Part 5 out of 10
birched him when his own confidence had disturbed the peace; he was
intensely proud of his military career, and aware of his fitness for the
bar. But in the blaze of Hamilton's genius he seemed to shrivel; and as
for having attempted to prepare himself for practice in four months, he
might as well have grafted wings to his back and expected them to grow.
It was some consolation to reflect that, as aide and confidential
secretary for four years to Washington, Hamilton had been a student of
the law of nations, and that thus his mind was peculiarly fitted to
grasp what confronts most men as a solid wall to be taken down stone by
stone; also that himself acknowledged no rival where the affections of
women were concerned. But while he lifted the drooping head of his
pride, and tied it firmly to a stake with many strong words, he chose to
regard Hamilton as a rival, and the idea grew until it possessed him.
In July Robert Morris, after some correspondence, persuaded Hamilton to
accept the office of Continental Receiver for a short time.
Your former situation in the army [he wrote], the present situation
of that very army, your connexions in the state, your perfect
knowledge of men and measures, and the abilities with which heaven
has blessed you, will give you a fine opportunity to forward the
Hamilton, who had no desire to interrupt his studies, was placed in a
position which gave him no choice; his sense of public duty grew
For my part [he wrote to Morris], considering the late serious
misfortune to our ally, the spirit of reformation, of wisdom, and
of unanimity, which seems to have succeeded to that of blunder and
dissension in the British government, and the universal reluctance
of these states to do what is right, I cannot help viewing our
situation as critical, and I feel it the duty of every citizen to
exert his faculties to the utmost.
But in spite of the onerous and disagreeable duties of his position, he
continued to pursue the course of study necessary for admission to the
bar as a counsellor. He also found time to write a letter to Meade. The
following extract will show that the severity of his great task was
over, and that he was once more alive to that domestic happiness to
which so large a part of his nature responded.
You reproach me with not having said enough about our little
stranger. When I wrote last I was not sufficiently acquainted with
him to give you his character. I may now assure you that your
daughter, when she sees him, will not consult you about her choice,
or will only do it in respect to the rules of decorum. He is truly
a very fine young gentleman, the most agreeable in conversation and
manners of any I ever knew, nor less remarkable for his
intelligence and sweetness of temper. You are not to imagine by my
beginning with his mental qualifications that he is defective in
personal. It is agreed on all hands that he is handsome; his
features are good, his eye is not only sprightly and expressive,
but it is full of benignity. His attitude in sitting is, by
connoisseurs, esteemed graceful, and he has a method of waving his
hand that announces the future orator. He stands, however, rather
awkwardly, and as his legs have not all the delicate slimness of
his father's, it is feared he may never excel as much in dancing,
which is probably the only accomplishment in which he will not be a
model. If he has any fault in manners, he laughs too much. He has
now passed his seventh month.
Happy by temperament, Hamilton was at this time happier in his
conditions--barring the Receivership--than any vague, wistful, crowded
dream had ever presaged. His wife was adorable and pretty, sprightly and
sympathetic, yet accomplished in every art of the Dutch housewife; and
although he was far too modest to boast, he was privately convinced that
his baby was the finest in the Confederacy. He had a charming little
home, and Troup, the genial, hearty, and solid, was a member of it. In
General and Mrs. Schuyler he had found genuine parents, who strove to
make him forget that he had ever been without a home. He had been forced
to refuse offers of assistance from his father-in-law again and again.
He would do nothing to violate his strong sense of personal
independence; he had half of the arrears of his pay, Troup his share of
the expenses of the little house. He knew that in a short time he should
be making an income. The cleverest of men, however, can be hoodwinked by
the subtle sex. The great Saratoga estate of the Schuylers furnished the
larder of the Hamiltons with many things which the young householder was
far too busy to compare with his slender purse.
He heard constantly from his friends in the army, and finally was
persuaded to sit for a portrait, to be the common property of six or
eight of them. Money was desperately tight, they could not afford a copy
apiece, but each was to possess it for two months at a time so long as
he lived; he who survived the others to dispose of it as he chose. For
Hamilton to sit still and look in one direction for half an hour was
nothing short of misery, even with Betsey, Troup, and the Baby to amuse
him; and only the head, face, stock, and front of the coat were
finished. But the artist managed to do himself justice with the massive
spirited head, the deep-set mischievous eyes, whose lightnings never
were far from the surface; the humour in the remarkable curves of the
mouth, the determination and suppressed energy of the whole face. It was
a living portrayal, and Betsey parted from it with tears. When she saw
it again her eyes were dim with many tears. The last of its owners to
survive fell far into poverty, and sold it to one of her sons. It is
to-day as fresh, as alive with impatient youth and genius, as when
Hamilton estimated portrait painters thieves of time.
Meanwhile a compliment was paid to him which upset his plans, and placed
him for a short time in the awkward position of hesitating between
private desires and public duty: he was elected by the New York
legislature, and almost unanimously, a delegate to Congress. Troup
brought him the news as he was walking on the broad street along the
river front, muttering his Blackstone, oblivious of his fellow-citizens.
"Go to Congress!" he exclaimed. "Who goes to that ramshackle body that
is able to keep out of it? Could not they find someone else to send to
distinguish himself by failure? I've my living to make. If a man in
these days manages to support his wife and child, there is nothing else
he can do which so entitles him to the esteem of his fellow-citizens."
"True," said Troup, soothingly; "there certainly is nothing in that body
of old women and lunatics, perpetually bickering with thirteen
sovereign, disobedient, and jealous States, to tempt the ambition of any
man; nor, ordinarily, to appeal to his sense of usefulness. But just at
present there are several questions before it with which it is thought
you can cope more successfully than any man living. So I think you ought
to go, and so does General Schuyler. I know all that you will sacrifice,
domestic as well as pecuniarily--but remember, you solemnly dedicated
yourself to the service of this country."
"I'm not likely to forget it, and I am willing to sacrifice anything if
I am convinced of my usefulness in a given direction, but I see no
chance of accomplishing aught in Congress, of doing this country any
service until it is a nation, not a sack of scratching cats."
Not only was great pressure brought to bear upon him, but he was not
long convincing himself that it was his duty to take his knowledge of
certain subjects vexing the Confederation, to the decrepit body which
was feebly striving to save the country from anarchy. He had given
little attention to the general affairs of the country during the past
six months, but an examination of them fired his zeal. He accepted the
appointment, and returned to his law books and his dispiriting struggle
with the taxes.
In the autumn Hamilton received the second of those heavy blows by which
he was reminded that in spite of his magnetism for success he was to
suffer like other mortals. Laurens was dead--killed in a petty skirmish
which he was so loath to miss that he had bolted to it from a sick-bed.
Hamilton mourned him passionately, and never ceased to regret him. He
was mercurial only among his lighter feelings. The few people he really
loved were a part of his daily thoughts, and could set his heartstrings
vibrating at any moment. Betsey consoled, diverted, and bewitched him,
but there were times when he would have exchanged her for Laurens. The
perfect friendship of two men is the deepest and highest sentiment of
which the finite mind is capable; women miss the best in life.
In October Hamilton resigned the Receivership, having brought an
honourable amount of order out of chaos and laid down the law for the
guidance of future officials. November came, and he set off for
Philadelphia philosophically, though by no means with a light heart. The
baby was too young to travel; he was obliged to send his little family
to General Schuyler's, with no hope of seeing them again for months, and
a receding prospect of offering them a home in New York. His
father-in-law, not unmindful that consolation was needed, drove him
two-thirds of the distance, thus saving him a long ride, or its
alternative, the heavy coach. In Philadelphia he found sufficient work
awaiting him to drive all personal matters out of his head.
It was during this year of hard work and little result that he renewed
an acquaintance with James Madison, Jr., afterward fourth President of
the United States, and Gouverneur Morris, one of the most brilliant and
disinterested young men in the country, now associated with Robert
Morris in the Department of Finance. With the last the acquaintance
ripened into a lifelong and intimate friendship; with Madison the
friendship was equally ardent and intimate while it lasted. Madison had
the brain of a statesman, energy and persistence in crises, immense
industry, facility of speech, a broad contempt for the pretensions and
mean bickerings of the States, and a fairly national outlook. As
Hamilton would have said, he "thought continentally." But he lacked
individuality. He was too patriotic, too sincere to act against his
principles, but his principles could be changed by a more powerful and
magnetic brain than his own, and the inherent weakness in him demanded a
stronger nature to cling to. It happened that he and Hamilton, when they
met again in Congress, thought alike on many subjects, and they worked
together in harmony from the first; nevertheless, he was soon in the
position of a double to that towering and energetic personality, and
worshipped it. In their letters the two young men sign themselves,
"yours affectionately," "yours with deep attachment," which between
men--I suppose--means something. So noticeable was Madison's devotion to
the most distinguished young man of the day, and a few years later so
absorbed was he into the huge personality of his early friend's
bitterest enemy, that John Randolph once exclaimed in wrath, "Madison
always was some great man's mistress--first Hamilton's, then
Jefferson's:" a remark which was safe in the days of our ancestors, when
life was all work and no satiety.
Gouverneur Morris had sacrificed home, inheritance, and ties in the
cause of the Revolution, most of his family remaining true to the crown.
His education was thorough, however, and subsequently he had nine years
of Europe, of which he left to posterity an entertaining record. Tall,
handsome, a wit, a beau, notable for energy in Congress, erratic,
caustic, cynical, but the warmest of friends, he was a pet of society, a
darling of women, and trusted by all men. He and Hamilton had much in
common, and to some degree he took Laurens's place; not entirely, for
Laurens's idealism gave him a pedestal in Hamilton's memory which no
other man but Washington ever approached; and Morris was brutal in his
cynicism, placing mankind but a degree higher than the beasts of the
forest. But heart and brain endeared him to Hamilton, and no man had a
loftier or more burning patriotism. As for himself, he loved and admired
Hamilton above all men. He was as strong in his nationalism, believing
Union under a powerful central government to be the only hope of the
States. Both he and Madison were leaders; but both, even then, were
willing to be led by Hamilton, who was several years their junior.
The three young enthusiasts made a striking trio of contrasts as they
sat one evening over their port and walnuts in a private room of a
coffee-house, where they had met to discuss the problems convulsing the
unfortunate country. Madison had the look of a student, a taciturn
intellectual visage. He spoke slowly, weightily, and with great
precision. Morris had, even then, an expression of cynicism and contempt
on his handsome bold face, and he swore magnificently whenever his new
wooden leg interfered with his comfort or dignity. Hamilton, with his
fair mobile face, powerful, penetrating, delicate, illuminated by eyes
full of fire and vivacity, but owing its chief attraction to a mouth as
sweet as it was firm and humorous, made the other men look almost heavy.
Madison was carelessly attired, the other two with all the picturesque
elegance of their time.
"A debt of $42,000,000," groaned Morris, "interest $2,400,000; Robert
Morris threatening to resign; delirious prospect of panic in
consequence; national spirit with which we began the war, a stinking
wick under the tin extinguisher of States' selfishness, stinginess, and
indifference--caused by the natural reversion of human nature to first
principles after the collapse of that enthusiasm which inflates mankind
into a bombastic pride of itself; Virginia pusillanimous, Rhode Island
an old beldam standing on the village pump and shrieking disapproval of
everything; Jay, Adams, and Franklin, after years of humiliating
mendicancy, their very hearts wrinkled in the service of the stupidest
country known to God or man, shoved by a Congress not fit to black their
boots under the thumb of the wiliest and most disingenuous diplomatist
in Europe--much France cares for our interests, provided we cut loose
from Britain; Newburg address and exciting prospect, in these monotonous
times, of civil war, while peace commission is sitting in London; just
demands of men who have fought, starving and naked, for a bare
subsistence after the army disbands, modest request for arrears of
pay,--on which to relieve the necessities of their families turned out
to grass for seven years,--pleasantly indorsed by the Congress, which
feels safe in indorsing anything, and rejected by the States, called
upon to foot the bill, as a painful instance of the greed and depravity
of human nature--there you are: no money, no credit, no government, no
friends,--for Europe is sick of us,--no patriotism; immediate prospects,
bankruptcy, civil war, thirteen separate meals for Europe. What do you
propose, Hamilton? I look to you as your Islanders flee to a stone house
in a hurricane. You are an alien, with no damned state roots to pull up,
your courage is unhuman, or un-American, and you are the one man of
genius in the country. Madison is heroic to a fault, a roaring
Berserker, but we must temper him, we must temper him; and meanwhile we
will both defer to the peculiar quality of your mettle."
