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CHAPTER XLVIII. - 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 makes his report on inland navigation. Is one of the commissioners to lay out New York. Travels by steam-boat to Albany. Goes to Washington. The memorable year of 1812. Delivers an oration at the funeral of Mr. Clinton. War declared. Letter to Mr. Hare. Considers the declaration of war as little short of madness. Letters on the subject. Opinion of the course to be pursued in relation to Great Britain. No faith in the proposed loan. Letter to Otis. Alarm at the extent of the domain of the United States.
Making up and handing in the report of the Commissioners on Inland Navigation in the State of New York, together with his duties as one of the commissioners to lay out Manhattan Island, and a very sharp and protracted fit of the gout, entirely occupied Morris during the winter of 1811. In May he wrote to M. Leray de Chaumont, asking if a loan of $5,000,000 might be effected on the credit of the State of New York, to execute the important work of opening inland navigation in New York State. Such a loan, he thought, might be effected in Switzerland, “where, perhaps, will most readily be found the people desirous of transporting themselves and their property across the Atlantic. And I wish it to be impressed on your mind that a loan which will bring the lenders to our country is in fact, taking the nation in mass, no loan at all, but a clear gain, both of the men and their property.”
A meeting of the Canal Commissioners called Morris to Albany in June, and he, with true public spirit, intrusted himself to the mercies of the steam-boat. “We leave home,” he says, June 19th, “at one, and embark in the steam-boat a few minutes before five, at which hour we leave the wharf, and proceed up Hudson’s River against the wind. The lodging is so uncomfortable that I can stay in bed but a short time, though the evening is cool.”
“Early this morning [June 20th] I come on deck, and find we are opposite to West Point; the wind still unfavorable, but our progress good, considering that the current also is adverse. Mr. Fulton, who is on board, tells me that the paddles of his wheels move with a velocity of eight miles per hour. Whenever, therefore, he meets a current of two miles, his operating velocity is reduced to six. The velocity given to the boat must be between the velocity of the paddle and the rate at which it goes through the water; or, rather, if the water be still and the paddle pass through it at the rate of two miles per hour, the boat will be propelled at the rate of six, etc. As the lodging is so comfortless, I remain on deck till we reach Albany, which is at midnight.”
“Our Board of Commissioners meets early [June 21st], and we get on well with our business, except that rather too large a share of it is laid on me.”
“A very warm day [June 22d]. Embark in the steam-boat at half an hour after eight, and, having run a little way up and turned, are fairly on our road downwards, with a fresh fair wind, at a quarter before nine. We pick up some passengers from vessels aground on the Overslough Shoal. Indeed, there is a frequent ejection and collection of passengers from towns and places along the river. In the course of the day the engine receives an injury from a piece of wood thrown among the works by a careless servant. This retards our progress. Sit all night on deck, and get a little uneasy. Sleep in my chair.”
“We enter the Highlands at sunrise [June 23d], and breakfast below Haverstraw, having a fair wind and tide. When nearly opposite to Manhattanville the engine gets again out of order; but we have no longer any interest in it, for here I disembark, hire a carriage, and reach my own house at two in the afternoon. Thus in five days and an hour I have dined in New York, gone to Albany, spent two complete days in business there, and returned. This movement of boats by steam is a very fine application of that power. The table kept is excellent, and the night accommodation, though bad, is, considering the numbers (upward of one hundred on Tuesday), much better than could have been hoped for in a first experiment. The price of a passenger is but $7—a servant half as much; the distance, upward of one hundred and fifty miles, which for a gentleman and his servant is at the rate of seven cents per mile. Travelling in France, in a post-chaise of my own, cost me for myself and my servant at the rate of one shilling sterling per mile, and our average velocity about five miles per hour; distance, about sixty miles per day. Here the price is about 3¾d. sterling per mile, the average velocity about five miles per hour, distance about one hundred and twenty miles per day. Again, taking the distance at one hundred and fifty-three miles, it would, in France, have cost $34 and consumed, in effect, three days, or, at the least, two and a half, whereas in this steam-boat it cost $10.50 and consumes one day and a half. Mr. Fulton comes to dine with us, and Mr. Rutherfurd; and a Mr. Hare, who came from Pittsburg through the Genesee Valley, says the whole of what he travelled over is, with little exception, the finest country in the world. The finest in the world is an expression much used by my good countrymen who never saw much of the world, and are not therefore the best qualified to make such decisions. Rutherfurd tells an anecdote to this effect, which is pleasant enough. Justice somebody, the innkeeper at Ridgefield, Connecticut, had seen a great deal of the world, and assured him that America was the finest country in the world, the Americans the finest people in the world, and Connecticut the finest country inhabited by the finest people in America; a people excellent in many other respects, but more especially so in their honesty.”
