The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book V. The Last Battle of the Giants and the End
Hamilton, after the conclusion of the great libel case in the spring of 1804, returned from Albany to New York to receive honours almost as great, if less vociferous, than those which had hailed him after the momentous Convention of 1788. Banquets were given in his honour, the bar extolled him, and the large body of his personal friends were triumphant at this new proof of his fecundity and his power over the minds of men. They were deeply disturbed on another point, however, and several days after his arrival, Troup rode out to The Grange, Hamilton's country-seat, to remonstrate.
Hamilton, several years since, had bought a large tract of wooded land on Harlem Heights and built him a house on the ridge. It commanded a view of the city, the Hudson, and the Sound. The house was spacious and strong, built to withstand the winds of the Atlantic, and to shelter commodiously not only his family, but his many guests. The garden and the woods were the one hobby of his life, and with his own hands he had planted thirteen gum trees to commemorate the thirteen original States of the Union. Fortunately his deepest sorrow was not associated with this estate; Philip had fallen before the house was finished. This brilliant youth, who had left Columbia with flying honours, had brooded over the constant attacks upon his father,--still the Colossus in the path of the Democrats, to be destroyed before they could feel secure in their new possessions,--until he had deliberately insulted the most recent offender, received his challenge, and been shot to death close to the spot where Hamilton was to fall a few years later. That was in the autumn of 1801. Hamilton's strong brain and buoyant temperament had delivered him from the intolerable suffering of that heaviest of his afflictions, and the severe and unremitting work of his life gave him little time to brood. If he rarely lost consciousness of his bereavement, the sharpness passed, and he was even grateful at times that his son, whose gifts would have urged him into public life, was spared the crucifying rewards of patriotism.
As Troup rode up the avenue and glanced from right to left into the heavy shades of the forest, with its boulders and ravines, its streams and mosses and ferns, then to the brilliant mass of colour at the end of the avenue, out of which rose the stately house, he sighed heavily.
"May the devil get the lot of them!" he said.
It was Saturday, and he found Hamilton on his back under a tree, the last number of the Moniteur close to his hand, his wife and Angelica looking down upon him from a rustic seat. Both the women were in mourning, and Betsey's piquant charming face was aging; her sister Peggy and her mother had followed her son.
Hamilton had never recovered his health, and he paid for the prolonged strains upon his delicate system with a languor to which at times he was forced to yield. To-day, although he greeted the welcome visitor gaily, he did not rise, and Troup sat down on the ground with his back to the tree. As he looked very solemn, Mrs. Hamilton and Angelica inferred they were not wanted, and retired.
"Well?" said Hamilton, laughing. "What is it? What have I done now?"
"Put another nail into your coffin, we are all afraid. The story of the paper you read before the Federalist Conference in Albany is common talk; and if Burr is defeated, it will be owing to your influence, whether you hold yourself aloof from this election or not. Why do you jeopardize your life? I'd rather give him his plum and choke him with it--"
"What?" cried Hamilton, erect and alert. "Permit Burr to become Governor of New York? Do you realize that the New England States are talking of secession, that even the Democrats of the North are disgusted and alarmed at the influence and arrogance of Virginia? Burr has a certain prestige in New England on account of his father and Jonathan Edwards, and his agents have been promoting discussion of this ancestry for some time past. Do the Federalists of New York endorse him, this prestige will have received its fine finish; and New Englanders have winked his vices out of sight because Jefferson's treatment of him makes him almost virtuous in their eyes. The moment he is Governor he will foment the unrest of New England until it secedes, and then, being the first officer of the leading State of the North, he will claim a higher office that will end in sovereignty. He fancies himself another Bonaparte, he who is utterly devoid of even that desire for fame, and that magnificence, which would make the Corsican a great man without his genius. That he is in communication with his idol, I happen to know, for he has been seen in secret conversation with fresh Jacobin spies. Now is the time to crush Burr once for all. Jefferson has intrigued the Livingstons and Clinton away from him again; the party he patched together out of hating factions is in a state of incohesion. If the Federals--"
"That is just it," interrupted Troup; "the man is desperate. So are his followers, his 'little band.' They were sick and gasping after Burr's failure to receive one vote in the Republican caucus for even the Vice-Presidency, and they know that the Louisiana Purchase has made Jefferson invincible with the Democrats--or the Republicans, as Jefferson still persists in calling them. They know that Burr's chance for the Presidency has gone for ever. So New York is their only hope. Secession and empire or not, their hope, like his, is in the spoils of office; they are lean and desperate. If you balk them--"
"What a spectacle is this!" cried Hamilton, gaily. He threw himself back on the grass, and clasped his hands behind his head. "Troup, of all men, reproaching me for keeping a vow he once was ready to annihilate me for having broken. That offence was insignificant to the crime of supinely permitting our Catiline to accomplish his designs."
