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CHAPTER XLIX. - 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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Letter to L. B. Sturges. Conclusions drawn from Lord Castlereagh’s correspondence. Suggests calling a convention to consult on the state of the nation. The coast blockaded. America has no ships. European peace. Morris pronounces an oration to celebrate the restoration of the Bourbons. Commissioners at Ghent. British treaty. The finances. Letter to Rufus King on the negotiations with Great Britain. Alarming prospect of increased taxation. Letter to Timothy Pickering.
The diary contains no mention of any overtures made to Morris relative to the mission to St. Petersburg; but, referring to the subject in a letter to Mr. L. B. Sturges, dated at Morrisania, January 17th, he says:
“To the question, ‘Would you have gone on the mission to St. Petersburg?’ I reply, it must have depended on the idea that I could render there essential service to my country. But the administration could not easily have convinced me of this, or, indeed, of anything involving a faith in their candor. For the rest, I do not believe (though it is difficult to know one’s self) that I am a halfway character, and trust I shall always be true to my friends.
“The President has, I see, grumblingly accepted the offer of direct negotiation at Göttenburg. It is lucky Lord Castlereagh did not happen to mention Pekin. The acceptance, however, such as it is, seems to me an abandonment of the ground on which he waged their hopeful war. I conjecture, from Mr. Monroe’s epistle, there is a split in the party—some willing, others unwilling to treat. Might it not, in their case, be well so to laugh at and torment them as that some doughty champion of Irish deserters (my friend Wright, for instance) should be stimulated to propose a resolution that, ‘In the opinion of the House of Representatives, it is inconsistent with national honor to abandon our naturalized citizens; wherefore no treaty for peace or truce ought to be held with Great Britain unless she acknowledges, as a preliminary, that the naturalized citizens are entitled to the same respect and protection as the natural-born citizens of the United States.’ Any such proposition must be adopted, rejected, or indefinitely postponed, or put to rest by the previous question. In the first case we know our cue, and in the other the gentlemen Jacobins will become a house divided against itself. Excuse the suggestion. I will not have the additional temerity of dilating on it.”
The conclusions which Morris had drawn from Lord Castlereagh’s correspondence were confirmed by a letter which he received in January from Rufus King, at Washington. In answering this letter (January 31st) he said:
“Your favor of the 26th confirms my opinion respecting the conduct which Britain will pursue. I have said, on that subject, more than a year ago, that if her ministers act otherwise they deserve to be hanged here and damned hereafter. I will now tell you that I considered the flag with Lord Castlereagh’s letter as full proof of what your letter contains. It speaks the language of the Lord to the ocean, ‘So far shalt thou go, and no farther.’
“Your sentiments of our rulers are just. I ask a serious question: What chance is there of better rulers if the Union be preserved? When you have turned that well over in your mind, consider the other: What chance is there that better rulers could do better and not forfeit the support of the many-headed monster whose barkings annoy us from the head of Kennebeck to the mouth of the Mississippi.”
That the General Government would exert themselves to frustrate the project of inland navigation in New York Morris seemed convinced, to judge from the following letter to his nephew, David B. Ogden, February 11th, referring to the attempts made at Albany to repeal that part of the law which enabled the commissioners to make a loan. “In my opinion,” he wrote, “it is merely an attack upon the outwork, by those who mean to prevent the making of a canal. It is the result of an intrigue by the General Government to keep New York down. Moreover, they apprehend that the friends of the canal will eventually acquire too much weight among the Western people, and there is still a latent wish to bring about a separation of our State. While the war lasts we can’t borrow money in Europe, and if it lasts much longer there will be no borrowing either at home or abroad, for we shall have neither credit nor means. The question to be settled between the Northern and Southern States, reduced to its simple elements, is merely this: Shall the citizens of New York be the slaves or masters of Virginia? To develop this idea is not needful just now. Those motives which prompt statesmen are not sufficiently strong to actuate the general mass. Your friends were enough their own friends to be stanch; we should take that lead which, as it is, we must follow. But the end we shall arrive at is the same in gross, though the fruit posterity will gather may not be so sweet as if their fathers had the courage to plant good trees.
