hamilton to washington
New York, September 4, 1795.
Sir:—I had the pleasure of receiving, two days since, your letter of the 31st ultimo. A great press of business, and an indifferent state of health, have put it out of my power sooner to attend to it.
The incidents which have lately occurred have been in every way vexatious and untoward. They render indispensable a very serious, though calm and measured, remonstrance from this government, carrying among others this idea, that it is not sufficient that the British Government entertain toward our nation no hostile disposition; ‘t is essential that they take adequate measures to prevent those oppressions of our citizens, and of our commerce, by their officers and courts, of which there are too frequent examples, and by which we are exposed to suffer inconveniences too nearly approaching to those of a state of war. A strong expectation should be signified of the punishment of Capt. Holmes, for the attempt to violate an ambassador passing through our territory, and for the hostile and offensive menaces which he has thrown out. The dignity of our country, and the preservation of the confidence of the people in the government, require both solemnity and seriousness in these representations.
As to the negotiation for alteration in, and additions to, the treaty, I think it ought to embrace the following objects:
A new modification of the 12th article, so as to extend the tonnage, and restrain the prohibition to export from this country, to articles of the growth or production of the British islands. The more the tonnage is extended the better; but I think ninety tons would work advantageously, if nothing better could be done. I had even rather have the article with seventy, as it stood, than not at all, if the restriction on exportation is placed on the proper footing. Some of our merchants, however, think its value would be questionable at so low a tonnage as seventy. It would be also desirable that the article should enumerate the commodities which may be carried to, and brought from, the British islands. This would render it more precise and more intelligible to all.
Great Britain may have substantial security for the execution of the restriction, if it be stipulated on our side: “That a law shall be passed and continued in force during the continuance of the article, prohibiting the exportation in vessels of the United States, of any of the articles in question, if brought from British islands, on pain of forfeiture of the vessel, for wilful breach of the law; and that the same law shall provide that the regulations contained in our laws respecting drawbacks, shall be applied to all exportations in our vessels of the articles in question, to ascertain that they were imported into the United States from other than British islands, and this whether a drawback of duty is required or not by the exporter; and shall also provide that all such articles exported in our vessels from the United States, shall be expressed in the clearance, with a certificate of the collector endorsed, specifying that he has carefully examined, according to the treaty and to the law, the identity of the articles exported, and that it did bona fide appear to him that they had not been imported from any British island or islands.” This security is the greatest difficulty in the case, and would, in my opinion, be given by a provision similar to the foregoing.
It would be a very valuable alteration in the 13th article, if a right could be stipulated for the United States to go with articles taken in the British territories in India to other parts of Asia. The object of the present restriction upon us to bring them to America was, I believe, to prevent our interference with the British East India Company in the European trade in India goods. If so, there could be no objection to our having a right to carry commodities from the British territories to other parts of Asia. But if all this latitude cannot be obtained, it would be a great point gained to have a right to carry them thence to China. It is a usual and beneficial course of the trade to go from the United States to Bombay, and take in there a freight for Canton, purchase at the last place a cargo of teas, etc.
It would be well if that part of the 15th article, which speaks of countervailing duties, could be so explained as to fix its sense. I am of opinion that its only practicable construction is, and ought to be, that they may lay on the exportation from their European dominions, in vessels of the United States, the same additional duty on articles which we lay on the importation of the same articles into the United States in British vessels. But the terms of the clause are vague and general, and may give occasion to set up constructions injurious and contentious.
As to the more exact equalization of duties, of which this article speaks, it is a ticklish subject, and had better, I think, be left alone.
It would be right that it should be expressly agreed that wherever our vessels pay, in the ports of Great Britain, higher charges than their own vessels, a proportional reduction shall be made out of any duty of tonnage which may be laid on our vessels to counteract the difference of tonnage on theirs in our ports.
The 18th article is really an unpleasant one, and, though there is, I fear, little chance of altering it for the better, it may be necessary, for the justification of the President, to attempt it. The standard to be approached by us as nearly as possible is that in our treaty with France. As to the point of free ships making free goods, though it be desirable to us to establish it if practicable—and it ought to be aimed at—yet I neither expect that it will be done at present, nor that the great maritime powers will be disposed to suffer it to become an established rule, and I verily believe that it will be very liable, though stipulated, to be disregarded, as it has been by France through the greater part of the present war. But naval stores and provisions ought, if possible, to be expressly excluded from the list of contraband, except when going to a blockaded or besieged port, town, or fortress, or to a fleet or army engaged in a military operation, for I can imagine no other cases in which there is a just pretence to make provisions contraband.
Some provision for the protection of our seamen is infinitely desirable. At least Great Britain ought to agree that no seaman shall be impressed out of any of our vessels at sea, and that none shall be taken out of such vessel in any of her colonies which were in the vessel at the time of her arrival at such colony. This provision ought to be pressed with energy as one unexceptionably just, and at the same time safe for Great Britain.
The affair of the negroes, to give satisfaction, may be retouched, but with caution and delicacy. The resolution proposed in the Senate will afford a good standard for this.
As to the crowd of loose suggestions respecting the treaty, which have no reasonable foundation, it would not consist with the reputation of the government to move concerning them. Only reasonable things merit or can, with propriety, have attention.
I beg, sir, that you will at no time have any scruples about commanding me. I shall always with pleasure comply with your commands. I wish my health, or the time for it, would permit me now to be more correct. The other part of your letter shall be carefully attended to in time.
There are circumstances which render it too probable that a very delicate state of things is approaching between the United States and France. When threatened with foreign danger, from whatever quarter, it is highly necessary that we should be united at home; and considering our partiality hitherto for France, it is necessary towards this union, that we should understand what has really been the conduct of that country toward us. It is time for plain truths, which can only be unacceptable to the hirelings or dupes of that nation.
France, in our revolution war, took part with us. At first she afforded us secret and rather scanty succor, which wore more the complexion of a disposition to nourish a temporary disturbance in the dominions of a rival power, than of an intention to second a revolution.
The capture of Burgoyne and his army decided the till then hesitating councils of France; produced the acknowledgment of our independence, and treaties of commerce and defensive alliance. These again produced the war which ensued between France and Great Britain.
The co-operation and succor of France after this period were efficient and liberal. They were extremely useful to our cause, and no doubt contributed materially to its success.
The primary motive of France for the assistance she gave us, was obviously to enfeeble a hated and powerful rival, by breaking in pieces the British Empire. A secondary motive was to extend her relations of commerce in the New World, and to acquire additional security for her possessions there, by forming a connection with this country when detached from Great Britain. To ascribe to her any other motives—to suppose that she was actuated by friendship towards us, or by a regard for our particular advantage, is to be ignorant of the springs of action which invariably regulate the cabinets of princes. He must be a fool, who can be credulous enough to believe, that a despotic court aided a popular revolution, from regard to liberty or friendship to the principles of such a revolution. In forming the conditions upon which France lent her aid, she was too politic to attempt to take any unworthy advantage of our situation. But they are much mistaken who imagine that she did not take care to make a good bargain for herself. Without granting to us any material privilege in any of her external possessions, she secured in perpetuity a right to participate in our trade, on the foot of the most favored nation. But what is far more important, she, in return for the guaranty of our sovereignty and independence, obtained our guaranty of her West India possessions in every future defensive war. This may appear at first sight a mutual and equal advantage, but in its permanent operation it is not so. The guaranty of our sovereignty and independence, which is never likely to be again drawn into question, must hereafter be essentially nominal; while our guaranty of the West India possessions must grow into a solid advantage, increasing in importance as we advance in strength, and exposing us often to the chances of being engaged in wars, in which we may have no direct interest. However this guaranty may be regarded as nominal on our part, in this very early stage of our national power, it cannot be so in time to come. We shall be able to afford it with effect, and our faith will oblige us to do so.
