Weakness of the United States Government Under the Articles of Confederation
IMPOSSIBLE as Congress found it, during the Revolutionary War, to fill the quotas of the army, the task of raising a revenue by requisitions upon the States was even more discouraging. Every State had its own war-debt, and several were applicants for foreign loans not easy to obtain, so that none could without the greatest difficulty raise a surplus to hand over to Congress. The Continental rag-money had ceased to circulate by the end of 1780, and our foreign credit was nearly ruined. The French government began to complain of the heavy demands which the Americans made upon its exchequer, and Vergennes, in sending over a new loan in the fall of 1782, warned Franklin that no more must be expected. To save American credit from destruction, it was at least necessary that the interest on the public debt should be paid. For this purpose Congress in 1781 asked permission to levy a five per cent. duty on imports. The modest request was the signal for a year of angry discussion. Donkeys fond of reasoning from analogy asked, If taxes could thus be levied by any power outside the State, why had we ever opposed the Stamp Act or the tea duties ? After more than a year Massachusetts consented, by a bare majority of two in the House and one in the Senate, reserving to herself the right of appointing the collectors. The bill was then vetoed by Hancock, though one day too late, and so it was saved. But Rhode Island flatly refused her consent, and so did Virginia, though Madison earnestly pleaded the cause of the public credit. For the current expenses of the government in that same year $9,000,000 were needed. It was calculated that $4,000,000 might be raised by a loan, and the other $5,000,000 were demanded of the States. At the end of the year $422,000 had been collected, not a cent of which came from Georgia, the Carolinas, or Delaware. Rhode Island, which paid $38,000, did the best of all according to its resources. Of the Continental taxes assessed in 1783, only one fifth part had been paid by the middle of 1785. And the worst of it was that no one could point to a remedy for this state of things, or assign any probable end to it.
Under such circumstances the public credit sank at home as well as abroad. Foreign creditors — even France, who had been nothing if not generous with her loans — might be made to wait; but there were creditors at home who, should they prove ugly, could not be so easily put off. The disbandment of the army in the summer of 1783, before the British troops had evacuated New York, was hastened by the impossibility of paying the soldiers and the dread of what they might do under such provocation. Though peace had been officially announced, Hamilton and Livingston urged that, for the sake of appearances if for no other reason, the army should be kept together so long as the British remained in New York, if not until they should have surrendered the western frontier posts. But Congress could not pay the army, and was afraid of it, — and not without some reason. Discouraged at the length of time which had passed since they had received any money, the soldiers had begun to fear lest, now that their services were no longer needed, their honest claims would be set aside. Among the officers, too, there was grave discontent. In the spring of 1778, after the dreadful winter at Valley Forge, several officers had thrown up their commissions, and others threatened to do likewise. To avert the danger, Washington had urged Congress to promise half-pay for life to such officers as should serve to the end of the war. It was only with great difficulty that he succeeded in obtaining a promise of halfpay for seven years, and even this raised an outcry throughout the country, which seemed to dread its natural defenders only less than its enemies. In the fall of 1780, however, in the general depression which followed upon the disasters at Charleston and Camden, the collapse of the paper money, and the discovery of Arnold’s treason, there was serious danger that the army would fall to pieces. At this critical moment Washington had earnestly appealed to Congress, and against the strenuous opposition of Samuel Adams had at length extorted the promise of half-pay for life. In the spring of 1782, seeing the utter inability of Congress to discharge its pecuniary obligations, many officers began to doubt whether the promise would ever be kept. It had been made before the articles of confederation, which required the assent of nine States to any such measure, had been finally ratified. It was well known that nine States had never been found to favor the measure, and it was now feared that it might be repealed or repudiated, so loud was the popular clamor against it. All this comes of republican government, said some of the officers ; too many cooks spoil the broth ; a dozen heads are as bad as no head; you do not know whose promises to trust; a monarchy, with a good king whom all men can trust, would extricate us from these difficulties. In this mood, Colonel Louis Nicola, of the Pennsylvania line, a foreigner by birth, addressed a long and well-argued letter to Washington, setting forth the troubles of the time, and urging him to come forward as a saviour of society, and accept the crown at the hands of his faithful soldiers. Nicola was an aged man, of excellent character, and in making this suggestion he seemed to be acting as spokesman of a certain clique or party among the officers, —• how numerous is not known. Washington instantly replied that Nicola could not have found a person to whom such a scheme could be more odious, and he was at a loss to conceive what he had ever done to have it supposed that he could for one moment listen to a suggestion so fraught with mischief to his country. Lest the affair, becoming known, should enhance the popular distrust of the army, Washington said nothing about it. But as the year went by, and the outcry against half-pay continued, and Congress showed symptoms of a willingness to compromise the matter, the discontent of the army increased. Officers and soldiers brooded alike over their wrongs. “ The army,” said General Macdougall, “ is verging to that state which, we are told, will make a wise man mad.” The peril of the situation was increased by the wellmeant but injudicious whisperings of other public creditors, who believed that if the army would only take a firm stand and insist upon a grant of permanent funds to Congress for liquidating