Cornelius, the eldest of their family of nine children, was born at the old farm-house on Staten Island, May 27, 1794. A healthy, vigorous boy, fond of out-door sports, excelling his companions in all boyish feats, on land and water, he had an unconquerable aversion to the confinement of the school-room. At that day, the school-room was, indeed, a dull and uninviting place, the lessons a tedious routine of learning by rote, and the teacher a tyrant, enforcing them by the terrors of the stick. The boy went to school a little, now and then, but learned little more than to read, write, and cipher, and these imperfectly. The only books he remembers using at school were the spelling-book and Testament. His real education was gained in working on his father's farm, helping to sail his father's boat, driving his father's horses, swimming, riding, rowing, sporting with his young friends. He was a bold rider from infancy, and passionately fond of a fine horse. He tells his friends sometimes, that he rode a race-horse at full speed when he was but six years old. That he regrets not having acquired more school knowledge, that he values what is commonly called education, is shown by the care he has taken to have his own children well instructed.
There never was a clearer proof than in his case that the child is father of the man. He showed in boyhood the very quality which has most distinguished him as a man,—the power of accomplishing things in spite of difficulty and opposition. He was a born conqueror.
When he was twelve years old, his father took a contract for getting the cargo out of a vessel stranded near Sandy Hook, and transporting it to New York in lighters. It was necessary to carry the cargo in wagons across a sandy spit. Cornelius, with a little fleet of lighters, three wagons, their horses and drivers, started from home solely charged with the management of this difficult affair. After loading the lighters and starting them for the city, he had to conduct his wagons home by land,—a long distance over Jersey sands. Leaving the beach with only six dollars, he reached South Amboy penniless, with six horses and three men, all hungry, still far from home, and separated from Staten Island by an arm of the sea half a mile wide, that could be crossed only by paying the ferryman six dollars. This was a puzzling predicament for a boy of twelve, and he pondered long how he could get out of it. At length he went boldly to the only innkeeper of the place, and addressed him thus:—
"I have here three teams that I want to get over to Staten Island. If you will put us across, I'll leave with you one of my horses in pawn, and if I don't send you back the six dollars within forty-eight hours you may keep the horse."
The innkeeper looked into the bright, honest eyes of the boy for a moment and said:—
"I'll do it."
And he did it. The horse in pawn was left with the ferryman on the Island, and he was redeemed in time.
Before he was sixteen he had made up his mind to earn his livelihood by navigation of some kind, and often, when tired of farm work, he had cast wistful glances at the outward-bound ships that passed his home. Occasionally, too, he had alarmed his mother by threatening to run away and go to sea. His preference, however, was to become a boatman of New York harbor. On the first of May, 1810,—an important day in his history,—he made known his wishes to his mother, and asked her to advance him a hundred dollars for the purchase of a boat. She replied:—
"My son, on the twenty-seventh of this month you will be sixteen years old. If, by your birthday, you will plough, harrow, and plant with corn that lot," pointing to a field, "I will advance you the money."
The field was one of eight acres, very rough, tough, and stony. He informed his young companions of his mother's conditional promise, and several of them readily agreed to help him. For the next two weeks the field presented the spectacle of a continuous "bee" of boys, picking up stones, ploughing, harrowing, and planting. To say that the work was done in time, and done thoroughly, is only another way of stating that it was undertaken and conducted by Cornelius Vanderbilt. On his birthday he claimed the fulfilment of his mother's promise. Reluctantly she gave him the money, considering his project only less wild than that of running away to sea. He hurried off to a neighboring village, bought his boat, hoisted sail, and started for home one of the happiest youths in the world. His first adventure seemed to justify his mother's fears, for he struck a sunken wreck on his way, and just managed to run his boat ashore before she filled and sunk.
Undismayed at this mishap, he began his new career. His success, as we have intimated, was speedy and great. He made a thousand dollars during each of the next three summers. Often he worked all night, but he was never absent from his post by day, and he soon had the cream of the boating business of the port.
At that day parents claimed the services and the earnings of their children till they were twenty-one. In other words, families made common cause against the common enemy, Want. The arrangement between this young boatman and his parents was that he should give them all his day earnings and half his night earnings. He fulfilled his engagement faithfully until his parents released him from it, and with his own half of his earnings by night he bought all his clothes. He had forty competitors in the business, who, being all grown men, could dispose of their gains as they chose; but of all the forty, he alone has emerged to prosperity and distinction. Why was this? There were several reasons. He soon came to be the best boatman in the port. He attended to his business more regularly and strictly than any other. He had no vices. His comrades spent at night much of what they earned by day, and when the winter suspended their business, instead of living on the last summer's savings, they were obliged to lay up debts for the next summer's gains to discharge. In those three years of willing servitude to his parents, Cornelius Vanderbilt added to the family's common stock of wealth, and gained for himself three things,—a perfect knowledge of his business, habits of industry and self-control, and the best boat in the harbor.
The war of 1812 suspended the commerce of the port, but gave a great impulse to boating. There were men-of-war in the harbor and garrisons in the forts, which gave to the boatmen of Whitehall and Staten Island plenty of business, of which Cornelius Vanderbilt had his usual share. In September, 1813, during a tremendous gale, a British fleet attempted to run past Fort Richmond. After the repulse, the commander of the fort, expecting a renewal of the attempt, was anxious to get the news to the city, so as to secure a reinforcement early the next day. Every one agreed that, if the thing could be done, there was but one man who could do it; and, accordingly, young Vanderbilt was sent for.
"Can you take a party up to the city in this gale?"
"Yes," was the reply; "but I shall have to carry them part of the way under water."
When he made fast to Coffee-House slip, an hour or two after, every man in the boat was drenched to the skin. But there they were, and the fort was reinforced the next morning.
About this time, the young man had another important conversation with his mother, which, perhaps, was more embarrassing than the one recorded above. He was in love. Sophia Johnson was the maiden's name,—a neighbor's lovely and industrious daughter, whose affections he had wooed and won. He asked his mother's consent to the match, and that henceforth he might have the disposal of his own earnings. She approved his choice, and released him from his obligations. During the rest of that season he labored with new energy, saved five hundred dollars, and, in December, 1813, when he laid up his boat for the winter, became the happy husband of the best of wives.
In the following spring, a great alarm pervaded all the sea-board cities of America. Rumors were abroad of that great expedition which, at the close of the year, attacked New Orleans; but, in the spring and summer, no one knew upon which port the blow would fall. The militia of New York were called out for three months, under a penalty of ninety-six dollars to whomsoever should fail to appear at the rendezvous. The boatmen, in the midst of a flourishing business, and especially our young husband, were reluctant to lose the profits of a season's labor, which were equivalent, in their peculiar case, to the income of a whole year. An advertisement appeared one day in the papers which gave them a faint prospect of escaping this disaster. It was issued from the office of the commissary-general, Matthew L. Davis, inviting bids from the boatmen for the contract of conveying provisions to the posts in the vicinity of New York during the three months, the contractor to be exempt from military duty. The boatmen caught at this, as a drowning man catches at a straw, and put in bids at rates preposterously low,—all except Cornelius Vanderbilt.
"Why don't you send in a bid?" asked his father.
"Of what use would it be?" replied the son. "They are offering to do the work at half-price. It can't be done at such rates."
"Well," added the father, "it can do no harm to try for it."
So, to please his father, but without the slightest expectation of getting the contract, he sent in an application, offering to transport the provisions at a price which would enable him to do it with the requisite certainty and promptitude. His offer was simply fair to both parties.
On the day named for the awarding of the contract, all the boatmen but him assembled in the commissary's office. He remained at the boat-stand, not considering that he had any interest in the matter. One after another, his comrades returned with long faces, sufficiently indicative of their disappointment; until, at length, all of them had come in, but no one bringing the prize. Puzzled at this, he strolled himself to the office, and asked the commissary if the contract had been given.
"O yes," said Davis; "that business is settled. Cornelius Vanderbilt is the man."
He was thunderstruck.
"What!" said the commissary, observing his astonishment, is it you?"
"My name is Cornelius Vanderbilt."
"Well," said Davis, "don't you know why we have given the contract to you?"
"Why, it is because we want this business done, and we know you'll do it."
