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CHAPTER XLVII. - 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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Long interview with General Moreau. The first steam-boat on the Hudson River. Convinced that war is imminent. Distrusts the Administration. Letter to Madame de Staël. Letter to Madame de Damas. Autumn in the woods of New York. Marriage with Miss Randolph. Letter to Timothy Pickering. Journey to inspect the country for the Erie Canal. Niagara. Writes on public topics. Horror of war. Discusses the Constitution.
In the diary for the 10th of October is mentioned a long interview with General Moreau, who had gone out to breakfast at Morrisania. “I walk with the General and try to dissuade him from his projected journey to New Orleans. He is at length shaken, and would renounce it if his preparations were not too far advanced. I persist, and at length render it doubtful in his mind. I am certain this journey will be imputed, by many well-meaning men, to improper motives. He treats the chattering of idlers with contempt, but I tell him such idlers form a power in republics; that he must not suppose himself as free here as he would be in an absolute monarchy; that his reputation makes him a slave to public opinion; that he cannot with impunity do many things here which would be of no consequence in a country where he was surrounded by spies in the service of the government, because the ministers having convinced themselves that his views are innocent and his conduct irréprochable, he might safely laugh at the suspicions both of the great vulgar, and of the small; but here, where the same modes of knowing what men do are not adopted, everyone is at liberty to suspect, and will decide rashly on appearances, after which it may be impossible to dissipate the ideas hastily, lightly, and unjustly assumed. In the course of our conversation, touching very gently the idea of his serving (in case of necessity) against France, he declares frankly that when the occasion arrives he shall feel no reluctance; that France, having cast him out, he is a citizen of the country in which he lives, and has the same right to follow his trade here with any other man; and as it would be unjust to prevent a French hatter whom Bonaparte might banish from making hats, so it would be unjust to prevent a French general from making war. I assent to the truth of this observation, not because I believe it true, but because I will not impeach the reasons he may find it convenient to give to himself for his own conduct, should he hereafter be employed in our service.”
“Mr. Walton, of Ballstown, dines with me [November 11th]. He tells me that, by means of the steam-boat, he can leave his own house on Monday morning and dine with me on Tuesday, do some business in New York on Wednesday morning, and be again at home on Thursday evening.”
So much for the first steam-boat which plied between New York and Albany. Later, Morris trusted his life to the new invention, with more or less agreeable results.
“Dine at Mr. Boyd’s [November 16th]. On table, among other things, were a haunch of fine venison, a wild turkey, a wild goose, and a pair of canvas-back ducks.”
The conviction that the administration would plunge the country into a war was ever present with Morris; and though he put himself under the constraint of not prophesying evil, the tone of all his letters showed a deep distrust of the President. He yearned for the agricultural prosperity of the country as well as its commercial success, but peace was essential to both. This is plainly shown in the following letter, written to Mr. Simeon Dewitt at Albany on December 18th, in which he spoke of the “desirability of cultivating fine wool, as our climate is favorable, especially in the northern part of our State. We have also great facilities for the manufacture of cloth. Time and peace are the two things needful to wealth. How far it may corrupt our minds is a problem on which the patriot should meditate. Perhaps the turbulent scenes with which we are menaced may (in the bounty of Providence) be intended to give proper exercise to the political body. I cannot, however, help wishing the storm may blow over, and leave my evening tranquil. In the pamphlet you send, the portrait of Madison is, I believe, just, though I am told that he has credit for a degree of industry which he does not possess. I think him unfit for the station of President, but shall make no effort either way. That business lies with your political friends. A federal administration is wholly out of the question, and, were it otherwise, the propriety of accepting it is, to say the best, doubtful. Speak of my political friends, for as to myself, there is no doubt that a private station is most suitable.
“It has been said by a confidential friend of Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison that they are determined on going to war with England as soon as they can bring public opinion up to that measure; but I think there must be some mistake, for they cannot seriously desire to plunge the country into a situation distressing to all, but ruinous to the Southern States. That we, the people of America, should engage in ruinous warfare to support a rash opinion that foreign sailors in our merchant-ships are to be protected against the power of their sovereign is downright madness, and the attempt to frighten England by combining a non-importation law with a mosquito fleet of gun-boats is truly absurd. It has been rashly assumed as a position that our merchants alone would suffer by war—a great and dangerous mistake. They would indeed lose the ships and cargoes now afloat, to the ruin of insurers, and some of them would become bankrupt, whereby not only the banks, but many tradesmen and farmers would suffer severely. After the hurricane had blown over, merchants who have goods left in their stores would hold them at prices which few could reach, while all the produce now exported would be unsalable.”
