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CHAPTER XLIII. - 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 resumes his duties at Washington. Letter to Parish. Opinion of the appointment of Monroe to France and Spain. Question of the purchase of Louisiana. Letter to Necker. Morris describes his quiet life at Morrisania. Letter to Livingston, Minister at Paris. Journey to the Northern lakes.
Morris resumed his duties as senator on the 24th of December. “I find,” he says, as soon as he reached Washington, “that our Executive are disposed to an intimate connection with Britain, being, as the vulgar say, spited by France. I tell Mr. Smith, my host, at dinner that I have no confidence in the administration and therefore have no opinion or advice to give. They are, I believe, much embarrassed. I tell him roundly my idea of the contemptible farce of finance which is playing.”
“I dine with the President [January 3d], who seems terribly out of spirits. Is it the desertion of his friend Duane, or a knowledge of the publication shortly to be made of his letter to Mr. Walker?”
It was during the winter of 1803, that Jefferson appointed James Monroe to represent the United States at the Courts of France and Spain, and in conjunction with Livingston in France and Pinckney in Spain, to form any treaty or convention that extended and secured the rights of the United States on the Mississippi. Of this appointment Morris very forcibly gives his opinion in the following letter to James Parish at Neusteden, January 14th, just after the nomination was approved by the Senate.
“The project of our Executive is weak and bad,” he says. “It is the fashion with those discontented creatures called federalists to say that our President is not a Christian; yet they must acknowledge that, in true Christian meekness, when smitten on one cheek he turns the other, and, by his late appointment of Monroe, has taken special care that a stone which the builders rejected should become the first of the corner. These are his works, and for his faith, it is not as a grain of mustard but the full size of a pumpkin; so that, while men of mustard-seed faith can only move mountains, he finds no difficulty in swallowing them. He believes, for instance, in the perfectibility of man, the wisdom of mobs, and moderation of Jacobins. He believes in payment of debts by diminution of revenue, in defence of territory by reduction of armies, and in vindication of rights by appointment of ambassadors. I note what you say on the chapter of French exactions, and your retort on the score of national humiliation, which is a good hit. In truth, there is just now so much of what we call philosophy among our rulers that we must not be surprised at the charge of pusillanimity; and our people have so much mercantile spirit that, if other nations will keep their hands out of our pockets, it is not a trifling insult that will rouse us. Indeed, it is the fashion to say that when injured it is more honorable to wait in patience the uncertain issue of negotiation than promptly to do ourselves right by an act of hostility. These sentiments, you will say, are novel; but would you deny the use of new principles to a new world, and govern new states by old maxims? The converse of the proposition, viz., governing old states by new maxims has been tried in France, and the result does not encourage to further experiment. I take it for granted, therefore, that Bonaparte will not follow the example of our President. Indeed, he seems in all things to take the opposite course, and yet continues to succeed in his undertakings. But the children of this world, that is, your Old World, are wiser in their generation than the children of light or, which is tantamount, the enlightened children of our New World. Speaking of the Baron de Breteuil and Bonaparte, they are two characters nearly opposed to each other. The Baron, after a life of intrigue, has reduced himself to a state of dependence, and the other has raised himself, as it were, to the top of the world. . . .
“Many thanks my friend, to you and to Mrs. Parish for your kind invitations. I am, I think, fairly anchored on this side the Atlantic, and therefore can visit you only in spirit, with my greetings and good wishes. If, as you suppose, the city of Hamburg shall continue free, and no convulsions shake the House of Denmark, your position will continue to be pleasant, and as happy as consists with the lot of humanity. I fervently wish, therefore, that you may be right in your conjectures, but the neighborhood of a rapacious prince at the head of two hundred and fifty thousand men is not a good neighborhood. I cannot compare my prospect of the Sound with yours of the Elbe. Things of this sort are rarely so much alike as to admit of a comparison, and I am not an impartial judge. I would trust the matter to your decision if you could spend this summer with me as your old acquaintance Robert Morris did the last. He came to me lean, low-spirited, and as poor as a commission of bankruptcy can make a man whose effects will, it is said, not pay a shilling in the pound. Indeed, the assignees will not take the trouble of looking after them. I sent him home fat, sleek, in good spirits and possessed of the means of living comfortably the rest of his days. So much for the air of Morrisania.”
