Page images
PDF
EPUB

indeed, it is evident that he felt more keenly than his accusérs; for when the French envoy, Adet, reproached our government for submitting to the searching of our vessels by British cruisers for seamen, and his interference had been repelled by the secretary of state, Hamilton wrote to Wolcott that he did not think " the position assumed by Mr. Pickering true, — that France had no right to interfere. I am of opinion, that, whenever a neutral power suffers liberties to be taken with it by a belligerent one, which turn to the detriment of the other belligerent party, as the acquiring strength by impressing seamen, there is good ground of inquiry, demanding candid explanation." * When, under the administration of the elder Adams, the aggressions of France upon our commerce had induced the president, with a view of recommending retaliatory measures, to convene Congress at an extraordinary session, Hamilton, in his celebrated letter on the conduct of Mr. Adams, proves, by appealing to his own conduct at the time, in reference to our difficulties with France, that he was more anxious to put an end to them than any member of the administration. He states, that, “after the rejection of Mr. Pickering by the government of France, immediately after the instalment of Mr. Adams as president, and long before the measure was taken, I urged a member of Congress,f then high in the confidence of the president, to propose to him the immediate appointment of three commissioners, of whom Mr. Jefferson or Mr. Madison should be one, to make another attempt to negotiate.” I And in corroboration of this, we find he expresses to Wolcott his sentiments on this subject at large.

“Every one who can properly appreciate the situation of our affairs at this moment, in all the extent of possible circumstances, must be extremely anxious for a course of conduct in our government which will unite the utmost prudence with energy. It has been a considerable time my wish that a commission extraordinaryg should be constituted to go to France, to explain, demand, negotiate, &c. I was particularly anxious that the first measure of the present president's administration should have been that, but it has not happened. I now continue to wish earnestly that the same measure may go into effect, and that the meeting of the Senate may be accelerated for that purpose. Without opening new channel of negotiation, it seems to me the door of accommodation is shut, and rupture will follow, if not prevented by a general peace. Who, indeed, can be certain that a general pacification of Europe may not leave us alone to receive the law from France? Will it be wise to omit any thing to parry, if possible, these great risks? Perhaps the Directory have declared that they will not receive a minister till their grievances shall have been re. dressed ! This can hardly mean more than that they will not receive a residing minister. It cannot mean that they will not hear an extraordinary messenger, who may even be sent to know what will satisfy. Suppose they do. It will still be well to convince the people that the government has done all in its power, and that the Directory are unreasonable.

* Vol. I., p. 393.
| Uriah Tracy, a Senator from Connecticut.

See Vol. I., p. 483. § In the margin is written, “ Madison, Pinckney, Cabot.”

“ But the enemies of the government call for the measure. To me this is a very strong reason for pursuing it. It will meet them on their own ground, and disarm them of the plea that something has been omitted.

“I ought, my good friend, to apprise you, for you may learn it from no other, that a suspicion begins to dawn among the friends of the government that the actual administration (ministers) is not averse from war with France. How very important to obviate this !” — Vol. 1., pp. 484, 485.

In a subsequent letter, he says, “ We ought to do every thing to avoid rupture without unworthy sacrifices, and to keep in view the primary object, union at home. No measure can tend more to this than an extraordinary mission. And it is certain, that, to fulfil these ends, it ought to embrace a character in whom France and the opposition have full credit.” He was nevertheless "clearly of opinion, that the president should come forward to Congress in a manly tone, and that Congress should adopt vigorous defensive meas

Again, after the meeting of Congress, he observes of the incipient measures, — “I like very well the course of Executive conduct in regard to the controversy with France, and I like the answer of the Senate to the president's speech; but I confess I have not been well satisfied with the answer reported to the House. It contains too many hard expressions ; and hard words are very rarely useful in public proceedings. Mr. Jay and other friends here [New York] have been struck in the same manner with myself.”+ * See Vol. I., pp. 489, 490.

Ibid., pp. 543, 544.

ures."*

These letters, and the sentiments of the writer expressed in them, were doubtless unknown to the leaders of the opposition. That Mr. Jefferson and his satellites should have charged him with little short of a treasonable attachment to Great Britain, and, as a consequence of it, with an inveterate hostility to France, is therefore not to be wondered at; we remember the tactics to which parties too frequently resort.

So, too, in the succeeding year, when the seditious conduct of certain partisans of the opposition was brought by the president to the notice of Congress, who were induced to legislate against it, we find Hamilton, the imputed advocate of arbitrary power, declaring that there were provisions in the bill, which, according to a cursory view, appeared to be highly exceptionable, and such as more than any thing else might endanger civil war.

