Part 3 out of 10
Alexander was grateful for the heavy task Mr. Mitchell's absence
imposed, for there was no business doing in Christianstadt, and his
nerves were still vibrating to the storm he had fought and conquered.
His rigorous self-control was gone, his suppressed energies and
ambitions were quick and imperious, every vial of impatience and disgust
was uncorked. As he rode through the hot sunlight or moved among the
Africans, coaxing and commanding, getting more work out of them by his
gay bright manner than the overlookers could extract with their whips,
his brain was thumping with plans of delivery from a life which he
hated so blackly that he would wrench himself free of it before the year
was out if he had to ship as a common sailor for New York. It seemed to
him that the vacancies in his brain ached. His imagination was hot with
the future awaiting him beyond that cursed stretch of blinding water.
For the first time he fully realized his great abilities, knew that he
had in him the forces that make history. All the encouragement of his
mother and Hugh Knox, the admiration and confidence of such men as Mr.
Cruger, the spoiling of his relatives, and his easy conquest or equally
flattering antagonism of the youth of the Island, had fostered his
self-confidence without persuading him that he was necessarily a genius.
Strong as his youthful ambitions had been, burning as his desire for
more knowledge, much in his brain had been dormant, and a humorous
philosophy, added to the sanguineness of youth and a deep affection for
a few people, had enabled him to bear his lot with unbroken
cheerfulness. But the clashing forces of the Universe had roused the
sleeping giant in his brain and whirled his youth away. His only
formulated ambition was to learn first all that schools could teach him,
then lead great armies to battle. Until the day of his death his desire
for military excitement and glory never left him, and at this time it
was the destiny which heated his imagination. It seemed to him that the
roar and rattle of the hurricane, in whose lead he had managed to
maintain himself unharmed, were the loud prophecy of battle and
conquest. At the same time, he knew that other faculties and demands of
his brain must have their way, but he could only guess at their nature,
and statesmanship was the one achievement that did not occur to him; the
American colonies were his only hope, and there was no means by which he
could know their wrongs and needs. Such news came seldom to the West
Indies, and Knox retained little interest in the country where he had
sojourned so short a while. And at this time their struggle hardly would
have appealed to young Hamilton had he known of it. He was British by
instinct and association, and he had never received so much as a
scratch from the little-finger nail of the distant mother, whose long
arm was rigid above her American subjects.
His deliverance was so quick and sudden that for a day or two he was
almost as dazed as the Africans after the hurricane. One day Hugh Knox
sent him out a copy of the St. Christopher newspaper which had published
his description of the storm. With some pride in his first-born, he read
it aloud to his aunt. Before he was halfway down the first column she
was on the sofa with her smelling-salts, vowing she was more terrified
than when she had expected to be killed every minute. When he had
finished she upbraided him for torturing people unnecessarily, but
remarked that he was even cleverer than she had thought him. The next
morning she asked him to read it again; then read it herself. On the
following day Hugh Knox rode out.
Alexander was at one of the mills. Knox told Mrs. Mitchell that he had
sent a copy of the newspaper to the Governor of St. Croix, who had
called upon him an hour later and insisted upon knowing the name of the
writer. Knox not only had told him, but had expanded upon Alexander's
abilities and ambitions to such an extent that the Governor at that
moment was with Peter Lytton, endeavouring to persuade him to open his
purse-strings and send the boy to college.
"He will not do all," added Knox, "and I rely upon you to do the rest.
Between you, Alexander can get, first the education he wants now more
than anything in life, then the chance to make a great reputation among
men. If you keep him here you're no better than criminals, and that's
all I have to say."
Mrs. Mitchell shuddered. "Do you think he really wants to go?" she
"Do I think he wants to go!" roared Hugh Knox. "Do I think--Good God!
why he's been mad to go for five years. He'd have thought of nothing
else if he hadn't a will like a bar of iron made for a hurricane door,
and he'd have grown morbid about it if he hadn't been blest with a
cheerful and a sanguine disposition. You adore him, and you couldn't
"He never said much about it," said Mrs. Mitchell, meekly; "but I think
I can see now that you are right. It will make me ill to part with him,
but he ought to go, and if Peter Lytton will pay half his expenses, I'll
pay the other half, and keep him in pocket coin besides. Of course Tom
won't give a penny, but I have something of my own, and he is welcome to
it. Do have everything arranged before my husband's return. He is alive
and well. I had a letter from him by the sloop that came from St. Kitts,
and he'll be here by the next or the one after."
As soon as Knox had gone Mrs. Mitchell ordered her coach and drove to
Lytton's Fancy. Her love for Alexander had struggled quite out of its
fond selfishness, and she determined that go to New York he should and
by the next ship. She found her brother-in-law meditating upon the
arguments of the Governor, and had less difficulty in persuading him
than she had anticipated.
"I'm sorry we haven't sent him before," he said finally. "For if two men
like Walsterstorff and Knox think so highly of him, and if he can write
like that,--it gave me the horrors,--he ought to have his chance, and
this place is too small for him. I'll help you to keep him at college
until he's got his education,--and it will take him less time than most
boys to get it,--and then he'll be able to take care of himself. If he
sails on Wednesday, there's no produce to send with him to sell; but
I've silver, and so have you, and he can take enough to keep him until
the Island is well again. We'll do the thing properly, and he shan't
worry for want of plenty."
When Alexander came home that evening he was informed that the world had
turned round, and that he stood on its apex.
The night before he sailed he rode out to the Grange estate. The wall of
the cemetery had been repaired, James Lytton's slab was in its place,
the tree had been removed, and he had rebuilt the mound above his
mother as soon as the earth was firm again. There was no evidence of the
hurricane here. The moon was out, and in her mellow bath the Island had
the beauty of a desert. Alexander leaned his elbows on the wall and
stared down at his mother's grave. He knew that he never should see it
again. What he was about to do was for good and all. He would no more
waste months returning to this remote Island than he would turn back
from any of the goals of his future. And it mattered nothing to the dead
woman there. If she had an immortal part, it would follow him, and she
had suffered too much in life for her dust to resent neglect. But he
passionately wished that she were alive and that she were sailing with
him to his new world. He had ceased to repine her loss, much to miss
her, but his sentiment for her was still the strongest in his life, and
as a companion he had found no one to take her place. To-night he wanted
to talk to her. He was bursting with hope and anticipation and the
enthusiasm of the mere change, but he was close to melancholy.
Suddenly he bent his head. From the earth arose the golden music of a
million tiny bells. They had hung rusty and warped since the hurricane,
but to-night they rang again, and as sweetly as on the night, seventeen
years ago, when their music filled the Universe, and two souls, whose
destiny it was to bring a greater into the world, were flooded with a
diviner music than that fairy melody. Alexander knew nothing of that
meeting of his parents, when they were but a few years older than he was
to-night, but the inherited echo of those hours when his own soul
awaited its sentence may have stirred in his brain, for he stood there
and dreamed of his mother and father as they had looked and thought when
they had met and loved; and this he had never done before. The tireless
little ringers filled his brain with their Lilliputian clamour, and his
imagination gave him his parents in the splendour of their young beauty
and passion. For the first time he forgave his father, and he had a deep
moment of insight: one of the mysteries of life was bare before him. He
was to have many of these cosmic moments, for although his practical
brain relied always on hard work, never on inspiration, his divining
faculty performed some marvellous feats, and saved him from much
plodding; but he never had a moment of insight which left a profounder
impression than this. He understood in a flash the weakness of the
world, and his own. At first he was appalled, then he pitied, then he
vibrated to the thrill of that exultation which had possessed his mother
the night on the mountain when she made up her mind to outstay her
guests. And then the future seemed to beckon more imperiously to the boy
for whose sake she had remained, the radiant image of his parents melted
in its crucible, and the world was flooded with a light which revealed
more than the smoke of battlefields and the laurels of fulfilled
On the following day, as Alexander stood on the wharf with his tearful
relatives and friends, Hugh Knox detached him from Mrs. Mitchell and led
"Alec," he said, "I've two pieces of parting advice for you, and I want
you to put them into the pocket of your memory that's easiest to find.
Get a tight rein on that temper of yours. It's improved in the last
year, but there's room yet. That's the first piece. This is the second:
keep your own counsel about the irregularity of your birth, unless
someone asks you point-blank who has the right; if anyone else does,
knock him down and tell him to go to hell with his impertinence. And
never let it hit your courage in the vitals for a moment. You are not
accountable; your mother was the finest woman I ever knew, and you've
got the best blood of Britain in your veins, and not a relative in the
world who's not of gentle blood. You're an aristocrat in body and brain,
and you'll not find a purer in the American colonies. The lack of a
priest at the right time can cause a good deal of suffering and trouble,
but it can't muddy a pure stream; and many a lawful marriage has done
that. So, mind you never bring your head down for a minute, nor
persuade yourself that anyone has a better right to keep it up. It would
be the death of you."
Alexander nodded, but did not reply. He was feeling very low, now that
the hour for parting was come, for his affections were strong and
tender, and they were all rooted in the Island he hated. He understood,
He was six weeks reaching Boston, for even the wind seemed to have had
the life beaten out of it. He had a box of Knox's books, which he was to
return by the Captain; and although he had read them before, he read
them again, and wrote commentaries, and so kept his mind occupied for
the greater part of the voyage. But an active brain, inexperienced in
the world, and in no need of rest, is always bored at sea, and he grew
sick of the sight of that interminable blue waste; of which he had seen
too much all his life. When he had learned all there was to know about a
ship, and read all his books, he burned for change of any sort. The
change, when it came, was near to making an end of him: the ship caught
fire, and they were a day and a night conquering the flames and
preparing their philosophy to meet death; for the boats were
unseaworthy. Alexander had all the excitement he wanted, for he fought
the fire as hard as he had fought the hurricane, and he was delighted
when the Captain gave him permission to turn in. This was his third
touch-and-go with death.
He arrived in Boston late in October, and took passage immediately for
New York. There had been no time to announce his coming, and he was
obliged to find his own way to the house of Hercules Mulligan, a member
of the West Indian firm, to whom Mr. Cruger had given him a warm letter
of introduction. Mr. Mulligan, a good-natured Irishman, received him
hospitably, and asked him to stop in his modest house until his plans
were made. Alexander accepted the invitation, then started out in search
of his friend, Ned Stevens, but paused frequently to observe the queer,
straggling, yet imposing little city, the red splendour of the autumn
foliage; above all, to enjoy the keen and frosty air. All his life he
had longed for cold weather. He had anticipated it daily during his
voyage, and, although he had never given way to the natural indolence of
the Tropics, he had always been conscious of a languor to fight. But the
moment the sharp air of the North had tingled his skin his very muscles
seemed to harden, his blood to quicken, and even his brain to become
more alert and eager. If he had been ambitious and studious in an
average temperature of eighty-five degrees, what would happen when the
thermometer dropped below zero? He smiled, but with much contentment.
The vaster the capacity for study, the better; as for his ambitions,
they could rest until he had finished his education. Now that his feet
were fairly planted on the wide highway of the future, his impatience
was taking its well-earned rest; he would allow no dreams to interfere
with the packing of his brain.
