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Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1857, by
D. APPLETON & COMPANY, In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States for the Southern District
of New York.
The first volume of this work has been criticised with some severity, as making claims for Hamilton which are derogatory to the character of Washington. My course has been stigmatized as sacrilegious and vindictive-sacrilegious towards Washington, vindictive towards others. When it can be shown that the exhibition of the truth as to others is irrelevant to the history of this country, or not demanded by justice, good government, and the interests of the American people, then the latter charge may be deemed to have some color.
Sacrilege, detraction, defamation, are the terms that have been used to criminate my claim of authorship to Hamilton, of letters subscribed by Washington, in the course of his military command. I confine this notice to so much as regards Washington.
As there may be more of this sort of sacrilege in the present volume—and, it may be, in the succeeding volumes I think it not amiss to say, that as it was not within the physical power of Washington, time and his public employments alone considered, to compose or dictate the innumerable letters signed by him, it conforms with what is natural and common in such cases, to suppose that other persons must have been frequently deputed to relieve him from a portion of the labor of his correspondence. There is no sacrilege in the supposition. And since existing records show irrefragably, that a vast number of letters in the hand-writing of Hamilton, and with the signature of Washington, bear those characters of style which identify authorship, as much as the features and expression of the face, and the play and movement of the body identify the individual man, and that in this manner these letters identify the authorship of Hamilton beyond reasonable doubt, there can be no sacrilege, nor the least shade of defamation or disrespect in ascribing them to Hamilton as their real author in point of composition. The letters so ascribed may have just so much merit, in this respect, as the reader may think fit to allow them; but the authorship has in this way become incontestable; and this fact, in a biography of Hamilton, connecting him with the progress of the Revolution, and the foundation of this Republic, I have deemed it a duty, both personal and historical, to state, whenever I have referred to them.
If Washington had written a life of Hamilton, he would probably have done the same thing. Surely, when Washington himself has thought it proper to state with some formality to the President of the Congress of the Confederation, that his letters from Head Quarters were “first drawn by his secretary and by his aides-de-camp,” it cannot in the least degree reflect upon him to indicate, by internal and other evidence, the particular secretary and aide by whom some of them were drawn. The rebuke which I have received on this account, does in effect involve a reflection upon Washington, and a very disrespectful one, toofor it implies that somewhere, or somehow, Washington has claimed as his own the composition of these letters—a thing quite impossible to his nature, and openly repugnant to his statement before referred to. He disclaimed this class of letters generally as being of his authorship or composition, and I have but supported the disclaimer by attributing a part of them, upon undeniable evidence, to Hamilton.
As to detraction from the merits of Washington, I will not condescend to disprove a charge so groundless as this. I hope that the hearts of those who have suggested it against me, are as free as my own from any purpose of detraction, and as free as my pages are from any evidence of it, express or implied, in regard to this eminent man. Express detraction, in word or syllable, is
not alleged against me, and cannot be. If it is implied on my part, from the simple ascription to another of the authorship of certain letters which are over the signature of Washington, how much more is it to be implied on the part of these accusers, by the assumption necessarily involved in the charge against me, that his great name depends in any degree upon the mere authorship of any thing that he ever put his name to. This is detraction from Washington—to assert that any portion of his glory is derived from the style or composition of his public letters or papers. It would be a real detraction from his exalted merits, to say or to think, that by assigning to others the composition of every paper that he wrote, the great volume of his glory would be diminished or impaired in any measurable degree. His glory is not derived, in whole or in part, from such a source. It is the result of his unimpeachable virtue—his grave wisdom-his ever watchful circumspection—his inflexible constancy in maintaining the right, the true, the honorable, in all things—his justice—his for. titude-his imperturbable courage—his dauntless bravery in battle-his military providence and energy_his unsparing selfsacrifice—his devotion of heart and soul, of life, fame, sacred honor—of his entire self, of all he had and of all he was, to the cause of freedom and of his country. And in connection with the present subject, I may appropriately add to this cluster of noble qualities, his modesty, which never claimed any thing as his own that was not such by universal consent; and his elevation of soul, which made him superior to the rivalry and envy of competitors, regardless of their jealousy, and indifferent to their intrigues.
His glory flows, and will forever flow, from these sources. His letters add only this contribution to his fame, that they manifest, by their intent and purpose, the operation of one or more of his great attributes, or the aspirations of his settled and established dispositions. Their composition was necessarily not always his own, which often and generally happens with commanders on a large field of operations, and with those who are engrossed with the highest concerns of civil administration; and when it was
his own, its merit was rather in the enunciation of just thoughts and wise purposes, than in the skill or force with which he exhibited and impressed them.
Others before this day have expressed their opinions in regard to the public letters of Washington. He acquired, by much practice in epistolary writing, a style that was as much his own as his handwriting, and as distinguishable at first sight by those who had any familiarity with it, though it may be recognized more readily than it can be described. It was not constructed by rules of art, nor had it as much ease as it had dignity; but it was the style of a gentleman, and was commonly very perspicuous. It has, however, become an historical fact, that in a large number of his important public letters and papers, an entirely different style is shown, and yet as unaffected as his own style, but generally more lettered or scholarlike. In respect to these, the design may be properly attributed to himself, and perhaps all of them may be regarded as having been revised, and sometimes altered, by him, to satisfy his own judgment; but much of the filling in, the drapery, the coloring, the light and shade, and the accessory parts, brought in to heighten and relieve the principal and more important, may be safely attributed to others who were in his personal confidence, and were deputed, officially or otherwise, to the performance of the duty. Such a supposition is in no degree disrespectful to him, and is in perfect harmony with his whole character. He was as free from vanity and self-conceit, from his youth upwards, as any man that ever lived; and sought assistance when he wanted it, without the least alarm to his self-love.
I must refer to one distinguished person, as a witness in this matter, the late Timothy Pickering, because he has left behind him a record of his opinions, founded on personal knowledge and intimacy, during the Revolutionary War and afterwards.
Colonel Pickering, appointed by Washington, in May, seventyseven, Adjutant General, after being intermediately selected a Commissioner to superintend the staff of the army, was chosen a member of the Board of War, in which place he continued until eighty, when he was elected, by the unanimous vote of Congress,