Matthew L. Davis, as the confidant of Aaron Burr, did a good many foolish things in his life, but on this occasion he did a wise one. The contractor asked him but one favor, which was, that the daily load of stores might be ready for him every evening at six o'clock. There were six posts to be supplied: Harlem, Hurl Gate, Ward's Island, and three others in the harbor or at the Narrows, each of which required one load a week. Young Vanderbilt did all this work at night; and although, during the whole period of three months, he never once failed to perform his contract, he was never once absent from his stand in the day-time. He slept when he could, and when he could not sleep he did without it. Only on Sunday and Sunday night could he be said to rest. There was a rare harvest for boatmen that summer. Transporting sick and furloughed soldiers, naval and military officers, the friends of the militia men, and pleasure-seekers visiting the forts, kept those of the boatmen who had "escaped the draft," profitably busy. It was not the time for an enterprising man to be absent from his post.
From the gains of that summer he built a superb little schooner, the Dread; and, the year following, the joyful year of peace, he and his brother-in-law. Captain De Forrest, launched the Charlotte, a vessel large enough for coasting service, and the pride of the harbor for model and speed. In this vessel, when the summer's work was over, he voyaged sometimes along the Southern coast, bringing home considerable freights from the Carolinas. Knowing the coast thoroughly, and being one of the boldest and most expert of seamen, he and his vessel were always ready when there was something to be done of difficulty and peril. During the three years succeeding the peace of 1815, he saved three thousand dollars a year; so that, in 1818, he possessed two or three of the nicest little craft in the harbor, and a cash capital of nine thousand dollars.
The next step of Captain Vanderbilt astonished both his rivals and his friends. He deliberately abandoned his flourishing business, to accept the post of captain of a small steamboat, at a salary of a thousand dollars a year. By slow degrees, against the opposition of the boatmen, and the terrors of the public, steamboats had made their way; until, in 1817, ten years after Fulton's experimental trip, the long head of Captain Vanderbilt clearly comprehended that the supremacy of sails was gone forever, and he resolved to ally himself to the new power before being overcome gone forever, and he resolved to ally himself to the new power before being overcome by it. Besides, he protests, that in no enterprise of his life has his chief object been the gain of money. Being in the business of carrying passengers, he desired to carry them in the best manner, and by the best means. Business has ever been to him a kind of game, and his ruling motive was and is, to play it so as to win. To carry his point, that has been the motive of his business career; but then his point has generally been one which, being carried, brought money with it.
At that day, passengers to Philadelphia were conveyed by steamboat from New York to New Brunswick, where they remained all night, and the next morning took the stage for Trenton, whence they were carried to Philadelphia by steamboat. The proprietor of part of this line was the once celebrated Thomas Gibbons, a man of enterprise and capital. It was in his service that Captain Vanderbilt spent the next twelve years of his life, commanding the steamer plying between New York and New Brunswick. The hotel at New Brunswick, where the passengers passed the night, which had never paid expenses, was let to him rent free, and under the efficient management of Mrs. Vanderbilt, it became profitable, and afforded the passengers such excellent entertainment as to enhance the popularity of the line.
In engaging with Mr. Gibbons, Captain Vanderbilt soon found that he had put his head into a hornet's nest. The State of New York had granted to Fulton and Livingston the exclusive right of running steamboats in New York waters. Thomas Gibbons, believing the grant unconstitutional, as it was afterwards declared by the Supreme Court, ran his boats in defiance of it, and thus involved himself in a long and fierce contest with the authorities of New York. The brunt of this battle fell upon his new captain. There was one period when for sixty successive days an attempt was made to arrest him; but the captain baffled every attempt. Leaving his crew in New Jersey (for they also were liable to arrest), he would approach the New York wharf with a lady at the helm, while he managed the engine; and as soon as the boat was made fast he concealed himself in the depths of the vessel. At the moment of starting, the officer (changed every day to avoid recognition) used to present himself and tap the wary captain on the shoulder.
"Let go the line," was his usual reply to the summons.
The officer, fearing to be carried off to New Jersey, where a retaliatory act threatened him with the State's prison, would jump ashore as for life; or, if carried off, would beg to be put ashore. In this way, and in many others, the captain contrived to evade the law. He fought the State of New York for seven years, until, in 1824, Chief Justice Marshall pronounced New York wrong and New Jersey right. The opposition vainly attempted to buy him off by the offer of a larger boat.
"No," replied the captain, "I shall stick to Mr. Gibbons till he is through his troubles."
That was the reason why he remained so long in the service of Mr. Gibbons.
After this war was over, the genius of Captain Vanderbilt had full play, and he conducted the line with so much energy and good sense, that it yielded an annual profit of forty thousand dollars. Gibbons offered to raise his salary to five thousand dollars a year, but he declined the offer. An acquaintance once asked him why he refused a compensation that was so manifestly just.
"I did it on principle," was his reply. "The other captains had but one thousand, and they were already jealous enough of me. Besides, I never cared for money. All I ever have cared for was to carry my point."
A little incident of these years he has sometimes related to his children. In the cold January of 1820, the ship Elizabeth—the first ship ever sent to Africa by the Colonization Society—lay at the foot of Rector Street, with the negroes all on board, frozen in. For many days, her crew, aided by the crew of the frigate Siam, her convoy, had been cutting away at the ice; but, as more ice formed at night than could be removed by day, the prospect of getting to sea was unpromising. One afternoon, Captain Vanderbilt joined the crowd of spectators.
"They are going the wrong way to work," he carelessly remarked, as he turned to go home. "I could get her out in one day."
These words, from a man who was known to mean all he said, made an impression on a bystander, who reported them to the anxious agent of the Society. The agent called upon him.
"What did you mean, Captain, by saying that you could get out the ship in one day?"
"Just what I said."
"What will you get her out for?"
"One hundred dollars."
"I'll give it. When will you do it?"
"Have a steamer to-morrow, at twelve o'clock, ready to tow her out. I'll have her clear in time."
That same evening, at six, he was on the spot with five men, three pine boards, and a small anchor. The difficulty was that beyond the ship there were two hundred yards of ice too thin to bear a man. The captain placed his anchor on one of his boards, and pushed it out as far as he could reach; then placed another board upon the ice, laid down upon it, and gave his anchor another push. Then he put down his third board, and used that as a means of propulsion. In this way he worked forward to near the edge of the thin ice, where the anchor broke through and sunk. With the line attached to it, he hauled a boat to the outer edge, and then began cutting a passage for the ship.
At eleven the next morning she was clear. At twelve she was towed into the stream.
In 1829, after twelve years of service as captain of a steamboat, being then thirty-five years of age, and having saved thirty thousand dollars, he announced to his employer his intention to set up for himself. Mr. Gibbons was aghast. He declared that he could not carry on the line without his aid, and finding him resolute, said:—
"There, Vanderbilt, take all this property, and pay me for it as you make the money."
This splendid offer he thankfully but firmly declined. He did so chiefly because he knew, the men with whom he would have had to co-operate, and foresaw, that he and they could never work comfortably together. He wanted a free field.
The little Caroline, seventy feet long, that afterward plunged over Niagara Falls, was the first steamboat ever built by him. His progress as a steamboat owner was not rapid for some years. The business was in the hands of powerful companies and wealthy individuals, and he, the new-comer, running a few small boats on short routes, labored under serious disadvantages. Formidable attempts were made to run him off the river; but, prompt to retaliate, he made vigorous inroads into the enemy's domain, and kept up an opposition so keen as to compel a compromise in every instance. There was a time, during his famous contest with the Messrs. Stevens of Hoboken, when he had spent every dollar he possessed, and when a few days more of opposition would have compelled him to give up the strife. Nothing saved him but the belief, on the part of his antagonists, that Gibbons was backing him. It was not the case; he had no backer. But this error, in the very nick of time, induced his opponents to treat for a compromise, and he was saved.
Gradually he made his way to the control of the steamboat interest. He has owned, in whole or in part, a hundred steam vessels. His various opposition lines have permanently reduced fares one half. Superintending himself the construction of every boat, having a perfect practical knowledge of the business in its every detail, selecting his captains well and paying them justly, he has never lost a vessel by fire, explosion, or wreck. He possesses, in a remarkable degree, the talent of selecting the right man for a place, and of inspiring him with zeal. Every man who serves him knows that he will be sustained against all intrigue and all opposition, and that he has nothing to fear so long as he does his duty.
The later events in his career are, in some degree, known to the public. Every one remembers his magnificent cruise in the North Star, and how, on returning to our harbor, his first salute was to the cottage of his venerable mother on the Staten Island shore. To her, also, on landing, he first paid his respects.
Every one knows that he presented to the government the steamer that bears his name, at a time when she was earning him two thousand dollars a day. He has given to the war something more precious than a ship: his youngest son, Captain Vanderbilt, the most athletic youth that ever graduated at West Point, and one of the finest young men in the country. His friends tell us that, on his twenty-second birthday he lifted nine hundred and eight pounds. But his giant strength did not save him. The fatigues and miasmas of the Corinth campaign planted in his magnificent frame the seeds of death. He died a year ago, after a long struggle with disease, to the inexpressible grief of his family.