But whatever were the motives of France, and though the conditions of the alliance may be in their permanent tendency more beneficial to her than to us, it was our duty to be faithful to the engagements which we contracted with her, and it even became us, without scanning too rigidly those motives, to yield ourselves to the impulses of kind and cordial sentiments towards a power by which we were succored in so perilous a crisis.
Nor should we ever lightly depart from the line of conduct which these principles dictate. But they ought not to be carried so far as to occasion us to shut our eyes against the just causes of complaint which France has given or may hereafter give us. They ought not to blind us to the real nature of any instances of an unfair and unfriendly policy which we have experienced or may hereafter experience from that country. Let us cherish faith, justice, and, as far as possible, good will, but let us not be dupes.
It is certain that in the progress and towards the close of our revolution war, the views of France, in several important particulars, did not accord with our interests. She manifestly favored and intrigued to effect the sacrifice of our pretensions on the Mississippi to Spain; she looked coldly upon our claim to the privileges we enjoy in the cod fisheries; and she patronized our negotiation with Great Britain without the previous acknowledgment of our independence;—a conduct which, whatever color of moderation may be attempted to be given to it, can only be rationally explained into the desire of leaving us in such a state of half peace, half hostility with Great Britain, as would necessarily render us dependent upon France.
Since the peace every careful observer has been convinced that the policy of the French Government has been adverse to our acquiring internally the consistency of which we were capable—in other words, a well-constituted and efficient government. Her agents everywhere supported, and with too little reserve, that feeble and anarchical system—the old Confederation,—which had brought us almost to the last stage of national nothingness, and which remained the theme of their eulogies, when every enlightened and virtuous man of this country perceived and acknowledged its radical defects and the necessity of essential alterations.
The truth of all this, of which no vigilant and unbiassed friend to his country had before the least doubt, has been fully confirmed to us by the present government of France, which has formally proclaimed to us and to the whole world the Machiavellian conduct of the old governments toward this country; nor can we suspect the promulgation to have been the effect of the enmity of the new against the old government, for our records and our own observations assure us that there is no misrepresentation.
This disclosure, which has not sufficiently attracted the attention of the American people, is very serious and instructive. Surely it ought to put us upon our guard—to convince us that it is at least possible the succeeding rulers of France may have been on some occasions tinctured with a similar spirit. They ought to remember that the magnanimity and kindness of France and the former government were as much trumpeted by its partisans among us as are now the magnanimity and kindness of the present government. What say facts?
Genet was the first minister sent by the new government to this country. Are there no marks of a crooked policy in his behavior, or in his instructions? Did he say to us, or was he instructed to say to us, with frankness and fair-dealing: “Americans, France wishes your co-operation; she thinks you bound by your treaty—or by gratitude—or by affinity of principles, to afford it”? Not a word of all this. The language was: “France does not require your assistance; she wishes you to pursue what you think your interest.”
What was the conduct? Genet came out with his pocket full of commissions to arm privateers. Arrived at Charleston, before he had an opportunity of sounding our government, he begins to issue them, and to fit privateers from our ports. Certain that this was a practice never to be tolerated by the enemies of France, and that it would infallibly implicate us in the war, our government mildly signifies to him its disapprobation of the measure. He affects to acquiesce, but still goes on in the same way—very soon in open defiance of the government; between which and our own citizens he presently endeavors to introduce jealousy and schism. He sets on foot intrigues with our southern and western extremes, and attempts to organize our territory, and to carry on from it military expeditions against the territories of Spain in our neighborhood—a nation with which we were at peace.
It is impossible to doubt that the end of all this was to drag us into the war, with the humiliation of being plunged into it without ever being consulted, and without any volition of our own.
No government or people could have been more horridly treated than we were by this foreign agent. Our Executive, nevertheless, from the strong desire of maintaining good understanding with France, forbore to impute to the French Government the conduct of its agent; made the matter personal with him, and requested his recall. The French Government could not refuse our request without a rupture with us, which at that time would have been extremely inconvenient for many plain reasons. The application for the recall accordingly had full success; and the more readily as it arrived shortly after the overthrow of the Girondist party (to which Genet belonged), and thus afforded another opportunity of exercising vengeance on that devoted party.
But it were to be very credulous to be persuaded that Genet acted in this extraordinary manner, from the very beginning, without the authority of the government by which he was sent; and did not the nature of his conduct contain an internal evidence of the source, it could be easily traced in the instructions which he published. These instructions demonstrate three things, though the last is couched in very covert terms: 1. That France did not consider us as bound to aid her in the war. 2. That she desired to engage us in it, and the principal bribe was to be large privileges in her West India trade. 3. That if direct negotiation did not succeed, indirect means were to be taken to entangle us in it whether so disposed or not. It is not matter of complaint, that France should endeavor to engage by fair means our assistance in the war, if she thought it would be useful to her, but it is just matter of bitter complaint, that she should attempt against our will to ensnare or drive us into it.
Fauchet succeeded Genet. It was a meteor following a comet. No very marked phenomena distinguish his course. But the little twinkling appearances which here and there are discernible, indicate the same general policy in him which governed his predecessor. The Executive of our country, in consequence of an insurrection, to which one of them had materially contributed, had publicly arraigned political clubs. Fauchet, in opposition, openly patronizes them. At the festivals of these clubs he is always a guest, swallowing toasts full of sedition and hostility to the government. Without examining what is the real tendency of these clubs, without examining even the policy of what is called the President’s denunciation of them, it was enough for a foreign minister that the Chief Magistrate of our country had declared them to be occasions of calamity to it. It was neither friendly nor decent in a foreign minister after this to countenance these institutions. This conduct discovered towards us not only unkindness but contempt. There is the more point in it, as this countenance continued after similar societies had been proscribed in France;—what were destructive poisons there, were in this country salutary medicines. But the hostility of the views of this minister is palpable in that intercepted letter of his, which unveils the treachery of Randolph. We there learn, that he pretended to think it was a duty of patriotism to second the western insurrection; that he knew and approved of a conspiracy which was destined to overthrow the administration of our government, even by the most irregular means.
Another revolution of party in France placed Mr. Adet in the room of Mr. Fauchet. Mr. Adet has been more circumspect than either of his predecessors; and perhaps we ought scarcely to impute it to him as matter of reproach that he openly seconded the opposition in Congress to the treaty concluded with Great Britain. This was a measure of a nature to call forth the manœuvres of diplomatic tactics. But if we are wise, we shall endeavor to estimate rightly the probable motives of whatever displeasure France or her agents may have shown at this measure. Can it be any thing else than a part of the same plan which induced the minister of Louis XVI. to advise us to treat with Great Britain without the previous acknowledgment of our independence? Can it be any thing else than a part of that policy which deems it useful to France, that there should perpetually exist between us and Great Britain germs of discord and quarrel? Is it not manifest that in the eyes of France the unpardonable sin of that treaty is, that it roots up for the present those germs of discord and quarrel? To pretend that the treaty interferes with our engagements with France, is a ridiculous absurdity—for it expressly excepts them. To say that it establishes a course of things hurtful to France in her present struggle, is belied by the very course of things since the treaty—all goes on exactly as it did before.