It was late in the afternoon, and the fashionable world was promenading
on lower Broadway and on the Battery by the Fort. It was the first time
that Alexander had seen men in velvet coats, or women with hoopskirts
and hair built up a foot, and he thought the city, with its quaint Dutch
houses, its magnificent trees, and these brilliant northern birds, quite
like a picture book. They looked high-bred and intelligent, these
animated saunterers, and Alexander regarded the women with deep
inquisitiveness. Women had interested him little, with the exception of
his mother, who he took for granted _sui generis_. The sisters of his
friends were white delicate creatures, languid and somewhat affected;
and he had always felt older than either of his aunts. In consequence,
he had meditated little upon the sex to which poets had formed a habit
of writing sonnets, regarding them either as necessary appendages or
creatures for use. But these alert, dashing, often handsome women,
stirred him with a new gratitude to life. He longed for the day when he
should have time to know them, and pictured them gracing the solid
home-like houses on the Broadway, and in the fine grounds along the
river front, where he strayed alter a time, having mistaken the way to
King's College. He walked back through Wall Street, and his enthusiasm
was beginning to ebb, he was feeling the first pangs of a lonely
nostalgia, when he almost ran into Ned Stevens's arms. It was four years
since they had met. Stevens had grown a foot and Alexander a few inches,
but both were boyish in appearance still and recognized each other at
"When I can talk," exclaimed Stevens, "when I can get over my
amazement--I thought at first it was my double, come to tell me
something was wrong on the Island--I'll ask you to come to Fraunces'
Tavern and have a tankard of ale. It's healthier than swizzle."
"That is an invitation, Neddy," cried Alexander, gaily. "Initiate me at
once. I've but a day or two to play in, but I must have you for
They dined at Fraunces' Tavern and sat there till nearly morning.
Alexander had much to tell but more to hear, and before they parted at
Mr. Mulligan's door he knew all of the New World that young Stevens had
patiently accumulated in four years. It was a stirring story, that
account of the rising impatience of the British colonies, and Stevens
told it with animation and brevity. Alexander became so interested that
he forgot his personal mission, but he would not subscribe to his
friend's opinion that the Colonials were in the right.
"Did I have the time, I should study the history of the colonies from
the day they built their first fort," he said. "Your story is
picturesque, but it does not convince me that they have all the right on
their side. England--"
"England is a tyrannical old fool," young Stevens was beginning,
heatedly, when a man behind arose and clapped a hand over his mouth.
"There are three British officers at the next table," he said. "We don't
want any more rows. One too many, and God knows what next."
Stevens subsided, but Alexander's nostrils expanded. Even the mental
atmosphere of this brilliant North was full of electricity.
The next day he presented to Dr. Rogers and Dr. Mason the letters which
Hugh Knox had given him. He interested them at once, and when he asked
their advice regarding the first step he should take toward entering
college, they recommended Francis Barber's Grammar School, at
Elizabethtown, New Jersey. Stevens had suggested the same institution,
and so did other acquaintances he made during his brief stay in the city
which was one day to be christened by angry politicians,
"Hamiltonopolis." Early in the following week he crossed to New Jersey
and rode through the forests to the village, with its quaint streets and
handsome houses, "the Burial Yard Lot," beside the main thoroughfare of
the proud little hamlet, and Mr. Barber's Grammar School at its upper
end. Hamilton was accepted immediately, but where to lodge was a
harassing question. The only rooms for hire were at the tavern, where
permanent lodgement would be intolerable. When he presented a letter to
Mr. Boudinot, which Mr. Cruger had given him, the problem was solved at
once. Mr. Boudinot, one of the men of his time, had a spacious and
elegant house, set amidst gardens, lawns, and forest trees; there were
many spare bedrooms, and he invited Hamilton to become a member of his
family. The invitation was given as a matter of course, and Hamilton
accepted it as frankly. All the pupils who were far from home visited in
the neighbourhood. Liberty Hall, on the Springfield turnpike, was
finishing when Hamilton arrived. When the family was installed and he
presented his letter to its owner, William Livingston, he received as
pressing an invitation as Mr. Boudinot's, and divided his time between
the two houses.
Mr. Boudinot was a large man, with a long nose and a kindly eye, who was
deeply attached to his children. Susan was healthy, pretty, lively, and
an ardent young patriot. The baby died, and Hamilton, having offered to
sit up with the little body, entertained himself by writing an
appropriate poem, which was long treasured by Mr. Boudinot.
At Liberty Hall life was even more interesting. William Livingston was
one of the ablest lawyers, most independent thinkers, and ardent
republicans of the unquiet times. Witty and fearless, he had for years
made a target of kingly rule; his acid cut deep, doing much to weaken
the wrong side and encourage the right. His wife was as uncompromising a
patriot as himself; his son, Brockholst, and his sprightly cultivated
daughters had grown up in an atmosphere of political discussion, and in
constant association with the best intellects of the day. Sarah, the
beauty, was engaged to John Jay, already a distinguished lawyer,
notoriously patriotic and high-minded. He was a handsome man, with his
dark hair brushed forward about his face, his nobility and classic
repose of feature. Mr. Livingston wore his hair in a waving mass, as
long as he had any. His nose was large and sharp, and he had a very
disapproving eye. He took an immediate liking to young Hamilton,
however, and his hospitality was frank and delightful. Brockholst and
Alexander liked and admired each other in those days, although they were
to become bitter enemies in the turbulent future. As for the lively bevy
of women, protesting against their exile from New York, but amusing
themselves, always, they adopted "the young West Indian." The
delicate-looking boy, with his handsome sparkling face, his charming
manners, and gay good humour captivated them at once; and he wrote to
Mrs. Mitchell that he was become shockingly spoiled. When Mr. Livingston
discovered that his brain and knowledge were extraordinary, he ceased at
once to treat him as a fascinating boy, and introduced him to the men
who were constantly entertained at his house: John Jay, James Duane, Dr.
Witherspoon, President of Princeton; and members of the Morris,
Schuyler, Ogden, Clinton, and Stockton families. The almost weekly
conversation of these men contributed to the rapid maturing of
Hamilton's mind. His recreation he found with the young women of the
family, and their conversation was not always political. Sarah
Livingston, beautiful, sweet, and clever, was pensively in love; but
Kitty and Susan were not, and they were handsome and dashing. They were
sufficiently older than Alexander to inspire him with the belief that he
was in love with each in turn; and if he was constant to either, it was
to Kitty, who was the first to reveal to him the fascination of her
sex. But they did not interrupt the course of his studies; and in the
dawn, when he repaired to the Burial Yard Lot to think out his difficult
task for the day, not a living face haunted the tombstones.
And when winter came and he walked the vast black forests alone, the
snow crunching under his feet, the blood racing in his body, a gun on
his shoulder, lest he meet a panther, or skated till midnight under the
stars, a crystal moon illuminating the dark woods on the river's edge,
the frozen tide glittering the flattering homage of earth, he felt so
alive and happy, so tingling and young and primeval, that had his
fellow-inhabitants flown to the stars he would not have missed them.
Until that northern winter embraced and hardened him, quickening mind
and soul and body, crowding the future with realized dreams, he never
had dared to imagine that life could be so fair and beautiful a thing.
On stormy winter nights, when he roasted chestnuts or popped corn in the
great fireplace of Liberty Hall, under the tuition of all the Livingston
girls, Sarah, Susan, Kitty, and Judith, he felt very sociable indeed;
and if his ears, sometimes, were soundly boxed, he looked so penitent
and meek that he was contritely rewarded with the kiss he had snatched.
The girls regarded him as a cross between a sweet and charming boy to be
spoiled--one night, when he had a toothache, they all sat up with
him--and a phenomenon of nature of which they stood a trifle in awe. But
the last was when he was not present and they fell to discussing him.
And with them, as with all women, he wore, because to the gay vivacity
and polished manners of his Gallic inheritance he added the rugged
sincerity of the best of Britons; and in the silences of his heart he
was too sensible of the inferiority of the sex, out of which, first and
last, he derived so much pleasure, not to be tender and considerate of
Before the year of 1773 was out Mr. Barber pronounced him ready for
college, and, his choice being Princeton, he presented himself to Dr.
Witherspoon and demanded a special course which would permit him to
finish several years sooner than if he graduated from class to class. He
knew his capacity for conquering mental tasks, and having his own way to
make in the world, had no mind to waste years and the substance of his
relatives at college. Dr. Witherspoon, who had long been deeply
interested in him, examined him privately and pronounced him equal to
the heavy burden he had imposed upon himself, but feared that the board
of trustees would not consent to so original a plan. They would not.
Hamilton, nothing daunted, applied to King's College, and found no
opposition there. He entered as a private student, attached to no
particular class, and with the aid of a tutor began his customary
annihilation of time. Besides entering upon a course of logic, ethics,
mathematics, history, chronology, rhetoric, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, all
the modern languages, and Belles Lettres, he found time to attend Dr.
Clossy's lectures on anatomy, with his friend Stevens, who was studying
medicine as a profession.
King's was a fine building facing the North River and surrounded by
spacious grounds shaded by old sycamores and elms. There were many
secluded corners for thought and study. A more favourite resort of
Alexander's was Batteau Street, under whose great elms he formed the
habit of strolling and muttering his lessons, to the concern of the
passer-by. In his hours of leisure he rollicked with Stevens and his new
friends, Nicolas Fish and Robert Troup. The last, a strong and splendid
specimen of the young American collegian, had assumed at once the
relation of big brother to the small West Indian, but was not long
discovering that Hamilton could take care of himself; was flown at
indeed by two agile fists upon one occasion, when protectiveness, in
Alexander's measurement, rose to interference. But they formed a deep
and lifelong friendship, and Troup, who was clever and alert, without
brilliancy, soon learned to understand Hamilton, and was not long
recognizing potentialities of usefulness to the American cause in his
It was Troup who took him for his first sail up the Hudson, and except
for the men who managed the boat, they went alone. Troup was a good
listener, and for a time Hamilton chattered gaily as the boat sped up
the river, jingling rhymes on the great palisades, which looked like the
walls of some Brobdingnagian fortress, and upon the gorgeous masses of
October colouring swarming over the perpendicular heights of Jersey and
the slopes and bluffs of New York. It was a morning, and a piece of
nature, to make the quicksilver in Hamilton race. The arch was blue, the
tide was bluer, the smell of salt was in the keen and frosty air. Two
boats with full white sails flew up the river. On either bank the
primeval forest had burst in a night into scarlet and gold, pale yellow
and crimson, bronze, pink, the flaming hues of the Tropics, and the
delicate tints of hot-house roses. Hamilton had never seen such a riot
of colour in the West Indies. They passed impenetrable thickets close to
the water's edge, ravines, cliffs, irregular terraces on the hillside,
gorges, solitary heights, all flaunting their charms like a vast booth
which has but a day in which to sell its wares. They sped past the
beautiful peninsula, then the lawns of Philipse Manor. Hamilton stepped
suddenly to the bow of the boat and stood silent for a long while.
The stately but narrow end of the Hudson was behind; before him rolled a
wide and ever widening majestic flood, curving among its hills and
palisades, through the glory of its setting and the soft mists of
distance, until the far mountains it clove trembled like a mirage. The
eye of Hamilton's mind followed it farther and farther yet. It seemed to
him that it cut the world in two. The sea he had had with him always,
but it had been the great chasm between himself and life, and he had
often hated it. This mighty river, haughty and calm in spite of the
primeval savagery of its course, beat upon the gates of his soul, beat
them down, filled him with a sense of grandeur which made him tremble.
He had a vision of the vastness and magnificence of the New World, of
the great lonely mountains in the North, with their countless lakes
hidden in the immensity of a trackless forest, of other mountain ranges
equally wild and lonely, cutting the monotony of plains and prairies,
and valleys full of every delight. All that Hamilton had read or heard
of the immense area beyond or surrounding the few cities and hamlets of
the American colonies, flew to coherence, and he had a sudden
appreciation of the stupendousness of this new untravelled world,
understood that with its climate, fertility, and beauty, its large
nucleus of civilization, its destiny must be as great as Europe's, nor
much dissimilar, no matter what the variance of detail. The noblest
river in the world seemed to lift its voice like a prophet, and the time
came--after his visit to Boston--when Hamilton listened to it with a
thrill of impatient pride and white-hot patriotism. But to-day he felt
only the grandeur of life as he never had felt it before, felt his soul
merge into this mighty unborn soul of a nation sleeping in the infinity,
which the blue flood beneath him spoke of, almost imaged; with no
premonition that his was the destiny to quicken that soul to its birth.