all public debts, the States could probably be prevailed upon to make such a grant. Robert Morris, the able secretary of finance, held this opinion, and did not believe that the States could be brought to terms in any other way. His namesake and assistant, Gouverneur Morris, held similar views, and gave expression to them in February, 1783, in a letter to General Greene, who was still commanding in South Carolina. When Greene received the letter, he urged upon the legislature of that State, in most guarded and moderate language, the paramount need of granting a revenue to Congress, and hinted that the army would not be satisfied with anything less. The assembly straightway flew into a rage. “ No dictation by a Cromwell ! ” shouted the members. South Carolina had consented to the five per cent. impost, but now she revoked it, to show her independence, and Greene’s eyes were opened at once to the danger of the slightest appearance of military intervention in civil affairs.
Copyright, 1886, by HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & Co.
At the same time a violent outbreak in the army at Newburgh was barely prevented by the unfailing tact of Washington. A rumor went about the camp that it was generally expected the army would not disband until the question of pay should be settled, and that the public creditors looked to them to make some such demonstration as would overawe the delinquent States. General Gates had lately emerged from the retirement in which he had been fain to hide himself after Camden, and had rejoined the army where there was now such a field for intrigue. An odious aroma of impotent malice clings about his memory on this last occasion on which the historian needs to notice him. He plotted in secret with officers of the staff and others. One of his staff, Major Armstrong, wrote an anonymous appeal to the troops, and another, Colonel Barber, caused it to be circulated about the camp. It named the next day for a meeting to consider grievances. Its language was inflammatory. “ My friends! ” it said, “ after seven long years your suffering courage has conducted the United States of America through a doubtful and bloody war; and peace returns to bless — whom ? A country willing to redress your wrongs, cherish your worth, and reward your services ? Or is it rather a country that tramples upon your rights, disdains your cries, and insults your distresses? . . . If such be your treatment while the swords you wear are necessary for the defense of America, what have you to expect when those very swords, the instruments and companions of your glory, shall be taken from your sides, and no mark of military distinction left but your wants, infirmities, and scars ? If you have sense enough to discover and spirit to oppose tyranny, whatever garb it may assume, awake to your situation. If the present moment be lost, your threats hereafter will be as empty as your entreaties now. Appeal from the justice to the fears of government; and suspect the man who would advise to longer forbearance.”
Better English has seldom been wasted in a worse cause. Washington, the man who was aimed at in the last sentence, got hold of the paper next day, just in time, as he said, “ to arrest the feet that stood wavering on a precipice.” The memory of the revolt of the Pennsylvania line, which had so alarmed the people in 1781, was still fresh in men’s minds ; and here was an invitation to more wholesale mutiny, which could hardly fail to end in bloodshed, and might precipitate the perplexed and embarrassed country into civil war. Washington issued a general order, recognizing the existence of the manifesto, but overruling it so far as to appoint the meeting for a later day, with the senior major-general, who happened to be Gates, to preside. This order, which neither discipline nor courtesy could disregard, in a measure tied Gates’s hands, while it gave Washington time to ascertain the extent of the disaffection. On the appointed day he suddenly came into the meeting, and amid profoundest silence broke forth in a most eloquent and touching speech. Sympathizing keenly with the sufferings of his hearers and fully admitting their claims, he appealed to their better feelings, and reminded them of the terrible difficulties under which Congress labored, and of the folly of putting themselves in the wrong. He still counseled forbearance as the greatest of victories, and with consummate skill he characterized the anonymous appeal as undoubtedly the work of some crafty emissary of the British, eager to disgrace the army which they had not been able to vanquish. All were hushed by that majestic presence and those solemn tones. The knowledge that he had refused all pay, while enduring more than any other man in the room, gave added weight to every word. In proof of the good faith of Congress he began reading a letter from one of the members, when, finding his sight dim, he paused and took from his pocket the new pair of spectacles which the astronomer David Rittenhouse had just sent him. He had never worn spectacles in public, and as he put them on he said, in his simple manner and with his pleasant smile, “ I have grown gray in your service, and now find myself growing blind.” While all hearts were softened he went on reading the letter, and then withdrew, leaving the meeting to its deliberations. There was a sudden and mighty revulsion of feeling. A motion was reported declaring “ unshaken confidence in the justice of Congress ; ” and it was added that “ the officers of the American army view with abhorrence and reject with disdain the infamous proposals contained in a late anonymous address to them.” The crestfallen Gates, as chairman, had nothing to do but put the question and report it carried unanimously ; for if any still remained obdurate they no longer dared to show it. Washington immediately set forth the urgency of the case in an earnest letter to Congress, and one week later the matter was settled by an act commuting half-pay for life into a gross sum equal to five years’ full pay, to be discharged at once by certificates bearing interest at six per cent. Such poor paper was all that Congress had to pay with, but it was all ultimately redeemed ; and while the commutation was advantageous to the government, it was at the same time greatly for the interest of the officers, while they were looking out for new means of livelihood, to have their claims adjusted at once, and to receive something which could do duty as a respectable sum of money.
