Abbildungen der Seite

ness for his post. His defect was a lack of force of character and strength of will, which was mani, fested by a certain timidity of action, and by an infirmity of purpose, such as had appeared in his course about the Constitution. He performed the duties of his office admirably, but in the decision of the momentous questions which came before the cabinet he showed an uncertainty of opinion which was felt by all his colleagues. 1

Henry Knox of Massachusetts was head of the War Department under the confederacy, and was continued in office by Washington, who appointed him secretary of war under the new arrangement. It was a natural and excellent selection. Knox was a distinguished soldier, he had served well through the Revolution, and Washington was warmly attached to him. He was not a statesman by training or habit of mind, nor was he possessed of commanding talents. But he was an able man, sound in his views and diligent in his office, devoted to his chief and unswerving in his loyalty to the administration and all its measures. There was never any doubt as to the attitude of Henry

1 This passage was written before the recent appearance of Mr. Conway's Life of Randolph. That ample biography, in my opinion, confirms the view of Randolph here given. If, in the light of this new material, I have erred at all, it is, I think, on the charitable side. Mr. Conway, in order to vindicate Randolph, has sacrificed so far as he could nearly every conspicuous public man of that period. From Washington, whom he charges with senility, down, there is hardly a man who ever crossed Randolph's path whom he has not assailed. Yet he presents no reason, so far as I can see, to alter the present opinion of Randolph.


Knox, and Washington found him as faithful and efficient in the cabinet as he had always been in the field.

Second in rank, but first in importance, was the secretaryship of the treasury.

" Finance! Ah, my friend, all that remains of the American Revolution grounds there." So Gouverneur Morris had written to Jay. So might he have written again of the American Union, for the fate of the experiment rested at the outset on the Treasury Department. Yet there was probably less hesitation as to the proper man for this place than for any other. Washington no doubt would have been glad to give it to Robert Morris, whose great services in the Revolution he could never forget. But this could not be, and acting on his own judgment, fortified by that of Morris himself, he made Alexander Hamilton secretary of the treasury.

It is one of the familiar marks of greatness to know how to choose the right men to perform the tasks which no man, either in war or peace, can complete single-handed. Napoleon's marshals were conspicuous proofs of his genius, and Washington had a similar power of selection. The generals whom he trusted were the best generals, the statesmen whom he consulted stand highest in history. He was fallible, as other mortals are fallible. He, too, had his Varus, and the time was coming when he could echo the bitter cry of the great emperor for his lost legions. But the mistakes were the exceptions. He chose with the

sureness of a strong and penetrating mind, and the most signal example of this capacity was his secretary of the treasury. He knew Hamilton well. He had known him as his staff officer, active, accomplished, and efficient. He had seen him leave his side in a tempest of boyish rage, and he had watched him charging with splendid gallantry the Yorktown redoubts. He was familiar with Hamilton's extraordinary mastery of financial and political problems, and he had found him a powerful leader in the work of forming the Constitution. He understood Hamilton's strength, and he knew where his dangers lay. Now he called him to his cabinet, and gave into his hands the department on which the immediate success of the government hinged. It was a brilliant choice. The mark in his lifetime for all the assaults of his political opponents, the leader and the victim of the schism which rent his own party, Hamilton, after his death, was made the target for attack and reprobation by his political foes, who for nearly sixty years, with few intermissions, controlled the government. His work, however, could not be undone, and as passions have subsided his fame has proved to be of that highest and rarest kind which broadens and rises with the lapse of years, until in the light of history it overtops that of any of our statesmen, except of his own great chief and Abraham Lincoln. The work to which he was called was that of organizing a national government, and in the performance of this work he showed that he

belonged to the highest type of constructive statesmen, and was one of the rare men who build, and whose building stands the test of time.

Last to be mentioned, but first in rank, was the Department of State. For this high place Washington chose Thomas Jefferson, who was then our minister in Paris, and who did not return to take up his official duties until the following March. Of the four cabinet offices, this was the only one where Washington proceeded entirely on public grounds. He took Jefferson on account of his wide reputation, his unquestioned ability, his standing before the country, and his experience in our foreign relations. With the other three there was a strong element of personal friendship and familiarity. With the secretary of state his intercourse had been, so far as we can judge, almost wholly of a public character, and, so far as can be inferred from an expression of some years before, the selection was made by Washington in deference simply to what he believed to be the public interest. The only allusion to Jefferson in all the printed volumés of correspondence prior to 1789 occurs in a letter to Robert Livingston, of January 8, 1783. He there said: “What office is Mr. Jefferson appointed to that he has, you say, lately accepted ? If it is that of commissioner of peace, I hope he will arrive too late to have any hand in it.”. There is no indication that their personal relations were then or afterwards other than pleasant. Yet this brief sentence is a strong

expression of distrust, and especially so from the fact that Washington was not at all given to criticising other people in his letters. What he distrusted was not Jefferson's ability, for that no man could doubt, still less bis patriotism. But Washington read character well, and he felt that Jefferson might be lacking in the qualities of boldness and determination, so needful in a negotiation like that which resulted in the acknowledgment of our independence.

The truth was that the two men were radically different, and never could have been sympathetic. Washington was strong, direct, masculine, and at times fierce in anger. Jefferson was adroit, subtle, and feminine in his sensitiveness. Washington was essentially a fighting man, tamed by a stern self-control from the recklessness of his early days, but always a fighter. Jefferson was a lover of peace, given to quiet, hating quarrels and bloodshed, and at times timid in dealing with public questions. Washington was deliberate and conservative, after the fashion of his race. Jefferson was quick, impressionable, and always fascinated by new notions, even if they were somewhat fantastic. A thoroughly liberal and open-minded man, Washington never turned a deaf ear to any new suggestion, whether it was a public policy or a mechanical invention, but to all alike he gave careful consideration before he adopted them. To Jefferson, on the other hand, mere novelty had a peculiar charm, and he jumped at any device,

« ZurückWeiter »