Part 8 out of 10
"The whole nation!" thundered Hamilton. "What has the nation to do with
an affair of this sort? Why cannot you tell the truth and say that you
gloat in having discovered this wretched affair,--a common enough
episode in the lives of all of you,--in having another tid-bit for
Freneau? Why did you not take it to him at once? What do you mean by
coming here personally to take me to task?"
"I think there is some misapprehension, sir," said Muhlenberg. "It
would be quite impossible for any one present to have misconducted
himself in the manner in which the holder of those letters, Mr.
Reynolds, accuses you of having done. And surely the whole country is
intimately concerned in the honesty--or the dishonesty--of the Secretary
of the Treasury."
The words were out, and Muhlenberg sat with his mouth open for a moment,
as if to reinhale the air which was escaping too quickly for calm
speech. Then he set his shoulders and braced himself to meet the
Secretary's eyes. Hamilton was staring at him, with no trace of passion
in his face. His eyes looked like steel; his whole face had hardened
into a mask. He had realized in a flash that he was in the meshes of a
plot, and forced the heat from his brain. "Explain," he said. "I am
"As you are aware, sir, this James Clingman, who has been arrested with
Reynolds, was a clerk in my employ. You will also recall that when he
applied to me to get him out, I, in company with Colonel Burr, waited on
you and asked your assistance. You said that you would do all that was
consistent, but we did not hear from you further. Clingman refunded the
money, or certificates, which they had improperly obtained from the
Treasury, the action was withdrawn, and he was discharged to-day. While
the matter was pending I had several conversations with Clingman, and he
frequently dropped hints to the effect that Reynolds had it in his power
materially to injure the Secretary of the Treasury, as he knew of
several very improper transactions of his. At first I paid no attention
to these hints, but when he went so far as to assert that Reynolds had
it in his power to hang the Secretary of the Treasury, that the latter
was deeply concerned in speculation with Duer, and had frequently
advanced him--Reynolds, I mean--money with which to speculate, then I
conceived it my duty to take some sort of action, and yesterday
communicated with Mr. Monroe and Mr. Venable. They went at once to call
on Reynolds--whom I privately believe to be a rascal, sir--and he
asserted that he was kept in prison by your connivance, as you feared
him; and promised to put us in possession of the entire facts this
morning. When we returned at the hour appointed, he had absconded,
having received his discharge. We then went to his house and saw his
wife, who asserted, after some circumlocution, that you had been
concerned in speculations with her husband, that at your request she had
burnt most of the letters you had written to herself and her husband,
and that all were in a disguised hand--like these few which she had
preserved. You will admit that it is a very serious charge, sir, and
that we should have been justified in going directly to the President.
But we thought that in case there might be an explanation--"
"Oh, there is an explanation," said Hamilton, with a sneer. "You shall
have it at my pleasure. I see that these notes implicate me to the
extent of eleven hundred dollars. Strange, that a rapacious Secretary of
the Treasury, handling millions, and speculating wildly with a friend of
large resources, should have descended to such small play as this. More
especially strange that he should have deliberately placed himself in
the power of such a rascal as this Reynolds--who seems to impress every
one he meets with his blackguardism--and communicated with him freely on
paper; you will have observed that I acknowledged these notes without
hesitation. What a clumsy knave you must think me. I resent the
imputation. Perhaps you have noticed that in one of these notes I state
that on my honour I cannot accommodate him with the three hundred
dollars he demands, because it is quite out of my power to furnish it.
Odd, that a thieving Secretary, engaged in riotous speculation, could
not lay his hand on three hundred dollars, especially if it were
necessary to close this rascal's mouth. I doubt, gentlemen, if you will
be able to convince the country that I am a fool. Nevertheless, I
recognize that this accusation must be met by controverting proof; and
if you will do me the honour to call at my house to-night at nine
o'clock, I shall, in the presence of the Comptroller of the Treasury,
furnish these proofs."
He rose, and the others pushed back their chairs and departed hastily.
Muhlenberg's red face wore a look of relief, but Monroe scowled. Neither
had failed to be impressed by the Secretary's manner, and the Speaker of
the House, ashamed of his part in the business, would gladly have
listened to an immediate vindication.
Hamilton sat motionless for some moments, the blood returning to his
face, for he was seething with fury and disgust.
"The hounds!" he said aloud, then again and again. He was alone, and he
never had conquered his youthful habit of muttering to himself. "I can
see Monroe leaping, not walking, to the jail, the moment he learned of a
chance to incriminate me. The heels at the end of those long legs must
have beaten the powder from his queue. And this is what a man is to
expect so long as he remains in public life--if he succeeds. He resigns
a large income, reduces his family almost to poverty, works himself half
to death, rescues the country from contempt, launches it upon the sea of
prosperity; and his public rewards are more than counterbalanced by the
persecutions of his enemies. I have been on the defensive from the
moment I entered public life. Scarcely a week but I have been obliged to
parry some poisoned arrow or pluck it out and cauterize. The dreams of
my youth! They never soared so high as my present attainment, but
neither did they include this constant struggle with the vilest
manifestations of which the human nature is capable." He brought his
fist down on the table. "I am a match for all of them," he exclaimed.
"But their arrows rankle, for I am human. They have poisoned every hour
He caught up his hat and went out into the air. The solace of Mrs. Croix
in his blacker moods occurred to him; and he walked down Chestnut Street
as rapidly as he could, in the crowd, lifting his hat now and again to
cool his head in the frosty air. It was a brilliant winter's day; drifts
of snow hid the dead animals and the garbage in the streets; and all the
world was out for Christmas shopping. As it was one of the seasons for
display, everybody was in his best. The women wore bright-coloured
taffetas or velvets, over hoops flattened before and behind, muskmelon
bonnets or towering hats. They whisked their gowns about, that their
satin petticoats be not overlooked. The men wore the cocked hat, heavily
laced, and a long coat, usually of light-coloured cloth, with a
diminutive cape, the silver buttons engraved with initials or crest.
Their small clothes were very short, but heavy striped stockings
protected their legs; on their feet were pointed shoes, with immense
silver buckles. Hamilton was dressed with his usual exquisite care, his
cuffs carefully leaded. But his appearance interested him little to-day.
For the moment, however, he forgot his private annoyance in the portent
on every side of him. Few of the seekers after gifts had entered the
shops. They blocked the pavements, even the street, talking excitedly of
the news of the day before. Fully half the throng sported the
tri-coloured cockade, the air hissed with "Citizen," "Citess," or rang
with a volley of "Ca ira! Ca ira!"
Hamilton set his teeth. "It _is_ the next nightmare," he thought. "The
Cabinet is quiet at present--Jefferson, mortified and beaten, is coaxing
back his courage for a final spring. When the time comes to determine
our attitude there will be Hell, nothing less." But his nostrils
quivered. He might rebel at poisoned arrows, but he revelled in the
fight that involved the triumph of a policy.
His mind was abstracted, the blood was still in his brain as he entered
Mrs. Croix's drawing-room. For a moment he had a confused idea that he
had blundered into a shop. The chairs, the sofas, the floor, were
covered with garments and stuffs of every hue. Hats and bonnets were
perched on every point. Never had he seen so much gorgeous raiment in
one space before. There were brocades, taffetas, satins, lutestrings,
laces, feathers, fans, underwear like mist. While he was staring about
him in bewilderment, Mrs. Croix came running in from her bedroom. Her
hair was down and tangled, her dressing sacque half off, her face
flushed, her eyes sparkling. She looked half wanton, half like a giddy
girl darting about among her first trunks.
"Hamilton!" she cried. "Hamilton!" She flew at him much as his children
did when excited. "Look! Look! Look! Is this not magnificent? This is
the happiest day of my life!"
"Indeed? Are you about to set up a shop?"
"A shop? I am about to deck myself once more in the raiment that I love.
Have I not drooped in weeds long enough, sir? I am going to be beautiful
again! I am going to wear all those lovely things--all! all! And I am
going to Lady Washington's to-morrow night. Mrs. Knox will take me. But
I vow I do not care half so much for that as for my beautiful things.
They arrived by the London packet yesterday, but have only now been
delivered. I ordered them long since, and hardly could control my
impatience till they came. I am so happy! I feel like a bird that has
been plucked for years."
Hamilton looked at her in amazement, and despair. More than once he had
caught a glimpse of the frivolous side of her nature, but that it could
spread and control her he never had imagined. Her intelligence, her
passions, her inherited and accumulated wisdom, were crowded into some
submerged cell. There was nothing in her at the present moment for him,
and he turned on his heel without a word and left the house. She rapped
sharply on the window as he passed, but he did not look up. He was
filled with that unreasoning anger peculiar to man when woman for once
has failed to respond. He consigned her and her clothes to the devil,
and looked at his watch. It was ten minutes to one. His dinner hour was
two o'clock. He would go home to his wife, where he should have gone in
the first place. She never had failed him, or if she had he could not
recall the occasion. Her little dark face rose before him, innocent and
adorable. He could not tell her of the cause of his annoyance,--it
suddenly occurred to him that the less of that matter confided to Mrs.
Croix the better,--but then he never worried her with his troubles. He
would merely go and bask in her presence for an hour, confess to a
headache, and receive her sweet ministrations.
As he entered his own house, and, relieved of his coat and hat by the
waiting black, ran up the stair, he thought he heard a soft babble of
voices. Knowing that his wife would, if he desired it, dismiss at once
any company she might have, he knocked confidently at her door and
entered. For a moment he felt inclined to rub his eyes, and wondered if
he were the victim of delirium. The bed was covered with bandboxes, the
sofa with new frocks. Betsey was sitting before the mirror, trying on a
cap, and her sisters, Peggy and Cornelia, were clapping their hands.
Angelica was perched on the back of a chair, her eyes twice their
natural size, Hamilton attempted instant retreat, but Betsey saw his
reflection in the mirror.
"You?" she cried. "What a surprise and pleasure. Come here, sir, at
Meanwhile his two sisters-in-law, whose expected visit he had quite
forgotten, ran forward and kissed him effusively. With the desire in his
heart to rend the Universe in twain he went forward and smiled down into
his wife's eager face.
"Angelica has sent me so many things!" she exclaimed. Her face was
flushed, her eyes sparkling. She looked sixteen. "And this cap is the
most bewitching of all. You came just at the right moment; it is quite
She thrust a letter from Mrs. Church into his hand, and he read where
his wife pointed. "Someone who loves you will tell you if it is becoming
or not." And on the following page. "Kiss my saucy Brother for me. I
call him my Brother with an air of pride. And tell him, _Il est l'homme
le plus aimable du monde_."
"It is charming," said Hamilton, pinching his wife's chin. "It is like a
frame. You never looked half so sweet."
Betsey cooed with delight. Hamilton, having done his duty, was about to
retire in good order, when he met his little daughter's eyes. They had
dismissed the wonderful cap and were fixed on him with an expression
that gave him a sudden thrill. It was not the first time he had seen in
Angelica so strong a resemblance to his mother that he half believed
some fragment of Rachael Levine had come back to him. Her eyes were
dark, but she had a mane of reddish fair hair, and a skin as white as
porcelain, a long sensitive nose, and a full mobile mouth. She had none
of his mother's vitality and dash, however. She was delicate and rather
shrinking, and he knew that Rachael at her age must have been a marvel
of mental and physical energy. It was only occasionally, when he turned
suddenly and caught Angelica staring at him, that he experienced the odd
sensation of meeting his mother's eyes, informed, moreover, with an
expression of penetrating comprehension--an expression he recalled
without effort. The child idolized him. She sat outside his study while
he wrote, crawling in between the legs of anyone who opened the door? to
sit at his feet; or, if he dismissed her, in another part of the room
until he left it. She watched for his daily returns, and usually greeted
him from the banister post. Amiable, intelligent, pretty, affectionate,
and already putting forth the tender leaves of a great gift, her father
thought her quite perfect, and they had long conversations whenever he
was at leisure in his home. She demanded a great deal of petting, and he
was always ready to humour her, the more as she was the only girl, and
the one quiet member of his little family--although she had been known
to use her fists upon occasion. Her prettiness and intelligence
delighted him, her affection was one of the deepest pleasures of his
life, and he was thankful for the return to him of his mother's
beautiful and singular features. To-day the resemblance was so striking
that he contracted his eyelids. Angelica straightened herself, gave a
spring, and alighted on his chest.