It was agreed that the report of the Canal Commissioners should be presented to Congress during the coming session, and Morris wrote to the “Worshipful” De Witt Clinton, Mayor of New York, in November begging him to make it convenient to come out and dine with him, that they might not only fix the time, but the manner of the route to Washington. “If I travel with my own carriage and horses,” he wrote, “I may, roads and weather being good, make out forty miles per day, but (all things considered the safer calculation is thirty. Colonel Porter thinks it is not advisable to attend at Washington before January. I, having no other purpose, should be glad of the respite, if our attendance at Albany were not to follow so soon; but it may require thirteen days, considering the season, to get on from Washington to Albany.” Mr. and Mrs. Morris went by way of Lancaster and York, Pa., to Washington, where they arrived on the 15th of December, and here the diary takes up the story of events.
“Mr. Clinton not arrived [December 16th], and therefore I stay at home, not choosing to go ahead till I visit the President, nor to make that visit without him. I lose thereby the opportunity of hearing Mr. Randolph make a much admired speech.”
“Visit the President [December 17th], having waited long enough in vain. Mr. Parish tells me our application will be fruitless, and Mr. Bayard this evening shows me that he means to defeat it if he can.”
“Visit, with Mr. Clinton, the President and confer on the object of our mission [December 21st]. Leave him in a better disposition for it than we found him, apparently; but, ‘Non omne quod nitela aurum.’”
“Dine with Colonel Porter and his mess of democrats; a pleasant society enough, though not select. On Monday I dine with Mr. Foster, the British minister, who has a handsome establishment; and on Tuesday [December 24th] with the French minister, and go to Mrs. Madison’s drawing-room. Our business seems to be in good train.”
“Another year,” begins the diary of the first day of the memorable year 1812, “succeeds to the centuries which are already mingled with a past eternity. It comes in blustering on the wings of a westerly wind, of which we feel in our elevated position a full share. Visit at the palace, and pay our respects to the President and his lady. The House of Representatives, for the first time since the Government was established, have refused to adjourn for the purpose of paying this compliment. This looks, I think, like a declaration that he shall not be re-elected.”
“The bill to raise twenty-five thousand men is passed [January 7th] by a thumping majority.”
“Attend the committee on our business [January 8th], and speak, I believe, with some effect.”
“I visit the President and confer with him [January 13th], in some sort confidentially, to obtain his support to our bill, which he injures by expressing his doubts as to the constitutionality. Visit Mr. Galatin. Mention to him, as I had done to the President, making a military road from the Hudson to the St. Lawrence. He is an intelligent fellow, and I think by much the strongest man in the administration.”
“Go to the House of Representatives [January 15th], and stay till their adjournment, which is late. The committee have determined to report in favor of a system of canals, and appointed a sub-committee to prepare the report.”
“I am now [January 30th] sixty years of age, and yet (foolishly, I think) engaged in active life.”
From Washington Morris went immediately to Albany, to push the business of the canal. While there he prepared another report, viz., “On Stevens’s project for a railway.” In April he was urged to become a candidate for member of Congress, but this he declined.
“When your letter reached me,” Morris wrote from Morrisania to his friend Mr. Parish, April 8th, “I had, as the French expression runs, one foot in the stirrup for Washington, whither I went one of two deputies from the board of which I am president. At Washington I staid long, to no valuable purpose and to my great annoyance; then, after reaching home, set off for Albany. Here, however, I am, and enjoy from my window the exhilarating view of approaching spring. Oh, my friend, had we also a renewed spring of life, how cheerfully should I take up those public cares which I now decline, and will persist in declining, unless compelled by circumstances which must ever control us when we cannot control them. I learned yesterday, in a visit to New York, which business obliged me to make, that although our President disavows hostility against East Florida, his general is pursuing steadily the conquest of it, and will, it is thought, be soon in collision with British troops on their way to protect it. This perfidy seems too audacious for the character of the man. His resort to an embargo, and other things, strengthen the idea, not lightly formed, that his blustering was merely calculated to gull the wilder part of his adherents, so as to secure his re-election. I persist in believing he will not hazard war, but must at the same time confess the doubt whether anything short of that bloody scourge will whip our mad folks into their sober senses.”