Nothing, however, could prevent the story of the Newburgh affair from being published all over the country, and it greatly added to the distrust with which the army was regarded on general principles. What might have happened was forcibly suggested by a miserable occurrence in June, about two months after the disbanding of the army had begun. Some eighty soldiers of the Pennsylvania line, mutinous from discomfort and want of pay, broke from their camp at Lancaster and marched down to Philadelphia, led by a sergeant or two. They drew up in line before the State House, where Congress was assembled, and after passing the grog began throwing stones and pointing their muskets at the windows. They demanded pay, and threatened, if it were not forthcoming, to seize the members of Congress and hold them as hostages, or else to break into the bank where the federal deposits were kept. The executive council of Pennsylvania sat in the same building, and so the federal government appealed to the state government for protection. The appeal was fruitless. President Dickinson had a few state militia at his disposal, but did not dare to summon them, for fear they should side with the rioters. The city government was equally listless, and the townsfolk went their ways as if it were none of their business; and so Congress fled across the river and on to Princeton, where the college afforded it shelter. Thus in a city of thirty-two thousand inhabitants, the largest city in the country, the government of the United States, the body which had just completed a treaty browbeating England and France, was ignominiously turned out-of-doors by a handful of drunken mutineers. The affair was laughed at by many, but sensible men keenly felt the disgrace, and asked what would be thought in Europe of a government which could not even command the services of the police. The army became more unpopular than ever, and during the summer and fall many town-meetings were held in New England, condemning the commutation act. Are we not poor enough already, cried the farmers, that we must be taxed to support in idle luxury a riotous rabble of soldiery, or create an aristocracy of men with gold lace and epaulets, who will presently plot against our liberties? The Massachusetts legislature protested ; the people of Connecticut meditated resistance. A convention was held at Middletown in December, at which two thirds of the towns in the State were represented, and the best method of overruling Congress was discussed. Much high-flown eloquence was wasted, but the convention broke up without deciding upon any course of action. The matter had become so serious that wise men changed their minds, and disapproved of proceedings calculated to throw Congress into contempt. Samuel Adams, who had almost violently opposed the grant of half-pay and had been dissatisfied with the commutation act, now came completely over to the other side. Whatever might be thought of the policy of the measures, he said, Congress had an undoubted right to adopt them. The army had been necessary for the defense of our liberties, and the public faith had been pledged to the payment of the soldiers. States were as much bound as individuals to fulfill their engagements, and did not the sacred Scriptures say of an honest man that, though he sweareth to his own hurt, he changeth not ? Such plain truths prevailed in the Boston townmeeting, which voted that “ the commutation is wisely blended with the national debt.” The agitation in New England presently came to an end, and in this matter the course of Congress was upheld.