Madison, who had not a grain of humour, replied gravely, his rich
southern brogue seeming to roll his words down from a height: "I have a
modest hope in the address I prepared for the citizens of Rhode Island,
more in Hamilton's really magnificent letter to the Governor. Nothing
can be more forcible--nay, beguiling--than his argument in that letter
in favour of a general government independent of state machinery, and
his elaborate appeal to that irritating little commonwealth to consent
to the levying of the impost by Congress, necessary to the raising of
the moneys. I fear I am not a hero, for I confess I tremble. I fear the
worst. But at all events I am determined to place on record that I left
no stone unturned to save this miserable country."
"You will go down to posterity as a great man, Madison, if you are never
given the chance to be one," replied the father of American humour and
coinage; "for it is not in words but in acts that we display the faith
that is not in us. Well, Hamilton?"
"I must confess," said Hamilton, "that Congress appears to me, as a
newcomer, rooted contentedly to its chairs, and determined to do
nothing, happy in the belief that Providence has the matter in hand and
but bides the right moment to make the whole world over. But I see no
cause to despair, else I should not have come to waste my time. I fear
that Rhode Island is too fossilized to listen to us, but I shall urge
that we change the principle of the Confederation and vote to make the
States contribute to the general treasury in an equal proportion to
their means, by a system of general taxation imposed under continental
authority. If the poorer States, irrespective of land and numbers, could
be relieved, and the wealthier taxed specifically on land and houses,
the whole regulated by continental legislation, I think that even Rhode
Island might be placated. It may be that this is not agreeable to the
spirit of the times, but I shall make the attempt--"
"Considering there is no spirit _in_ the times, we might as well expect
to inform its skull with genius by means of a lighted candle. You think
too well of human nature, my boy; expect nothing, that ye be not
disappointed, especially in the matter of revenue."
"I have no exalted opinion of human nature, but if I did not think more
hopefully of it than you do, I should yield up that enthusiasm without
which I can accomplish nothing. You have every gift, but you will end as
a dilettante because your ideal is always in the mud; and it is only
now and again that you think it worth while to pick it up and give it a
"Right, right," murmured Morris, good-naturedly. "Would that I had your
unquenchable belief in the worth while. Allied to your abilities it will
make the new world over and upset the wicked plans of the old. Analyst
and disbeliever in man's right to his exaggerated opinion of himself,
how do you keep enthusiasm abreast with knowledge of human kind? Tell
me, Hamilton, how do you do it?"
"I fear 'tis the essence of which I am made. My energies will have
outlet or tear me to pieces. When there is work to do, my nostrils
quiver like a war-horse's at the first roar and smoke--"
"Your modesty does you infinite honour; the truth is, you have the holy
fire of patriotism in an abnormal degree. I have it, but I still am
normal. I have made sacrifices and shall make more, but my ego curls its
lip. Yours never does. That is the difference between you and most of
us. Hundreds of us are doggedly determined to go through to the bitter
end, sacrifice money, youth and health; but you alone are happy. That is
why we love you and are glad to follow your lead. But, I repeat, how can
you labour with such undying enthusiasm for the good of human kind when
you know what they amount to?"
"Some are worth working for, that is one point; I don't share your
opinion of general abasement, for the facts warrant no such opinion. And
the battle of ideas, the fight for certain stirring and race-making
principles,--that is the greatest game that mortals can play. And to
play it, we must have mortals for puppets. To create a new government, a
new race, to found what may become the greatest nation on the
earth,--what more stupendous destiny? Even if one were forgotten, it
would be worth doing, so tremendous would be the exercise of the
faculties, so colossal the difficulties. I would have a few men do it
all; I have no faith in the uneducated. The little brain, half opened by
a village schoolmaster, is pestilential; but in the few with sufficient
power over the many,--from whom will be evolved more and more to rank
with the first few,--in those I have faith, and am proud to work with
"Good. I'd not have a monarchy, but I'd have the next thing to it, with
a muzzle on the rabble. Perhaps I, too, have faith in a few,--in
yourself and George Washington; and in Madison, our own Gibraltar. But
the pig-headed, selfish, swinish--well, go on with your present plans.
'Tis to hear those we met to-night, not to analyze each other. Tell us
all, that we may not only hope, but work with you."
"The army first. If retirement on half pay is impossible, then full pay
for, say six years,--and the arrears,--paid upon the disbanding of the
army. Washington, by the exercise of the greatest moral force, but one,
that has appeared in this world, has averted a civil war--I am persuaded
that horror is averted, and I assume that the country does not care
eternally to disgrace itself by letting its deliverers, who have
suffered all that an army can suffer, return to their ruined homes
without the few dollars necessary for another start in life. I have
resigned my claim to arrears of pay, that my argument may not be
weakened. Then a peace establishment. Fancy leaving our frontiers to the
mercy of state militia! I shall urge that the general government have
exclusive power over the sword, to establish certain corps of infantry,
artillery, cavalry, dragoons, and engineers, a general system of land
fortifications, establishment of arsenals and magazines, erection of
founderies and manufactories for arms, of ports and maritime
fortifications--with many details with which I will not bore you. I
shall urge the necessity of strengthening the Federal government through
the influence of officers deriving their appointment directly from
Congress--always, always, the necessity of strengthening the central
government, of centralizing power, and of putting the States where they
belong. It is federation or anarchy. Then--moderate funds permanently
pledged for the security of lenders. I have preached that since I have
dared to preach at all, and that is the only solution of our present
distress, for we'll never get another foreign loan--"
"We've accepted your wisdom, but we can't apply it," interposed Morris.
"Our only hope lies in your national government--but go on."
"A moment," said Madison. "This, in regard to the peace establishment:
Do we apply a war congress to a state of peace, I fear we shall too
clearly define its limits. The States may refuse obedience, and then the
poor invalided body will fall into greater disrepute than ever."
"I have thought of that," replied Hamilton, "and if the worst comes to
the worst, I have a radical plan to propose,--that Congress publish
frankly its imperfections to the country--imperfections which make it
impossible to conduct the public affairs with honour to itself or
advantage to the United States; that it ask the States to appoint a
convention, with full powers to revise the Confederation, and to adopt
and propose all necessary alterations--all to be approved or rejected,
in the last instance, by the legislatures of the several States. That
would be the first step toward a national government. With that, all
things would be possible,--the payment of our foreign loan, of our army,
duties on foreign goods, which is a source of revenue to which they are
incredibly blind; the establishment of a firm government, under which
all will prosper that are willing to work, of a National Bank, of a
"Of Utopia!" exclaimed Morris. "Hamilton, you are the least visionary
man in this country, but you are God knows how many years ahead of your
times. If we are ever on two legs again, you will put us there; but your
golden locks will thin in the process, and that rosy boyish face we love
will be lined with the seams of the true statesman. Only you could
contemplate imbuing these fossilized and commonplace intellects,
composing our Congress of the Confederation--mark the ring of it!--with
a belief in its own impotency and worthlessness. You are not mortal. I
always said it. When Duane gave me your letter to read, I remarked: 'He
withdrew to heaven, and wrote that letter on the knee of the Almighty;
never on earth could he have found the courage and the optimism.' No,
Hamilton, I would embrace you, did my wooden leg permit me to escape
your wrath, but I can give you no encouragement. You will fail
here--gloriously, but you will fail. Mark my words, the army will go
home cursing, and scratch the ground to feed its women. The States will
have no peace establishment to threaten their sovereign rights, we will
pay nobody, and become more and more poverty-stricken and contemptible
in our own eyes, and in the eyes of Europe; we will do nothing that is
wise and everything that is foolish--"
"And then, when the country is sick unto death," interrupted Hamilton,
"it will awake to the wisdom of the drastic remedy and cohere into a
"Query," said Madison, "would it not be patriotic to push things from
bad to worse as quickly as possible? It might be a case of justifiable
"And it might lead to anarchy and the jaws of Europe," said Hamilton.
"It is never safe to go beyond a certain point in the management of
human affairs. What turn the passions of the people may take can never
be foretold, nor that element of the unknown, which is always under the
invisible cap and close on one's heels. God knows I have not much
patience in my nature, and I do not believe that most of my schemes are
so far in advance of even this country's development; but certain
lessons must be instilled by slow persistence. I have no faith in
rushing people at the point of the bayonet in times of peace."
"I think you are right there," said Morris. "But mark my words, you'll
propagate ideas here, and the result in time will be the birth of a
nation--no doubt of that; but you must rest content to live on hope for
the present. I was a fettered limb in this body too long. I know its
He knew whereof he spoke. Hamilton won little but additional reputation,
much admiration, half resentful, and many enemies. The army went home
unpaid; the peace establishment consisted of eighty men; little or
nothing was done to relieve the national debt or to carry on the
business of government. Even his proposition to admit the public to the
galleries of Congress, in the hope of interesting it in governmental
affairs, only drew upon him the sneer that he could go out on the
balcony and make his speeches if he feared his eloquence was wasted. He
was accused of writing the Newburg address inciting the officers to
civil war, because it was particularly well written, and of hurrying
Congress to Trenton, when threatened by a mutinous regiment. But he
worked on undaunted, leaving his indelible mark; for he taught the
States that their future prosperity and happiness lay in giving up to
the Union some part of the imposts that might be levied on foreign
commodities, and incidentally the idea of a double government; he
proposed a definite system of funding the debts on continental
securities, which gradually rooted in the common sense of the American
people, and he inveighed with a bitter incisiveness, which was tempered
by neither humour nor gaiety, against the traitorous faction in the pay
of France. He dissuaded Robert Morris from resigning, and introduced a
resolution in eulogy of Washington's management of his officers in the
most critical hour of the Union's history. But his immediate
accomplishment was small and discouraging, although his foresight may
have anticipated what George Ticknor Curtis wrote many years later:--
The ideas of a statesman like Hamilton, earnestly bent on the
discovery and inculcation of truth, do not pass away. Wiser than
those by whom he was surrounded, with a deeper knowledge of the
science of government than most of them, and constantly enunciating
principles which extended far beyond the temporizing policy of the
hour, the smiles of his opponents only prove to posterity how far
he was in advance of them.
The following extract from a letter of James M'Henry, Lafayette's former
aide, and a member of the Congress, is interesting as a commentary on
the difficulties of our hero's position while a member of that body.
DEAR HAMILTON: The homilies you delivered in Congress are still
remembered with pleasure. The impressions they made are in favour
of your integrity; and no one but believes you a man of honour and
of republican principles. Were you ten years older and twenty
thousand pounds richer, there is no doubt but that you might obtain
the suffrages of Congress for the highest office in their gift.
You are supposed to possess various knowledge, useful, substantial,
and ornamental. Your very grave and your cautious, your men who
measure others by the standard of their own creeping politics,
think you sometimes intemperate, but seldom visionary: and that
were you to pursue your object with as much cold perseverance as
you do with ardour and argument, you would become irresistible. In
a word, if you could submit to spend a whole life in dissecting a
fly you would be, in their opinion, one of the greatest men in the
world. Bold designs; measures calculated for their rapid execution;
a wisdom that would convince from its own weight; a project that
would surprise the people into greater happiness, without giving
them an opportunity to view it and reject it, are not adapted to a
council composed of discordant elements, or a people who have
thirteen heads, each of which pay superstitious adorations to
Adieu, my dear friend, and in the days of your happiness drop a
line to your
At the end of 1783 Hamilton was convinced that he was of no further
immediate use to the country, and refused a reelection to the Congress,
despite entreaty and expostulation, returning to the happiness of his
domestic life and to his neglected law-books. The British having
evacuated New York, he moved his family there and entered immediately
upon the practice of his profession.