“I hear [January 13th] that Clinton, the Vice-President, has written to one of his friends in New York that there is not the least reason to apprehend a rupture with England.”
It was to thank Madame de Staël that Morris wrote the following letter, January 18th. After wishing that this year “may bring you much felicity,” he said: “I am to thank you again for your kind present. When I took up ‘Corinne,’ I was determined to mark in my memory everything which might look like a fault, and so I did. But before I got half-way through they were all forgotten. Rare quality of genius! to lead us in the ripe days, as love in the green ones, wheresoever it will. God forgive me, but I cannot help regretting that your Scotch lord was not un peu plus entreprenant, that fine moonlight evening on the shores of the ocean. La pauvre Corinne serait morte au moins avec connaissance de cause. I remember to have heard of a little German girl to whom it was announced by her physician that she could not live, upon which she turned round, poor creature, whining to her mother, ‘Nein, nein, ich kann nicht sterben; erst muss ich ein wenig heirathen.‘Truly, my dear madame, it is a pity the world should be deprived of such wonderful talents as those which heaven has bestowed on Corinne. Now it is known, by manifold experience, that sensibility is a most noxious thing when improperly confined, but, if the cork be drawn, there is no longer any danger of bursting the bottle.
“I shall expect to see you with your son next spring, and shall say nothing about your affairs, because I know your friend Leray keeps you well informed. One thing, however, I will permit myself to observe: that if your landed property were all lying together it would be more valuable, because it could be managed with more ease and less expense. It is foolish enough, by the by, to tell you this, which your own good sense cannot fail to have told you long ago.”
To Madame de Damas he wrote a letter of condolence at this time, on the death of a member of her family. “This sore affliction,” he says, “in which I truly sympathize, gives me much pain, which I would endeavor to relieve by endeavoring to speak to you words of comfort, but I know that such attempts can be of little avail. Fortunately yours has already been schooled by suffering, and has learnt, as well by the possession as by the deprivation of what the world deems needful for happiness, how little of happiness the world can bestow. Contemplation on the Divine perfections, while it teaches us how little we are, cannot fail to make us feel how little are all our cares and all our woes. In life, which is but a moment, pleasure and pain occupy but a very small part; more short and transitory than life itself. Eternal Beneficence, who scourges not to wound but to correct, is then most exquisitely kind when most we suffer under his wise dispensations. The universal parent kindly weans us from the solace of earthly joys, that we may be seasonably prepared for that state of being which we are soon to commence. What it may be we know not—we cannot know; but there is something within us which says it will be happy. Anticipate, then, my dear, afflicted friend, this happiness, and correct the frowardness which might lead you to murmur at what the Almighty has ordained. They are happy who know the road they are to travel, and the entertainment it affords, before they reach the end of their journey; they travel not only content but pleased. It is of little moment what may be the vehicle or the mode, they know that every object and every circumstance are transitory. They enjoy, therefore, the good while it lasts moderately, knowing that it cannot endure; and they bear unavoidable ills with patience, from the certainty that they also must pass away. Make my love to the afflicted Zephinne, and tell her that I press her to my bosom with paternal affection. God bless, keep, and comfort you. Adieu.”
Again the diary takes up the history of events, but with little aid from letters, during the rest of the year. There were at this time new roads proposed through Westchester County and through Morris’s land, and this work, in connection with general plans for better means of getting off the island on which New York stands to the surrounding country, occupied much of his time. The peculiar position of New York made it rather a difficult subject to deal with successfully.
“The geographical position of New York,” he wrote to Simeon Dewitt, “while it confers uncommon advantages for commerce, involves considerable and unavoidable inconveniences. The idle project for making bridges across the North and East Rivers can never occupy the attention of considerate men. To say they are impracticable would be rash, but they certainly cannot be built but at an expense infinitely beyond any advantages they can offer; and, what is more, if they were already built, the city of New York would find it a cheap bargain to get them taken away for a million of dollars. Such being the facts, it follows that the only tract of country which is easily and constantly accessible is the County of Westchester.”
“A paper is brought to me to day [February 25th] containing a state of our negotiation with Britain. Our administration seems to be infatuated.”