Those who can justify displeasure in France on this account, are not Americans, but Frenchmen. They are not fit for being members of an independent nation, but are prepared for the dependent state of colonists. If our government could not without the permission of France terminate its controversies with another foreign power, and settle with it a treaty of commerce, to endure three or four years, our boasted independence is a name. We have only transferred our allegiance! we are slaves!
(From the Minerva.)
December 6, 1796.
The French Republic have, at various times during the present war, complained of certain principles and decisions of the American Government, as being violations of its neutrality, or infractions of the treaty made with France in the year 1778. These complaints were principally made in the year 1793, and explanations, which till now were deemed satisfactory, were made by Mr. Jefferson’s correspondence, in August of that year. They are now not only renewed with great exaggeration, but the French Government have directed that it should be done in the tone of reproach, instead of the language of friendship. The apparent intention of this menacing tone, at this particular time, is to influence timid minds to vote agreeably to their wishes in the election of President and Vice-President, and probably with this view the memorial was published in the newspapers. This is certainly a practice that must not be permitted. If one foreign minister is permitted to publish what he pleases to the people, in the name of his government, every other foreign minister must be indulged with the same right. What then will be our situation on the election of a President and Vice-President, when the government is insulted, the persons who administer it traduced, and the election menaced by public addresses from these intriguing agents? Poland, that was once a respectable and powerful nation, but is now a nation no longer, is a melancholy example of the dangers of foreign influence in the election of a chief magistrate. Eleven millions of people have lost their independence from that cause alone. What would have been the conduct of the French Directory, if the American minister had published an elaborate and inflammatory address to the people of France against the government, reprobating the conduct of those in power, and extolling that of the party opposed to them? They would have done as the Parliament of England did in 1727, when the emperor’s Resident presented an insolent memorial to the king, and published it next day in the newspapers. All parties concurred in expressing the highest indignation and resentment at the affront offered to the government by the memorial delivered by Monsieur Palm, and more particularly at his audacious manner of appealing from the government to the people, under the pretext of applying for reparation and redress of supposed injuries. In consequence of an address from both houses, Monsieur Palm was ordered to quit England immediately. And is it not necessary that we should adopt some remedy adequate to this evil to avoid those serious consequences which may otherwise be apprehended from it?
The conduct of the American Government to preserve its neutrality has been repeatedly justified by arguments drawn from the law of nations, and in the application of its principles they have gone as far, in every instance, and in one particular instance farther, in favor of France, than the strict rule of neutrality would justify. It would, therefore, answer no valuable purpose to state the same principles, and deduce the same consequences, in order to justify ourselves on the same ground, that we have already done; but as the reproaches of the French Republic are founded on an idea that our construction and application of the law of nations is erroneous, partial, and inimical, it may be worth while to examine whether we cannot justify ourselves by the example of the French nation itself. I presume a better rule of justification against any charge cannot be required, than the conduct of those who have made it in like cases.
I propose, therefore, to compare the decisions of the American Government, in the several points wherein they have been complained of in Mr. Adet’s memorial, with the laws of France on the same points.
It is asserted that the American Government has violated the 17th article of the treaty of 1778, by arresting French privateers and their prizes; and that it has exercised shocking persecutions toward them.
It will be found, on an accurate inquiry, that all the prizes brought in under French commissions, that have been restored, have been found to be in one or the other of the following descriptions:
1. Those captured within a marine league of the shores of the United States.
2. When the capturing vessel was owned and principally manned by American citizens.
3. When the capturing vessel was armed in our ports.
As to the jurisdiction exercised by the United States over the sea contiguous to its shores, all nations claim and exercise such a jurisdiction, and all writers admit this claim to be well founded: and they have differed in opinion only as to the distance to which it may extend. Let us see whether France has claimed a greater or less extent of dominion over the sea than the United States. Valin, the king’s advocate at Rochelle, in his new commentary on the marine laws of France, published first in 1761, and again by approbation in 1776, after mentioning the opinions of many different writers on public law on this subject, says: “As far as the distance of two leagues the sea is the dominion of the sovereign of the neighboring coast; and that whether there be soundings there or not. It is proper to observe this method in favor of states whose coasts are so high that there are no soundings close to the shore, but this does not prevent the extension of the dominion of the sea, as well in respect to jurisdiction as to fisheries, to a greater distance by particular treaties, or the rule herein before mentioned, which extends dominion as far as there are soundings, or as far as the reach of a cannon shot; which is the rule at present universally acknowledged.” “The effect of this dominion,” the same author says, “according to the principles of Puffendorf, which are incontestable, is, that every sovereign has a right to protect foreign commerce, in his dominions, as well as to secure it from insult, by preventing others from approaching nearer than a certain distance.” In extending our dominion over the sea to one league, we have not extended it so far as the example of France and the other powers of Europe would have justified. They, therefore, can have no right to complain of our conduct in this respect.
The second description of cases which has induced the American Government to restore prizes claimed by the French, is when our citizens have made the capture under a French commission.
The third article of the ordinances of the marine of France, which the commission now given to French privateers requires to be observed (Valin, vol. 2, 235), is as follows: “We prohibit all our subjects from taking commissions from foreign kings, princes, or states, to arm vessels for war, and to cruise at sea under their colors, unless by our permission, on pain of being treated as pirates.” The commentator says these general and indefinite prohibitions have no exception. They extend to commissions taken from friends or allies, as well as neutrals, and those that are equivocal, and they were considered as necessary consequences of the laws of neutrality.
“If,” says Valin, “the commission of the foreign prince be to cruise against his enemies who are our allies, or those with whom we intend to preserve neutrality, it would afford just ground of complaint on their part, and might lead to a rupture.” The rule extends as well to subjects domiciliated as not domiciliated in the kingdom, and foreign countries; “for Frenchmen are not the less Frenchmen, for having gone to live in foreign countries.” If France may rightfully prohibit her citizens from accepting foreign commissions to make prize of the property of her friends, why should the United States be reproached for exercising a similar right? A necessary consequence of this wise and just prohibition is, that all prizes taken contrary to it should be restored with damages to the party injured.
The third description of prizes restored, is where they have been fitted and armed in the ports of the United States.
I find no direct, positive provision by the marine laws of France, prohibiting this; but the whole tenor of those laws supposes that vessels of war are armed in the ports of the sovereign who gives the commission. French privateers must not only fit out in a French port, but are bound to bring all prizes made by them into some particular port or ports expressed in their commissions (Valin, vol. 2, 276). And it is certain that the king of France, previous to his alliance with the United States, delivered up some American prizes to the English, because the capturing vessel had been armed in a French port.
Mr. Adet’s memorial charges that the English have been permitted to arm their vessels and bring their prizes into our ports. As to this charge, the fact is simply denied. In the cases mentioned, the vessels said to have taken in guns for their defence, were gone before he made his representation; yet he complained, and the government did nothing. I ask what could they have done? Mr. Adet will answer: They might have declared war against Great Britain; and it is certain this was the only remedy that remained in such a case; but neither our interest nor our duty would have permitted us to have adopted it. Our interest did not permit us to give up our neutrality and engage in a foreign war, the event of which would have produced many and certain evils, and could not by any possibility have produced any good; and it was contrary to every principle by which a just nation would desire to act, to have made war on a whole people because one or two of them had clandestinely taken arms on board for their defence, in one of our ports, without the knowledge of their government or of ours.
The memorial complains that we have infringed the 17th article of the treaty of 1778, by restraining the prohibition therein contained only to the ships of war and privateers of their enemies, who should come into our ports with their prizes.