During the last two or three years, Commodore Vanderbilt has been withdrawing his capital from steamers and investing it in railroads. It is this fact that has given rise to the impression that he has been playing a deep game in stock speculation. No such thing. He has never speculated; he disapproves of, and despises speculation; and has invariably warned his sons against it as the pursuit of adventurers and gamblers. "Why, then," Wall Street may ask, "has he bought almost the whole stock of the Harlem railroad, which pays no dividends, running it up to prices that seem ridiculous?" We can answer this question very simply: he bought the Harlem railroad to keep. He bought it as an investment. Looking several inches beyond his nose, and several days ahead of to-day, he deliberately concluded that the Harlem road, managed as he could manage it, would be, in the course of time, what Wall Street itself would call "a good thing." We shall see, by and by, whether he judged correctly. What was the New Jersey railroad worth when he and a few friends went over one day and bought it at auction? Less than nothing. The stock is now held at one hundred and seventy-five.
After taking the cream of the steamboat business for a quarter of a century, Commodore Vanderbilt has now become the largest holder of railroad stock in the country. If tomorrow balloons should supersede railroads, we should doubtless find him "in" balloons.
Nothing is more remarkable than the ease with which great business men conduct the most extensive and complicated affairs. At ten or eleven in the morning, the Commodore rides from his mansion in Washington Place in a light wagon, drawn by one of his favorite horses, to his office in Bowling Green, where, in two hours, aided by a single clerk, he transacts the business of the day, returning early in the afternoon to take his drive on the road. He despises show and ostentation in every form. No lackey attends him; he holds the reins himself, With an estate of forty millions to manage, nearly all actively employed in iron works and railroads, he keeps scarcely any books, but carries all his affairs in his head, and manages them without the least anxiety or apparent effort.
We are informed by one who knows him better almost than any one else, that he owes his excellent health chiefly to his love of horses. He possesses the power of leaving his business in his office, and never thinking of it during his hours of recreation.
Out on the road behind a fast team, or seated at whist at the Club-House, he enters gayly into the humors of the hour. He is rigid on one point only;—not to talk or hear of business out of business hours.
Being asked one day what he considered to be the secret of success in business, he replied:—
"Secret? There is no secret about it. All you have to do is to attend to your business and go ahead."
With all deference to such an eminent authority, we must be allowed to think that that is not the whole of the matter. Three things seem essential to success in business: 1. To know your business. 2. To attend to it. 3. To keep down expenses until your fortune is safe from business perils.
On another occasion he replied with more point to a similar question:—
"The secret of my success is this: I never tell what I am going to do till I have done it."
He is, indeed, a man of little speech. Gen. Grant himself is not more averse to oratory than he. Once, in London, at a banquet, his health was given, and he was urged to respond. All that could be extorted from him was the following:—
"Gentlemen, I have never made a fool of myself in my life, and I am not going to begin now. Here is a friend of mine (his lawyer) who can talk all day. He will do my speaking."
Nevertheless, he knows how to express his meaning with singular clearness, force, and brevity, both by the tongue and by the pen. Some of his business letters, dictated by him to a clerk, are models of that kind of composition. He is also master of an art still more difficult,—that of not saying what he does not wish to say.
As a business man he is even more prudent than he is bold. He has sometimes remarked, that it has never been in the power of any man or set of men to prevent his keeping an engagement. If, for example, he should bind himself to pay a million of dollars on the first of May, he would at once provide for fulfilling his engagement in such a manner that no failure on the part of others, no contingency, private or public, could prevent his doing it. In other words, he would have the money where he could be sure of finding it on the day.
No one ever sees the name of Cornelius Vanderbilt on a subscription paper, nor ever will. In his charities, which are numerous and liberal, he exhibits the reticence which marks his conduct as a man of business. His object is to render real and permanent service to deserving objects; but to the host of miscellaneous beggars that pervade our places of business he is not accessible. The last years of many a good old soul, whom he knew in his youth, have been made happy by a pension from him. But of all this not a syllable ever escapes his lips.
He has now nearly completed his seventy-first year. His frame is still erect and vigorous; and, as a business man, he has not a living superior. Every kind of success has attended him through life. Thirteen children have been born to him,—nine daughters and four sons,—nearly all of whom are living and are parents. One of his grandsons has recently come of age. At the celebration of his golden wedding, three years ago, more than a hundred and forty of his descendants and relations assembled at his house. On that joyful occasion, the Commodore presented to his wife a beautiful little golden steamboat, with musical works instead of an engine,—emblematic at once of his business career and the harmony of his home. If ever he boasts of anything appertaining to him, it is when he is speaking of the manly virtues of his son lost in the war, or when he says that his wife is the finest woman of her age in the city.
Commodore Vanderbilt is one of the New World's strong men. His career is one which young men who aspire to lead in practical affairs may study with profit.
[Footnote 1: This narrative of the business-life of Commodore Vanderbilt was written immediately after I had heard him tell the story himself. It was written at the request of Robert Bonner, Esq., and published by him in the New York Ledger of April 8, 1865. I should add, that several of the facts given were related to me at various times by members of Mr. Vanderbilt's family.]
New York does well to celebrate the anniversary of the day when the British troops evacuated the city; for it was in truth the birthday of all that we now mean by the City of New York. One hundred and seventy-four years had elapsed since Hendrick Hudson landed upon the shores of Manhattan; but the town could only boast a population of twenty-three thousand. In ten years the population doubled; in twenty years trebled. Washington Irving was a baby seven months old, at his father's house in William Street, on Evacuation Day, the 25th of November, 1783. On coming of age he found himself the inhabitant of a city containing a population of seventy thousand. When he died, at the age of seventy-five, more than a million of people inhabited the congregation of cities which form the metropolis of America.
The beginnings of great things are always interesting to us. New-Yorkers, at least, cannot read without emotion the plain, matter-of-fact accounts in the old newspapers of the manner in which the city of their pride changed masters. Journalism has altered its modes of procedure since that memorable day. No array of headings in large type called the attention of readers to the details of this great event in the history of their town, and no editorial article in extra leads commented upon it. The newspapers printed the merest programme of the proceedings, with scarcely a comment of their own; and, having done that, they felt that their duty was done, for no subsequent issue contains an allusion to the subject. Perhaps the reader will be gratified by a perusal of the account of the evacuation as given in Rivington's Gazette of November 26, 1783.
New York, November 26:—Yesterday in the Morning the American Troops marched from Haerlem, to the Bowery-Lane—They remained there until about One o'Clock, when the British Troops left the Posts in the Bowery, and the American Troops marched into and took Possession of the City, in the following Order, viz.
1. A Corps of Dragoons.
2. Advance Guard of Light Infantry.
3. A Corps of Artillery.
4. Battalion of Light Infantry.
5. Battalion of Massachusetts Troops.
6. Rear Guard.
After the Troops had taken Possession of the City, the GENERAL [Washington] and GOVERNOR [George Clinton] made their Public Entry in the following Manner:
1. Their Excellencies the General and Governor, with their Suites, on Horseback.
2. The Lieutenant-Governor, and the Members of the Council, for the Temporary Government of the Southern District, four a-breast.
3. Major General Knox, and the Officers of the Army, eight a-breast.
4. Citizens on Horseback, eight a-breast.
5. The Speaker of the Assembly, and Citizens, on Foot, eight a-breast.
Their Excellencies the Governor and Commander in Chief were escorted by a Body of West-Chester Light Horse, under the command of Captain Delavan.
The Procession proceeded down Queen Street [now Pearl], and through the Broadway, to Cape's Tavern.
The Governor gave a public Dinner at Fraunces's Tavern; at which the Commander in Chief and other General Officers were present.
After Dinner, the following Toasts were drank by the Company:
1. The United States of America.
2. His most Christian Majesty.
3. The United Netherlands.
4. The king of Sweden.
5. The American Army.
6. The Fleet and Armies of France, which have served in America.
7. The Memory of those Heroes who have fallen for our Freedom.
8. May our Country be grateful to her military children.
9. May Justice support what Courage has gained.
10. The Vindicators of the Rights of Mankind in every Quarter of the Globe.
11. May America be an Asylum to the persecuted of the Earth.
12. May a close Union of the States guard the Temple they have erected to Liberty.
13. May the Remembrance of THIS DAY be a Lesson to Princes.
The arrangement and whole conduct of this march, with the tranquillity which succeeded it, through the day and night, was admirable! and the grateful citizens will ever feel the most affectionate impressions, from that elegant and efficient disposition which prevailed through the whole event.
