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CHAPTER XLI. - Gouverneur Morris, The Diary and Letters of Gouverneur Morris, vol. 2 
The Diary and Letters of Gouverneur Morris, Minister of the United States to France; Member of the Constitutional Convention, ed. Anne Cary Morris (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1888). 2 vols. Vol. 2.
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Morris goes to Washington. Sits in the Senate. Presidential election. Treaty with France. Letter to Hamilton. Letter to James Leray. Jefferson elected President. Disconcerting proposition from Lafayette in regard to a loan. Letter to M. Labarte. A most unpleasant episode with the Lafayettes.
On Tuesday, November 11th, Morris left Morrisania for Washington, to occupy his seat in the United States Senate. It required no ordinary patience, and, one might even add, pluck, to make the journey to Washington in the year 1800. To travel in the ordinary stage-coach—a wretched vehicle like a box, mounted on springs, to be sure, but without doors, windows, or any protection from wind and weather but heavy leather curtains, which were rolled up when the day was fine—was anything but a pleasure. To travel in one’s own carriage was at least to be free from the companionship of ten other passengers, but the discomforts of the inns and the terrors of the bad roads were none the less to be dreaded. The road between Philadelphia and Baltimore seems to have been more than ordinarily dangerous. The ruts appeared to be nearly bottomless; and so much danger was there of the coach upsetting that the driver would, before entering one of the holes, request his passengers to move, first to the right then to the left, to prevent a catastrophe. Morris made the journey in eleven days, with only a short stop at Philadelphia. Having finally arrived at the seat of government, through an interminable forest with only a few log-cabins scattered here and there, he found the town scarcely habitable. A traveller who had seen Washington in 1796 declared that, but for the President’s house and the Capitol, he never should have supposed it could be a city. There seems to have been one good inn, and here Morris put up, having first taken the precaution to make a bargain with the innkeeper to furnish him two cords of hickory-wood at eight dollars per cord. “This,” he says, “the landlord promises to do, if he can get a team to hire.” This was a most important “if,” for, although there were endless forests up to the very doors, no one could be got to cut and haul wood to the unfortunate public servants who found themselves doomed, for a time at least, to live in such a wilderness. Graphically, but in a playfully satirical vein, Morris describes the future capital of the United States in the following letter to the Princesse de la Tour et Taxis, written, December 14th, from Washington:
“Je fais ici,” he says, “le métier de sénateur, et m’amuse nonchalamment à voir les petites intrigues, les folles espérances et les vains projets de l’animal fier et faible qui s’appelle homme. Il ne nous manque ici que maisons, caves, cuisines, hommes instruits, femmes aimables et autres petites bagatelles de cette espèce, pour que notre ville soit parfaite; car on peut s’y promener déjà tout comme dans les champs et les bois, et, vu la forte gelée, I’air en est très pur. J’en jouis plus qu’un autre, puisque ma chambre se remplit de fumée dès qu’on ferme la porte. S’il vous prenait donc envie de venir vivre à Washington, pour vous confirmer dans un projet aussi beau, je m’empresse de vous assurer que la pierre de taille y abonde, qu’on peut y cuire d’excellentes briques, qu’il n’y manque pas d’emplacements pour des hôtels magnifiques, que des canaux projetés pourront y amener un grand commerce, que la richesse qui en est la suite naturelle doit y attirer les beaux arts; enfin, que c’est la ville du monde où on peut le mieux vivre—dans l’avenir. Comme je ne suis pas, pourtant, de ces bonnes gens qui seront la postérité, j’aimerais assez changer pour la ville de Ratisbon, puisque j’aurais alors le bonheur de vous voir et de vous réitérer, de vive voix, les assurances de mon respect et de mon attachement.”∗
Writing to another friend of the peculiarities of life in Washington, he says: “The society of this capital would be pleasant if the communications were less difficult;” and in his diary he speaks of going to dine with Colonel Borroughs. “The weather clouds up; in the evening, coming away, my horses refuse to draw, and as I cannot get a hack I am obliged to stay all night. So much for dining out in a town where a man finds himself four miles from home, and a road not merely deep, but dangerous, to drive in the dark.”