In order fully to understand this extravagant distrust of the army, we have to take into account another incident of the summer of 1783, which gave rise to a discussion that sent its reverberation all over the civilized world. Men of the present generation who in childhood rummaged in their grandmother’s cosy garrets cannot fail to have come across scores of musty and worm-eaten pamphlets, their yellow pages crowded with italics and exclamation points, inveighing in passionate language against the wicked and dangerous society of the Cincinnati. Just before the army was disbanded, the officers, at the suggestion of General Knox, formed themselves into a secret society, for the purpose of keeping up their friendly intercourse and cherishing the heroic memories of the struggle in which they had taken part. With the fondness for classical analogies which characterized that time, they likened themselves to Cincinnatus, who was taken from the plough to lead an army, and returned to his quiet farm so soon as his warlike duties were over. They were modern Cincinnati. A constitution and by-laws were established for the order, and Washington was unanimously chosen to be its president. Its branches in the several States were to hold meetings each Fourth of July, and there was to be a general meeting of the whole society every year in the month of May. French officers who had taken part in the war were admitted to membership, and the order was to be perpetuated by descent through the eldest male representatives of the families of the members. It was further provided that a limited membership should from time to time be granted, as a distinguished honor, to able and worthy citizens, without regard to the memories of the war. A golden American eagle attached to a blue ribbon edged with white was the sacred badge of the order; and to this emblem especial favor was shown at the French court, where the insignia of foreign states were generally regarded with jealousy and disgust. No political purpose was to be subserved by this order of the Cincinnati, save in so far as the members pledged to one another their determination to promote and cherish the union between the States. In its main intent the society was to be a kind of masonic brotherhood, charged with the duty of aiding the widows and the orphan children of its members in time of need. Innocent as all this was, however, the news of the establishment of such a society was greeted with a howl of indignation all over the country. It was thought that its founders were inspired by a deeplaid political scheme for centralizing the government and setting up a hereditary aristocracy. The press teemed with invective and ridicule, and the feeling thus expressed by the penny-a-liners was shared by able men accustomed to weigh their words. Franklin dealt with it in a spirit of banter, and John Adams in a spirit of abhorrence ; while Samuel Adams pointed out the dangers inherent in the principle of hereditary transmission of honors, and in the admission of foreigners into a secret association possessed of political influence in America. What! cried the men of Massachusetts. Have we thrown overboard the effete institutions of Europe, only to have them straightway introduced among us again, after this plausible and surreptitious fashion ? At Cambridge it was thought that the general sentiment of the university was in favor of suppressing the order by act of legislature. One of the members, who was a candidate for Senator in the spring of 1784, found it necessary to resign in order to save his chances for election. Rhode Island proposed to disfranchise such of her citizens as belonged to the order, albeit her most eminent citizen, Nathaniel Greene, was one of them. Ædanus Burke, a judge of the Supreme Court of South Carolina, wrote a violent pamphlet against the society of the Cincinnati under the pseudonym of Cassius, the slayer of tyrants ; and this diatribe, translated and amplified by Mirabeau, awakened dull echoes among readers of Rousseau and haters of privilege in all parts of Europe. A swarm of brochures in rejoinder and rebutter issued from the press, and the nineteenth century had come in before the controversy was quite forgotten.
It is easy for us now to smile at this outcry against the Cincinnati as much ado about nothing, seeing as we do that in the absence of territorial jurisdiction or especial political privileges an order of nobility cannot be created by the mere inheritance of empty titles or badges. For example, since the great revolution which swept away the landlordship and fiscal exemptions of the French nobility, a marquisate or a dukedom in France is of scarcely more political importance than a doctorate of laws in a New England university. Men were nevertheless not to be blamed in 1783 for their hostility toward that ghost of the hereditary principle which the Cincinnati sought to introduce. In a free industrial society like that of America it had no proper place or meaning ; and the attempt to set up such a form might well have been cited in illustration of the partial reversion toward militancy which eight years of warfare had effected. The absurdity of the situation was quickly realized by Washington, and he prevailed upon the society, in its first annual meeting of May, 1784, to abandon the principle of hereditary membership. The agitation was thus allayed, and in the presence of graver questions the much - dreaded brotherhood gradually ceased to occupy popular attention.
