« ZurückWeiter »
who retained a proper sense of their own and their country's dignity took their passports and departed. The publication of the famous X, Y, Z letters, which displayed the conduct of France, roused a storm of righteous indignation from one end of the United States to the other. The party of France and of the opposition bent before the storm, and the Federalists were at last all-powerful. A cry for war went up from every corner, and Congress provided rapidly for the formation of an army and the beginning of a navy.
Then the whole country turned, as a matter of course, to one man to stand at the head of the national forces of the United States, and Adams wrote to Washington, urging him to take command of the provisional army. To any other appeal to come forward Washington would have been deaf, but he could never refuse a call to arms. He wrote to Adams on July 4, 1798: “In case of actual invasion by a formidable force, I certainly should not intrench myself under the cover of age or retirement, if my services should be required by my country to assist in repelling it.” He agreed, therefore, to take command of the army, provided that he should not be called into active service except in the case of actual hostilities, and that he should have the appointment of the general's staff. To these terms Adams of course acceded. But out of the apparently simple condition relating to the appointment of officers there grew a very serious trouble. There were to be three major
generals, the first of them to have also the rank of inspector-general, and to be the virtual commander-in-chief until the army was actually called into the field. For these places, Washington after much reflection selected Hamilton, Pinckney, and Knox, in the order named, and in doing so he very wisely went on the general principle that the army was to be organized de novo, without reference to prior service. Apart from personal and political jealousies, nothing could have been more proper and more sound than this arrangement; but at this point the President's dislike of Hamilton got beyond control, and he made up his mind to reverse the order, and send in Knox's name first. The Federalist leaders were of course utterly disgusted by this attempt to set Hamilton aside, which was certainly ill-judged, and which proved to be the beginning of the dissensions that ended in the ruin of the Federalist party. After every effort, therefore, to move Adams had failed, Pickering and others, including Hamilton himself, appealed to Washington. At a distance from the scene of action, and unfamiliar with the growth of differences within the party, Washington was not only surprised, but annoyed by the President's conduct. In addition to the evils which he believed would result in a military way from this change, he felt that the conditions which he had made had been violated, and that he had not been treated fairly. He therefore wrote to the President with his wonted plainness, on September 25, and pointed out that his stipulations had not been complied with, that the change of order among the major-generals was thoroughly wrong, and that the President's meddling with the inferior appointments had been hurtful and injudicious. His views were expressed in the most courteous way, although with an undertone of severe disapproval. There was no mistaking the meaning of the letter, however, and Adams, bold man and President as he was, gave way at
Mr. Adams thought at the time that there had been about this matter of the major-generals too much intrigue, by which Washington had been deceived and he himself made a victim; but there seems no good reason to take this view of it, for there is no indication whatever that Washington did not know and understand the facts; and it was on the facts that he made his decision, and not on the methods by which they were conveyed to him. The propriety of the decision will hardly now be questioned, although it did not tend to make the relations between the ex-President and his successor very cordial. They had always a great respect for each other, but not much sympathy, for they differed too widely in temperament. Even if Washington would have permitted it, it would have been impossible for the President to have quarreled with him, but at the same time he felt not a little awkwardness in dealing with his successor, and was inclined to think that that gentleman did not show him all the respect that was due. He wrote to McHenry on October 1: “As no mode is yet adopted by the President by whick the battalion officers are to be appointed, and as I think I stand on very precarious ground in my relation to him, I am not over-zealous in taking unauthorized steps when those that I thought were authorized are not likely to meet with much respect.”
There was, however, another consequence of this affair which gave Washington much more pain than any differences with the President. His old friend and companion in arms, General Knox, was profoundly hurt at the decision which placed Hamilton at the head of the army. One cannot be surprised at Knox's feelings, for he had been a distinguished officer, and had outranked both Hamilton and Pinckney. He felt that he ought to command the army, and that he was quite capable of doing so; and he did not relish being told in this official manner that he had grown old, and that the time had come for younger and abler men to pass beyond him. The archbishop in “Gil Blas” is one of the most universal types of human nature that we have. Nobody feels kindly to the monitor who points out the failings which time has brought, and we are all inclined to dismiss him with every wish that he may fare well and have a little more taste. Poor Knox could not dismiss his Gil Blas, and he felt the unpleasant admonition all the more bitterly from the fact that the blow was dealt by the two men whom he most loved and admired. Hamilton wrote him the best and most graceful of letters, but failed to soothe him; and Washington was no more fortunate. He tried with the utmost kindliness, and in his most courteous manner, to soften the disappointment, and to show Knox how convincing were the reasons for his action. But the case was not one where argument could be of avail, and when Knox persisted in his refusal to take the place assigned him, Washington, with all his sympathy, was perfectly frank in expressing his views.
In a second letter, complaining of the injustice with which he had been treated, Knox intimated that he would be willing to serve on the personal staff of the commander-in-chief.
This was all very well; but much as Washington grieved for his old friend's disappointment, there was to be no misunderstanding in the matter. He wrote Knox on October 21: “After having expressed these sentiments with the frankness of undisguised friendship, it is hardly necessary to add that, if you should finally decline the appointment of majorgeneral, there is none to whom I would give a more decided preference as an aide-de-camp, the offer of which is highly flattering, honorable, and grateful to my feelings, and for which I entertain a high sense. But, my dear General Knox, and here again I speak to you in a language of candor and friendship, examine well your mind upon this subject. Do not unite yourself to the suite of a man whom you may consider as the primary cause of what you call a degradation, with unpleasant