His duties as senator were begun by Morris immediately on his arrival, with the assistance of Mr. Liston and Mr. Thornton. These gentlemen put in an appear ance, “and,” says he, November 21st, “we reach the Capitol in season, and the arrival of a senator from the southward at the same time enables us to make a house.” The President∗ then made his speech. Morris was one of the committee to answer it. Five days later the address was agreed to; and “I go,” he says, “to the levee, and also, as a member of the committee, to know when and where he (the President) will receive the address. On asking him after the when, where, ‘In this chamber, sir,’ was the answer, with such tone and manner as develop fully the old man’s character. The Germans would call it unbiegsam.”
On Wednesday the 20th of November the address was delivered to the President; the next day a chaplain was chosen. On Friday the Vice-President arrived. “Accounts from different quarters,” Morris says, “seem to show that he will not be chosen either President or Vice-President. After a small time spent in the Senate we adjourn, according to custom.”
“On Thursday [December 11th] I attend the committee on the question of exercising jurisdiction over the seat of government. The advices from Carolina put it now out of doubt that Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Burr are to be the President and Vice-President. Mr. Jefferson calls this evening, and we have some conversation on public affairs. He seems apprehensive of opposition in the Senate.”
“It seems to be the general opinion [December 2d] that Colonel Burr will be chosen President by the House of Representatives. Many of them think it highly dangerous that Mr. Jefferson should, in the present crisis, be placed in that office. They consider him as a theoretic man, who would bring the National Government back to something like the old Confederation. Mr. Nicholay comes to-day, and to him I state it as the opinion, not of light and fanciful but of serious and considerable men, that Burr must be preferred to Jefferson. He is, as I supposed, much wounded at this information.”
“To-day [December 27th] Mr. Harper calls, and Mr. Latimer. The former is, he says, an intimate friend of Burr, and thinks it advisable for the House of Representatives to give him their voice, without asking or expecting any assurances or explanation respecting his future administration. He thinks Burr’s temper and disposition give an ample security for a conduct hostile to the democratic spirit which Mr. Harper considers as dangerous to our country, while Mr. Jefferson, he thinks, is so deeply imbued with false principles of government, and has so far committed himself in support of them, that nothing good can be expected from him. I give him some reasons why it would be better for gentlemen in his House to suspend their determinations until they can have more light as to the merit and probable conduct of the candidates.”
“Begin, to-day [December 31st], the discussion of the ‘treaty.’ On reading it I find it very bad. Mr. Adams told me that he has a letter from Mr. King telling him that the Lord Chancellor, Lord Grenville, and the King, have assured him of their satisfaction with our treaty with France.”∗
On the 5th of January Morris wrote of the treaty to Alexander Hamilton as follows:
“The convention with France will be ratified sub modo; such, at least, is my opinion. I wish to strike out the second and third articles; secondly, to fix a limitation of time. The second article, by suspending the operation, admits the existence of former treaties. The restitution of our trophies, stipulated by the third, may damp the spirit of our country. That nation which will permit profit or convenience to stand in competition with honor is on the steep descent to ruin. If, with the exception of those articles and a limitation of time, the convention be mutually ratified, I shall think it no bad bargain. Will the French Consul ratify it when so curtailed and limited? Perhaps, if his affairs are prosperous, he will not. Some gentlemen propose adding a clause to declare that it shall not prejudice former treaties. This appears dangerous, because, if afterwards ratified without that clause, such ratification may be construed as an assent to the conclusion which the declaration was intended to obviate. On the election between Messrs. Jefferson and Burr there is much speculation. Some, indeed most, of our Eastern friends are warm in support of the latter, and their pride is so much up about the charge of influence that it is dangerous to quote an opinion. I trust they will change, or be disappointed, for they appear to be moved by passion only. I have, more at the request of others than from my own mere motion, suggested certain considerations not quite unworthy of attention; but it is dangerous to be impartial in politics. You, who are temperate in drinking, have perhaps noticed the awkward situ ation of a man who continues sober after the company are drunk. Adieu, my dear Hamilton. God bless you and send you many happy years.”
