Four American Patriots  by Alma Holman Burton

The Lawyer

Colonel Hamilton met and loved Elizabeth Schuyler, the daughter of General Schuyler, one of the richest men in New York. Their marriage increased the young officer's reputation and added much to his social position.

Very soon after marriage, Hamilton resigned his place as aide-de-camp to General Washington, on account of a misunderstanding. It happened in the following way: One day, Washington passed Hamilton on the stairs and said, "I would like to speak with you, Colonel."

"I will wait upon your Excellency immediately," replied Hamilton, and went below to deliver some important letters to the postman.

As he returned, General Lafayette stopped to speak with him. Hamilton was very impatient; he talked rapidly, and finally left the Frenchman abruptly. He searched for Washington in his room; he was not there.

At last he found him at the head of the stairs. The great commander-in-chief looked stately and severe.

"Colonel Hamilton," he said, "you have kept me waiting these ten minutes! I must tell you, sir, that you treat me with disrespect."

The face of the young aide-de-camp flushed as he heard the reproving words.

"I am not conscious of it, sir," he replied; "but since you have thought it necessary to tell me so, we part."

"Very well, sir, if it be your choice," said Washington.

The two friends parted in anger. In less than an hour General Washington sent word to Hamilton that he hoped the misunderstanding might be forgotten. Their friendship was continued.

No doubt both men were deeply grieved over their hasty words. But Hamilton had already written out his resignation; he felt he might find a greater field for work. He was soon placed in command of a regiment, and went to the South to join General Lafayette against the British.

The war raged furiously all through the South. At last General Washington himself came from the North with his army. The British at Yorktown were surrounded by land and by sea.

A siege was begun; and then Colonel Hamilton distinguished himself by a very daring deed. Behind a high redoubt lay the guns of the British. Washington said the guns must be taken. Hamilton was named as the leader in an assault; he placed his foot on the shoulder of a sentinel, and was the first to mount the wall; he stood for a moment in full sight of the enemy's guns, calling aloud to his men.

Then he sprang into the ditch below, followed by his devoted soldiers with bayonets fixed. He pressed on past the British sentinels, and, in nine minutes' time, the American flag was floating over the parapet. You may be sure that Washington was proud of his young friend.

Very soon after this, the British surrendered to the American troops, and the long seven years' war was over.

The British army sailed away; Washington bade farewell to his officers, and retired to his home at Mount Vernon.

Hamilton went to Albany to live. He began to study law; in a few months he was able to pass his examinations, and was admitted to the bar.

Now, before the war most of the lawyers were Tories; and after the war they were not allowed to practice in the courts. Thus it came about that Hamilton found a large field for his new profession. He soon had more cases than he could attend to.

There was only one lawyer in the state of New York who seemed to be his equal; this was Aaron Burr, a grandson of Jonathan Edwards, the great preacher of New England.

Burr was a year older than Hamilton; he was handsome and brave, and elegant in his manners.

He had been in the war, and was once a member of Washington's staff.

Washington disliked Burr, and did not keep him long in his service.

Almost everybody admired him, but very few trusted him, because he was dishonorable in his dealings with men.

It often happened that Burr and Hamilton were on different sides in a question of law. Sometimes one and sometimes the other won the case at court.

People began to say that the two young lawyers would soon be rivals in politics.