* * * * *
While on the ship, Alexander had written to his father, asking for news
of him and telling of the change in his own fortunes. James Hamilton had
replied at once, gratefully, but with melancholy; by this time he knew
himself to be a failure, although he was now a planter in a small way.
Alexander's letter, full of the hope and indomitable spirit of youth,
interested as keenly as it saddened him. He recalled his own high
courage and expectant youth, and wondered if this boy had stronger
mettle than his own equipment. Then he remembered Rachael Levine and
hoped. He lived to see hope fulfilled beyond any achievement of his
imagination, although the correspondence, brisk for a time, gradually
subsided. From Hugh Knox and Mrs. Mitchell Alexander heard constantly,
and it is needless to state that his aunt kept him in linen which was
the envy of his friends. His beruffled shirts and lace stocks were
marvels, and if he was an exquisite in dress all his life, it certainly
was not due to after-thought. Meanwhile, he lodged with the family of
Hercules Mulligan, and wrote doggerel for their amusement in the
evening. Troup relates that Hamilton presented him with a manuscript of
fugitive poetry, written at this period. Mercifully, Troup lost it.
Hamilton has been peculiarly fortunate in this respect. He lies more
serenely in his grave than most great men.
When he was not studying, or joking, or rhyming, during those two short
years of college life, he read: Cudworth's "Intellectual System,"
Hobbes's "Dialogues," Bacon's "Essays," Plutarch's "Morals," Cicero's
"De Officiis," Montaigne's "Essays," Rousseau's "Emile," Demosthenes's
"Orations," Aristotle's "Politics," Ralt's "Dictionary of Trade," and
the "Lex Mercatoria."
He accomplished his mental feats by the--to him--simple practice of
keeping one thing before his mind at a time, then relegating it
uncompromisingly to the background; where, however, it was safe in the
folds of his memory. What would have sprained most minds merely
stimulated his, and never affected his spirits nor his health, highly as
nature had strung his nerves. He was putting five years college work
into two, but the effect was an expansion and strengthening of the
forces in his brain; they never weakened for an instant.
In the spring of 1774 Hamilton visited Boston during a short holiday.
His glimpse of this city had been so brief that it had impressed his
mind but as a thing of roofs and trees, a fantastic woodland
amphitheatre, in whose depths men of large and solemn mien added daily
to the sum of human discomfort. He returned to see the important city of
Boston, but with no overwhelming desire to come in closer contact with
its forbidding inhabitants. He quickly forgot the city in what those
stern sour men had to tell him. For to them he owed that revelation of
the tragic justice of the American cause which enabled him to begin with
the pen his part in the Revolution, forcing the crisis, taking rank as a
political philosopher when but a youth of seventeen; instead of bolting
from his books to the battlefield at the first welcome call to arms. Up
to this time he had adhered to his resolution to let nothing impede the
progress of his education, to live strictly in the hour until the time
came to leave the college for the world. Therefore, although he had
heard the question of Colonies versus Crown argued week after week at
Liberty Hall, and at the many New York houses where he dined of a Sunday
with his friends, Stevens, Troup, and Fish, he had persistently refused
to study the matter: there were older heads to settle it and there was
only one age for a man's education. Moreover, he had grown up with a
deep reverence for the British Constitution, and his strong aristocratic
prejudices inclined him to all the aloofness of the true conservative.
So while the patriots and royalists of King's were debating, ofttimes
concluding in sequestered nooks, Hamilton remained "The young West
Indian," an alien who cared for naught but book-learning, walking
abstractedly under the great green shade of Batteau Street while Liberty
Boys were shouting, and British soldiers swaggered with a sharp eye for
aggression. This period of philosophic repose in the midst of electric
fire darting from every point in turn and sometimes from all points at
once, endured from the October of his arrival to its decent burial in
Boston shortly after his seventeenth birthday.
Boston was sober and depressed, stonily awaiting the vengeance of the
crown for her dramatic defiance in the matter of tea. Even in that
rumbling interval, Hamilton learned, the Committee of Correspondence,
which had directed the momentous act, had been unexcited and methodical,
restraining the Mohawks day after day, hoping until the last moment that
the Collector of Customs would clear the ships and send the tea whence
it came. Hamilton heard the wrongs of the colonies discussed without any
of the excitement or pyrotechnical brilliancy to which he had become
accustomed. New York was not only the hot-bed of Toryism, but even such
ardent Republicans as William Livingston, George Clinton, and John Jay
were aristocrats, holding themselves fastidiously aloof from the rank
and file that marched and yelled under the name of Sons of Liberty. To
Hamilton the conflict had been spectacular rather than real, until he
met and moved with these sombre, undemonstrative, superficially
unpleasing men of Boston; then, almost in a flash, he realized that the
colonies were struggling, not to be relieved of this tax or that, but
for a principle; realized that three millions of people, a respectable
majority honourable, industrious, and educated, were being treated like
incapables, apprehensive of violence if they dared to protest for their
rights under the British Constitution. Hamilton also learned that Boston
was the conspicuous head and centre of resistance to the crown, that she
had led the colonies in aggressiveness since the first Stamp Act of 1765
had shocked them from passive subjects into dangerous critics. He had
letters which admitted him to clubs and homes, and he discussed but one
subject during his visit. There were no velvet coats and lace ruffles
here, except in the small group which formed the Governor's court. The
men wore dun-coloured garments, and the women were not much livelier. It
was, perhaps, as well that he did not see John Hancock, that ornamental
head-piece of patriotic New England, or the harmony of the impression
might have been disturbed; but, as it was, every time he saw these men
together, whether sitting undemonstratively in Faneuil Hall while one of
their number spoke, or in church, or in groups on Boston Common, it was
as if he saw men of iron, not of flesh and blood. Every word they
uttered seemed to have been weighed first, and it was impossible to
consider such men giving their time and thought, making ready to offer
up their lives, to any cause which should not merit the attention of all
men. Although Hamilton met many of them, they made no individual
impression on him; he saw them only as a mighty brain, capable of
solving a mighty question, and of a stern and bitter courage.
He returned to New York filled with an intense indignation against the
country which he had believed too ancient and too firm in her highest
principles to make a colossal mistake, and a hot sympathy for the
colonists which was not long resolving itself into as burning a
patriotism as any in the land. It was not in him to do anything by
halves, it is doubtful if he ever realized the half-hearted tendency of
the greater part of mankind. He studied the question from the first
Stamp Act to the Tea Party. The day he was convinced, he ceased to be a
West Indian. The time was not yet come to draw the sword in behalf of
the country for which he conceived a romantic passion, which satisfied
other wants of his soul, but he began at once on a course of reading
which should be of use to her when she was free to avail herself of
patriotic thinkers. He also joined the debating club of the college. His
abrupt advent into this body, with his fiery eloquence and remarkable
logic, was electrical. In a day he became the leader of the patriot
students. There were many royalists in King's, and the president, Dr.
Myles Cooper, was a famous old Tory. He looked upon this influential
addition to the wrong side with deep disfavour, and when he discovered
that the most caustic writer of Holt's Whig newspaper, who had carved
him to the quick and broken his controversial lances again and again,
was none other than his youngest and most revolutionary pupil, his wrath
knew no bounds.
With the news of the order to close the port of Boston, the wave of
indignation in the colonies rose so high that even the infatuated clergy
wriggled. Philadelphia went so far as to toll her muffled bells for a
day, and as for New York, then as now, the nerve-knot of the country,
she exploded. The Sons of Liberty, who had reorganized after the final
attempt of England to force tea on the colonies, paraded all day and
most of the night, but were, as yet, more orderly than the masses, who
stormed through the streets with lighted torches, shrieking and yelling
and burning the king and his ministers in effigy.
The substantial citizens also felt that the time was come to prepare for
the climax toward which their fortunes were hastening. That spiteful
fist would be at their own skulls next, beyond a doubt. The result of a
long and hot debate in the Exchange between the Sons of Liberty and the
more conservative patriots was an agreement to call a Congress of the
Colonies. The contest over the election of delegates was so bitter,
however, the Committee of the Assembly, which was largely ministerial,
claiming the right to nomination, that it was determined to submit the
question to the people at large.
In the early morning Hamilton still sauntered beneath the college trees
or those of Batteau Street, pondering on his studies, and abstracting
himself from the resting city, but in the evenings and during half the
night he inhaled the hot breath of rebellion; and the flaring torches,
the set angry faces, the constant shouting, the frightened pallor of the
women at the windows of the great houses on the line of march, the
constant brawls with British soldiers, stormed the curb he had put on
his impatient spirit. He realized that the colonies were not yet
prepared to fight, and he had no thought of doing anything rash, but it
was his propensity to do a thing at once if it were to be done at all,
and this last indignity should result in something except talk. He was
present at the meeting in the Exchange and listened carefully to all
that was said, feeling that he could add to that whirlwind of ideas, but
forbearing on account of his youth. His mind, by now, was so mature that
he reminded himself, with some difficulty, that he was but seventeen. He
was as lively and as happy as ever, but that was temperamental and would
endure through all things; mentally he had no youth in him, had had
little since the day he began to ask questions.
The meeting in the Fields--at which it was hoped to effect a choice of
delegates by the people at large--was called for the 6th of July, and a
great multitude assembled. Alexander McDougall, the first patriot to
have suffered imprisonment at the hands of the Tyrant, presided, and
celebrated speakers harangued. It was here that Hamilton's impatience
got rid of its curb. He heard much that was good, more that was bad,
little that was new; and he found the radicals illogical and the
conservatives timid. Nicolas Fish and Robert Troup pushed their way
through the crowd to where Hamilton stood, his uplifted face expressing
his thoughts so plainly to those who knew him that these friends
determined to force him to the platform.
At first he protested; and in truth, the idea, shaping concretely,
filled his very legs with terror; but the young men's insistence, added
to his own surging ideas, conquered, and he found himself on the
platform facing a boundless expanse of three-cornered hats. Beneath were
the men who represented the flower as well as the weeds of the city, all
dominated by the master passion of the civilized world. There was little
shade in the Fields and the day was hot. It was a crowded,
uncomfortable, humid mass whose attention he was about to demand, and
their minds were already weary of many words, their calves of the
ruthless mosquito. They stared at Hamilton in amazement, for his slender
little figure and fair curling hair, tied loosely with a ribbon, made
him look a mere boy, while his proud high-bred face, the fine green
broadcloth of his fashionably cut garments, the delicate lawn of his
shirt and the profusion of lace with which it was trimmed, particularly
about his exquisite hands, gave him far more the appearance of a court
favourite than a champion of liberty. Some smiled, others grunted, but
all remained to listen, for the attempt was novel, and he was beautiful
to look upon.
For a moment Hamilton felt as if the lower end of his heart had grown
wings, and he began falteringly and in an almost inaudible voice. Pride
hastened to his relief, however, and his daily debates in college had
given him assurance and address. He recovered his poise, and as ideas
swam from his brain on the tide of a natural eloquence, he forgot all
but the great principle which possessed him in common with that jam of
weary men, the determination to inspire them to renewed courage and
greater activity. He rehearsed their wrongs, emphasized their
inalienable rights under the British Constitution--from which the
ministerial party and a foolish sovereign had practically divorced them.
He insisted that the time had come in their history to revert to the
_natural_ rights of man--upon which all civil rights were founded--since
they were no longer permitted to lead the lives of self-respecting
citizens, pursuing the happiness which was the first instinct of the
human intelligence; they had been reduced almost to the level of their
own slaves, who soon would cease to respect them.
He paused so abruptly that the crowd held its breath. Then his ringing
thrilling voice sounded the first note of the Revolution. "It is war!"
he cried. "It is war! It is the battlefield or slavery!"