The opposition to the Cincinnati is not fully explained unless we consider it in connection with Nicola’s letter, the Newburgh address, and the flight of Congress to Princeton. The members of the Cincinnati were pledged to do whatever they could to promote the union between the States; the object of the Newburgh address was to enlist the army in behalf of the public creditors, and in some vaguely-imagined fashion to force a stronger government upon the country ; the letter of Nicola shows that at least some of the officers had harbored the notion of a monarchy ; and the weakness of Congress had been revealed in the most startling manner by its flight before a squad of mutineers. It is one of the lessons of history that, in the virtual absence of a central government for which a need is felt, the want is apt to be supplied by the strongest organization in the country, whatever that may happen to be. It was in this way that the French army, a few years later, got control of the government of France and made its general emperor. In 1783, if the impotence of Congress were to be as explicitly acknowledged as it was implicitly felt, the only federal organization left in the country was the army, and when this was disbanded it seemed nevertheless to prolong its life under a new and dangerous form in the secret brotherhood of the Cincinnati. The cession of Western lands to the confederacy was, moreover, completed at about this time, and one of the uses to which the new territory was to be put was the payment of claims due to the soldiers. It was distinctly feared, as is shown in a letter from Samuel Adams to Elbridge Gerry, that the members of the Cincinnati would acquire large tracts of Western land under this arrangement, and, importing peasants from Germany, would grant farms to them on terms of military service and fealty, thus introducing into America the feudal system. In order to forestall any such movement, it was provided by Congress that in any new States formed out of the Western territory no person holding a hereditary title should be admitted to citizenship.
From the weakness of Congress as illustrated in its inability to raise money to pay the public debt and meet the current expenses of government, and from the popular dread of military usurpation which went along with the uneasy consciousness of that weakness, we have now to turn to another group of affairs in which the same point is still further illustrated and emphasized. We have seen how the commissioners of the United States in Paris had succeeded in making a treaty of peace with Great Britain on extremely favorable terms. So unpopular was the treaty in England, on account of the great concessions made to the Americans, that, as we have seen, the fall of Lord Shelburne’s ministry was occasioned thereby. As an offset to these liberal concessions, of which the most considerable was the acknowledgment of the American claim to the northwestern territory, our confederate government was pledged to do all in its power to effect certain concessions which were demanded by England. That the American loyalists, whose property had been confiscated by various state governments, should be indemnified for their losses was a claim which, whatever Americans might think of it, England felt bound in honor to urge. That private debts, due from American to British creditors, should be faithfully discharged was the plainest dictate of common honesty. Congress, as we have seen, was bound by the treaty to recommend to the several States to desist from the persecution of Tories, and to give them an opportunity of recovering their estates; and it had been further agreed that all private debts should be discharged at their full value in sterling money. It now turned out that Congress was powerless to carry out the provisions of the treaty upon either of these points. The recommendations concerning the Tories were greeted with a storm of popular indignation. Since the beginning of the war these unfortunate persons had been treated with severity both by the legislatures and by the people. Many had been banished ; others had fled the country, and against these refugees various harsh laws had been enacted. Their estates had been confiscated and their return prohibited under penalty of imprisonment or death. Many others, who had remained in the country, were objects of suspicion and dislike in States where they had not, as in New York and the Carolinas, openly aided the enemy or taken part in Indian atrocities. Now, on the conclusion of peace, in utter disregard of Congress, fresh measures of vengeance were taken against these “ fawning spaniels,” as they were called, these “ tools and minions of Britain.” An article in the Massachusetts Chronicle expressed the common feeling : “ As Hannibal swore never to be at peace with the Romans, so let every Whig swear, by his abhorrence of slavery, by liberty and religion, by the shades of departed friends who have fallen in battle, by the ghosts of those of our brethren who have been destroyed on board of prison-ships and in loathsome dungeons, never to be at peace with those fiends the refugees, whose thefts, murders, and treasons have filled the cup of woe.” Tons of pamphlets, issued under the customary Latin pseudonyms, were filled with this truculent bombast; and like sentiments were thundered from the pulpit by men who had quite forgotten for the moment their duty of preaching reconciliation and forgiveness of injuries. Why should not these wretches, it was sarcastically asked, be driven at once from the country ? Of course they could not desire to live under a free government which they had been at such pains to destroy. Let them go forthwith to his majesty’s dominions, and live under the government they preferred. It would never do to let them stay here, to plot treason at their leisure ; in a few years they would get control of all the States, and either hand them over to Great Britain again, or set up a Tory despotism on American soil. Such was the rubbish that passed current as argument with the majority of the people. A small party of moderate Whigs saw its absurdity, and urged that the Tories had much better remain at home, where they had lost all political influence, than go and found unfriendly colonies to the northward. The moderate Whigs were in favor of heeding the recommendation of Congress, and acting in accordance with the spirit of the treaty; and these humane and sensible views were shared by Gadsden and Marion in South Carolina, by Theodore Sedgwick in Massachusetts, and by Greene, Hamilton, and Jay. But any man who held such opinions, no matter how conspicuous his services had been, ran the risk of being accused of Tory sympathies. “ Timeserving Whigs ” and “ trimmers ” were the strangely inappropriate epithets hurled at men who, had they been in the slightest degree time-servers, would have shrunk from the thankless task of upholding good sense and humanity in the teeth of popular prejudice.