"ALEXANDER THE GREAT"
INCLUDING THE STRANGE ADVENTURES OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED
It was the autumn of 1786. New York had risen from her charred and
battered ruins. There were cows on her meadows, a lake with wooded
shores as merely traditional, groves, gardens, orchards, fields, and
swamps; but her business houses and public buildings were ambitious once
more, her spires more lofty and enduring, her new dwelling-houses,
whether somewhat crowded in Wall Street and Broadway, or on the terraces
of less busy streets, or along the river fronts and facing a wild and
lovely prospect, were square, substantial, and usually very large. And
every street was an avenue of ancient trees. Mrs. John Jay, with her
experience of foreign courts, her great beauty, and the prestige of her
distinguished husband, was the leader of society, holding weekly
receptions, and the first to receive the many distinguished strangers.
Although society was not quite as gay as it became three years later,
under a more settled government and hopeful outlook, still there was
quiet entertaining by the Hamiltons, who lived at 58 Wall Street, the
Duers, Watts, Livingstons, Clintons, Duanes, Jays, Roosevelts, Van
Cortlandts, and other representatives of old New York families, now
returned to their own. Congress was come to New York and established in
the City Hall in Wall Street. It had given the final impetus to the
city, struggling under the burden of ruins and debt left by the British;
and society sauntered forth every afternoon in all the glory of velvet
and ruffles, three-cornered hats recklessly laced, brocades, hoopskirts,
and Rohan hats, to promenade past the building where the moribund body
was holding its last sessions. The drive was down the Broadway into the
shades of the Battery, with the magnificent prospect of bay and wooded
shores beyond. Politics, always epidemic among men and women alike, had
recently been animated by Hamilton's coup at Annapolis, and the prospect
of a general convention of the States to consider the reorganization of
a government which had reduced the Confederation to a condition
fearfully close to anarchy, the country to ruin, and brought upon the
thirteen sovereign independent impotent and warring States the contempt
of Europe and the threat of its greed.
A group of men, standing on a corner of Wall Street and the Broadway,
were laughing heartily: a watch was dragging off to jail two citizens
who had fallen upon each other with the venom of political antithesis;
the one, a Nationalist, having called Heaven to witness that Hamilton
was a demi-god, begotten to save the wretched country, the other
vociferating that Hamilton was the devil who would trick the country
into a monarchy, create a vast standing army, which would proclaim him
king and stand upon the heads of a people that had fought and died for
freedom, while the tyrant exercised his abominable functions.
The men in the group were Governor Clinton, Hamilton's bitterest
opponent, but sufficiently amused at the incident; William Livingston,
Governor of New Jersey, now with but a few hairs on the top of his head
and a few at the base, his nose more penetrating, his eye more
disapproving, than ever; James Duane, Mayor of New York; John Jay, the
most faultless character in the Confederation, honoured and unloved, his
cold eyes ever burning with an exalted fire; and John Marshall of
Virginia, munching an apple, his attire in shabby contrast to the
fashionable New Yorkers, the black mane on his splendid head unpowdered
and tossing in the ocean breeze.
"I like your Hamilton," he announced, "and I've come to the conclusion
that I think with him on all matters. He's done more to educate the
people up to a rational form of government during the last seven years
than all the rest of us put together. He's shone upon them like a fixed
star. Other comets have come and gone, whirling them forward to
destruction, but they have always been forced to turn and look at him
again and again, and he has always shone in the same place."
"Sir," exclaimed Clinton, who was flushed with rage, "are you aware that
I am present, and that I entirely disapprove of Mr. Hamilton's attempt
to reduce the States to a condition of ignominious subserviency to an
ambitious and tyrannical central power?"
"I had heard of you, sir," replied Marshall, meekly, "and I am glad to
have the opportunity to ask you what _your_ remedy is for the existing
state of things? You will admit that there must be a remedy, and
quickly. If not a common government with a Constitution empowering it to
regulate trade, imposts, reduce the debt, enter into treaties with
foreign powers which will not be sneered at, administer upon a thousand
details which I will not enumerate, and raise the country from its
slough of contempt, then what? As the personage who has taken the most
decided stand against the enlightened and patriotic efforts of Mr.
Hamilton, I appeal to you for a counter suggestion as magnificent as
his. I am prepared, sir, to listen with all humility."
Clinton, whose selfish fear of his own downfall with that of State
supremacy was so well known that a smile wrinkled across the polite
group of gentlemen surrounding him, deepened his colour to purple under
this assault, and stammered: "Sir, have I not myself proposed an
enlargement of the powers of Congress, in order to counteract the
damnable policy of Britain? Did not your Hamilton harangue that crowd I
sanctioned till he got nearly all he asked for?"
"But he knew better than to ask for too much, in the conditions,"
replied Marshall, suavely. "May I suggest that you have not answered my
humble and earnest questions?"
"I answer no questions that I hold to be impertinent and unimportant!"
said Clinton, pompously, and with a dignified attempt to recover his
poise. He swept his hat from his head; the New Yorkers were as
punctilious; Marshall lifted his battered lid from the wild mass
beneath, and the popular Governor sauntered down the street, saluted
deferentially by Nationalists and followers alike. When he had occasion
to sweep his gorgeous hat to his knees, the ladies courtesied to the
ground, their draperies taking up the entire pavement, and His
Excellency was obliged to encounter the carriages in the street.
"If Clinton were sure of figuring as powerfully in a national government
as he does in the state of New York, he would withdraw his opposition,"
said Livingston, contemptuously. "He has been Governor for nine years.
New York is his throne. He is a king among the common people, who will
elect him indefinitely. Were it not for Hamilton, he would be New York,
and the awful possibilities lying hidden in the kernel of change haunt
his dreams at night. You embarrassed him in a manner that rejoiced my
heart, Mr. Marshall. I beg you will do me the honour to dine with me
to-night. I beg to assure you that your fame is as known to me as were I
"I'll accept the invitation with pleasure," replied Marshall, whose
manners were all that his attire was not. "I shall be glad to talk with
you on many subjects. To-morrow I shall pay my respects to Mr. Hamilton.
His has been a trying but not a thankless task. He has addressed himself
to the right class of men all over the country, winning them to his
sound and enlightened views, giving them courage, consolidating them
against the self-interested advocates of State sovereignty. That he has
so often neglected a legal practice which must bring him a large income,
as well as sufficient personal glory, out of a sincere pity for and
patriotic interest in this afflicted country, gives New York deep cause
for congratulation that she was in such close communication with that
Island of his youth. I wish that fate had steered him to Virginia."
"Surely you have enough as it is," said Duane, laughing: "Washington,
yourself, Patrick Henry, Jefferson, Madison, Randolph. Spare us
Hamilton. We shall need him badly enough. The Clinton faction is very
strong. That the Hamilton embraces the best spirits of the community
means that it is in the minority, and needs the unremitting exercise of
his genius to counteract the disadvantage in numbers."
"I think that what I admire most in Hamilton," remarked a newcomer, a
small dark man of vivid personality, "are his methods of manipulation.
He picks out his own men, Duer, Troup, Malcolm, has them sent to the
legislature, where they blindly and indefatigably obey his behest and
gain the consent of that body to the convention at Annapolis, then see
that he is elected as principal delegate. He goes to Annapolis
ostensibly to attend a commercial convention: while its insufficient
numbers are drowsing, he springs upon them an eloquent proposal for a
national convention for reforming the Union, and forces it through
before they know what they are about. Certainly Mr. Hamilton is a man of
"Do I understand. Mr. Burr," said Jay, from his glacial height, "that
you are impugning the purity of Mr. Hamilton's motives?"
"No, sir," replied Burr, whom an archangel could not have rebuked. "In
the present condition of things all methods are justifiable. Hamilton is
great but adaptable. I respect him for that quality above all others,
for he is quite the most imperious character in America, and his natural
instinct is to come out and say, 'You idiots, fall into line behind me
and stop twaddling. I will do your thinking; be kind enough not to delay
me further.' On the other hand, he is forced to be diplomatic, to
persuade where he would command, to move slowly instead of charging at
the point of the bayonet. So, although I have no sympathy with his
pronounced monarchical inclinations, I respect his acquired methods of
getting what he wants."
"What do you mean by pronounced monarchical inclinations?" snorted
Governor Livingston, who could not endure Burr.
Burr gave his peculiar sardonic laugh. "Will you deny it, sir?"
"Deny it? I certainly am in Mr. Hamilton's confidence to no such extent,
and I challenge you to indicate one sentence in his published writings
which points to such a conclusion."
"Ah, he is too clever for that; but his very walk, his whole personality
expresses it, to say nothing of the fact that he never thinks of denying
his admiration of the British Constitution. And did he not defend the
Tories after the evacuation, when no other lawyer would touch them? I
admired his courage, but it was sufficient evidence of the catholicity
of his sentiments."
"Mr. Hamilton defended the abstract principle of right against wrong in
defending the wretched Tories against the persecutions of an
unmagnanimous public sentiment," said Jay, witheringly. "I should advise
you, young gentleman, to become a disciple of Mr. Hamilton. I can
recommend no course which would prove so beneficial." And he turned on
He had hit Burr. The jealousy born in Albany had thriven with much
sustenance since. Hamilton was by far the most prominent figure at the
New York bar, and was hastening to its leadership. Burr was conspicuous
for legal ability, but never would be first while Hamilton was in the
race. Moreover, although Hamilton had not then reached that dizzy height
from which a few years later he looked down upon a gaping world, he was
the leader of a growing and important party, intelligently followed and
worshipped by the most eminent men in the Confederation, many of them
old enough to be his father; and he was the theme of every drawing-room,
of every coffee-house group and conclave. His constant pamphlets on the
subject nearest to all men's hearts, his eloquent speeches on the same
theme upon every possible occasion, and the extraordinary brilliance of
his legal victories, gave people no time to think of other men. When he
entered a drawing-room general conversation ceased, and the company
revolved about him so long as he remained. When he spoke, all the world
went to hear. For an ambitious young man to be told to attach himself to
the train of this conquering hero was more than poor Burr could stand,
and he replied angrily:--
"I have the privilege of being true to my own convictions, I suppose.
They are not Mr. Hamilton's and never will be. I do not impugn the
purity of his motives, but I have no desire to see George Washington
king, nor Hamilton, neither. I wish you good day, sirs," and he strode
up Broadway to the Fields with dignity in every inch of him.
"This constant talk of Hamilton's monarchical principles makes my gorge
rise," said Livingston. "Did he not fight as hard as he was permitted,
to drive monarchy out of the country? Was he not the first to sound the
call to arms?"
"Hamilton's exact attitude on that question is not clearly understood,"
replied Duane, soothingly, for the heat of Livingston's republicanism
had never abated. "I fancy it is something like this: So far no
constitution has worked so well as the British. Montesquieu knew whereof
he praised. The number of men in this country equal to the great problem
of self-government are in a pitiful minority. The anarchic conditions of
the States, the disgrace which they have brought upon us, their
inefficiency to cope with any problem, the contemptible depths of human
nature which they have revealed to the thinking members of the
community--all these causes inspire Hamilton, incomparably the greatest
brain in the country, with a dread of leaving any power whatever in
their hands. He believes firmly in the few of tried brain and
patriotism. I very much doubt if he has considered the subject of actual
monarchy for a moment, for he is no dreamer, and he knows that even his
followers have been Republicans too long. But that he will fight for the
strongest sort of national government, with the least possible power
vested in the States--oh, no doubt of that."