“It is said that notwithstanding Mr. Madison’s disavowal,” says the diary for April 16th, “our general, Matthews, is proceeding in the conquest of East Florida, and will there come in collision with British troops, so that war is considered as inevitable.”
“Colonel and Mrs. Fish and General Morton dine with us [April 24th]. Messrs. Fish and Morton are a committee of the New York Corporation to request I will pronounce a funeral eulogium on the late Vice-President (George Clinton).∗ Promise to do so if asked by the corporation. Mr. Carpenter came, while I was at dinner, with a letter from Jacob Morton about the proposed oration. The materials are to be furnished on Sunday, perhaps, and Thursday is contemplated for the solemnity. If these are to be the conditions, I decline.”
“To-day [May 2d], in town, Mr. Hammond mentions to me overtures made by the Clinton party. I tell him that on such subjects I once gave opinions which were disregarded; I have now no opinions to give. Mr. Rutherfurd takes a seat in my phaëton, and endeavors to dissuade me from pronouncing a funeral eulogium on George Clinton. I tell him how the facts stand: that if the corporation do what I expect they will, I am engaged, and to his labored objections arising from the difference of character and conduct between the defunct and the eulogist, I reply by assuring him I will say nothing to dishonor the dead, because that would be cruel; and nothing to dishonor myself, because that would be foolish. He avers that De Witt will use his uncle’s memory as the ladder of his ambition, and, when President, be devoted to French politics, thereto influenced by Genet; observing at the same time that he is an unprincipled fellow who cares for nothing and for nobody but himself. I say, on this chapter, that I am ready to admit anything or everything of this sort, as he pleases, being indifferent to the views of all parties and factions; that those now in power are driving rapidly on to ruin in a road where they must proceed or be disgraced, and, if they proceed to plunge the country in a war with Britain, six months’ taste of it will bring the people to their senses. For the rest, I do not know Mr. Clinton’s views, and do not wish to know them. Mr. Rutherfurd has, I am well informed, become openly what he has long been actually, an adherent to and supporter of the administration. His fear, therefore, is that they will be ousted.”
“Mr. Clinton comes out [May 3d], accompanied by his son, to give me some hints respecting his late uncle. That business despatched, I inquire the prospects respecting our canal, which he tells me were flattering, and that but for the prorogation he thinks the bill sent me by Platt would have passed. I communicate my observations on it, the propriety of which he admits, and will make the needful changes. This leads to a consideration of my plan for a bank. He tells me that the minds of men are so much heated on that subject that all which can now be done is to frustrate the plan now proposed. The other may perhaps succeed in November. I ask him the opinion which prevails as to the course of public affairs. He says it is in this State generally hostile to the administration, except a knot, of no consequence, in the city; his friends have returned from Congress disgusted; every one begins to be weary of Virginia domination. The present plan of the Dominion is, he thinks, to provide for Monroe, Madison standing, as is supposed, no chance. They will readily run either Gerry or Tompkins, or any other inefficient Northern man, for Vice-President. If compelled to do it, they will even submit to have an efficient man in that place, but will take care to destroy his influence. I tell him that the state of public affairs is more wretched than is generally imagined; that some time since, to a federalist who expressed the hope of seeing his party triumphant, I cried out, ‘God forbid!’ and, he being surprised, asked him what, in the hoped-for case, he would do; that he said he would honestly, in good faith, make overtures for treaty with England, which he believed would be candidly met, and all differences speedily be so settled as to restore this country to the prosperous condition from which she had been precipitated; that I replied there was no doubt of his success so far, but that the consequence would be a speedy ejection of him and his friends from power, and a return to the same base and dishonorable course in which they are now engaged. I then tell Mr. Clinton that this is the unavoidable result of those corrupt notions which have been so industriously disseminated; that in the degenerate state to which democracy never fails to reduce a nation, it is almost impossible for a good man to govern, even could he get into power, or for a bad man to govern well. ‘Suppose, in the present state of things, any man you please, however efficient and firm; let him, if you please, have nerves of iron, and a grasp of steel; suppose yourself, if you will be chosen President. What would you do? In my opinion, you would not appoint efficient men to fill the great offices of state. You have not such men in your own party, and if you chose them from another you must throw yourself into the arms of that other, and in either case be the instrument of those who support you, and not the ruler.’ He acknowledges the force of these observations. I then tell him that the only measure I can devise which seems likely to rescue the country from her present miserable and ridiculous condition is to appoint a few representatives of both parties to meet other such representatives from the States north of the Potomac, and consider the state of the nation; that this body, when met, will readily take the ground no longer to allow a representation of slaves; that this geographical division will terminate the political divisions which now prevail, and give a new object to men’s minds; that the Southern States must then either submit to what is just or break up the Union. He says that South Carolina is fast falling off from Virginia, on which I observe that it is immaterial. Some solid, palpable distinction must be taken, and the one I mention is, I think, the only one which can be relied on. For the rest, he may think of it, and do as he pleases.”
