Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

which was produced, and the ill which was avoided, during an administration fated to contend with the strongest prejudices that a combination of circumstances, and of passions, could produce ; of the constant favor of the great mass of his fellow-citizens, and of the confidence which, to the last moment of his life, they reposed in him; the answer, so far as these causes may be found in his character, will furnish a lesson well meriting the attention of those who are candidates for political fame.

Endowed by nature with a sound judgment, and an accurate discriminating mind, he feared not that laborious attention which made him perfectly master of those subjects, in all their relations, on which he was to decide; and this essential quality was guided by an unvarying sense of moral right, which would tolerate the employment, only, of those means that would bear the most rigid examination; by a fairness of intention which neither sought nor required disguise : and by a purity of virtue which was not only untainted, but unsuspected.

ALEXANDER HAMILTON, 1757-1804.

This distinguished statesman, jurist, soldier, and financier, was born in Nevis, one of the West India Islands, on the 11th of January, 1757. At the age of sixteen he came to New York, and soon after entered Columbia College. He remained here, however, but a short time, for the stirring ante-Revolutionary events warmly excited him, and called him from those academic shades into the duties and dangers of military life. He was little more than eighteen when he joined the army as a captain of artillery, and at twenty had so attracted the attention of Washington, by his writings and eloquence in the cause of independence, that he selected him as one of his aids, with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. Ho remained in the army during the war, attached to the staff of the commander-in-chief, possessing his warm affection and entire confidence, and being consulted by him constantly on all important occasions. In 1780, he was married to the second daughter of General Schuyler. In 1782, he withdrew from public life, and devoted himself to the study of law in New York. He rose rapidly to the very front rank of the profession, and was again called into public life, by being elected by the legislature of New York to the Congress of Confederation in 1782. At the end of the session, he resumed the active duties of his profession.

But a man of such consummate abilities, eloquence, and political wisdom could not long remain in private when great national interests were at stake; and accordingly, in 1787, he was elected one of the three delegates from New York to the Convention for the formation of the Federal Constitution. His influence

1 She survived her husband for half a century, dying in the autumn of 1854, at the advanced age of ninety-five.

in this body is well and justly expressed by Guizot, who says:-“ There is not one element of order, strength, or durability in the Constitution which he did not powerfully contribute to introduce, and cause to be adopted.” After the adjournment of the Convention, and when the Constitution was before the legislatures of the several States for its adoption, he, in conjunction with Madison and Jay, wrote a series of papers explaining and defending the various provisions of that admirable instrument. These essays were afterwards collected and published in a volume under the name of The Federalist,' and constitute one of the most profound and lucid treatises on politics that have ever been written. The introduction and conclusion are from the pen of Hamilton, who also assumed the main discussion of the important points in respect to taxation and revenue, the army and militia, the power of the Executive, and the Judiciary.

Upon the organization of the Government, Washington showed his estimation of Hamilton by appointing him to fill what was then the most important post,overwhelmed as we were by debt,—the office of Secretary of the Treasury. His various reports, wbile he filled this office, of plans for the restoration of public credit, on the protection and encouragement of manufactures, on the necessity and constitutionality of a national bank, and on the establishment of a mint, have given him the reputation of one of the first statesmen the world has ever seen.

While Hamilton was Secretary of the Treasury,—the French Revolution being then at its height --numerous demagogues were active in their efforts to embroil us in a foreign war. But this pure and lofty statesman not only advised the proclamation of neutrality and the mission of John Jay to England to conclude a permanent treaty with that people, but also wrote for the public prints a series of admirable papers, signed “Pacificus” and “Camillus," which bad a controlling influence on the public mind, and which are still regarded as among the most profound commentaries which have appeared on the principles of international law and policy to which they had relation.

When, during the Presidency of John Adams, Washington was invited, in the event of a war with France, to the command of the national forces, he accepted on the condition that Hamilton should be second in command. What higher compliment could have been paid him ?

