The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book V. The Last Battle of the Giants and the End
Burr was the author of municipal corruption in New York, the noble grandsire of Tammany Hall. While Hamilton was too absorbed to watch him, he had divided New York, now a city of sixty thousand inhabitants, into districts and sections. Under his systematic management the name of every resident was enrolled, and his politics ascertained. Then Burr and his committees or sub-committees laid siege to the individual. Insignificant men were given place, and young fire-eaters, furious with Adams, were swept in. Hundreds of doubtful men were dined and wined at Richmond Hill, flattered, fascinated, conquered. Burr knew the private history, the income, of every man he purposed to convert, and made dexterous use of his information. He terrified some with his knowledge, fawned upon others, exempted the stingy from contributions provided he would work, and the lazy from work provided he would pay. It is even asserted that he blackmailed the women who had trusted him on paper, and forced them to wring votes from their men. He drafted a catalogue of names for the electoral Legislature, calculated to impose the hesitant, who were not permitted to observe that he smarted and snarled under many a kick. Strong names were essential if the Republicans were to wrest New York from the Federals after twelve years of unbroken rule, but strong men had long since ceased to have aught to do with Burr; although Jefferson, as Hamilton suspected, had recently extended his politic paw. But in spite of snubs, curt dismissals, and reiterated intimations that his exertions were wasting, Burr did at last, by dint of flattery, working upon the weak points of the men he thoroughly understood, convincing them that victory lay in his hands and no other,--some of them that he was working in harmony with Jefferson,--induce Clinton, Brockholst Livingston, General Gates,--each representing a different faction,--and nine other men of little less importance, to compose the city ticket. All manner of Republicans were pleased, and many discontented Federalists. Burr, knowing that his own election in New York was hopeless, was a candidate for the Assembly in the obscure county of Orange; and the Legislature which would elect the next President was threatened with a Republican majority, which alarmed the Federalist party from one end of the Union to the other.
Hamilton had never been more alert. The moment he was awake to the danger his mind closed to every other demand upon it, and he flung himself into the thick of the fight. He would have none of Burr's methods, but he spoke daily, upon every least occasion, and was ready to consult at all hours with the distracted leaders of his party. Morris, Troup, Fish, and other Federalists, accustomed to handling the masses, also spoke repeatedly. But Adams had given the party a terrible blow, scattering many of its voters far and wide. They felt that the country had been humiliated, that it was unsafe in the hands of a man who was too obstinate to be advised, and too jealous to control his personal hatreds for the good of the Union; the portent of tyranny in the Alien and Sedition laws had terrified many, and the promises of the Republicans were very alluring. The prospect of a greater equality, of a universal plebeianism, turned the heads of the shopkeepers, mechanics, and labouring men, who had voted hitherto with the Federalist party through admiration of its leaders and their great achievements. In vain Hamilton reminded them of all they owed to the Federalists: the Constitution, the prosperity, the peace. He was in the ironical position of defending John Adams. They had made up their minds before they went to hear him speak, and they went because to hear him was a pleasure they never missed. Upon one occasion a man rushed from the room, crying, "Let me out! Let me out! That man will make me believe anything." Frequently Hamilton and Burr spoke on the same platform, and they were so polite to each other that the audience opened their mouths and wondered at the curious ways of the aristocracy. It was a period of great excitement. Men knocked each other down daily, noses were pulled,--a favourite insult of our ancestors,--and more than one duel was fought in the woods of Weehawken.
The elections began early on the 29th of April and finished at sunset on May 2d. Hamilton and Burr constantly addressed large assemblages. On the first day Hamilton rode up to the poll in his district to vote, and was immediately surrounded by a vociferating crowd. Scurrilous handbills were thrust in his face, and his terrified horse reared before a hundred threatening fists. A big carter forced his way to its side and begged Hamilton to leave, assuring him there was danger of personal violence, and that the men were particularly incensed at his aristocratic manner of approaching the polls.
"Thank you," said Hamilton, "but I have as good a right to vote as any man, and I shall do it in the mode most agreeable to myself."
"Very well, General," said the carter. "I differ with you in politics, but I'll stick by you as long as there is a drop of blood in my body."
Hamilton turned to him with that illumination of feature which was not the least of his gifts, then to the mob with the same smile, and lifted his hat above a profound bow. "I never turned my back upon my enemy," he said, "I certainly shall not flee from those who have always been my friends."
The crowd burst into an electrified roar. "Three cheers for General Hamilton!" cried the carter, promptly, and they responded as one man. Then they lifted him from his horse and bore him on their shoulders to the poll. He deposited his ballot, and after addressing them to the sound of incessant cheering, was permitted to ride away. The incident both amused and disgusted him, but he needed no further illustrations of the instability of the common mind.
The Republicans won. On the night of the 2d it was known that the Federalists had lost the city by a Republican majority of four hundred and ninety votes.
A few weeks before, when uncertainties were thickest, Hamilton had written to William Smith, who was departing for Constantinople: "... You see I am in a humour to laugh. What can we do better in this best of all possible worlds? Should you ever be shut up in the seven towers, or get the plague, if you are a true philosopher you will consider this only as a laughing matter."
He laughed--though not with the gaiety of his youth--as he walked home to-night through the drunken yelling crowds of William Street, more than one fist thrust in his face. His son Philip was with him, and his cousin, Robert Hamilton of Grange, who had come over two years before to enlist under the command of the American relative of whom his family were vastly proud. A berth had been found for him in the navy, as better suited to his talents, and he spent his leisure at 26 Broadway. Both the younger men looked crestfallen and anxious. Philip, who resembled his father so closely that Morris called him "his heir indubitate," looked, at the moment, the older of the two. Ill health had routed the robust appearance of Hamilton's early maturity, and his slender form, which had lost none of its activity or command, his thin face, mobile, piercing, fiery, as ever, made him appear many years younger than his age.