“I hope sincerely the thing may not be hurried through. Let US NOT ESTABLISH TYRÁNNY. Energy is a very different thing from violence. If we make no false step, we shall be essentially united ; but if we push things to an extreme, we shall then give to faction body and solidity.” — Vol. 11., p. 68.

He was charged, too, with hostility to State rights; but, on a subject materially affecting them, he declares himself in language which we earnestly recommend to the consideration of our present ruling powers. " The idea," he says, " of the late president's (Washington's] administration, of considering the governor of each State as the first general of the militia, and its immediate organ in acting upon the militia, was wisely considered, and in my opinion wisely adopted, nd well to be adhered to." *

But enough ; these instances are sufficient for our purpose, and, one would suppose, sufficient to have silenced his accusers for ever. Their malice pursued him to the grave ; and although the person by whom he met his death ceased to utter these slanders for a season, they were afterwards revived in the miserable party controversies of a later day. Is it too much to hope that they now may be permitted to sleep for ever?

When the presidential election of 1800 had resulted in an

* Vol. II., p. 229.

equal vote for Jefferson and Burr, the personal interference and influence of Hamilton, it is well known, were exerted on the side of the former, and there can no longer remain a doubt, that they settled the question in his favor. Hamilton acted on this occasion, as on all others, with a single eye to what he deemed the honor and welfare of his country, regardless of his own private interests, predilections, or enmities, or those of his friends. From the moment of his meeting Mr. Jefferson in the cabinet of General Washington, the latter had been compelled to feel, and eventually to yield to, the superiority of his rival, towards whom he thenceforward cherished a bitter personal as well as political animosity. Hamilton, on his part, did not take pains to conceal his repugnance to the principles and character of Jefferson. He looked upon him as a visionary, but dangerous, theorist in morals and politics, as a dabbler in literature and science, and a hypocrite in every thing but religion, which, as a disciple of the school of Voltaire, he had affected to ridicule, with the malice, but not the wit, of his master. The two men were, in fact, as much opposed to each other in their private characters and opinions as in their public principles and conduct. But the one brooded in secret over his resentments, while the other, with the frankness of a soldier, as well as the native candor of the man, on all proper occasions avowed his sentiments, without any other restraints than those imposed by delicacy and honor. He carried, indeed, his heart in his hand, and it is not surprising that foul birds should have pecked at it. His character, however, has survived the calumnies of his enemies, many of whom professed to have buried their resentment in his untimely grave; but whether actuated by sincere veneration of the deceased, or by hostility to his murderer, is known only to the searcher of all hearts. But as the malicious attacks of his enemies could make no impression injurious to the character of Hamilton, so neither could their eulogies add one jot or tittle to his fame. So rich a combination of excellence, both of head and heart, of intellectual, moral, and social qualities, of various talents and knowledge, of native genius and practical ability, of private integrity and public virtue, has seldom appeared in any age or country. True it is, he had his faults, for he was a man; but considered as a statesman and a patriot, we ne'er shall look upon his like again.

Contrasted with Burr, his character appears in a somewhat different, but still more striking and favorable, light. Their relative position and feelings were widely different from those of Hamilton and Jefferson. Although, from dislike or suspicion of Burr, Hamilton had always avoided an intimacy with him, they had been fellow-soldiers in the Revolution, and fellow-citizens both before and afterwards. They were members of the same profession, and practised for many years at the same bar. In their mutual intercourse, they had always treated each other with the courtesy of gentlemen ; nor were they ever known to have a personal difference before that leading to the fatal rencontre between them. And what was the origin of that lamentable catastrophe, but the preference given to Jefferson by Hamilton in the contested election of 1800,- a preference given to one whom he knew to be his enemy, over one whom he regarded merely as a political opponent, and did not suspect of personal ill-will towards him? Yet, when the question between Burr and Jefferson was pending in Congress, Hamilton interfered zealously and openly in favor of the latter, and unquestionably determined the choice of the House of Representatives. To this interference Jefferson owed his election, Hamilton his death ; and through this singular fatality was the life of this great and good man sacrificed by his magnanimity towards an inveterate enemy, and by a devotion to the welfare of his country superior to all private and personal impulses of interest or passion.

We cannot close our remarks upon this valuable contribution to our political history, without expressing our thanks to the editor for the gratification its perusal has afforded us, and for the obligation he has conferred on every friend of sound principles and enlightened policy by its publication. The monument he has erected to departed Federalism will serve not only to perpetuate the honors due to its memory, and to that of his relative among the rest of its worthiest disciples, but, by inscribing his own name on the pedestal, to identify his reputation with theirs. May it prove also a beacon to guide his contemporaries in the only path that leads public men to honorable distinction, and their country to true glory !

« PreviousContinue »