"Take me downstairs and talk to me," she commanded. "'Tis nearly an hour
Hamilton swung her to his shoulder, and went downstairs. On the way he
laughed out loud. The past half-hour tossed itself into the foreground
of his mind, clad in the skirts of high comedy. Tragedy fled. The
burden in his breast went with it. Far be it from him to cherish a
grudge against the sex that so often reduced the trials of public life
to insignificance. Women were delicious irresponsible beings; man was an
ingrate to take their shortcomings seriously.
"Why do you laugh?" asked his daughter, whose arm nearly strangled him.
"You were very angry when you came into mamma's room."
"Indeed?" said Hamilton, nettled. "Was I not smiling?"
"Yes, sir; but you often smile when you would like to run the
carving-knife into somebody."
They had reached the library. Hamilton sat the child on the edge of his
table and took a chair closely facing her. "What do you mean, you little
witch?" he demanded. "I am always happy when I am at home."
"Almost always. Sometimes you are very angry, and sometimes you are sad.
Why do you pretend? Why don't you tell us?"
"Well," said Hamilton, with some confusion. "I love you all very much,
you see, and you do make me happy--why should I worry you?"
"I should feel better if you told me--right out. It gives me a pain
She laid her hand to her head, and Hamilton stared at her in deepening
perplexity. Another child--anything feminine, at least--would have
indicated her heart as the citadel of sorrow. "Why there?" he asked. "Do
you mean a pain?"
"Yes, a pain, but not so bad as when I am in Albany or Saratoga and you
are here. Then I worry all the time."
"Do you mean that you are ever unhappy?"
"I am unhappy whenever you are, or I am afraid that you are. I know that
you are very big and the cleverest man in the world, and that I am too
little to do you any good, and I don't know why I worry when I am away."
"But, my dear child, what in Heaven's name do you mean? Have you ever
spoken to your mother of this?"
Angelica shook her head. Her eyes grew larger and wiser. "No; I should
only worry Betsey, and she is always happy. She is not clever like you
Hamilton rose abruptly and walked to the window. When he had composed
his features he returned. "You must not criticise your mother in that
way, my dear. She is a very clever little woman, indeed."
Angelica nodded. "If she were clever, you would not say 'little.' Nobody
says that you are a very clever little man. When I'm big, I'll not be
called little, either. I love our dear Queen Bess, but I'm _all yours_.
Why were you so angry to-day?"
"I couldn't possibly tell you," replied her father, turning cold. "You
must not ask too many questions; but I am very grateful for your
sympathy. You are my dear little girl, and you make me love you more and
"And will you tell me whenever you are not feeling like what you are
making the rest believe?"
"If it will make you any happier, I will whisper it into your pink
little ear. But I think I should be a very bad father to make you
"I told you, sir, that I am more unhappy when I imagine things. It is
just like a knife," and again she pointed to her head.
Hamilton turned pale. "You are too young to have headaches," he said.
"Perhaps you have been studying too hard. I am so ambitious for my
children; but the boys have taken to books as they have to kites and
fisticuffs. I should have remembered that girls--" His memory gave up
the stories of his mother's precocity. But this child, who was so
startlingly like the dead woman, was far less fitted to carry such
burdens. So sensitive an intelligence in so frail a body might suddenly
flame too high and fall to ashes. He resolved to place her in classes of
other little girls at once, and to keep her in the fields as much as
possible. None knew better than he how close the highly strung
unresting brain could press to madness. He had acquired a superhuman
control over his. If this girl's brain had come out of his own, it must
be closely watched. She had not inherited his high light spirits, but
the melancholy which had lain at the foundations of his mother's nature;
she would require the most persistent guarding. He took her face between
his hands and kissed it many times.
"Very well," he said, "we will have our little secrets. I will tell you
when I am disturbed, and you will sit close beside me with your doll
until I feel better. But remember, I expect as much confidence in
return. You will never have a care nor a terror nor an annoyance that
you will not confide it to me directly."
She nodded. "I'm always telling you things to myself. And I won't cry
any more in the night, when I think you have felt badly and could not
tell anyone. It will all go away if you talk to me about it," she added
Hamilton swung her to his shoulder again and started for the dining
"The child is uncanny," he thought. "Can there be anything in that old
theory that tormented and erring souls come back to make their last
expiation in children? That means early death!" He dismissed the thought
After dinner he called on Oliver Wolcott, the Comptroller, one of his
closest friends, and related the scene of the morning, adding the
explanation. Wolcott was a Puritan, and did not approve of the marital
digressions of his friends. But in this case the offence was so much
less than the accusation that he listened with frequent ejaculations of
content. He agreed at once to call at Hamilton's house at eight o'clock,
look over the papers, and read them aloud when the trio arrived.
"And may the devil damn them," he added. "It will be one of the keenest
pleasures of my life to confound them. The unpatriotic villains! They
know that in disgracing you they would discredit the United States, and
in their hearts they know that your measures are the only wheels for
this country to run on; but to their party spite they would sacrifice
everything. I'll be there."
And when the men called that night at nine o'clock, he read them the
correspondence from beginning to end--Reynold's letters, and those of
the woman. More than once Muhlenberg begged him to desist, but he was
merciless. When he had finished, Hamilton explained that he had
disguised his handwriting lest the man forge or make other use of it.
The three rose as soon as the ordeal was over. "It is no use for me to
attempt to express my regret or my humiliation," said Muhlenberg, "I
shall be ashamed of this as long as I live."
"I feel like an ass and a spy," exclaimed Venable. "I heartily beg your
"Your mistake was justifiable. Are you satisfied?"
"More than satisfied."
Hamilton turned to Monroe.
"I made a mistake," said the Senator from Virginia. "I beg your pardon."
"And I shall hear no more of this?"
He received the solemn promise of each, then let them go. But he locked
the letters carefully in their drawer again.
"Are you going to keep those things?" asked Wolcott. "It must have made
you sick to listen to them."
"It did. Perhaps I shall keep them for penance, perhaps because I do not
Hamilton was not long kept in ignorance of the next tactics of his
enemies. They made their deadliest assault soon after Christmas.
Immediately upon the assembling of Congress it was suggested that the
Secretary of the Treasury be asked to furnish a plan for reducing the
public debt. Madison arose and fired the first gun. What Congress
wanted was not a plan, but a statement of the national finances. The
Federalists replied that the information would come in due course, and
that the House was in duty bound to ask the Secretary to furnish a
scheme. The Republicans, led by Madison, protested that already too much
power had been invested in the Secretary of the Treasury, that it had
exceeded constitutional limits. Moreover, he overwhelmed them with
volumes, deliberately calculated to confuse their understandings. One
Giles, who did the dirty work of the party, announced that the Secretary
was not fit to make plans, and added the numerous and familiar
denunciations. But the Republicans were outvoted, and the suggestions
were called for. Hamilton furnished them immediately. His plan to reduce
the debt was met by so strenuous an opposition from the Republicans that
it was defeated, and by the party which had been most persistent in
their detestation of the obnoxious burden. Rather than add to the
laurels of Hamilton, they would shoulder it with equanimity. But this
defeat was but an incident. The Secretary of the Treasury, as the result
of a series of resolutions, was bidden to lay before Congress an account
of the moneys borrowed at Antwerp and Amsterdam; the President to
furnish a statement of the loans made by his authority, their terms,
what use had been made of them, how large was the balance; the chiefs of
departments to make a return of the persons employed and their salaries.
Hamilton, by this time, was fully alive to the fact that he was about to
be subjected to fresh persecution, and the agility of his enemies could
not keep pace with his. He furnished the House with an itemized
list--which it took the Committee days to plod through--of his
bookkeepers, clerks, porters, and charwomen, and the varying emoluments
they had received since the Department was organized, three years and a
half before. He further informed them that the net yield of the foreign
loan was eighteen millions six hundred and seventy-eight thousand
florins, that the loans were six in number, that three bore five per
cent interest, two four and a half, and one four per cent The enemy was
disconcerted but not discouraged. Five fresh resolutions were moved
almost immediately. Impartial historians have agreed that Jefferson
suggested these shameful resolutions, and that Madison drew them up.
Giles brought them forward. In a vociferous speech he asserted that no
man could understand the Secretary's report, that his methods and
processes were clothed in a suspicious obscurity. It was his painful
duty to move the adoption of the following resolutions: That copies of
the papers authorizing the foreign loans should be made; that the names
of the persons to whom and by whom the French debt had been paid be sent
to Congress; that a statement of the balances between the United States
and the Bank be made; that an account of the sinking-fund be rendered,
how much money had come into it and where from, how much had been used
for the purchase of the debt and where the rest was deposited. The fifth
demanded an account of the unexpended revenue at the close of the
preceding year. Giles charged that a serious discrepancy existed between
the report of the Secretary and the books of the Bank--not less than a
million and a half. It had been the purpose of Jefferson and Madison to
bring forward the resolutions with an air of comparative innocence. But
the vanity of Giles carried him away, and his speech informed Congress,
and very shortly the country, that the honesty of the Secretary of the
Treasury had been impeached, and that he was called upon to vindicate
In crises Hamilton never lost his temper. The greater the provocation,
as the greater the danger, the colder and more impersonal he became. Nor
was it in his direct impatient nature to seek to delay an evil moment
any more than it was to protect himself behind what the American of
to-day calls "bluff." In this, the severest trial of his public career,
he did not hesitate a moment for irritation or protest. He called upon
his Department to assist him, and with them he worked day and night,
gathering, arranging, elaborating all the information demanded by
Congress. When he was not directing his subordinates, he was shut up in
his library preparing his statements and replies. His meals were taken
to him; his family did not see him for weeks, except as he passed them
on his way to or from the front door. He sent in report after report to
Congress with a celerity that shattered his health, but kept his enemies
on the jump, and worked them half to death. The mass of manuscript he
sent would have furnished a modest bookstore, and the subjects and
accounts with which he was so familiar drove Madison and others, too
opposed to finance to master the maze of it, close upon the borders of
frenzy. It had been their uncommunicated policy to carry the matter over
to the next session, but Hamilton was determined to have done with them
And in the midst of this tremendous pressure arrived George Washington
It was on the first Saturday of his retirement into the deep obscurity
of his library, with orders that no one knock under penalty of driving
him from the house, that Hamilton, opening the door suddenly with intent
to make a dash for his office, nearly fell over Angelica. She was
standing just in front of the door, and her face was haggard.
"How long have you been here?" demanded her father.
"Three hours, sir."
"Three! Have you stood all that time?"
Angelica nodded. She was determined not to cry, but she was wise enough
not to tax the muscles of her throat.
Hamilton hesitated. If the child fidgeted, she would distract his
attention, great as were his powers of concentration; but another
searching of her eyes decided him.
"Very well," he said. "Go in, but mind you imagine that you are a mouse,
or you will have to leave."
When he returned, she was sitting in a low chair by his desk, almost
rigid. She had neither doll nor book. "This will never do," he thought.
"What on earth shall I do with the child?" His eye fell upon the chaos
of his manuscript. He gathered it up and threw it on the sofa. "There,"
he said, "arrange that according to the numbers, and come here every
five minutes for more."
And Angelica spent two hours of every day in the library, useful and
One day Hamilton was obliged to attend a Cabinet meeting, and to spend
several hours at his office just after. Returning home in the early
winter dusk, he saw two small white faces pressed against the hall
window. One of them was Angelica's, the other he had never seen. As he
entered, his daughter fell upon him.