Such was the journalism of that primitive day. The sedate Rivington, for so many years the Tory organ, was in no humor, we may suppose, to chronicle the minor events of the occasion, even if he had not considered them beneath the dignity of his vocation. He says nothing of the valiant matron in Chatham Row who, in the impatience of her patriotism, hoisted the American flag over her door two hours before the stipulated moment, noon, and defended it against a British provost officer with her broomstick. Nor does he allude to the great scene at the principal flag-staff, which the retiring garrison had plentifully greased, and from which they had removed the blocks and halyards, in order to retard the hoisting of the stars and stripes. He does not tell us how a sailor-boy, with a line around his waist and a pocket full of spikes, hammered his way to the top of the staff, and restored the tackling by which the flag was flung to the breeze before the barges containing the British rear-guard had reached the fleet. It was a sad day for Mr. Rivington, and he may be excused for not dwelling upon its incidents longer than stern duty demanded.
The whole State of New York had been waiting impatiently for the evacuation of the City. Many hundreds of the old Whig inhabitants, who had fled at the entrance of the English troops seven years before, were eager to come again into possession of their homes and property, and resume their former occupations. Many new enterprises waited only for the departure of the troops to be entered upon. A large number of young men were looking to New York as the scene of their future career. Albany, which had served as the temporary capital of the State, was full of lawyers, law-students, retired soldiers, merchants, and mechanics, who were prepared to remove to New York as soon as Rivington's Gazette should inform them that the British had really left, and General Washington taken possession. As in these days certain promises to pay are to be fulfilled six months after the United States shall have acknowledged the independence of a certain Confederacy, so at that time it was a custom for leases and other compacts to be dated from "the day on which the British troops shall leave New York." Among the young men in Albany who were intending to repair to the city were two retired officers of distinction, Alexander Hamilton, a student at law, and Aaron Burr, then in the second year of his practice at the bar. James Kent and Edward Livingston were also students of law in Albany at that time. The old Tory lawyers being all exiled or silenced, there was a promising field in New York for young advocates of talent, and these two young gentlemen had both contracted marriages which necessitated speedy professional gains. Hamilton had won the daughter of General Schuyler. Burr was married to the widow of a British officer, whose fortune was a few hundred pounds and two fine strapping boys fourteen and sixteen years of age.
And Burr was himself a father. Theodosia, "his only child," was born at Albany in the spring of 1783. When the family removed to New York in the following winter, and took up their abode in Maiden Lane,—"the rent to commence when the troops leave the city,"—she was an engaging infant of seven or eight months. We may infer something of the circumstances and prospects of her father, when we know that he had ventured upon a house of which the rent was two hundred pounds a year. We find him removing, a year or two after, to a mansion at the corner of Cedar and Nassau streets, the garden and grapery of which were among the finest in the thickly settled portion of the city. Fifty years after, he had still an office within a very few yards of the same spot, though all trace of the garden of Theodosia's childhood had long ago disappeared. She was a child of affluence. Not till she had left her father's house did a shadow of misfortune darken its portals. Abundance and elegance surrounded her from her infancy, and whatever advantages in education and training wealth can produce for a child she had in profusion. At the same time her father's vigilant stoicism guarded her from the evils attendant upon a too easy acquisition of things pleasant and desirable.
She was born into a happy home. Even if we had not the means of knowing something of the character of her mother, we might still infer that she must have possessed qualities singularly attractive to induce a man in the position of Burr to undertake the charge of a family at the outset of his career. She was neither handsome nor young, nor had she even the advantage of good health. A scar disfigured her face. Burr,—the brilliant and celebrated Burr,—heir of an honored name, had linked his rising fortunes with an invalid and her boys. The event most abundantly justified his choice, for in all the fair island of Manhattan there was not a happier family than his, nor one in which happiness was more securely founded in the diligent discharge of duty. The twelve years of his married life were his brightest and best; and among the last words he ever spoke were a pointed declaration that his wife was the best woman and the finest lady he had ever known. It was her cultivated mind that drew him to her. "It was a knowledge of your mind," he once wrote her,
"which first inspired me with a respect for that of your sex, and with some regret I confess, that the ideas you have often heard me express in favor of female intellectual power are founded in what I have imagined more than in what I have seen, except in you."
In those days an educated woman was among the rarest of rarities. The wives of many of our most renowned revolutionary leaders were surprisingly illiterate. Except the noble wife of John Adams, whose letters form so agreeable an oasis in the published correspondence of the time, it would be difficult to mention the name of one lady of the revolutionary period who could have been a companion to the mind of a man of culture. Mrs. Burr, on the contrary, was the equal of her husband in literary discernment, and his superior in moral judgment. Her remarks, in her letters to her husband, upon the popular authors of the day, Chesterfield, Rousseau, Voltaire, and others, show that she could correct as well as sympathize with her husband's taste. She relished all of Chesterfield except the "indulgence," which Burr thought essential. She had a weakness for Rousseau, but was not deluded by his sentimentality. She enjoyed Gibbon without stumbling at his fifteenth and sixteenth-chapters. The home of Theodosia presents to us a pleasing scene of virtuous industry. The master of the house, always an indomitable worker, was in the full tide of a successful career at the bar. His two step-sons were employed in his office, and one of them frequently accompanied him in his journeys to distant courts as clerk or amanuensis. No father could have been more generous or more thoughtful than he was for these fatherless youths, and they appeared to have cherished for him the liveliest affection. Mrs. Burr shared in the labors of the office during the absence of her lord. All the affairs of this happy family moved in harmony, for love presided at their board, inspired their exertions, and made them one. One circumstance alone interrupted their felicity, and that was the frequent absence of Burr from home on business at country courts; but even these journeys served to call forth from all the family the warmest effusions of affection.
"What language can express the joy, the gratitude of Theodosia!" writes Mrs. Burr to her absent husband, in the fifth year of their marriage.
"Stage after stage without a line. Thy usual punctuality gave room for every fear; various conjectures filled every breast. One of our sons was to have departed to-day in quest of the best of friends and fathers. This morning we waited the stage with impatience. Shrouder went frequently before it arrived; at length returned—no letter. We were struck dumb with disappointment. Barton [eldest son] set out to inquire who were the passengers; in a very few minutes returned exulting—a packet worth the treasures of the Universe. Joy brightened every face; all expressed their past anxieties, their present happiness. To enjoy was the first result. Each made choice of what they could best relish. Porter, sweet wine, chocolate, and sweetmeats made the most delightful repast that could be enjoyed without thee. The servants were made to feel their lord was well; are at this instant toasting his health and bounty. While the boys are obeying thy dear commands, thy Theodosia flies to speak her heartfelt joy—her Aaron safe—mistress of the heart she adores, can she ask more? Has Heaven more to grant?"
What a pleasing picture of a happy family circle is this, and how rarely are the perils of a second marriage so completely overcome! It was in such a warm and pleasant nest as this that Theodosia Burr passed the years of her childhood.
Charles Lamb used to say that babies had no right to our regard merely as babies, but that every child had a character of its own by which it must stand or fall in the esteem of disinterested observers. Theodosia was a beautiful and forward child, formed to be the pet and pride of a household. "Your dear little Theo," wrote her mother in her third year, "grows the most engaging child you ever saw. It is impossible to see her with indifference." From her earliest years she exhibited that singular fondness for her father which afterward became the ruling passion of her life, and which was to undergo the severest tests that filial affection has ever known. When she was but three years of age her mother would write: "Your dear little daughter seeks you twenty times a day; calls you to your meals, and will not suffer your chair to be filled by any of the family." And again:
"Your dear little Theodosia cannot hear you spoken of without an apparent melancholy; insomuch that her nurse is obliged to exert her invention to divert her, and myself avoid to mention you in her presence. She was one whole day indifferent to everything but your name. Her attachment is not of a common nature."
Here was an inviting opportunity for developing an engaging infant into that monstrous thing, a spoiled child. She was an only daughter in a family of which all the members but herself were adults, and the head of which was among the busiest of men.
But Aaron Burr, amidst all the toils of his profession, and in spite of the distractions of political strife, made the education of his daughter the darling object of his existence. Hunters tell us that pointers and hounds inherit the instinct which renders them such valuable allies in the pursuit of game; so that the offspring of a trained dog acquires the arts of the chase with very little instruction. Burr's father was one of the most zealous and skillful of schoolmasters, and from him he appears to have derived that pedagogic cast of character which led him, all his life, to take so much interest in the training of proteges. There was never a time in his whole career when he had not some youth upon his hands to whose education he was devoted. His system of training, with many excellent points, was radically defective. Its defects are sufficiently indicated when we say that It was pagan, not Christian. Plato, Socrates, Cato, and Cicero might have pronounced it good and sufficient: St. John, St. Augustine, and all the Christian host would have lamented it as fatally defective. But if Burr educated his child as though she were a Roman girl, her mother was with her during the first eleven years of her life, to supply, in some degree, what was wanting in the instructions of her father.