"Our people are hopeless, I fear," said Livingston, with a sigh. "This
period of independency seems to have demoralized them when it should
have brought out their best elements. Well, Mr. Marshall, what say you?
You have been modestly silent, and we have been rudely voluble when so
distinguished a guest should have had all the floor."
"I have been deeply entertained," replied Marshall, with a grin. "My
visit to New York is by no means wasted. I envy Mr. Hamilton; but let
him look out for Mr. Burr. There are just five feet seven inches of
jealous hate in that well-balanced exterior, and its methods would be
sinuous, I fancy, but no less deadly. But Hamilton has had many escapes.
What was that atrocious story I heard of a duelling cabal? When the
rolling stone of gossip reaches Virginia from New York, it has gathered
more moss than you would think."
"It would be difficult to exaggerate that story," snorted Livingston."
Hamilton defended his course in regard to the Tories in two pamphlets,
signed 'Phocion.' They were answered by a Mr. Ledyard, who signed
himself 'Mentor,' and was a conspicuous advocate of the damnable spirit
of revenge possessing this country. It is a bold man indeed who enters
into a conflict of the pen with Hamilton, and 'Mentor' was left without
a leg to stand on. Forthwith, a club of Ledyard's friends and
sympathizers, enraged by defeat, and fearing the growing ascendency of
Hamilton over men's minds, deliberately agreed to challenge him in turn
until he was silenced forever. This atrocious project would undoubtedly
have been carried out, had not Ledyard himself repudiated it with
horror. Can you show me a greater instance of the depravity of human
"We are in a ferment of bitter passions," said Marshall, sadly, "and I
fear they will be worse before they are better. I only hope that
Hamilton will not be swept into their current, for upon his keeping his
balance depends the future greatness of this country. I am at your
service, sir, for I will confess my two legs are tired."
As the three men turned into Broadway they saluted a man who was
entering Wall Street. It was Hamilton, hastening home to his family
after the day's work. He had lost his boyish slenderness; his figure had
broadened and filled out sufficiently to add to his presence while
destroying nothing of its symmetry or agile grace, and it was dressed
with the same care. His face was as gay and animated as ever, responded
with the old mobility to every passing thought, but its lines and
contours showed the hard work and severe thought of the last four years.
When he was taking a brief holiday with his friends, or tumbling about
the floor with his little brood, he felt as much a boy as ever, but no
one appreciated more fully than he the terrible responsibility of his
position in the Confederation. His abilities, combined with his
patriotism, had forced him to the head of the Nationalist Party, for
whose existence he was in greatest measure responsible; and he hardly
dared to think of his personal ambitions, nor could he hesitate to
neglect his lucrative practice whenever the crying needs of the country
demanded it. He had also given much time to the creating and
organization of the Bank of New York. But Burr was not far wrong when he
accused him of impatience. His bearing was more imperious, his eye
flashed more intolerantly, than ever. To impute to him monarchical
ambitions was but the fling of a smarting jealousy, but it is quite true
that he felt he knew what was best for the country, and would have liked
to regulate its affairs without further hindrance.
His house, beyond the dip of Wall Street and within sight of the bay,
was of red brick, and as unbeautiful architecturally as other New York
houses which had risen at random from the ruins. But within, it was very
charming. The long drawing-room was furnished with mahogany, and
rose-coloured brocade, with spindle-legged tables and many bibelots sent
by Angelica Church, now living in London. The library was filling with
valuable books, and the panelled whiteness of the dining room glittered
with silver and glass, which in quantity or value was not exceeded in
the home of any young couple in America; the world had outdone itself at
the most interesting wedding of the Revolution. Betsey's sitting room
was behind the drawing-room, and there Hamilton found her counting the
moments until his return. She had lost nothing of her slimness, and
except on dress occasions wore her mass of soft black hair twisted in a
loose knot and unpowdered. She looked younger and prettier than with
powder or wig, and Hamilton begged her to defy the fashion; but yielding
in all else, on this point she was inflexible. "I am wiser than you in
just a few things," she would say, playfully, for she firmly believed
him infallible; "my position would suffer, were I thought eccentric. You
cannot stand in rank without a uniform. I shall not yield to Sarah Jay
nor even Kitty Duer. I am a little Republican, sir, and know my rights.
And I know how to keep them."
To-day, after her usual prolonged and unmitigated greeting, she
remarked: "Speaking of eccentric people, I met to-day, at Lady
Sterling's, that curious person, Mrs. Croix, or Miss Capet, as some will
call her. Her hair was built up quite a foot and unpowdered. On top of
it was an immense black hat with plumes, and her velvet gown was at
least three yards on the floor. She certainly is the handsomest creature
in town, but, considering all the gossip, I think it odd Lady Sterling
should take her up, and I believe that Kitty is quite annoyed. But Lady
Sterling is so good-natured, and I am told that Dr. Franklin went
personally and asked her to give this lady countenance. He calls her his
Fairy Queen, and to-day saluted her on the lips before all of us. Poor
dear Dr. Franklin is by now quite in the class with Caesar's wife, but
still I think his conduct rather remarkable."
"Who is this woman?" asked Hamilton, indifferently.
"Well!" exclaimed his wife, with a certain satisfaction, "you _are
busy_. She has been the talk of the town for quite three months,
although she never went _anywhere_ before to-day."
"I hear all my gossip from you," said Hamilton, smiling from the hearth
rug, "and considering the labours of the past three months--but tell me
about her. I believe I love you best when gossiping. Your effort to be
caustic is the sweetest thing in the world."
She threw a ball of wool at him, which he caught and pulled apart, then
showered on her head. It was yellow wool, and vastly becoming on her
black hair. "You must have a yellow hat at once, with plumes," he said,
"but go on."
"You shall wind that this evening, sir. Well, she came here about three
months ago with Captain Croix of the British army, and rumour hath it
that he left a wife in England, and that this lady's right to the royal
name of Capet is still unchallenged. The story goes that she was born
about eighteen years ago, on a French frigate bound for the West Indies,
that her mother died, and that, there being no one else of that royal
name on board, the Captain adopted her; but that a baby and a ship being
more than he could manage, he presented the baby to a humble friend at
Newport, by the name of Thompson, who brought her up virtuously, but
without eradicating the spirit of the age, and one fine day she
disappeared with Colonel Croix, and after a honeymoon which may have
been spent in the neighbourhood of any church between here and Rhode
Island, or of none, they arrived in New York, and took the finest
lodgings in town. I suppose Dr. Franklin was a friend of her humble
guardian, he is so philanthropic, and that he is willing to take my
lady's word that all is well--and perhaps it is. I feel myself quite
vicious in repeating the vaguest sort of gossip--active, though. Who
knows, if she had worn a wig, or an inch of powder, and employed the
accepted architect for her tower, she would have passed without
question? Another pillar for my argument, sir."
"As it is, you are even willing to believe that she is a daughter of the
house of France," said Hamilton, with a hearty laugh. "Would that the
world were as easily persuaded of what is good for it as of what tickles
its pettiness. Shall you ask this daughter of the Capets to the house?"
"I have not made up my mind," said Mrs. Hamilton, demurely.
The two older children, Philip and Angelica, came tumbling into the
room, and Hamilton romped with them for a half-hour, then flung them
upon their mother, and watched them from the hearth rug. Betsey was
lovely with her children, who were beautiful little creatures, and
Hamilton was always arranging them in groups. The boy and girl pulled
down her hair with the yellow wool, until all her diminutive figure and
all her face, but its roguish black eyes, were extinguished; and
Hamilton forgot the country.
Elizabeth Schuyler was a cleverer woman than her meed of credit has led
the world to believe. She understood Hamilton very well even then,
although, as his faults but added to his fascination in the eyes of
those that loved him, the knowledge did not detract from her happiness.
In many ways she made herself necessary to him; at that time she even
kept his papers in order. He talked to her freely on every subject that
interested him, from human nature to finance, taxes, and the law, and
she never permitted a yawn to threaten. He read aloud to her every line
he wrote, and while she would not have presumed to suggest, her sympathy
was one of his imperative needs. When his erratic fancy flashed him into
seductive meshes, she pulled a string and back he came. Perhaps this is
the reason why no specific account of his numerous alleged amours have
come down to us. He is vaguely accused of being the Lothario of his
time, irresistible and indefatigable; but of all famous men whose names
are enlivened with anecdotes of gallantry in the vast bulk of the
world's unwritten history, he alone is the hero of much mysterious
affirmation but of no particular romance. The Reynolds affair is open
history and not a case in point. It is probable that, owing to inherent
fickleness and Betsey's gentle manipulation, his affairs rarely lasted
long enough to attract attention. It is one of the accidents of life
that the world barely knew of his acquaintance with Eliza Croix, she who
has come down to us as Madame Jumel; and such a thing could not happen
twice. But whether or not he possessed in all their perfection the
proclivities of so great and impetuous and passionate a genius, it is
certain that he loved his wife devotedly, and above all other women, so
long as his being held together. His home was always his Mecca, and he
left it only when public duty compelled his presence in exile.
In February he went to the Assembly to fight Clinton's opposition to the
harassing need of conferring a permanent revenue upon Congress. He had
already written a memorial, distributed over the State, setting forth
the dangerous position of the country. But Clinton was lord of the
masses, and their representatives in the Legislature had been trained to
think as he thought. They honoured him because he had made New York the
greatest State in the Union, not yet realizing that he had brought her
into disrepute at home and abroad, and that his selfish policy was now
hastening her to her ruin. To increase the power of Congress was to
encourage the spirit of Nationalism, and that meant the sure decline of
the States and of himself. The fight was hot and bitter. Clinton won;
but the thinking men present took Hamilton's words home and pondered
upon them, and in time they bore fruit.
After many delays the Convention was summoned to meet at Philadelphia on
the 14th of May. History calls it the Constitutional Convention, but its
promoters were careful to give the States-right people no such guide to
contravention. The violent oppositionists of all change slumbered
peacefully, while the representatives of the more enlightened were
appointed to the Convention under moderately worded and somewhat vague
resolutions; and some of them went as vaguely. Congress, after a
characteristic and selfish hesitation, and a thorough fright induced by
the Massachusetts rebellion, was finally persuaded to give her official
sanction to the proposed Convention. Hamilton secured his appointment as
a delegate,--after a hard fight to have New York represented at
all,--and found himself saddled with two Clintonians, Robert Yates and
John Lansing, Jr. But the first great step for which he had struggled,
since his Morristown letter to the Financier of the Revolution seven
years before, was assured at last.
Shortly before the Convention opened, Gouverneur Morris and James
Madison, Jr. met by appointment at Hamilton's house to discuss the plan
of campaign and make sure of their leader's wishes. General Schuyler
and Robert Troup were also present.
Morris was a delegate from Pennsylvania, but was about to return to New
York, having bought the family estate at Morrisania from his brother,
Staats Long Morris, and was involved in business enterprises which
resulted in a large fortune. He awaited the settlement of the country's
affairs before sailing for Europe in his private interests. Troup, now a
successful lawyer at the New York bar, was an able politician and
devoted to Hamilton's interests. Philip Schuyler was entirely in his
son-in-law's confidence, working for and with him always, occupying the
double position of adviser and follower. Madison, who had forced the
Convention at Annapolis, had had his breath taken away by Hamilton's
coup, but now was delighted that he had been the instrument which made
it possible. He had composed his somewhat halting mind to the
determination to concentrate his energies upon wringing from the
Convention a national scheme of government after Hamilton's model,
provided that model were not too extreme: he was no monarchist, and knew
the people very thoroughly. But he was deeply anxious to have Hamilton's
views and plans for his guidance, even if modification were necessary.
He knew Hamilton's complete mastery of the science of government, and
that his broad structure was bound to be right, no matter what its
The company assembled in the library, whose open windows overhung a
garden full of lilacs, dogwood, and maples. There was a long table in
the room, about which the guests mechanically seated themselves, so
accustomed were they to the council table. Hamilton had greeted them in
the hall, and sent them on to the library, while he went to fetch some
papers his wife had promised to copy for him.