"This is George Washington Lafayette," she announced breathlessly. "He
came to-day, and he doesn't speak any English, and he won't go near
Betsey or anyone but me, and he won't eat, and I know he's miserable and
wretched, only he won't cry. His tutor's ill at the Inn."
The little Frenchman had retired to the drawing-room. Angelica darted
after him and dragged him forward into the light. He was small for his
age, but his features had the bold curious outline of his father's. He
carried himself with dignity, but it was plain that he was terrified and
unhappy. Hamilton gave him a warm embrace, and asked him several
questions in French. The boy brightened at once, answered rapidly and
intelligently, and took firm possession of his new friend's hand.
"I am more happy now," he announced. "I don't like the other people
here, except this little girl, because they do not speak French, but you
are a Frenchman, and I shall love you, as my father said I should--long
ago! I will stay with you day and night."
"Oh, you will?" exclaimed Hamilton. "I am going to send you to school
with my boys."
"Oh, not yet, sir! not yet!" cried the boy, shrilly. "I have seen so
many strangers on that dreadful ship, and in France--we hid here,
there--moving all the time. I wish to live with you and be your little
"And so you shall, but I am uncommonly busy."
"He is a very quiet little boy," interposed Angelica, who was three
years his junior. "He would not move if he sat in your room, and I will
take him for a walk every day. He will die if he has to sit in a room by
himself all day."
"I shall sleep with you, sir, I hope?" asked young Lafayette, eagerly.
"I have thought all day of the dark of to-night. I have seen such
terrible things, sir!"
"Good Heaven!" thought Hamilton, "is it not enough to be dry nurse to a
nation?" But he could not refuse, and during the few hours he snatched
for sleep he was half strangled. By day the boy sat quietly in a corner
of the library, and studied the text-books his guardian bought him.
Betsey did all she could to win him, but he had no faith in people who
could not speak his language. Angelica, like all of Hamilton's children,
knew something of French, and he liked her and accepted her motherly
attentions; but Hamilton he adored. The moment his absorbed friend made
for the front door he was after him, and Hamilton let him run at his
heels, lest he get neither air nor exercise. He had no time at present
to take him to call on his august godfather, and, in truth, he dreaded
the prospect. Washington knew nothing of children, and his diminutive
namesake would probably be terrified into spasms.
The three long and exhaustive reports, accounting honourably for every
penny entrusted to the Secretary of the Treasury, and justifying every
payment, measure, and investment, had gone to the Congress. Nine days
later Giles brought forward nine resolutions of censure against the
Secretary of the Treasury. But by this time Congress had made up its
mind, and many of the Republicans were disgusted and humiliated. The
Federalists were triumphant, and amused themselves with Giles, drawing
him on, to confound him with ridicule and proof of the absurdity of his
charges. Madison, desperate, lost his head and the respect of many of
his colleagues, by asserting hysterically that the House was impotent to
change the truth of the accusations, and that in the tribunal of public
opinion the Secretary would be condemned. But Hamilton was triumphantly
vindicated by Congress and the Nation at large. His house was in a state
of siege for weeks from people of all parts of the country, come to
congratulate him; his desk obliterated by letters he had no time to
read. The Federals were jubilant. Their pride in Hamilton was so great
that a proclamation from above would not have disturbed their faith, and
they were merciless to the discomfited enemy. In truth, the Virginian
trio and their close adherents were mortified and confounded. In their
hearts they had not believed Hamilton guilty of dishonesty, but they had
been confident that his affairs were in chaos, that large sums must have
escaped, not conceiving that any mortal could at the same time create
gigantic schemes, and be as methodical as a department clerk in every
detail of his great office.
Although Hamilton had commanded his brain to dwell exclusively upon the
vindication and its means, the deeps below were bitter and hot. When the
work was over, and exhausted in body and mind he went about his duties
mechanically, or attempted to find distraction in his family, he felt as
if the abundant humanity in him were curdled; and he longed for a war,
that he might go out and kill somebody. It was small compensation that
the Virginian ring were grinding their teeth, and shivering under daily
shafts of humiliation and ridicule. So terrible was the position in
which they had placed him, so immeasurably had they added to the sum of
his contempt for human kind, that individually they occupied, for a
time, but a corner of his thought.
His only solace during this trial had been Washington; he had been too
busy and too frozen for Mrs. Croix. But that closest of his friends,
although forced by his high office to a position of stern neutrality,
did all he could in private to convince Hamilton of his unaltered
affection and regard. As soon as the vindication was complete he fell
into the habit of finishing his daily walk with an hour in Hamilton's
library. But if his visits were a pleasure to his Secretary, they were
wretchedness unleavened for two other members of the family. The
President never failed to ask for Angelica and George Washington
Lafayette; and upon their prompt but unwilling advent he would solemnly
place one on either knee, where they remained for perhaps half an hour
in awe-stricken misery. They had orders to show no distress, and they
behaved admirably; but although young Lafayette was rapidly learning
English, the fact did not lessen his fear of this enormous man, who
spoke so kindly, and looked as if he could have silenced the Terror with
the awful majesty of his presence. Angelica, being an independent little
American, was less overwhelmed, but she was often on the verge of
hysterics. It was the short session of Congress, and in March, George,
with scalding but dignified tears, accompanied his godfather to Mount
Vernon, whence he wrote Hamilton a daily letter of lament, until habit
tempered his awe; from that point he passed with Gallic bounds into an
ardent affection for the great man, who, if of an unearthly dignity, was
always kind, and, when relieved of the cares of State, uniformly genial.
The respite in Philadelphia was brief. In April came the first news of
the beheading of the French king; and the same tardy packets brought
word that France was at war with England and Spain. Hamilton sent the
news, express haste, to Washington, and dismissed every consideration
from his brain but the terrible crisis forced upon the United States,
and the proper measures to save her from shipwreck. In the early stages
of the French Revolution he had predicted the developments with such
accuracy to Henry Walter Livingston that the new Secretary of Legation,
upon his arrival in Paris, told Gouverneur Morris--United States
minister since 1792--that to his astonishment he found nothing to
surprise him. Therefore the prophet had long been determined upon the
policy the United States should pursue when this crisis shot out of the
eastern horizon; he had now but to formulate it in such a manner that
every point could be grasped at once by the Cabinet, and acted upon.
When Washington arrived in Philadelphia and summoned his advisers,
Hamilton presented twelve questions for discussion, the most pressing of
which were: Shall a proclamation issue for the purpose of preventing
interferences of the citizens of the United States in the war between
France and Great Britain, etc.? Shall it contain a declaration of
neutrality? Shall a minister from this Republic of France be received?
Jefferson was in a far less enviable position than Hamilton. He neither
wished for war, nor dared he machinate for it; but with all his
democratic soul he loved the cause which was convulsing the world from
its ferocious centre in France. Had Jefferson come of stout yeoman
stock, like John Adams, or of a long line of patrician ancestors, like
Hamilton, and, to a lesser degree, like Washington, he might, judging
from certain of his tastes, and his love of power, have become, or been,
as aristocratic in habit and spirit as were most men of his wealth,
position, and importance in the young country. But the two extremes met
in his blood. The plebeianism of his father showed itself in the
ungainly shell, in the indifference to personal cleanliness, and in the
mongrel spirit which drove him to acts of physical cowardice for which
his apologists blush. But his mother had belonged to the aristocracy of
Virginia, and this knowledge induced a sullen resentment that he should
be so unlike her kind, so different in appearance from the courtly men
of his State. Little was wanting to accelerate his natural desire to
level his country to a plane upon which with his gifts he easily could
loom as a being of superior mould; but when a British sovereign publicly
turned his back upon him, and the English court, delighted with its cue,
treated him with an unbearable insolence, nothing more was needed to
start the torrent of his hate against all who stood for aristocracy.
Democracy rampant on all sides of him, during his sojourn in France,
found in him not only an ardent sympathizer, but a passionate advocate.
He quite overlooked the fact that he failed to persuade the country of
his enthusiasm to accord the United States fair commercial treatment: it
embodied and demonstrated his ideal of liberty, equality, fraternity,
and he was its most devoted friend, unresting until he had insinuated
his own admiration into the minds of his followers in America, and made
Jacobinism a party issue.
To turn his back upon France, therefore, to help her neither in money
nor moral support, was a policy he had no intention to pursue, could he
avoid it; but knowing his weakness in the Cabinet, he suggested an extra
session of Congress. It would then be an easy matter to throw the
responsibility upon his followers in both Houses, while he stood to the
country as working consistently and harmoniously in his great office.
But Hamilton, who understood him thoroughly, would listen to no
proposition which would involve weeks of delay, inflame further the
public mind, and give Jefferson an opportunity to make political
capital. Moreover, he would have no such confession of weakness go out
from the Administration. He prevailed, and in that first meeting
Jefferson was forced to consent also to the immediate issue of a
proclamation to the people. He argued with such fervour, however,
against the use of the word "neutrality," declaring that the Executive
had no constitutional authority so far to commit the people, that
Washington, to humour him, omitted the word, while declaring
authoritatively for the substance. It was also agreed that Genet, the
new Minister from France, sent by the Revolutionists to succeed M.
Ternant, should be received. The first meeting closed tranquilly, for
both Hamilton and Jefferson had tacitly admitted that it was no time for
But the Cabinet met daily, and other subjects, notably Hamilton's
contention that their treaties made with a proper French government no
longer existed, came up for elaborate discussion; Hamilton had an
exhaustive report prepared on each of them. The two Secretaries, who
hated each other as two men hardly have hated before or since, and who
realized that they had met for their final engagement in official life,
soon dismissed any pretence at concord, and wrangled habitually--with
cutting sarcasm or crushing force on Hamilton's part, with mild but
deadly venom on Jefferson's; until he too was maddened by a jagged dart
which momentarily routed his tender regard for his person. Jefferson
wrenched one victory from the Cabinet despite Hamilton's determined
opposition: Genet's reception should be absolute. But on all other
important points the Secretary of the Treasury scored, and stone by
stone built up the great policy of neutrality which prevailed until the
year 1898; impressed into the Government the "Doctrine"--he had
formulated it in "The Federalist"--which was to immortalize the name of
a man who created nothing. Hamilton, with all the energy and obstinacy
of his nature, was resolved that the United States should not have so
much as a set-back for the sake of a country whose excesses filled him
with horror, much less run the risk of being sucked into the whirlpool
of Europe; and he watched every move Jefferson made, lest his secret
sympathies commit the country. When, after a triumphal procession
through miles of thoughtless enthusiasts, who remembered only the
services of France, forgot that their friends had been confined entirely
to the royalty and aristocracy that the mob was murdering, and were
intoxicated by the extreme democracy of the famous Secretary of State,
Genet arrived in Philadelphia, inflated and bumptious, his brain half
crazed by the nervous excitement of the past two years, and was received
with frigid politeness by Washington, Hamilton was not long discovering
that Jefferson was in secret sympathy and intercourse with this
dangerous fire-brand. The news had preceded and followed the new
minister that he had been distributing blank commissions to all who
would fit out privateers to prey upon British commerce, opening
headquarters for the enlistment of American sailors into the French
service, and constituting French consuls courts of admiralty for the
trial and condemnation of prizes brought in by French privateers.
