The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book V. The Last Battle of the Giants and the End
As Hamilton had anticipated, the Jacobin press shouted and laughed itself hoarse, vowed that it never could have concocted so effective a bit of campaign literature, and that the ursine roars of Adams could be heard from Dan to Beersheba. Burr, as yet undetected, almost danced as he walked. The windows were filled with parodies of the pamphlet, entitled, "The Last Speech and Dying Words of Alexander Hamilton," "Hamilton's Last Letter and His Amorous Vindication," "A Free Examination of the Morals, Political and Literary Characters of John Adams and Alexander Hamilton." One cartoon displayed the sinking ship Administration, with the Federal rats scuttling out of her, and Hamilton standing alone on the deck; another, "The Little Lion" sitting, dejected and forlorn, outside the barred gates of "Hamiltonopolis." The deep, silent laughter of Jefferson shook the continent.
The Federalist leaders were furious and aghast. But they recovered, and when the time came, every Federalist delegate to the Electoral College, with one exception, voted precisely as Hamilton had counselled. South Carolina deserted Pinckney because he would not desert Adams, but she would have pursued that policy had the pamphlet never been written; and whether it affected the defeat of the Federalists in Pennsylvania and other States is doubtful. The publication in August of Adams's letter to Tench Coxe, written in 1792, when he was bitterly disappointed at Washington's refusal to send him as minister to England, and asserting that the appointment of Pinckney was due to British influence, thus casting opprobrium upon the integrity of Washington, had done as much as Hamilton's pamphlet, if not more, to damn him finally with the Federalists. Hamilton's chief punishment for his thunderbolt was in his conscience, and his leadership of his party was not questioned for a moment. He expected a paternal rebuke from General Schuyler, but that old warrior, severe always with the delinquencies of his own children, had found few faults in his favourite son-in-law; and he took a greater pride in his career than he had taken in his own. Now that gout and failing sight had forced him from public life, he found his chief enjoyment in Hamilton's society. General Schuyler survived the death of several of his children and of his wife, but Hamilton's death killed him. Assuredly, life dealt generously with our hero in the matter of fathers, despite or because of an early oversight. James Hamilton had never made the long and dangerous journey to the North, and he had died on St. Vincent, in 1799, but what filial regret his son might have dutifully experienced was swept away on the current of the overwhelming grief for Washington. And as for mothers, charming elder sisters, and big brothers, eager to fight his battles, no man was ever so blest. In December Hamilton received the following letter from William Vans Murray:--
General Davie arrived by the next ship, bringing with him a convention concluded with France on the 30th of October. He also brought a letter to Hamilton from one of the commission, with a copy of the document and a journal of the proceedings of the negotiators. The writer was Oliver Ellsworth, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Adams might occupy the chair of State, but to the Federals Hamilton was President in all but name.
Sedgwick and Gouverneur Morris, now a member of the Senate, not knowing of the communication, wrote immediately to Hamilton, acquainting him with the contents of the treaty.
This treaty was a far more deadly weapon in Hamilton's hands than the entire arsenal he had manipulated in his pamphlet, for campaign literature is often pickled and retired with the salt of its readers. But did this mission fail, did Adams lose his only chance of justification for sending the commission at all, did the Senate refuse to ratify, and war break out, or honourable terms of peace be left to the next President, then Adams's Administration must be stamped in history as a failure, and he himself retire from office covered with ignominy. But had Hamilton not recovered his balance and trimmed to their old steady duty the wicks of those lamps whose brilliance had dimmed in a stormy hour, his statesmanship would have controlled him in such a crisis as this. He knew that the rejection of the treaty would shatter the Federal party and cause national schisms and discords; that, if left over to a Jacobin administration, the result would be still worse for the United States. It was a poor thing, but no doubt the best that could have been extracted from triumphant France; nor was it as bad in some respects as the irritated Senate would have it. Such as it was, it must be ratified, peace placed to the credit of the Federalists, and the act of the man they had made President justified. Hamilton was obliged to write a great many letters on the subject, for the Federalists found it a bitter pill to swallow; but he prevailed and they swallowed it.
Meanwhile, the Electoral College had met. Adams had received sixty-five votes, Pinckney sixty-four, Jefferson and Burr seventy-three each. That threw the decision upon the House of Representatives, for Burr refused to recognize the will of the people, and withdraw in favour of the man whom the Democratic hemisphere of American politics had unanimously elected. Burr had already lost caste with the party by his attempts to secure more votes than the leaders were willing to give him, and had alarmed Jefferson into strenuous and diplomatic effort, the while he piously folded his visible hands or discoursed upon the bones of the mammoth. When Burr, therefore, permitted the election to go to the House, he was flung out of the Democratic party neck and crop, and Jefferson treated him like a dog until he killed Hamilton, when he gave a banquet in his honour. Burr's only chance for election lay with the Federalists, who would rather have seen horns and a tail in the Executive Chair than Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton had anticipated their hesitation and disposition to bargain with Burr, and he bombarded them with letters from the moment the Electoral College announced the result, until the House decided the question on the 17th of February. He analyzed Burr for the benefit of the anxious members until the dark and poisonous little man must have haunted their dreams at night. Whether they approached Burr or not will never be known; but they were finally convinced that to bargain with a man as unfigurable as water would be throwing away time which had far better be employed in extracting pledges from Jefferson.
One of Hamilton's letters to Gouverneur Morris, who wielded much influence in the House, is typical of many.
He was deeply alarmed at the tendency of the excited House, which sat in continuous session from the 11th to the 17th, members sleeping on the floor and sick men brought thither on cots, one with his wife in attendance. The South was threatening civil war, and Burr's subsequent career justified his alarm and his warnings; but in spite of his great influence he won his case with his followers by a very small margin. They were under no delusions regarding the character of Burr, their letters to Hamilton abound in strictures almost as severe as his own, but their argument was that he was the less of two evils, that every move he made could be sharply watched. It is quite true that he would have had Federalists and Democrats in both Houses to frustrate him; but it does not seem to have occurred to the former that impeachment would have been inevitable, and Jefferson President but a year or two later than the will of the people decreed. But it was a time of terrible excitement, and for the matter of that their brains must have been a trifle clouded by the unvarying excitement of their lives. Bayard of Delaware, with whom Hamilton had fought over point by point, winning one or more with each letter, changed his vote on the last ballot from Burr to a blank. Hamilton's friends knew that Burr would kill him sooner or later, for the ambitious man had lost his one chance of the great office; but Hamilton chose to see only the humour of the present he had made Thomas Jefferson. That sensible politician had tacitly agreed to the terms suggested by the Federalists, when they debated the possibility of accepting him, and Hamilton knew that he was far too clever to break his word at once. What Hamilton hoped for was what came to pass: Jefferson found the machinery of his new possession more to his taste than he could have imagined while sitting out in the cold, and he let it alone.