The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book V. The Last Battle of the Giants and the End
But if Hamilton consigned politics to oblivion at midnight and slept for the few hours demanded by outraged nature, he plunged from the crystal of his bath into their reeking blackness early in the morning. He had laughed the night before, but he was in the worst of tempers as he shut his study door behind him. For the first time in his life he was on a battle-ground with no sensation of joy in the coming fight. The business was too ugly and the prospect was almost certain defeat. Were the first battle lost, he knew that a sharper engagement would immediately succeed: his political foresight anticipated the tie, and he alone had a consummate knowledge of the character of Burr. That the Republicans would offer Burr the office of Vice-President was as positive as that Jefferson would be their first and unanimous choice. Clinton and Chancellor Livingston might be more distinguished men than the little politician, but the first was in open opposition to Jefferson, and the second was deaf. Burr's conquest of New York entitled him to reward, and he would accept it and intrigue with every resource of his cunning and address for the larger number of votes, regardless of the will of the people. If the result were a tie, the Federals would incline to anybody rather than Jefferson, and Hamilton would be obliged to throw into the scale his great influence as leader of his party for the benefit of the man he would gladly have attached to a fork and set to toast above the coals of Hell. He had no score to settle with Burr, but to permit him to become President of the United States would be a crime for which the leader of the Federalist party would be held responsible. When the inevitable moment came he should hand over the structure he had created to the man who had desired to rend it from gable to foundation; both because it was the will of the people and because Jefferson was the safer man of the two.
So far his statesmanship triumphed, as it had done in every crisis which he had been called upon to manipulate, and as it would in many more. But for once, and as regarded the first battle, it failed him, and he made no attempt to invoke it. This was the blackest period of his inner life, and there were times when he never expected to emerge from its depths. The threatened loss of the magnificent power he had wielded, the hatreds that possessed and overwhelmed him, the seeming futility of almost a lifetime of labour, sacrifices without end and prodigal dispensing of great gifts, the constant insults of his enemies, and the public ingratitude, had saturated his spirit with a raging bitterness and roused the deadliest passions of his nature. The marah he had passed through while a member of the Cabinet was shallow compared to the depths in which he almost strangled to-day. Not only was this the final accumulation, but the inspiring and sustaining affection, the circumscribing bulwark, of Washington was gone from him. "He was an Aegis very essential to me," he had said sadly, and he felt his loss more every day that he lived.
He knew there was just one chance to save the Presidency to the Federalist party. Did he employ the magic of his pen to recreate the popularity of John Adams, it was more than possible that thousands would gladly permit the leader they had followed for years to persuade them they had judged too hastily the man of whom they had expected too much. But by this time there was one man Hamilton hated more implacably than Jefferson, and that was John Adams. Besides the thorough disapproval of the Administration of Adams, which, as a statesman, he shared with all the eminent Federals in the country, his personal counts with this enemy piled to heaven. Adams had severed the party he had created, endeavoured to humiliate him before the country, refused, after Washington's death, to elevate him to his rightful position as General-in-chief of the army he had organized, alienated from him one of the best of his friends, and primarily was answerable for the crushing defeat of yesterday. With one of the Pinckneys at the helm, Hamilton could have defied Jefferson and kept the Democrats out of power; but the man next in eminence to himself in his own party had given his supremacy its death-blow, and it is little wonder if his depths resembled boiling pitch, if the heights of his character had disappeared from his vision. He was, above all things, intensely human, with all good and all evil in him; and although he conquered himself at no very remote period, he felt, at the present moment, like Lucifer whirling through space.
Troup, now a retired judge of the U.S. District Court of New York, and a man of some fortune, ready as of old to be Hamilton's faithful lieutenant, entered and looked with sympathy and more apprehension at his Chief.
"I've not come to bemoan this bad business," he said, sitting down at a desk and taking up his pen. "What next? It looks hopeless, but of course you'll no more cease from effort than one of your Scotch ancestors would have laid down his arms if a rival chieftain had appeared on the warpath with the world at his back. Is it Adams and C.C.P. to the death?"
"It is Pinckney; Adams only in so far as he is useful. He still has his following in the New England States. The leaders in those States, first and second, must be persuaded to work unanimously for Adams and Pinckney, with the distinct understanding that in other States votes for Adams will be thrown away. This, after I have persuaded them of Adams's absolute unfitness for office. If we carry and it comes to a tie, there is no doubt to whom the House will give the election."
Troup whistled. "This is politics!" he said. "I never believed you'd go down to your neck. I wish you'd throw the whole thing over, and retire to private life."
"I shall retire soon enough," said Hamilton, grimly. "But Adams will go first."
Troup knew that it was useless to remonstrate further. He had followed this Captain to the bitter end too often. Underneath the immense sanity of Hamilton's mind was a curious warp of obstinacy, born of implacability and developed far beyond the normal bounds of determination. When this almost perverted faculty was in possession of the brain, Hamilton would pursue his object, did every guardian in his genius, from foresight to acuteness, rise in warning. His present policy if a failure might be the death of the Federalist party, but the flashing presentiment of that historic disaster did not deter him for a moment.
"It is the time for politics," Hamilton continued. "Statesmanship goes begging. I shall be entirely frank about it, for that matter. There will be no underhand scheming, Adams is welcome to know every step I take. The correspondence must begin at once. I'll make out a list for you. I shall begin with Wolcott."