The literal sense of the 17th article is, that no armed ship, who shall have made prizes from the French people, shall receive an asylum in our ports. The 22d article says that no privateer, fitted under a commission of the enemy of either, shall have asylum in the ports of the others. Neither of these articles says any thing of prizes. The literal application of them therefore would exclude the capturing vessels, but give admission to their prizes; which would never have been the intention of the parties. The laws of nations, expressly adopted by France, relative to the right of asylum, may illustrate these articles of the treaty. Ord. Louis XIV., Art. XIV., declares “that no prizes made by captains under a foreign commission shall remain in our ports longer than twenty-four hours, unless detained by bad weather, or unless the prize have been made from our enemies.” But this article, says Valin, is only applicable to prizes carried into a neutral port, “and not at all to armed vessels, whether neutral or allies, who have taken refuge there, without prizes, either to escape the pursuit of enemies, or for any other cause. They may in this case remain as long as they please.” By the law of neutrality, simply, French prizes could only have remained twenty-four hours in our ports, but by the treaty they have obtained the privilege of remaining as long as they please. This privilege has not only been allowed them in its fullest extent, but we had gone a step further, and as a favor permitted them to sell their prizes, which neither the treaty nor the law of nations required; and which was of more importance than all the rest put together. This favor, as favors generally are, is now claimed as a right, and the withholding is considered as an injury. Let us see what the ordinances of the French marine have said on this point. Ord. Louis XIV., Tit. Prizes, Art. XIV.: “If in the prizes brought into our ports by vessels armed under a foreign commission, there be any merchandises belonging to our subjects shall be restored, and the rest shall not be put into any storehouses, or be purchased by any person under any pretext whatsoever.” “And all this,” says Valin, “is founded on the law of neutrality.” By the Treaty of Utrecht, Louis XIV., and his grandson the king of Spain, agreed mutually to permit the prizes made by one to be brought in and sold in the ports of the other. But this, the same author says, was only a particular arrangement, so much the less to be proposed for a general rule, as the two nations had given up the duties on the prize goods sold in their dominions, which however did not last long, on account of the abuses to which it gave rise. Abuses similar, I presume, to those to which the same permission gave rise in this country. The next ground of complaint is the British treaty and its consequences. This treaty is said to deprive France of all the advantages stipulated in a preceding treaty, and this is done by an abandonment of the modern law of nations.
If we may credit the declaration of the king of France, there were no exclusive advantages stipulated for France in that treaty. His ambassador delivered a paper to the British court, dated the 13th of March, 1778, wherein, after announcing the treaty between France and the United States, he says: “His Majesty declares at the same time, that the contracting parties have paid great attention not to stipulate any exclusive advantages in favor of the French nation; and that the United States have reserved the liberty of treating with every other nation whatever, upon the same footing of equality and reciprocity.”
The injury supposed to have resulted from an abandonment of the modern public law, assumes two propositions, neither of which is true: 1st. That neutral ships make neutral property. 2d. That materials for building ships are not among the articles considered as contraband of war. By the marine laws of France, Reg. Dec. 1744, Art. 5, it is directed, that “if there are found on board of neutral vessels, of whatever nation they may be, merchandises or effects belonging to the enemies of his Majesty, they shall be good prize, even though they are not of the growth or manufacture of the enemy’s country, but the vessels shall be released.” Previous to this regulation, and contrary to the law of nations, as Valin acknowledges, if either the ship or the cargo, or any part of it, was enemy’s property, the whole was confiscated by the laws of France. And at this day neutral property on board of an enemy’s ships is, by the same laws, liable to confiscation.
As to the contraband of war, timber is enumerated among the articles that are so, by Vatel, Lib. iii., chap. vii.; but Valin is much more particular, vol. 2, 264: “In the treaty of commerce concluded with the king of Denmark, the 23d of August, 1724, pitch and tar were declared contraband, as also rosin, sail-cloth, hemp, cordage, mats and timber, for the building of ships. There would have been, therefore, no reason to complain of the conduct of the English, if they had not violated particular treaties; for of right (de droit) these things are contraband at present, and have been so since the beginning of this century, which was not the case formerly.” By the modern law of nations, expressly adopted by France, enemies’ property, on board neutral ships, is good prize; and by the same law, the number of contraband articles has been increased so as to include the materials for shipbuilding. All the situations were probably foreseen, in which the treaty might operate favorably or unfavorably for France at the time it was made. It might have been stipulated that materials for ship-building should be deemed contraband, instead of declaring that they should not; or, that the United States should not enter into any treaty in which they should be made so. Neither of these being the case, there is no ground of complaint, except that the consequence is inconvenient, at present, to France, and the belligerent powers allied to her. If timber and naval stores are contraband by the law of nations, to declare them to be so by a treaty cannot be considered as a privilege granted to one nation, or an injury to any other. The French nation will not persist in asserting, that because the exercise of rights which she has claimed as legitimate on former occasions, becomes inconvenient when exercised by others, she may therefore refuse to acknowledge and respect them. This would be the language of a haughty despot in a conquered country, not of justice, honor, and good faith from one friend to another.
It is said that the 18th article of the treaty with Great Britain suspends all the commercial relations between the United States and France, by preventing the supplies looked for by France from this country.
This article has not introduced any new case, in which provisions may be contraband. It only alters the consequence resulting from a seizure of them, when they are so. Valin (vol. 2, 264) says: “By our law and the law of nations, provisions are not prohibited, except to places besieged or blockaded.” The article complained of says explicitly, that when provisions and other articles not generally contraband are become so, according to the existing law of nations, and shall, for that reason, be seized, they shall not be confiscated, but the owner shall be completely indemnified, and receive besides a reasonable mercantile profit. This principle operated as an encouragement for American vessels to seek the French markets, by insuring them against loss, if they happened in any instance to be interrupted in the voyage. France, I presume, might consider our vessels bound with provisions to a place besieged or blockaded liable to seizure, after due notice of the fact. If, instead of this, they contend for the privilege of paying for them according to the terms of the treaty with Great Britain, I suppose it will not be denied to them. But if, under pretence that a vessel is bound to a besieged or blockaded port, when she is not, either France or Great Britain should seize or detain her, it is an injury not authorized by the treaty or the law of nations. This is what both nations have done, when their interests or necessities required it—sometimes with, and often without any apology; and what they will often continue to do, I fear, as long as they know we cannot punish them for it.
These injuries are said to have been received, while every other object around reminds us of the tyranny of Britain and the generous assistance of France, during the American war.
The generosity of France and the gratitude of the United States have been often suggested by some of our own citizens, and we are now reproached with it by France herself. Gratitude is due for favors received; and this virtue may exist among nations as well as among individuals; but the motive of the benefit must be solely the advantage of the party on whom it was conferred, else it ceases to be a favor. There is positive proof that France did not enter into the alliance with us in 1778 for our advantage, but for her own. The whole course of the investigation, as well as a positive knowledge of the fact, proves this. She resisted all of our solicitations for effectual assistance for war three years; and rose in her demand during the campaign of 1777, when our affairs presented the most threatening aspect. Memorials were presented in August and September of that year, while General Burgoyne’s army arrived in December; fearing we might be able to do the business without them, the French court began to change its tone. In January the British minister gave notice in the House of Commons that he meant to propose terms of accommodation with America. The French ministry, on the arrival of this intelligence in France, immediately pressed the conclusion of the treaty which they had resisted for three years, and proposed terms much more favorable for us than those our commissioner had offered, and they had refused three months before. The treaty was signed on the 8th of February. I perceive no generosity in all this. They did then as we have done now, and as every discerning nation will do—they regarded only their own interest and advantage, and not that of any other nation. In the interval between the declaration of independence and the alliance with France, that court sometimes ordered away our privateers, and sometimes restored their prizes. They refused to receive an ambassador or acknowledge our independence; all of which was for fear of bringing France prematurely into the war. The fact is, that the French spoke of very different terms, as the condition of their assistance, before the capture of Burgoyne, from those actually agreed on afterwards. There can be no doubt that our success on that occasion, and the disposition it appeared to have produced in the British ministry, were the immediate causes of that alliance. It was certainly the interest of the French to unite with America in the war against Great Britain. They therefore acted right in doing this at last, though with too much refinement in putting it off so long, but it is not the interest of the United States to be engaged in any war whatsoever—much less do they desire to imbrue their hands in the blood of one nation to gratify the hatred or serve the interest of another. We have acted right hitherto in laying it down as a principle, not to suffer ourselves to be drawn into the wars of Europe; and if we must have a war, I hope it will be for refusing to depart from that principle.