Tuesday, May 19th, Morris attended the funeral of Mr. Clinton, who had been Vice-President of the United States, and records that, “after passing in procession through several streets, we reach the Presbyterian Church in Wall Street, between twelve and one o’clock; prayers, music, and my oration coldly delivered and better received than such speaking deserved. The business ends at two.”
“We dine in town [May 30th], and I embark in the steam-boat Paragon. We leave the city at five, and are a little impeded by running a race with the Raritan steamboat, which, nevertheless, we win, but make no use of our sails until victory has declared in our favor. We reach Albany at eight in the morning [May 31st]; thus twenty-seven hours pass us over at least one hundred and fifty miles.”
“Killian Van Rensselaer calls [June 1st] and tells me that our last report to the Legislature has produced a great effect. General Platt comes in the evening. He says the committee will report in a few days, and he thinks the unanimous opinion will be adopted by the House.”
On June 17th “our bill is passed in committee of the whole, while the sagacious Mr. C—, sitting with us, assures us it will be lost by a majority of twenty. The canal will doubtless be opened by the State for her interest and honor. Monday, I embark again in the steamboat. War is declared against England. On Tuesday [June 23d] I am at home in the evening. Dear, quiet, happy home!” Morris rejected the supposition, advanced by some persons, that he was favorably inclined to Mr. Clinton’s election, as “an idea founded on conjecture;” “for,” he said in a letter to Mr. Hare, June 30th, “I certainly have not expressed such an opinion. In truth, I have not formed an opinion, not being possessed of the needful facts. I am not ashamed to acknowledge on this, as on many other occasions, my profound ignorance, and therefore tell you frankly that I know not whether the federalists of this State are disposed to support Mr. Clinton.
“I think I can perceive a storm gathering in the East which may blow our Union flag from the mast-head. If during the gale it be proposed to New York that she be the frontier of a southern or northern section, she would, I believe, adopt the latter alternative, in which case New Jersey could not but join the State by whose arms she is embraced. It will be for you, therefore, to say of which section you choose to be the frontier. Pennsylvania (in my opinion the most powerful member of our Union) may be led to cover with her broad shield the slave-holding States; which, so protected, may for a dozen or fifteen years exercise the privilege of strangling commerce, whipping negroes, and brawling about the inborn inalienable rights of man. It seems to me almost certain that, if peace be not immediately made with England, the question on negro votes must divide this Union. Under these impressions, I cannot, my dear sir, persuade myself to feel interested in a presidential election. If you ask what is doing in Massachusetts, I must answer that my reason and my feelings are too much at variance to approve or condemn. I earnestly pray God that he will enable me to know and to do my duty; but I believe that little, if anything, will be left to my choice. I have long foreseen and foretold those events which now approach, as necessary consequences of the measures which our administration has pursued. Sometimes, too, I have had the unmanly weakness to wish that, before they arrive, my dust should be mingled with that of my fathers. I believe, sir, that men of honor and worth must prepare for scenes more serious than electioneering. I believe one great effort is yet to be made in the cause of liberty, and I have the consolation to believe that if the sound heads and hearts of our country unite, that effort will be crowned with success.”