“I say, the end we shall reach is the same. New England will, I presume, meet in convention and cast off the shackles of our National Government. If so, and if they are not idiots, the first step will be to take possession of our city. I ask, then, will the inhabitants fight to support the Congress and their embargo against free trade, New England, and old England? I believe not. If they should, they will do a great favor to New England; for the sale of confiscated houses, ships, and stores will defray the expense of a campaign. New York in possession of the patriots, will those who dwell east of the Hudson River fight for Virginia? I doubt it; but of this I am sure, that the battle could not be long. If five thousand men from Connecticut march into New York by the middle of June, the Fourth of July will be celebrated east of the Hudson without one solitary toast to the Union. All this must strike the mind of any man who thinks on the subject for a few minutes, and in the most cursory manner. It only remains, therefore, to inquire what will those do who live west of the Hudson; for, turn the matter as you please, you must come at last to this simple question, Where shall the boundary be? Shall it be on the Hudson, the Delaware, the Susquehanna, or the Potomac? I doubt the last, and am certain it cannot be the first. Mr. Madison’s adherents may pledge life, fortune, and what by the prostitution of language they call their sacred honor, at factious meetings and savage festivals, but, if ever this pledge be redeemed in this State, you may have my skin to cover a drum. British troops coming in on one side, and Yankee troops on the other, let but the Indian yell his war-whoop, and his excellency, our excellent governor, will not collect a regiment to cover the retreat. Shall, then, the boundary be on or near the Delaware or the Susquehanna? It is not yet the time or place to discuss that matter. What I have said is sufficient to show that our course is not left to our choice. Under these circumstances, and putting on one side those considerations of duty, patriotism, and honor which will direct good men under every circumstance, what will prudence dictate? I conceive that prudence will point out the propriety of sending delegates to the Congress that we may have some voice in the business, and not be bought and sold like silly sheep. But it will be said: We will do this with all our hearts, if we could take with us a majority of both Houses. And, pray, what would that majority do which you cannot do, saving an appropriation to pay the delegates? A political organization of some sort or other must, in the nature of things, be formed, so as to express a general will. And when matters come to the issue of force, superior force and skill must, under the Divine direction, prevail. But I hear some of the brethren exclaim, ‘O Lord! O Lord! why, this is civil war!’ Unquestionably it is civil war. And what of it? Kind souls, could you, by weeping and wailing and the gnashing of your teeth, prevent civil war it might be safe, if not wise, to weep and wail. But Eastern patriots will not ask your permission to defend their rights, and, however much you may be disposed to cushion yourselves in your easy chairs, the prick of the Yankee bayonet will make you skip like squirrels. That, you say, may be, but, having no agency, we shall not be exposed to the wrath of government, and may, in every supposable event, plead our neutrality. Truly, gentlemen, a most excellent plea. It has, however, the defect of exposing you to ruin, let which side will prevail. I believe, with Butler, that ‘he that complies against his will is of the same opinion still.’ It is not, therefore, in the hope to convert such prudent men that I have scribbled over so much paper. Forty years ago I was acquainted with their predecessors, who have long since been reduced to beggary. This event I regret, and would have prevented if I could, but it is, easier to foresee and foretell than to direct or control events.”
Very sceptical that peace would grow out of the Göttenburg mission, and not having any faith in the efficacy of “those mystic words which some gentlemen seem much to rely on, ‘Saving to the parties their respective rights, etc.’” Morris declared, in a letter to Mr. Sturges, February 12th, that if he were a British minister he never would admit them into the treaty. “The way to peace is open and clear. Let the right of search and impressment be acknowledged as maxims of public law, and leave them to say how the exercise of the latter right shall be restricted between two nations speaking the same language. I am morally certain that the stipulations they propose, as reciprocal, will be safe and satisfactory to us and the universe.