When the deep roar which greeted the startling words had subsided, he
spoke briefly of their immense natural advantages, in the event of war,
the inability of England to gain any permanent advantage, and finally of
the vast resources of the country, and its phenomenal future, when the
"waves of rebellion, sparkling with fire, had washed back to the shores
of England the wrecks of her power, her wealth, and her glory."
His manner was as fiery and impetuous as his discourse was clear,
logical, and original. The great crowd was electrified. It was as if a
blade of lightning had shot down from the hot blue sky to illuminate the
doubting recesses of their understandings. They murmured repeatedly "It
is a collegian," "a collegian," and they thundered their applause when
Troup and Fish bore him off in triumph to Fraunces' Tavern, where
Stevens joined them immediately, hot, but exultant.
"I've just passed our president, looking like an infuriated bumblebee,"
he cried. "I know he heard your speech from some hidden point of
vantage. It was a great speech, Alec. What a pity Hugh Knox, Mr. Lytton,
and Benny Yard were not there to hear. I'll write them about it
to-night, for St. Croix ought to burn a bonfire for a week. It was a
hurricane with a brain in it that whirled you straight to these
shores--as opportune for this country as for your own ambitions, for,
unless I'm much mistaken, you're going to be a prime factor in getting
rid of these pestiferous redcoats--we've a private room, so I can talk
as I please. One tried to trip me up just now, thinking I was you."
Fish leaned across the table and looked penetratingly at Hamilton, who
was flushed and nervous. The young New Yorker had a chubby face, almost
feminized by a soft parted fringe, but his features were strong, and his
eyes preternaturally serious.
"You've committed yourself, Hamilton," he said. "That was no college
play. Whether you fight or not doesn't so much matter, but you must give
us your pen and your speech. I'm no idle purveyor of compliments, but
you are extraordinary, and there isn't a man living can do for the cause
with his pen what you can do. Write pamphlets, and they'll be published
without an hour's delay."
"Ah, I see!" cried Hamilton, gaily. "I was a bit bewildered. You think
my new patriotism needs nursing. 'After all, he is a West Indian, born
British, brought up under Danish rule, which is like being coddled by
one's grandmother. He sympathizes with us, his mind is delighted with a
new subject for analysis and discourse, but patriotism--that is
impossible,' Is it not true?"
"You have read my thought," said Fish, with some confusion. "And you
have a great deal to occupy your mind. I never have known anyone whose
brain worked at so many things at once. I am selfish enough to want you
to give a good bit of it to us."
"I never was one to make fierce demonstrations," said Alexander; "but
fill up another bumper--the first has calmed my nerves, which were like
to jump through my skin--and stand up, and I'll drink you a pledge."
The three other young men sprang to their feet, and stood with their
glasses raised, their eyes anxiously fixed on young Hamilton. They had
believed him to be preparing himself for a great career in letters, and
knowing his tenacity and astonishing powers of concentration, had
doubted the possibility of interesting him permanently in politics. They
all had brains and experience enough--it was a hot quick time--to
recognize his genius, and to conceive the inestimable benefit it could
confer upon the colonial cause. Moreover, they loved him and wanted to
see him famous as quickly as possible.
"Stand up on the table," cried Troup. "It is where you belong; and
you're the biggest man in New York, to-day." As Hamilton, although
self-confident, was modest, Troup put down his bumper, seized the hero
in his big arms and swung him to the middle of the table. Then the
three, raising their glasses again, stood in a semi-circle. Hamilton
threw back his head and raised his own glass. His hand trembled, and his
lips moved for a moment without speaking, after his habit when excited.
"The pledge! The pledge!" cried Fish. "We want it."
"It is this," said Hamilton. "I pledge myself, body and soul and brain,
to the most sacred cause of the American colonies. I vow to it all my
best energies for the rest of my life. I swear to fight for it with my
sword; then when the enemy is driven out, and all the brain in the
country needed to reconstruct these tattered colonies and unify them
into one great state, or group of allied states, which shall take a
respectable place among nations, to give her all that I have learned,
all that my brain is capable of learning and conceiving. I believe that
I have certain abilities, and I solemnly swear to devote them wholly to
_my country_. And I further swear that never, not in a single instance,
will I permit my personal ambitions to conflict with what must be the
lifelong demands of this country."
He spoke slowly and with great solemnity. The hands of the three young
men shook, as they gulped down a little of the wine. Hamilton rarely was
serious in manner; even when discussing literature, politics, or any of
the great questions before the world, his humour and wit were in
constant play, a natural gift permitting this while detracting nothing
from the weight of his opinions. But his words and his manner were so
solemn to-day that they impressed his hearers profoundly, and they all
had a vague presentiment of what the unborn Country would owe to that
"You'll keep that, Alexander," said Fish. "Perhaps it were better for
you had you not made it so strong. I burn with patriotism, but I'd not
have you sacrificed--"
"I've made my vows," cried Hamilton, gaily, "and I'll not have you
mention the fact again that I'm not an American born. Here's not only to
liberty, but to a united people under the firmest national constitution
ever conceived by man."
"Amen," said Troup, "but that's looking well ahead. Hard as it will be
to get England out, it will be harder still to make New York and New
England love each other; and when it comes to hitching Massachusetts and
Virginia about each other's necks, I vow my imagination won't budge."
"It will come," said Hamilton, "because in no other way can they
continue to exist, much less become one of the nations of the earth.
This war is but an interlude, no matter how long it may take. Then will
come the true warfare of this country--the Great Battle of Ideas, and
our real history will begin while it is raging, while we are
experimenting; and there will be few greater chapters in any country. I
shall take part in that battle; how, it is too soon to know, except that
for union I shall never cease to strive until it is a fact. But it has
grown cooler. Let us ride up to the village of Harlem and have supper
under the trees."
It was not long after this that he wrote the pamphlets in reply to the
tracts assailing the Congress and aimed particularly at setting the
farmers against the merchants. These tracts were by two of the ablest
men on the Tory side, and were clever, subtle, and insinuating.
Hamilton's pamphlets were entitled, "A Full Vindication of the Measures
of Congress from the Calumnies of Their Enemies," and "The Farmer
Refuted; or a More Comprehensive and Impartial View of the Disputes
between Great Britain and the Colonies, Intended as a Further
Vindication of the Congress." It is not possible to quote these
pamphlets, and they can be found in his "Works," but they were
remarkable not only for their unanswerable logic, their comprehensive
arraignment of Britain, their close discussion of the rights of the
colonists under the British Constitution, their philosophical definition
of "natural rights," and their reminder that war was inevitable, but for
their anticipation of the future resources of the country, particularly
in regard to cotton and manufactures, and for the prophecies regarding
the treatment of the colonies by Europe. The style was clear, concise,
and bold, and with a finish which alone would have suggested a pen
pointed by long use.
These pamphlets, which created a profound sensation, were attributed to
William Livingston and John Jay, two of the ablest men on the patriot
side. That side was profoundly grateful, for they put heart into the
timid, decided the wavering, and left the Tory writers without a leg to
stand on. Nothing so brilliant had been contributed to the cause.
It was not long before the public had the author's name. Troup had been
present at the writing of the pamphlets, and he called on Dr. Cooper,
one day, and announced the authorship with considerable gusto.
"I'll not believe it," exclaimed the president, angrily; "Mr. Jay wrote
those pamphlets, and none other. A mere boy like that--it's absurd. Why
do you bring me such a story, sir? I don't like this Hamilton, he's too
forward and independent--but I have no desire to hear more ill of him."
"He wrote them, sir. Mulligan, in whose house he lives, and I, can prove
it. He's the finest brain in this country, and I mean you shall know
He left Dr. Cooper foaming, and went to spread the news elsewhere. The
effect of his revelation was immediate distinction for Hamilton. He was
discussed everywhere as a prodigy of intellect; messages reached him
from every colony. "Sears," said Willets, one of the leaders of the
Liberty party, "was a warm man, but with little reflection; McDougall
was strong-minded; and Jay, appearing to fall in with the measures of
Sears, tempered and controlled them; but Hamilton, after these great
writings, became our oracle."
Congress met in May, 1775, and word having come that Chatham's
conciliation bill had been rejected, and that Britain was about to send
an army to suppress the American rebellion, this body assumed sovereign
prerogatives. They began at once to organize an army; Washington was
elected Commander-in-chief, and they ordered that five thousand men be
raised to protect New York, as the point most exposed. The royal troops
were expelled, and the city placed in command of General Charles Lee, an
English soldier of fortune, who had fought in many lands and brought to
the raw army an experience which might have been of inestimable service,
had he been high-minded, or even well balanced. As it was, he very
nearly sacrificed the cause to his jealousy of Washington and to his
Hamilton, meanwhile, published his two pamphlets on the Quebec Bill, and
took part in a number of public debates. At one of these, as he rose to
speak, a stranger remarked, "What brings that lad here? The poor boy
will disgrace himself." But the merchants, who were present in force,
listened intently to all he had to say on the non-importation agreement,
and admitted the force of his arguments toward its removal, now that war
practically had been declared. One of the most interesting of the
phenomena in the career of Hamilton was the entire absence of struggle
for an early hearing. People recognized his genius the moment they came
in contact with it, and older men saw only the extraordinary and mature
brain, their judgement quite unaffected by the boyish face and figure.
Those who would not admit his great gifts were few, for except in the
instances where he incurred jealous hate, he won everybody he met by his
charming manner and an entire absence of conceit. He was conscious of
his powers, but took them as a matter of course, and thought only of
what he would do with them, having no leisure to dwell on their quality.
In consequence, he already had a large following of unhesitating
admirers, many of them men twice his age, and was accepted as the
leading political philosopher of the country.
Dr. Cooper sent for him after his third pamphlet. He, too, was a patriot
in his way, and although he bristled whenever Hamilton's name was
mentioned, he had come in contact with too many minds not to recognize
ability of any sort; he knew that Hamilton would be invaluable to the
"Ask your own price, sir," he said, after suggesting the higher service
to which he could devote his pen. "You will find us more liberal--" But
Hamilton had bolted. It is impossible to knock down one's venerable
president, and his temper was still an active member in the family of
his faculties. To the numerous other offers he received from the Tory
side he made no reply, beyond inserting an additional sting into his pen
when writing for Holt's _Journal_. In the press he was referred to, now,
as "The Vindicator of Congress," and it was generally conceded that he
had done more to hasten matters to a climax, by preparing and whetting
the public mind, than anyone else in America.
There is no doubt that the swiftness and suddenness of Hamilton's
conversion, his abrupt descent from a background of study and alien
indifference, gave him a clearer and more comprehensive view of the
wrongs and needs of the colonists than they possessed themselves. They
had been muttering ever since the passage of the first stamp tax,
threatening, permitting themselves to be placated, hoping, despairing,
hoping again. Hamilton, from the first moment he grasped the subject,
saw that there was no hope in ministerial England, no hope in anything
but war. Moreover, his courage, naturally of the finest temper, and an
audacity which no one had ever discouraged, leapt out from that far
background of the West Indies into an arena where the natives moved in
an atmosphere whose damps of doubt and discouragement had corroded them
for years. Even among men whose courage and independence were of the
first quality, Hamilton's passionate energy, fearlessness of thought,
and audacity of expression, made him remarkable at once; and they drew
a long breath of relief when he uncompromisingly published what they had
long agreed upon over the dining-table, or built up the doctrine of
resistance with argument as powerful as it was new.
But the time rapidly approached for deeds, and Hamilton had been
occupied in other ways than writing pamphlets. During the past six
months he had studied tactics and gunnery, and had joined a volunteer
corps in order to learn the practical details of military science. All
his friends belonged to this corps, which called itself "Hearts of Oak,"
and looked very charming in green uniforms and leathern caps, inscribed
"Freedom or Death." They soon attracted the attention of General Greene,
a superior man and an accomplished officer. He took an especial fancy to
Hamilton, and great as was their disparity in years, they were close
friends until the General's death. It was Greene who first attracted
Washington's attention to the youngest of his captains, and Hamilton was
able to render the older man, whose services and talents have even yet
not been properly recognized by his country, exceptional service. The
company exercised in the churchyard of St. George's chapel, early in the
morning; for in spite of the swarms of recruits clad in every variety of
uniform, deserted houses, and daily flights of the timid into Jersey,
earthworks and fortifications, college went on as usual.
