Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox

By John C. Miller | Go to book overview

34.
A Prophet of Woe

Having stood sponsor to Jefferson in 1801, Hamilton felt a certain measure of responsibility for the President's good behavior. In commending Jefferson to the Federalist members of Congress, Hamilton had banked heavily upon the sobering effects of political power; there was nothing like responsibility, he argued, to put a damper upon radicalism and innovation. While he never supposed that a popularity seeker like Burr would change his ways, Hamilton ventured to hope that Jefferson would learn that being President was not simply a matter of flattering the people and playing for their votes.

The moderate and conciliatory tone of Jefferson's inaugural address seemed to vindicate Hamilton's hopes that the statesman would emerge from the "Jacobin." The President's statement that "We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists" was taken to mean by the Federalists that there would be no revolutionary changes in the government. Hamilton went so far as to say that it represented a virtual "retraction of past misapprehensions, and a pledge to the community, that the new President will not lend himself to dangerous innovations, but in essential points will tread in the steps of his predecessors." If Jefferson wished--as some of his remarks inclined Hamilton to believe--to turn Federalist, he was prepared to welcome the prodigal to the true faith. "In the talents, the patriotism, and the firmness of the Federalists," Hamilton exclaimed, "he [Jefferson] will find more than an equivalent for all that he shall lose" by forsaking his own party. 1

But instead of accepting Hamilton's warm invitation to join the Federalists, Jefferson set out to absorb the opposition within the Republican party. Hamilton had predicted that Burr would enter the Federal Troy in a Grecian horse, but in actuality it was Jefferson who rode in on his old mare, quietly hitched it to a post and proceeded to take over most of the Federalist party.

In holding out the olive branch to the Federalists, President Jefferson had no intention of including Hamilton within the amnesty. The Virginian's charity was reserved exclusively for what he called "the honest part of

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