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1792.] JEFFERSON'S CHARACTER OF HAMILTON.
another department, to wit, that of the Treasury. That a system had there been contrived for deluging the States with paper money instead of gold and silver, for withdrawing our citizens from the pursuits of commerce, manufactures, buildings, and other branches of useful industry, to occupy themselves and their capitals in a species of gambling, destructive of morality, and which had introduced its poison into the government
Mr. Jefferson went on, in the same strain, to comment at large upon the measures of Mr. Hamilton, but records no reply of importance on the part of Washington, whose object in seeking the conversation had been merely to persuade his Secretary to remain in the cabinet ; and who had no relish for the censorious comments to which it had given rise.
Yet with all this political rivalry, Jefferson has left on record his appreciation of the sterling merit of Hamilton. In his Anas, he speaks of him as “ of acute understanding, disinterested, honest, and honorable in all private transactions ; amiable in society, and duly valuing virtue in private life. Yet so bewitched and perverted by the British example, as to be under thorough conviction that corruption was essential to the government of a nation.”
In support of this sweeping exception to Mr. Hamilton's political orthodoxy, Mr. Jefferson gives, in his Anas, a conversation which occurred between that gentleman and Mr. Adams, at his (Mr. Jefferson's) table, after the cloth was removed. Conversation, writes he, “began on other matters, and by some cir
* Jefferson's Works, ix. 102.
cumstance was led to the British constitution, on which Mr. Adams observed, “purge that constitution of its corruption, and give to its popular branch equality of representation, and it would be the most perfect constitution ever devised by the wit of man. Hamilton paused and said, “purge it of its corruption, and give to its popular branch equality of representation, and it would become an impracticable government; as it stands at present, with all its supposed defects, it is the most perfect government which ever existed.” *
This after-dinner conversation appears to us very loose ground on which to found the opinion continually expressed by Mr. Jefferson, that “Mr. Hamilton was not only a monarchist, but for a monarchy bottomed on corruption."
Subsequent to Washington's remonstrance with Mr. Jefferson above cited, he had confidential conversations with Mr. Madison on the subject of his intended retirement from office at the end of the presidential term, and asked him to think what would be the proper time and mode of announcing his intention to the public ; and intimating a wish that Mr. Madison would prepare for him the announcement.
Mr. Madison remonstrated in the most earnest manner against such a resolution, setting forth in urgent language, the importance to the country of his continuing in the presidency. Washington listened to his reasoning with profound attention, but still clung to his resolution.
In consequence of St. Clair's disastrous defeat and the increasing pressure of the Indian war, bills had been
* Jefferson's Works, vol. ix., p. 96.
WASHINGTON TO ST. CLAIR.
passed in Congress for increasing the army, by adding three regiments of infantry and a squadron of cavalry (which additional force was to serve for three years, unless sooner discharged), also for establishing a uniform militia system.
The question now came up as to the appointment of an officer to command in the Western frontier. General St. Clair, in a letter to Washington, expressed a wish that a court of inquiry might be instituted to investigate his conduct in the late expedition. “Your desire,” replied Washington, March 28th,“ of rectifying any errors of the public opinion relative to your conduct, by an investigation of a court of inquiry, is highly laudable, and would be readily complied with, were the measure practicable. But a total deficiency of officers in actual service, of competent rank to form a legal court for that purpose, precludes the power of gratifying your wishes on this occasion.
“The intimation of your wishes to afford your successor all the information of which you are capable, although unnecessary for my personal conviction, must be regarded as an additional evidence of the goodness of your heart, and of your attachment to your country.”
In a letter dated March 31st, St. Clair urged reasons for being permitted to retain his commission “until an opportunity should be presented, if necessary, of investigating his conduct in every mode presented by law.”
These reasons, Washington replied, would be conclusive with him under any other circumstances than the present. “But the establishment of the troops," observes he, “allows only of one Major General. You have manifested your intention of retiring, and the
“ He has many
essential interests of the public require that your successor should be immediately appointed, in order to repair to the frontiers.
“As the House of Representatives have been pleased to institute an inquiry into the causes of the failure of the late expedition, I should hope an opportunity would thereby be afforded you of explaining your conduct in a manner satisfactory to the public and yourself.”
St. Clair resigned his commission, and was succeeded in his Western command by General Wayne, the mad Anthony of the revolution, still in the vigor of his days, being forty-seven years of age. good points as an officer," writes Washington, “and it is to be hoped that time, reflection, good advice, and, above all, a due sense of the importance of the trust which is committed to him, will correct his foibles, or cast a shade over them." *
Washington's first thought was that a decisive expedition conducted by this energetic man of the sword, might retrieve the recent frontier disgrace, and put an end to the persevering hostility of the Indians. In deference, however, to the clamors which had been raised against the war and its expenses, and to meet what appeared to be the prevalent wish of the nation, he reluctantly relinquished his more energetic policy, and gave in to that which advised further negotiations for peace; though he was far from anticipating a beneficial result.
In regard to St. Clair, we will here add: that a committee of the House of Representatives ultimately inquired into the cause of the failure of his expedition,
* Letter to Governor Lee. Washington's Writings, X. 248.
REQUESTS MADISON'S ADVICE.
and rendered a report, in which he was explicitly exculpated. His adjutant general also (Winthrop Sargent), in his private diary, testifies to St. Clair's coolness and bravery, though debilitated by illness. Public sentiment, however, remained for a long time adverse to him ; but Washington, satisfied with the explanations which had been given, continued to honor him with his confidence and friendship.
Congress adjourned on the 8th of May, and soon afterward Washington set off on a short visit to Mount Vernon. The season was in all its beauty, and never had this rallying place of his affections appeared to him more attractive. How could he give up the prospect of a speedy return to its genial pursuits and pleasures from the harassing cares and janglings of public life. On the 20th of May, he wrote to Mr. Madison on the subject of their late conversation. “I have not been unmindful,” says he, “ of the sentiments expressed by you. On the contrary, I have again and again revolved them with thoughtful anxiety, but without being able to dispose my mind to a longer continuation in the office I have now the honor to hold. I, therefore, still look forward with the fondest and most ardent wishes to spend the remainder of my days, which I cannot expect to be long, in ease and tranquillity."
He now renewed the request he had made Mr. Madison, for advice as to the proper time and mode for announcing his intention of retiring, and for assistance in preparing the announcement. “In revolving this subject myself," writes he, “my judgment has always been embarrassed. On the one hand, a previous declaration to retire, not only carries with it the appearance of