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ticular, which would result from the conquest of the States to the southward, he adjured Jefferson not to permit attention to immediate safety so to engross his thoughts as to divert him from measures for reinforcing the Southern army.
About this time an important resolution was adopted in Congress. Washington had repeatedly, in his communications to that body, attributed much of the distresses and disasters of the war to the congressional mode of conducting business through committees and "boards," thus causing irregularity and delay, preventing secrecy and augmenting expense. He was greatly rejoiced, therefore, when Congress decided to appoint heads of departments; secretaries of foreign affairs, of war and of marine, and a superintendent of finance. "I am happy, thrice happy, on private as well as public account," writes he, "to find that these are in train. For it will ease my shoulders of an immense burthen, which the deranged and perplexed situation of our affairs, and the distresses of every department of the army, had placed upon them.”
General Sullivan, to whom this was written, and who was in Congress, was a warm friend of Washington's aide-de-camp, Colonel Hamilton, and he sounded the commander-in-chief as to the qualifications of the colonel to take charge of the department of finance. "I am unable to answer," replied Washington, "because I never entered upon a discussion with him, but this I can venture to advance, from a thorough knowledge of him, that there are few men to be found of his age, who have more general knowledge than he possesses; and none whose soul is more firmly engaged in the cause, or who exceeds him in probity and sterling virtue."
This was a warm eulogium for one of Washington's circum
THE HAMILTON MISUNDERSTANDING.
spect character, but it was sincere. Hamilton had been four years in his military family, and always treated by him with marked attention and regard. Indeed, it had surprised many to see so young a man admitted like a veteran into his counsels. It was but a few days after Washington had penned the eulogium just quoted, when a scene took place between him and the man he had praised so liberally, that caused him deep chagrin. We give it as related by Hamilton himself, in a letter to General Schuyler, one of whose daughters he had recently married.
"An unexpected change has taken place in my situation," writes Hamilton (Feb. 18). "I am no longer a member of the general's family. This information will surprise you, and the manner of the change will surprise you more. Two days ago the general and I passed each other on the stairs:―he told me he wanted to speak to me. I answered that I would wait on him immediately. I went below and delivered Mr. Tilghman a letter to be sent to the commissary, containing an order of a pressing and interesting nature.
Returning to the general, I was stopped on the way by the Marquis de Lafayette, and we conversed together about a minute on a matter of business. He can testify how impatient I was to get back, and that I left him in a manner, which, but for our intimacy, would have been more than abrupt. Instead of finding the general, as is usual, in his room, I met him at the head of the stairs, where, accosting me in an angry tone, 'Colonel Hamilton (said he), you have kept me waiting at the head of the stairs these ten minutes;—I must tell you, sir, you treat me with disrespect.' I replied, without petulancy, but with decision, 'I am not conscious of it, sir; but since you have thought it necessary to tell me so, we part.'
'Very well, sir (said he), if
it be your choice,' or something to this effect, and we separated. I sincerely believe my absence, which gave so much umbrage, did not last two minutes.
"In less than an hour after, Tilghman came to me in the general's name, assuring me of his great confidence in my abilities, integrity, usefulness, &c., and of his desire, in a candid conversation, to heal a difference which could not have happened but in a moment of passion. I requested Mr. Tilghman to tell him, -1st. That I had taken my resolution in a manner not to be revoked. 2d. That as a conversation could serve no other purpose than to produce explanations, mutually disagreeable, though I certainly would not refuse an interview, if he desired it, yet' I would be happy, if he would permit me to decline it. 3d. That though determined to leave the family, the same principles which had kept me so long in it, would continue to direct my conduct towards him when out of it. 4th. That, however, I did not wish to distress him, or the public business, by quitting him before he could derive other assistance by the return of some of the gentlemen who were absent. 5th. And that, in the mean time, it depended on him to let our behavior to each other be the same as if nothing had happened. He consented to decline the conversation, and thanked me for my offer of continuing my aid in the manner I had mentioned.
"I have given you so particular a detail of our difference, from the desire I have to justify myself in your opinion. Perhaps you may think I was precipitate in rejecting the overture. made by the general to an accommodation. I assure you, my dear sir, it was not the effect of resentment; it was the deliberate result of maxims I had long formed for the government of my own conduct."
MISUNDERSTANDING OF HAMILTON.
In considering this occurrence, as stated by Hamilton himself, we think he was in the wrong. His hurrying past the gen. eral on the stairs without pausing, although the latter expressed a wish to speak with him; his giving no reason for his haste, which, however "pressing" the letter he had to deliver, he could have spared at least a moment to do; his tarrying below to talk with the Marquis de Lafayette, the general all this time remaining at the head of the stairs, had certainly an air of great disrespect, and we do not wonder that the commander-in-chief was deeply offended at being so treated by his youthful aide-de-camp. His expression of displeasure was measured and dignified, however irritated he may have been, and such an explanation, at least, was due to him, as Hamilton subsequently rendered to General Schuyler, through a desire to justify himself in that gentleman's opinion. The reply of Hamilton, on the contrary, savored very much of petulance, however devoid he may have considered it of that quality, and his avowed determination "to part," simply because taxed by the general with want of respect, was singularly curt and abrupt.
Washington's subsequent overture, intended to soothe the wounded sensitiveness of Hamilton and soften the recent rebuke, by assurances of unaltered confidence and esteem, strikes us as in the highest degree noble and gracious, and furnishes another instance of that magnanimity which governed his whole conduct. We trust that General Schuyler, in reply to Hamilton's appeal, intimated that he had indeed been precipitate in rejecting such
The following passage in Hamilton's letter to Schuyler, gives the real key to his conduct on this occasion.
"I always disliked the office of an aide-de-camp, as having
in it a kind of personal dependence. I refused to serve in this capacity with two Major-generals, at an early period of the war. Infected, however, with the enthusiasm of the times, an idea of the General's character overcame my scruples, and induced me to accept his invitation to enter into his family. It has been often with great difficulty that I have prevailed on myself not to renounce it; but while, from motives of public utility, I was doing violence to my feelings, I was always determined, if there should ever happen a breach between us, never to consent to an accommodation. I was persuaded that when once that nice barrier which marked the boundaries of what we owed to each other should be thrown down, it might be propped again, but could never be restored."
Hamilton, in fact, had long been ambitious of an independent position, and of some opportunity, as he said, "to raise his character above mediocrity." When an expedition by Lafayette against Staten Island had been meditated in the autumn of 1780, he had applied to the commander-in-chief, through the Marquis, for the command of a battalion, which was without a field officer. Washington had declined on the ground that giving him a whole battalion might be a subject of dissatisfaction, and that should any accident happen to him in the actual state of affairs at head-quarters, the commander-in-chief would be embarrassed for want of his assistance.
He had next been desirous of the post of adjutant-general, which Colonel Alexander Scammel was about to resign, and was recommended for that office by Lafayette and Greene, but, before their recommendations reached Washington, he had already sent in to Congress the name of Brigadier-general Hand, who received the nomination.