The treaty with France was the absorbing interest in the Senate during the early days of 1801.
“I go through the treaty in the House to-day,” Morris says, January 15th, “and agree to the amendments of the committee; some sharpness of debate. Report the form of a ratification; consideration postponed.” On the 23d the Senate rejected the convention with France, “by the intemperate passion of its friends.” By the 26th there was a general desire in the House “to recede from the vote as it stands on the convention. As I all along suspected, it will be reconsidered. A debate on the bill for erecting a mausoleum to Washington. Speak on it a little, but with little effect.”
“The Aurora,” Morris wrote to Alexander Hamilton, on the 16th of January, “will have shown you the result of our deliberations on the convention; at least, of those which went to a division worth noting. If it sticks in France, it will be respecting points on which the vote was unanimous, or nearly so. As to the induction, from the words of the second article, that the old treaties subsided though their operation was suspended, I think it undeniable that that, taken in consideration with other things, would have involved us in serious difficulty. To Britain was given certain rights, limited by those of a similar kind previously given to France. In abolishing our treaties with the latter, that which we had made with the former obtained an actual extension, which we might rightfully restrain: for, as she was no party either to our treaties with France or to the abrogation of them, she could not rightfully complain had we thought fit to re-establish those treaties. When, therefore, acknowledging their existence by suspending their effects generally, we particularly stipulate, and literally renew a part; might not the French demand for the part so renewed a priority? In fact, might not France demand that a British ship should not bring into our ports a French prize, and insist on bringing in a British prize? The privileges granted being incompatible and exclusive, the question of priority involves everything. So much for that.
“Those articles (the second and third) being left out, the convention must be considered merely as a treaty of peace. The pre-existence of war is admitted, and from the moment of that admission there is an end to treaties and to claims of restitution and indemnity. Nothing, therefore, can make the matter more clear than to be perfectly silent. Our negotiators huddled up a treaty because there was to be a general peace, and you, my good friend, seem to think we should gulp it down because there is to be a general war. I took occasion early to declare in the Senate that we need not hurry the matter through, because, in my opinion, there would not be a general peace. Circumstances rush on to support my conjecture. Doubtless the First Consul, if the dice run against him, will agree to our offer. If they run in his favor he may reject it, and in like manner he might, under such circumstances, have freed himself from any cobweb fetters. His whole conduct is a comment on that text.
“But you seem to fear for Britain because she has brought paper money into fashion. This reason, my dear sir, is stronger against trusting her in commerce than it is against confiding in her system of politics or war. Paper money, like ardent spirits, increases for a while the strength, though it consumes by degrees the fat, the muscles, and the viscera. At present Britain tallows finely, and presents a plump carcass for the poison to prey upon. With tolerable management she may last at least ten years, and make during that period tremendous exertions. Rely upon it, Denmark and Sweden will be sick of their bargain before midsummer next, and as to Paul Peter, remember what I told you of his fickle character. He cannot last long, and, deprived of commerce, will find his paper rubles run down hill much faster than the paper guineas of his adversary. His mother was a different being, and yet, even with her gigantic talents, she must have failed in the prosecution of her schemes had she not obtained money on loan in Holland. As to the Continental war, I think France has pushed as far as reason will justify. Should she go farther south in Italy and farther east in Germany, the Austrians, by rapid movements to a central position, may give the Consul a blow he will never recover.”