“I have not been surprised at the fall of Bonaparte. In the Senate, speaking on Ross’s motions,∗ I hailed Bonaparte as first of the Gallic Cæsars, and said, ‘The moment he fails he falls.’ I stood alone in the opinion that the patriots of Spain and Portugal would succeed. I have repeatedly told my friends the world would be surprised to find the destruction of French power more rapid than the acquisition. I fixed on the 20th of October for Bonaparte to retreat from Moscow, as the commencement of his ruin. He got the start of me two days. I had no difficulty in predicting not only the result of this campaign, but the manner in which it would be effected. At the same time, I do Napoleon the justice to say it was ably conducted on his part, both as a statesman and a soldier. By taking post early and in force on the Elbe, he was no further back in November than he would otherwise have been in June. He had, moreover, the chance of victory, and his efforts to obtain it were skilful and frequent. He doubtless saw the course which Austria would pursue, and which my poor friend Moreau could not believe when I urged it, in conversation with him and Mr. Parish shortly before he sailed for Europe. To be in force near Bohemia was the only means in Napoleon’s power to keep his father-in-law quiet, and would have been effectual had the thing been practicable. True it is that, by fighting so far from home, he risked more complete ruin. But even now, notwithstanding his discomfiture, he will, I believe, be saved; not, indeed, by his own force, but by the interest of his enemies, or the greater part of them, in his preservation. This interest he understands as well as they do, and therefore his game seemed more desperate than it was in reality. I will not repeat here what I said some time since in a letter to my friend Mr. King, because I dislike repetition. Neither have I dwelt on my former opinions to gain credit as a prophet, but to show my reliance on the Almighty.”
Morris spoke of himself this winter, in a letter to Mr. Oliver, of Baltimore, as somewhat of a nurse,∗ “and, what is worse, not infrequently in a condition to be nursed; but neither my maladies nor my occupations have made me abandon my friends. I shall not, however, be surprised that they abandon me, in the persuasion that I am good for nothing. I never, in my best days, could do the good I wished, because I never could make my anticipations clear to my own mind, so evident to others as to obtain their full belief, much less their firm reliance. There are two instances of this in your knowledge: my conviction that Spain would be liberated from the yoke of France, and that our caution not to designate Mr. Clinton by name would do more harm than good in Pennsylvania.”
In the spring of 1814 Morris opened to his nephew, Mr. David B. Ogden, an idea of which he was strongly in favor—that of calling together a convention of delegates from the counties of New York, to consult on the state of the nation. He recommended that Ogden should get the “ear of a committee of the whole House, and then draw, in its own hideousness, a picture of our administration; show their folly, their falsehood, their tyranny; show the fatal consequences which must follow from their conduct; show the impossibility that we should be otherwise than oppressed while they have the power and the will to oppress; show that the power will be perpetuated by negro votes and Louisiana States; show that this will result from what they conceive to be their interest. Their hostility is demonstrated by continuing a war without colorable pretext or attainable object, because it exposes our seaboard to plunder, and this State in particular to general devastation. Display the power of Great Britain, rendering to her that justice which those who celebrate the success of the Allies have timidly withheld. Dare to hold her up, as she deserves, to general admiration as the shield of mankind against the oppressor’s sword, as the nourishing nurse of nations, as pouring out her treasure and her blood for their independence. Then hang up our masters on the horns of this dilemma: If they were ignorant of the British power while she was beating her enemy, both by land and by sea, at every point of contact, they are too stupid to manage the concerns of a counting-house, much less to control the destinies of a nation. If they knew it, then have they wickedly betrayed their trust; then have they wantonly engaged in a contest big with ruin; then have they incurred public loss to pocket private gain. They have done so corruptly, for it is not conceivable that men should, by declaring war against the most powerful nation on earth, without just cause or plausible excuse, expose their country to the certain waste of blood and treasure, the certain loss of commercial wealth, the certain injury of landed property, the certain defeat of every expectation which cunning could excite or folly cherish, the probable loss of territory, and the imminent danger of dismemberment—it is not conceivable that men should make such outrageous sacrifice of moral duty and honorable sentiment, without some secret reliance, some hidden reason, some private reward. Having made the proper impressions, get up a strong report, and let it close with recommending to the people (not the friends of peace alone) a choice of delegates in the several counties to a State convention, modestly declaring that, although it might have been more expedient to appoint delegates now to meet those of other States, yet, as the authority was not expressly conferred, you conceive it more respectful to submit the whole matter to the people, etc. Fix, nevertheless, the time and place for the convention to meet, and be sure that the day be not distant, because, if near, all will choose lest they should lose their voice; but, if distant, intrigue will work on the weak, the timid, the prejudiced, the interested, and perhaps defeat your object.”