Burr was a stoic. He cultivated hardness. Fortitude and fidelity were his favorite virtues. The seal which he used in his correspondence with his intimate friends, and with them only, was descriptive of his character and prophetic of his destiny. It was a Rock, solitary in the midst of a tempestuous ocean, and bore the inscription, "Nee flatu nee fluctu"—neither by wind nor by wave. It was his principle to steel himself against the inevitable evils of life. If we were asked to select from his writings the sentence which contains most of his characteristic way of thinking, it would be one which he wrote in his twenty-fourth year to his future wife: "That mind is truly great which can bear with equanimity the trifling and unavoidable vexations of life, and be affected only by those which determine our substantial bliss." He utterly despised all complaining, even of the greatest calamities. He even experienced a kind of proud pleasure in enduring the fierce obloquy of his later years. One day, near the close of his life, when a friend had told him of some new scandal respecting his moral conduct, he said: "That's right, my child, tell me what they say. I like to know what the public say of me,—the great public!" Such words he would utter without the slightest bitterness, speaking of the great public as a humorous old grandfather might of a wayward, foolish, good little child.
So, at the dawn of a career which promised nothing but glory and prosperity, surrounded by all the appliances of ease and pleasure, he was solicitous to teach his child to do and to endure. He would have her accustomed to sleep alone, and to go about the house in the dark. Her breakfast was of bread and milk. He was resolute in exacting the less agreeable tasks, such as arithmetic. He insisted upon regularity of hours. Upon going away upon a journey he would leave written orders for her tutors, detailing the employments of each day; and, during his absence, a chief topic of his letters was the lessons of the children. Children,—for, that his Theodosia might have the advantage of a companion in her studies, he adopted the little Natalie, a French child, whom he reared to womanhood in his house. "The letters of our dear children," he would write,
"are a feast. To hear that they are employed, that no time is absolutely wasted, is the most flattering of anything that could be told me of them. It insures their affection, or is the best evidence of it. It insures in its consequences everything I am ambitious of in them. Endeavor to preserve regularity of hours; it conduces exceedingly to industry."
And his wife would answer:
"I really believe, my dear, that few parents can boast of children whose minds are so prone to virtue. I see the reward of our assiduity with inexpressible delight, with a gratitude few experience. My Aaron, they have grateful hearts."
Or thus: "Theo [seven years old] ciphers from five in the morning until eight, and also the same hours in the evening. This prevents our riding at those hours."
When Theodosia was ten years old, Mary Wollstonecraft's eloquent little book, "A Vindication of the Eights of Woman," fell into Burr's hands. He was so powerfully struck by it that he sat up nearly all night reading it. He showed it to all his friends. "Is it owing to ignorance or prejudice," he wrote, "that I have not yet met a single person who had discovered, or would allow the merit of this work?" The work, indeed, was fifty years in advance of the time; for it anticipated all that is rational in the opinions respecting the position and education of women which are now held by the ladies who are stigmatized as the Strong-minded, as well as by John Mill, Herbert Spencer, and other economists of the modern school. It demanded fair play for the understanding of women. It proclaimed the essential equality of the sexes. It denounced the awful libertinism of that age, and showed that the-weakness, the ignorance, the vanity, and the seclusion of women prepared them to become the tool and minion of bad men's lust. It criticised ably the educational system of Rousseau, and, with still more severity, the popular works of bishops and priests, who chiefly strove to inculcate an abject submission to man as the rightful lord of the sex. It demonstrated that the sole possibility of woman's elevation to the rank of man's equal and friend was in the cultivation of her mind, and in the thoughtful discharge of the duties of her lot. It is a really noble and brave little book, undeserving of the oblivion into which it has fallen. No intelligent woman, no wise parent with daughters to rear, could read it now without pleasure and advantage.
"Meekness," she says,
"may excite tenderness, and gratify the arrogant pride of man; but the lordly caresses of a protector will not gratify a noble mind that pants and deserves to be respected. Fondness is a poor substitute for friendship... A girl whose spirits have not been damped by inactivity, or innocence tainted by false shame, will always be a romp, and the doll will never excite attention unless confinement allows her no alternative Most of the women, in the circle of my observation, who have acted like rational creatures, have accidentally been allowed to run wild, as some of the elegant formers of the fair sex would insinuate Men have better tempers than women because they are occupied by pursuits that interest the head as well as the heart. I never knew a weak or ignorant person who had a good temper Why are girls to be told that they resemble angels, but to sink them below women? They are told that they are only like angels when they are young and beautiful; consequently it is their persons, not their virtues, that procure them this homage It is in vain to attempt to keep the heart pure unless the head is furnished with ideas Would ye, O my sisters, really possess modesty, ye must remember that the possession of virtue, of any denomination, is incompatible with ignorance and vanity! Ye must acquire that soberness of mind which the exercise of duties and the pursuit of knowledge alone inspire, or ye will still remain in a doubtful, dependent situation, and only be, loved while ye are fair! The downcast eye, the rosy blush, the retiring grace, are all proper in their season; but modesty being the child of reason cannot long exist with the sensibility that is not tempered by reflection.... With what disgust have I heard sensible women speak of the wearisome confinement which they endured at school. Not allowed, perhaps, to step out of one broad path in a superb garden, and obliged to pace, with steady deportment, stupidly backward and forward, holding up their heads and turning out their toes, with shoulders braced back, instead of bounding forward, as Nature directs to complete her own design, in the various attitudes so conducive to health. The pure animal spirits, which make both mind and body shoot out and unfold the tender blossoms of hope, are turned sour and vented in vain wishes or pert repinings, that contract the faculties and. spoil the temper; else they mount to the brain, and, sharpening the understanding before it gains proportionable strength, produce that pitiful cunning which disgracefully characterizes the female mind,—and, I fear, will ever characterize it while women remain the slaves of power."
In the spirit of this book Theodosia's education was conducted. Her mind had fair play. Her father took it for granted that she could learn what a boy of the same age could learn, and gave her precisely the advantages which he would have given a son. Besides the usual accomplishments, French, music, dancing, and riding, she learned to read Virgil, Horace, Terence, Lucian, Homer, in the original. She appears to have read all of Terence and Lucian, a great part of Horace, all the Iliad, and large portions of the Odyssey. "Cursed effects," exclaimed her father once,
"of fashionable education, of which both sexes are the advocates, and yours eminently the victims. If I could foresee that Theo would become a mere fashionable woman, with all the attendant frivolity and vacuity of mind, adorned with whatever grace and allurement, I would earnestly pray God to take her forthwith hence. But I yet hope by her to convince the world what neither sex appears to believe, that women have souls."
How faithfully, how skilfully he labored to kindle and nourish the intelligence of his child his letters to her attest. He was never too busy to spare a half-hour in answering her letters. In a country court-room, in the Senate-chamber, he wrote her brief and sprightly notes, correcting her spelling, complimenting her style, reproving her indolence, praising her industry, commenting on her authors. Rigorous taskmaster as he was, he had a strong sense of the value of just commendation, and he continued to mingle praise very happily with reproof. A few sentences from his letters to her will serve to show his manner.
(In her tenth year.)—
"I rose up suddenly from the sofa, and rubbing my head, 'What book shall I buy for her?' said I to myself. 'She reads so much and so rapidly that it is not easy to find proper and amusing French books for her; and yet I am so flattered with her progress in that language that I am resolved she shall, at all events, be gratified. Indeed I owe it to her.' So, after walking once or twice briskly across the floor, I took my hat and sallied out, determined not to return till I had purchased something. It was not my first attempt. I went into one bookseller's shop after another. I found plenty of fairy tales and such nonsense, fit for the generality of children nine or ten years old. 'These,' said I, 'will never do. Her understanding begins to be above such things'; but I could see nothing that I would offer with pleasure to an intelligent, well-informed girl nine years old. I began to be discouraged. The hour of dining was come. 'But I will search a little longer,' I persevered. At last I found it. I found the very thing I sought. It is contained in two volumes octavo, handsomely bound, and with prints and registers. It is a work of fancy, but replete with instruction and amusement. I must present it with my own hand."
He advised her to keep a diary; and to give her an idea of what she should record, he wrote for her such a journal of one day as he should like to receive.