"So this is the room in which the government of the United States is to
be born," said Troup, glancing about at the familiar books and at the
desk stuffed with papers. "I shall always smell lilacs in the new
"If we get one," observed Morris. "'Conceive' would be a better word
than 'born,' Twelve states,--for my part I am glad the refusal of Rhode
Island to send delegates makes one less,--each wanting its own way, and
the North inevitably pitted against the South: I confess that
'still-born' strikes me as a better word than any."
"We'll have a Constitution," said Madison, doggedly, "I've made up my
mind to that. There are a sufficient number of able and public-spirited
men on their way to Philadelphia to agree upon a wise scheme of
government and force it through--besides Hamilton and ourselves there
are Washington, Governor Randolph, William Livingston, Rufus King, Roger
Sherman, Dr. Franklin, James Wilson, George Wythe, the Pinckneys, Hugh
Williamson--to mention but a few."
"They are not a bad lot," admitted Morris, "if they had all seen more of
the world and less of their native or adopted State--all this State
patriotism makes me sick. Half were not born in the State they
vociferate about, are not certain of ending their days in it, nor of
which their children may adopt as intemperately."
"Travel is not the only cure for provincialism," said General Schuyler.
"Dr. Franklin, I happen to know, is bent upon a form of government
little firmer than the one now existing; and Hamilton, whose travels are
limited to campaigning in the different States, has a comprehensive
grasp of European political machinery, and the breadth of vision such
knowledge involves, which could gain nothing by personal contact."
"Dr. Franklin was too long a mendicant at foreign courts not to be
besottedly in love with their antithesis, and Hamilton has a brain power
and an intellectual grasp which quite remove him from the odiums of
comparison," said Morris. "I think myself he is fortunate in never
having visited Europe, deeply as he may regret it; for with his faculty
of divination he goes straight for what is best only--or most essential.
Had he lived there, the details and disappointments might have blocked
his vision and upset the fine balance of his mind. There she is!"
He was at the window as quickly as he could have flung a book to the
lilacs, despite his wooden leg; and he was followed by Troup and
General Schuyler, demanding "Who?"
"Mrs. Croix--there. Did anything so lovely ever dawn upon a distracted
American's vision? 'Tis said she is an unregistered daughter of the
house of Capet, and I vow she looks every inch a princess. I stared at
her so long last night in Vauxhall that she was embarrassed; and I never
saw such poise, such royal command of homage. How has she developed it
at the age of eighteen? I half believe this tale of royal birth;
although there are those who assert that she is nothing less than the
daughter of our highest in honour."
"'Tis said that she had an opportunity to acquire her aplomb in the
village of Rutland, Massachusetts, where for some years she enlivened
the exile and soothed the domestic yearnings of many British officers,"
said Troup. "One told me that he would vow she was none other than the
famous vagrant 'Betsey.'"
"But I am told that she comes of a respectable Rhode Island family named
Bowen," observed General Schuyler, who was not romantic. "That she was
wayward and ran off with Colonel Croix, of whose other wife there is no
proof, but that none of these fancy stories are true."
"Then wherein lies her claim to the name of Capet?" demanded Morris.
"'Twould be nothing remarkable were she a daughter of Louis V., and I'm
told she signs her name Eliza Capet Croix."
"I don't know," said Schuyler, meekly. "'Tis easy enough to assume a
name, if you have it not. I am told that Lady Sterling is assured of her
respectability. She certainly shines upon us like a star at this moment.
I did not know that women had such hair."
"Is this what we came here to discuss?" asked a voice, dropped to the
register of profound contempt. They turned about with a laugh and faced
Madison's ascetic countenance, pale with disgust. "We have the most
important work to do for which men ever met together, and we stand at
the window and talk scandal about a silly woman and her hair."
"You did not, my dear James," said Morris, lightly; "and thereby you
have missed the truly divine stimulus for the day's work. Don't you
realize, my friend, that no matter how hard a man may labour, some woman
is always in the background of his mind? She is the one reward of
"I know nothing of the sort," replied Madison, contemptuously. "I can
flatter myself that I at least am independent of what appears to men
like you to be the only motive for living."
"Right, my boy, but great as you are, you don't know what you might have
The door opened, and Hamilton entered the room, his hands full of
papers, his face as gay and eager as if he were about to read to his
audience a poem or a lively tale. Perhaps one secret of his ascendency
over those who knew him best was that he never appeared to take himself
seriously, even when his whole being radiated power and imperious
determination. When he descended to the depths of seriousness and his
individuality was most overwhelming, his unsleeping sense of humour
saved him from a hint of the demagogue.
"While my wife was finishing, I heard you gossiping from the window
above," he said, "but I had by far the best view. The lilac bushes--"
"Do you know her?" asked Morris, eagerly.
"Alas, I do not. It is incalculable months since I have had time to look
so long at a woman. What is the matter, Madison?"
"I am nauseated. I had thought that _you_--"
Here even General Schuyler laughed, and Hamilton hurriedly arranged his
He sat down when he began to talk, but was quickly on his feet and
shaking his papers over the table. To him, also, the council table was
the most familiar article of furniture in his world, but he was usually
addressing those it stood for, and he was too ardent a speaker, even
when without the incentive of debate, to keep to his chair.
"I know what you are wondering," he said. "No, it is not the British
Constitution. What I have done so distempered as to impress people with
the belief that I am blind to the spirit of this country, I am at a loss
to conjecture. The British Constitution is the best form which the world
has yet produced; in the words of Necker, it is the only government
'which unites public strength with individual security,' Nevertheless,
no one is more fully convinced than I that none but a republican
government can be attempted in this country, or would be adapted to our
situation. Therefore, I propose to look to the British Constitution for
nothing but those elements of stability and permanency which a
republican system requires, and which may be incorporated into it
without changing its characteristic principles. There never has been,
and there never will be, anything in my acts or principles inconsistent
with the spirit of republican liberty. Whatever my private
predilections, it would be impossible for me, understanding the people
of this country as I do, to fail to recognize the authority of that
people as the source of all political power. Therefore you will find
many departures from the British Constitution in the rough draft I am
about to read. I have neither the patience nor the temper to dogmatize
upon abstract theories of liberty, and our success will lie in adapting
to our particular needs such principles of government as have been tried
and not found wanting, our failure in visionary experiments. The best
and wisest effort we can make will be a sufficient experiment, for whose
result we must all tremble.
"It is going to be difficult to persuade this Convention to unite upon
any constitution very much stronger than the one Dr. Franklin will
propose, or to accomplish its ratification afterward. Nevertheless, I
have prepared a draft of the strongest constitution short of monarchy
which it is possible to conceive, and which I shall propose to the
Convention for reasons I will explain after I have read it to you. Do
you care to listen?"
"Hurry up!" exclaimed Morris. The audience leaned forward. Madison shook
his head all through the reading; Morris jerked his with emphatic
The radical points in which Hamilton's constitution differed from that
under which we live, was in the demand for a President, to be elected by
property holders, and who should hold office during good behaviour;
senators possessing certain property qualifications and elected on the
same principle; and governors of States appointed and removable by the
President. Practically the author of the dual government, he believed
emphatically in subserving the lesser to the greater, although endowing
the States with sufficient power for self-protection. The Executive was
to be held personally responsible for official misconduct, both he and
the senators subject to impeachment and to removal from office. The
whole scheme was wrought out with the mathematical complexity and
precision characteristic of Hamilton's mind.
"Would that it were possible," exclaimed Morris, when Hamilton had
finished. "But as well expect the Almighty to drive the quill. You will
weaken your influence, Hamilton, and to no effect."
"Ah, but I have calculated upon two distinct points, and I believe I
shall achieve them. I have not the most distant hope that this paper
will be acceptable to five men in the Convention,--three, perhaps, would
round the number,--Washington, yourself, myself. Nevertheless, I shall
introduce it and speak in its favour with all the passion of which I am
master, for these reasons: I believe in it; its energy is bound to give
a tone that might be lacking otherwise; and--this is the principal
point--_there must be something to work back from_. If I alarm with the
mere chance of so perilous a menace to their democratic ideals, they
will go to work in earnest at _something_ in order to defeat me, and
they will not go back so far in the line of vigour as if I had suggested
a more moderate plan; for, mark my words, they would infallibly incline
to weaker measures than _any_ firm government which should first be
proposed. In the management of men one of the most important things to
bear in mind is their proneness to work forward from the weak, and
backward from the strong. On the quality of the strength depends its
magnetism over the weak. All reformers are ridiculed or outlawed, and
their measures are never wholly successful; but they awaken men's minds
to something of approximate worth, and to a desire for a divorce from
the old order of things. So, while I expect to be called a monarchist, I
hope to instil subtly the idea of the absolute necessity of a strong
government, and implant in their minds a distrust of one too weak."
"Good," said Morris. "And it is always a delight to see your revelation
of yourself in a new light. I perceive that to your other
accomplishments you add the cunning of the fox."
"You are right to call it an accomplishment," retorted Hamilton. "We
cannot go through life successfully with the bare gifts of the Almighty,
generous though He may have been. If I find that I have need of cunning,
or brutality,--than which nothing is farther from my nature,--or even
nagging, I do not hesitate to borrow and use them."
"Let us call this sagacity," said Troup. "'Tis a prettier word. Or the
canniness of the Scot. But there is one thing I fear," he added
anxiously. "You may injure your chances of future preferment. Your
ambition will be thought too vaulting, particularly for so young a man,
and, besides, you may be thought a menace to the commonwealth."
"That is a point to be considered, Hamilton," said General Schuyler.
"I have an end to gain, sir, and I mean to gain it. Moreover, this is no
time to be considering private interests. If this be not the day for
patriotism to stifle every personal ambition, then there is little hope
for human nature. I believe the result of this paper will be a
constitution of respectable strength, and I shall use all the influence
I wield to make the people accept it. So, if you worry, consider if the
later effort will not outweigh the first."
"Hamilton," said Madison, solemnly, "you are a greater man even than I
thought you. You have given me a most welcome hint, and I shall take
upon myself to engineer the recession from your constitution. I shall
study its effect with the closest attention and be guided accordingly, I
am heart and soul in this matter, and would give my life to it if
necessary. I never should have thought of anything so astute," he added,
with some envy, "but perhaps if I had, no one else would be so
peculiarly fitted as myself to work upon its manifold suggestions. I
hope I do not strike you as conceited," he said, looking around
anxiously, "but I _feel_ that it is in me to render efficient service in
the present crisis."
Before Morris could launch his ready fling, Hamilton hastened to assure
Madison of his belief that no man living could render services so great.
He underrated neither Madison's great abilities nor the danger of
rankling arrows in that sensitive and not too courageous spirit. They
then discussed a general plan of campaign and the best methods of
managing certain members of the Convention. Morris was the first to
"Adieu," he said. "I go to ruminate upon our Captain's diplomacy, and to
pursue the ankle of Mrs. Croix. Be sure that the one will not interfere
with the other, but will mutually stimulate."
The other gentlemen adjourned to the dining room.