In April nearly the entire coast was blockaded. There was scarcely an American frigate on the sea. “Where, in God’s name,” wrote Morris to Rufus King, in a burst of emotion, “is all this to end? Men without talents, administering the powers of a conventional government over communities which boast of freedom, exercise a tyranny which would drive the slaves of Asia to despair, and no man is hardy enough to raise a finger. Am I awake, or do I dream? Is this the people that resisted a mere claim of arbitrary power? It seems to me I was once a member of Congress during a revolutionary war; but is it certain there was such a thing as Congress? Was there a revolutionary war? If I venture to groan aloud, I am told to be patient—to wait. And what are we to wait for? Must we wait till the claws of a human tiger tear us to pieces to look for a heart? We once had hearts—hearts that beat high with the love of liberty. But ‘tis over. Adieu! I will not plague my friends with the expression of my anguish. God bless you!”
“With you, and other good men who have a large stake in the public concern, I hope the clouds which hang over us may soon be dispelled,” Morris wrote in April to Randolph Harrison at Clifton, Va. “Perhaps,” he continued, “the repeal of the Embargo may quiet the resentment of the Eastern States, and enable the friends of union to prevent an explosion for the present; but the extent of this vast domain and the great difference of moral condition by which the inhabitants of different portions are distinguished seem to determine that, if united, we must—which God forbid—have one stern master who will view all his slaves with an equal eye, or, alternately oppressing and oppressed, as the vacillation of opinion may deposit power, be wrought up by degrees to such a rancorous enmity that separation, the result of wrath, shall be accompanied with the fiercest ferocity of civil war.
“Among the many objections to the war in which we are now engaged, and which cannot by possibility produce anything but expense and disgrace, it is not a small one that we contend with a nation speaking the same language, having the same religion, the same manners, and nearly the same laws. It is, therefore, like a civil war, and if the horrible project of murdering our prisoners because the enemy executes her traitorous subjects in our service be carried into effect, we shall soon be divested of everything which can check the savage temper of barbarous nations. If, in the midst of this, and partly because of this, the Union be broken, we of this State, whatever may be the bias of personal wishes, pressed by the double weight of New and Old England, must become a member of the Northern nation, and, of course, join in a measure which nothing short of Omnipotence could, under such circumstances, prevent. The idea of negroes, raging with lust and vengeance, gratifying their brutal appetites with rape and murder, makes me shudder as I write. I quit this horrible subject. God grant to our rulers a little common-sense.”
On Thursday, the 16th of June, the diary mentioned a large party at Mr. Gracie’s, where a plan was made for a federal celebration of the European peace settled; and on the 20th of June Morris says: “Mr. Coles and General Clarkson come to ask that I will pronounce an oration at a meeting to celebrate the restoration of the Bourbons. Promise.”