“Go to church [March 6th]. In the evening meet, at Mr. King’s, Mr. Wolcot, Mr. Hammond, and Mr. Radcliffe, to consider what may be proper on the present occasion; whether to make an effort to put good men in power or remain quiet spectators. I am of the latter opinion. Mr. Radcliffe reads a letter from Albany, informing that they have determined on making a general effort. He says they have applied in vain for information as to opinions here. To this I observe that no such application has been made to me; and Mr. King says that none has been made to him. I declare my opposition to any such effort, notwithstanding that agreement.”
In March Morris made a visit to Philadelphia, where going to the play, dining at home, and sitting “with a party of young bucks until late,” visiting his old friends—among them Mrs. Robert Morris, “who looks beautiful as ever and elegant”—and dining with them, and sitting daily for his picture, occupied the time until April, when he returned home. The next three or four months were uneventful.
“On Sunday [July 24th] General Moreau dines with me. It stands confirmed that Bonaparte, after inveigling the Spanish monarch and his whole family into his clutches, has forced them to resign to him the throne, and now he keeps them in confinement. A great part of Spain, it is said, is in arms to expel the French. I give it as my opinion that they will succeed unless they place some of the great nobles at their head. In this case they will be sold, such is the corruption of morals among the descendants of the brave and most honorable cavaliers in the midst of a nation honest and loyal.”
Morris spent the autumn and part of the summer in the northern woods. Indeed, the winter of 1809 was well advanced before he reached home. Early in January, while at Schenectady, a very alarming illness overtook him, which threatened fatal consequences. “I am prepared to set off after breakfast,” he says, January 23d, “but am arrested by some alarming symptoms; send for a physician, and make my will.” By the 9th of February, however, he was able to get to Albany, where, he says, “it is very cold. When I began to write, though sitting before a good fire, the ink froze so in my pen that I could scarcely get along. The thermometer was, I am told in the morning, ten below naught.” On his arrival at home Morris found some views made of his house by the pencil of his friend Mrs. R. Macomb awaiting him; it would seem, as a gentle reproof for leaving that beautiful home so long untenanted. His acknowledgment of the attention shows that his pen had not lost the art of delicate flattery nor of the gracefully turned phrase which had, in his younger days, so attracted the clever women of France.
“I did not, my dear madame,” he wrote, “acknowledge your valuable present immediately, lest my expressions should have more warmth than consists with established forms; for it is not uncommon that, when one is at the same time under the influence of several feelings, the glowing color which some of them assume should diminish the appearance of others. You know so well the effect of light and shade that to say more would be impertinent, and you have, I trust, so good an opinion of me as to be convinced that I would not have enjoyed the pleasure of your society with indifference. Accept sincere thanks for those views of my house, in which ‘we see fancy outwork nature.’ To others they prove the extent of your charming talent; to me they prove more, and possess for me the dearer charm of your kindness. But is it fair to bind me so fast and add thus the tie of gratitude to those of sentiment? Think of my condition should you bid me break them; no infrequent command, I am told, of ladies, beautiful and young, to humble servants of a certain age.
“In the apprehension that such may be my fate, I am resolved to be beforehand in my revenge. I send you the works of that witty, wicked devil Voltaire—to destroy every Christian principle of your heart. When converted by the great apostle of infidelity into a downright heathen, it may be proper for you to indulge the vainglory of dragging captives at the wheels of a triumphal car. But while you profess yourself to be a Christian, remember that you must love your neighbor as yourself, and, above all things, do not forget that among the neighbors who acknowledge that duty towards you, is your obedient servant.”
Enclosed in this letter were the following lines:
“The February packet has arrived [April 6th], and brought the news that the French have driven the British out of the North of Spain. Dine with General Moreau, and discharge my servant William Wells, who declined going behind my carriage. Wherefore I am in town without a servant.”
“Return home [April 9th], bringing behind my carriage Dominique, who entered last Friday at $13 per month.”
“The differences between England and America are, at length, it seems, about to be settled [April 24th]. This may bring on a war with France, unless the French Emperor, finding full employment in Germany and obliged, therefore, to abandon Spain, should put some water to his wine.”
