Page images
PDF
EPUB

ALEXANDER HAMILTON

[ocr errors][merged small]

Inaugural address March 19th, 1904, before the Associated Societies

of the University of Edinburgh.

REVOLUTIONARY periods, produce

, if they

igencies of the times demand. Whether they are bred out of the conditions which create the Revolution, or always exist in every community, waiting for the supreme summons to call them forth, seems little to the purpose to inquire. The appointed hour strikes and the man appears.

Napoleon, the most consummate individual force in modern history, evolved out of years of terror and anarchy to rescue a great nation from chaos, will occur to every one as the most striking example. Lincoln, of happier destiny, rising above the bloody carnage of civil war to save his divided Country, by striking the shackles from four millions of slaves, and so converting the doubtful war for Empire into a sublime and triumphant contest for Freedom, seems to have been providentially created for that awful crisis. Going back to the very beginning of our young Republic when, after all hope of conciliation with the Mother Country was abandoned, the Continental Congress appointed Washington as the Commander-in-Chief of the American Army, to withstand the overwhelming power of the mightiest of nations, and by his matchless patience, skill, and valor, to achieve the Independence of the Colonies, they appear to have found and selected the one man in all history best qualified for that most critical task.

In the subsequent making of the new nation, which the success of Washington and his companions-in-arms at last rendered possible, there appeared a considerable body of statesmen, trained in political discussion, tried by seven years of war, aroused by the four years of anarchy that succeeded, whose combined wisdom and foresight framed the Constitution of the United States, and set in motion the Government which it called into being, in a way that to-day challenges the admiration and approval of all thinking men. Foremost among these in intellectual brilliancy, individual force, constructive capacity, and personal influence was Alexander Hamilton, to whose character and achievements I would briefly invite your attention.

Just a hundred years ago, in the full career and triumph of vigorous middle life, he was wantonly slain in a duel that was forced upon him, and which he accepted in the spirit of false chivalry that then prevailed; but the work of his hands and his brain has all the time been growing and his fame has steadily advanced, until to-day he stands, as I think, next to Washington and Franklin among the celebrated Founders of the American Republic. At last even fiction has been busy with his name, as if by a sort of mystical birth a miraculous genius had been created to be a conqueror among the men of his time. But truth is stranger than fiction, and the plain facts of his life constitute a romance almost as thrilling and fascinating as the pen of the novelist has ever painted.

I shall not attempt a biography of this extraordinary man - only a brief series of biographs, rapidly shifting, within the limits of the prescribed hour. Nor shall I try to solve the mysterious problem of his birth and pedigree. We know that he was born in the little West India island of Nevis, and that his father was à Scotch merchant who soon fell into bankruptcy, and had little part in his training. His mother was a brilliant Creole lady of Huguenot descent, noted for her beauty and wit, who died in his early childhood. Whatever their own misfortunes, their union was blest by the birth of this son, whose nature combined the national characteristics of both most felicitously blended — a keen and powerful intellect, of marvellous precocity, a tropical and fiery energy which sustained a soaring ambition, and an endless and untiring capacity for labor.

His early training and education were most accidental and desultory, and at the age of twelve he found himself working for his daily bread as clerk in a local counting house. But his talents were not to be thus hidden under a bushel. They were discovered and known to a few friends of

« PreviousContinue »