The evening session of the 3d of March lasted till within one minute of twelve; and “thus,” Morris congratulated himself, “I have fully performed my duty.” The next day, evidently with a sense of relief, he left Washington, having discharged his arduous duties, surrounded by men he had little confidence in, and an administration which he found contemptible. The question of the purchase of Louisiana, was one which agitated the country during this winter. Mr. Livingston, at Paris, had for months striven to persuade the First Consul to make the sale. But it was not until serious complications arose between France and England, owing to the latter having set her affections on Malta, and, moreover, demanding an attack on Louisiana, that Napoleon, perhaps fearing the coveted property might be taken from him, determined to sell it to the United States; and in the spring of 1803 the United States became possessed of Louisiana, an enormous tract of country extending from the Gulf of Mexico to the British possessions. The probable consummation of this purchase was the subject of a letter to M. Necker, at Coppet, which was evidently an answer to one from Necker expressing his ideas on the question. Morris wrote from Washington, February 13th, as follows:
“Vous avez bien raison, monsieur, dans ce que vous dites, et dans ce que vous pensez sans le dire, sur la Louisiane. Oui, si notre administration permet aux Français de s’y nicher, on n’en sera quitte que par des guerres et des convulsions affreuses. Nous avons actuellement le malheur d’être gouverné par l’esprit de vertige que, dans le siècle ridicule où nous sommes, on est convenu de nommer philosophie. Savez-vous, monsieur, que cette philosophie est une coquine qui prodigue ses caresses sans avoir jamais senti l’amour? Eh bien, cette misérable peut se vanter, qu’en flattant avec son air tartufe et son langage patelin, l’égoïsme de la richesse et les prétentions du peuple, elle a engourdi et nos âmes et nos esprits. Oui, monsieur, l’Amérique dort pendant qu’on aiguise le poignard pour lui porter un coup mortel. Mais on se trompe. Les flots d’une mer immense roulent et grondent entre le projet et son exécution. Les grands arbitres des affaires humaines, le temps et le sort, ont prononcé la séparation des deux mondes. Et que vaut la politique contre les décrets de l’Éternel! Mais, que dis-je? Est-ce à moi, chétif, d’en parler? Non, je les respecte et me tais. Le sentiment intime de ma faiblesse, en vous épargnant mon bavardage ennuyeux, me dicte les assurances du respect que, etc.”
With this letter was sent the “discours que nous avons tenu, au Sénat américain, M. Ross et moi, sur l’affaire de la Louisiane. L’impression en est défectueuse et cela doit être, puisque nous ne sommes pas (comme les membres de votre ci-devant Assemblée nationale) dans l’habitude de préparer des discours par écrit. On en lisait de fort beaux dans cette assemblée, mais on n’y discutait rien. Chez nous, au contraire, on discute tout, et, par conséquent, on répond à l’improviste aux raisonnements de l’adversaire. Des sténographes s’occupent à prendre note de ce qu’on dit, et puis ils livrent à l’impression, tant bien que mal, ce qu’ils ont ramassé. J’ai cru devoir vous faire cette explication, afin de vous mettre au courant, mais nous nous recommandons toujours à votre indulgence.∗
In the following letter to John Dickenson, of Wilmington, Del., dated April 13th, Morris makes a pleasing picture of his home-life and pursuits, and mentions the fact that he no longer held the position of United States Senator.
“You had the kindness,” he says, “to express a wish that I would occasionally write to you, but I shall prove a wretched correspondent. Busied in rural occupations, I forget, as fast as I can, that there is in the world any such thing as politics—more than a week has elapsed since I heard from the city or saw a newspaper. Leading thus the life of a hermit, it is not possible to write anything which, to you who live in the world, would be worth a perusal. Being, moreover, a bachelor, we have no family occurrences, but every day is like every yesterday, with a probability that to-morrow will be like to-day. This even course of life is not unpleasant to me who have toiled in the storms of the world; to many others it would be insipid. If any one of the million incidents to which life is liable should prompt you to travel northward, have the goodness to participate in the resources of my cottage. It offers salubrious air, pure water, plain food, simple manners, and frank hospitality. As to my line of life, it must ever depend on events, because it will always be governed by principles adopted long since. It was my early determination never to seek office, and to accept of none but with a view to the public service. After spending the prime of life in labors for the public, I thought myself justifiable in preferring private ease to public cares, but yet, having accepted the place of senator, would not have resigned it—at least, in a moment of difficulty. My political enemies have had the goodness to relieve me, and although from their motives I cannot be thankful, yet I must be permitted to rejoice in the event. In adopting a republican form of government, I not only took it as a man does his wife, for better, for worse, but, what few men do with their wives, I took it knowing all its bad qualities. Neither ingratitude, therefore, nor slander can disappoint expectation nor excite surprise. If in arduous circumstances the voice of my country should call for my services, and I have the well-founded belief that they can be useful, they shall certainly be rendered, but I hope that no such circumstances will arise, and, in the mean time, ‘pleased let me trifle life away.’”