We now come, with sadness, to the closing period of Hamilton's life. In June, 1804, that gifted but thoroughly unprincipled man, Aaron Burr, then Vice-President of the United States,3 who saw that Hamilton stood in the way of his ambitious views, and who for some time had thirsted for his life, addressed to him a letter demanding his acknowledgment or denial of certain expressions derogatory

1 Of the eighty-five numbers of The Federalist, Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, 54, were written by John Jay ; Nos. 10, 14, and 37 to 48 inclusive-fourteen in all-by James Madison ; Nos. 19 and 20 by Hamilton and Madison ; and all the rest, sixtyfour in number, by Hamilton.

. It was in allusion to these masterly state papers that Daniel Webster, at a public dinner in New York in 1831, said, “ He smote the rock of the national resources, and abundant streams of revenue gushed forth; he touched the dead corpse of the public credit, and it sprung upon its feet.”

Burr was subsequently tried for treason in attempting to form a new republic, but was acquitted for the want of sufficient legal evidence to convict. His ambition seemed to be that of Satan :-“Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven." to his character which he had heard that Hamilton had used. Compliance with this demand Hamilton and all his friends deemed inadmissible, and Burr sent him a challenge. Though opposed on principle to duelling, he felt that his position as a public man, and his high rank in the army of the United States, demanded its acceptance. His words, as found in a paper written tho day before he went to the fatal field, are :-" The ability to be in future useful, whether in resisting mischief or effecting good in those crises in our public affairs which seem likely to happen, would probably be inseparable from a conformity with public prejudice in this particular.” On the 11th of July, the parties met at Hoboken, and Hamilton fell, mortally wounded. He was taken home, and died the next day; living long enough, however, to disavow all intention of taking the life of Burr, and to declare his abhorrence of the whole transaction. Almost his last words were, “I have a tender reliance on the mercy of the Almighty through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ.”]

Next to Washington, no man in this country was ever so universally mourned. The pulpit, the bar, and the press teemed with discourses commemorative of his exalted talents and services and virtues, and every one felt that America had lost her greatest man. Said the great and pious Fisher Ames, “My soul stiffens with despair when I think what Hamilton would have been !"2

THE NECESSITY OF A NATIONAL BANK.3

I am aware of all the objections that have been made to public banks, and that they are not without enlightened and respectable opponents.

But all that has been said against them only tends to prove that, like all other good things, they are subject to abuse,

1 In a letter to a friend, soon after Hamilton's death, the Rev. Dr. Mason thus wrote:—"The greatest statesman in the Western World—perhaps the greatest man of the age-bas been cut off in the forty-eighth year of his life by the murderous arm of Vice-President Burr. The death of Hamilton has created a waste in the spbere of intellect and probity which a century will hardly fill up. He has left none like him,-no second, no third, -nobody to put us in mind of him. You can have no conception of such a man unless you knew him. One burst of grief and indignation assails the murderer from every corner of the continent. Political enemies vie with friends in heaping honors upon his memory.”

2 Read Life and Works by bis son, J. C. Hamilton, 7 vols.; Eulogy by Rev. John M. Mason, D.D.; Sketch of, by Fisher Ames; “ North American Review," liii. 70; “ American Quarterly,” xv. 311. William Coleman, the editor of the " New York Evening Post," published a memorial of the occasion in “ A Collection of Facts and Documents relative to the Death of General Alexander Hamilton, with Orations, Sermons, and Eulogies.” A work of great interest and value has recently been published, entitled “ History of the Republic of the United States of America, as traced in the Writings of Alexander Hamilton and his Contemporaries, by John C. Hamilton.”

s From a letter to Robert Morris, dated April 30, 1781, when the financial state of our country was in a most depressed condition. The letter is long, and one of consummate ability; going into details how the bank should be managed, and what checks and safeguards should be adopted to place it on an enduring foundation. This “ splendid plan,” as it has been called, shows Hamilton's vast reach of mind united to great skill in practical details, as much, perhaps, as any single paper that ever came from his pen.