It was not long before the "Hearts of Oak" had an opportunity to
distinguish themselves. The provincial committee ordered them to remove
the cannon stationed at the Battery. In the harbour was the British
war-ship, _Asia_, which immediately sent off a boat to enquire into this
proceeding. A large number of armed citizens had escorted the little
corps to the Battery, and several lost their heads and fired at the
boat. There was an immediate broadside from the _Asia_. Three of the
militia were wounded, and one fell dead by Hamilton's side. "It is
child's play to a hurricane," he thought. "I doubt if a man could have a
better training for the battlefield." They removed the guns.
The result of this attack was another explosion of New York's nerves.
The Sons of Liberty made it unsafe for a Tory to venture abroad. They
marched through the streets shouting vengeance, burning in effigy, and
making alarming demonstrations before the handsome houses of certain
loyalists. Suddenly, about ten o'clock at night, they were animated by a
desire to offer up Dr. Cooper, and they cohered and swarmed down toward
King's. Hamilton and Troup happened to be walking in the grounds when
the sudden flare of torches and the approaching tide of sound, warned
them of the invasion. They ran like deer to head them off, but reached
the portico only a moment ahead of the mob, which knew that it must be
sudden and swift to be victorious.
"I can talk faster than you," whispered Hamilton, "I'll harangue them,
and it won't take Dr. Cooper long to understand and flee through the
back door--and may the devil fly away with him."
"A moment!" he cried, "I've something to say, and I may not have another
chance, war is so close upon us."
"'Tis young Hamilton," cried someone in the crowd. "Well, make us a
speech; we're always glad to hear you, but we'll not go home without old
Cooper. Don't think it."
Hamilton never remembered what nonsense he talked that night.
Fortunately words always came with a rush, and he could mix up politics,
wrongs, the clergy, and patriotism, in so picturesque a jumble that an
excited crowd would not miss his usual concise logic. "Do you suppose
he's gone?" he whispered, pausing to take breath.
"Go on, go on," said Troup nervously, "I hear someone moving."
There was a wild yell from the crowd, and a hoarse roar from above.
Hamilton and Troup looked up. Dr. Cooper's infuriated visage, surrounded
by a large frill, projected from his bedroom window. "Don't listen to
him," he shrieked, thrusting his finger at Hamilton. "He's crazy! He's
"The old fool," fumed Troup, "he thinks you're taking your just revenge.
If I could get inside--"
Dr. Cooper was jerked back by a friendly hand and the window slammed.
"Someone understands," whispered Troup, excitedly; "and they'll have him
out in two minutes. Go on, for heaven's sake."
Hamilton, who had been tearful with laughter, began again:--
"I appeal to you, my friends, am I crazy?" Indignant shouts of "No! No!"
"Then let me, I pray, make a few remarks on the possibility of holding
New York against the advancing fleet, that you can testify to my sanity
to-morrow, and save me from whatever unhappy fate this irascible
gentleman has in store for me."
"Go ahead! Go ahead!" cried someone in the mob. "We won't let him touch
And again Hamilton harangued them, until Troup slipped round to the rear
of the big building and returned with word that Dr. Cooper was safely
over the back fence and on his way to the _Asia_. When Hamilton
announced the flight, there was muttering, but more laughter, for the
mob was in a better humour than when it came.
"Well, that silver tongue of yours did the old man a good turn to-night,
but you shan't make fools of us again." And a few days later, when
Alexander attempted to head off the same mob as it made for the press of
Rivington, the Tory printer, they would not listen to him. But the
effort raised him still higher in the estimation of the patriots, for
they saw that his love of law and order was as great as his passion for
In January the convention of New York gave orders that a company of
artillery be raised. Hamilton, through Colonel McDougall of the First
New York regiment, at once applied for the captaincy, underwent an
examination that convinced the Congress of his efficiency, and on the
14th of March was appointed Captain of the Provincial Company of
Artillery. McDougall had already applied for "coarse blue cloth," with
which to clothe in a semblance of uniform those who already had
enlisted, and Hamilton took even better care of them. On May 26th he
wrote a brief, pointed, and almost peremptory letter to the Congress,
representing the injustice of paying his men less than the wages
received by the Continental artillery, adding that there were many marks
of discontent in his ranks, and that in the circumstances it was
impossible for him to get any more recruits. "On this account I should
wish to be immediately authorized to offer the same pay to all who may
be inclined to recruit," he wrote. He then went on to demand ten
shillings a head for every man he should be able to enlist, and that
each man of his company be allowed a frock as a bounty.
Congress passed a resolution as soon as the letter was read, granting
him all he asked for, but limiting his company to one hundred men. When
it was recruited to his satisfaction, it numbered ninety-one, exclusive
of himself and his four officers. Besides his Captain-Lieutenant, and
first, second, and third Lieutenants, he had three sergeants, three
corporals, six bombardiers, three gunners, two drummers, two fifers, a
barber, and seventy-one matrosses, or assistant gunners.
He had his troubles, and Congress came to the rescue whenever it
received one of his singularly unboyish letters, expressed, moreover,
with little more diffidence than if he had been Commander-in-chief. But
he knew what he wanted, and he never transcended courtesy; he was
evidently a favourite with the Congress. On July 26th he wrote demanding
a third more rations for his men, and on the 31st a resolution was
passed which marked an end to the disposition to keep his little company
on a level with the militia rather than with the regular army.
Thereafter he had no further complaints to carry to headquarters; but he
was annoyed to discover that one of his officers was a hard drinker, and
that the Lieutenant Johnson who had recruited the larger number of his
men before he assumed command, had disobeyed orders and enlisted them
for a year instead of for the term of war.
Meanwhile, although the very air quivered and every man went armed to
the teeth, if a war-ship fired a gun the streets were immediately filled
with white affrighted faces; and although redoubts were building day and
night, still Congress came out with no declaration, and the country
seemed all nerves and no muscle. The English fleet arrived and filled
the bay,--a beautiful but alarming sight. Washington came and made New
York his headquarters, called for more troops, and Brooklyn Heights were
fortified, lest the English land on Long Island and make an easy descent
on the city.
It is doubtful if the Americans have ever appreciated all they owe to
Lord Howe. He sat out in the harbour day after day, while they completed
their preparations, practically waiting until they announced themselves
ready to fight. But no man ever went to the wars with less heart for his
work, and he put off the ugly business of mowing down a people he
admired, hoping from day to day for an inspired compromise. It was not
until after the Declaration of Independence by the Congress, the wild
enthusiasm it excited throughout the colonies, and the repeated
declination of Washington to confer with Howe as a private citizen, that
our Chief received word the British Commander was landing troops on Long
Island, near Gravesend.
Several thousand troops were ordered across to reinforce the Brooklyn
regiments, and Hamilton's artillery was among them. He stood up in his
boat and stared eagerly at the distant ridge of hills, behind which some
twenty thousand British were lying on their arms with their usual easy
disregard of time, faint, perhaps, under the torrid sun of August. But
they were magnificently disciplined and officered, and nothing in
history had rivalled the rawness and stubborn ignorance of the American
troops. Hamilton had not then met Washington, but he knew from common
friends that the Chief was worried and disgusted by what he had seen
when inspecting the Brooklyn troops the day before. Greene, second only
to Washington in ability, who had been in charge of the Brooklyn
contingent, knowing every inch of the ground, was suddenly ill. Putnam
was in command, and the Chief was justified in his doubt of him, for
nothing in the mistakes of the Revolution exceeded his carelessness and
his errors of judgement during the battle of Long Island.
There were still two days of chafing inactivity, except in the matter of
strengthening fortifications, then, beginning with dawn of the 28th,
Hamilton had his baptism of fire in one of the bloodiest battlefields of
The Americans were outgeneralled and outnumbered. Their attention was
distracted by land and water, while a British detachment, ten thousand
strong, crept over the ridge of hills by night, and through the Bedford
Pass, overpowering the guards before their approach was suspected. At
dawn they poured down upon the American troops, surprising them, not in
one direction, but in flank, in rear, and in front. The green woods
swarmed with redcoats, and the Hessians acted with a brutality
demoralizing to raw troops. Hamilton's little company behaved well, and
he was in the thick of the fight all day. The dead were in heaps, the
beautiful green slopes were red, there was not a hope of victory, but he
exulted that the colonies were fighting at last, and that he was acting;
he had grown very tired of talking.
He was driven from his position finally, and lost his baggage and a
field-piece, but did not take refuge within the redoubts until
nightfall. There, in addition to fatigue, hunger, a bed on the wet
ground, and the atmosphere of hideous depression which pressed low upon
the new revolutionists, he learned that Troup had been taken prisoner.
Then he discovered the depths to which a mercurial nature could descend.
He had been fiercely alive all day; the roar of the battle, the plunging
horses, the quickening stench of the powder, that obsession by the devil
of battles which makes the tenderest kill hot and fast, all had made him
feel something more than himself, much as he had felt in the hurricane
when he had fancied himself on high among the Berserkers of the storm.
In his present collapse he felt as if he were in a hole underground.
Washington arrived on the scene next morning, and for forty-eight hours
he barely left the saddle, encouraging the wretched men and exercising
an unceasing vigilance. For two long days they were inactive in the
rain. The Chief, having assured himself that the British aimed to obtain
command of the river, determined upon the retreat which ranks as one of
the greatest military achievements in history. On the night of the 29th,
under cover of a heavy fog, the feat of embarking nine thousand men,
with all the ammunition and field-pieces of the army, and ferrying them
across the East River with muffled oars, was accomplished within earshot
of the enemy. Washington rode from regiment to regiment, superintending
and encouraging, finally taking his stand at the head of the ferry
stairs. He stood there until the last man had embarked at four in the
morning. The last man was Hamilton. His was one of the regiments, and
the rear one, detailed to cover the retreat, to attract fire to itself
if necessary. His position was on the Heights, just outside the
intrenchments, at the point closest to the enemy. For nine hours he
hardly moved, his ear straining for the first indication that the
British heard the soft splashing of bare feet in the mud. The fog was so
thick that he could see nothing, not even the battalions of retreating
Americans; the forms of his own men were vague and gray of outline. He
never had fancied an isolation so complete, but his nerves stood the
strain; when they began to mutter he reminded himself of Mr. Cruger's
store and St. Croix. There was a false summons, and after turning his
back upon his post with a feeling of profound relief, he was obliged to
return and endure it for two hours longer. Did the fog lift he would
never see another. It was dawn when a messenger came with the news that
his turn positively had come, and he marched his men down the slope to
the ferry stairs. He passed close enough to Washington to see his
dejected, haggard face.
On the 15th of the following month, after much correspondence with
Congress, discussion, and voting, it was determined to abandon New York
City, and intrench the army on the Heights of Harlem. Hamilton was
bitterly disappointed; he wanted to defend the city, and so had three
of the generals, but they were overruled, and the march began on a
blazing Sunday morning. It was not only the army that marched, but all
the inhabitants of the town who had not escaped to the Jersey shore. The
retreat was under the command of General Putnam, and guided through all
the intricacies of those thirteen winding miles by his aide-de-camp,
Aaron Burr. The last man in the procession was Alexander Hamilton.
"So, you're covering again, Alexander," said Fish, as he passed him on
his way to his own regiment,--the New York, of which he was
brigade-major. "You can't complain that your adopted country doesn't
make use of you. By the way, Troup is in the Jersey prison-ship, safe
"Can't we exchange him?" asked Hamilton, eagerly, "Do you think General
Washington would listen to us?"