“Go, between eleven and twelve [June 29th], to a church where, after a prayer from Dr. Mason, I pronounce an oration of triumph to celebrate the downfall of Bonaparte and the restoration of the Bourbons, with the consequent peace to Europe. This oration, tolerably well written, was, in part, well delivered. The audience were well satisfied. Dine with some of them afterwards at the Washington Hall; a number of tolerable toasts; Mr. King in the chair.”
“It gives me great pleasure to learn that our friends approve of my oration,” Morris wrote to Mr. Oliver, July 18th, “but I have not the facts needful to answer your request for my opinion on the present state of things. You say that our rulers are very anxious for peace, and England should continue the war. I agree with you as to the latter point, and have no doubt that our rulers would wish to get out of the dangerous and despicable condition to which they have brought themselves and their country. Perhaps they will purchase peace by surrendering the right to fish on the banks of Newfoundland, and by ceding the Northern and Western part of this State. You say that, rather than continue to be governed by such men, you would submit to a change of government. Not knowing what change you contemplate, I cannot agree or disagree. I am not prepared to become the subject of a monarchy, for reasons too tedious to mention. The present form was good, but has been so much perverted that it can hardly be restored to what it was. If, therefore, you and other good citizens mean that posterity should inherit freedom, you must persuade yourselves not merely to permit, but to effect a change.
“Mr. Coleman is, I see, determined that we shall have peace. Our merchants, too, I am told, are well assured of peace. To oppose a peaceful world by the single voice of a gouty, one-legged old man would be too audacious, I shall therefore let my little cock-boat float along with the fleet. If we all arrive in the haven of honorable peace I will sing, ‘Oh, be joyful,’ as loudly as the best; but if we do not, I shall be neither surprised nor disappointed. Nay, if a continuance of the war would mend our political condition, I would then say, with old Simeon, ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.’ My humble and perfect reliance on God leads me to the belief, and, I may say, conviction, that this impious war will not only destroy the vain hopes and expectations which led to the declaration of it, but, severely scourging the authors and abettors, rescue the nation from the despotism of democracy. Whether this will be effected by severing our political union or remoulding our political organization is what I cannot discover. The former seems more probable than the latter. But whither am I going? I meant to confine my letter to the first few paragraphs.”
It was not until August, and after the United States Commissioners to the Peace Convention at Ghent had been waiting long and impatiently, that Great Britain sent commissioners to treat with them. By October the substance of the negotiations had reached Morris through the Honorable William Wells, and on the 17th he gave Mr. Wells his views on the message as follows:
“I am to acknowledge, and am much obliged by, your communication of the late message respecting the negotiations of Ghent. I find that many good men of both parties are exceedingly wroth on this occasion. I have not heard your sentiments, but can say, in the words of Mr. Addison, ‘Marcus, I know thy generous temper well. Throw but the appearance of dishonor on it, it straightway takes fire and mounts into a blaze.’ I fear there has been a little too much blazing on this occasion. Our friends should always bear it in mind that they have to deal with a crafty administration which will, if possible, bring them to commit themselves by rash declarations.
“As to the first point, slightly mentioned by the British commissioners, a clear, explicit acknowledgment of the right they contend for ought to be made; and the article being, of course, reciprocal, let them contrive such modification of the exercise as will suit them when we are at war and they neuter. As to their sine qua non,∗ it seems to me that, if their wilderness be included as well as ours, the article cannot affect our honor. Will it affect our interest? Certainly not, for half a century; and long, very long before that time, the question will be merged in others which must rise out of the ever varying state of human affairs. The British ministers have, it seems, discovered, in the commencement of the nineteenth century, that our copper-colored brothers are human beings, and as such embraced by the provisions of public law. Take care, my good friend, that they do not make a similar discovery respecting our ebony-colored brethren.