Our government has acted with firmness, consistency, and moderation, in repelling the unjust pretensions of the belligerent powers, as far as reason and argument could have weight. If it has not attempted in every instance to preserve our rights by force, wherein the remedy would have been worse than the disease, they have not yielded them by concession, in any instance. Into whatsoever hands the administration of the government may now come, they are called on by the suggestions of a wise policy, and the voice of their country, to pursue the same general line of conduct that has been hitherto pursued, without yielding to the violence of party on either side. They will then be sure of the approbation and support of the most virtuous, which it is to be hoped are the most numerous of all parties. On the contrary, if, departing from these principles, they unnecessarily involve their country in the horrors of war, they will meet the merited execration of good men, and in the end the punishment justly due to such conduct from an injured people.
January 27, 1797.
There are appearances too strong not to excite apprehension that the affairs of this country are drawing fast to an eventful crisis. Various circumstances, daily unfolding themselves, authorize a conclusion that France has adopted a system of conduct toward the neutral maritime nations generally, which amounts to little less than actual hostility. I mean the total interruption of their trade with the ports of her enemies; a pretension so violent, and at the same time so oppressive, humiliating, and ruinous to them, that they cannot submit to it, without not only thecomplete sacrifice of their commerce, but their absolute degradation from the rank of sovereign and independent states.
It seems to have become latterly a primary object in the policy of France to make the principal attack upon Great Britain through her commerce, in order, by extinguishing the sources of her revenue and credit, to disable her from continuing the war, and compel her to accept any conditions of peace which her antagonist may think fit to prescribe. It is to this plan we are to attribute the unjustifiable treatment of Tuscany, in the seizure of Leghorn, and shutting her ports against the English, contrary to the will of her own government. The same plan has dictated the attempts which are understood to have been made to oblige Naples to exclude Great Britain from her ports during the present war. And there have been indications of a design to effect a similar restraint on all the Italian states, and expel the British trade wholly from the Mediterranean. The same object of wounding Great Britain through her commerce, has been promoted by the war into which Spain has been drawn, and may be considered as the principal advantage expected from it; while it is likewise alleged to be the intention to force Portugal to suspend her commercial relations with Great Britain. The late decree forbidding the importation of British manufactures into France, is a further proof of the eagerness with which the policy of destroying the British commerce is pursued; since it is presumable, from the derangement of French manufactures by the war, that there must have been a convenience in the supply which that importation has afforded.
It is obviously to the same origin that we are to trace the decree lately communicated by the French minister to our government, with respect to the intended treatment of the trade of neutrals, and the spoliations which ours has for a long time past suffered. While neutral nations were permitted to enjoy securely their rights, besides the direct commerce between them and the British dominions, the commerce of Great Britain would be carried on in neutral bottoms, even with the countries where it was denied access in British bottoms. It follows, that the abridgment of neutral rights is essential to the scheme of destroying the British commerce. And here we find the true solution of those unfriendly proceedings, on the part of France toward this country, which are hypocritically charged to the account of the treaty with Great Britain, and other acts of pretended infidelity in our government.
Did we need a confirmation of this truth, we should find it in the intelligence lately received from Cadiz. We are informed, through a respectable channel, that Danish and Swedish, as well as American vessels, carried into that port by French cruisers, have, with their cargoes, been condemned and confiscated by the French consul or tribunal there, on the declared principle of intercepting the trade of neutrals with the ports of the enemies of France. This indiscriminate spoliation of the commerce of neutral powers is a clear proof that France is actuated, not by particular causes of discontent given by our government, but by a general plan of policy.
The practice upon the decree is a comment much broader than the text. The decree purports that France would observe toward neutrals the same conduct which they permitted her enemies to observe toward them. But the practice goes a great deal further. None of the enemies of France, even at the height of their power and presumption, ever pretended totally to cut off the trade of neutrals with her ports. This is a pretension reserved for her, to increase the catalogue of extraordinary examples, of which her revolution has been so fruitful.
The allegations of discontent with this country are evidently a mere coloring to the intended violation of its rights, by treaty as well as by the laws of nations. Some pretext was necessary, and this has been seized. It will probably appear hereafter that Denmark and Sweden have been mocked with a similar tale of grievances. It is, indeed, already understood that Sweden, outraged in the person of her representative, has been obliged to go the length of withdrawing her minister from Paris.
The complaints of France may be regarded principally as weapons furnished to her adherents to defend her cause, notwithstanding the blows she inflicts. Her aim has been, in every instance, to seduce the people from their government, and, by dividing, to conquer and oppress. Hitherto, happily, the potent spells of this political sorcery have, in most countries, been counteracted and dissipated by the sacred flame of patriotism. One melancholy exception serves as a warning to the rest of mankind to shun the fatal snare. It is, nevertheless, humiliating, that there are men among us depraved enough to make use of the arms she has furnished in her service, and to vindicate her aggressions as the effect of a just resentment, provoked by the ill conduct of our government. But the artifice will not succeed. The eyes of the people of this country are, every day, more and more opened to the true character of the politics of France; and the period is fast approaching when it will be seen in all its intrinsic deformity.
The desire of a power at war to destroy the commerce of its enemy, is a natural effect of the state of war, and while exercised within bounds, consistent with the rights of nations who are not engaged in the contest, is entirely justifiable; but when it manifestly overleaps these bounds, and indulges in palpable violations of neutral rights, without even the color of justification in the usages of war, it becomes an intolerable tyranny, wounds the sovereignty of nations, and calls them to resistance by every motive of self-preservation and self-respect.
The conduct of France, from the commencement of her successes, has, by gradual developments, betrayed a spirit of universal domination; an opinion that she had a right to be the legislatrix of nations; that they are all bound to submit to her mandates, to take from her their moral, political, and religious creeds; that her plastic and regenerating hand is to mould them into whatever shape she thinks fit; and that her interest is to be the sole measure of the rights of the rest of the world. The specious pretence of enlightening mankind, and reforming their civil institutions, is the varnish to the real design of subjugating them. The vast projects of a Louis XIV. dwindle into insignificance compared with the more gigantic schemes of his republican successors.
Men, well informed and unprejudiced, early discovered the symptoms of this spirit. Reasoning from human nature, they foresaw its growth with success; that from the love of dominion, inherent in the heart of man, the rulers of the most powerful nation in the world, whether a Committee of Safety or a Directory, will forever aim at an undue empire over other nations; and that this disposition, inflamed as it was by enthusiasm, if encouraged by a continuation of success, would be apt to exhibit itself, during the course of the French Revolution, in excesses of which there has been no example since the days of Roman greatness.