In none of the States did the loyalists receive severer treatment than in New York, and for obvious reasons. Throughout the war the frontier had been the scene of atrocities such as no other State, save perhaps South Carolina, had witnessed. Cherry Valley and Minisink were names of horror not easily forgotten, and the fate of Lieutenant Boyd and countless other victims called loudly for vengeance. The sins of the Butlers and their bloodthirsty followers were visited in robbery and insult upon unoffending men, who were like them in nothing but in being labeled with the epithet “ Tory.” During the seven years that the city of New York had been occupied by the British army, many of these loyalists had found shelter there. The Whig citizens, on the other hand, had been driven off the island, to shift as best they might in New Jersey, while their comfortable homes were seized and assigned by military orders to these very Tories. For seven years the refugee Whigs from across the Hudson had looked upon New York with feelings like those with which the mediæval exile from Florence or Pisa was wont to regard his native city. They saw in it the home of enemies who had robbed them, the prison-house of gallant friends penned up to die of wanton ill-usage in foul ships’ holds in the harbor. When at last the king’s troops left the city, it was felt that a great day of reckoning had arrived. In September, 1783, two months before the evacuation, more than twelve thousand men, women, and children embarked for the Bahamas or for Nova Scotia, rather than stay and face the troubles that were coming. Many of these were refined and cultivated persons, and not all had been actively hostile to the American cause ; many had simply accepted British protection. Against those who remained in the city the returning Whigs now proceeded with great severity. The violent party was dominant in the legislature, and George Clinton, the governor, put himself conspicuously at its head. A bill was passed disfranchising all such persons as had voluntarily stayed in neighborhoods occupied by the British troops ; their offense was called misprision of treason. But the council vetoed this bill as too wholesale in its operation, for it would have left some districts without voters enough to hold an election. An “ iron-clad oath ” was adopted instead, and no one was allowed to vote unless he could swear that he had never in any wise abetted the enemy. It was voted that no Tory who had left the State should be permitted to return ; and a bill was passed, known as the Trespass Act, whereby all persons who had quit their homes by reason of the enemy’s presence might recover damages in an action of trespass against such persons as had since taken possession of the premises. Defendants in such cases were expressly barred from pleading a military order in justification of their possession. As there was scarcely a building on the island of New York that had not thus changed hands during the British occupation, it was easy to foresee what confusion must ensue. Everybody whose house had ever been, for ever so few days, in the hands of a Tory now rushed into court with his action of trespass. Damages were rated at most exorbitant figures, and it became clear that the misdeeds of the enemy were about to be made the excuse for a carnival of spoliation, when all at once the test case of Rutgers v. Waddington brought upon the scene a sturdy defender of order, an advocate who was soon to become one of the foremost personages in American history.
In the course of the Revolutionary War our attention has now and then been called for a moment to Alexander Hamilton. The most precocious young man of that day, save perhaps William Pitt, he had already given promise of a great career before the breaking out of the war. He was born on the island of Nevis, in the West Indies, in 1757. His father belonged to that famous Scottish clan from which have come one of the most learned metaphysicians and one of the most original mathematicians of modern times. His mother was a French lady, of Huguenot descent, and biographers have been fond of tracing in his character the various qualities of his parents. To the shrewdness and persistence, the administrative ability, and the taste for abstract reasoning which we are wont to find associated in the highest type of Scottish mind he joined a truly French vivacity and grace. His earnestness, sincerity, and moral courage were characteristic alike of Puritan and of Huguenot. In the course of his short life he exhibited a remarkable many-sidedness. So great was his genius for organization that in many most essential respects the American government is moving to-day along the lines which he was the first to mark out. As an economist he shared to some extent in the shortcomings of the age which preceded Adam Smith, but in the special department of finance he has been equaled by no other American statesman save Albert Gallatin. He was a splendid orator and brilliant writer, an excellent lawyer, and a clearheaded and industrious student of political history. He was also eminent as a political leader, although he lacked faith in democratic government, and a generous impatience of temperament sometimes led him to prefer short and arbitrary by-paths toward desirable ends, which can never be securely reached save along the broad but steep and arduous road of popular conviction. But with all Hamilton’s splendid qualities, nothing about him is so remarkable as the early