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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

Hamilton had fought bravely in the Revolutionary War


The

choice of a President was a foregone conclusion. Everyone knew that Washington was the man whom the hour and the nation demanded. He was chosen without a contest by the Electoral College, and would undoubtedly have been chosen with the same practical unanimity by the people had the choice been theirs. So long as he retained his position he retained along with it the virtually unchallenged pre-eminence which all men acknowledged. There had been cabals against him as a general, and there were signs of a revival of them when his Presidency was clearly foreshadowed. The impulse came mostly from the older and wealthier gentry of his own State--the Lees for example--who tended to look down upon him as a "new man." Towards the end of his political life he was to some extent the object of attack from the opposite quarter; his fame was assailed by the fiercer and less prudent of the Democratic publicists. But, throughout, the great mass of the American people trusted him as their representative man, as those who abused him or conspired against him did so to their own hurt. A less prudent man might easily have worn out his popularity and alienated large sections of opinion, but Washington's characteristic sagacity, which had been displayed so constantly during the war, stood him in as good stead in matters of civil government. He propitiated Nemesis and gave no just provocation to any party to risk its popularity by attacking him. While he was President the mantle of his great fame was
ample enough to cover the deep and vital divisions which were appearing even in his own Cabinet, and were soon to convulse the nation in a dispute for the inheritance of his power.

His Secretary to the Treasury was Alexander Hamilton. This extraordinary man presents in more than one respect a complex problem to the historian. He has an unquestionable right to a place and perhaps to a supreme place among the builders of the American Republic, and much of its foundation-laying was his work. Yet he shows in history as a defeated man, and for at least a generation scarcely anyone dared to give him credit for the great work that he really did. To-day the injustice is perhaps the other way. In American histories written since the Civil War he is not only acclaimed as a great statesman, but his overthrow at the hands of the Jeffersonians is generally pointed at as a typical example of the folly and ingratitude of the mob. This version is at least as unjust to the American people as the depreciation of the Democrats was to him. The fact is that Hamilton's work had a double aspect. In so far as it was directed to the cementing of a permanent union and the building of a strong central authority it was work upon the lines along which the nation was moving, and towards an end which the nation really, if subconsciously, desired. But closely associated with this object in Hamilton's mind was another which the nation did not desire and which was alien to its instincts and destiny. All this second part of his work failed, and involved him in its ruin.

Hamilton had fought bravely in the Revolutionary War, but for the ideals which had become more and more the inspiration of the Revolution he cared nothing, and was too honest to pretend to care. He had on the other hand a strong and genuine American patriotism. Perhaps his origin helped him to a larger view in this matter than was common among his contemporaries. He was not born in any of the revolted colonies, but in


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