Morris felt very keenly the discourtesy that he considered was shown to Livingston, then minister at Paris, when Monroe was sent out by Jefferson as Minister Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to France, and Minister Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Spain, to effectuate the purchase of Louisiana, and in a letter to Livingston, April 23d, he gave expression to his feelings on the subject. “I did not write to you by Mr. Monroe, because he and I are not on such terms of intimacy as to ask his care of a letter, because I did not choose to put one in his care, and because I wished you to judge of things without any bias from comments on my part. Before this arrives you will have made your own interpretations. You will have seen, too, that your brethren of the Corps Diplomatique consider Mr. Monroe as the efficient and confidential man. Not being in the confidence of our Cabinet, I cannot account for a conduct which, in every point of view, is so strange. Setting aside the sacrifices you have made to promote the cause which brought them into power, I cannot help thinking that your rank in society, the high offices you have held, and, let me add, the respectable talents with which God has blessed you, all required more delicacy on the part of your political friends than has on this occasion been exhibited. It is possible that I am unjust to Mr. Monroe, but really I consider him as a person of mediocrity in every respect. Just exceptions lie against his diplomatic character, and, taking all circumstances into consideration, his appointment must appear extraordinary to the Cabinets of Europe. It is, in itself, a most unwary step, and will lower our government in public estimation. I was therefore just so much the more vexed at it on your account. I trust it will not be pretended that the application of money could not be as safely intrusted to your care and intelligence as to those of Mr. Monroe. The pretext that he is only joined with you in the commission is mere pretext, and every discreet man with you will naturally consider him as the principal and the chief, and, in fact, the sole minister. It will therefore excite much speculation. I shall say nothing on the measure and its other aspects, because you will find my opinion pretty much at large in the pamphlet which is enclosed.
“I shall say nothing on the public opinion in this country, because you will, I think, perceive the bent of it from our gazettes, and because my view may be a partial one. This appears to me certain, that if democracy—that disease of which all republics have perished except those which have been overturned by foreign force—should increase among us, we cannot expect a long period of domestic repose. But a thousand and ten thousand things happen in the world which the wisest men would never have conjectured.”
“I hope [May 24th] to leave this soon for my Eastern tour,” Mr. Morris wrote in May to his friend Robert Morris, “and, if I should meet that enchanting Yankee whom you speak of, will endeavor to oppose the power of reason to the fascinations of the enchantress. I have, you know, in my drawing-room the picture in tapestry of Telemachus rescued from the charms of Circe by the friendly aid of old Mentor. In truth, my friend, marriage, especially at my time of life, should be more a matter of prudence than of passion. Good sense and good nature are of more importance than wit and beauty and accomplishments. Everybody here says I must marry, and, indeed, they seem determined that it shall be done whether I will or no.”
No such complication arose, however, during the Eastern tour, which was made in July with M. Leray as his companion. “We have made a journey of five hundred and seventy miles,” Morris notes (August 3d) in his diary after his return home, “besides some rides while in Boston and Vermont; since the 11th of July, in a broiling sun.”
Late in August Morris started on another journey to the lakes and the St. Lawrence. He left home in his own boat, he says, “with stores for our journey,” and a light northeast wind blowing. “We have a long tug to get into the North River, where the ebb still runs strong. We do not approach the town to take advantage of eddies and the young flood, because of the yellow fever. This disease is caused, in my opinion, by putrid exhalations from the wharves, but an idea that it is infectious shuts the door against those who have been near it. Sloops from the city must perform a quarantine at Albany. The view of New York as we came along was distressing—the wharves deserted, the houses shut, and where the busy hum of men once prevailed, a solemn, melancholy silence.”