Again, writing to Hamilton on January 26th, he says:
“I have now lying before me your letter dated the—inst. It contains important facts, with many of which I had previously been acquainted, but I dare not communicate the contents, because the idea that two States will, on a second ballot, come over, forms already a reason with the federal members in the House of Representatives for supporting Mr. Burr. They now seriously and generally, after much advisement, prefer that gentleman to Mr. Jefferson. They consider the candidates as equal in worth, or (if you like the other mode of expression best) as equally void of it; with this difference, that Burr’s defects do not arise from want of energy and vigor. They believe that to courage he joins generosity, and cannot be branded with the charge of ingratitude; but they consider Mr. Jefferson as infected with all the cold-blooded vices, and as particularly dangerous from the false principles of government which he has imbibed. They look, moreover, with abhorrence at a Chief Magistrate of America who shall be the slave of Virginia. They consider it as indisputable that immediately upon Mr. Burr’s election he will be abandoned by many of the Southern demagogues; and, however they may be mistaken in other points, in this I believe they are right. On counting over the Senate, after March next it appears that, out of thirty-two, there will be fifteen of each party, with two feeble members on whom no dependence can be placed. Under these circumstances it is conceived that Mr. Burr will be able to decide, as Vice-President, all questions in that body, and, of course, that the appointment to all offices will be completely in the hands of Messrs. Jefferson and Burr. The majority in the House of Representatives will be clear. Of course the legislative authority must be alike unchecked, and subject to their control. It seems, on the other hand, to be certain that if the Ancient Dominion be deprived of her favorite chief she will continue her opposition to Government, and that several of her dependents will join her; of course, that the federal men, if united, can decide during the next two years’ administration. They believe, moreover, that, whatever may be Mr. Burr’s conciliatory disposition, it will be impossible for him to assuage the resentment of the Virginians, who will consider his acceptance as a treachery, for Virginia cannot bear to see any other than a Virginian in the President’s chair. You know my opinions, but I believe, unless something new turns up, Mr. Jefferson will not be chosen. I hear both parties, and cannot help being amazed by the certainty of success which is declared by each. If Burr be chosen President of the United States, and Clinton Governor of New York, without opposition, the anti-federal party with us must fall to pieces, and we may take up such of the fragments as we like best.”
“I attend the House to-day,” says the diary for January 30th. “In a joint committee of the other House I find they have taken up false notions about the mode of electing a President, if none should appear to be chosen by the Electors. Some stretch the word immediately not only to leaving the Senate Chamber but even to adjournment and the doing of other business intermediately.”
“Two gentlemen call to-day [February 1st], before I am up, to settle an administration for Burr; laughable enough, under the circumstances which now exist.”
The Senate agreed on the 3d of February to the ratification of the treaty with France. “On condition,” Morris wrote to his friend James Leray at Paris, “that the second article be struck out and that it be limited in its duration to eight years. I now make up my letters to go with the ratification. There will, of course, be no difficulty on your side of the water as to the expunging of the second article, for this will close forever the question of indemnification, and as the term of eight years carries this treaty beyond that with Great Britain, it is presumed that the limitation will be unexceptionable. It is important to us to get clear as fast as possible from an intimate connection with any of the powers of Europe. . . . It is impossible to determine which of the two candidates will be chosen President; rumors are various and intrigues great. I do not meddle in this business, and am perhaps not so well informed as those who do, but I can see that it will be a tight race, and have good reason to believe that Mr. Burr has more friends and many more well-wishers than is generally imagined.”
The two Houses met on Wednesday, February 11th, to count the ballots. “As was before understood,” Morris says, “it appears that Messrs. Jefferson and Burr have equal votes. The Representatives cannot agree.”
“The House of Representatives continued balloting all night without the least change [February 12th]. We do the routine business.”
“Still cold [February 13th], and another snow-storm. No president yet chosen.”