"If we have a victory. I shouldn't care to approach him at present. God!
This is an awful beginning. The whole army is ready to dig its own
grave. The only person of the lot who has any heart in him to-day is
little Burr. He's like to burst with importance because he leads and we
follow. He's a brave little chap, but such a bantam one must laugh.
Well, I hate to leave you here, the very last man to be made a target
of. You won't be rash?" he added anxiously.
"No, granny," said Hamilton, whose gaiety had revived as he heard of
Troup's safety. "And I'd not exchange my position for any."
Handshakes in those days were solemn. Fish feared that he never should
see Hamilton again, and his fear was close to being realized.
It was a long, hot, dusty, miserable march; some lay down by the wayside
and died. Hamilton had been bred in the heat of the Tropics, but he had
ridden always, and to-day he was obliged to trudge the thirteen miles on
foot. He had managed to procure horses for his guns and caissons, but
none for himself and his officers.
It was on the Hoagland farm at the junction of the Kingsbridge and
Bloomingdale roads that a serious skirmish occurred, and Hamilton and
his men stood the brunt of it. The tired column was almost through the
pass, when a detachment of British light infantry suddenly appeared on
the right. Fortunately the cannon had not entered the pass, and were
ready for action. Hamilton opened fire at once. There was a sharp
engagement, but the British were finally driven off. Then the defenders
of the column made good their own retreat, for they knew that by now the
redcoats were swarming over the island.
Toward night a cold wind and rain swept in from the ocean. When the
little army finally reached Harlem Heights they were obliged to sleep on
the wet ground without so much as a tent to cover them, then arise at
dawn and dig trenches. But by night they were men again, they had ceased
to be dogged machines: the battle of Harlem Heights had been fought and
won. The British had begun the battle in the wrong place and at the
wrong time, and all the natural advantages of that land of precipices,
forests, gorges, wooded hills, and many ravines, were with the
Americans. Again Hamilton worked in the thick of the fight during the
four hours it lasted, but like everybody else he went to sleep happy.
He rose at dawn the next morning, and rousing his men, set them at work
throwing up redoubts. He was standing some distance from them, watching
the sun rise over the great valley they had been forced to abandon, with
its woods and beautiful homes, now the quarters of British officers,
when every nerve in his body became intensely aware that some one was
standing behind him. He knew that it was a man of power before he
whirled round and saw Washington.
"This is Captain Hamilton?" said the Chief, holding out his hand.
"General Greene spoke to me, weeks ago, about you, but I have been in no
mood until to-day for amenities. I know of your part in the retreat
from Long Island, and I noticed you as you passed me on the ferry
stairs. What a lad you are! I am very proud of you."
"I had asked for no reward, sir," cried Hamilton, with a smile so
radiant that Washington's set face caught a momentary reflection from
it, and he moved a step nearer, "but I feel as if you had pinned an
order on my coat."
"I have heard a great deal more about you," said Washington, "and I want
to know you. Will you come up and have breakfast with me?"
"_Oh, yes, I will_," said Hamilton, with such seriousness that they both
laughed. Hamilton's personal pride was too great to permit him to feel
deeply flattered by the attentions of any one, but the halo about
Washington's head was already in process of formation; he stood aloft,
whether successful or defeated, a strong, lonely, splendid figure, and
he had fired Hamilton's imagination long since. At that time he was
ready to worship the great Chief with all a boy's high enthusiasm, and
although he came to know him too well to worship, he loved him, save at
intervals, always. As for Washington, he loved Hamilton then and there,
and it is doubtful if he ever loved any one else so well. When they were
alone he called him "my boy," an endearment he never gave another.
On that September morning they breakfasted together, and talked for
hours, beginning a friendship which was to be of the deepest
consequences to the country they both were striving to deliver.
During the following month Hamilton had much leisure, and he spent it in
the library of the Morris house, which its owner, a royalist, had
abandoned on the approach of the American troops, fleeing too hurriedly
to take his books. The house was now General Washington's headquarters,
and he invited Hamilton to make what use of the library he pleased. It
was a cool room, and he found there many of the books he had noted down
for future study. He also wrote out a synopsis of a political and
commercial history of Great Britain. As the proclivities and furnishing
of a mind like Hamilton's cannot fail to interest the students of
mankind, a digression may be pardoned in favour of this list of books
he made for future study, and of the notes scattered throughout his pay
Smith's History of New York; Leonidas; View of the Universe;
Millot's History of France; Memoirs of the House of Brandenburgh;
Review of the Characters of the Principal Nations of Europe; Review
of Europe; History of Prussia; History of France; Lassel's Voyage
through Italy; Robertson's Charles V; Present State of Europe;
Grecian History; Baretti's Travels; Bacon's Essays; Philosophical
Transactions; Entick's History of the Late War; European
Settlements in America; Winn's History of America.
The Dutch in Greenland have from 150 to 200 sail and ten thousand
seamen.... It is ordered that in their public prayers they pray
that it should please God to bless the Government, the Lords, the
States, and their great and small fisheries.
Hamburg and Germany have a balance against England--they furnish
her with large quantities of linen.
Trade with France greatly against England.... The trade with
Flanders in favour of England.... A large balance in favour of
Norway and Denmark.
Rates of Exchange with the several Nations in 52, viz.: To Venice,
Genoa, Leghorn, Amsterdam, Hamburgh. To Paris--Loss, Gain.
Postlethwaite supposes the quantity of cash necessary to carry on
the circulation in a state one third of the rents to the land
proprietors, or one ninth of the whole product of the lands. See
the articles, Cash and Circulation.
The par between land and labour is twice the quantity of land whose
product will maintain the labourer. In France one acre and a half
will maintain one. In England three, owing to the difference in the
manner of living.
Aristotle's Politics, chap. 6, definition of money, &c.
The proportion of gold and silver, as settled by Sir Isaac Newton's
proposition, was 1 to 14. It was generally through Europe 1 to 15.
In China I believe it is 1 to 10.
It is estimated that the labour of twenty-five persons, on an
average, will maintain a hundred in all the necessaries of life.
Postlethwaite, in his time, supposes six millions of people in
England. The ratio of increase has been found by a variety of
observations to be, that 100,000 people augment annually, one year
with another to--. Mr. Kerseboom, agreeing with Dr. Halley, makes
the number of people thirty-five times the number of births in a
Extracts from Demosthenes' Orations.
Philippic. "As a general marches at the head of his troops, so
ought wise politicians, if I dare use the expression, to march at
the head of affairs; insomuch that they ought not to wait _the
event_, to know what measures to take; but the measures which they
have taken ought to produce the _event_."
"Where attack him? it will be said. Ah, Athenians--war, war, itself
will discover to you his weak sides, if you will seek them."
Sublimely simple. Vide Long. C. 16.
Are the limits of the several states and the acts on which they are
founded ascertained, and are our ministers provided with them? What
intelligence has been given to Congress by our ministers of the
designs, strength by sea and land, actual interests and views of
the different powers in Europe?
The government established (by Lycurgus) remained in vigour about
five hundred years, till a thirst of empire tempted the Spartans to
entertain foreign troops, and introduce Persian gold to maintain
them; then the institutions of Lycurgus fell at once, and avarice
and luxury succeeded.
He (Numa) was a wise prince, and went a great way in civilizing the
Romans. The chief engine he employed for this purpose was religion,
which could alone have sufficient empire over the minds of a
barbarous and warlike people to engage them to cultivate the arts
Dr. Halley's Table of Observations exhibiting the probabilities of
life; containing an account of the whole number of people of
Breslau, capital of Silesia, and the number of those of every age,
from one to a hundred. (Here follows the table with comments by
When the native money is worth more than the par in foreign,
exchange is high; when worth less, it is low.
Portugal trade--Spanish trade--Artificers--Money--Exchange--Par of
Power--Council of trade--Fishery.
Money coined in England from the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
Quere. Would it not be advisable to let all taxes, even those
imposed by the States, be collected by persons of Congressional
appointment; and would it not be advisable to pay the collectors so
much per cent. on the sums collected?
Hamilton was nineteen at this time, and while there are many instances
of mental precocity in the history of mankind, it is doubtful if there
is a parallel case of so great a _range_ of intellectual curiosity, or
such versatility combined with pursuit of knowledge as distinct from
information. But the above notes are chiefly significant as showing that
long before he could have dreamed of directing the finances of the
United States, while he was wild with delight at the prospect of
military excitement and glory, a part of his mind was imperiously
attracted to the questions which were to become identified in American
history with his name.
Washington often came in and sat for an hour with him; and although they
talked military science and future campaigns invariably,--for
Washington was a man of little reading and his thoughts moved in a
constant procession to one tune,--this was perhaps the happiest period
of their intercourse. The Chief demanded nothing, and his young friend
was free to give or not, as he chose. In that interval nothing gave
Hamilton such pleasure as to see Washington come into the cool library,
his face softening.
"You have a streak of light in you that never goes out," said the man of
many burdens once. "When I catch a spark of it, I am cheered for the
rest of the day. When I am close to it for a time, I can feel the iron
lid on my spirits lifting as if it were on a bubbling pot. I believe you
are something more than human."
During the first of these conversations Hamilton suggested the
advisability of keeping up the spirits of the raw troops by drawing the
enemy in separate detachments into constant skirmishes, a plan in which
the Americans were sure to have every advantage; and this policy was
pursued until Washington fell back into Westchester County.
The American troops under Washington numbered about nineteen thousand
men, in one-third of whom the Chief felt something like confidence. Many
were grumbling at the prospect of a winter in the discomforts of camp
life; others were rejoicing that their time of service drew to a close;
all were raw. Nevertheless, he determined to give the British battle on
the shore of the Bronx River, where they were camped with the intention
of cutting him off from the rest of the country.
Both armies were near White Plains on the morning of the 28th of
October. Most of the Americans were behind the breastworks they had
thrown up, and the British were upon the hills below, on the opposite
side of the Bronx. On the American side of the stream was an eminence
called Chatterton's Hill, and on the evening of the 27th Colonel Haslet
was stationed on this height, with sixteen hundred men, in order to
prevent the enfilading of the right wing of the army. Early the next
morning McDougall was ordered to reinforce Haslet with a small corps
and two pieces of artillery under Hamilton, and to assume general
At ten o'clock the British army began its march toward the village, but
before they reached it, Howe determined that Chatterton's Hill should be
the first point of attack, and four thousand troops under Leslie moved
off to dislodge the formidable looking force on the height.
Hamilton placed his two guns in battery on a rocky ledge about halfway
down the hill, and bearing directly upon that part of the Bronx which
the British were approaching. He was screened from the enemy by a small
grove of trees. The Hessians, who were in the lead, refused to wade the
swollen stream, and the onslaught was checked that a bridge might
hastily be thrown together for their accommodation. Hamilton waited a
half-hour, then poured out his fire. The bridge was struck, the workmen
killed, the Hessians fell back in a panic. Leslie appealed to the
loyalty of the British, forded the river at another point, and rushed up
the hill with bayonets fixed, resolved to capture the guns. But the guns
flashed with extraordinary rapidity. Both the British and the watching
Americans were amazed. There were no tin canisters and grape-shot in the
American army, even the round shot were exhausted. Loading cannon with
musket balls was a slow process; but Hamilton was never without
resource. He stood the cannon on end, filled his three-cornered hat with
the balls, and loaded as rapidly as had he leaped a century. His guns
mowed down the British in such numbers that Leslie fell back, and
joining the Hessian grenadiers and infantry, who had now crossed the
stream, charged up the southwestern declivity of the hill and
endeavoured to turn McDougall's right flank. McDougall's advance opposed
them hotly, while slowly retreating toward the crown of the eminence.