The vicissitudes of contrary winds and contrary tides in the Hudson River were difficult to overcome, even in “our sloop,” which “is a prime sailor,” Morris says, and “beats everything we see;” and it was not until August 30th that the travellers reached Albany—and then on by stage to Schenectady, when another boat took the party down the Mohawk, a distance of one hundred and twenty miles, through a fever-stricken country but through beautiful scenery. The scheme which Morris had so long contemplated, of opening the State to commerce by means of the lakes and rivers, connected by canals, was one of his motives in making this rather perilous journey. “It seems to me,” he says, “that a canal should be taken from the head of the Onondaga River and carried on the level as far east as it will go, and, if practicable, into the Mohawk River; then, in as direct a course as circumstances will permit, to Hudson’s River, making locks as the descent may require. This canal should, I think, be five feet deep and forty five feet wide. A branch might easily be carried to Lake Ontario; the fittest harbor would be, I believe, at Oswego. The voyage down the Oswego River, where in parts the passage was almost impracticable, owing to the lowness of the water, and in parts the sea ran so high as to greatly alarm my ship’s company, was dangerous and exciting. Mr. Brevoort was frightened even to roaring, and, when he got on shore, declared he would rather return home on foot than go again on board of the boat with me.”
Morris formed camps in different eligible places, where his servants stopped, and to which he returned after various expeditions, voyaging about the rivers and creeks, inspecting the land, catching fish—a very favorite pastime with him—and finding out for himself the resources of the country. Sometimes he stopped with friends, but generally preferred the free life of the camp. Leaving the Catfish River, September 25th, the voyagers, with a head wind and lowering sky, put out into Lake Ontario, the pilot too ill with fever to hold up his head. The sea running very high, and with every prospect of being cast on a lee shore with the surf of the whole lake tumbling on them unsheltered, Morris took the responsibility of the pilot, “with no other resource,” he says, “than my recollection of a former voyage, and, having fixed what I believe to be the spot, we luckily enter the harbor we were making for through a very high surf and by a rocky point, which we narrowly escape.”
Enjoying the dangers by water, lulled to sleep by the sighing of the wind among the trees, digesting plans for making roads through the country, seeking proper sites for towns, and inspecting his lands, taking care of his men ill with the fever, and rejoicing over the settlement of a country which three years before had been a wilderness, Morris passed two exciting and refreshing months. The party of voyagers turned their faces homeward on October 31st, and, after many perils by flood and field, Morris reached Morrisania on November 14th.
[∗]Translation.—You are fully in the right, monsieur, in everything you say, and in everything you think without saying it, concerning Louisiana. Yes, if our administration allows the French to get a foothold there, the matter will never be settled without wars and frightful convulsions. We have at present the misfortune to be ruled by that spirit of vertigo which this ridiculous century calls by the name of philosophy. Do you realize, monsieur, that this philosophy is a hussy who lavishes her caresses without ever having felt love? Well, this wretch can boast that, by flattering the selfishness of the rich and the pretensions of the rabble, with her Tartuffian ways and her wheedling language, she has benumbed our souls and our minds. Yes, America is asleep, while they are whetting the dagger that may strike the mortal blow. But they are mistaken. The waves of an immense sea roll and roar between the project and its execution. Those great arbiters of human affairs, Time and Fate, have pronounced for the separation of the two worlds. And what are politics against the decrees of the Everlasting! But who am I to speak thus? No, I respect these decrees and remain silent. A thorough knowledge of my deficiencies, while sparing you my tiresome gossipings, dictates the assurance of my respect. . . . Enclosed are the speeches we pronounced (Mr. Ross and myself) before the American Senate in the Louisiana matter. The printed copy is defective, and that is but natural, since we are not in the habit of preparing written speeches, as did the members of your defunct National Assembly. They used to read very fine discourses there, but there was no discussion. Here, on the contrary, everything is discussed, and, as a consequence, answers have to be made extempore to fit the arguments of the opponent. Stenographers busy themselves taking notes of all that is said, and then hand over to the printers, as best they can, all they have thus collected. I thought I ought to give you this explanation so as to keep you posted. We recommend ourselves always to your indulgence.