The summer of 1809 was an uneventful one at Morrisania. Possibly Morris was more agreeably occupied in making his own arrangements for the future than in following the movements of Napoleon’s armies or the workings of the United States Government. There is no mention in the diary of any important change coming into his life, but there is no doubt that for some months it had been his intention to marry the daughter of his friend Thomas Mann Randolph, of Tuckahoe, whom he had known as a very beautiful young girl in Virginia before he went to Europe. Since that time Miss Randolph’s life had been a sad one. Obliged by her father’s ill-advised second marriage to leave her home, she had struggled for some time with but poor success to support herself. Morris, the old and trusted friend of her father and mother, hearing of her reduced pecuniary condition, and that she was teaching in New England, proposed, in the most delicate terms, that she should accept the shelter of his roof, and take charge of his household. This offer was accepted by Miss Randolph in the spirit in which it was made, and the spring of 1809 found her duly installed. On Christmas-day there was a family dinner party at Morrisania. Morris enumerates his guests, but says he had expected many more members of his family, “who are detained by the bad weather. I marry this day Anne Cary Randolph, no small surprise to my guests,” is the only mention he made of this event at the moment. There was, indeed, no small surprise occasioned by the step he had taken, and no little indignation, as may be gathered from the following letter to his niece Mrs. Meredith, of Philadelphia, who undertook to call him to account for the audacity he had shown in taking to himself a wife at his time of life. “I received your letter, my dear child, yesterday, and perceive in it two charges; viz., that I have committed a folly in marrying, and have acted undutifully in not consulting you. I can only say to the first that I have not yet found cause to repent, and to the second that I hope you will pardon me for violating an obligation of which I was not apprised. The decision of that great question, whether the liberty of a bachelor be more virtuous than the bondage of a married man, must be left to you and your friend Cato; it is beyond my competence. If I had married a rich woman of seventy the world might think it wiser than to take one of half that age without a farthing, and, if the world were to live with my wife, I should certainly have consulted its taste; but as that happens not to be the case, I thought I might, without offending others, endeavor to suit myself, and look rather into the head and heart than into the pocket. Perhaps it would gratify a laudable curiosity to say what I discovered; but that must be omitted, to avoid the charge of partiality—and the rather as the step I have taken gives sufficient evidence of my opinion. When we have the pleasure to see you at Morrisania, it is possible you may approve of my choice, and you will certainly find that I am, as ever, affectionately yours.”
“Immediately after twelve o’clock last night,” says the diary for January 1, 1810, “we took, in compliance with a custom more honored in the breach than the observance, a glass to the New Year, my male guests having already more than will do them good; the ladies not present. And thus another year is added to the thousands which have elapsed. A very fine and almost summer’s day.”
“We are told,” Morris wrote on the 6th of January, to the Honorable Timothy Pickering, then Senator from Massachusetts, at Washington, “that your President means to send you a war message. I can hardly believe this, but suppose that, if true, it will be done in the hope of such strong opposition as may enable him to pretend that he was prevented by Americans, acting under British influence, vindicating our national honor. To avoid this trap, it seems to me that, if I were a member of either House of Congress; I would not say a word on the main question, but assign the following motives for my silence: First, that frequent experience has shown the inutility of reasoning; secondly, that the message proves the majority to have made up their minds; thirdly, that as arguments against the war must rest on the dangers to which it will expose us, they might be considered by some as indications to the enemy where to assail us; fourthly, that as the honor of success will belong to those who shall conduct the business, it is just that they have also the credit of commencing it; and, lastly, that it would be improper to do aught which may impair the confidence of the people in the moment when it is most necessary to the Government. Wherefore, since arguments cannot prevent the war, and must, if they have any effect at all, prove injurious, it is fit that our rulers add this last experiment to those already made on our prosperity.”
In March, 1810, the two Houses of the Legislature of New York, by concurrent vote, declared that the agricultural and commercial interests of the State required that the inland navigation from Hudson’s River to Lake Ontario and Lake Erie should be increased, and accordingly appointed seven commissioners to explore the whole route, examine the existing condition of the navigation, and consider what further improvement ought to be made therein.
Morris was appointed among the commissioners. Speaking of the duties of the commissioners, in a letter dated April 25th, to Mr. Henry Latrobe at Washington, he says: “An appropriation of three thousand dollars has been made to this and another object referred to the same commissioners, who conceive, from the smallness of the sum, that the legislature did not contemplate the employment of an engineer with the needful assistants. My own view of the subject is tolerably clear, but that other gentlemen will see it in the light in which I do is very doubtful. Supposing, moreover, that we should agree on a plan, no discreet man would undertake to say that it will meet the approbation of the next legislature; and, even if it should, what ground is there to believe that the General Government will do their part? And yet a great part must be performed by them. Their territory lying round the lakes will, by a proper inland navigation, be rendered more valuable than the whole of this State, and it cannot be expected that she will bear all, or even the greater part, of the burden, when the far greater part of the benefit must result to the Union. . . . I hope the business may be effected in a proper manner, for it is (I believe) the most extensive theatre for the display of skill and industry which can be found on this globe. But I fear that our minds are not yet enlarged to the size of so great an object, and I am thoroughly persuaded that the attempt at, and still more the execution of, any little scheme may probably frustrate, and certainly postpone, that which is alone worthy of notice.”