"If I could agree with you, I should be the last to counsel indifference; no, not if your life were the forfeit. But I never believed in Burr's talent for conspiracy. He is too sanguine and visionary. He desires power, office, and emolument--rewards for his henchmen before they desert him; but I believe he'd go--or get--no farther, and the country is strong enough to stand a quack or two; while, if we lose you--"
"You will live to see every prophecy I have made in regard to Burr fulfilled. I will not, because so long as I am alive he shall not even attempt to split the Union, to whose accomplishment and maintenance I pledged every faculty and my last vital spark. Sanguine and visionary he may be, but he is also cunning and quick, and there is a condition ready to his hand at the present moment. Jefferson is bad enough, Heaven knows. He has retained our machinery, but I sometimes fancy I can hear the crumbling of the foundations; the demoralizing and the disintegrating process began even sooner than I expected. He is appealing to the meanest passion of mankind, vanity; and the United States, which we tried to make the ideal Republic, is galloping toward the most mischievous of all establishments, Democracy. Every cowherd hopes to be President. What is the meaning of civilization, pray, if the educated, enlightened, broad-minded, are not to rule? Is man permitted to advance, progress, embellish his understanding, for his own selfish benefit, or for the benefit of mankind? And how can his superiority avail his fellows unless he be permitted to occupy the high offices of responsibility? God knows, he is not happy in his power; he is, indeed, a sacrifice to the mass. But so it was intended. He is the only sufferer, and mankind is happier."
"Jefferson and Burr both have a consummate knowledge of the limited understanding; they know how to tickle it with painted straws and bait it with lies. Bonaparte is not a greater autocrat than Jefferson, but our tyrant fools the world with his dirty old clothes and his familiarities. But I am not to be diverted. I want to keep you for my old age. I believe that you have done your part. It has been a magnificent part; there is no greater in history. Your friends are satisfied. So should you be. I want you to give up politics before it is too late. I fear more than one evil, and it has kept me awake many nights. Burr is not the only one who wishes you under ground. His 'little band' is composed of men who are worse than himself without one of his talents. Any one of them is capable of stabbing you in the dark. The Virginia Junta know that the Federalist party will exist as long as you do, and that some external menace might cohere and augment it again under your leadership. At every Federalist banquet last Fourth you were toasted as the greatest man in America; and I know this undiminished enthusiasm--as well as the influence of the Evening Post--alarms them deeply. They are neither great enough nor bad enough to murder you, nor even to employ someone to do it; but more than one needy rascal knows that he has only to call you out and kill you according to the code, to be rewarded with an office as soon as decency permits. There is another menace. I suppose you have heard that Mrs. Croix married a Frenchman named Stephen Jumel while you were in Albany?"
"Yes!" exclaimed Hamilton, with interest; "who is he?"
"A Parisian diamond merchant and banker, a personal friend of Bonaparte. The belief is that he came over here as a special emissary of the Consulate. Of course he brought a letter to that other illustrious agent, and to the amazement of everybody he married her. They must handle thousands of French money between them. France would be something more than glad to hear of your elimination from this complicated American problem; particularly, if you demonstrate your power by crushing this last hope of Burr's. I doubt if Burr would call you out with no stronger motive than a desire for personal revenge. He is no fool, and he knows that if he kills you, he had better put a bullet through his own brain at once. He is a sanguine man, but not so sanguine as not to know that if he compassed your death, he would be hounded into exile. But he is in a more desperate way financially than ever. He can borrow no more, and his debtors are clamouring. If he is defeated in this election, and the Jumels are sharp enough to take advantage of his fury and despair,--I think she has been watching her chance for years; and the talk is, she is anxious, for her own reasons, to get rid of Burr, besides,--I believe that a large enough sum would tempt Burr to call you out--"
"He certainly is hard up," interrupted Hamilton, "for he rang my front door bell at five o'clock this morning, and when I let him in he went on like a madman and begged me to let him have several thousands, or Richmond Hill would be sold over his head."
"And you gave them to him, I suppose? How much have you lent him altogether? I know from Washington Morton that Burr borrowed six hundred dollars of you through him."
"I lent him the six hundred, partly because his desperate plight appeals to me--I believe him to be the unhappiest wretch in America--and more because I don't want Europe laughing at the spectacle of a Vice-President of the United States in Debtor's prison. Of course I can't lend him this last sum myself, but I have promised to raise it for him."
"Well, I argue with you no more about throwing away money. Did you listen to what I said about Madame Jumel?"
"With the deepest interest. It was most ingenious, and does honour to your imagination." Troup, with an angry exclamation, sprang to his feet. Hamilton deftly caught him by the ankle and his great form sprawled on the grass. He arose in wrath.
"You are no older than one of your own young ones!" he began; then recovered, and resumed his seat. "This is the latest story I have heard of you," he continued: "Some man from New England came here recently with a letter to you. When he returned to his rural home he was asked if he had seen the great man. 'I don't know about the great' he replied; 'but he was as playful as a kitten.'"
Hamilton laughed heartily. "Well, let me frolic while I may," he said. "I shall die by Burr's hand, no doubt of that. Whether he kills me for revenge or money, that is my destiny, and I have known it for years. And it does not matter in the least, my dear Bob. I have not three years of life left in me."