Morris considered the declaration of war with England as nothing short of madness. “It is needful, perhaps,” he wrote to Mr. Oliver, of Baltimore, on July 9th, “to complete the guilt of those by whom this country has so long been misgoverned; and it opens to a scene more important, according to my conception, than any presidential or congressional election. The people of this State are in general averse to the war—the federalists almost without exception, the democrats with hardly any other exception than office-holders, office-hunters, Jacobin mob, and the bankrupts in fame and fortune. New England, taken in mass, is of similar temper and opinion. The public mind is preparing for a course of northern policy which will, I believe, take for its rallying point the question of negro representation. It is unlucky that this question should have a tendency to throw Maryland into the southern district and make the Susquehanna our frontier: not that the Northern States have any desire to exclude their commercial sister, but that the pride of your State may throw her into the arms of Virginia. To be forewarned is to be forearmed; and on no occasion can the proverb more aptly apply than on the present. If you take this question up among yourselves and advance, on your own conviction, the unreasonableness of the constitutional apportionment, it would have the double effect of conciliating our friendship now and of enabling you to take with dignity hereafter the step which your interest may require. Pennsylvania is at present favorable to that southern faction which hopes to engage passion on its side in the course of hostilities; but the geographical position of Pennsylvania must determine her course of conduct. I cannot bear the idea that so fine a city as Philadelphia should be on the frontier.
“It is possible, after all, that we shall never have but electioneering squabbles. As to a federal candidate, there is as yet no likelihood that he could be carried; neither do I think it would be wise to make the attempt, even if certain of success. Let the present party carry on their war, and to that effect lay their taxes. Let a vain people writhe under the tyranny of their loving friends. Such blockheads are neither worthy of nor fit for a free government. Witness your riotous rascals in Baltimore, and the greater rascals there and elsewhere, who wickedly prompt or quietly behold or basely applaud such outrage. Rely on it, my dear sir, that those who expect to bring men right by reasoning pay an unmerited compliment to human nature. A nation must suffer severely before it can be reformed. The Jewish history contains a clear explanation of that great riddle—man. Make him a slave, you make him humble and base—a scoundrel; make him a democrat, you make him proud, ungrateful—a rascal; make him subjected to just laws and a wise administration, work hard and live moderately, you make him industrious, virtuous, happy—a good husband, a good father, a good citizen.”
Again, in August and September, in letters to Mr. Robert Oliver, of Baltimore, he spoke in the same strain of the coming presidential election. Who should be the next President “appears to us a minor consideration. A firm union of the Northern States is (I believe) the only means under God to preserve American freedom; whether that union will take effect is known only to Him from whom no secrets are hid. I have thought more of the preservation of the Union than about its finances, which are, it would seem, in a fair way of being destroyed. Smuggling, which was before the merchant’s interest, is now in appearance, if not in reality, his duty; for the war declared against England seems to be carried on against him. I think that we of the North will have peace, at any rate; whether that peace will produce civil war is a serious problem. I refer it to Pennsylvania rather than to Mr. Madison, because, tracing effects to probable causes, I am forced to doubt whether he possesses free agency.”
To Benjamin Morgan he wrote in August: “There are here a very few people who affect to believe the loose assurances, given in Mr. Madison’s gazette, that he will make a treaty with France. According to my conception of the subject, he has no longer the power of choice. He must make, if he has not already made, a French alliance. To violate it, if concluded, or refuse, under present circumstances, to conclude it will throw him unfriended on the world. His fortune and his fate are at stake. Those who know him best consider him as full of French feelings; but, without stopping to examine his sentiments, which are of little moment, his situation is such that he must go on. But, you will say, if that be so, how can Pennsylvania put him right? I answer, by such an imposing mass of physical force as will, if driven into act, beat him, his counsellors, agents, and abettors to dust. In that case, no exercise of force will be needful. The slave States will not dare to hazard their existence on a question which would involve to us a little inconvenience, to them their utter destruction. They are already divided on the war. You may rely on this, I think, that we Northern folks will not submit to a French alliance; neither will we continue the war with England, unless, indeed, she should exact dishonorable terms of peace.’