On the 21st of June Mr. and Mrs. Morris started on their journey through New York, to inspect the country through which the new canal was to be built. Their route lay, after reaching Albany, through what is now the admirably cultivated, picturesque farming country of the State. Then it required a far-seeing vision to picture what it might be in the future; for the woods were still standing, the roads of the most questionable description, and the inns, as a rule, insufferably bad. “I am perfectly convinced,” Morris said, after a careful inspection of rivers and creeks, “that unless the waters of Lake Erie are used, every attempt at a useful inland navigation must fail.”
Arrived at Niagara, on the Canada side, July 23d, Morris notes: “Very little improvement here since my last visit, and in that short space the other side, from being a wilderness, has become in a degree a cultivated country. Say what they will of republican government, and it has no doubt its dark side, none other is so favorable to the multiplication of the human race and the decoration of the earth within its limits.”
“About noon [July 25th] I walk to a shop, and ask for hair-ribbon. There is but one piece, and that very bad, such as I purchased at Utica for five cents. The honest dealer asks twelve and a half. The Utica man gave twenty yards for a dollar instead of thirty, which might be the fair price had it been of good quality; the Chippeway man gives only eight. I express my surprise and do not purchase, but ask where he got it. He says in New York. This seems to me a phenomenon about as great as the cataract which is thundering in our ears, for the duties on goods are here little or nothing, and with us about seventeen and a half per cent. However, they must be introduced into Canada from the United States in contraband. We learn that our brother commissioners were at Oswego last Sunday, heartily tired of their progress by water, and determined, if possible, to come on by land.”
On the 3d of August the commissioners met at Lewiston, and dined at Judge Porter’s. They transacted their business, but there was a doubt in Morris’s mind that, in the variety of opinions, “the most correct will not be the most prevalent.” On the return journey, which commenced on the 3d of August, the travellers were not a little disconcerted by the reception they met, in the various inns along the way, in most of which were fully developed the independent ways of the Republic, which in theory Morris approved of, but which in practice were not always so acceptable.
“The landlady, her daughters, and their guests are sitting to a comfortable breakfast,” he says, on one occasion, “when we arrive, and in two hours after we sit down to ours, so rapid are the movements of a country where the young women wear fine caps and leave their mothers to scour the kettle. After leaving Mrs. Burry’s inn we come on to Mr. Steele’s, who is in his fields, and his wife too much engaged to trouble herself about us. A pert damsel, who assumes to be Mrs. Steele, says we cannot be accommodated with a bed-chamber because they have none that has not several beds. This is no objection to us, but we are told that, if more guests arrive, they will be lodged in the same room. We are obliged to come on to Canandaigua.”
“Sunday [September 2d], we stop at Lebanon Springs. Ride to see the divine service of the Shaking Quakers. The preaching is commenced before we arrive. We have a short address of invitation to us, the by-standers, to become members of their fraternity, after which they sing a hymn to the tune of ‘Jolly mortals, fill your glasses,’ and dance, moving backwards and forwards to the tune of an old country-dance—the men on one side and women on the other, each company regularly arranged in rank and file. Before the hymn they all (being thereto invited by the preacher) fall on their knees, and, closing their eyes, are, or appear to be, wrapt in meditation. After two dances, with a short pause between, a young preacher comes forward and addresses us in a sensible discourse (disfigured, indeed, by useless repetition), the object of which is to prove that we ought to abandon worldly pursuits, pleasures, and enjoyments, and, more especially, the conjugal pleasures, for the sake of that pure felicity which attends celibacy. The usual texts by which the Romish Church defends that unnatural (and therefore impious) doctrine are quoted, and, with the vainglory usual among sectaries, the smooth-chinned doctor assures us that they are the true disciples, the chosen of God, who see, feel, and know him. Alas! poor creatures. They know that incomprehensible Being who fills immensity, everywhere present, everywhere operating before time began and through eternity! At this proud boast we leave the preacher and his congregation to return to our quarters. How true that saying of Solomon, that there is nothing new under the sun, and how ridiculous the notion, entertained by some, of the perfectibility of human nature. Now, in the nineteenth century, we see the same contrivances of superstition and enthusiasm succeed in this enlightened country which duped our ignorant forefathers seven centuries ago; and while these forlorn Shakers pursue that beaten track to perfecting which, if generally followed, must occasion the extinction of mankind, our self-sufficient philosophers expect, it would seem, to reach the same pinnacle by mathematical abstractions and chemical solutions, but, above all, by giving new names to old things and tricking themselves into a belief that science is extended in proportion as the size of the dictionary is swollen by terms borrowed from the Greek.”
