Golden Nuggets from U. S. History

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Washington's Aide-de-Camp Quits

During the War of Revolution Washington had a serious problem recruiting and keeping troops. One officer he counted on heavily was a very able Aide de Camp. Suddenly, at Washington's headquarters in New Windsor, NY, a verbal spat erupted between Washington and the Aide and soon thereafter the Aide resigned and went home.

Washington had six aides at his headquarters. They included James McHenry, the (General) Marquis de la Lafayette, and John Laurens but in February 1781, 26 year old Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton was the Aide on which he most relied.

Washington had plucked the 22 year old Captain from the command of a New York artillery company in March 1777 because of Hamilton's impressive conduct during the fighting on Long Island, at White Plains, the Delaware River crossing, and at Trenton and Princeton. Washington said of the selection, "I need someone to think for me."

Hamilton served as Aide dutifully and faithfully; developing strategic and tactical plans, writing most of Washington's correspondence, giving advice. Within a couple of years, however, he became determined to get a new field command and return to combat. Washington depended so heavily upon him that he made one excuse after another in refusing his request but Hamilton never grew bitter; he just kept asking.

Perhaps the inability to get a command, combined with an onerous workload made Hamilton edgy, because in February, 1781, Washington sent word that he wanted to see him. Hamilton sent back a response that he ". . .would wait upon him immediately." While rushing to the General he encountered Lafayette, stopped to have a few words, then found the General clearly outraged. "Col. Hamilton" said Washington, "you have kept me waiting at the head of the stairs these ten minutes. I must tell you Sir you treat me with disrespect."

Hamilton, in a letter to his father-in-law two days later said:

"I replied without petulancy, but with decision, 'I am not conscious of it Sir, but since you have thought it necessary to tell me so we part.' "

"Very well Sir if it be your choice," replied Washington.

This may seem a mild exchange but by gentlemen's standards of 1781 and considering military protocol it was a major split.

Hamilton left the building in a great huff and seeing Lafayette recounted the event. Lafayette thought that the argument might be his fault for delaying Hamilton and tried to patch it up with the General. Washington, realizing the urgency of the situation tried to make amends but Hamilton would not budge. He remained in camp but maintained a cool distance by living in a separate building and exchanging chilly notes with his boss. Toward the end of April he made one last request for a command and when Washington did not grant it he resigned and went home.

Later that same year (1781) Washington said:

". . .this I can venture to advance from a thorough knowledge of him, that there are few men to be found, of his age, who has a more general knowledge than he possesses, and none whose Soul is more firmly engaged in the cause, or who exceeds him in probity and Sterling virtue."

Clearly, Hamilton got over his anger. He became Washington's Secretary of the Treasury and Washington's admiration for him grew. During Washington's first administration his Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, and Hamilton often engaged in bitter quarrels with Washington acting as peacemaker between them and most often taking Hamilton's side.

Jefferson left the cabinet in late 1793, before the end of Washington's first term. Hamilton left on January 31, 1795, one year into the second term.

Washington said upon Hamilton's departure:

"In every relation, which you have borne to me, I have found that my confidence in your talents, exertions and integrity, has been well placed. I the more freely render this testimony of my approbation because I speak from opportunities of information which cannot deceive me, and which furnish satisfactory proof of your title to public regard."

Philosophos Historia


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