Every day confirms the justice of that anticipation. It is now indispensable that the disagreeable and menacing truth should be exposed in full day to the people of America; that they should contemplate it seriously, and prepare their minds for extremities, which nothing short of abject submission may be able to avert. This will serve them as an armor against the machinations of traitorous men, who may wish to make them instruments of the ambition of a foreign power, to persuade them to concur in forging chains for mankind, and to accept, as their award, the despicable privilege of wearing them a day later than others.
Already in certain circles is heard the debasing doctrine that France is determined to reduce us to the alternative of war with her enemies, or war with herself, and that it is our interest and safety to elect the former.
There was a time when it was believed that a similar alternative would be imposed by Great Britain. At this crisis there was but one sentiment. The firmest friends of moderation and peace, no less than the noisiest partisans of violence and war, resolved to elect war with that power which should drive us to the election. This resolution was the dictate of morality and honor, of a just regard to national dignity and independence. If any consideration, in any situation, should degrade us into a different resolution, we, that instant, shake hands with crime and infamy: we descend from the high ground of an independent people, and stoop to the ignominious level of vassals. I trust there are few Americans who would not cheerfully encounter the worst evils of a contest with any nation on earth rather than subscribe to so shameful an abdication of their rank as men and citizens.
February 7, 1797.
Independent of the commands of honor the coolest calculations of interest forbid our becoming the instruments of the ambition of France, by associating with her in the war. The question is no longer the establishment of liberty on the basis of republican government. This point the enemies of France have ceased to dispute. The question now is whether she shall be aggrandized by new acquisitions, and her enemies reduced by dismemberments, to a degree which may render her the mistress of Europe, and consequently, in a great measure, of America. This is truly the remaining subject of contention.
They who understood the real strength and resources of France before the present war, knew that she was intrinsically the most powerful nation of Europe. The incidents of the war have displayed this fact in a manner which is the astonishment of the world. If France can finally realize her present plan of aggrandizement, she will attain to a degree of greatness and power which, if not counteracted by internal disorder, will tend to make her the terror and the scourge of nations. The spirit of moderation in a state of overbearing power is a phenomenon which has not yet appeared, and which no wise man will expect ever to see. It is certain that a very different spirit has hitherto marked the career of the new republic; and it is due to truth to add, that the ardent, impetuous, and military genius of the French affords perhaps less prospect of such a spirit in them than in any other people.
‘T were therefore contrary to our true interest to assist in building up this colossus to the enormous size at which she aims. ‘T were a policy as shortsighted as mean to seek safety in a subserviency to her views as the price of her clemency. This at best would be but a temporary respite from the rod; if indeed that can be called a respite, which is of itself the sacrifice of a real to a nominal independence.
These reflections are not designed to rouse a spirit of hostility against France, or to inculcate the idea that we ought of choice to participate in the war against her. They are intended merely to fortify the motives of honor, which forbid our stooping to be compelled, either to submit without resistance to a virtual war on her part, or to avert her blows by engaging in the war on her side.
When it was the opinion, that France was defending the cause of liberty, it was a decisive argument against embarking with her in the contest, that it would expose us to hazards and evils infinitely disproportioned to the assistance we could render. Now the question plainly is, whether France shall give the law to mankind. The addition of our opposition to her plan could have too little influence upon the event to justify our willingly encountering the certain dangers and mischiefs of the enterprise. ‘T is our true policy to remain at peace if we can, to negotiate our subjects of complaint as long as they shall be at all negotiable, to defer and to wait.
When the indiscriminate seizure of our vessels by British cruisers, under the order of the sixth of November, 1793, had brought our affairs with Great Britain to a crisis, which led to the measure of sending a special envoy to that country to obtain relief and reparation, it was well understood that the issue of that mission was to determine the question of peace or war between the two nations. In like manmer, it is to be expected that our Executive will make a solemn and final appeal to the justice and interest of France, will insist in mild but explicit terms on the renunciation of the pretension to intercept the lawful commerce of neutrals with the enemies of France, and the institution of some equitable mode of ascertaining and retributing the losses which the exercise of it has inflicted upon our merchants. If the experiment shall fail, there will be nothing left but to repel aggression and defend our commerce and independence. The resolution to do this will then be imposed on the government by a painful but irresistible necessity, and it were an outrage to the American name and character to doubt that the people of the United States will approve the resolution, and will support it with a constancy worthy of the justice of their cause, and of the glory they have heretofore deserved and acquired.
No! let this never be doubted! the servile minions of France—those who have no sensibility to injury but when it comes from Great Britain, who are unconscious of any rights to be protected against France; who, at a moment when the public safety more than ever demands a strict union between the people and their government, traitorously labor to detach them from it, and to turn against the government, for pretended faults, the resentment which the real oppressions of France ought to inspire;—these wretched men will discover in the end, that they are as insignificant as they are unprincipled. They will find that they have vainly flattered themselves with the co-operation of the great body of those men with whom the spirit of party has hitherto associated them. In such an extremity the adventitious discriminations of party will be lost in the patriotism and pride of the American character. Good citizens of every political denomination will remember that they are Americans; that when their country is in danger, the merit or demerit of particular measures is no longer a question; that it is the duty of all to unite their efforts to guard the national rights, to avert national humiliation, and to withstand the imposition of a foreign yoke. The true and genuine spirit of 1776, not the vile counterfeits of it which so often disgust our eyes and our ears, will warm every truly American heart, and light up in it a noble emulation to maintain inviolate the rights and unsullied the honor of the American nation. It will be proved, to the confusion of all false patriots, that we did not break the fetters of one foreign tyranny to put on those of another. It will be again proved to the world that we understand our rights, and have the courage to defend them.
But there is still ground to hope that we shall not be driven to this disagreeable extremity. The more deliberate calculations of France will probably rescue us from the present embarrassment. If she perseveres in her plan, she must inevitably add all the neutral powers to the number of her enemies. How will this fulfil the purpose of destroying the commerce of Great Britain? The commerce of those powers with France will then entirely cease, and be turned more extensively into the channels of Great Britain, protected by her navy, with the co-operation of the maritime force of those powers. The result will be the reverse of what is projected by the measure. The commerce and revenue of Britain will, in all likelihood, be augmented rather than diminished; and her arms will receive an important reinforcement. Violent and unjust measures commonly defeat their own purpose. The plan of starving France was of this description, and operated against the views of its projectors. This plan now adopted by France, of cutting off the trade of neutrals with her enemies, alike violent and unjust, will no doubt end in similar disappointment. Let us hope that it will be abandoned, and that ultimate rupture will be avoided; but let us also contemplate the possibility of the contrary, and prepare our minds seriously for the unwelcome event.
February 21, 1797.
The Paris accounts inform us, that France has lately exercised toward Genoa an act of atrocious oppression, which is an additional and striking indication of the domineering and predatory spirit by which she is governed. This little republic, whose territory scarcely extends beyond the walls of her metropolis, has been compelled, it seems, to ransom herself from the talons of France by a contribution of nearly a million of dollars, a large sum for her contracted resources. For this boon, “the French Government engages on its part to renounce all claims upon Genoa, to forget what has passed during the present war, and to forbear any future demands.”
It would appear from this, that France, to color the odious exaction, besides the pretence of misconduct toward her in the present war, has not disdained to resort to the stale and pitiful device of reviving some antiquated claim upon the country itself. In vain did the signal hazards encountered by Genoa to preserve her neutrality, in defiance of the host of enemies originally leagued against France,—in vain did the character and title of republic plead for a more generous treatment. The attractions of plunder predominated. The spirit of rapine, callous to the touch of justice, blind to the evidence of truth, deaf to the voice of entreaty, had marked out, and devoted the mark. There was no alternative but to compound or perish.