Plan of the Journal.—
"Learned 230 lines, which finished Horace. Heigh-ho for Terence and the Greek Grammar to-morrow. Practised two hours less thirty-five minutes, which I begged off. Hewlett (dancing-master) did not come. Began Gibbon last evening. I find he requires as much study and attention as Horace; so I shall not rank the reading of him among amusements. Skated an hour; fell twenty times, and find the advantage of a hard head. Ma better,—dined, with us at table, and is still sitting up and free from pain."
She was remiss in keeping her journal; remiss, too, in writing to her father, though he reminded her that he never let one of her letters remain unanswered a day. He reproved her sharply. "What!" said he,
"can neither affection nor civility induce you to devote to me the small portion of time which I have required? Are authority and compulsion then the only engines by which you can be moved? For shame, Theo. Do not give me reason to think so ill of you."
She reformed. In her twelfth year, her father wrote: "Io triumphe! there is not a word misspelled either in your journal or letter, which cannot be said of one you ever wrote before." And again:
"When you want punctuality in your letters, I am sure you want it in everything; for you will constantly observe that you have the most leisure when you do the most business. Negligence of one's duty produces a self-dissatisfaction which unfits the mind for everything, and ennui and peevishness are the never-failing consequence."
His letters abound in sound advice. There is scarcely a passage in them which the most scrupulous and considerate parent could disapprove. Theodosia heeded well his instructions. She became nearly all that his heart or his pride desired.
During the later years of her childhood, her mother was grievously afflicted with a cancer, which caused her death in 1794, before Theodosia had completed her twelfth year. From that time, such was the precocity of her character, that she became the mistress of her father's house and the companion of his leisure hours. Continuing her studies, however, we find her in her sixteenth year translating French comedies, reading the Odyssey at the rate of two hundred lines a day, and about to begin the Iliad. "The happiness of my life," writes her father, "depends upon your exertions; for what else, for whom else, do I live?" And, later, when all the world supposed that his whole soul was absorbed in getting New York ready to vote for Jefferson and Burr, he told her that the ideas of which she was the subject that passed daily through his mind would, if committed to writing, fill an octavo volume.
Who so happy as Theodosia? Who so fortunate? The young ladies of New York, at the close of the last century, might have been pardoned for envying the lot of this favorite child of one who then seemed the favorite child of fortune. Burr had been a Senator of the United States as soon as he had attained the age demanded by the Constitution. As a lawyer he was second in ability and success to no man; in reputation, to none but Hamilton, whose services in the Cabinet of General Washington had given him great celebrity. Aged members of the New York bar remember that Burr alone was the antagonist who could put Hamilton to his mettle. When other lawyers were employed against him, Hamilton's manner was that of a man who felt an easy superiority to the demands upon him; he took few notes; he was playful and careless, relying much upon the powerful declamation of his summing up. But when Burr was in the case,—Burr the wary, the vigilant, who was never careless, never inattentive, who came into court only after an absolutely exhaustive preparation of his case, who held declamation in contempt, and knew how to quench its effect by a stroke of polite satire, or the quiet citation of a fact,—then Hamilton was obliged to have all his wits about him, and he was observed to be restless, busy, and serious. There are now but two or three venerable men among us who remember the keen encounters of these two distinguished lawyers. The vividness of their recollection of those scenes of sixty years ago shows what an impression must have been made upon their youthful minds.
If Hamilton and Burr divided equally between them the honors of the bar, Burr had the additional distinction of being a leader of the rising Democratic Party; the party to which, at that day, the youth, the genius, the sentiment, of the country were powerfully drawn; the party which, by his masterly tactics, was about to place Mr. Jefferson in the Presidential chair after ten years of ineffectual struggle.
All this enhanced the eclat of Theodosia's position. As she rode about the island on her pony, followed at a respectful distance, as the custom then was, by one of her father's slaves mounted on a coach-horse, doubtless many a fair damsel of the city repined at her own homelier lot, while she dwelt upon the many advantages which nature and circumstances had bestowed upon this gifted and happy maiden.
She was a beautiful girl. She inherited all her father's refined beauty of countenance; also his shortness of stature; the dignity, grace, and repose of his incomparable manner, too. She was a plump, petite, and rosy girl; but there was that in her demeanor which became the daughter of an affluent home, and a certain assured, indescribable expression of face which seemed to say, Here is a maiden who to the object of her affection could be faithful against an execrating world,—faithful even unto death.
Burr maintained at that time two establishments, one in the city, the other a mile and a half out of town on the banks of the Hudson. Richmond Hill was the name of his country seat, where Theodosia resided during the later years of her youth. It was a large, massive, wooden edifice, with a lofty portico of Ionic columns, and stood on a hill facing the river, in the midst of a lawn adorned with ancient trees and trained shrubbery. The grounds, which extended to the water's edge, comprised about a hundred and sixty acres. Those who now visit the site of Burr's abode, at the corner of Charlton and Varick streets, behold a wilderness of very ordinary houses covering a dead level. The hill has been pared away, the ponds filled up, the river pushed away a long distance from the ancient shore, and every one of the venerable trees is gone. The city shows no spot less suggestive of rural beauty. But Richmond Hill, in the days of Hamilton and Burr, was the finest country residence on the island of Manhattan. The wife of John Adams, who lived there in 1790, just before Burr bought it, and who had recently travelled in the loveliest counties of England, speaks of it as a situation not inferior in natural beauty to the most delicious spot she ever saw. "The house," she says,
"is situated upon an eminence; at an agreeable distance flows the noble Hudson, bearing upon its bosom the fruitful productions of the adjacent country. On my right hand are fields beautifully variegated with grass and grain, to a great extent, like the valley of Honiton, in Devonshire. Upon my left the city opens to view, intercepted here and there by a rising ground and an ancient oak. In front, beyond the Hudson, the Jersey shores present the exuberance of a rich, well-cultivated soil. The venerable oaks and broken ground, covered with wild shrubs, which surround me, give a natural beauty to the spot, which is truly enchanting. A lovely variety of birds serenade me morning and evening, rejoicing in their liberty and security; for I have, as much as possible, prohibited the grounds from invasion, and sometimes almost wished for game-laws, when my orders have not been sufficiently regarded. The partridge, the woodcock, and the pigeon are too great temptations to the sports-men to withstand."
Indeed the whole Island was enchanting in those early days. There were pleasant gardens even in Wall Street, Cedar Street, Nassau Street; and the Battery, the place of universal resort, was one of the most delightful public grounds in the world,—as it will be again when the Spoiler is thrust from the places of power, and the citizens of New York come again into the ownership of their city. The banks of the Hudson and of the East River were forest-crowned bluffs, lofty and picturesque, and on every favorable site stood a cottage or a mansion surrounded with pleasant grounds. The letters of Theodosia Burr contain many passages expressive of her intense enjoyment of the variety, the vivid verdure, the noble trees, the heights, the pretty lakes, the enchanting prospects, the beautiful gardens, which her daily rides brought to her view. She was a dear lover of her island home. The city had not then laid waste the beauty of Manhattan. There was only one bank in New York, the officers of which shut the bank at one o'clock and went home to dinner, returned at three, and kept the bank open till five. Much of the business life of the town partook of this homely, comfortable, easy-going, rural spirit. There was a mail twice a week to the North, and twice a week to the South, and many of the old-fashioned people had time to live.
Not so the younger and newer portion of the population. We learn from one of the letters of the ill-fated Blennerhassett, who arrived in New York from Ireland in 1796, that the people were so busy there in making new docks, filling in the swamps, and digging cellars for new buildings, as to bring on an epidemic fever and ague that drove him from the city to the Jersey shore. He mentions, also, that land in the State doubled in value every two years, and that commercial speculation was carried on with such avidity that it was more like gambling than trade. It is he that relates the story of the adventurer, who, on learning that the yellow-fever prevailed fearfully in the West Indies, sent thither a cargo of coffins in nests, and, that no room might be lost, filled the smallest with gingerbread. The speculation, he assures us, was a capital hit; for the adventurer not only sold his coffins very profitably, but loaded his vessel with valuable woods, which yielded a great profit at New York. At that time, also, the speculation in lots, corner lots, and lands near the city, was prosecuted with all the recklessness which we have been in the habit of supposing was peculiar to later times. New York was New York even in the days of Burr and Hamilton.