“I wish they had been asked how far they expected their jurisdiction to extend over the fishing ground, and especially whether it includes the Great Bank. The privilege of taking fish on their coast and drying it on their shores is, I believe, of little moment to us. It would be wise to stipulate that neither party should have ships of war on the lakes nor forts on their shores. Both are an idle and useless expense. If they had there forty ships of the line and a dozen Gibraltars, we could with great ease take Canada.
“As to the alteration of boundary, in which, without meaning it, they are to gain an extent of territory, I think a cession of the triangle between the head of Lake Superior, the head of the Mississippi, and the Lake of the Woods can do no harm. But their claim to navigate the Mississippi, on which they do not possess a foot of land, should be resisted, and admitted only on condition that they permit us to navigate the St. Lawrence; not that I would give much for this privilege, but urge it as a matter of reciprocity, so as to put them in the wrong if they refuse. Lastly, it would, I think, be wise to give them the northeast corner of Maine, if they will give Massachusetts an equivalent on the sea-coast. It seems to me that our commissioners had better say nothing about the two points they have started. Let questions of blockade be settled by the great powers. Those which regard compensation for damages are already settled by the war. It cannot be expected that either party will pay money to obtain peace.
“We are on stilts as to the British arrogance and audacity in proposing terms to which we cannot listen without disgrace. The Indians, it is said, belong to us. The pope, you know, once divided the world, without suspecting it to be round, between their Faithful and Catholic Majesties, granting the East to one and the West to another. The Spanish and Portuguese met and quarrelled, and the King of France, being interrogated as to his notions, asked for a copy of Adam’s will. The Indians, it seems, belong to us, because Great Britain ceded to us the land on which they live; but whether her right was derived from Adam or St. Peter does not appear. At any rate, the Indians passed with the soil, and we acquired an incontestable right to hunt them like deer and take what was their country and what, according to the principles of public law, is still their country, if they be, as they pretend, human creatures.”
The condition of the finances Morris considered at this moment “remediable;” “but they will,” he wrote Mr. Rufus King, October 18th, “soon be desperate. In reply to your question, ‘What is to be done?’ I answer, decidedly and without the slightest hesitation, refuse supplies of every sort. Should the Grand Seignior ask for men and money to invade Persia, you would tell him we want both to defend ourselves. Tell Mr. Madison the same thing, and let him show what interest we have in the conquest of Persia or Canada. There is, thank God, good sense in Massachusetts. Should the rest of New England join her, I shall have hopes for my country.
“In answer to your questions, I feel myself bound in duty and honor to declare that anything like a pledge by federalists to carry on this wicked war strikes a dagger to my heart. Whoever shall utter a word of that sort will repent it. The passions of honest men are played on by contrivers who laugh at their credulity. How often, in the name of God, how often, will you agree to be cheated? What are you to gain by giving Mr. Madison men and money? Has he not told you distinctly that he will not defend you? How are you to defend yourselves, when you have parted with the means? If you go on at the present rate you will, in six months, be incapable of exertion; for you wage war at an expense which no nation can bear. Patriotism is one thing, but food is another, and though patriotism may turn out soldiers it cannot buy bread. As to any protestations you may make, after giving men and money, they are mere words; and, put them in whatever form you may, they will make no more impression than mere wind. If you withhold supplies, your opponents will call you enemies of your country. And what of that? These, also, are mere words—hard words, if you please, but they break no bones. Withhold supplies and they hate, but grant supplies and they despise you.”
“I have never believed that the enemy intended to attack New York. If he should, he will, I think, carry it, and, covering his flanks with his ships, the fortifications you have raised and which he may avoid will serve him much better than they can serve you. But cui bono? what will they gain by it? Or cui damno? what will we lose by it? The expedition, unless connected with a strong party in the Eastern States, would be, if successful, useless, if unsuccessful, pernicious to them; in all events, of little consequence to us, and therefore a piece of folly on their part. I have always supposed that their main effort would be in the Chesapeake, and not seriously commenced until the sickly season is over. The conquest of Louisiana, which will doubtless form a part of their plan, cannot require so great a force as that under Lord Hill. Moreover, an invasion of Virginia will operate effectually on the fate of Louisiana. An army of twenty thousand men landed at Annapolis will march without serious impediment to the Point of Florida, and oblige the country to maintain them.”