As soon as he arrived in Philadelphia he demanded of Hamilton the
arrears of the French debt, which the Secretary had refused to pay until
there was a stable government in France to receive it. Hamilton laughed,
locked the doors of the Treasury, and put the key in his pocket. To
Genet's excited volubility and pertinacity he paid as little attention
as to Jefferson's arguments. Moreover, he reversed all Citizen Genet's
performances in the South; and in course of time, even the captured
British ships, to the wrath and disgust of Jefferson, were returned to
Freneau's _Gazette_ supported the Secretary of State with the
desperation of an expiring cause; in this great final battle, were
Jefferson driven from the Cabinet, his faithful organ must scurry to the
limbo of its kind. It assailed the Administration for ingratitude and
meanness, then turned its attention almost exclusively to the Secretary
of the Treasury. It accused him of abstracting the moneys due to France,
of plundering the industrious farmer with the Excise Law, destroying the
morals of the people by Custom House duties; resurrected the old
discrimination cry and asserted vehemently that he, and he alone, had
robbed the poor soldiers. It raked every accusation, past and present,
from its pigeon holes. Jefferson, on the other hand, was held up as a
model of the disinterested statesman, combining virtues before which
those falsely attributed to Washington paled and expired; and as the
only man fit to fill the Executive Chair. Genet accepted all this as
gospel, fortunately, perhaps, for the country; for his own excesses and
impudence, his final threat to appeal from the President to the people,
ruined him with the cooling heads of the Republican party, and finally
lost him even the support of Jefferson.
Meanwhile, after stormy meetings of the Cabinet, Hamilton, in the peace
of his library, with Angelica sorting his pages,--until she went to the
North,--had written a series of papers defending the proclamation. They
were so able and convincing, so demonstrable of the treasonable efforts
of the enemy to undermine the influence of the Administration, so cool
and so brilliant an exposition of the rights and powers of the
Executive, that on July 7th Jefferson wrote to Madison: "For God's sake,
my dear sir, take up your pen. Select the most striking heresies, and
cut him to pieces in the face of the public."
Madison hastened to obey his chief in a series of papers which tickled
the literary nerve, but failed to convince. That the laurels were to
Hamilton was another bitter pill which Jefferson was forced to swallow.
Nevertheless, Hamilton, despite his victories, felt anything but
amiable. He was so exhausted that he was on the verge of a collapse, and
triumphs were drab under the daily harassment of Jefferson, Genet, and
Freneau. Matters came to a climax one day in August, shortly before the
outbreak of yellow fever.
Hamilton laid down a copy of Freneau's _Gazette_, whose editorial
columns were devoted, as usual, to persuading the people of the United
States that they were miserable, and that they owed their misery to the
Secretary of the Treasury. It also contained a shameful assault upon the
President. As he lifted another paper from the pile on his library
table, his eyes fell on the following address to himself:--
O votary of despotism! O abettor of Carthaginian faith! Blush! Can
you for a moment suppose that the hearts of the yeomanry of America
are becoming chilled and insensible to the feelings of insulted
humanity like your own? Can you think that gratitude, the most
endearing disposition of the human heart, is to be argued away by
your dry sophistry? Do you suppose the people of the United States
prudently thumb over Vattel and Pufendorf to ascertain the sum and
substance of their obligations to their generous brethren, the
French? No! no! Each individual will lay his hand on his heart and
find the amount there. He will find that manly glow, both of
gratitude and love, which animated his breast when assisted by this
generous people in establishing his own liberty and shaking off the
yoke of British despotism!
In the _Aurora_ he was denounced as the foe of France and the friend of
Great Britain and Spain, the high priest of tyranny, the bitterest enemy
of the immortal French trio, Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite; the subtle
and Machiavellian adviser of Washington, who, relieved of this
pernicious influence, would acknowledge the debts of gratitude and
follow the will of the American people.
"Are they mad?" he thought, flinging the entire pile into the
waste-basket. "Or are they merely so eager for power and our ruin that
they are indifferent to the fact that the Administration, and the
foundations upon which it stands, never has needed the support of the
people more than now? Can only the party in power afford to be
patriotic? What a spectacle is this, that I, an alien born, am wearing
out my life and sacrificing my character, to save from themselves a
people who pant for my ruin! Has the game been worth the candle? Debt,
my family crowded into a house not half large enough to hold them, my
health almost gone, my reputation, in spite of repeated vindications,
undermined by daily assault--for the fools of the world believe what
they are told, and I cannot compromise my dignity by replying to such
attacks as these; above all, a sickening and constant disgust for life
and human nature! _Is_ the game worth the candle? Had I remained at the
bar, I should have given my family abundance by now; with only the kind
and quantity of enemies that stimulate. It is only politics that rouse
the hellish depths in the human heart. It is true that I have saved the
country, made it prosperous, happy, and honoured. But what guaranty have
I that this state will last beyond the administration of Washington?
With the Republicans in power the whole edifice may be swept away, the
country in a worse plight than before, and the author of its brief
prosperity forgotten with his works. I shall have lived in vain, and
leave my sons to be educated, my family to be supported, by my
He was in no mood to see the reverse side of the picture; and indeed his
cares were so many and overwhelming at this time that it is little
wonder he believed he had lost for ever the gay buoyancy of his spirits.
In addition to the predominating trials, financial matters were
demanding all the leisure he should have given to rest, heavy failures
in England having seriously affected the money concerns of the United
States; and the rebellions in the West against the Excise Law were
sounding a new alarm. Moreover, his constant efforts to obtain Duer's
release were unavailing; he could get no word of Lafayette; and the last
packet had brought a rumour of the murder of Gouverneur Morris by the
mob. Altogether, he may be excused for forgetting that he was still the
most dazzling figure in America, in the full tide of actual success, and
an object of terrified hatred to a powerful ring who could reach their
zenith over his political corpse, and by no other means whatever.
He picked up his hat, and went forth reluctantly to a Cabinet meeting.
It was early, and he saw Washington for a few moments alone in the
library. The President was in a no more cheerful or amiable frame of
mind than himself. His responsibilities in this terrible crisis wore on
his spirits and temper; and the daily fear that his Secretaries would
come to blows,--for Jefferson was in the worst humour of the
quintette,--to say nothing of the assaults of the press, made him openly
regret the hour he was persuaded into the Executive Chair. But his
entire absence of party spirit, despite his secret sympathy with every
measure of Hamilton's, his attitude of stern neutrality, never emerged
more triumphantly from any trial of his public career; nor did he ever
exhibit the magnanimity of his character more strikingly than in his
undisturbed affection for Hamilton, while daily twitted with being the
tool of his "scheming and ambitious Secretary."
Hamilton saw a copy of Freneau's _Gazette_ in the waste-basket, but by
common consent they ignored the subjects which would be unavoidable in a
few moments, and spoke of the stifling heat, of the unhealthy state of
Philadelphia, the menace of the San Domingo refugees pouring into the
city, of the piles of putrid coffee and hides on the wharves at the foot
of Mulberry Street, and of the carcasses of rotting hogs and horses
which lay everywhere.
"Thank Heaven, we can get our women and children out of it," said the
President. "And unless we can finish this business in another week, I
shall take the Government to the country. I suppose we are entitled to
escape with our lives, if they leave us nothing else."
They entered the Council Chamber and found the others in their
accustomed seats. Jefferson's brow was corrugated, his weak and mincing
mouth pressed out of shape. He had just finished reading the last of
Hamilton's "No Jacobin" papers, published that morning, in which Genet's
abominable breaches of decorum, violation of treaties, and deliberate
insults to the Executive--and through him to the American people--had
been set forth in so clear pointed and dispassionate a manner, that no
thinking Republican who read could fail to be convinced of the
falseness of his position in supporting this impudent and ridiculous
Frenchman. Furthermore, the Secretary of State had been forced, through
the exigencies of his position, to sign despatch after despatch, letter
after letter, in violation of his private sympathies. He was feeling not
only as angry as a cornered bull, but extremely virtuous. He hated what
he firmly believed to be the cold and selfish policy of the
Administration, as he hated every other policy it had executed; and the
knowledge that he had sacrificed his personal feelings to save his
country from discord, made him feel a far better man than the Secretary
of the Treasury, who had a diabolical talent for getting his own way. He
had some reason to be pleased with his conduct, and with his share in
contributing to a series of measures which later on won for the Cabinet
at that crucial period the encomiums of history; and when time had
abated the fevers, Hamilton would have been the first to acknowledge
that Jefferson not only was the brake which the Administration needed at
that time, but that, owing to his popularity with the French and the
masses of the United States, he reduced the danger of a popular
As Hamilton took his seat this morning, however, the blood was in his
head, and he and Jefferson exchanged a glance of sullen hate which made
Washington extend his long arms at once. All went well until the
President, with a premonitory sigh, introduced the dynamic name, Genet.
Hamilton forgot his debility, and was all mind, alert and energetic.
Jefferson, who had come to hate Genet as an intolerable nuisance, would
have been the first at another moment to counsel the demand for recall
which he knew was now inevitable, but he was in too bad a humour to-day
to concur in any measure agreeable to Hamilton.
The latter had replied promptly to Washington's remark that the time had
come to take definite action with regard to the light-headed Frenchman,
who continued to fit out and despatch privateers, and was convulsing the
"Pray send him home, bag and baggage, sir. He is not entitled to the
dignity or consideration of the usual formalities. Moreover, he is the
trigger of the United States so long as he remains at liberty in it. I
estimate that there is a new Jacobin club formed daily. At any moment he
may do something which will drive these fools, under their red caps and
cockades, mad with admiration."
Jefferson brought his brows down to the root of his nose. "'Fools' is
not the word for an honest enthusiasm for liberty, sir. I regret the
present excitement--its manifestations at this moment--as much as
"Indeed? I am amazed. Who, then, is responsible for them?"
"Not I, sir."
"Oh, let us have no more hypocrisy, at all events," said Hamilton,
contemptuously. He had his wrath under control, but he suddenly
determined to force the climax. "If you had employed your secret pen to
better purpose, or not employed it at all, there would not be a Jacobin
club in the country; this ridiculous Frenchman, unencouraged by your
private sympathy, by your assurances of my inability to withhold the
residue of the debt, would have calmed down long since. I accuse you
here, deliberately and publicly, instead of writing private letters to
the public, both because I have not your commanding talent for patient
and devious ways, and because I wish you to declare, unequivocally,
whether or not you purpose to continue this policy of obstruction. Time
presses. We must act at once with regard to this Frenchman. Reserve
subterfuge for some more opportune time, and let us know what you intend
Jefferson looked with appeal at Washington, who usually interposed when
his Secretaries arrived at personalities. But Washington, although his
face was as immobile as stone, was so sick with anger and disgust over
the whole situation, at what appeared to be the loss of the popular
faith in himself, and the ridicule and abuse which had filled the
columns of Freneau's paper that morning, that it was a relief to him to
hear Hamilton explode.
"I repudiate every word you have said, sir," growled Jefferson. "More I
will not say. As to Citizen Genet, with whom I have never had a word of
private intercourse--" Here, even Washington lifted his head, and
Hamilton laughed outright. Jefferson continued, determined upon
martyrdom rather than rouse the terrible passions opposite: "As to
Citizen Genet, if the Cabinet agree that it is best he leave this
country. I shall demand that his recall be requested in the regular
manner, in accordance with every principle of international courtesy. He
may be imprudent, intoxicated with the glorious wine of liberty, but he
is a Frenchman, a distinguished citizen of the great country that came
so nobly to our rescue, and I protest against the base ingratitude which
would fling insults in the teeth of an unfortunate people."