It was not until Tuesday the 17th, after long, wearisome hours spent in balloting, that the federalists at last gave way, and Thomas Jefferson was chosen President, and Aaron Burr Vice-President of the United States. In a letter to Robert Livingston at Clermont, written on the 20th, Morris, referring to the incidents of the last weeks, says: “I greatly disapproved and openly disapproved the attempt to choose Mr. Burr. Many of my friends thought differently. I saw they would be disappointed, and there fore looked on with perfect composure. Indeed, my dear friend, this farce of life contains nothing which should put us out of humor. . . . If, as you suppose, I had the helm of the ship, I should steer differently; but whether better or worse it is not for me to say. No man keeps himself more, and very few, if any, so much aloof from headquarters. No one has so pointedly expressed his disapprobation of those things which tend to debase the office and degrade the dignity of government. As to the convention, you will have seen that it is ratified. . . . If it should not now be agreed to by the French Government, and that will depend on the state of affairs when it arrives, the real objection will be the limit of its duration. The commercial interest has gone, as you say, with the administration, and I believe it will go with the new administration. It certainly will, if they govern tolerably well. Not being a leader, nor in the secret of those who lead on either side, and neither meaning nor wishing to be so, I can judge with tolerable impartiality of what passes. I have agreed heartily and cordially to the new Judiciary Bill, which may have, and probably has, many little faults; but it answers the double purpose of bringing justice near to men’s doors and of giving additional fibre to the roots of government. You must not, my friend, judge of other States by our own. Depend on it that, in some parts of this Union, justice cannot be readily obtained in the State courts.
“That some improper appointments may take place under the law I can readily suppose; but in what country on earth are all appointments good? That the leaders of the federal party may use this opportunity to provide for friends and adherents is, I think, probable, and if they were my enemies I should not condemn them for it. Whether I should do the same thing myself is another question; I believe that I should not. They are about to experience a heavy gale of adverse wind. Can they be blamed for casting many anchors to hold their ship through the storm?”
“Our new President makes his inaugural speech to-day [March 4th]—too long by half, and so he will find it himself before he is three years older.”
“Visit the President [March 6th]; very friendly. In the evening the Vice-President calls, and takes tea. We have news from Europe which communicate the victories of the French and the armistice of the 25th of December, 1800; also the declaration of Bonaparte stating the Rhine as the eastern boundary of France and the Adige as the western boundary of the Austrian dominions; the guarantee of the Swiss and Dutch Republics. The Cisalpine not being mentioned, I presume that the King of Sardinia is to be restored to his dominions. I conclude, also, that this peace has been previously settled between him and the Courts of Berlin and Petersburg. I am confirmed by General Dayton in the idea I took up from the conversation at the President’s, that our monarch and his heir apparent will not be well together.”
“Pack up and leave Washington to-day [March 8th]. We find the road most execrable, and in consequence get stalled and set fast in the mud. We are about ten hours coming twenty-four miles to Annapolis, and our baggage-wagon repeatedly sticks fast. The people through the country are, in general, democrats, and the store-keepers, we observe, have sign-boards to say that they deal only for cash. These boards were, we are told, put up on the first day of this year. The merchants could no longer go on giving credit. This accounts for the democratic principle better than the boasted efforts of influential men. We hear of cock-fighting. The whole country is full of fox hounds, and all the churches have the windows broken.”
“Reach Philadelphia [March 14th]; the roads very bad. Go to the jail, and dine with my poor friend Robert Morris. Accounts from the Federal City seem to show that our new President is making some improper appointments.”
Arrived at Morrisania, Morris put aside the “métier de sénateur” and betook himself to the pruning-hook and the business of the farm, laid out a garden, actively superintended the men working on his house, and entertained numerous guests. “I am so much fatigued every day with work,” he says, “as to take no particular note of what passes.” The difficulties of house-keeping were great, and he wrote to his friend M. Leray at Paris that if he could send him “a chasseur who understood fishing he would be useful to me, and a cook is a physical necessity. No good domestics can be had here, not even women. None of those imported can, I think, be depended on unless they be somewhat advanced in years.”
No public affairs especially attracted Morris’s attention until the autumn of 1801, when the news came that the First Consul had ratified the amended treaty.