Again writing to Rufus King (November 1st) Morris spiritedly expressed his opinion of the negotiation entered into with Great Britain and the unnecessary hostility it had excited:
“The British commissioners have mentioned very slightly the alleged ground of quarrel as one which would probably make a point in the negotiation. It may be disposed of in two ways. The first and most eligible, in my opinion, is to make, on our part, a frank acknowledgment of the contested right, and then ask of them to insert such modifications in the exercise of it as the sameness of language and similarity of manners require when one of the parties may be at war and the other at peace. The second way to dispose of it, and that which the British commissioners may prefer, is to say nothing about it. This will, in effect, be a full acknowledgment on our part, and spare them the delicate task of arranging reciprocal modifications of the exercise to suit John Bull in the double hypothesis of belligerent and neuter. The publication of these instructions places the ball at the foot of our enemy, who will, of course, kick it in the manner most agreeable to him. I was surprised at the fire and fuss made about this negotiation when it was first published. Next to the folly of our rulers is the madness of our friends, who rashly pledge themselves to fight for sailors’ rights on the frontiers of Canada because, forsooth, Britain will not, abandoning her allies, sign, seal, and deliver a declaration of her own perfidy. Pray make my respectful compliments to your namesake in the House of Representatives, whose speech I have read with singular satisfaction. The pretext that, if we do not grant supplies, we shall be conquered and colonized, is so futile that I wonder to hear it from men of sense. This nation is not to be conquered by twenty or thirty thousand soldiers; neither would our independence be at all endangered though a more powerful army should march from Maine to Georgia, and from Georgia to Maine.
“Your scheme of finance will not answer. The people are unable to pay such heavy taxes in real money, and the general interest to depreciate your paper will take effect, notwithstanding the struggles of moneyed men. The project of putting a world on an elephant’s back, to stand on a tortoise, and he on nothing, will have the success to be expected from so rational a device: immediate peace or the destruction of money capital. Take your choice. As to Mr. Monroe’s sixty thousand conscriptive men in Kendal green, and with his forty thousand in buckram, they are worthy of Mr. Dallas’s bank-stock. Your enemy will not be deceived by such a paper machinery of force and finance, but pursue his plans of hostility with a confidence of ultimate success. An union of the commercial States, to take care of themselves—leaving the war, its expense, and its debt to those choice spirits so ready to declare and so eager to carry it on—seems to be now the only rational course.
To the Honorable Timothy Pickering, Morris wrote (November 1st) of the alarming prospect of increased taxation: “I see now that we are to be taxed beyond our means and subjected to military conscription. Those measures are devised and pursued by the gentle spirits who, for more than twenty years, have lavished on Britain the bitterest vulgarity of Billingsgate because she impressed her seamen for self-defence, and have shed a torrent of crocodile tears over the poor of that country, crushed, as they pretend, by oppressive taxes to gratify royal ambition. Nevertheless, this waste of men and money, neither of which can be squeezed out of our attenuated States, is proposed for the conquest of Canada. And thus, after swearing and forswearing, backward and forward, about free trade and sailors’ rights, till their fondest adherents had grown giddy, and after publishing their willingness to abandon every former pretext, the administration boldly avow that, although we are so simple as to call this a war of defence, it is still, on their part, a war of conquest.”
A request from Mr. Pickering for some history of Morris’s personal labors in the convention which formed the Constitution elicited the following letter, referring his questioner to “some gentlemen who, I was told, passed their evenings in transcribing speeches from short-hand minutes of the day; they can speak positively in matters of which I have little recollection. All which I can now do is to ask myself what I should do were the question started anew; for, in all probability, what I should now do is what I then did, my sentiments and opinions having undergone no essential change in forty years.