age at which these were developed. At the age of fifteen a brilliant newspaper article brought him into such repute in the little island of Nevis that he was sent to New York to avail himself of the best advantages afforded by the King’s College, now known as Columbia. He had at first no definite intention of becoming an American citizen, but the thrilling events of the time appealed strongly to the earnest heart and powerful intelligence of this wonderful boy. At a gathering of the people of New York in July, 1774, his generous blood warmed, till a resistless impulse brought him on his feet to speak to the assembled multitude. It was no company of half-drunken idlers that thronged about him, but an assemblage of grave and responsible citizens, who looked with some astonishment upon this boy of seventeen years, short and slight in stature, yet erect and Cæsarlike in bearing, with firm set mouth and great, dark, earnest eyes. His eloquent speech, full of sense and without a syllable of bombast, held his hearers entranced, and from that day Alexander Hamilton was a marked man. He began publishing anonymous pamphlets, which at first were attributed by some to Jay, and by others to Livingston. When their authorship was discovered, the loyalist party tried in vain to buy off the formidable youth. He kept up the pamphlet-war, in the course of which he wofully defeated Dr. Cooper, the Tory president of the college ; but shortly afterward he defended the doctor’s house against an angry mob, until the unpopular old gentleman succeeded in making his escape to a British ship. Hamilton served in the army throughout the war, for the most part as aid and secretary to Washington; but in 1781 he was a colonel in the line, and stormed a redoubt at Yorktown with distinguished skill and bravery. He married a daughter of Philip Schuyler, began the practice of law, and in 1782, at the age of twenty-five, was chosen a delegate to Congress. In 1784, when the Trespass Act threw New York into confusion, Hamilton had come to be regarded as one of the most powerful advocates in the country. In the test case which now came before the courts he played a part of consummate boldness and heroism. Elizabeth Rutgers was a widow, who had fled from New York after its capture by General Howe. Her confiscated estate had passed into the hands of Joshua Waddington, a rich Tory merchant, and she now brought suit under the Trespass Act for its recovery. It was a case in which popular sympathy was naturally and strongly enlisted in behalf of the poor widow. That she should have been turned out of house and home was one of the many gross instances of wickedness wrought by the war. On the other hand, the disturbance wrought by the enforcement of the Trespass Act was already creating fresh wrongs much faster than it was righting old ones ; and it is for such reasons as this that both in the common law and in the law of nations the principle has been firmly established that “ the fruits of immovables belong to the captor as long as he remains in actual possession of them.” The Trespass Act contravened this principle, and it also contravened the treaty. It moreover placed the State of New York in an attitude of defiance toward Congress, which had made the treaty and expressly urged upon the States to suspend the legislation against the Tories. On large grounds of public policy, therefore, the Trespass Act deserved to be set aside by the courts, and when Hamilton was asked to serve as counsel for the defendant he accepted the odious task without hesitation. There can be no better proof of his forensic ability than his winning a verdict, in such a case as this, from a hostile court that was largely influenced by the popular excitement. The decision nullified the Trespass Act, and forthwith mass-meetings of the people and an extra session of the legislature condemned this action of the court. Hamilton was roundly abused, and his conduct was attributed to unworthy motives. But he faced the people as boldly as he had faced the court, and published a letter, under the signature of Phocion, setting forth in the clearest light the injustice and impolicy of extreme measures against the Tories. The popular wrath and disgust at Hamilton’s course found expression in a letter from one Isaac Ledyard, a hot-headed pot-house politician, who signed himself Mentor. A war of pamphlets ensued between Mentor and Phocion. It was genius pitted against dullness, reason against passion ; and reason wielded by genius won the day. The more intelligent and respectable citizens reluctantly admitted that Hamilton’s arguments were unanswerable. A club of boon companions, to which Ledyard belonged, made the same admission by the peculiar manner in which it proposed to silence him. It was gravely proposed that the members of the club should pledge themselves one after another to challenge Hamilton to mortal combat, until some one of them should have the good fortune to kill him ! The scheme met with general favor, but was defeated by the exertions of Ledyard himself, whose zeal was not ardent enough to condone treachery and murder. The incident well illustrates the intense bitterness of political passion at the time, as Hamilton’s conduct shows him in the light of a most courageous and powerful defender of the central government. For nothing was more significant in the verdict which he had obtained than its implicit assertion of the rights of the United States as against the legislature of a single State.