If it be even supposed, though this has never appeared, that at some period of the war Genoa may be chargeable with acts of questionable propriety in relation to France, it is manifest, that it ought to be attributed to the necessity of a situation which must have obliged her to temporize. A very small and feeble state, in the midst of so many great conflicting powers, parts of her territories occupied by armies which she was unable to oppose, it were a miracle, indeed, if her conduct in every particular will bear the test of rigorous scrutiny. But if at any time the pressure of circumstances may have occasioned some slight deviation, there is, nevertheless, full evidence of a constant solicitude on the part of Genoa to maintain, to the utmost of her ability, a sincere neutrality. It is impossible to forget the glorious stand which she at one time made against the imperious efforts of Great Britain to force her from her neutral position. The magnanimous and exemplary fortitude which she displayed on that occasion excited in this country universal admiration, and must have made a deep impression. ‘T is only to recollect that instance to be satisfied that the treatment which she has just experienced from France merits the indignant execration of mankind. Unfortunate Genoa! how little didst thou imagine that thou wert destined so soon to be compelled to purchase thy safety from the crushing weight of that hand which ought to have been the first to rise in thy defence!
How fruitful at the same time of instruction to us is this painful example! The most infatuated partisans of France cannot but see in it an unequivocal proof of the rapacious and vindictive policy which dictates her measures. All men must see in it, that the flagrant injuries which we are now suffering from her, proceed from a general plan of domination and plunder; from a disposition to prostrate nations at her feet; to trample upon their necks; to ravish from them whatever her avidity or convenience may think fit to dedicate to her own use.
The last intelligence from France seems to dispel the doubt whether the depredations in the West Indies may not have resulted from misapprehension or abuse of the orders of the French Government. It is now understood to be a fact that the cruisers of France everywhere are authorized to capture and bring in all vessels bound to the ports of her enemies.
This plan is pregnant with the worst evils, which are to be dreaded from the declared and unqualified hostility of any foreign power. If France, after being properly called upon to renounce it, shall persevere in the measure, there cannot be a question but that open war will be preferable to such a state. By whatever name treachery or pusillanimity may attempt to disguise it, ‘t is in fact war of the worst kind, war on one side. If we can be induced to submit to it longer than is necessary to ascertain that it cannot be averted by negotiation, we are undone as a people. Whether our determination shall be to coop up our trade by embargoes, or to permit our commerce to continue to float an unprotected prey to French cruisers, our degradation and ruin will be equally complete. The destruction of our navigation and commerce, the annihilation of our mercantile capital, the dispersion and loss of our seamen—obliged to emigrate for subsistence,—the extinction of our revenue, the fall of public credit, the stagnation of every species of industry, the general impoverishment of our citizens,—these will be minor evils in the dreadful catalogue. Some years of security and exertion might repair them. But the humiliation of the American mind would be a lasting and a mortal disease in our social habit. Mental debasement is the greatest misfortune that can befall a people. The most pernicious of conquests which a state can experience is a conquest over that just and elevated sense of its own rights which inspires a due sensibility to insult and injury; over that virtuous and generous pride of character, which prefers any peril or sacrifice to a final submission to oppression, and which regards national ignominy as the greatest of national calamities.
The records of history contain numerous proofs of this truth. But an appeal to them is unnecessary. Holland and Italy present to our immediate observation, examples as decisive as they are deplorable. The former within the last ten years has undergone two revolutions by the intervention of foreign powers, without even a serious struggle. Mutilated of precious portions of its territory at home by pretended benefactors but real despoilers, its dominions abroad slide into the possession of its enemies rather as derelicts than as the acquisitions of victory. Its fleets surrender without a blow. Important only by the spoils which it offers no less to its friends than to its enemies, every symptom in its affairs is portentous of national annihilation. With regard to Italy, ‘t is sufficient to say that she is debased enough, not even to dare to take part in a contest, on which, at this moment, her destiny is suspended.
Moderation in every nation is a virtue. In weak or young nations, it is often wise to take every chance by patience and address to divert hostility, and in this view to hold parleywith insult and injury; but to capitulate with oppression, or rather to surrender to it at discretion, is, in any nation that has any power of resistance, at all times as foolish as it is contemptible. The honor of a nation is its life. Deliberately to abandon it, is to commit an act of political suicide. There is treason in the sentiment, avowed in the language of some, and betrayed by the conduct of others, that we ought to bear any thing from France, rather than go to war with her. The nation, which can prefer disgrace to danger is prepared for a Master and deserves one.
February 27, 1797.
The emissaries of France when driven from every other expedient for extenuating her depredations, have a last refuge in the example of Great Britain. The treatment which we now receive from France (say they) is not worse than that which we have received from Great Britain. If this apology were founded in fact, it would still be a miserable subterfuge. For what excuse is it to France, or what consolation to us, that she, our boasted friend and benefactress, treats us only not worse than a power which is stigmatized as an envious rival and an implacable foe?
The conduct of Great Britain, appealed to in justification of France, was admitted by all to be inexcusable. Even Gallic faction thought it so extreme as to call for immediate reprisals. The real patriots differed from them only in thinking, that an armed negotiation, to end in reprisals, if unattended with success, was preferable to immediate hostility. How dare the men, who at that period were the clamorous champions of our national dignity,—how dare they (I ask) now to stand forth the preachers not of moderation (for in the propriety of this all unite) but of tame submission—of a servility abject enough to love and cherish the hand which despoils us, to kiss the rod which stings us with unprovoked lashes? What logic, what magic, can render innocent or venial in France that which was so criminal and odious in Great Britain?
The pretext (we know) of France is, that we have permitted Great Britain to treat us in the same manner, and her deluded or debauched adherents are mean or prostrate enough to re-echo the excuse.
Let us grant, for argument’s sake, all that can be pretended on this subject—namely, that through want of energy in our administration, or from the opinion which it entertained of the situation of the country, there has been too much patience under the oppressions of Great Britain. Is this really a justification to France? Is a defect of vigor in the government of one country, or an underestimate of its means for repelling injury, a sufficient cause for another government, lavish in profession of friendship, to imitate toward it the aggressions which it has suffered from an oppressor? What in private life would be said of that man, who called himself the friend of another, and because the last had too passively allowed a third, the enemy of both, to wrest from him a portion of his property, should deduce from this a pretext to strip him of the remainder? Has language epithets too severe for such a character? Is not the guilt of unjust violence in a case like this aggravated by that of hypocrisy and perfidy?
But this is not our only reply. The truth is (and a truth we may boldly proclaim) that we never did tolerate the aggressions of Great Britain; that we have steadily resisted them, and resisted them with success. In the respectable attitude of an armed negotiation, seconded by the self-denying and very influential measure of an embargo, we sent to demand a revocation of the orders under which we suffered, and retribution for the losses which we had sustained. The orders were revoked and the retribution has been stipulated, and the stipulation is in a course of honorable and liberal execution. The redress of ancient grievances, on the ground of a reciprocity, demanded by every principle of rectitude, has been superadded to that of more recent ones.
Our flags at this moment proudly wave on the ramparts which had been so long detained from us; and Indian butcheries along the whole extent of our vast frontier have been terminated. More than this—the redress obtained from Great Britain was a principal cause of the happy accommodation of our dispute with Spain, of the recognition of our right to navigate the Mississippi, and of the establishment of a southern boundary equal to our most sanguine wishes. These are the fruits (and immense fruits they are) of a vigorous though temperate resistance to the aggressions of Great Britain.
