Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox

By John C. Miller | Go to book overview

29.
The Mission to France

Hamilton was not so much mortified at having lost Pinckney--in 1800 he found another Pinckney to take Thomas' place--as at seeing Thomas Jefferson step into the vice-presidency. From this vantage point Jefferson would presumably disseminate "Jacobinism" through the federal government and counterwork the policies of President Adams. But the Vice-President-elect had something very different in mind: by exposing Hamilton's part in the election he hoped to turn Adams against the former Secretary of the Treasury. 1 After all, Hamilton had been caught redhanded on the political backstairs trying to trip up John Adams, and the fact was as notorious as the Republican newspapers could make it. "When a little Alexander dreams himself to be ALEXANDER THE GREAT," said a Republican journalist, ". . . he is very apt to fall into miserable intrigues."2

Adams was slow to credit these stories of Hamilton's treachery. But when he was finally brought to see the truth, his anger flamed fiercely against the "Creole." In Adams' opinion, the plot to smuggle Pinckney into the presidency disclosed how badly Hamilton and his friends had mistaken the character of the American people: "That must be a sordid people, indeed," he exclaimed, "a people destitute of a sense of honor, equity, and character, that could submit to be governed, by a Pinckney, under an elective government."3

An open break between Adams and Hamilton was averted in 1797 largely because of the sudden deterioration in our relations with France. Adams had pledged himself to heal the wounds of party strife and, as a result of the threatening attitude of France, union at home became more essential than ever before. In consequence, Hamilton escaped paying the penalty that otherwise would have been exacted of him for his temerity. But, as the future revealed, it was a payment deferred, not canceled. 4

In 1796, the tide of victory having decisively turned in France's favor, the Directory embarked upon a supreme effort to crush its sole remaining antagonist, Great Britain, by barring British merchandise from the European continent. The execution of this plan--an adumbration of the later

-451-

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