"Why do you laugh, sir?" asked Philip, as they turned into Wall Street, "I feel as if the end of the world had come."
"That is the time to laugh, my dear boy. When you see the world you have educated scampering off through space, the retreat led by the greatest rascal in the country, your humour, if you have any, is bound to respond. Moreover, there is always something humorous in one's downfall, and a certain relief. The worst is over."
"But, Cousin Alexander," said Robert Hamilton, "surely this is not ultimate defeat for you? You will not give up the fight after the first engagement--you!"
"Oh, no! not I!" cried Hamilton. "I shall fight on until I have made Thomas Jefferson President of the United States. Should I not laugh? Was any man ever in so ironical a situation before? I shall move heaven and America to put Pinckney in the chair, and I shall fail; and to save the United States from Burr I shall turn over the country I have made to my bitterest enemy."
"That would not be my way of doing, sir," said Robert. "I'd fight the rival chieftain to his death. Perhaps this Burr is not so real a Catiline as you think him. Nobody has a good word for him, but I mean he may not have the courage for so dangerous an act as usurpation."
"Courage is just the one estimable if misdirected quality possessed by Burr, and, whetted by his desperate plight, no length would daunt him. A year or two ago he hinted to me that I had thrown away my opportunities. Pressed, he admitted that I was a fool not to have changed the government when I could. When I reminded him that I could only have done such a thing by turning traitor, he replied, 'Les grands ames se soucient peu des petits moraux.' It was not worth while to reason with a man who had neither little morals nor great ones, so I merely replied that from the genius and situation of the country the thing was impracticable; and he answered, 'That depends on the estimate we form of the human passions, and of the means of influencing them.' Burr would neither regard a scheme of usurpation as visionary,--he is sanguine and visionary to a degree that will be his ruin,--nor be restrained by any reluctance to occupy an infamous place in history."
They had reached his doorstep in the Broadway. The house was lighted. Through the open windows of the drawing-room poured a musical torrent. Angelica, although but sixteen, shook life and soul from the cold keys of the piano, and was already ambitious to win fame as a composer. To-night she was playing extemporaneously, and Hamilton caught his breath. In the music was the thunder of the hurricane he so often had described to his children, the piercing rattle of the giant castinets [sic], the roar and crash of artillery, the screaming of the trees, the furious rush of the rain. Robert Hamilton thought it was a battlepiece, but involuntarily he lifted his hat. As the wonderful music finished with the distant roar of the storm's last revolutions, Hamilton turned to his cousin with the cynicism gone from his face and his eyes sparkling with pride and happiness.
"What do I care for Burr?" he exclaimed. "Or for Jefferson? Has any man ever had a home, a family, like mine? Let them do their worst. Beyond that door they cannot go."
"Burr can put a bullet into you, sir," said Robert Hamilton, soberly. "And he is just the man to do it. Jefferson is too great a coward. For God's sake be warned in time."
Hamilton laughed and ran up the stoop. His wife was in the drawing-room with Angelica, who was white and excited after the fever of composition. Mrs. Hamilton, too, was pale, for she had heard the news. But mettle had been bred in her, and her spirits never dropped before public misfortune. She had altered little in the last seven years. In spite of her seven children her figure was as slim as in her girlhood, her hair was as black, her skin retained its old union of amber and claret. The lingering girlishness in her face had departed after a memorable occasion, but her prettiness had gained in intellect and character; piquant and roguish, at times, as it still was. It was seven years since she had applied her clever brain to politics and public affairs generally--finance excepting--and with such unwearied persistence that Hamilton had never had another excuse to seek companionship elsewhere. Moreover, she had returned to her former care of his papers, she encouraged him to read to her whatever he wrote, and was necessary to him in all ways. She loved him to the point of idolatry, but she kept her eye on him, nevertheless, and he wandered no more. When he could not accompany her to Saratoga in summer, she sent the children with one of her sisters, and remained with him, no matter what the temperature, or the age of a baby. But she made herself so charming that if he suspected the surveillance he was indifferent, and grateful for her companionship and the intelligent quality of her sympathy. Elizabeth Hamilton never was a brilliant woman, but she became a remarkably strong-minded and sensible one. Femininely she was always adorable. Although relieved of the heavier social duties since the resignation from the Cabinet, Hamilton's fame and the popularity of both forced them into a prominent position in New York society. They entertained constantly at dinner, and during the past seven years many distinguished men besides Talleyrand had sat at their hospitable board: Louis Philippe d'Orleans,--supported for several years by Gouverneur Morris,--the Duc de Montpensier, the Duke of Kent, John Singleton Copley, subsequently, so eminent as jurist and statesman, Kosciusko, Count Niemcewicz, the novelist, poet, dramatist, and historian, were but a few. All travellers of distinction brought letters to Hamilton, for, not excepting Washington, he was to Europeans the most prosilient of Americans. If there had been little decrease of hard work during these years, there had been social and domestic pleasures, and Hamilton could live in the one or the other with equal thoroughness. He was very proud of his wife's youthful appearance, and to-night he reproached her for losing so many hours of rest.
"Could anyone sleep in this racket?" she demanded, lightly. "You must be worn out. Come into the dining room and have supper."
And they all enjoyed their excellent meal of hot oysters, and dismissed politics until the morrow.