Hamilton threw back his head impatiently, and drummed with his fingers
on the table. "The primary motive of France for the assistance she gave
us was, obviously, to enfeeble a hated and powerful rival. A second
motive was to extend her relations of commerce in the new world, and to
acquire additional security for her possessions there, by forming a
connection with this country when detached from Great Britain. To
ascribe to her any other motives, to suppose that she was actuated by
friendship toward us, is to be ignorant of the springs of action which
invariably regulate the cabinets of princes. A despotic court aid a
popular revolution through sympathy with its principles! For the matter
of that, if you insist upon American statesmen being sentimental fools,
the class that assisted us has been murdered by the rabble, which I
refuse to recognize as France. And if it be your object to reduce this
country to a similar position that you may climb over maddened brains to
"Hear!" roared Jefferson, justly indignant. "I? Never a man loved peace
as I do. My life has been hell since you have forced me into daily
conflict, when, God knows, I perish with desire for the peace of my
homely life in Virginia. Power! I scorn it, sir. I leave that to
restless upstarts like yourself--"
He stopped, choking. Hamilton laughed contemptuously. "You are at work
with your pen day and night, strengthening your misnamed party, and
preparing the way by which you can lift yourself to a position where you
can undo all that the party you hate, because it is composed of
gentlemen, has accomplished for the honour and prosperity of your
country. You are perfectly well aware that Genet was sent here to stir
up a civil war, and embroil us with Europe at the same time, and you
have secretly sympathized with and encouraged him. I cannot make up my
mind whether you are a villain, or merely the victim of a sublimated and
paradoxical imagination. But in either case, I wish to be placed on
record as asserting that you are the worst enemy the United States is
cursed with to-day."
This was too much for Jefferson, who had convinced himself that he was a
high-minded and self-sacrificing statesman, stooping to devious ways for
the common good. He forgot his physical fear, and shouted, pounding the
table with his fist:--
"How dare you, sir? How dare you? It is you who are ruining, corrupting,
and dishonouring this unhappy country, with your Banks, your devilish
methods to cement the aristocracy, your abominable Excise Law--"
"Oh, but you have counteracted that so effectively! I was coming to that
point. I conceived a measure by which to meet an imperative financial
demand, and you, by your agents, by your secret machinations, have been
the author of insurrection after insurrection, of the most flagrant
breaches of the laws of your country. You have cost innumerable men,
engaged in the pursuit of plain duty, their self-respect, and in several
cases their lives. Another hideous problem is approaching--one, I am
persuaded, that can be solved by arms and bloodshed alone; and to your
pen, to your deliberate unsettling of men's minds, to the hatred you
have inspired for the lawful government of this country, to you, and to
"It's a lie! a lie!" shouted Jefferson. "You are speaking to an
honourable man, sir! one who occupies a position in this country both by
birth and breeding that you would give your soul--you adventurer!--to
possess. Go back to your Islands! You have no place here among men of
honourable birth. It's monstrous that this country should be ruled by a
For a moment, every one present had a confused idea that a tornado was
in the room. Then two doors were wrenched open, Jefferson fled down the
street, with Randolph, bearing his hat, in pursuit; Knox was holding
Hamilton firmly in his arms; and Washington, who had risen some moments
since, and stood staring in grim disgust, awaiting the end, was divided
between a desire to laugh, and to give way to a burst of fury himself.
Hamilton had made no attempt to struggle when Knox caught him, but he
now withdrew from the relaxing arms, and the Secretary of War left the
room hastily. Hamilton, to Washington's astonishment, flung himself into
a chair, and dropped his head on his arms. In a moment, he began to sob
convulsively. A malignant fever was breeding in his depressed system;
the blood still surged in his head. He had a despairing sense that his
character was in ruins; he was humiliated to his depths; he despised
himself so bitterly that he forgot the existence of Jefferson.
The humour and anger died out of Washington. He went forward hastily and
locked the door. Then he stooped over Hamilton, and pressed him closely
in his arms.
"My dear boy!" he said huskily. "My dear boy!"
That was the last of Hamilton's battles in the Cabinet. Jefferson
resigned; although, in order that the Administration might, until the
crisis was past, preserve an unbroken front to the country, he
reluctantly consented to withhold his resignation until the assembling
of Congress. He retired to Monticello, however; and apologized to the
Secretary of the Treasury.
Hamilton, almost immediately, was taken down with yellow fever, which
broke out suddenly and raged with a fearful violence. To the ordinary
odours of carcasses and garbage, were added those of vinegar, tar,
nitre, garlic, and gunpowder. Every disinfectant America had ever heard
of was given a trial, and every man who possessed a shot-gun fired it
all day and all night. The bells tolled incessantly. The din and the
smells were hideous, the death carts rattled from dawn till dawn; many
were left unburied in their houses for a week; hundreds died daily; and
the city confessed itself helpless, although it cleaned the streets.
Hamilton had a very light attack, but Dr. Stevens dropped in frequently
to see him; he privately thought him of more importance than all
Lying there and thinking of many things, too grateful for the rest to
chafe at the imprisonment, and striving for peace with himself, Hamilton
one day conceived the idea of immersing yellow-fever patients in
ice-water. Microbes were undiscovered, but Hamilton, perhaps with a
flashing glimpse of the truth, reasoned that if cold weather invariably
routed the disease, a freezing of the infected blood should produce the
same result. He succeeded in convincing Stevens, with the issue that
when the scourge was over, the young West Indian doctor had so many
cures to his credit, where all other physicians had failed, that the
City Council presented him with a silver tankard, gratefully inscribed,
and filled with golden coins. Hamilton's fecund brain, scattering its
creations, made more than one reputation.
Meanwhile, he awoke one day to find Mrs. Croix sitting beside his bed.
She had left town in June, and usually did not return until late in
September. She wore a white frock and a blue sash, and looked like an
angel about to do penance.
"I have come back to take care of the sick, including yourself," she
announced, "I was born to be a nurse, and I felt that my place was here.
I have come to see you first, and I shall call daily, but otherwise I am
in Dr. Stevens's hands."
Hamilton stared at her. He was not surprised, for she was kind hearted
in her erratic imperious fashion, and much beloved by the poor; nor was
she afraid of anything under heaven. But she was the last person he had
wished to see; she was for his triumphant hours, or his furious, not for
helpless invalidism. He had longed consistently for his wife, and
written to her by every packet-boat, lest she suspect his illness and
return to the plague-stricken city. He was filled with a sudden
resentment that any other woman should presume to fill her chair. To
forget her under overwhelming provocation he had reconciled to his
conscience with little difficulty, for his extenuations were many, and
puritanism had not yet invaded the national character; but to permit
another woman to ministrate to him when ill, he felt to be an
unpardonable breach of his Eliza's rights, and his loyalty rebelled. So,
although he treated Mrs. Croix with politeness while she remained, he
gave orders to Dr. Stevens to keep her away upon any pretext he chose.
"I am too nervous to be bothered with women," he added; and Stevens
obeyed without comment.
Hamilton's convalescence was cheered by two facts: the revival of his
spirits and equilibrium, and frequent assurances from his wife that for
the first time in five years she was entirely well. She wrote that she
had regained all her old colour, "spring," vivacity, and plumpness, and
felt quite ten years younger. Hamilton was delighted; for her courage
had so far exceeded her strength that he had often feared a collapse.
Although she detested the sight of a pen, she was so elated with her
recovered health that she wrote to him weekly. Suddenly, and without
explanation, the letters stopped. Still, he was quite unprepared for
what was to follow, and on the first of October, his health improved by
a short sojourn in the country, he went to the wharf to meet the
packet-boat which invariably brought his family; his pockets full of
sweets, and not a misgiving in his mind.
As he stood on the wharf, watching the boat towed slowly to dock, his
four oldest children suddenly appeared, waving their hats and shouting
like young Indians. James, who was as broad as he was long, and was
wedged firmly between Angelica and Philip lest he turn over, swelled a
chorus which excited much amusement among by-standers. To Hamilton's
surprise his wife did not occupy her usual place behind that
enthusiastic group, but as the boat touched the pier, and all four
precipitated themselves upon him at once,--the three oldest about his
neck, and James upon his pockets,--he forgot her for the moment in the
delight of seeing and embracing his children after three months of
separation. He emerged from that wild greeting, dishevelled and
breathless, only to disappear once more within six long arms and a
circle of sunburned faces. Hamilton received from his children an almost
frantic affection; indeed, few people merely liked him; it was either
hate or a love which far transcended the bounds of such affection as the
average mortal commands. The passion he inspired in his children cost
one his life, another her reason, and left its indelible mark on a
third; but for what they gave, they received an overflowing measure in
return; no man was ever more passionately attached to his brood, nor
took a greater delight in its society.
Suddenly, through the web of Angelica's flying locks, he saw that his
wife had appeared on deck and was about to land. He disentangled himself
hastily and went forward to greet her. In a flash he noted that she was
prettier than ever, and that she was affected by something far more
extraordinary than an increase of health. She threw back her head, and
her black eyes flashed with anger as he approached with the assurance of
thirteen years of connubial ownership; but she greeted him politely and
took his arm. No explanation was possible there; and he escorted her and
the children to the coach as quickly as possible. Philip, Angelica, and
Alexander were sensible at once of the chasm yawning between the seats;
they redoubled their attentions to their father, and regarded their
mother with reproving and defiant eyes. Poor Betsey, conscious that she
was entirely in the right, felt bitter and humiliated, and sought to
find comfort in the indifference of James, who was engaged with a
cornucopia and blind to the infelicity of his parents.
When they reached the house, Hamilton dismissed the children and opened
the door of his library.
"Will you come in?" he said peremptorily.
Mrs. Hamilton entered, and sat down on a high-backed chair. She was very
small, her little pigeon toes were several inches above the floor; but
no judge on his bench ever looked so stern and so inexorable.
"Now," said Hamilton, who was cold from head to foot, for he had an
awful misgiving, "let us have an explanation at once. This is our first
serious misunderstanding, and you well know that I shall be in misery
until it is over--"
"I have not the least intention of keeping you in suspense," interrupted
Betsey, sarcastically. "I am too thankful that you did not happen to
come to Saratoga when _I_ was prostrated with misery. I have gone
through everything,--every stage of wretchedness that the human heart is
capable of,--but now, thank Heaven, I am filled with only a just
indignation. Read that!"
She produced a letter from her reticule and flipped it at him. Even
before he opened it he recognized the familiar handwriting, the profuse
capitals, of Mrs. Reynolds. Fortunately, he made no comment, for the
contents were utterly different from his quick anticipation. It
contained a minute and circumstantial account of his visits during the
past year to Mrs. Croix, with many other details, which, by spying and
bribing, no doubt, she had managed to gather. Failing one revenge, the
woman had resorted to another, and fearing that it might be lost among
the abundant and surfeiting lies of the public press, she had aimed at
what he held most dear. The letter was so minute and circumstantial that
it would have convinced almost any woman.
There was but one thing for Hamilton to do, and he lied with his
unsurpassable eloquence. When he paused tentatively, his wife
"Alexander, you are a very great man, but you are a wretchedly poor
liar. As Mr. Washington would say, your sincerity is one of the most
valuable of your gifts, and without it you could not convince a child.
As if this were not enough, only yesterday, on the boat, I overheard two
of your intimate friends discussing this intrigue as a matter of course.
There was not a word of censure or criticism; they were merely wondering
when you would add to your enemies; for as this woman was desperately in
love with you, she was bound to hate you as violently when you tired of
her. I think men are horrors!" she burst out passionately. "When, unable
to bear this terrible affliction any longer, and unwilling to worry my
poor mother, I took that letter and my grief to my father--what do you
suppose he said? After he had tried to convince me that the story was a
base fabrication, and that an anonymous communication should be
destroyed unread--as if any woman living would not read an anonymous
letter!--he said, crossly, that women did not understand men and never
made allowances for them; and he went on to make as many excuses for you
as if he were defending himself; and then wound up by saying that he did
not believe a word of it, and that the letter was written by someone you
had flouted. But it seemed to me in those awful days that I was awake
for the first time, that for the first time I understood you--and your
horrid sex, in general--I do! I do!"
She looked so adorable with her flashing eyes, the hot colour in her
cheek, and the new personality she exhibited, that Hamilton would have
foregone a triumph over his enemies to kiss her. But he dared not make a
false move, and he was terribly perplexed.