As mistress of Richmond Hill, Theodosia entertained distinguished company. Hamilton was her father's occasional guest. Burr preferred the society of educated Frenchmen and Frenchwomen to any other, and he entertained many distinguished exiles of the French Revolution. Talleyrand, Volney, Jerome Bonaparte, and Louis Philippe were among his guests. Colonel Stone mentions, in his Life of Brant, that Theodosia, in her fourteenth year, in the absence of her father, gave a dinner to that chieftain of the forest, which was attended by the Bishop of New York, Dr. Hosack, Volney, and several other guests of distinction, who greatly enjoyed the occasion. Burr was gratified to hear with how much grace and good-nature his daughter acquitted herself in the entertainment of her company. The chief himself was exceedingly delighted, and spoke of the dinner with great animation many years after.
We have one pleasant glimpse of Theodosia in these happy years, in a trifling anecdote preserved by the biographer of Edward Livingston, during whose mayoralty the present City Hall was begun. The mayor had the pleasure, one bright day, of escorting the young lady on board a French frigate lying in the harbor. "You must bring none of your sparks on board, Theodosia," exclaimed the pun-loving magistrate; "for they have a magazine here, and we shall all be blown up." Oblivion here drops the curtain upon the gay party and the brilliant scene.
A suitor appeared for the hand of this fair and accomplished girl. It was Joseph Alston of South Carolina, a gentleman of twenty-two, possessor of large estates in rice plantations and slaves, and a man of much spirit and talent. He valued his estates at two hundred thousand pounds sterling. Their courtship was not a long one; for though she, as became her sex, checked the impetuosity of his advances and argued for delay, she was easily convinced by the reasons which he adduced for haste. She reminded him that Aristotle was of opinion that a man should not marry till he was thirty-six. "A fig for Aristotle," he replied; "let us regard the ipse dixit of no man. It is only want of fortune or want of discretion," he continued, "that could justify such a postponement of married joys. But suppose," he added,
"(merely for instance,) a young man nearly two-and-twenty, already of the greatest discretion, with an ample fortune, were to be passionately in love with a young lady almost eighteen, equally discreet with himself, and who had a 'sincere friendship' for him, do you think it would be necessary to make him wait till thirty? particularly where the friends on both sides were pleased with the match."
She told him, also, that some of her friends who had visited Charleston had described it as a city where the yellow-fever and the "yells of whipped negroes, which assail your ears from every house," and the extreme heat, rendered life a mere purgatory. She had heard, too, that in South Carolina the men were absorbed in hunting, gaming, and racing; while the women, robbed of their society, had no pleasures but to come together in large parties, sip tea, and look prim. The ardent swain eloquently defended his native State:—
"What!" he exclaimed,
"is Charleston, the most delightfully situated city in America, which, entirely open to the ocean, twice in every twenty-four hours is cooled by the refreshing sea-breeze, the Montpelier of the South, which annually affords an asylum to the planter and the West Indian from every disease, accused of heat and unhealthiness? But this is not all, unfortunate citizens of Charleston; the scream, the yell of the miserable unresisting African, bleeding under the scourge of relentless power, affords music to your ears! Ah! from what unfriendly cause does this arise? Has the God of heaven, in anger, here changed the order of nature? In every other region, without exception, in a similar degree of latitude, the same sun which ripens the tamarind and the anana, ameliorates the temper, and disposes it to gentleness and kindness. In India and other countries, not very different in climate from the southern parts of the United States, the inhabitants are distinguished for a softness and inoffensiveness of manners, degenerating almost to effeminacy; it is here then, only, that we are exempt from the general influence of climate: here only that, in spite of it, we are cruel and ferocious! Poor Carolina!"
And with regard to the manners of the Carolinians he assured the young lady that if there was one State in the Union which could justly claim superiority to the rest, in social refinement and the art of elegant living, it was South Carolina, where the division of the people into the very poor and the very rich left to the latter class abundant leisure for the pursuit of literature and the enjoyment of society.
"The possession of slaves," he owns,
"renders them proud, impatient of restraint, and gives them a haughtiness of manner which, to those unaccustomed to them, is disagreeable; but we find among them a high sense of honor, a delicacy of sentiment, and a liberality of mind, which we look for in vain in the more commercial citizens of the Northern States. The genius of the Carolinian, like the inhabitants of all southern countries, is quick, lively, and acute; in steadiness and perseverance he is naturally inferior to the native of the North; but this defect of climate is often overcome by his ambition or necessity; and, whenever this happens, he seldom fails to distinguish himself. In his temper he is gay and fond of company, open, generous, and unsuspicious; easily irritated, and quick to resent even the appearance of insult; but his passion, like the fire of the flint, is lighted up and extinguished in the same moment."
Such discussions end only in one way. Theodosia yielded the points in dispute. At Albany, on the 2d of February, 1801, while the country was ringing with the names of Jefferson and Burr, and while the world supposed that Burr was intriguing with all his might to defeat the wishes of the people by securing his own election to the Presidency, his daughter was married. The marriage was thus announced in the New York Commercial Advertiser of February 7:—
"MARRIED.—-At Albany, on the 2d instant, by the Rev. Mr. JOHNSON, JOSEPH ALSTON, of South Carolina, to THEODOSIA BURR, only child of AARON BURR, Esq."
They were married at Albany, because Colonel Burr, being a member of the Legislature, was residing at the capital of the State. One week the happy pair passed at Albany. Then to New York; whence, after a few days' stay, they began their long journey southward. Rejoined at Baltimore by Colonel Burr, they travelled in company to Washington, where, on the 4th of March, Theodosia witnessed the inauguration of Mr. Jefferson, and the induction of her father into the Vice-Presidency. Father and child parted a day or two after the ceremony. The only solid consolation, he said in his first letter to her, that he had for the loss of her dear companionship, was a belief that she would be happy, and the certainty that they should often meet. And, on his return to New York, he told her that he had approached his home as he would "the sepulchre of all his friends." "Dreary, solitary, comfortless. It was no longer home." Hence his various schemes of a second marriage, to which Theodosia urged him. He soon had the comfort of hearing that the reception of his daughter in South Carolina was as cordial and affectionate as his heart could have wished.
Theodosia now enjoyed three as happy years as ever fell to the lot of a young wife. Tenderly cherished by her husband, whom she devotedly loved, caressed by society, surrounded by affectionate and admiring relations, provided bountifully with all the means of enjoyment, living in the summer in the mountains of Carolina, or at the home of her childhood, Richmond Hill, passing the winters in gay and luxurious Charleston, honored for her own sake, for her father's, and her husband's, the years glided rapidly by, and she seemed destined to remain to the last Fortune's favorite child. One summer she and her husband visited Niagara, and penetrated the domain of the chieftain Brant, who gave them royal entertainment. Once she had the great happiness of receiving her father under her own roof, and of seeing the honors paid by the people of the State to the Vice-President. Again she spent a summer at Richmond Hill and Saratoga, leaving her husband for the first time. She told him on this occasion that every woman must prefer the society of the North to that of the South, whatever she might say. "If she denies it, she is set down in my mind as insincere and weakly prejudiced." But, like a fond and loyal wife, she wrote, "Where you are, there is my country, and in you are centred all my wishes."
She was a mother too. That engaging and promising boy, Aaron Burr Alston, the delight of his parents and of his grandfather, was born in the second year of the marriage. This event seemed to complete her happiness. For a time, it is true, she paid dearly for it by the loss of her former robust and joyous health. But the boy was worth the price. "If I can see without prejudice," wrote Colonel Burr, "there never was a finer boy"; and the mother's letters are full of those sweet, trifling anecdotes which mothers love to relate of their offspring. Her father still urged her to improve her mind, for her own and her son's sake, telling her that all she could learn would necessarily find its way to the mind of the boy. "Pray take in hand," he writes, "some book which requires attention and study. You will, I fear, lose the habit of study, which would be a greater misfortune than to lose your head." He praised, too, the ease, good-sense, and sprightliness of her letters, and said truly that her style, at its best, was not inferior to that of Madame de Sevigne.
Life is frequently styled a checkered scene. But it was the peculiar lot of Theodosia to experience during the first twenty-one years of her life nothing but prosperity and happiness, and during the remainder of her existence nothing but misfortune and sorrow. Never had her father's position seemed so strong and enviable as during his tenure of the office of Vice-President; but never had it been in reality so hollow and precarious. Holding property valued at two hundred thousand dollars, he was so deeply in debt that nothing but the sacrifice of his landed estate could save him from bankruptcy. At the age of thirty he had permitted himself to be drawn from a lucrative and always increasing professional business to the fascinating but most costly pursuit of political honors. And now; when he stood at a distance of only one step from the highest place, he was pursued by a clamorous host of creditors, and compelled to resort to a hundred expedients to maintain the expensive establishments supposed to be necessary to a Vice-President's dignity. His political position was as hollow as his social eminence. Mr. Jefferson was firmly resolved that Aaron Burr should not be his successor; and the great families of New York, whom Burr had united to win the victory over Federalism, were now united to bar the further advancement of a man whom they chose to regard as an interloper and a parvenu. If Burr's private life had been stainless, if his fortune had been secure, if he had been in his heart a Republican and a Democrat, if he had been a man earnest in the people's cause, if even his talents had been as superior as they were supposed to be, such a combination of powerful families and political influence might have retarded, but could not have prevented, his advancement; for he was still in the prime of his prime, and the people naturally side with a man who is the architect of his own fortunes.