Morris had for months imposed upon himself a strict silence on public affairs, but after the beginning of the year 1811 his letters became more full of the alarming questions agitating the country. He spoke in a letter to Robert Walsh, of Philadelphia (February 5th), of “his natural indolence, which,” he said, “is increased by the love of ease which is incident to age on one side, and, on the other, a greater mass of business than I can conveniently get through deters me from engagements which may require effort or consume time. At different times I have taken up my pen to communicate what I believed might be useful, and laid it down again from recollection of the text, ‘If they will not believe Moses and the prophets, neither would they believe though one should rise from the dead.’ Montesquieu said, tritely, he did not write to make people read, but to make them think. Did he live in our day and our country, he would find it no easy matter to make them read. Truth is, that the adherents of the ruling party shun information. Such of them as are deceived do not wish to be undeceived. The mischief lies deeper, I fear, than is generally supposed by good men. Ignorant as the mass of mankind must of necessity and forever be of the great political subjects, it is not so much the ignorance as the depravity of our citizens which causes their misfortunes. So much has been said on certain subjects that it is almost impossible not to comprehend, and so much has been felt that the most stubborn are brought to a practical conviction. But the choice of rulers continues the same, because those who choose and, more especially, those by whom they are influenced and led have a personal interest in the constitution and continuation of a bad government; they do themselves the justice to feel that by a wise and good administration they would neither be employed nor trusted. Many, therefore, who think with us, act against us. A national condition of this sort cannot long continue. National misfortune, which is the certain consequence, is also the natural correction of national corruption. All history bears witness to this truth, so often proclaimed in the sacred writings. Excuse me; perhaps I am not sufficiently philosophical for the fashion of our day, but that which, from reading, was faith, has by experience become conviction.
“Speaking of General Hamilton, he had little share in forming the Constitution. He disliked it, believing all republican government to be radically defective. He admired, nevertheless, the British constitution, which I consider as an aristocracy in fact, though a monarchy in name. General Hamilton hated republican government, because he confounded it with democratical government; and he detested the latter, because he believed it must end in despotism, and, be in the mean time, destructive to public morality. He believed that our administration would be enfeebled progressively at every new election, and become at last contemptible. He apprehended that the minions of faction would sell themselves and their country as soon as foreign powers should think it worth while to make the purchase. In short, his study of ancient history impressed on his mind a conviction that democracy, ending in tyranny, is, while it lasts, a cruel and oppressing domination. One marked trait of the General’s character was the pertinacious adherence to opinions he had once formed. From his situation in early life, it was not to be expected that he should have a fellow-feeling with those who idly supposed themselves to be the natural aristocracy of this country. In maturer age, his observation and good sense demonstrated that the materials for an aristocracy do not exist in America; wherefore, taking the people as a mass in which there was nothing of family, wealth, prejudice, or habit to raise a permanent mound of distinction—in which, moreover, the torrent of opinion had already washed away every mole-hill of respect raised by the industry of individual pride, he considered the fate of Rome in her meridian splendor, and that of Athens from the dawn to the sunset of her glory, as the portraits of our future fortune. Moreover, the extent of the United States led him to fear a defect of national sentiment. That which, at the time our Constitution was formed, had been generated by friendship in the Revolutionary War, was sinking under the pressure of State interest, commercial rivalry, the pursuit of wealth, and those thousand giddy projects which the intoxication of independence, an extravagant idea of our own importance, a profound ignorance of other nations, the prostration of public credit, and the paucity of our resources had engendered. He heartily assented, nevertheless, to the Constitution, because he considered it as a band which might hold us together for some time, and he knew that national sentiment is the off-spring of national existence. He trusted, moreover, that in the chances and changes of time we should be involved in some war which might strengthen our union and nerve the Executive. He was not (as some have supposed) so blind as not to see that the President could purchase power, and shelter himself from responsibility by sacrificing the rights and duties of his office at the shrine of influence; but he was too proud, and, let me add, too virtuous to recommend or tolerate measures eventually fatal to liberty and honor.