In Morris’s opinion there was but one consistent course to be pursued in relation to the war with Great Britain then carrying on, which was to insist that England should, without compensation, give up her claim to the right of search. If that ground,” he said, “be taken an awful question will arise in some States: Shall they submit to Congress or to God? Both will be impossible, for the war will then be confessedly, as it is now impliedly, unjust.”
“Why not,” he wrote to the Honorable Lewis B. Sturges, February 9, 1813, “waiving flippant debate, lay down the broad principle of national right on which Great Britain takes her native seamen from our merchant-ships? Let those who deny the right pay, suffer, and fight to compel an abandonment of the claim. Men of sound mind will see, and men of sound principle will acknowledge, its existence. But, the right established, a law to resist the exercise is iniquitous. If, on the contrary, it be admitted that no such right exists, we, of necessary consequence, have a right to naturalize British seamen and protect them against all the world in our merchant-ships. But that right established, a law to bind the Legislature from using it (provided always that a legislature could be so bound) would be a surrender of our sovereignty. . . . Territory may be given, taken, or parcelled out, but right is entire, and must be wholly kept or lost. To its full support national honor is pledged. Under these views of the subject, it is not easy to perceive how men of clear head and sound heart can support the bill. . . . In the case before us the bill, giving up by implication the claim of right, may, when combined with the manifold disgraces of our jack-pudding warfare, be considered as a project to silence by quibbles the fire of seventy-fours. The American people cannot fail to suspect a design to plunge them, by engaging their passions, both in follies and crimes for the notable purpose of gathering soap-bubbles. The day of delusion is past. They who were pre-eminent in the Revolutionary War gave practical lessons of disinterested patriotism. Disdaining professions, they prepared the way for gentlemen professors.”
Morris had no faith in the new loan proposed by the Government. “I would not,” he wrote to Robert Oliver, February 13th, “take it at twenty per cent. discount and ten per cent. interest, for I am of opinion that it will never be paid. If there be a severance of the Union, we in the North won’t pay it. The South can’t pay, and wouldn’t pay if they could. Smuggling has already got far ahead, and, with the increase of duties, must advance, so that we never shall collect as much in that way as was once collected. Duties on exports are, you know, prohibited. The question, therefore, is short. Will they agree to internal taxes for payment of the public debt who will not even propose such taxes to carry on the war. In my opinion they will not, and they have a majority in the Senate, which majority will be increased by new States whenever the dominant party foresee the want of them. Professions will not be wanting now, but those who trust to professions from that quarter deserve to suffer. Of such men it may be said, ‘If they believe not Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe, though one should rise from the dead’—Madison’s proclamation.
“Bonaparte is, I have no doubt, ruined. Long before the first report of the Russian success I had fixed, in my little circle, the 20th of October for his departure from Moscow. I believe the varlet was off a day sooner than I supposed he could have taken the needful arrangements for so long a march. I believed and said he would endeavor to gain Cracow and cross the mountains so as to winter at Prague, the capital of Bohemia. If he save a remnant of fifty to eighty thousand, and reach Warsaw, he is not the less ruined. God grant that those who trusted in him and his patron-saint Beelzebub may with him meet their deserts.”
On the 4th of March Mr. Madison entered upon his second term of office. Of his inaugural address Morris wrote to Mr. Parish, on March 6th: “When I read Mr. Madison’s message I supposed him to be out of his senses, and have since been told that he never goes sober to bed. Whether intoxicated by opium or wine was not said, but I learned last winter that pains in his teeth had driven him to use the former too freely. The administration can do nothing, if the British ministers be not crazy too, for these cannot but know how impossible it is for us to prosecute the war. Of course, their reply to our overtures is, ‘We will consider.’”
Again to Mr. Parish he wrote on the 26th: “I was asked, ‘Do you believe that Mr. Madison has accepted the proffered mediation of Russia?’ I replied, ‘If it was offered, it was accepted.’ The question was then put, ‘How does this accord with your idea that Mr. Madison means to continue the war?’ ‘Perfectly; for, if he did not, he would have declined a mediation which tends to delay. England wishes peace, so that, if Mr. Madison wished it too, the treaty might be made in half an hour. But he does not.’ I was again asked, ‘Suppose he should declare, in the most solemn and confidential manner, his earnest desire for peace?’ ‘I should believe as much of it as I did of his proclamation. As to the loan, I think men in their senses will not take it at any price. A federalist, whose vote may in any wise support this war would be guilty of more than treason. It would be an act of impiety as well as treachery.’ ‘But suppose Mr. Gallatin should be able to demonstrate as clearly as any proposition in Euclid that the President means to make peace, what would you say to him?’ I would say, ‘Sir, your conversation has delighted me. I am now convinced that the President’s present intentions are honest, and, lest he should change his mind, I will use my endeavors to prevent him from borrowing one dollar. With money he may make peace, without it he must. But I hope you will excuse me if I talk no further, for I must immediately set my broker at work to purchase old stock.’”