On the 1st of July, 1804, Burr sat in the library of Richmond Hill writing to Theodosia. The day was unseasonably cold, and a fire blazed upon the hearth. The lord of the mansion was chilly and serious. An hour before he had taken the step which made the duel with Hamilton inevitable, though eleven days were to elapse before the actual encounter. He was tempted to prepare the mind of his child for the event, but he forebore. Probably his mind had been wandering into the past, and recalling his boyhood; for he quoted a line of poetry which he had been wont to use in those early days. "Some very wise man has said," he wrote,
"'Oh, fools, who think it solitude to be alone!'
"This is but poetry. Let us, therefore, drop the subject, lest it lead to another, on which I have imposed silence on myself." Then he proceeds, in his usual gay and agreeable manner, again urging her to go on in the pursuit of knowledge. His last thoughts before going to the field were with her and for her. His last request to her husband was that he should do all that in him lay to encourage her to improve her mind.
The bloody deed was done. The next news Theodosia received from her father was that he was a fugitive from the sudden abhorrence of his fellow-citizens; that an indictment for murder was hanging over his head; that his career in New York was, in all probability, over forever; and that he was destined to be for a time a wanderer on the earth. Her happy days were at an end. She never blamed her father for this, or for any act of his; on the contrary, she accepted without questioning his own version of the facts, and his own view of the morality of what he had done. He had formed her mind and tutored her conscience. He was her conscience. But though she censured him not, her days and nights were embittered by anxiety from this time to the last day of her life. A few months later her father, black with hundreds of miles of travel in an open canoe, reached her abode in South Carolina, and spent some weeks there before appearing for the last time in the chair of the Senate; for, ruined as he was in fortune and good name, indicted for murder in New York and New Jersey, he was still Vice-President of the United States, and he was resolved to reappear upon the public scene, and do the duty which the Constitution assigned him.
The Mexican scheme followed. Theodosia and her husband were both involved in it. Mr. Alston advanced money for the project, which was never repaid, and which, in his will, he forgave. His entire loss, in consequence of his connection with that affair, may be reckoned at about fifty thousand dollars. Theodosia entirely and warmly approved the dazzling scheme. The throne of Mexico, she thought, was an object worthy of her father's talents, and one which would repay him for the loss of a brief tenure of the Presidency, and be a sufficient triumph over the men who were supposed to have thwarted him. Her boy, too,—would he not be heir-presumptive to a throne?
The recent publication of the "Blennerhassett Papers" appears to dispel all that remained of the mystery which the secretive Burr chose to leave around the object of his scheme. We can now say with almost absolute certainty that Burr's objects were the following: The throne of Mexico for himself and his heirs; the seizure and organization of Texas as preliminary to the grand design. The purchase of lands on the Washita was for the three-fold purpose of veiling the real object, providing a rendezvous, and having the means of tempting and rewarding those of the adventurers who were not in the secret. We can also now discover the designed distribution of honors and places: Aaron L, Emperor; Joseph Alston, Head of the Nobility and Chief Minister; Aaron Burr Alston, heir to the throne; Theodosia, Chief Lady of the Court and Empire; Wilkinson, General-in-Chief of the Army; Blennerhassett, Embassador to the Court of St. James; Commodore Truxton (perhaps), Admiral of the Navy. There is not an atom of new evidence which warrants the supposition that Burr had any design to sever the Western States from the Union. If he himself had ever contemplated such an event, it is almost unquestionable that his followers were ignorant of it.
The scheme exploded. Theodosia and her husband had joined him at the home of the Blennerhassetts, and they were near him when the President's proclamation dashed the scheme to atoms, scattered the band of adventurers, and sent Burr a prisoner to Richmond, charged with high treason. Mr. Alston, in a public letter to the Governor of South Carolina, solemnly declared that he was wholly ignorant of any treasonable design on the part of his father-in-law, and repelled with honest warmth the charge of his own complicity with a design so manifestly absurd and hopeless as that of a dismemberment of the Union. Theodosia, stunned with the unexpected blow, returned with her husband to South Carolina, ignorant of her father's fate. He was carried through that State on his way to the North, and there it was that he made his well-known attempt to appeal to the civil authorities and get deliverance from the guard of soldiers. From Richmond he wrote her a hasty note, informing her of his arrest. She and her husband joined him soon, and remained with him during his trial.
At Richmond, during the six months of the trial, Burr tasted the last of the sweets of popularity. The party opposed to Mr. Jefferson made his cause their own, and gathered round the fallen leader with ostentatious sympathy and aid. Ladies sent him bouquets, wine, and dainties for his table, and bestowed upon his daughter the most affectionate and flattering attentions. Old friends from New York and new friends from the West were there to cheer and help the prisoner. Andrew Jackson was conspicuously his friend and defender, declaiming in the streets upon the tyranny of the Administration and the perfidy of Wilkinson, Burr's chief accuser. Washington Irving, then in the dawn of his great renown, who had given the first efforts of his youthful pen to Burr's newspaper, was present at the trial, full of sympathy for a man whom he believed to be the victim of treachery and political animosity. Doubtless he was not wanting in compassionate homage to the young matron from South Carolina. Mr. Irving was then a lawyer, and had been retained as one of Burr's counsel; not to render service in the court-room, but in the expectation that his pen would be employed in staying the torrent of public opinion that was setting against his client. Whether or not he wrote in his behalf does not appear. But his private letters, written at Richmond during the trial, show plainly enough that, if his head was puzzled by the confused and contradictory evidence, his heart and his imagination were on the side of the prisoner.
Theodosia's presence at Richmond was of more value to her father than the ablest of his counsel. Every one appears to have loved, admired, and sympathized with her. "You can't think," wrote Mrs. Blennerhassett, "with what joy and pride I read what Colonel Burr says of his daughter. I never could love one of my own sex as I do her." Blennerhassett himself was not less her friend. Luther Martin, Burr's chief counsel, almost worshipped her. "I find," wrote Blennerhassett,
"that Luther Martin's idolatrous admiration of Mrs. Alston is almost as excessive as my own, but far more beneficial to his interest and injurious to his judgment, as it is the medium of his blind attachment to her father, whose secrets and views, past, present, or to come, he is and wishes to remain ignorant of. Nor can he see a speck in the character or conduct of Alston, for the best of all reasons with him, namely, that Alston has such a wife."
It plainly appears, too, from the letters and journal of Blennerhassett, that Alston did all in his power to promote the acquittal and aid the fallen fortunes of Burr, and that he did so, not because he believed in him, but because he loved his Theodosia.
Acquitted by the jury, but condemned at the bar of public opinion, denounced by the press, abhorred by the Republican party, and still pursued by his creditors, Burr, in the spring of 1805, lay concealed at New York preparing for a secret flight to Europe. Again his devoted child travelled northward to see him once more before he sailed. For some weeks both were in the city, meeting only by night at the house of some tried friend, but exchanging notes and letters from hour to hour. One whole night they spent together, just before his departure. To her he committed his papers, the accumulation of thirty busy years; and it was she who was to collect the debts due him, and thus provide for his maintenance in Europe.
Burr was gay and confident to the last, for he was strong in the belief that the British Ministry would adopt his scheme and aid in tearing Mexico from the grasp of Napoleon. Theodosia was sick and sorrowful, but bore bravely up and won her father's commendation for her fortitude. In one of the early days of June father and daughter parted, to meet no more on earth.
The four years of Burr's fruitless exile were to Theodosia years of misery. She could not collect the debts on which they had relied. The embargo reduced the rice-planters to extreme embarrassment. Her husband no longer sympathized with her in her yearning love for her father, though loving her as tenderly as ever. Old friends in New York cooled toward her. Her health was precarious. Months passed without bringing a word from over the sea; and the letters that did reach her, lively and jovial as they were, contained no good news. She saw her father expelled from England, wandering aimless in Sweden and Germany, almost a prisoner in Paris, reduced to live on potatoes and dry bread; while his own countrymen showed no signs of relenting toward him. In many a tender passage she praised his fortitude. "I witness," she wrote, in a well-known letter,