The British cavalry attacked the American militia on the extreme right,
and the raw troops fled ignominiously. McDougall, with only six hundred
men and Hamilton's two guns, sustained an unequal conflict for an hour,
twice repulsing the British light infantry and cavalry. But the attack
on his flank compelled him to give way and retreat toward the
intrenchments. Under cover of a heavy rainstorm and of troops despatched
in haste, he retreated in good order with his wounded and artillery,
leaving the victors in possession of a few inconsiderable breastworks.
Fort Washington was betrayed, and fell on the 16th of November. Then
began that miserable retreat of the American army through the Jerseys,
with the British sometimes in full pursuit, sometimes merely camping on
the trail of the hapless revolutionists. For Washington's force was now
reduced to thirty-five hundred, and they were ragged, half fed, and
wretched in mind and body. Many had no shoes, and in one regiment there
was not a pair of trousers. They left the moment their leave expired,
and recruits were drummed up with great difficulty. Washington was
obliged to write eight times to General Lee, who was at North Castle
with a considerable force, before he was able to hope for relief in that
Hamilton had a horse at times, at others not. But his vitality was proof
against even those endless days and nights of marching and
countermarching, through forests and swamps, in the worst of late autumn
and winter weather; and he kept up the spirits of his little regiment,
now reduced from bullets, exposure, and the expiration of service to
thirty men. Nevertheless, he held the British in check at the Raritan
River while the Americans destroyed the bridge, and when Washington,
after having crossed the Delaware, determined to recross it on Christmas
night and storm Trenton, he was one of the first to be chosen, with what
remained of his men and guns.
As they crossed the Delaware that bitter night, the snow stinging and
blinding, the river choked with blocks of ice, Hamilton for the first
time thought on St. Croix with a pang of envy. But it was the night for
their purpose, and all the world knows the result. The victory was
followed on the 3d of January by the capture of Princeton; and here
Hamilton's active military career came to an end for the present.
Well do I recollect the day [wrote a contemporary] when Hamilton's
company marched into Princeton. It was a model of discipline. At
their head was a boy, and I wondered at his youth; but what was my
surprise, when, struck with his slight figure, he was pointed out
to me as that Hamilton of whom we had heard so much.
I noticed [a veteran officer said many years after] a youth, a mere
stripling, small, slender, almost delicate in frame, marching
beside a piece of artillery, with a cocked hat pulled down over his
eyes, apparently lost in thought; with his hand resting on a
cannon, and every now and again patting it as if it were a
favourite horse or a pet plaything.
THE LITTLE LION
Hamilton's body succumbed to the climax of Trenton and Princeton upon
months of hardship and exposure, and he was in hospital for a week with
a rheumatic fever. But Troup, whose exchange had been effected, was with
him most of the time, and his convalescence was made agreeable by many
charming women. He was not the only brilliant young man in the army, for
Troup, Fish, Burr, Marshall, were within a few months or, at most, a
year or two of his age, and there were many others; men had matured
early in that hot period before the Revolution, when small boys talked
politics, and even the women thought of little else; but Hamilton,
through no fault of his, had inspired his friends with the belief that
he was something higher than human, and they never tired of sounding his
praises. Moreover, Washington had not hesitated to say what he thought
of him, and the mere fact that he had won the affection of that austere
Chieftain was enough to give him celebrity. At all events, he was a
dazzling figure, and pretty women soothed many a weary hour. As for
Troup, who was unpleasantly anatomical, he had a fresh story for every
day of the horrors of the prison cattle-ship _Mentor_, where half the
prisoners had died of filth, starvation, and fever, from putrid water
and brutal treatment.
But never was there a more impatient invalid than Hamilton. He was
astonished and disgusted that his body should defy his mind, and at the
first moment possible he was up and about his duties with the army at
Morristown. Troup was ordered to join the army under Gates in the North.
Morristown was a natural fortress, a large fertile valley, protected by
precipitous hills and forests, yet with defiles known to the Americans,
through which they could retreat if necessary. It was within striking
distance of New Brunswick and Amboy, in which towns Washington kept the
British cooped up for months, not permitting them to cut a stick of
forest wood without fighting for it. "Here was seen," to quote Hamilton,
"the spectacle of a powerful army straitened within narrow limits by the
phantom of a military force, and never permitted to transgress those
limits with impunity; in which skill supplied the place of means, and
disposition was the substitute for an army."
Congress had invested Washington with such extraordinary powers after
the brilliant exploit at Trenton, that in Europe he was called "The
Dictator of America." Therein lay the sole cause of the ultimate victory
of the Revolutionists, and had the States been more generous, and less
jealous of delegating powers to Congress, he would have driven out the
British in short order.
Mrs. Washington had joined her General--she kept an eye on him--at
Freeman's Tavern, which had been converted into comfortable
headquarters, and he was happy in his military family: Colonel Harrison,
indefatigable and fearless, affectionately known as "Old Secretary";
Tench Tilghman of Maryland, young, accomplished, cheerful, devoted to
Washington and serving without pay, for his fortune was considerable;
Richard Kidder Meade, sprightly, enthusiastic, always willing to slave;
and John Fitzgerald,--all in an attitude of perpetual adoration. But he
lacked a secretary of the requisite ability, and as soon as he heard of
Hamilton's return to camp he sent for him.
Hamilton was feeling almost well, and he walked rapidly across the
village green to headquarters, delighted at the prospect of seeing
Washington again. He had acquired a military air and walked more erectly
than ever, for he was somewhat sensitive of his juvenile appearance. He
found Washington in a front room on the second floor. The General wore
his usual blue and buff, and looked less harassed and worn than when he
had last seen him. He rose and shook hands warmly with Hamilton, who
thanked him again for the messages he had received while in hospital.
"I would have had you brought here if there had been any place to make
you comfortable; and I am going to ask you to come and live with me
now--as my aide and secretary."
Hamilton sprang to his feet impetuously. "Oh, sir!" he exclaimed, "I
don't want to leave the regular line of promotion! I don't want to leave
my men. I'm much attached to them. And I'll not deny my ambition, sir; I
want opportunities to distinguish myself. I've already refused two
generals. This war will last for years. There is no reason in the world
why I should not be a general in three."
"No," said Washington, "there is none; there is every possibility of
your becoming one of the most brilliant figures on the revolutionary
battlefields. I admit that, and I understand your ambition.
Nevertheless, I think I can prove to you that there is another way in
which you can serve your country better. I know your uncompromising
sense of duty and your high patriotism, and I am sure you will accept my
invitation when I prove to you that while there are hundreds to fight
valorously, even brilliantly, there is scarcely a man I can get to write
my letters who can do more than punctuate properly or turn a sentence
neatly. You must know the inexpressible value of a brilliant
accomplished versatile secretary, with a brain capable of grasping every
question that arises--and you can imagine how many of that sort have
come my way. I have been driven nearly distracted, dictating,
explaining, revising--when I have so much else to think of. Besides the
constant correspondence with the Congress and the States, something else
is always turning up--to-day it is the exchange of prisoners, a most
important and delicate matter. Were you my secretary, you would also be
my brain: a word would be sufficient. I could trust you so implicitly
that if matters pressed I could confidently sign my name to whatever you
wrote without reading it over. There is no one else living of whom I can
say that. You are the most useful young man in America, and if you will
give your great brain to this country from this time on, she will be far
more grateful to you than if you merely continued to fight, splendidly
as you have done that. And _I_ need you--I have no words to tell you how
"Sir," said Hamilton, deeply touched, "no human being could withstand
such an appeal, and your words of praise are glory enough. I will come
as soon as you say, and do the best I can."
"Come at once. The British persist in treating us as rebels. It is for
you, with your inspired pen, to force and coax them to regard us with
the respect an educated thinking people--not a horde of ignorant rebels,
as they imagine--deserve. If you do that, you will do a greater service
to your country than if you rose to be first in military rank. Here are
some notes. When you have finished, write to Congress and ask for the
rank of Lieutenant-Colonel; and move up here to-day, if possible. I
cannot tell you how happy I shall be to have you a member of my family."
Washington had won his point. A shrewd judge of men, he had calculated
upon Hamilton succumbing to an appeal to his sense of patriotic
duty--the strongest passion in his passionate nature. Much as he loved
Hamilton, he had no hesitation in using him, and our petted young hero
was to learn what work meant for the first time in his life. He wrote
most of the day, often half the night; but although he chafed angrily at
the confinement, beat many a tattoo on the floor with his heels, and
went for a hard ride more than once that he might keep his temper, the
result was that mass of correspondence, signed "George Washington,"
which raised the commander of the American forces so high in the
estimation of Europe, adding to his military renown the splendour of a
profound and luminous intellect.
There was, also, some correspondence with the Congress regarding the
disposition of his artillery men. He insisted upon definite provision
for them, and they were permitted to enlist in the Continental Army.
They loved him, and the final parting on March 18th, with cannon as
well as men!--made him ill for half a day.
Otherwise his life at Headquarters was very pleasant Tilghman and Meade
became two of the most congenial friends he ever made. The tavern was
comfortable, and he had a room to himself for a time. The dining room
reunions were agreeable in spite of their formality. Besides the amiable
military family, and the most motherly of women, who knit him stockings
and kept his wardrobe in order, there were frequent visitors. The
Livingston girls were spending the winter with their aunt, Lady
Sterling, and, with their beautiful cousin, the Lady Kitty Alexander,
often drove over to a five o'clock dinner or the more informal supper.
The Boudinots and Morgans, the generals in camp at Morristown and their
wives, and the more distinguished officers, were frequently dined at
Headquarters. Washington sat halfway in the table's length, with Mrs.
Washington opposite. Hamilton was placed at the head of the table on the
day of his arrival, a seat he retained while a member of the family. The
Chief encouraged him to talk, and it must be confessed that he talked
from the time he sat down till the meal finished. His ideas were always
on the rush, and talking was merely thinking aloud. As he expressed
himself with wit and elegance, and on subjects which interested them all
profoundly, illuminating everything he touched, old men and young would
lean forward and listen with respect to the wisdom of a young man who
was yet an infant in the eyes of the law. How he escaped being
insufferably spoiled can only be explained by the ceaseless activity of
his brain, and the fact that the essence of which prigs are made was not
in him. That he was utterly without commonplace conceit is indisputable,
for he was the idol of the family. Harrison christened him "The Little
Lion," a name his friends used for their aptest designation as long as
he lived, and assumed a paternal relation which finished only with the
older man's death. The Lady-in-chief made such a pet of him that he was
referred to in the irreverent Tory press as "Mrs. Washington's
"Alexander," said Kitty Livingston to him, one day, "have a care. You
are too fortunate. The jealous gods will smite you."
But Hamilton, thinking of those terrible months in the previous year, of
mental anxiety and physical hardship, when, in bitter weather, he had
often gone hungry and insufficiently clothed, and of his present arduous
duties, concluded there was a fine balance in his affairs which
doubtless would placate the gods.
In May and July there were illustrious additions to Washington's
family,--John Laurens and Lafayette. Both became the intimate friends of
Hamilton, the former one of the few passionate attachments of his life.
Although Hamilton was by no means indifferent to the affection he
inspired in nine-tenths of the people he met, he did not himself love
easily. He was too analytical, he saw people too precisely as they were,
and his acquaintance with human nature had made him too cynical to
permit the flood gates of his affections to open except under uncommon
stress. He dreaded disappointment. For Troup, Fish, Stevens, Meade, and
Tilghman he had a deep affection and served their interests ardently;
for Washington a contradictory budget of emotions, which were sometimes
to be headed "respectful affection," at others "irritated resentment,"
now and again a moment of adoration. While he could not pay sufficient
tribute to Washington's magnanimity and generosity, he had by now seen
him in too many tempers, had been ground too fine in his greedy machine,
to think on him always with unqualified enthusiasm. Lafayette,
brilliant, volatile, accomplished, bubbling with enthusiasm for the
cause of Liberty, and his own age within a few months, he liked
sincerely and always. There was no end to the favours he did him, and
Lafayette loved no one better in his long and various career. Women,
Hamilton fancied sharply and forgot quickly.