In a very long and exhaustive dissertation, dated April 5th, to his nephew David B. Ogden, on the war, and the honest opposition that, in his opinion, should be made to Madison’s loan, he gave it as his opinion that,
“This war was declared by the honorable members representing inland States, under the pretext of protecting commerce and seamen, but for the avowed purpose of conquering Canada, and with the obvious intention of scattering millions among their constituents. Indeed, to this intention alone can be traced measures whose absurdity and extravagance are clear as the noonday sun. Our opponents insist that the war is just, but they declare that we must impose taxes and defray the expenses. Permit me here to ask whether the worthy eight per cent patriots who are about to lend rely on these honest, non-taxing gentlemen for payments. If they do, and are not deceived, we must submit and contribute in spite of our teeth, should the Union endure. But, according to my old-fashioned way of reasoning, founded on the vulgar notions that lambs can’t eat foxes nor pigeons catch hawks, these honest gentlemen will not impose taxes, and, of course, those worthy patriots, consoling themselves with the honor of this deed, must forego the profit, unless we step in to their aid. Must we, then, for the sake of such excellent patriots, lay heavy direct taxes to pay usurious interest on enormous sums extravagantly squandered in the prosecution of what we consider an unjust war?
“We hold this war in the same abhorrence which the Quakers do every war, and they refuse to pay war taxes; and the only question is whether we may do that indirectly which we ought not to do directly. We are bound to pay only just debts, or, to speak more accurately, that is no debt which was not justly contracted. To resume the common mode of speech, can that be a just debt which is contracted for support of an unjust war? In the language of Holy Writ, ‘Thou shalt not do evil that good may come of it.’ I am, moreover, persuaded that the best mode of securing pecuniary aid for just purposes is to withhold payment of what has been advanced for an object manifestly unjust. It would lead too far, besides leading us astray, to develop the ground of this opinion. The debt now contracting by Messrs. Madison & Co. is void, being founded in moral wrong of which the lenders were well apprised. Should they hereafter plead ignorance, let them be told it was a vincible, and therefore an inexcusable ignorance.”
Morris seemed always to fear disastrous consequences from a too great extension of the domain of the United States and, writing of this question, on April 29th, to Harrison Gray Otis,∗ he says: “Even as early as 1776, I frankly acknowledge that I began to be alarmed for this vast territory and the difference of our habits and social state. I acknowledge, also, that when the ultimatum for a treaty of peace was under consideration I opposed insisting on a cession of the Western wilderness, and expressed the wish that some other nation might people it, and, by the pressure of foreign force, restrain our domestic feuds. Since that period it has appeared to me desirable, however, that the undue extent of our territory should be still more extended, so that the evil might work its own cure. In framing our national Constitution we were not all blind to its defects, but none of us, I believe, expected they would bear fruit so soon and so bitter. We shall, I humbly hope, have reason to return thanks hereafter that we are brought thus early into a condition which, properly improved, may produce a better political organization. I will, moreover, acknowledge that, ever since the commencement of Mr. Jefferson’s administration, I have looked forward to our present misery as the means of securing our national liberty. It was my anxious wish .to produce a union with the Eastern States, and I have suffered much to see that that cunning faction kept us so widely apart. Time, my dear sir, seems about to disclose the awful secret that commerce and domestic slavery are mortal foes; and, bound together, one must destroy the other. I cannot blame Southern gentlemen for striving to put down commerce, because commerce, if it survives, will, I think, put them down, supposing always the Union to endure.