“It was not, then, because he thought the Executive Magistrate too feeble to carry on the business of the State that he wished him to possess more authority; but because he thought there was not sufficient power to carry on the business honestly. He apprehended a corrupt understanding between the Executive and a dominating party in the Legislature which would destroy the President’s responsibility, and he was not to be taught (what everyone knows) that where responsibility ends, fraud, injustice, tyranny, and treachery begin. General Hamilton was of that kind of man which may most safely be trusted; for he was more covetous of glory than of wealth or power. But he was of all men the most indiscreet. He knew that a limited monarchy, even if established, could not preserve itself in this country. He knew, also, that it could not be established, because there is not the regular gradation of ranks among our citizens which is essential to that species of government, and he very well knew that no monarchy whatever could be established but by the mob. When a multitude of indigent, profligate people can be collected and organized, their envy of wealth, talents, and reputation will induce them to give themselves a master, provided that, in so doing, they can mortify and humble their superiors. But there is no instance to prove, and it is, indeed, flatly absurd to suppose, that the upper ranks of society will, by setting up a king, put down themselves. Fortunately for us, no such mass of people can be collected in America. None such exists. But although General Hamilton knew these things, from the study of history, he never failed, on every occasion, to advocate the excellence of and avow his attachment to monarchical government. By this course he not only cut himself off from all chance of rising into office, but singularly promoted the views of his opponents, who, with the fondness for wealth and power which he had not, affected a love for the people which he had and which they had not. Thus, meaning very well, he acted very ill, and approached the evils he apprehended by his very solicitude to keep them at a distance. Those who formed our Constitution were not blind to its defects. They believed a monarchical form to be neither solid nor durable. They conceived it to be vigorous or feeble, active or slothful, wise or foolish, mild or cruel, just or unjust, according to the personal character of the prince. It is deceptive to cite the duration of French monarchy at eight centuries. In that period the provinces which lately composed it passed, by various fortune, from their subjection to Rome through the conquest of barbarians, the ferociousness of feudal aristocracy, and the horrors of anarchy and civil war to their union under the Bourbons. That union was not consolidated until the soaring spirit of Richelieu and the flexible temper of Mazarin had tamed an indignant nobility to the yoke of obedience. By the vanity, the ambition, and the talents of Louis Fourteenth France became the terror of Europe. By the facile immorality of the Regent and the lascivious feebleness of Louis Fifteenth she sank almost into contempt. After a few years of distempered existence, under the mild and virtuous Louis Sixteenth, the lamp of that boasted monarchy was extinguished in his blood.
“Fond, however, as the framers of our National Constitution were of republican government, they were not so much blinded by their attachment as not to discern the difficulty, perhaps impracticability, of raising a durable edifice from crumbling materials. History, the parent of political science, had told them that it was almost as vain to expect permanency from democracy as to construct a palace on the surface of the sea. But it would have been foolish to fold their arms and sink into despondence because they could neither form nor establish the best of all possible systems. They tell us, in their President’s letter of the 17th September, 1787: ‘The Constitution which we now present is the result of a spirit of amity and of that mutual deference and concession which the peculiarity of our political situation rendered indispensable.’ It is not easy to be wise for all times, not even for the present—much less for the future; and those who judge of the past must recollect that, when it was present, the present was future. Supposing, however, that one or two solitary individuals, blessed with an unusual portion of the divine afflatus, could determine what will fit futurity, they would find it no easy task to prevail so far with the present generation as to induce their adoption of a plan at variance with their feelings. As in war so in politics, much must be left to chance; or, in other words, to combinations of which we are ignorant. It was therefore pardonable to suppose that what would, in one day, be neither advisable nor practicable, might, in another day, be safe and easy. Perhaps there is still in my old bosom too much of youthful ardor of hope, but I do not despair of our country. True it is, that the present state of things has approached with unlooked-for rapidity; but in that very circumstance there is a source of comfort. In spite of the power of corruption, there is still, perhaps, enough of public sentiment left to sanctify the approaching misfortunes. Let not good men despair because the people were not awakened by what has passed. It would be considered that, in proportion to the size and strength of the patient and to the dulness of his organs, the dose must be large to operate with effect. The Embargo produced so much of nausea that our State doctors perceived the necessity of an opiate. Thus the incipient spasm was lulled, but causes must eventually produce their effect.