“Propositions to countenance the issue of paper money, and the consequent violation of contracts, must have met with all the opposition I could make. But, my dear sir, what can a history of the Constitution avail towards interpreting its provisions? This must be done by comparing the plain import of the words with the general tenor and object of the instrument. That instrument was written by the fingers which write this letter. Having rejected redundant and equivocal terms, I believed it to be as clear as our language would permit; excepting, nevertheless, a part of what relates to the judiciary. On that subject, conflicting opinions had been maintained with so much professional astuteness that it became necessary to select phrases which, expressing my own notions, would not alarm others nor shock their self-love; and, to the best of my recollection, this was the only part which passed without cavil.
“But, after all, what does it signify that men should have a written constitution containing unequivocal provisions and limitations? The legislative lion will not be entangled in the meshes of a logical net. It will always make the power which it wishes to exercise, unless it be so organized as to contain within itself the sufficient check. Attempts to restrain it from outrage by other means will only render it more outrageous. The idea of binding legislators by oaths is puerile. Having sworn to exercise the powers granted, according to their true intent and meaning, they will, when they feel a desire to go further, avoid the shame, if not the guilt, of perjury, by swearing the true intent and meaning to be, according to their comprehension, that which suits their purpose. It is too late to examine the nature of treasury notes. Their race is run. Your new bank is a new folly. Your taxes will not sustain your system. Paper money will issue and plunge you still deeper in distress. All the schemes hitherto proposed are inefficient. Do not ask me why, for I will not discuss a subject which is no longer of importance. When the North and the East cast off the old form, if the new one they put on be good, they shall not suffer on the score of finance.
“I think it useless also to discuss the discussions of your negotiation, which has kept the quidnuncs gaping for so many months. Indeed, it might seem invidious in one who has been a member of our diplomacy. There is no lack of genius and invention in our ministers. They may, however, be taught by experience that it is easier to write an epigrammatic epistle than to succeed in the transaction of great business. I thought the enemy’s first overture should have been seized. I saw nothing in it which touched our honor—nothing which impaired our interest. I speak of his sine qua non, for all the rest appeared to be a reciprocation of our own extravagance. You, who have seen the whole of our Cabinet’s instructions, can say whether my conjecture, for I have no information, is founded. It seemed to me that our negotiators had, by reason of their distance from home, a good game in hand. Had they made a treaty containing a reciprocal Indian article, declaring that, though it exceeded their instructions, they agreed to it subject to the President’s superior wisdom, it would have given him three months’ chance of contingencies.
“I care nothing now about your actings and doings. Your decree of conscriptions and your tremendous levy of contributions, which have so horribly frightened us, are alike indifferent to one whose eyes are fixed on a star in the East which he believes to be the day-spring of freedom and glory. The madmen and traitors assembled at Hartford will, I believe, if not too tame and timid, be hailed hereafter as the patriots and sages of their day and generation. May the blessing of God be upon them to inspire their councils and prosper their resolutions. If the Hartford Convention determine that no more taxes shall be paid, that no more men shall be enlisted, that no part of the new debt shall be paid by New England and her associates, that New England soldiers shall no longer bear arms against old England, and that the Eastern States, with their associates, are no longer at war; you will have, before the summer solstice, some solid ground to go upon and force the people to see, for by that time the hand of Government will have forced them to feel. In the mean time, let us control our indignation at the stupid indifference which sometimes almost runs me mad.”
[∗]Allusion is here made to the resolutions of the federalists, presented by James Ross to the Senate in 1803, on the question of the rights of the United States to the free navigation of the Mississippi River, and on the aggressive conduct of Spain.
[∗]Morris referred to the attentions exacted by his son Gouverneur, who was born at Morrisania, February 9, 1813, and was consequently just a year old at this time.
[∗]The sine qua non in the British propositions was the independence of the Indians.