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representatives of foreign governments.
He made no pretension to literary skill, and, although what he wrote was always sensible and to the purpose, he was too nobly modest and ingenuous, not to be conscious of a certain deficiency in style. Besides, the labours of his high post were so many and onerous, its responsibilities so pressing, as to render it impossible, that he should give much time to the composition of letters and papers. It was, therefore,
, of the utmost moment, that he should have a Secretary gifted with the necessary talents, and on whose judgment and integrity he could place full reliance. The first, who had served him in that capacity—Colonel Joseph Reed—had left him for other employment in the army; Colonel Harrison, a true and good man of average ability, had not sufficient grasp of mind, to take in at one view a vast diversity of matter; and in Hamilton alone was found that singular mixture of genius and industry which fitted him to render the exact assistance required. Quick in seizing ideas, patient in mastering details, endowed with lucid clearness of thought, and rich in the resources of language, he was eminently suited to interpret between Washington and the world. It would now be useless to attempt to
discriminate what were the several shares of the general and his aide-de-camp, in the preparation of the state-papers which issued from the head-quarters of the American army; but it is no disparagement to the glory of the great commander to say, that the hand of Hamilton is visible throughout these despatches; and there is good reason to believe, that not only the finished documents, but often the rough drafts, and the first conception, were entirely his
It was no light charge to intrust to a youth of twenty, and the manner, in which he accomplished the work, is not among the least of his titles to lasting and honourable fame.
THE AIDE - DE-CAMP.
OME time before Hamilton joined the staff,
Washington had thus addressed the Congress : “ I give in to no kind of amusements myself, and consequently those about me can have none, but are confined from morning till evening hearing and answering the applications and letters of one and another, which will now, I expect, receive a considerable addition ; as the business of the Northern and Eastern departments, if I continue here, must, I suppose, pass through my hands. If these gentlemen had the same relaxation from duty as other officers have in their common routine, there would not be so much in it; but to have the mind always upon the stretch, scarce ever unbent, and no hours for recreation, makes a material odds. Knowing this, and at the same time how inadequate the pay is, I can scarce find inclination to impose the necessary duties of their office upon
Plenty of work, therefore, was waiting for the pen of Hamilton, and scarcely was he installed in his office, when he had to conduct a most important correspondence on the subject of the treatment of prisoners. At first, England had naturally claimed to regard the Americans as rebels, who, when taken in arms, must be entirely dependent on the mercy of their captors. But, as the war continued, both humanity and self-interest called for a modification of these views. Washington had always insisted that the prisoners taken by either party should be placed on a footing of perfect equality, and had threatened retaliation for any breach of the ordinary customs of war. In Admiral Lord Howe and his brother, General Sir William Howe, he had found courteous and high-minded opponents, anxious to avoid unnecessary harshness, and to mitigate the evils inherent in such a contest. Yet many points of difference had arisen, and it was long before the belligerents came to a perfect understanding on these and similar questions. Hamilton now took up the thread of the negotiation, with the special design of promoting an early exchange of prisoners; and it was admitted on all hands that his letters were models of good sense, moderation, and dignity.
Even where they failed in attaining their immediate object, they commanded the respect of friends and enemies, and raised the American character in the eyes of the world.
Hamilton was next employed in writing instructions to the different generals for the ensuing campaign, and in communicating the commander's plans and wishes to Congress and the State governments. He had to combat many fears and objections, and especially to insist on the necessity of keeping up the army, and furnishing it with supplies. He had
, moreover to contend with the intrigues which were constantly undermining Washington's influence, and interfering with his conduct of the war.
The rivalry between States, and the jealousy of particular officers, often showed themselves in a manner dangerous to the common cause, and Washington's recommendations were too frequently neglected or over-ruled. It was against his opinion that General Gates (who had originally owed his place in the army to Washington's favour) was now put forward in opposition to the brave and chivalrous General Schuyler, and ultimately superseded him in the command of the Northern division. Yet, while his advice was thus set at nought, the patriot-hero had to compose