"I can only reiterate," he said, "that this letter is a lie from
beginning to end. It is written by a woman, who, with her husband, has
blackmailed me and jeopardized my reputation. I treated them as they
deserved, and this is their next move. As for Mrs. Croix, I repeat, she
is a most estimable person, whose brilliant wit and talent for politics
draw all public men about her. There is hardly one among them who might
not be victimized by a similar attack. I doubt if I have called half as
often as many others. As for the friends whom you heard discussing my
visits--you know the love of the human mind for scandal. Please be
reasonable. You have made me the most wretched man on earth, I shall be
unfit for public duty or anything else if you continue to treat me in
this brutal manner. I hardly know you. No woman was ever more loved by
her husband or received more devotion."
Betsey almost relented, he looked so miserable. But she replied firmly:
"There is one condition I have a right to make. If you agree to it, I
will consider if I can bring myself to believe your denial and your
protestations. It is that you never enter Mrs. Croix's house again, nor
see her willingly."
Hamilton knew what the promise would mean, but his mind worked with the
rapidity of lightning in great crises, and never erred. He replied
"I will see her once, and once only--to give her a decent reason for not
calling again--that I understand I am compromising her good name, or
something of the sort. I have accepted too much hospitality at her hands
to drop her brusquely, without a word of explanation."
"You can write her a letter. You can merely send polite excuses when she
invites you. You are very busy. You have every excuse. Gradually, she
will think no more about you--if it be true that she is nothing to you.
You have your choice, sir! Either your promise, or I return by the next
packet to Albany."
But Hamilton, always considerate of women, and despising the weakness
and brutality which permits a man to slink out of an amour, would not
retreat, and Betsey finally settled herself in her chair, and said, with
"Very well, go now. I shall not move from this room--this chair--until
Hamilton caught his hat and left the house. Although he was possessed by
the one absorbing desire to win back his wife, who had never been so
dear as to-day, when for the first time she had placed him at arm's
length and given him a thorough fright, still his brain, accustomed to
see all sides of every question at once, and far into the future, spoke
plainly of the hour when he would regret the loss of Mrs. Croix. He
might forget her for weeks at a time, but he always reawakened to a
sense of her being with a glowing impression that the world was more
alive and fair. The secret romance had been very dear and pleasant. The
end was come, however, and he was eager to pass it.
His eye was attracted to a chemist's window, and entering the shop
hastily, he purchased a bottle of smelling salts. The act reminded him
of Mrs. Mitchell, and that he had not heard from her for several months.
He resolved to write that night, and permitted his mind to wander to the
green Island which was almost lost among his memories. The respite was
To his relief he found Mrs. Croix in her intellectual habit. The lady,
who was reading in the door of her boudoir above the garden steps,
exclaimed, without formal greeting:--
"I am transported, sir. Such descriptions never were written before.
Hamilton, who hated descriptions of scenery at any time, and was in his
most direct and imperative temper, stood the infliction but a moment,
then asked her attention. She closed the book over her finger and smiled
"Forgive me for boring you," she said graciously. "But you know my
passion for letters; and if truth must be told, I am a little piqued. I
have not laid eyes on you for a fortnight. Not but that I am used to
your lapses of memory by this time," she added, with a sigh.
Hamilton went straight to the point. He told her the exact reason for
the necessary breach, omitting nothing but the episode of Mrs. Reynolds;
one cause of reproach was as much as a man could be expected to furnish
an angry woman.
For Mrs. Croix was very angry. At first she had pressed her hand against
her heart as if about to faint, and Hamilton had hastily extracted the
salts; but the next moment she was on her feet, towering and expanding
like an avenging queen about to order in her slaves with scimitars and
"Do you mean," she cried, "that I am flouted, flung aside like an old
cravat? I? With half the men in America in love with me? Good God, sir!
I have known from the beginning that you would tire, but I thought to be
on the watch and save my pride. How dare you come like this? Why could
you not give me warning? It is an outrage. I would rather you had killed
"I am sorry I have blundered," said Hamilton, humbly. "But how in
Heaven's name can a man know how a woman will take anything? I had such
respect for your great intelligence that I thought it due you to treat
you as I would a man--"
"A man?" exclaimed Mrs. Croix. "Treat me like a man! Of all the
supremely silly things I ever heard one of your sex say, that is the
silliest. I am not a man, and you know it."
Hamilton hastened to assure her that she was deliberately averting her
intelligence from his true meaning. "You have never doubted my sincerity
for a moment," he added. "You surely know what it will cost me never to
see you again. There is but one cause under heaven that could have
brought me to you with this decision. You may believe in my regret--to
use a plain word--when you reflect upon all that you have been to me."
He was desperately afraid that her anger would dissolve in tears, and he
be placed in a position from which he was not sure of emerging with a
clear conscience,--and he dared take home nothing less. But Mrs. Croix,
however she might feel on the morrow, was too outraged in her pride and
vanity to be susceptible either to grief or the passion of love. She
stormed up and down the room in increasing fury, her eyes flashing blue
lightning, her strong hands smashing whatever costly offering they
encountered. "Wives! Wives! Wives!" she screamed. "The little fools!
What are wives for but to keep house and bring up babies? They are a
class apart. I have suffered enough from their impertinent interference.
Am I not a woman apart? Will you assert that there is a 'wife' in
America who can hold her own with me for a moment in anything? Was I not
created to reveal to men--and only the ablest, for I waste no time on
fools--the very sublimation of my sex--a companionship they will find
in no silly little fool, stupid with domesticity? Am I to submit, then,
to be baulked by a sex I despise--and in the greatest passion that ever
possessed a woman?" She stopped and laughed, bringing her lashes
together and moving forward her beautiful lips. "What a fool I am!" she
said. "You will come back when the humour seizes you. I had forgot that
your family returned to-day. You are in your most domestic mood--and I
have been inflicted with that before. But there will come an hour when
neither your wife nor any other mortal power will keep you away from me.
Is it not true?"
Hamilton had turned pale; his ready imagination had responded with a
presentiment of many desperate struggles. He rose, and took her hand
"No," he said. "I shall not return. Believe me, that is the hardest
sentence I have ever pronounced upon myself. And forgive me if I have
been rude and inconsiderate. It was the result of the desire to have the
agony over as quickly as possible. I should have found the anticipation
unbearable, and I do not believe it would have been more soothing to
you. There is no reason why your pride should be wounded, for this is
not the result of satiety on my part, but of an imperative necessity.
Shake hands with me."
She wrenched her hand free and, seizing a vase, flung it into a mirror.
He had been gone just thirty-five minutes, Betsey received him with
stern approval and announced that she had implicit faith in his promise
to avoid Mrs. Croix in the future. But it was quite evident that his
punishment was unfinished, and with due humility and some humour he
bided her pleasure. Between the two women he had a lively month. Mrs.
Croix wrote him a letter a day. At first it was evident that she had
taken herself in hand, that her pen was guided by her marvellous
intelligence. She apologized charmingly for her exhibition of temper,
and for any reflection she might have made upon the most estimable of
women, who (with a sigh) had the happiness to be the wife of Alexander
Hamilton. She ignored his ultimatum and asked him to come at once, and
talk the matter over calmly. Hamilton replied with the graceful
playfulness of which he was master, but left no doubt of his continuity
of purpose. After the interchange of several letters of this complexion,
in which Mrs. Croix was quite conscious of revealing the ample resources
of her wit, spirit, and tact, she broke down and went through every
circumstance of a despairing woman fighting to recover the supreme
happiness of her life. At times she was humble, she prostrated herself
at his feet. Again she raved with all the violence of her nature. Her
pride, and it was very great, was submerged under the terrible agony of
her heart. Even passion was forgotten, and she was sincere for the
moment when she vowed that she had no wish beyond his mere presence.
Hamilton was horribly distressed. He would rather she had turned upon
him at once with all her tigerish capacity for hate. But he had given
his word to his wife, and that was the end of it. He answered every
letter, but his gallantry and kindness were pitch and oil, and it was
with profound relief that he watched the gradual stiffening of her
pride, the dull resentment, even although he knew it meant that an
enemy, subtle, resourceful, and venomous, was in the process of making.
In her final letter she gave him warning--and a last opportunity. But of
this he took no notice.
Meanwhile, Betsey had led him a dance. Naturally bright, but heretofore
too sheltered and happy, too undisturbed in her trust, she had done
little thinking, little analysis, felt nothing but amusement for the
half-comprehended vagaries of men. But jealousy and suffering give a
woman, in a week, a fill of knowledge and cunning that will serve her a
lifetime. Betsey developed both coquetry and subtlety. She knew that if
she obtained command of the situation now, she should hold it to the
end, and she was determined that this crisis should result in a close
and permanent union. If she finally believed his denial, she was much
too shrewd to give him the satisfaction of regaining his former mastery
of her mind; but she ceased to speak of it. Meanwhile, he was devoting
his energies to winning her again, and he had never found life so
interesting. She radiated a new bewitchment, and he had always thought
her the most adorable woman on the planet. He divined a good many of her
mental processes; but if he was a trifle amused, he was deeply
respectful. She was sufficiently uncertain in this new character to
torment him unbearably, and when she occasionally betrayed that she was
interested and fascinated, he was transported. When she finally
succumbed, he was more in love than he had ever been in his life.
The next seven years of Hamilton's life must be reviewed very rapidly.
Interesting as they might be made, space diminishes, and after all they
were but the precursor of the last great battle of the giants.
In the spring of 1794 the Virginian ring rallied for their final assault
in Congress. Their spokesman this time was a worthless man, named
Fraunces, and he brought forth a charge against the Secretary of the
Treasury of unfaithfulness in office. Hamilton promptly demanded another
investigation. The result may be found in the following letters from
eminent Federals in Virginia. The first is from Colonel Carrington,
dated Richmond, July 9th.
I do not write this letter as congratulatory upon the final issue
of the Inquiry into the Treasury Department, as I never conceived
you exposed to receive injury therefrom. I write to express my most
sincere wishes that you will not suffer the illiberality with which
you have been treated to deprive the public of your services, at
least until the storm which hangs over us, and is to be dreaded,
not less from our own follies and vices than the malignance and
intrigues of foreigners, blows over. It is true you have been
abused, but it has been and still is, the fate of him who was
supposed out of the reach of all slander. It is indeed the lot, in
some degree, of every man amongst us who has the sense or fortitude
to speak and act rationally, and such men must continue so to speak
and act if we are saved from anarchy.
On July 20th, Thomas Corbin wrote to Hamilton deploring the political
conditions in Virginia created by Thomas Jefferson, in which these
significant passages occur:--
Calumny and misrepresentation are the only weapons made use of by
the faction of Virginia. By a dexterous management of these they
have brought into popular disrepute, and even into popular odium,
some of the wisest and best characters in the United States.
War is waged by this faction against every candidate who possesses
the union of requisites. Independent fortune, independent
principles, talents, and integrity are denounced as badges of
aristocracy; but if you add to these good manners and a decent
appearance, his political death is decreed without the benefit of a
hearing. In short, with a few exceptions everything that appertains
to the character of a gentleman is ostracized. That yourself and
Mr. Jay should be no favorites in Virginia, is not to be wondered
at. But all those whose good opinion is worth your acceptance
entertain for you both the same veneration and esteem, and hear the
aspersions of your enemies with the same indignation that I do;
who, after the closest examination, and the purest conviction can
conscientiously subscribe myself etc.
In the autumn the whiskey disturbances in western Pennsylvania assumed
such serious proportions that Hamilton insisted upon recourse to arms.
With his usual precision he had calculated the numbers of the
insurgents, and the amount of troops necessary to overwhelm them.
Washington issued requisitions for fifteen thousand men, and set out
with the troops, his first intention being to command in person.