and when abused become pernicious. The precious metals, by similar arguments, may be proved to be injurious. It is certain that the moneys of South America have had great influence in banishing industry from Spain, and sinking it in real wealth and importance. Great power, commerce, and riches—or, in other words, great national prosperity—may, in like manner, be denominated evils; for they lead to insolence, an inordinate ambition, a vicious luxury, licentiousness of morals, and all those vices which corrupt a government, enslave the state, and precipitate the ruin of a nation. But no wise statesman will reject the good from an apprehension of the ill. The truth is, in human affairs there is no good pure and unmixed. Every advantage has two sides; and wisdom consists in availing ourselves of the good, and guarding as much as possible against the bad.

The tendency of a national bank is to increase public and private credit. The former gives power to the state for the protection of its rights and interests, and the latter facilitates and extends the operations of commerce among individuals. Industry is increased, commodities are multiplied, agriculture and manufactures flourish; and herein consists the true wealth and prosperity of a state. Most commercial nations have found it necessary to institute banks; and they have proved to be the happiest engines that ever were invented for advancing trade. Venice, Genoa, Hamburg, Holland, and England, are examples of their utility. They owe their riches, commerce, and the figure they have made at different periods, in a great degree to this source. Great Britain is indebted for the immense efforts she has been able to make in so many illustrious and successful wars, essentially to that vast fabric of credit raised on this foundation.

THE EXCELLENCY OF OUR CONSTITUTION. After all our doubts, our suspicions and speculations, Mr. Chairman, on the subject of government, we must return at last to this important truth, that when we have formed a constitution upon free principles, when we have given a proper balance to the different branches of administration, and fixed representation upon pure and equal principles, we may with safety furnish it with all the powers necessary to answer, in the most ample manner, the purposes of government. The great objects to be desired are a free representation and mutual checks. When these are obtained, all our apprehensions of the extent of powers are unjust and imaginary. What, then, is the structure of this constitution ? One

1 From a speech delivered in the New York Convention, 1788.

branch of the legislature is to be elected by the people,-by the same people who choose your State representatives. Its members are to hold their office two years, and then return to their constituents. Here, sir, the people govern; here they act by their immediate representatives. You have also a senate, constituted by your State legislatures, by men in whom you place the highest confidence, and forming another representative branch. Then, again, you have an executive magistrate, the president, created by a form of election which merits universal admiration. In the form of this government, and in the mode of legislation, you find all the checks which the greatest politicians and the best writers have ever conceived. What more can reasonable men desire ? Is there any one branch in which the whole legislative and executive powers are lodged ? No. The legislative authority is lodged in three distinct branches, properly balanced; the executive authority is divided between two branches; and the judicial is still reserved for an independent body, who hold their offices during good behavior. This organization is so complex, so skilfully contrived, that it is next to impossible that an impolitic or wicked measure should pass the great scrutiny with success. Now, what do gentlemen mean by coming forward and declaiming against this government? Why do they say we ought to limit its powers, to disable it, and to destroy its capacity of blessing the people? Has philosophy suggested, has experience taught, that such a government ought not to be trusted with every thing necessary for the good of society? Sir, when you have divided and nicely balanced the departments of government; when you have strongly connected the virtue of your rulers with their interest; when, in short, you have rendered your system as perfect as human forms can be, —YOU MUST PLACE CONFIDENCE, YOU MUST GIVE POWER.

CIIARACTER OF MAJOR ANDRE.

There was something singularly interesting in the character and fortunes of Andre. To an excellent understanding, well improved by education and travel, he united a peculiar elegance of mind and manners, and the advantage of a pleasing person. 'Tis said he possessed a pretty taste for the fine arts, and had himself attained some proficiency in poetry, music, and painting. His knowledge appeared without ostentation, and embellished by a diffidence that rarely accompanies so many talents and accomplishments, which left you to suppose more than appeared. His sentimerts were elevated, and inspired esteem; they had a softness that conciliated affection. His elocution was handsome; his address easy, polite, and insinuating. By his merit, he had

« ForrigeFortsett »