The story of the Convention has been told so often that only the merest
outline is necessary here; those who have not before this read at least
one of the numberless reports, would be the last to wish its
multigenerous details. To the students of history there is nothing new
to tell, as may be the case with less exploited incidents of Hamilton's
career. Someone has said that it was an assemblage of hostile camps, and
it certainly was the scene of intense and bitter struggles, of a
heterogeneous mass blindly striving to cohere, whilst a thousand
sectional interests tugged at the more familiar of the dual ideal; of
compromise after compromise; of a fear pervading at least one-half that
the liberties of republicanism were menaced by every energetic
suggestion; of the soundest judgement and patriotism compelled to
truckle to meaner sentiments lest they get nothing; of the picked men of
the Confederacy, honourable, loyal, able, and enlightened, animated in
the first and last instance by a pure and common desire for the highest
welfare of the country, driven to war upon one another by the strength
of their conflicting opinions; ending--among the thirty-nine out of the
sixty-one delegates who signed the Constitution--in a feeling as closely
resembling general satisfaction as individual disappointments would
At first so turbulent were the conditions, that Franklin, who troubled
the Almighty but little himself, arose and suggested that the meetings
be opened with prayer. After this sarcasm, and the submission of his
mild compromise with the Confederation, he sat and watched the painted
sun behind Washington's chair, pensively wondering if the artist had
intended to convey the idea of a rise or a setting. Hamilton presented
his draft at the right moment, and the startled impression it made quite
satisfied him, particularly as his long speech to the Committee of the
Whole was received with the closest attention. Nothing could alter his
personal fascination, and even his bitterest enemies rarely left their
chairs while he spoke. The small figure, so full of dignity and
magnetizing power that it excluded every other object from their vision,
the massive head with a piercing force in every line of its features,
the dark eyes blazing and flashing with a fire that never had been seen
in the eyes of a mere mortal before, the graceful rapid gestures, and
the passionate eloquence which never in its most apparently abandoned
moments failed to be sincere and logical, made him for the hour the
glory of friend and enemy alike, although the reaction was
correspondingly bitter. Upon this occasion he spoke for six hours
without the interruption of a scraping heel; and what the Convention did
not know about the science of government before he finished with them,
they never would learn elsewhere. Although he made but this one speech,
he talked constantly to the groups surrounding him wherever he moved. To
his original scheme he had too much tact to make further allusion; but
his general opinions, ardently propounded, his emphatic reiteration of
the demoralized country's need for a national government, and of the
tyrannies inherent in unbridled democracies, wedged in many a chink.
Nevertheless, he was disgusted and disheartened when he left for New
York, at the end of May. The Convention was chaos, but he could
accomplish nothing more than what he hoped he might have done; the
matter was now best in the hands of Madison and Gouverneur Morris, and
his practice could no longer be neglected.
But although he returned to a mass of work,--for he handled most of the
great cases of the time,--he managed to mingle daily with the crowd at
Fraunces' and the coffee-houses, in order to gauge the public sentiment
regarding the proposed change of government, and to see the leading men
constantly. On the whole, he wrote to Washington, he found that both in
the Jerseys and in New York there was "an astonishing revolution for the
better in the minds of the people."
Washington replied from the depths of his disgust:--
... In a word I almost despair of seeing a favourable issue to the
proceedings of the Convention, and do, therefore, repent having any
agency in the business. The men who oppose a strong and energetic
government are, in my opinion, narrow-minded politicians, or are
under the influence of local views. The apprehension expressed by
them that the _people_ will not accede to the form proposed, is the
_ostensible_, not the real cause of the opposition; but admitting
that _present_ sentiment is as they prognosticate, the question
ought nevertheless to be, is it, or is it not, the best form? If
the former, recommend it, and it will assuredly obtain, maugre
opposition. I am sorry you went away; I wish you were back.
To Washington, who presided over that difficult assemblage with a
superhuman dignity, to Hamilton who breathed his strong soul into it, to
Madison who manipulated it, to Gouverneur Morris, whose sarcastic
eloquent tongue brought it to reason again and again, and whose
accomplished pen gave the Constitution its literary form, belong the
highest honours of the Convention; although the services rendered by
Roger Sherman, Rufus King, James Wilson, R.R. Livingston, and Charles
Cotesworth Pinckney entitle them to far more than polite mention.
When Hamilton signed the Constitution, on the 17th of September, it was
by no means strong enough to suit him, but as it was incomparably better
than the Articles of Confederation, which had carried the country to the
edge of anarchy and ruin, and was regarded by a formidable number of
people and their leaders as so strong as to be a menace to the liberties
of the American citizen, he could with consistency and ardour exert
himself to secure its ratification. After all, it was built of his
stones, chipped and pared though they might be; had he not gone to the
Convention, the result might have been a constitution for which his pen
would have refused to plead.
Manhattan Island, Kings and Westchester counties had long since accepted
his doctrines, and they stood behind him in unbroken ranks; but the
northern counties and cities of New York, including Albany, were still
under the autocratic sway of Clinton. Hamilton's colleagues, Yates and
Lansing, had resigned their seats in the Great Convention. Among the
signatures to the Constitution his name stood alone for New York, and
the fact was ominous of his lonely and precarious position. But
difficulties were ever his stimulant, and this was not the hour to find
him lacking in resource.
"The Constitution terrifies by its length, complexity, frigidity, and
above all by its novelty," he said to Jay and Madison, who met by
appointment in his library. "Clinton, in this State, has persuaded his
followers that it is so many iron hoops, in which they would groan and
struggle for the rest of their lives. To defeat him and this pernicious
idea, we must discuss the Constitution publicly, in the most lucid and
entertaining manner possible, lay every fear, and so familiarize the
people with its merits, and with the inseparable relation of its
adoption to their personal interests, that by the time the elections for
the State Convention take place, they will be sufficiently educated to
give us the majority. And as there is so much doubt, even among members
of the Convention, as to the mode of enacting the Constitution, we must
solve that problem as quickly as possible. My purpose is to publish a
series of essays in the newspapers, signed, if you agree with me,
Publius, and reaching eighty or ninety in number, which shall expound
and popularize the Constitution of the United States; and if you will
give me your inestimable help, I am sure we shall accomplish our
"If you need my help, I will give it to you to the best of my ability,
sir," said Jay, "but I do not pretend to compete with your absolute
mastery of the complex science of government, and I fear that my weaker
pen may somewhat counteract the vigour of yours; but, I repeat, I will
do my best with the time at my disposal."
Hamilton laughed, "You know how anxious I am to injure our chances of
success," he said. "I hope all things from your pen."
Jay bowed formally, and Hamilton turned to Madison. "I know you must
feel that you have done your share for the present," he said, "and there
is hard work awaiting you in your State Convention, but the subject is
at your finger tips; it hardly can be too much trouble."
"I am not very well," said Madison, peevishly, "but I realize the
necessity,--and that the papers should be read as extensively in
Virginia as here. I will write a few, and more if I can."
But, as it came to pass, Madison wrote but fourteen separate papers of
the eighty-five, although he collaborated with Hamilton on three others,
and Jay wrote five only. The remaining sixty-three, therefore, of the
essays, collected during and after their publication under the title of
"The Federalist," which not only did so much to enlighten and educate
the public mind and weaken the influence of such men as Clinton, but
which still stand as the ablest exposition of the science of government,
and as the parent of American constitutional law, were the work of
"It is the fortunate situation of our country," said Hamilton, a few
months later, at Poughkeepsie, "that the minds of the people are
exceedingly enlightened and refined." Certainly these papers are a great
tribute to the general intelligence of the American race of a century
and more ago. Selfish, petty, and lacking in political knowledge they
may have been, but it is evident that their mental _tone_ was high, that
their minds had not been vulgarized by trash and sensationalism.
Hamilton's sole bait was a lucid and engaging style, which would not
puzzle the commonest intelligence, which he hoped might instruct without
weighing heavily on the capacity of his humbler readers. That he was
addressing the general voter, as well as the men of a higher grade as
yet unconvinced, there can be no doubt, for as New York State was still
seven-tenths Clintonian, conversion of a large portion of this scowling
element was essential to the ratification of the Constitution. And yet
he chose two men of austere and unimaginative style to collaborate with
him; while his own style for purity, distinction, and profundity
combined with simplicity, has never been excelled.
Betsey was ailing, and her doors closed to society; the children romped
on the third floor or on the Battery. Hamilton wrote chiefly at night,
his practice occupying the best of the hours of day, but he was sensible
of the calm of his home and of its incentive to literary composition; it
never occurred to him to open his office in the evening. Betsey, the
while she knitted socks, listened patiently to her brilliant husband's
luminous discussions on the new Constitution--which she could have
recited backward--and his profound interpretation of its principles and
provisions. If she worried over these continuous labours she made no
sign, for Hamilton was racing Clinton, and there was not a moment to
lose. Clinton won in the first heat. After a desperate struggle in the
State Legislature the Hamiltonians succeeded in passing resolutions
ordering a State Convention to be elected for the purpose of considering
the Constitution; but the result in April proved the unabated power and
industry of Clinton,--the first, and not the meanest of New York's
political "bosses,"--for two-thirds of the men selected were his
followers. The Convention was called for the 17th of June and it was
rumoured that the Clintonians intended immediately to move an
adjournment until the following year. According to an act of Congress
the ratification of only nine States was necessary to the adoption of
the Constitution. The others could come into the Union later if they
chose, and there was a disposition in several States to watch the
experiment before committing themselves. Hamilton, who knew that such a
policy, if pursued by the more important States, would result in civil
war, was determined that New York should not behave in a manner which
would ruin her in the present and disgrace her in history, and wrote on
with increasing vigour, hoping to influence the minds of the
oppositionists elected to the Convention as well as the people at large.
Even he had never written anything which had attracted so wide admiring
and acrimonious attention. The papers were read in all the cities of the
Confederation, and in such hamlets as boasted a mail-bag. When they
reached England and France they were almost as keenly discussed. That
they steadily made converts, Hamilton had cause to know, for his
correspondence was overwhelming. Troup and General Schuyler attended to
the greater part of it; but only himself could answer the frequent
letters from leaders in the different states demanding advice. He
thought himself fortunate in segregating five hours of the twenty-four
for sleep. The excitement throughout the country was intense, and it is
safe to say that nowhere and for months did conversation wander from the
subject of politics and the new Constitution, for more than ten minutes
at a time. In New York Hamilton was the subject of constant and vicious
attack, the Clintonians sparing no effort to discredit him with the
masses. New York City was nicknamed Hamiltonopolis and jingled in
scurrilous rhymes. In the midst of it all were two diversions: the
fourth of his children, and a letter which he discovered before General
Schuyler or Troup had sorted his mail. As the entire Schuyler family
were now in his house, and his new son was piercingly discontented with
his lot, he took refuge in his chambers in Garden Street, until Betsey
was able to restore peace and happiness to his home. The postman had
orders to bring his mail-bag thither, and it was on the second morning
of his exile that the perfume of violets caused him to make a hasty
journey through the letters.
He found the spring sweetness coincidentally with a large square,
flowingly superscribed. He glanced at the clock. His devoted assistants
would not arrive for half an hour. He broke the seal. It was signed
Eliza Capet Croix, and ran as follows:--
MY DEAR SIR: Do you care anything for the opinion of my humble sex,
I wonder? The humblest of your wondering admirers is driven beyond
the bounds of feminine modesty, sir, to tell you that what you do
not write she no longer cares to read. I was the first to detect--I
claim that honour--such letters by Publius as were not by your
hand, and while I would not disparage efforts so conscientious,
they seem to me like dawn to sunrise. Is this idle flattery? Ah,
sir! I too am greatly flattered. I do not want for admirers. Nor
can I hope to know--to know--so great and busy a man. But my
restless vanity, sir, compels me to force myself upon your notice.
I should die if I passed another day unknown to the man who gives
me the greatest pleasures of my life--I have every line you have
had printed that can be found, and half the booksellers in the
country searching for the lost copies of the _Continentalist_--I
should die, I say, if you were longer ignorant that I have the
intelligence, the ambition, and the erudition to admire you above
all men, living or dead. For that is my pride, sir. Perchance I was
born for politics; at all events you have made them my passion, and
I spend my days converting Clintonians to your cause. Do not scorn
my efforts. It is not every day that a woman turns a man's thoughts
from love to patriotism; I have heard that 'tis oftenest the other
way. But I take your time, and hasten to subscribe myself, my dear
Your humble and obd't servant
ELIZA CAPET CROIX.
The absence of superfluous capitals and of underscoring in this letter,
alone would have arrested his attention, for even men of a less severe
education than himself were liberal in these resources, and women were
prodigal. The directness and precision were also remarkable, and he
recalled that she was but nineteen. The flattery touched him, no doubt,
for he was very human; and despite the brevity of his leisure, he read
the note twice, and devoted a moment to conjecture.