Hamilton accompanied him, and upon the President's return to
Philadelphia, assumed the general superintendence of the army, whose
commander, Henry Lee, was one of his devoted adherents. Many motives
have been ascribed to Hamilton for this exceptional proceeding, and
Washington was bitterly assailed for "not being able to move without his
favourite Secretary at his elbow," and for giving additional
conspicuousness to a man whose power already was a "menace to Republican
liberties." Randolph, then the nominal Secretary of State, but quite
aware that while Hamilton remained in the Cabinet he was but a
figurehead, was so wroth, that later, in his futile "Vindication,"
following what practically was his expulsion from the Cabinet, he
animadverted bitterly upon a favour which no one but Hamilton would
have presumed to ask. Fauchet, the successor of Genet, in the
intercepted letter to his government, which brought about the fall of
Randolph, convicting him of corruption and treachery, has this to say:--
The army marched; the President made known that he was going to
command it; Hamilton, as I have understood, requested to follow
him; the President dared not refuse him. It does not require much,
penetration to divine the object of this journey. In the President
it was wise, it might also be his duty. But in Mr. Hamilton it was
a consequence of the profound policy which directs all his steps; a
measure dictated by a perfect knowledge of the human heart. Was it
not interesting for him, for his party, tottering under the weight
of events without and accusations within, to proclaim an intimacy
more perfect than ever with the President, whose very name is a
sufficient shield against the most formidable attacks? Now, what
more evident mark could the President give of his intimacy than by
suffering Mr. Hamilton, whose name, even, is understood in the west
as that of a public enemy, to go and place himself at the head of
the army which went, if I may use the expression, to cause his
system to triumph against the opposition of the people? The
presence of Mr. Hamilton with the army must attach it more than
ever to his party.
There were depths in Hamilton's mind which no wise mortal will ever
attempt to plumb. It is safe to say he did nothing without one eye on a
far-reaching policy; and aside from the pleasure of being in the saddle
once more, riding over the wild Alleghanies in keen October weather,
after four years of the stenches and climatic miseries of Philadelphia,
aside from his fear of Governor Miffin's treachery, and his lack of
implicit confidence in Lee's judgement, it is quite likely that he had
some underlying motive relative to the advantage of his party, which had
been weakened by the incessant assaults upon himself. By going with the
army he not only demonstrated the perfect confidence reposed in him by
Washington, and his determination that his laws should be enforced, but
he gave emphasis to his belief that the resistance to the Excise Law had
been deliberately instigated by the Republicans under the leadership of
his avowed enemies. In this connection the following extract from
Fauchet's letter is highly interesting, intimate as he was with the
Such therefore were the parts of the public grievance, upon which
the western people most insisted. Now, these complaints were
systematizing by the conversations of influential men, who retired
into those wild countries, and who from principle, or from a series
of particular heart-burnings, animated discontents already too near
to effervescence. At last the local explosion is effected. The
western people calculated on being supported by some distinguished
characters in the east, and even imagined they had in the bosom of
the government some abettors, who might share in their grievance or
The rioters, sobered by the organized force and its formidable numbers,
surrendered without bloodshed.
In January of the following year Hamilton resigned from the Cabinet. The
pressing need of his services was over, and he had many reasons for
retiring from office: his health was seriously impaired, he had a
growing family of boys to educate; he expected his father by every ship
from the Windward Islands, to spend his last years in the home to which
his son had so often invited him; Mrs. Mitchell was now a widow and
almost penniless; and his disgust of office was so uncompromising that
no consideration short of an imperative public duty would have induced
him to continue. But his principal reason, as he wrote to Mrs. Church,
was that he wished to indulge his domestic happiness more freely.
Washington let him go with the less reluctance because he promised
immediate response to any demand the President might make upon him. He
went with his wife, Angelica, and the younger children to Albany and the
Saratoga estate, where he remained until the first of June, endeavouring
to regain his health in the forest and on the river. Young Lafayette
lived with him until his return to France, in 1798.
Upon Hamilton's return to New York he immediately engaged in practice,
which he supplemented by coaching students; but he continued to be
Washington's chief adviser, and the correspondence was continuous upon
every problem which confronted the harassed President. Indeed, when one
reads its bulk, one wonders if the Cabinet did anything but execute
Hamilton's suggestions. Randolph kicked his heels in impotent wrath, and
his successor's correspondence with Hamilton was almost as voluminous
as Washington's. So was Wolcott's, who hardly cancelled a bond without
his former chief's advice; William Smith, the auditor-general, was
scarcely less insistent for orders. Hamilton wrote at length to all of
them, as well as to the numerous members of Congress who wanted advice,
or an interpretation of some Constitutional provision hitherto on the
shelf. What time he had for his practice and students would remain a
mystery, were it not for the manifest price he paid in the vigours of
all but will and brain.
During the summer of 1794 Talleyrand visited the United States. He
brought a package from Mrs. Church to Mrs. Hamilton, and a cordial
letter from the same important source to the statesman whom he ranked
higher than any man of his time. "He improves upon acquaintance," wrote
Mrs. Church to her sister; "I regret that you do not speak French." But
her sister's husband spoke French better than any man in America, and
after the resignation from the Cabinet, Talleyrand spent most of his
time in the little red brick house at 26 Broadway, where Hamilton was
working to recover his lost position at the bar. "I have seen the eighth
wonder of the world," wrote the Frenchman, one morning, after a ramble
in the small hours, which had taken him past the light in Hamilton's
study, "I have seen the man who has made the fortune of a nation,
toiling all night to supply his family with bread." The men found great
delight in each other's society. Hamilton was the most accomplished and
versatile man in America, the most brilliant of conversationists, the
most genial of companions, and hospitable of hosts. Talleyrand
epitomized Europe to him; and the French statesman had met no one in his
crowded life who knew it better. If he gave to Hamilton the concentrated
essence of all that ardent brain had read and dreamed of, of all that
fate had decreed he never should see in the mass, Talleyrand placed on
record his tribute to Hamilton's unmortal powers of divination, and
loved and regretted him to the close of his life.
Different as the men were in character, they had two points in
common,--a passionate patriotism, and the memory of high ideals. Public
life had disposed of Talleyrand's ideals, and Hamilton, after an
education in the weakness and wickedness of human nature which left
nothing to be desired, would have been equally destitute, had it not
been for his temperamental gaiety and buoyant philosophy. There were
times when these deserted him, and he brooded in rayless depths, but his
Celtic inheritance and the vastness of his intellect saved him from
despair until the end. Talleyrand was by no means an uncheerful soul;
but his genius, remarkable as it was, flowed between narrower lines, and
was unwatered by that humanity which was Hamilton's in such volume. Both
men had that faculty of seeing things exactly as they are, which the
shallow call cynicism; and those lost conversations appeal to the
imagination of the searcher after truth.
Jay's treaty was the most formidable question with which Hamilton was
called upon to deal before the retirement of Washington to private life,
and it gave him little less trouble than if he had remained in the
It had been his idea to send a special envoy to England to remonstrate
with the British Government for her abominable oppressions and
accumulating outrages, decide if possible upon a treaty with her which
would soothe the excitement in the United States,--as wild in the spring
of 1794 as the Jacobin fever,--and avert war. It was the desire of
Washington and the eminent Federalists that this mission be undertaken
by Hamilton, for he had an especial faculty for getting what he wanted:
however obstinate he might be, his diplomacy was of the first order when
he chose to use it. But he believed that, having suggested the mission,
he could not with propriety accept it, and that his services could be
given more effectively in the Cabinet. Moreover, the violent opposition
which the proposal immediately raised among the Republicans, notably
Randolph and Monroe,--the latter so far transcending etiquette as to
write to Washington, denouncing his Secretary of the Treasury,--made it
probable that his enemies would defeat his confirmation in the Senate.
He suggested the name of Chief Justice Jay; and after the usual bitter
preliminaries, that exalted but not very forcible personage sailed for
England in the latter part of April, 1794. Negotiations were very slow,
for Britain still felt for us a deep and sullen resentment, nourished by
our Jacobin enthusiasms. In January, however, news came that the treaty
was concluded; and Hamilton, supposing that the matter was settled,
resigned from the Cabinet. It has been asserted that when he read this
famous instrument, he characterized it as "an old woman's treaty," and
it is very probable that he did. Nevertheless, when, after a stormy
passage through the Senate, it was launched upon the country, and,
systematically manipulated by the practised arts of Jacobinism, carried
the United States almost to the verge of civil war, Hamilton accepted
the treaty as the best obtainable, and infinitely preferable to further
troubles. He took up his pen, having previously been stoned while
attempting to speak in its defence, and in a series of papers signed
"Catullus," wrote as even he had not done since the days of "The
Federalist." Their effect was felt at once; and as they continued to
issue, and Hamilton's sway over the public mind, his genius for moulding
opinion, became with each more manifest, Jefferson, terrified and
furious, wrote to Madison:--
Hamilton is really a Colossus to the anti-Republican party. Without
numbers he is a host in himself. They have got themselves into a
defile where they might be finished; but too much security on the
Republican part will give time to his talents and indefatigableness
to extricate them. We have had only middling performances to oppose
him. In truth when he comes forward there is no one but yourself
can meet him.... For God's sake take up your pen and give a
fundamental reply to "Curtius" and "Camillus."
But Madison had had enough of pen encounter with Hamilton. "He who puts
himself on paper with Hamilton is lost," Burr had said; and Madison
agreed with him, and entered the lists no more. The excitement gradually
subsided. It left ugly scars behind it, but once more Hamilton had saved
his party, and perhaps the Union. In connection with the much disputed
authorship of the Farewell Address I will merely quote a statement,
heretofore unpublished, made by Mrs. Hamilton, in the year 1840.
Desiring that my children shall be fully acquainted with the
services rendered by their father to our country, and the
assistance rendered by him to General Washington during his
administrations, for the one great object, the independence and
stability of the government of the United States, there is one
thing in addition to the numerous proofs which I leave them, and
which I feel myself in duty bound to state: which is that a short
time previous to General Washington's retiring from the Presidency,
in the year 1796, General Hamilton suggested to him the idea of
delivering a farewell address to the people on his withdrawal from
public life, with which idea General Washington was well pleased,
and in his answer to General Hamilton's suggestion, gave him the
heads of the subject on which he would wish to remark, with a
request that Mr. Hamilton would prepare a draft for him. Mr.
Hamilton did so, and the address was written principally at such
times as his office was seldom frequented by his clients and
visitors, and during the absence of his students to avoid
interruption; at which times he was in the habit of calling me to
sit with him, that he might read to me as he wrote, in order, as he
said, to discover how it sounded upon the ear, and making the
remark, "My dear Eliza, you must be to me what old Moliere's nurse
was to him."
The whole or nearly all the "address" was read to me by him, as he
wrote it, and the greater part if not all was written in my
presence. The original was forwarded to General Washington, who
approved of it with the exception of one paragraph; of, I think,
from four to five lines, which, if I mistake not, was on the
subject of the public schools; which was stricken out. It was
afterward returned to Mr. Hamilton who made the desired alteration,
and was afterward delivered to General Washington, and published in
that form, and has since been known as "General Washington's
Farewell Address." Shortly after the publication of the address, my
husband and myself were walking in Broadway when an old soldier
accosted him with the request of him to purchase General
Washington's farewell address, which he did, and turning to me
said, "That man does not know he has asked me to purchase my own
The whole circumstances are at this moment so perfectly in my mind
that I can call to mind his bringing General Washington's letter to
me, who returned the address, and remarked on the only alteration
which he (General Washington) had requested to be made.
New York, Aug. 7th, 1840.
ELIZABETH HAMILTON. JAMES A. WASHINGTON. JA.R. MACDONALD.