“The signal victories of Russia demand our thanks to Almighty God, by whose providence they are ordered. The excellence of the Russian troops, founded on the physical and moral qualities of the people, is a matter generally understood; but there is another matter which seems not to have been so generally acknowledged. The plan of campaign and the execution of it appear to me superior, in what is usually called generalship, to anything of the kind since the war began. Bonaparte met with a master in that on which he had most reason to pride himself—military skill. His every movement was evidently prescribed by Marshal Koutouzow. He would not take the road to Petersburg because, leaving his enemy in the rear, he would have been deprived of his subsistence. After he entered Moscow the position taken by his enemy, on the southwest of that city, put it out of his power to retreat by Cracow into Bohemia. I had imagined this route for him, and fixed on the 20th of October for his departure; but he was, it seems, so nimble as to get off the 19th. Had he been victorious in the battle from which he ran away, it would have facilitated his retreat and saved great part of his army for a while. But Koutouzow’s measures seem to have been so well taken that the ruin would only have been delayed; and let it, by the way, be remarked that in the Russian retreat. from Poland to Moscow no corps of any consequence was materially injured, which, on so long a line as they occupied, is almost miraculous. The future conduct of the war is comparatively an A B C business; but if managed by the same general, this campaign must be decisive. God grant that timid ministers do not mar the work which is now in such good train. The French troops will abandon Spain as soon as they can cross the Pyrenees. Whether the Spaniards and Portuguese will carry their arms into France is doubtful, for although sound policy would pursue that course, the weakness which some folks call prudence may dictate a different idea. The American friends of Bonaparte look on with anxious terror. May it, like that of the Russian campaign, tend to their confusion.”
“Accept my thanks for your King’s speech to both Houses,” Mr. Morris wrote to the Honorable Lewis B. Sturges, December 17th, 1813. “A more extraordinary thing of the sort I never saw nor heard of. It begins by telling you that he sent negotiators to treat under a mediation which the enemy had not accepted of, but which he took it for granted they would accept of because the rights and pretensions of neither party were to be submitted to the mediator’s decision. On what, then, are the parties at bloody issue? Living in my chimney-corner, the buzz of political speculations by those who ‘ropes of sand can twist’ seldom reaches my ears, and never affects those dictates of plain common-sense which I prefer to nice distinctions. As I never had a doubt, so I thought it a duty to express my conviction that British ministers would not, dared not, submit to mediation a question of essential right; that in such questions one party or the other must give up the point, and that on the present occasion the American Government must submit to that humiliating condition. I did not then believe, neither do I now believe, that the Emperor offered his mediation, but that it was solicited by our administration. I did believe, and do believe, that they had neither the expectation, the hope, nor even the wish that it should produce peace. It appeared to me a mere stock-jobbing trick, and such it will, I am persuaded, turn out. But in every point of view the nation is openly and deeply disgraced. I pretend not to know, nor will I waste a conjecture on, the objects or motives which are concealed, but, assuming facts of public notoriety, it is clear and cannot be contradicted that war was declared with petulant precipitation, prosecuted with prodigal extravagance, and conducted with egregious folly; that the President, after rejecting an armistice, repeatedly proffered, sent a brace of agents to beg, in the northeastern corner of Europe, that peace which he might have had in five minutes without crossing the threshold of his palace. Can anyone be surprised that Bonaparte should, under such circumstances, direct his man Serrurier to insult him? Whatever may be the Emperor’s faults, he has the feelings of a soldier. It becomes him, therefore, to tell us, ‘If you mean war fight fairly, if you mean peace seek it frankly, but out upon this half-faced fellowship.’
“I beg pardon, my dear sir, for making any remarks on this inconceivably debasing act. If I were not persuaded that, by a speedy separation of the States, the loathsome burden of ignominy will be cast from our shoulders, I should be deeply mortified; as it is, I am rather amused by the mixture of—fill the blank with anything but wisdom and truth.”
[∗]George Clinton, born, July 26, 1739; died, April 20, 1812, was a member of the Continental Congress in 1775, and held the office of Governor of the State of New York for eighteen years. In 1804 he was elected Vice-President of the United States, and was one of the prominent candidates for nomination to the Presidency in 1808.
[∗]Harrison Gray Otis, was chairman of a committee which in 1814 reported in favor of calling a convention of the New England States at Hartford to consider the best mode of redressing the grievances inflicted on those States by the war with Great Britain. In his later years he strongly opposed the anti-slavery movement. Born at Boston, October 8, 1765, he died there, October 28, 1848.