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Treasury or State?

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After Washington had finally replied, “State,” (in a tone twanged just slightly with exasperation) Hamilton’s next inquiry was to who the Treasurer would be.

“Well, I still must speak to the man, but I cannot foresee any reason for him to decline. He has been eager to accept a position in the past.”

Hamilton searched his brain for any possible match to that description. He assumed Washington was referring to the war, but the only memories he was able to draw up were of himself asking for a command. “Sir?”

“You are two are well-acquainted, I believe.” Washington was eyeing him carefully now—anticipating his reaction.

Well-acquainted. It wasn’t Lafayette, of course, and Mulligan didn't have the experience or education to hold government office. So who...

Oh, no. “Sir—”

There was a knock at the door.

“Yes, come in,” Washington said, just loud enough to be heard through the oak.

“Your Excellency. You wanted to see me?”

Hamilton turned around with excessive pause. Of all the men... “Aaron Burr, sir.”

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Hamilton had work to do. He always had work to do, but this week had been particularly hectic. He was in the middle of drafting a letter to Lafayette, directing his friend on steps for France's movement before America could get involved. It had to be finished today.

Perhaps the correspondence could have been performed quicker had Hamilton not strayed from Washington’s outline, but really, twelve pages was still short for such an important subject. Lafayette wouldn't mind.

Hamilton paused, laying down his quill to stretch his fingers a moment. The scratching of another writing instrument creeped through the thin wall to his left. Hamilton pursed his lips.

Aaron Burr. How could Washington choose Aaron Burr of all people, for such an important, involved position? The man had refused to take a stand to defend the vulnerable Constitution when it was so vehemently needed. And that had been an offer of anonymity. How could Burr be expected to stand in a Cabinet meeting and fight for his financial plan when the inevitable opposition arose? The country was in desperate need of monetary leadership, and Burr just could not be the solution.

Hamilton started back up and wrote another dozen lines. But every time he paused to dip his quill, he could hear Burr working. He could hear him thinking. And, whatever he was thinking, it was entirely wrong.

He pushed his letter aside and rushed next door to knock on Burr's office—perhaps with a bit more vigor than he had intended.

“Hamilton, what do you want?”

Hamilton pushed inside. He frowned. “There is no way you could have determined for certain it was me.”

Burr rolled his eyes. “I could hear your footsteps approaching the whole way from your office. We are right next door to each other, you know; there’s no need to run.”

“Yes, right next door,” Hamilton agreed. “How is it exactly that we arrived at these circumstances again?”

“You're not the only one who would have enjoyed a break.” Burr put down his quill. With a sigh, he gestured for Hamilton to take a seat. “I don’t suppose you will leave without stating your case. What are you on about now?”

“I am simply curious as to how your plan is coming along,” Hamilton said innocently.

“You're never curious about things. You want to fix them.” Burr leaned back in his chair. “Well, then? What do you suggest?”

“I'm glad you asked. To begin, the issue of state debts must be handled. I—”

“I don't see how that's a federal issue. They are state debts, after all, and you know James Madison won't stand for the federal government meddling where it doesn't belong.”

“But it does belong. Federal involvement is necessary and you would see how if you would just listen to me—”

“I have always done far too much of that.”

“—and in any case, it doesn't matter what Madison thinks. He is not Treasury Secretary.”

“Neither are you.”

Hamilton scowled. It was regrettably true. He enjoyed his own position, but sometimes it seemed that affairs would have resulted better had Washington offered him Treasury and State.

“Secretary or not, Madison holds a great deal of power within his faction. You would be remiss to ignore that,” Burr said. “Thomas Jefferson will be arriving home soon, and he will undoubtedly take Madison's side on such an issue. I don't wish to make enemies with either one of them.”

“You never do,” Hamilton bit back. “But this is different. You have power now. It's time to stop worrying about what people think of you, and start making decisions for the betterment of the country—not yourself. You can't stride through your term with one foot going in either direction. Washington will listen to you, Congress will listen to you, if you put down your stance and defend it. Give it your full support. Being decisive doesn't have to make enemies.”

“This coming from a man who is so skilled at avoiding them.”

“And look where I am now.” Hamilton let the sentence hang in the air. He could have said more, but the simple truth of the statement was something even Burr couldn't deny. They had different methods, but they had ended up in roughly the same place.

“Okay,” Burr said slowly. “I’ve no doubt you already have a complete financial plan of your own in mind.” Burr gestured to the paperwork on his desk. “And I have mine. Say we compare…”

Hamilton inclined his head. “Compare, and...?”

“Collaborate. Combine. If I see fit.” Burr narrowed his eyes. “Remember, this is still my plan, in the end.”

“Of course.” Hamilton allowed himself to display just the hint of a smile. “Now, for the state debts. If the Union were to assume them all indiscriminately, it would not only start a line of credit, but boost the country as a whole. The problem, as you may realize, is that the majority of debts are in the North, while the South—”

“—will not be happy.” Burr thought a moment. “I have an idea for that, actually. There have been arguments emerging about the location of the nation's capital…”

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In the end, the plan was so airtight, not even Jefferson could manage a complaint.