Page images

fort Griswold, not a man was killed who ceased to resist.

Soon after the capture of Cornwallis, Hamilton sheathed his sword, and being encumbered with a family, and destitute of funds, at the age of twenty-five applied to the study of the law. In this profession he soon rose to distinction. But his private pursuits could not detach him from regard to the public welfare. The violence which was meditated against the property and persons of all who remained in the city during the war, called forth his generous exertions, and, by the aid of governor Clinton, the faithless and revengeful scheme was defeated. In a few years a more important affair demanded his talents. After witnessing the debility of the confederation, he was fully impressed with the necessity of an eflicient general government, and he was appointed in 1787, a member of the federal convention of New York. He assisted in forming the constitution of our country. It did not indeed completely meet his wishes. He was afraid that it did not contain sufficient means of strength for its own preservation, and that, in consequence, we should share the fate of many other republics, and pass through anarchy to despotism. He was in favour of a more permanent executive and senate. He wished for a strong government, which would not be shaken by the conflict of different interests through an extensive territory, and which should be adequate to all the forms of national exigency.

By his pen in the papers signed Publius, and by his voice in the convention of New York, he contributed much to its adoption. When the government was organized in 1789, Washington placed him at the head of the treasury. In ve new demands, which were now made upon his talents, the resources of his mind did not fail him. In his reports, he proposed plans for funding the debt of the union, and for assuming the debts of the respective states; for establishing a bank and mint; and for procuring a revenue.

He wished to redeem the reputation of his country by satisfying her creditors, and to combine with the government such a monied interest, as might facilitate its operations.

He remained but a short time afterwards in of, fice. As his property had been wasted in the public service, the care of a rising family made it his duty to retire, that by renewed exertions in his profession, he might provide for their support.He accordingly resigned his office on the last of January, 1795.

When the provisional arıny was raised in 1798, Washington qualified his acceptance of the command of it, with the condition that Hamilton should be his associate and the second in command. This arrangement was accordingly made.

Invested with the rank of inspector general, Hamilton repaired immediately to his post, and commenced the organization and discipline of his army. These he carried in a short time to high perfection, the materials of his command being excellent in quality. His hours of leisure he devoted, with his usual industry, to the study of chemistry, mathematics, and the art of war. In the two latter his attainments became great. To render him conspicuous among the ablest captains of the world, nothing was now wanting but experience in the field.

After the adjustment of our dispute with the French Republic, and the discharge of the army, he returned again to his profession in the city of New York.

In June, 1804, colonel Burr, vice-president of the United States, addressed a letter to general Hamilton, requiring his acknowledgment or denial of the use of any expression derogatory to the hon

our of the former. This demand was deemed inadmissible, and a duel was the consequence. After the close of the circuit court, the parties met at lloboken, on the morning of Wednesday, July the 11th, and Hamilton fell on the same spot, where his son a few years before had fallen, in obedience to the same principle of honour, and in the same violation of the laws of God, and of man. He was carried into the city, and being desirous of receiving the sacrament of the Lord's supper, he immediately sent for the reverend Dr. Mason. As the principles of his church prohibited him from administering the ordinance in private, this minister of the gospel informed general Hamilton, that the sacrament was an exhibition and pledge of the mercies, which the Son of God has purchased, and that the absence of the sign did not exclude from the mercies signified, which were accessible to him by faith in their gracious Author. He replied, 1 am aware of that. It is only as a sign that I wanted it.” In the conversation which ensued, he disavowed all intention of taking the life of colonel Burr, and declared his abhorrence of the whole transaction. When the sin, of which he had been guilty, was intimated to him, he assented with strong emotion; and when the infinite merit of the Redeemer, as the propitiation for sin, the sole ground of our acceptance with God, was suggested, he said with emphasis, I have a tender reliance on the mercy of the Almighty, through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ.” The reverend bishop Moore was afterwards sent for, and after making suitable inquiries of the penitence and faith of general Hamilton, and receiving his assurance that he would never again, if restored to health, be engaged in a similar transaction, but would employ all his influence in society to discountenance the barbarous custom, administered to him the communion. After this his mind was composed. He expired about 2 o'clock on Thursday, July 12, 1804, aged about 47 years.

General Hamilton possessed very uncommon powers of mind.

To whatever subject he directed his attention, he was able to grasp it; and in whatever he engaged, in that he excelled. So stupendous were his talents, and so patient was his industry, that no investigation presented difficulties, which he could not conquer. In the class of men of intellect, lie held the first rank. His eloquence was of the most interesting kind, and when new exertions were required, he rose in new strength, and touching at his pleasure every string of pity or of terror, of indignation or grief, he bent the passions of others to his purpose. . At the bar he gained the first eminence.

The versatility of his powers was as wonderful as their strength. To the transaction of all matters that were ever submitted to him, he showed himself competent; on every point of difficulty and moment, he was qualified to become great. What others learnt by experience, he saw by intuition; what they achieved by persevering labour, he could accomplish by a single exertion. Hence the diversified eminence of his attainments, and the surprising rapidity with which he rendered himself master, not only of new and intricate points, but cven of entire branches of science.

Within the sphere of our own knowledge, or in the records of society, it is usual to find individuals who are highly distinguished in particular walks: in the forum, the senate, the cabinet, or the field; but a single character pre-eminent in them all, constitutes a prodigy of human greatness. Yet such a character was the personage we are considering. He combined within himself qualities that would have communicated lustre to many. At the bar, his ability and eloquence were at once the delight and astonishment of his country; as a statesman, his powers were transcendant and his resources inexhaustible; as a financier, he was acknowledged to be without a rival; in his talents for war, he was believed to be inferior to Washington alone. To these we may add, that in his qualifications as a writer he was eminently great. Endowments so brilliant, with attainments so wide, multifarious and lofty, have but rarely fallen to the portion of a mortal.

Yet with these he had none of the eccentricities, irregularities, or vices, that oftentimes follow in the train of greatness. His mind and his habits were in a high degree orderly, temperate and methodical. To his powers alone, stupendous as they were, he never committed the performance of his duty, on any occasion of interest and importance. Preparatory to acting, he bestowed on his subject all the attention that would have been requisite in a man of common abilities. He studied it patiently till he thoroughly comprehended it. Hence, even in the minutest details, he was never found deficient when he was expected to be prepared. To his moral habits, therefore, no less than to his physical powers, he owed it, in part, that he was consummately great.

With all his pre-eminence of talents, and amiable as he was in private life, general Hamilton is yet a melancholy proof of the influence, which intercourse with a depraved world has in perverting the judgment. In principle he was opposed to duelling, his conscience was not hardened, and he was not indifferent to the happiness of his wife and children; but no consideration was strong enough to prevent him from exposing his life in single combat. His own views of usefulness were fol. lowed in contrariety to the injunctions of his Maker and Judge. He had been for some time convinced of the truth of Christianity, and it was his intention, if his life had been spared, to have written a work upon its evidences.

« PreviousContinue »