“I suppose,” he then wrote to John Parish (October 5th) at London, à propos of this subject, “you have not attended to those amendments which, though of little apparent consequence, have the great and salutary effect of terminating our intimate alliance with France, and, of course, leave us in a state of equality with all nations. It is true we paid for it by giving up our claim for damages by the spoliation of our commerce; if, indeed, that claim can be supposed to be of any value. . . . I conclude that the affairs of the First Consul are not very splendid. He would not otherwise have let go his hold of us, for though we are but as a feather in the great scale of power, yet when that scale is nearly poised the weight of a feather is something.”
Just at this time the proposition of M. and Madame de Lafayette, to take advantage of a law in France the letter of which made it possible for them to avoid paying the interest on a sum of money he had readily furnished them with in the days of their adversity, very painfully disconcerted Morris. “I own to you,” he wrote to his friend James Leray, who had indignantly refused to comply with the terms proposed by the Lafayettes, “my dear friend, that this stickling for depreciation is quite shocking. It is worse to my feelings than the loss I must sustain. A necessary consequence of their action is that, to put themselves in the right, they must put me in the wrong, to which effect they must grossly misrepresent. This, however, is easy, for the maxim, ‘Les absents ont toujours tort,’ is never more true than in the societies of Paris.” A settlement of this matter was not arranged until the spring of 1804, and then Morris was obliged to content himself with 53,500 livres, instead of 100,000 livres, which was the amount of the original debt.
M. Henri Labarte, at Paris, had charge of this extraordinarily disagreeable affair, and the following letter to him explains the state of the case: “Jai eu l’honneur de vous écrire sur l’affaire de M. de Lafayette. Vous y trouverez, peut-être, l’indignation que m’inspiraient des démarches auxquelles je ne devais certainement pas m’attendre, je vous en rends juge. La sœur de Madame de Lafayette est venue me dire que M. de Lafayette manquait du nécessaire dans les prisons de Magdebourg. Je lui fis payer sur-le-champ dix mille florins, au nom des États-Unis, mais de mes propres deniers. Je dis de ‘mes propres deniers,’ parce que non seulment je m’en suis rendu responsable, mais encore, j’en ai laissé le montant entre les mains des banquiers des Etats-Unis à Amsterdam jusqu’à ce que le Congrès eῦt décidé qu’on payât les appointements que M. de Lafayette, dans les jours brillants de sa fortune, n’avait pas voulu toucher, et qu’on eῦt remboursé aux banquiers les 10,000 florins que, d’après mes ordres, ils lui avaient remis. Bientôt après on est venu encore, de la part de Madame de Lafayette, me dépeindre ses angoisses de ce que l’honneur de son mari était compromis à cause de 100,000 livres de dettes que, faute des formalités requises, ne seraient pas payées du produit de ses biens, et me prier du les cautionner à l’Assemblée Nationale, de la part des États-Unis. Quoiqu’il lui parut très simple qu’on fît une affaire d’état des détails de son ménage, il eῦt été facile de lui faire sentir l’inconséquence d’une pareille demande. Mais elle était malheureuse. Ainsi, loin de m’enfermer dans les formes de ma place, je lui promis les 100,000 livres et, quoique des circonstances imprévues m’en rendissent le paiement difficile, je lui tins parole. Or, dans ce moment, cette somme m’eῦt valu, au prix courant, près de deux mille marcs d’argent, et Madame de Lafayette, alors prisonnière, allait, selon toute apparence, être victimée. Mais pour épargner à sa sensibilité la peine de voir ternir l’honneur de son mari, j’en fis l’avance qu’on veut actuellement me rembourser avec 53,500 livres. Soit, j’y consens; car je ne veux pas, par un procès éclatant, avoir l’air de me faire valoir aux dépens de la réputation de M. de Lafayette. Ainsi, je vous prie, monsieur, de terminer cette affaire, et qu’il n’en soit plus parlé. Je vous prie, même, de ne point ébruiter les détails que je viens de vous confier.”∗
To Madame de Lafayette Morris wrote the following letter in August, 1802, replying to a letter of hers in which she had said that M. de Lafayette could not charge himself with her debt to him:
“Vous me parlez, madame, du profit que j’eusse pu tirer d’un secours pécuniaire que j’étais assez heureux de pouvoir vous fournir dans un moment critique. Il n’en a jamais été question, mais s’il eῦt fallu faire un pareil calcul, je vous aurais fait observer que j’aurais pu, avec les cent mille francs que je vous ai prêtés, acquérir un bienfonds dans le centre de Paris de dix mille livres de rente. Vous me fîtes entrevoir votre état de besoin. Alors, madame, il ne fut plus question de calculs. Ma sensibilité me porta, dans un moment terrible, à vous faire une avance sans penser aux risques, ou plutôt à la presque certitude, de n’être jamais payé. Le sentiment qui m’a rendu votre créancier m’a défendu d’accepter l’hypothèque que vous aviez bien voulu m’offrir lors de votre premier séjour dans la ville de Hambourg. Le même sentiment, madame, ne me permet aucune observation dans le moment actuel. Il me parait, d’après votre lettre, qu’il convient à M. de Lafayette de s’acquitter de cette créance en me payant cinquante-trois mille livres. M. Labarte, qui aura l’honneur de vous remettre celle-ci, est chargé, de ma part, de les recevoir, de vous en passer quittance et de vous donner celle pour cent mille francs que votre agent m’a fait il y a sept ou huit ans. Il n’en serait donc plus question, sans l’espoir qu’on a donné à M. de Lafayette de faire payer ses dettes par les États-Unis.
“Vous sentez bien, madame, que, vu les circonstances où je me trouve, la délicatesse me défend de prendre part aux délibérations sur cet objet. Je me borne à l’assurance que, dans le cas où je serais payé ici, je m’empresserais de rendre à monsieur votre mari la somme qu’il aura comptée à M. Labarte. Dites, je vous prie, madame, mille choses de ma part à M. de Lafayette, et soyez persuadée du respect et de l’attachement avec lesquelles j’ai l’honneur d’être . . .”∗
“From the last advices I have received,” Morris wrote to Mr. Parish in February, 1803, “it appears that M. de Lafayette means to liquidate what he owes me by something less than the interest of it. To do this he reduces the principal down pretty low by a scale of depreciation. God forgive him, and, if possible, reconcile him to himself. He must have odd notions if, with the consciousness of facts, some mediation be not necessary between his mind and his conscience.”
On the termination of the affair Morris wrote to M. Henri Labarte (May 12, 1804) to congratulate him on the ending of so unpleasant an episode. “Vous avez bien fait,” he says, “de terminer avec mes débiteurs, et je désire maintenant qu’ils en aient la conscience nette. Malheureusement, cela ne leur arrivera pas, et, par conséquent, ils me porteront toujours une inimitié sincère. L’ingrat ne pense guère à son bienfaiteur sans peine, et comment ne pas haïr l’objet qui nous fait souffrir et, surtout, celui qui nous avilit, même à nos propres yeux? Leur ayant pardonné le premier tort, je pardonne, d’avance, le second.”∗
“There is no drawing the sound of a trumpet from a whistle,” was almost the severest stricture Morris passed on the conduct of the Lafayettes.
[∗]Translation.—I busy myself here at the trade of a senator, and amuse myself lazily watching the petty intrigues, the insane hopes, the worthless projects of that weak and proud animal they call man. We only need here houses, cellars, kitchens, scholarly men, amiable women, and a few other such trifles, to possess a perfect city; for we can walk over it as we would in the fields or the woods, and, on account of a strong frost, the air is quite pure. I enjoy it all the more since my room fills with smoke as soon as the door is closed. Should it enter your fancy to come and live in Washington, in order to confirm you in so charming a project I hasten to assure you that building-stone is plentiful, that excellent bricks are baked here, that we are not wanting in sites for magnificent mansions, that projected canals will give birth to a large commerce, that as a consequence riches will bring forth a taste for the fine arts; in a word, that this is the best city in the world to live in—in the future. But, since I do not belong to those good people who will constitute posterity. I should prefer to be transferred to Ratisbon, were it only because I should then enjoy the happiness of seeing you and of reiterating, by word of mouth, the assurance of my respect and of my attachment.