“This digression leads us, however, from the point of your inquiry, ‘How far has the Senate answered the end of its creation?’ I answer, further than was expected, but by no means so far as was wished. It is necessary, here, to anticipate one of your subsequent questions. ‘What has been, and what is now, the influence of the State governments on the federal system?’ To obtain anything like a check on the rashness of democracy, it was necessary not only to organize the Legislature into different bodies (for that alone is a poor expedient), but to endeavor that these bodies should be animated by a different spirit. To this end the States, in their corporate capacity, were made electors of the Senate, and, so long as the State governments had considerable influence and the consciousness of dignity which that influence imparts, the Senate felt some of the desired sentiment, and answered in some degree the end of its institution. But that day is past. This opens to our view a dilemma which was not experienced when the Constitution was formed. If the State influence should continue, the Union could not last; and if it did not, the utility of the Senate would cease. It was avowed in the Convention at an early day (by one who had afterwards a considerable share of the business), when the necessity of drawing a line between National sovereignty and State independence was insisted on, ‘that if Aaron’s rod could not swallow the rods of the magicians, their rods would swallow his.’ But it is one thing to perceive a dilemma, and another thing to get out of it. In the option between two evils, that which appeared to be the least was preferred, and the power of the Union provided for. At present, the influence of the General Government has so thoroughly pervaded every State that all the little wheels are obliged to turn according to the great one. The Senate (in my poor opinion) is little, if any check, either on the President or the House of Representatives. It has not the disposition. The members of both Houses are creatures which, though differently born, are begotten in the same way and by the same sire. They have, of course, the same temper, but their opposition, were they disposed to make any, would be feeble; they would easily be borne down by the other House, in which the power resides. The President can, indeed, do what he pleases, provided it shall always please him to place those who lead a majority of the Representatives. This matter is understood among the parties concerned. The Representatives, however, do not yet know that their power has no bound except their discretion; but a pleasant lesson is easily learned, and the more they feel their power the less will be their discretion. Authority so placed is liable as well to excess as to abuse, and this country, unless I am mistaken, will experience not a little of both.
“In what has already been said you may find some answer to your question, ‘How far have the Amendments to the Constitution altered its spirit?’ These amendments are, generally speaking, mere verbiage. It has been said that our Constitution is remarkable for the perspicuity of its language, and, if so, there was some hazard in attempting to clothe any of its provisions by the (so-called) amendment in different terms. It would be a tedious work of supererogation to show that the original Constitution contained those guards which form the apparent object of the amendments. Put your finger on the Sixth Article of the amendments. It is there written: ‘The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.’ Had this provision been made after the last supplement to the late Embargo law, it might be considered by a giddy populace as giving them sufficient security against the outrageous proceedings directed by that supplement. But considerate men are not the dupes of patriotic professions, neither will they confide the defence of their liberty to paper bulwarks. Such men never believed the amendments gave any additional security to life, liberty, or property. But very few in America, perhaps twenty, could imagine that the very authors of the article just cited would be the first to violate it; and that in a manner so flagrant and shameless. Let noisy dram-shop politicians roar out their adoration of our divine system, their detestation of despots, and their contempt for the slaves of Britain. You, sir, well know that neither would a British monarch suggest, nor a British minister propose, nor a British parliament dare to exact a statute so hostile to freedom as that last supplement to the Embargo. It must not, however, be concluded that the American people are prepared for the yoke of despotism. Should power revert to federal hands, and should they, presuming on the precedent, attempt anything one-tenth part as improper, they would soon be made sensible of the difference. But it is an evil inseparable from democracy that the leaders of that faction which includes the lower class of citizens may commit the greatest excesses with impunity. This my friend Hamilton distinctly foresaw, and would, were he now alive, reproach his intimate friends for their attachment to a government so liable to abuse. The reproach, however, would be ineffectual. They would defend themselves by observing that the great body of American freeholders have such direct interest in the preservation of law and order that they will stand forth to secure their rights when the necessity for it shall appear. They would say, further, that such necessity cannot be shown by a political ratiocination. Luckily, or, to speak with a reverence proper to the occasion, providentially, mankind are not disposed to embark the blessings they enjoy on a voyage of syllogistic adventure to obtain something more beautiful in exchange. They must feel before they will act. This is proved not only by the history of other nations but by our own. When misfortunes press hard, and not before, the people will look for that wisdom and virtue in which formerly they found safety. They will then listen to the voice which, in the wantonness of prosperity, they despised. Then, and not till then, can the true patriot be of any use.”