But Laurens, the "young Bayard of the Revolution," fresh from the
colleges and courts of Europe, a man so handsome that, we are told,
people experienced a certain shock when he entered the room, courtly,
accomplished to the highest degree, of flawless character, with a mind
as noble and elevated as it was intellectual, and burning with the most
elevated patriotism,--he took Hamilton by storm, capturing judgement as
well as heart, and loving him as ardently in return.
Like Hamilton, Laurens was of Huguenot descent; he was born in South
Carolina, of a distinguished family. Against the expressed wish of his
father he had returned to America, made his way to Headquarters and
offered his services to Washington, who immediately attached him to his
military household. The unhappiest of men, praying for death on every
battlefield, he lived long enough to distinguish himself by a bravery so
reckless, by such startling heroic feats, that he was, beyond all
question, the popular young hero of the Revolution. He worshipped
Washington as one might worship a demi-god, and risked his life for him
on two occasions. But Hamilton was the friend of his life; the bond
between them was romantic and chivalrous. Each burned to prove the
strength of his affection, to sacrifice himself for the other. Laurens
slaved at Washington's less important correspondence, and Hamilton's
turn came later. The age has passed for such friendships; but at that
time, when young men were nurtured on great ideas, when they were
sacrificing themselves in a sacred cause, and had seen next to nothing
of the frivolities of life, they were understandable enough.
Hamilton was obliged to share his room with both the young men, and they
slept on three little cots in a small space. When the nights were
insufferably hot they would go out and lie on the grass and talk until
they were in a condition to sleep anywhere. Hamilton would forecast the
next movement of the enemy; Laurens and Lafayette would tell all they
knew about military science in Europe; and then they would discuss the
future of the liberated country and the great ideals which must govern
her. And when men can be idealistic while fighting the Jersey mosquito,
it must be admitted that they are of the stuff to serve their country
But all this delightful intercourse was interrupted in August.
Washington gave battle to the British at Brandywine, was defeated, and
in the following month surprised them at Germantown, and was defeated
again. Nevertheless, he had astonished the enemy with his strength and
courage so soon after a disastrous battle. To hold Philadelphia was
impossible, however, and the British established themselves in the
Capital of the colonies, making, as usual, no attempt to follow up their
Washington went into temporary quarters near the village of Whitemarsh.
His own were in a baronial hall at the head of a beautiful valley. Old
trees shaded the house, and a spring of pure water bubbled in a fountain
before the door. The men were encamped on the hills at the north.
There was a great hall through the centre of the mansion, and here
Washington held his audiences and councils of war. The house throughout
was of extreme elegance, and much to the taste of the younger members of
the family, particularly of Hamilton, who spent the greater part of his
leisure in the library. But his enjoyment of this uncommon luxury was
Washington must have reinforcements or his next engagement might be his
last. There was but one source from which he could obtain a considerable
supply, and that was from the army of Gates in the North. But Gates was
swollen with the victory of Saratoga and the capture of Burgoyne, and
was suspected to be in the thick of an intrigue to dethrone Washington
and have himself proclaimed Commander-in-chief. At the moment he was the
idol of the army, and of the northern and eastern States, for his
victories were tangible and brilliant, while Washington's surer
processes were little appreciated. Therefore to get troops from him
would be little less difficult than to get them from Lord Howe, short of
a positive command, and this prerogative Washington did not think it
politic to use. He called a council of war, and when it was over he
went to his private office and sent for Alexander Hamilton.
He looked haggard, as if from sleepless nights, and for a moment after
Hamilton entered the room, although he waved his hand at a chair, he
stared at him without speaking. Hamilton divined what was coming--he
attended all councils of war--and sat forward eagerly. The prospect of a
holiday from clerical work would alone have filled him with youth, and
he knew how great a service he might be able to render the cowering
"Hamilton," said Washington, finally, "you are as much in my secret
thoughts as I am myself. If I attempted to deceive you, you would divine
what I withheld. It is a relief to speak frankly to you, I dare not
demand these troops from Gates, because there is more than a possibility
he would defy me, and that the Congress and a large part of the army
would sustain him. He has given sufficient evidence of his temper in
sending me no official notice of the battle of Saratoga. But unless I am
to meet with overwhelming disaster here, I must have reinforcements. It
may be possible to extract these by diplomacy, and I have selected you
for the mission, because I feel sure that you will not forget the issues
at stake for a moment, because you never lose your head, and because you
will neither be overawed by Gates's immediate splendour, nor will you
have any young desire to assert the authority which I give you as a last
resort. There is another point: If you find that Gates purposes to
employ his troops on some expedition, by the prosecution of which the
common cause will be more benefited than by their being sent down to
reinforce this army, you must suspend your consideration for me. God
knows I am tender of my reputation, and I have no wish to be disgraced,
but we are or should be fighting for a common cause and principle, and
should have little thought of individual glory. However, I do not
believe in the disinterestedness of Gates, nor in his efficiency on a
large scale. But I leave everything in your hands."
Hamilton stood up, his chest rising, and stared at his Chief.
"Sir," he said, after a moment, "do you appreciate that you are placing
your good name and your future in my hands?" For a moment he realized
that he was not yet of age.
"You are the only being to whom I can confide them, and who can save
this terrible situation."
"And you have the magnanimity to say that if Gates has a chance of other
victories to let him go unhindered?" He had one of his moments of
adoration and self-abnegation for this man, whose particular virtues, so
little called upon in ordinary affairs, gave him so lonely a place among
Washington jerked his head. There was nothing more to say. Hamilton's
head dropped for a moment, as if he felt the weight of an iron helmet,
and his lips moved rapidly.
"Are you saying your prayers when your lips work like that?" asked
Hamilton threw back his head with a gay laugh. His eyes were sparkling,
his nostrils dilating; his whole bearing was imperious and triumphant.
"Never mind that. I'll undertake this mission gladly, sir, and I think
I'll not fail. My old friend Troup is his aide. He will advise me of
many things. I'll bring you back those regiments, sir. One way or
another a thing can always be managed."
The light in Hamilton's face was reflected on Washington's. "You are my
good genius," he said shortly. "Take care of yourself. You will have to
ride hard, for there is no time to lose, but be careful not to take
cold. I shall give you orders in writing. Come back as soon as you can.
I believe I am not lacking in courage, but I always have most when you
are close by."
There is a print somewhere representing Hamilton setting forth on this
mission. He is mounted on a handsome white horse, and wears a long green
cloak, one end thrown over a shoulder. His three-cornered hat is pulled
low over his eyes. In the rear is an orderly.
He started on the 30th of October, riding hard through the torn desolate
country, toward Newburg on the Hudson. He was three days making the
distance, although he snatched but a few hours' rest at night, and but
a few moments for each meal. From Newburg he crossed to Fishkill and,
acting on his general instructions, ordered Putnam to despatch southward
three brigades; and on his own account despatched seven hundred Jersey
militia on the same expedition.
He then started hot and hard for Albany, a dangerous as well as
exhausting journey, for neither savage tribes nor redcoats could be far
in the distance. His mental anxiety by now wore as severely as the
physical strain. None knew better than he that his talents were not for
diplomacy. He was too impatient, too imperious, too direct for its
sinuous methods. On the other hand, he had a theory that a first-rate
mind could, for a given time, be bent in any direction the will
commanded, and he had acquired an admirable command of his temper. But
the responsibility was terrific, and he was half ill when he reached
Albany. He presented himself at General Gates's headquarters at once.
Gates, like Lee, was a soldier of fortune; and low-born, vain, weak, and
insanely ambitious. He had been advised of Hamilton's coming, and had no
intention of giving Washington an opportunity to rival his own
achievements and reestablish himself with the army and the Congress. He
received Hamilton surrounded by several of his military family; and for
the first time our fortunate hero encountered in high places active
enmity and dislike. He had incurred widespread jealousy on account of
his influence over Washington, and for the important part he was playing
in national affairs. To the enemies of the Commander-in-chief he
represented that exalted personage, and was particularly obnoxious.
Never was a youth in a more difficult position.
"I cannot expose the finest arsenal in America," said Gates, pompously,
"to the possibility of destruction. Sir Henry Clinton may return at any
minute. Nor could I enterprise against Ticonderoga were my army
depleted. Nor can I leave the New England States open to the ravages and
the depredations of the enemy."
These statements made no impression on Hamilton, and he argued
brilliantly and convincingly for his object, but Gates was inflexible.
He would send one brigade and no more.
Hamilton retired, uneasy and dejected. Gates had an air of omnipotence,
and his officers had not concealed their scorn. He hesitated to use his
authority, for a bold defiance on the part of Gates might mean the
downfall of Washington, perhaps of the American cause. That Washington
was practically the American army, Hamilton firmly believed. If he fell,
it was more than likely that the whole tottering structure would
Another reason inclined him not to press Gates too far. He had been able
to order seventy-seven hundred troops from Fishkill, which was more than
Washington had expected, although by no means so many as he needed. He
therefore wrote to the Chief at length, sent for Troup, and threw
himself on the bed; he was well-nigh worn out.
Troup was already in search of him, and met the messenger. Big and
bronzed, bursting with spirits, he seemed to electrify the very air of
the room he burst into without ceremony. Hamilton sat up and poured out
"You have an affinity for posts of danger," said Troup. "I believe you
to be walking over a powder-mine here. I am not in their confidence, for
they know what I think of Washington, but I believe there is a cabal on
foot, and that Gates may be in open rebellion any minute. But he's a
coward and a bully. Treat him as such. Press your point and get your
troops. He is but the tool of a faction, and I doubt if they could make
him act when it came to the point. He wants to make another grand coup
before striking. Look well into what regiment he gives you. Which are
you to have?"
"I thought as much. It is the weakest of the three now here, consists of
but about six hundred rank and file fit for duty. There are two hundred
militia with it, whose time of service is so near expiring that they
will have dissolved ere you reach Headquarters."
Hamilton had sprung to his feet in a fury. He forgot his pains, and let
his temper fly with satisfaction in the exercise. "If that is the case,"
he cried, when he had finished his anathema of Gates, "I'll have the
men;" and he dashed at his writing materials. But he threw his pen aside
in a moment. "I'll wait till to-morrow for this. I must be master of
myself. Tell me of Saratoga. You distinguished yourself mightily, and no
one was more glad than I."
Troup talked while Hamilton rested. That evening he took him to call at
the Schuyler mansion, high on the hill.
Philip Schuyler was the great feudal lord of the North. He had served
the colonial cause in many ways, and at the outbreak of the Revolution
had been one of its hopes and props. But brilliant as his exploits had
been, the intrigues of Gates, after the fall of Ticonderoga, had been
successful, and he was deprived of the army of the North before the
battle of Saratoga. The day of exoneration came, but at present he was
living quietly at home, without bitterness. A man of the most exalted
character, he drew added strength from adversity, to be placed at the
service of the country the moment it was demanded. Mrs. Schuyler,
herself a great-granddaughter of the first patroon, Killian Van
Rensselaer, was a woman of strong character, an embodied type of all the
virtues of the Dutch pioneer housewife. She had a lively and turbulent
family of daughters, however, and did not pretend to manage them. The
spirit of our age is feeble and bourgeois when compared with the
independence and romantic temper of the stormy days of this Republic's
birth. Liberty was in the air; there was no talk but of freedom and
execration of tyrants; young officers had the run of every house, and
Clarissa Harlowe was the model for romantic young "females." Angelica
Schuyler, shortly before the battle of Saratoga, had run off with John
Barker Church, a young Englishman of distinguished connections, at
present masquerading under the name of Carter; a presumably fatal duel
having driven him from England. Subsequently, both Peggy and Cornelia
Schuyler climbed out of windows and eloped in a chaise and four,
although there was not an obstacle worth mentioning to union with the
youths of their choice. It will shock many good mothers of the present