"She is cleverer, even, than Lady Kitty, or Susan and Kitty Livingston,
by this," he mused. "She would be worth knowing, did a driven mortal but
have the time to idle in the wake of so much intelligence--and beauty.
Not to answer this were unpardonable--I cannot allow the lady to die."
He wrote her a brief note of graceful acknowledgement, which caused Mrs.
Croix to shed tears of exultation and vexation. He acknowledged her but
breathed no fervid desire for another letter. It is not to be expected
that maturest nineteen can realize that, although a busy man will find
time to see a woman if it be worth his while, the temptations to a
romantic correspondence are not overwhelming.
Hamilton tore up the letter and threw it into the waste basket. Its
perfume, delicate but imperious, intruded upon his brief. He dived into
the basket as he heard Troup's familiar whistle, and thrust the pieces
into a breast pocket. In a moment he remembered that Betsey's head would
be pillowed upon that pocket at five in the afternoon, and he hastily
extracted the mutilated letter, and applied a match to it, consigning
women to perdition. Troup sniffed as he entered the room.
"Violets and burnt paper," remarked he. "'Tis a combination I have
noticed before. I wonder will some astute perfumer ever seize the idea?
It would have its guilty appeal for our sex--perchance for t'other;
though I'm no cynic like you and Morris."
"Shut up," said Hamilton, "and get to work if you love me, for I've no
time to write to St. Croix, much less waste five seconds on any woman."
That afternoon he wasted half an hour in search of a bunch of redolent
violets to carry home to his wife. He pinned three on his coat.
When the 17th of June approached, Hamilton, John Jay, Chancellor
Livingston, and James Duane, started on horse for Poughkeepsie, not
daring, with Clinton on the spot, and the menace of an immediate
adjournment, to trust to the winds of the Hudson. General Schuyler had
promised to leave even a day sooner from the North, and the majority of
Federal delegates had gone by packet-boat, or horse, in good season.
The old post road between New York and Albany was, for the greater part
of the way, but a rough belt through a virgin forest. Occasionally a
farmer had cleared a few acres, the lawns of a manor house were open to
the sun, the road was varied by the majesty of Hudson and palisade for a
brief while, or by the precipitous walls of mountains, so thickly wooded
that even the wind barely fluttered their sombre depths. Man was a
moving arsenal in those long and lonely journeys, for the bear and the
panther were breeding undisturbed. But the month was hot, and those
forest depths were very cool; the scenery was often as magnificent as
primeval, and a generous hospitality at many a board dispelled, for an
interval, the political anxiety of Hamilton and his companions.
Hamilton, despite a mind trained to the subordination of private
interests to public duty, knew that it was the crisis of his own destiny
toward which he was hastening. He had bound up his personal ambitions
with the principles of the Federalist party--so called since the
publication in book form of the Publius essays; for not only was he
largely responsible for those principles, but his mind was too well
regulated to consider the alternative of a compromise with a possibly
victorious party which he detested. Perhaps his ambition was too
vaulting to adapt itself to a restricted field when his imagination had
played for years with the big ninepins of history; at all events, it was
inseparably bound up with nationalism in the boldest sense achievable,
and with methods which days and nights of severe thought had convinced
him were for the greatest good of the American people. Union meant
Washington in the supreme command, himself with the reins of government
in both hands. The financial, the foreign, the domestic policy of a
harmonious federation were as familiar to his mind as they are to us
to-day. Only he could achieve them, and only New York could give him
those reins of power.
It is true that he had but to move his furniture over to Philadelphia to
be welcomed to citizenship with acclamation by that ambitious town; but
not only was his pride bound up in the conquest of New York from
Clintonism to Federalism, but New York left out of the Union, dividing
as she did New England from the South and North, of the highest
commercial importance by virtue of her central position and her harbour,
meant civil war at no remote period, disunion, and the undoing of the
most careful and strenuous labours of the nation's statesmen. That New
York should be forced into the Union at once Hamilton was determined
upon, if he had to resort to a coup which might or might not meet with
the approval of the rest of the country. Nevertheless, he looked forward
to the next few weeks with the deepest anxiety. An accident, an illness,
and the cause was lost, for he made no mistake in estimating himself as
the sole force which could bear Clinton and his magnificent organization
to the ground. Hamilton was no party manipulator. He relied upon his
individual exertions, abetted by those of his lieutenants,--the most
high-minded and the ablest men in the country,--to force his ideas upon
the masses by their own momentum and weight. Indeed, so individual did
he make the management of the Federalist party, that years later, when
the "Republican" leaders determined upon its overthrow, they aimed all
their artillery at him alone: if he fell the party must collapse, on top
of him; did he retain the confidence of the people, he would magnetize
their obedience, no matter what rifts there might be in his ranks.
He had established a horse-express between Virginia and Poughkeepsie,
and between New Hampshire and the little capital. Eight States having
ratified, the signature of New Hampshire, the next in order, would mean
union and a trial of the Constitution, a prospect which could not fail
to influence the thinking men of the anti-Federal party; but it was from
the ratification of Virginia that he hoped the greatest good. This State
occupied much the same position in the South that New York did in the
North, geographically, commercially, historically, and in the
importance of her public men. And she was as bitterly opposed to union,
to what a narrow provincialism held to be the humiliation of the States.
Patrick Henry, her most powerful and eloquent leader, not through the
selfish policy of a Clinton, but in the limitations of a too narrow
genius, was haranguing with all his recuperated might against the
sinister menace to the liberties of a people who had freed themselves of
one despotism so dearly; and even Randolph, with characteristic
hesitancy when approaching a point, was deficient in enthusiasm,
although he intimated that he should vote for the unconditional adoption
of the Constitution he had refused to sign. He and Marshall were
Madison's only assistants of importance against the formidable opponent
of union, and it was well understood among leaders that Jefferson, who
was then American minister in France, gave the Constitution but a
grudging and inconsistent approval, and would prefer that it failed,
were not amendments tacked on which practically would nullify its
energies. But although Hamilton had such lieutenants as John Jay, Philip
Schuyler, Duane, and Robert Livingston, Madison had the inestimable,
though silent, backing of Washington. The great Chief had, months since,
forcibly expressed his sentiments in a public letter; and that colossal
figure, the more potent that it was invisible and mute, guided as many
wills as Madison's strenuous exertions and unanswerable dispassionate
But Washington, although sufficiently revered by New Yorkers, was not
their very own, as was he the Virginians'; was by no means so impinging
and insistent as his excellency, Governor Clinton, he whose powerful
will and personality, aided by an enterprise and wisdom that were not
always misguided, for eleven years had compelled their grateful
submission. It was difficult to convince New Yorkers that such a man was
wholly wrong in his patriotism, particularly when their own interests
seemed bound so firmly to his. It was this dominant, dauntless,
resourceful, political nabob that Hamilton knew he must conquer
single-handed, if he conquered him at all; for his lieutenants, able as
they were, could only second and abet him; they had none of his
fertility of resource. As he rode through the forest he rehearsed every
scheme of counterplay and every method that made for conquest which his
fertile brain had conceived. He would exercise every argument likely to
appeal to the decent instincts of those ambitious of ranking as
first-class citizens, as well as to the congenital selfishness of man,
which could illuminate the darker recesses of their Clintonized
understandings, and effect their legitimate conversion; then, if these
higher methods failed, coercion.
"What imperious method are you devising, Hamilton?" asked Livingston.
"Your lips are set; your eyes are almost black. I've seen you like that
in court, but never in good company before. You look as if considering a
challenge to mortal combat."
Hamilton's brow cleared, and he laughed with that mercurial lightness
which did more to preserve the balance of what otherwise would have been
an overweighted mind than any other quality it possessed.
"Well, am I not to fight a duel?" he asked. "Would that I could call
Clinton out and settle the question as easily as that. I disapprove of
duelling, but so critical a moment as this would justify anything short
of trickery. We'll leave that to Clinton; but although there is no vast
difference between my political and my private conscience, there are
recourses which are as fair in political as in martial warfare, and I
should be found ingenuous and incapable did I fail to make use of them."
"Well, you love a fight," said Jay, without experiencing the humour of
his remark. "I believe you would rather fight than sit down in good
company at any time, and you are notoriously convivial. But easy
conquest would demoralize you. If I do not mistake, you have the
greatest battle of your career, past or present, immediately ahead of
you--and it means so much to all of us--I fear--I fear--"
"I will listen to no fears," cried Hamilton, who at all events had no
mind to be tormented by any but his own. "Are we not alive? Are we not
in health? Are not our intellectual powers at their ripest point of
development? Can Clinton, Melancthon Smith, Yates, Lansing, Jones, make
a better showing?"
"We are nineteen against forty-six," said Jay, with conceivable gloom.
"True. But there is no reason why we should not shortly be forty-six
"We certainly are Right against the most unstatesman-like Selfishness
the world has ever seen," observed Duane.
"Would that experience justified us in thinking well enough of the human
race to gather courage from that fact," replied Hamilton. "It is to the
self-interest of the majority we shall have to appeal. Convince them
that there is neither career nor prosperity for them in an isolated
State, and we may drag them up to a height which is safer than their
mire, simply because it is better, or better because it is safer. This
is a time to practice patriotism, but not to waste time talking about
"Your remarks savour of cynicism," replied Jay, "but I fear there is
much truth in them. It is only in the millennium, I suppose, that we
shall have the unthinkable happiness of seeing on all sides of us an
absolute conformity to our ideals."
In spite of the close, if somewhat formal, friendship between Jay and
Hamilton, the latter was often momentarily depressed by the resemblance
of this flawless character to, and its rigid contrasts from, his dead
friend Laurens. Jay was all that Laurens had passionately wished to be,
and apparently without effort; for nature had not balanced him with a
redeeming vice, consequently with no power to inspire hate or love. Had
he been a degree greater, a trifle more ambitious, or had circumstances
isolated him in politics, he would have been an even lonelier and
loftier figure than Washington, for our Chief had one or two redeeming
humanities; as it was, he stood to a few as a character so perfect that
they marvelled, while they deplored his lack of personal influence. But
his intellect is in the rank which stands just beneath that of the men
of genius revealed by history, and he hangs like a silver star of the
tropics upon the sometimes dubious fields of our ancestral heavens.
Nevertheless, he frequently inspired Hamilton with so poignant a longing
for Laurens that our impetuous hero was tempted to wish for an exchange
"In the millennium we will all tell the truth and hate each other,"
answered Hamilton. "And we either shall all be fools, or those irritants
will be extinct; in any case we shall be happy, particularly if we have
someone to hate."
"Ah, now you jest," said Duane, smiling. "For you are logical or
nothing. _You_ may be happy when on the warpath, but the rest of us are
not. And you are the last man to be happy in a millennium by yourself."
They all laughed at this sally, for Hamilton was seldom silent. He
"Someone to fight. Someone to love. Three warm friends. Three hot
enemies. A sufficiency of delicate food and wine. A West Indian
swimming-bath. Someone to talk to. Someone to make love to. War.
Politics. Books. Song. Children. Woman. A religion. There you have the
essence of the millennium, embroider it as you may."
"And scenery," added Jay, devoutly.
The road for the last quarter of an hour had led up a steep hill, above
which other hills piled without an opening; and below lay the Hudson. As
they paused upon the bare cone of the elevation, the river looked like a
chain of Adirondack lakes, with dense and upright forests rising tier
beyond tier until lost in the blue haze of the Catskills. The mountains
looked as if they had pushed out from the mainland down to the water's
edge to cross and meet each other. So close were the opposite crags that
the travellers could see a deer leap through the brush, the red of his
coat flashing through the gloomy depths. Below sped two packet-boats in
a stiff breeze.