[∗]John Adams was President, and Thomas Jefferson Vice-President, of the United States in 1800.
[∗]Three commissioners had been sent to France in the spring of 1800 to inform the French ministers that the United States expected full indemnification for the destruction of their property by the French Republic or its agents; that old treaties were no longer binding, that no alliance was to be entered into, and no guarantee of the French possessions in America given. Napoleon offered two propositions; the old treaties with full indemnity, or new treaties with no indemnity at all. The negotiation dragged on until September, when a convention instead of a treaty was finally agreed on, and matters in dispute were left for future negotiation. The first three articles, which Morris mentions in his letter to Hamilton, were as follows: Property captured but not condemned was to be given up; public ships taken before the exchange of ratifications were to be released; commerce was to be free.
[∗]Translation.—I have had the honor to write to you concerning M. de Lafayette’s business. You will find in this letter the expression of my indignation concerning proceedings I had certainly no reason to expect. I wish you to know all about them. The sister of Madame de Lafayette came to me, stating that M. de Lafayette was in dire want in the prisons of Magdeburg. I caused at once ten thousand florins to be paid to him, in the name of the United States, but out of my own resources. I say, “my own resources,” for not only did I render myself liable for that amount, but I left it in the hands of the United States bankers in Amsterdam until Congress had decided that the salary M. de Lafayette had declined in the brilliant days of his fortune should be paid him, and until the bankers had been paid back the ten thousand florins thus disbursed by them by my orders. Soon afterward friends came again, in Madame de Lafayette’s name, picturing to me her anguish. The honor of her husband was compromised on account of one hundred thousand livres of debts which he had contracted, and which, owing to the lack of certain formalities, could not be paid out of the proceeds of his property. She begged me to be his indorser to that amount, in the name of the United States, before the National Assembly. Although she seemed to think it perfectly natural to parade her household cares as State matters, she might easily have been made to feel the inconsequence of such a step. But she was unfortunate, and, not allowing the forms of my office to hinder me. I promised her the one hundred thousand livres, and, although I found it difficult to bring the sum together, I kept my word. At that time such a sum could have bought me two thousand marks of silver, and Madame de Lafayette, then a prisoner, seemed very near being sent to the scaffold. But to spare to her sensibility the grief of seeing the honor of her husband tarnished, I advanced that sum, for which they now want to pay me fifty-three thousand livres. All right. I consent; for I will not, by means of a noisy lawsuit, appear to be exalting myself at the expense of M. de Lafayette’s reputation. I therefore ask you, sir, to close this matter, so that it be never spoken of again. I beg of you, also, to prevent the details just confided to you from coming before the public.
[∗]Translation.—You speak to me, madame, of a profit which I might have derived from a pecuniary service I was happy to render you in a critical moment. It was never thought of, and if such a calculation had been intended I should have pointed out to you that, with the one hundred thousand francs I lent you I might have bought real estate in the centre of Paris which would bring me now ten thousand livres yearly rent. You gave me a hint as to your state of want; then, madame, I could think of no speculation. My sensibility induced me to consent to this advance without giving a thought to the risks, or, rather, to the quasi-certitude of never being repayed. The feeling which made of me your creditor forbade me accepting the mortgage-bond you kindly offered me at the time of your first stay in Hamburg. The same feeling, madame, allows me no observation at the present moment.
[∗]Translation.—You did well to close matters with my debtors, and I only wish them a clear conscience. Unhappily that they will not have, and will ever bear me, in consequence, a sincere hatred. The ungrateful man never thinks of his benefactor without a pang, and how should one not detest the object that causes such suffering and lowers one in one’s own eyes? Having pardoned the first wrong, I pardon the second in advance.