a merely inferior variety of our own weapons. But the greatest of our work is over, and the day of the politician has dawned. Unfortunately, the party of this damned lag-bellied Virginian has the monopoly. Burr is the natural result and the proudest sample of the French Revolution and its spawn. But your personal influence is tremendous. Who can say how many infuscated minds you will illumine when it comes to speech-making. Don't set your brow in gloom."
"I have not the slightest intention of despairing. The deep and never ceasing methods of the Jacobin Scandal Club have weakened my influence with the masses, however; no doubt of that. Its policy is to iterate and reiterate, pay no attention to denials, but drop the same poison daily until denial is forgotten and men's minds are so accustomed to the detraction, belittling, or accusation, that they accept it as they accept the facts of existence. Jefferson has pursued this policy with my reputation for ten years. During the last eight he has been ably abetted by Mrs. Croix, his other personal agents, and those of France. Now they have enlisted Burr, and there is no better man for their work in the country."
"They know that if you go, the party follows. That is their policy, and may they spend the long evening of time in Hell. But I believe you will be more than a match for them yet; although this is by far the most serious move the enemy has made." "I wish to Heaven I had persisted in the Great Convention until I carried my point in regard to having the electors chosen by the people in districts. Then I should snap my fingers at Burr in this campaign, for he is an indifferent speaker, and political manipulation would count for very little. With C.C. Pinckney in the chair for eight years, I should feel that the country was planted on reasonably sure foundations. It must be Adams and Pinckney, of course, but with proper harmony Pinckney will carry the day. Rather Jefferson in the chair than Adams--an open army that we can fight with a united front, than a Federal dividing the ranks, and forcing us to uphold him for the honour of the party--to say nothing of being responsible for him."
"Jefferson is the less of several evils--Burr, for instance."
"Oh, Burr!" exclaimed Hamilton. "I should be in my dotage if Burr became President of the United States. Personally, I have nothing against him, and he is one of the most agreeable and accomplished of men. Theodosia half lives here. Perhaps no man ever hated another as I hate Jefferson, nor had such cause. He has embittered my life and ruined my health; he has made me feel like a lost soul more than once. But better Jefferson a thousand times than Burr. God knows I hate democracy and fear it, but Jefferson is timid and cautious, and has some principles and patriotism; moreover, a desire for fame. Burr has neither patriotism nor a principle, nor the least regard for his good name. He is bankrupt, profligate--he has been living in the greatest extravagance at Richmond Hill, and his makings at the bar, although large, are far exceeded by his expenses; there is always a story afloat about some dark transaction of his, and never disproved: he challenged Church for talking openly about the story that the Holland Land Company had, for legislative services rendered, cancelled a bond against him for twenty thousand dollars; but the world doubts Burr's bluster as it doubts his word. At present he is in a desperate way because Alexander Baring, in behalf of a friend, I.I. Augustine, is pressing for payment on a bond given to secure the price of land bought by Burr and Greenleaf, and he has been offering worthless land claims in settlement, and resorting to every artifice to avert a crisis. Baring wanted me to take the case, but of course I wouldn't touch it. I sent him to Rinnan. The man is literally at the end of his tether. It is a coup or extinction--failure means flight or debtor's prison. Furthermore, he is a conspirator by nature, and there is no man in the country with such extravagant tastes, who is so unscrupulous as to the means of gratifying them. He is half mad for power and wealth. The reins of state in his hands, and he would stop at nothing which might give him control of the United States Treasury. To be President of the United States would mean nothing to him except as a highway to empire, to unlimited power and plunder. We have been threatened with many disasters since we began our career, but with no such menace as Burr. But unless I die between now and eighteen hundred and one, Burr will lose the great game, although he may give victory to the Republican party."
"I am not surprised at your estimate and revelations," said Morris, "for I have heard much the same from others since my return. It was this certainty that he is bankrupt that led me to believe he was handling French money in this election--and he is flinging it right and left in a manner that must gratify his aspiring soul. Considering his lack of fortune and family influence, he has done wonders in the way of elevating himself. This makes it the more remarkable that with his great cleverness he should not have done better--"
"He is not clever; that is the point. He is cunning. His is wholly the brain of the conspirator. Were he clever, he would, like Thomas Jefferson, fool himself and the world into the belief that he is honest. Intellect and statesmanship he holds in contempt. He would elevate himself by the Catiline system, by the simple method of proclaiming himself emperor, and appropriating the moneybags of the country. There is not one act of statesmanship to his credit. To him alone, of all prominent Americans, the country is indebted for nothing. The other night at a dinner, by the way, he toasted first the French Revolution, then Bonaparte. It is more than possible that you are right, for France, whether Directory or Consulate, is not likely to change her policy regarding this country. Nothing would please either Talleyrand or Bonaparte better than to inflame us into a civil war, then swoop down upon us, under the pretence of coming to the rescue. Burr would be just the man to play into their hands, although with no such intention. Jefferson is quite clever enough to foil them, if he found that more to his interest. Well, neither is elected yet. Let us hope for the best. Go and ask Angelica to play for you. I have letters to write to leaders all over the State."