In 1797 Hamilton was forced by treachery and the malignancy of
Jacobinism into the most painful and mortifying act of his public
career. He had been hailed by certain enthusiastic Federalists as the
legitimate successor of Washington. It was a noble ambition, and there
is no doubt that Hamilton would have cherished it, had he been less of a
philosopher, less in the habit of regarding a desire for the impossible
as a waste of time. Not only were older men in the direct line of
promotion, but he knew that as the author of the Excise Law he was hated
by one section of the Commonwealth, and that as the parent of the
manufacturing interest, to say nothing of the Assumption measure, he had
incurred the antagonism of the entire South. Lest these causes for
disqualification be obscured by the brilliancy of his reputation,
Jefferson's unresting and ramifying art had indelibly impressed the
public mind with the monarchical-aristocratical tendencies and designs
of the former Secretary of the Treasury, and of his hatred for a beloved
cause overseas. Hamilton had given an absolute negative to every
suggestion to use his name; but one at least had found its way into
print, and so terrified the enemy that they determined upon one more
powerful blow at his good name. Monroe had a fresh cause for hatred in
his humiliating recall from France, which he ascribed to the influence
of Hamilton. No doubt the trio were well satisfied for a time with their
carefully considered scheme. The pamphlet published in 1797, called "The
History of the United States for 1796," and edited by a disreputable man
named Callender, was the concentrated essence of Jacobinical fury and
vindictiveness against Alexander Hamilton. It surpassed any attack yet
made on him, while cleverly pretending to be an arraignment of the
entire Federalist party; shrieking so loudly at times against
Washington, Adams, and Jay, that the casual reader would overlook the
sole purport of the pamphlet. "It is ungenerous to triumph over the
ruins of declining fame," magnanimously finished its attack upon
Washington. "Upon this account not a word more shall be said!"
It omitted a recital of the two Congressional attacks upon Hamilton's
financial integrity, as to refrain from all mention of the vindications
would have been impossible; but it raked up everything else for which
it had space, sought to prove him a liar by his defence of the Jay
treaty in the Camillus papers, and made him insult Washington in
language so un-Hamiltonian that to-day it excites pity for the
desperation of the Virginians. When it finally arrived at the pith and
marrow of the assault, however, it was with quite an innocent air. This
was a carefully concocted version of the Reynolds affair. Callender had
obtained possession of the papers which Monroe, Muhlenberg, and Venable
had prepared to submit to the President, before hearing Hamilton's
explanation. He asserted that this explanation was a lie, and that the
Secretary of the Treasury had not only speculated with the public funds,
but that he had made thirty thousand pounds by the purchase of army
certificates. It was also alleged that Hamilton ordered his name
withdrawn as a Presidential candidate, in consequence of a threat that
otherwise these same papers would be published.
It is a curious instance of the fatuity of contemporaries, that
Hamilton's enemies reckoned upon a sullen silence, in the face of
damning assault, from the greatest fighter of his time. Indubitably,
they argued that he would think it best to pass the matter over; no man
could be expected to give to the public the full explanation. But they
reckoned with an insufficient knowledge of this host, as they had done
many a time before. Hamilton had no desire to hold office again, but he
was still the great leader of a great party, as determined as ever that
at no cost should there be a stain on his public honour. He consulted
with his closest friends, among them his wife. As the sin was now five
years old--and the woman a derelict--Mrs. Hamilton found it easier to
forgive than an unconfessed liaison with the most remarkable woman of
her time. Although she anticipated the mortification of the exposure
quite as keenly as her husband, she cherished his good name no less
tenderly, and without hesitation counselled him to give the facts to the
public. This he did in a pamphlet which expounded the workings of the
"Jacobin Scandal Club," told the unpleasant story without reserve, and
went relentlessly into the details of the part played in it by Monroe,
Muhlenberg, and Venable. He forced affidavits from those bewildered
gentlemen, the entire correspondence was published, and the pamphlet
itself was a masterpiece of biting sarcasm and convincing statement. It
made a tremendous sensation, but even his enemies admired his courage.
The question of his financial probity was settled for all time, although
the missile, failing in one direction, quivered in the horrified brains
of many puritanical voters. Mrs. Reynolds, now living with Clingman,
made no denial, and it is doubtful if even she would have echoed the one
animadversion of the discomfited enemy,--that Hamilton had given the
name of a mistress to the public. It is a weak and dangerous
sentimentalism which would protect a woman of commerce against the good
name of any man. The financial settlement makes her a party in a
contract, nothing more, and acquits the payer of all further
responsibility. She has no good name to protect; she has asked for
nothing but money; she is a public character, whom to shield would be a
thankless task. When this Reynolds woman added the abomination of
blackmail to her trade, and further attempted the ruin of the man who
had shown her nothing but generosity and consideration, it need hardly
be added that Hamilton would have been a sentimental fool to have
hesitated on any ground but detestation of a public scandal.
He never traced the betrayal of a secret which all concerned had
promised to keep inviolate, but he had his suspicions. Mrs. Croix, now
living in a large house on the Bowling Green, was the animated and
resourceful centre of Jacobinism. She wore a red cap to the theatre and
a tri-coloured cockade on the street. Her _salon_ was the headquarters
of the Republican leaders, and many a plot was hatched in her inspiring
presence. The Virginian Junta were far too clever to put themselves in
the power of a drunkard like Callender, but they were constantly in
collusion with Mrs. Croix. They knew that she feared nothing under
heaven, and that she had devoted herself to Hamilton's ruin. Callender
drew upon her for virus whenever his own supply ran down, and would
have hailed the Reynolds concoction, even had it gone to him naked and
begging. Hamilton saw the shadow of a fair hand throughout the entire
pamphlet, and, indeed, could have traced many an envenomed shaft, since
1793, to a source which once had threatened to cloy him with its
Meanwhile John Adams had been elected President of the United States,
and Thomas Jefferson, Vice-President. Hamilton had made no secret of the
fact that he should prefer to see Thomas Pinckney succeed Washington,
for he contemplated the possibility of Adams in the Executive Chair,
with distrust and uneasiness. In spite of that eminent statesman's
intrepidity, integrity, and loyal Federalism, he was, in Hamilton's
opinion, too suspicious, jealous of influence, and hot headed, to be a
safe leader in approaching storms. With Pinckney as a brilliant and
popular figurehead, Hamilton well knew that his own hand would remain on
the helm. With the irascible old gentleman from Massachusetts in the
Chair, his continued predominance was by no means certain. Washington
once said of Hamilton that he undoubtedly was ambitious, but that his
ambition was of that laudable kind which prompts a man to excel in
whatever he takes in hand; adding that his judgement was intuitively
great. The truth was that Hamilton regarded the United States as his
child. He had made her wealthy and respected, he foresaw a future
importance for her equal to that of any state in Europe. "I anticipate,"
he wrote to Rufus King, "that this country will, ere long, assume an
attitude correspondent with its great destinies--majestic, efficient,
and operative of great things. A noble career lies before it." The first
of the "Imperialists," he had striven for years to awaken the Government
to the importance of obtaining possession of Louisiana and the Floridas,
and he also had his eye on South America. Naturally, he wanted no
interruption; the moment the security of the country was threatened, he
was as alert and anxious as if his nursery were menaced with an Indian
invasion. Without conceit or vanity no man ever was more conscious of
his great powers; moreover, no American had made such sacrifices as he.
Washington and almost all the leading men possessed independent
fortunes. Hamilton had manifested his ability from the first to equal
the income of the wealthiest, did he give his unbroken services to the
pursuit of his profession. But he had lived for years upon a pittance,
frequently driven to borrow small sums from his friends, that he might
devote his energies entirely to his country. And no man ever gave more
generously or with less thought of reward; although he would have been
the last to deny his enjoyment of power. For a born leader of men to
care little whether he had a few trusted friends or an army at his back,
would merely indicate a weak spot in his brain.
It was quite natural, therefore, that he thought upon John Adams's
idiosyncrasies with considerable disquiet. Nevertheless, with the high
priest of Jacobinism in the field, his first object was to secure the
office for the Federalist party. The race was too close for serious
consideration of any other ultimate. He counselled every Federalist to
cast his vote for Adams and Pinckney; better a tie, with the victory to
Adams, than Thomas Jefferson at the head of the Nation. Of course there
was a hope that Pinckney might carry the South. But the Adams
enthusiasts dreaded this very issue, and threw away their votes for the
Vice-Presidency. Pinckney's followers in the South pursued the same
policy. The consequence was that Adams won by three votes only. Again
his pride was bruised, and again he attributed his mortification to
Hamilton. If he had disliked him before, his dislike in a constant state
of irritation through the ascendency and fame of the younger man, he
hated him now with a bitterness which formed a dangerous link between
himself and the Republican leaders. The time came when he was ready to
humiliate his country and ruin his own chance of reelection, to dethrone
his rival from another proud eminence and check his upward course.
Another source of bitterness was Hamilton's continued leadership of the
Federalist party, when himself, as President, was entitled to that
distinction. But that party was Hamilton's; he had created, developed
it, been its Captain through all its triumphant course. Even had he
been content to resign his commission,--which he did not contemplate for
a moment,--the great majority of the Federalists would have forced it
into his hand again. Adams declared war. Hamilton, always ready for a
fight, when no immediate act of statesmanship was involved, took up the
gauntlet. Adams might resist his influence, but the Cabinet was his, and
so were some of the most influential members of Congress, including
Theodore Sedgwick of Massachusetts, the president pro tem. of the
Senate. It was some time before Adams realized the full extent of this
influence; but when he did discover that his Secretary of State, Timothy
Pickering, his Secretary of the Treasury, Oliver Wolcott, and his
Secretary of War, James M'Henry, were in the habit of consulting
Hamilton upon every possible question before giving the President their
valuable opinions, and that upon one occasion, at least, a letter of
Hamilton's had been incorporated by the Secretary of War into a
Presidential Message, he was like to die of apoplexy. He wrote, in his
Hamilton is commander-in-chief of the Senate, of the House of
Representatives, of the heads of departments, of General
Washington, and last, and least, if you will, of the President of
the United States!
But the President's advisers were free to seek advice without the
Cabinet if they chose, and Washington had encouraged them to go to
Hamilton. Hamilton was at liberty to give it, and Adams could find no
evidence that he had counselled rebellion against himself; nor that he
had used his great influence for any purpose but the honour of the
And never had the country needed his services more. When Adams, grim and
obstinate, stepped forward as head of the Nation, he found himself
confronted with the menace of France. In retaliation for Genet's
disgrace, the Revolutionists had demanded the recall of Gouverneur
Morris, whose barely disguised contempt, and protection of more than one
royalist, had brought him perilously near to the guillotine. Burr had
desired the vacant mission, and his pretensions were urged by Monroe and
Madison. Washington recognized this as a device of the Opposition to
embarrass him, and he had the lowest opinion of Burr's rectitude and
integrity. Pressure and wrath produced no effect, but he offered to
appoint Monroe. It might be wise to send a Jacobin, and the President
hoped that ambition would preserve this one from compromising the
country. He made the mistake of not weighing Monroe's mental capacity
more studiously. The least said of the wild gallop into diplomacy of our
fifth President the better. He was recalled, and Charles Cotesworth
Pinckney sent in his place. The French, who had found Monroe entirely to
their taste, refused to receive the distinguished lawyer and soldier. To
escape indignity he was forced to retire to Holland. The new Republic
violated her treaties with increasing insolence, and Bonaparte was
thundering on his triumphant course. France was mocking the world, and
in no humour to listen to the indignant protests of a young and distant
nation. To dismember her by fanning the spirit of Jacobinism, and, at
the ripe moment,--when internal warfare had sufficiently weakened
her,--reduce her to a French colony, was a plot of which Hamilton, Rufus
King, then minister to England, and other astute statesmen more than
suspected her. But although Hamilton abhorred France and was outraged at
her attitude, the spirit of moderation which had regulated all his acts
in public life suffered no fluctuation, and he immediately counselled
the sending of a commission to make a final attempt before recourse to
arms. War, if inevitable, but peace with honour if possible; it was not
fair to disturb the prosperity of the young country except as a last
resort. For once he and Adams were agreed. Hamilton suggested Jefferson
or Madison as a sop to the Revolutionists, with two Federalists to keep