"Friends or enemies?" queried Livingston. "I wish I were with them, for
I must confess the pleasures of horse travel for seventy-five miles must
be the climax of a daily habit to be fully appreciated. It is all very
well for Hamilton, who is on a horse twice every day; but as I am ten
years older and proportionately stiffer, I shall leave patriotism to the
rest of you for a day or two after our arrival."
Hamilton did not answer. He had become conscious of the delicate yet
piercing scent of violets. Wild violets had no perfume, and it was long
past their season. He glanced eagerly around, but without realizing what
prompted a quick stirring of his pulses. There was but one tree on the
crag, and he stood against it. Almost mechanically his glance sought its
recesses, and his hand reached forward to something white. It was a
small handkerchief of cambric and lace. The other men were staring at
the scenery. He hastily glanced at the initials in the corner of the
scented trifle, and wondered that he should so easily decipher a tangled
E.C.C. But he marvelled, nevertheless, and thrust the handkerchief into
They reached Poughkeepsie late in the afternoon. Main Street, which was
the interruption of the post road, and East Street, which terminated the
Dutchess turnpike, were gaily decorated with flags and greens, the
windows and pavements crowded with people whose faces reflected the
nervous excitement with which the whole country throbbed. The capital
for ten years, the original village had spread over the hills into a
rambling town of many avenues, straight and twisted, and there were
pretentious houses and a certain amount of business. Hamilton and his
party were stared at with deep curiosity, but not cheered, for the town
was almost wholly Clintonian. The Governor had his official residence on
the Dutchess turnpike, a short distance from town; and this was his
court. Nevertheless, it was proudly conscious of the dignity incumbent
upon it as the legislative centre of the State, and no matter what the
suspense or the issue, had no mind to make the violent demonstrations of
other towns. Nearly every town of the North, including Albany, had
burned Hamilton in effigy, albeit with battered noses, for he had his
followers everywhere; but here he was met with a refreshing coolness,
for which the others of his party, at least, were thankful.
They went first to Van Kleek's tavern, on the Upper Landing Road, not
far from the Court-house, to secure the rooms they had engaged; but
finding an invitation awaiting them from Henry Livingston to make use of
his house during the Convention, repaired with unmixed satisfaction to
the large estate on the other side of the town. The host was absent, but
his cousin had been requested to do the honours to as many as he would
ask to share a peaceful retreat from the daily scene of strife.
"And it has the advantage of an assured privacy," said Hamilton. "For
here we can hold conference nightly with no fear of eavesdropping.
Moreover, to get a bath at Van Kleek's is as easy as making love to
General Schuyler joined them an hour later. He had been in town all day,
and had held several conferences with the depressed Federalists, who,
between a minority which made them almost ridiculous, and uncomfortable
lodgings, were deep in gloomy forebodings. As soon as they heard of
their Captain's arrival they swarmed down to the Livingston mansion.
Hamilton harangued them cheerfully in the drawing-room, drank with them,
in his host's excellent wine, to the success of their righteous cause;
and they retired, buoyant, confirmed in their almost idolatrous belief
in the man who was responsible for all the ideas they possessed.
Although Hamilton and Clinton had no liking for each other, they were
far from being the furious principals in one of those political hatreds
which the times were about to engender,--an intellectual cataclysm which
Hamilton was to experience in all its blackness, of which he was to be
the most conspicuous victim. He had by no means plumbed his depths as
yet. So far he had met with few disappointments, few stumbling blocks,
never a dead wall. Life had smiled upon him as if magnetized. At home he
found perfect peace, abroad augmenting ranks of followers, sufficient
work to use up his nervous energies, and the stimulant of enmity and
opposition that he loved. It was long since he had given way to rage,
although he flew into a temper occasionally. He told himself he was
become a philosopher, and was far from suspecting the terrible passions
which the future was to undam. His mother, with dying insight, had
divined the depth and fury of a nature which was all light on the
surface, and in its upper half a bewildering but harmonious
intermingling of strength, energy, tenderness, indomitability,
generosity, and intense emotionalism: a stratum so large and so
generously endowed that no one else, least of all himself, had suspected
that primeval inheritance which might blaze to ashes one of the most
nicely balanced judgements ever bestowed on a mortal, should his enemies
combine and beat his own great strength to the dust.
But when Hamilton and Clinton approached the Court-house from opposite
directions, on the morning of the 17th, they did not cross the street to
avoid meeting, although they bowed with extreme formality and measured
each other with a keen and speculative regard. Clinton was now
forty-nine years old, his autocratic will, love of power, and knowledge
of men, in their contemptuous maturity. He was a large man, with the
military bearing of the born and finished martinet, a long hard nose,
and an irritated eye. The irritation kindled as it met Hamilton's, which
was sparkling with the eager determination of a youth which, although
desirable in itself, was become a presumption when pitted against those
eighteen additional distinguished years of the Governor of New York.
That there was a twinkle of amusement in the Federalist's eye was also
to his discredit.
"The young fop," fumed Clinton, as he brushed a fleck of mud from his
own magnificent costume of black ducape, "he is the _enfant gate_ of
politics, and I shall settle him here once for all. It will be a public
The Court-house, which stood halfway up the hill, on the corner of Main
and East streets, and was surrounded by the shade of many maples, was a
two-story building of rough stones welded together by a ruder cement.
The roof sloped, and above was a belfry. The Convention was held in the
upper story, which was unbroken by partition; and with the windows open
upon what looked to be a virgin forest, so many were the ancient trees
remaining in the little town, the singing of birds, the shrilling of
crickets, the murmur of the leaves in an almost constant breeze, the old
Court-house of Poughkeepsie was by no means a disagreeable
gathering-place. Moreover, it was as picturesque within as it was
arcadian without; for the fine alert-looking men, with their powdered
hair in queues, their elaborately cut clothes of many colours, made for
the most part of the corded silk named ducape, their lawn and ruffles,
made up the details of a charming picture, which was far from appealing
to them, but which gives us a distinct pleasure in the retrospect.
Governor Clinton was elected the President of the Convention. On the
right of the central table sat his forty-five henchmen, with Melancthon
Smith, one of the most astute and brilliant debaters of the time, well
to the front. Opposite sat Hamilton, surrounded by General Schuyler,
Jay, Duane, and Robert Livingston, the rest of his small following close
to the windows, but very alert, their gaze never ranging far from their
leader. Beyond the bar crowded the invited guests, many of them women in
all the finery of the time.
If the anti-Federalists had entertained the idea of an immediate and
indefinite adjournment, they appear to have abandoned it without waste
of time; perhaps because long and tedious journeys in midsummer were not
to be played with; perhaps because they were sure of their strength;
possibly because Clinton was so strongly in favour of arranging
Hamilton's destinies once for all.
Certainly at the outset the prospects of the Federalists were almost
ludicrous. The anti-Federalists were two-thirds against one-third,
fortified against argument, uncompromisingly opposed to union at the
expense of State sovereignty, clever and thinking men, most of them,
devoted to Clinton, and admirably led by an orator who acknowledged no
rival but Hamilton. The latter set his lips more than once, and his
heart sank, but only to leap a moment later with delight in the mere
test of strength.
Clinton's first move was to attempt a vote at once upon the Constitution
as a whole, but he was beaten by Hamilton and many in his own ranks, who
were in favour of the fair play of free debate. The Governor was forced
to permit the Convention to go into a Committee of the Whole, which
would argue the Constitution section by section. Hamilton had gained a
great point, and he soon revealed the use he purposed to make of it.
It is doubtful if his own followers had anticipated that he would speak
almost daily for three weeks, receiving and repelling the brunt of every
argument; and certainly Clinton had looked for no such feat.
The contest opened on the Clintonian side, with the argument that an
amended Confederation was all that was necessary for the purposes of a
more general welfare. The plan advanced was that Congress should be
given the power to compel by force the payment of the requisitions which
the States so often ignored. Hamilton demolished this proposition with
one of his most scornful outbursts.
Coerce the States! [he cried]. Never was a madder project devised!
Do you imagine that the result of the failure of one State to
comply would be confined to that State alone? Are you so willing to
hazard a civil war? Consider the refusal of Massachusetts, the
attempt at compulsion by Congress. What a series of pictures does
this conjure up? A powerful State procuring immediate assistance
from other States, particularly from some delinquent! A complying
State at war with a non-complying State! Congress marching the
troops of one State into the bosom of another! This State
collecting auxiliaries and forming perhaps a majority against its
Federal head! And can any reasonable man be well disposed toward a
government which makes war and carnage the only means of supporting
itself?--a government that can exist only by the sword? And what
sort of a State would it be which would suffer itself to be used as
the instrument of coercing another? ... A Federal standing army,
then, must enforce the requisitions or the Federal treasury will be
left without supplies, and the government without support.... There
is but one cure for such an evil--to enable the national laws to
operate on individuals like the laws of the States. To take the old
Confederation as the basis of a new system, and to trust the sword
and the purse to a single assembly organized upon principles so
defective, giving it the full powers of taxation and the national
forces, would result in what--Despotism! To avoid the very issue
which appears to be held in such abject terror, a totally different
government from anything into which the old Confederation can be
twisted, or fitted out with wings and gables, must be established
with proper powers and proper checks and balances.
His words created a palpable uneasiness. The outburst was the more
effective for following and preceding close passionless and pointed
reasoning, a trenchant review of other republics ancient and modern, and
an elaborate argument in favour of the representation prescribed by the
Hamilton was not only the most brilliant, resourceful, and unanswerable
orator of his time, but he was gifted with an almost diabolical power
over the emotions of men, which he did not hesitate to use. At this
momentous assembly he kept them in exercise; when he chose, he made his
audience weep; and the Clintonians weakened daily. Had not many years of
trouble and anxiety made their emotions peculiarly susceptible, Hamilton
would have attempted their agitation more sparingly; and had he been
theatrical and rhetorical in his methods, he would have lost his control
of them long before the end of the session. But he rarely indulged in a
trope or a flight, never in bathos nor in bursts of ill-balanced appeal.
Nothing ever was drier than the subjects he elucidated day after day for
three weeks: for he took the Constitution to pieces bit by bit, and
compelled them to listen to an analysis which, if propounded by another,
would have bored them to distraction, vitally interested as they were.
But he not only so illuminated the cold pages of the Constitution that
while they listened they were willing to swear it was more beautiful
than the Bible, but the torrent of his eloquence, never confusing, so
sharp was every feature of the Constitution to his own mind, the magic
of his personality, and his intense humanity in treating the driest
sections of the document, so bewitched his audience that, even when he
talked for six hours without pausing on the subject of taxation, perhaps
the baldest topic which the human understanding is obliged to consider,
there was not a sign of impatience in the ranks of the enemy.
He by no means harrowed them daily; he was far too astute for that.
There were days together when he merely charmed them, and they sat with
a warm unconscious smile while he demolished bit by bit one of
Melancthon Smith's clever arguments, in a manner so courteous that even
his victim could only shrug his shoulders, although he cursed him
roundly afterward. Then, when his audience least expected an assault, he
would treat them to a burst of scorn that made them hitch their chairs
and glance uneasily at each other, or to a picture of future misery
which reduced them to pulp.
Clinton was infuriated. Even he often leaned forward, forgetting his own
selfish ambitions when Hamilton's thrilling voice poured forth a rapid
appeal to the passions of his hearers; but he quickly resumed the
perpendicular, and set his lips to imprison a scarlet comment. He saw
that his men were weakening, and as much to the luminous expounding of
the Constitution, to the logic of the orator, as to a truly satanic
eloquence and charm. He held long private sessions at his mansion on the
turnpike, where he was assisted by much material argument. But even
Melancthon Smith, who distinguished himself in almost daily debate,
acknowledged more than once that Hamilton had convinced him; and others
asserted, with depression, that their minds, which they had supposed to
be their own,--or Clinton's,--seemed to be in a process of remaking.
After all, for the most part, they were sincere and earnest; and
although it is difficult for us of the present day to comprehend that