In spite of the efforts of such men as Hamilton, life was made very uncomfortable for the Tories. In some States they were subjected to mob violence. Instances of tarring and feathering were not uncommon. The legislature of South Carolina was honorably distinguished for the good faith with which it endeavored to enforce the recommendation of Congress; but the people, unable to forget the smoking ruins of plundered homes, were less lenient. Notices were posted ordering prominent loyalists to leave the country; the newspapers teemed with savage warnings ; and finally, of those who tarried beyond a certain time, many were shot or hanged to trees. This extremity of bitterness, however, did not long continue. The instances of physical violence were mostly confined to the first two or three years after the close of the war. In most of the States the confiscating acts were after a while repealed, and many of the loyalists were restored to their estates. But the emigration which took place between 1783 and 1785 was very large. It has been estimated that 100,000 persons, or nearly three per cent. of the total white population, quit the country. Those from the Southern States went mostly to the Bahamas and Florida; while those from the North laid the foundation of new British states in New Brunswick and Upper Canada. Many of these refugees appealed to the British government for indemnification for their losses, and their claims received prompt attention. A parliamentary commission was appointed to inquire into the matter, and by the year 1790 some $16,000,000 had been distributed among about 4000 sufferers, while many others received grants of crown-lands, or half-pay as military officers, or special annuities, or appointments in the civil service. On the whole, the compensation which the refugees received from Parliament seems to have been much more ample than that which the ragged soldiers of our revolutionary army ever received from Congress.
While the political passions resulting in this forced emigration of loyalists were such as naturally arise in the course of a civil war, the historian cannot but regret that the United States should have been deprived of the services of so many excellent citizens. In nearly all such cases of wholesale popular ven geance, it is the wrong individuals who suffer. We could well afford to dis-
pense with the border-ruffians who abetted the Indians in their carnival of burning and scalping, but the refugees of 1784 were for the most part peaceful and unoffending families, above the average in education and refinement. The vicarious suffering inflicted upon them set nothing right, but simply increased the mass of wrong, while to the general interests of the country the loss of such people was in every way damaging. The immediate political detriment wrought at the time, though it is that which here most nearly concerns us, was perhaps the least important. Since Congress was manifestly unable to carry out the treaty, an excuse was furnished to England for declining to fulfill some of its provisions. In regard to the loyalists, indeed, the treaty had recognized that Congress possessed but an advisory power ; but in the other provision concerning the payment of private debts, which in the popular mind was very much mixed up with the question of justice to the loyalists, the faith of the United States was distinctly pledged. On this point also Congress was powerless to enforce the treaty. Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina had all enacted laws obstructing the collection of British debts; and in flat defiance of the treaty these statutes remained in force until after the downfall of the confederation. The States were aware that such conduct needed an excuse, and one was soon forthcoming. Many negroes had left the country with the British fleet: some doubtless had sought their freedom ; others, perhaps, had been kidnapped as booty, and sold to planters in the West Indies. The number of these black men carried away by the fleet had been magnified tenfold by popular rumor. Complaints had been made to Sir Guy Carleton, but he had replied that any negro who came within his lines was presumably a freeman, and he could not lend his aid in remanding such persons to slavery. Jay, as one of the treaty commissioners, gave it as his opinion that Carleton was quite right in this, but he thought that where a loss of slaves could be proved, Great Britain was bound to make pecuniary compensation to the owners. The matter was wrangled over for several years, in the state legislatures, in town and county meetings, at dinner-tables, and in barrooms, with the ordinary issue that, until such compensation should be made, the statutes hindering the collection of debts would not be repealed. In retaliation for this, Great Britain refused to withdraw her garrisons from the western fortresses, which the treaty had surrendered to the United States. This measure was very keenly felt by the people. As an assertion of superior strength, it was peculiarly galling to our weak and divided confederacy, and it also wrought us direct practical injury. It encouraged the Indian tribes in their depredations on the frontier, and it deprived American merchants of an immensely lucrative trade in furs. In the spring of 1787 there were advertised for sale in London more than 360,000 skins, worth $1,200,000 at the lowest estimate; and had the posts been surrendered according to the treaty, all this would have passed through the hands of American merchants. The London fur-traders were naturally loth to lose their control over this business, and in the language of modern politics they brought “ pressure ” to bear on the government to retain the fortresses as long as possible. The American refusal to pay British creditors furnished an excellent excuse, while the weakness of Congress made any kind of reprisal impossible ; and it was not until Washington’s second term as President, after our national credit had been restored and the strength of our new government made manifest, that England surrendered this chain of strongholds, commanding the woods and waters of our northwestern frontier.