‘T is, therefore, in every sense false, that our government has permitted Great Britain to do as France is now doing. Except here and there the accidental irregularity of the commander of a particular ship, there is not one clear right which the law of nations entitles us to claim, that is not now respected by Great Britain, and to a degree unusual in the history of the treatment of neutral nations by great belligerent powers.
It follows that the suggestion on which France bottoms her ill-treatment of us is a frivolous and a colorless pretext. ‘T is to confound all just ideas, to consider a temporary forbearance as a permission or acquiescence—to pretend, above all, to retaliate that injury after it has passed, has ceased, and has been redressed. We are bound, then, to conclude that our real crime in the eyes of France is, that we had the temerity to think and to act for ourselves, and did not plunge headlong into war with Great Britain; that the principal streams of our commerce, from the natural relations of demand and supply, flow through the channels of her commerce; and that the booty which it offers to rapacity exceeds the organized means of protection.
But a country, containing five millions of people, the second in the number of its seamen, that prime sinew of maritime force, with a varied industry, and an export of sixty millions, understanding its rights, not deficient in spirit to vindicate them, if compelled against its will to exert its strength and resources, will, under the guidance of faithful and patriotic counsels, be at no loss to convince its despoilers that there is as much folly as wickedness in such a calculation. This reflection ought at once to console and to animate us; though the remembrance of former friendship and a spirit of virtuous moderation will induce us still to wish that there may be some error in appearances—that the views of France are not as violent and as hostile as they seem to be—that an amicable explanation may yet dispel the impending clouds, and brighten the political horizon with a happy reconciliation.
March 13, 1797.
I have asserted that the conduct of Great Britain toward us and other neutral powers has been at no period so exceptionable as that of France at the present juncture. A more distinct view of this truth may be useful, which will be assisted by a retrospect of the principal acts of violence on both sides.
Though the circumstances were contemporarily disclosed in all our newspapers, yet so blind and deaf were we rendered by our partiality for France, that few among us, till very lately, have been aware, that the first of those acts is fairly chargeable upon her. Such, notwithstanding, is the fact. The first in order of time is a decree of the National Convention of the 9th of May, 1793, which, reciting that neutral flags are not respected by the enemies of France, and enumerating some instances of alleged violation, proceeds to authorize the vessels of war and cruisers of France to arrest and conduct into her ports all neutral vessels which are found laden in whole or in part with provisions belonging to neutrals, or merchandises belonging to the enemies of France; the latter to be confiscated as prize for the benefit of the captors, the former to be detained, but paid for according to their value at the places for which they were destined.
The instances enumerated as the pretext for so direct and formal an attack upon the rights of neutral powers, except two, turn upon the pretensions to capture goods of an enemy in the ships of a friend. Of the remaining two, one is the case of an American vessel going from Falmouth to St. Maloes with a cargo of wheat, which the decree states was taken by an English frigate and carried into Guernsey, where the agents of the English Government detained the cargo, upon a promise to pay the value, as not being for French account; the other is the case of some French passengers going in a Genoese vessel from Cadiz to Bayonne, who were plundered on the passage by the crew of an English privateer.
There is no question but that Great Britain, from the beginning of the war, has claimed and exercised the right of capturing the property of her enemies found in neutral bottoms, and it has been unanswerably demonstrated, that for this she has the sanction of the general law of nations. But France, from the exercise of that right by Great Britain, when not forbidden by any treaty, can certainly derive no justification for the imitation of the practice, in opposition to the precise and peremptory stipulations of her treaties. Every treaty which established the rule of “free ships free goods,” must have contemplated the unequal operation of that rule to the contracting parties, when one was at peace, the other at war; looking for indemnification to the correspondent of taking friends’ property in enemies’ ships, and to the reciprocal effect of the rule when the state of peace and war should be reversed. To make its unequal operation in an existing war an excuse for disregarding the rule, is therefore a subterfuge for a breach of faith, which hardly seeks to save appearances. France, as she once was, would have blushed to use it. It is one, among many instances, of the attempts of revolutionary France to dogmatize mankind out of its reason, as if she expected to work a change in the faculties as well as in the habits and opinions of men.
The case of the American vessel carried to Guernsey is that of a clear infraction of neutral right. But standing singly, it was insufficient evidence of a plan of the British Government to pursue the principle. It countenanced suspicion of a secret order for the purpose; but it did not amount to proof of such an order. There might have been misapprehension or misrepresentation; or if neither was the case, the circumstance was resolvable into the mere irregularity of particular agents; it is unjustifiable to ascribe to a government, as the result of a premeditated plan, and to use as the ground of reprisals, a single case of irregularity happening in a detached portion of the dominions of that government. France was bound to have waited for more full evidence. There was no warrant in a solitary precedent for general retaliation; even if we could admit the detestable doctrine, that the injustice of one belligerent power towards neutral nations is a warrant for similar injustice in another.
The violation of the courtesy of war in the instance of the French passengers, however brutal in itself, was truly a frivolous pretext for the decree. The frequency of irregular conduct in the commanders and crews of privateers, even in contempt of the regulations of their own governments, naturally explains such a transaction into the cupidity of individuals, and forbids the imputation of it to their governments. There never was a war in which similar outrages did not occur in spite of the most sincere endeavors to prevent them.
The natural and plain conclusion is, that the decree in question was a wanton proceeding in the French Government, uncountenanced by the previous conduct either of its enemies, or of the neutral nations who were destined to punishment for their faults.
For, the first order of the British Government authorizing the seizure of provisions is dated the sixth of June, 1793, nearly a month posterior to the French decree. As there is not the least vestige of any prior order, the presumption is that none ever existed. If any had existed, the course of things has been such as to afford a moral certainty that it would have appeared. The subsequent date of the British order is a strong confirmation of the argument, that the affair of the vessel carried to Guernsey was nothing more than a particular irregularity.
The publicity of all the proceedings of the French Government, and the celerity of communication between Paris and London, leave no doubt that the decree of May the 9th was known in London before the order of June the 6th. It follows, that France herself furnished to Great Britain the example and the pretext for the most odious of the measures with which she is chargeable; and, that so far as precedent can justify crime, Great Britain may find in the conduct of France the vindication of her own.
An obvious reflection presents itself. How great was the infatuation of France thus to set the example of an interruption of neutral commerce in provisions, in the freedom of which she was so much more interested than her adversaries. If the detention of the cargo at Guernsey was a bait, we cannot but be astonished at the stupid levity with which it was swallowed.
We are no less struck with the eager precipitancy with which France seized the pretext for a formal and systematic invasion of the rights of neutral powers; equally regardless of the obligations of treaty and of the injunctions of the laws of nations. The presumption of the connivance of the neutral power in infractions of its rights is the only colorable ground for the French idea of retaliation on the sufferers. Here the yet early stage of the war and the recency of the facts alleged as motives to the decree, preclude the supposition of connivance. The unjust violence of France, consequently, in resorting to retaliation, stands without the slightest veil. From this prominent trait we may distinguish, without possibility of mistake, the real character of her system.
March 27, 1797.
It has been seen that the Government of France has an indisputable title to the culpable pre-eminence of having taken lead in the violation of neutral rights; and that the first instance on the part of the British Government, is nearly a month posterior to the commencement of the evil by France. But it was not only posterior, it was also less comprehensive: that of France extended to all provisions, that of Great Britain to certain kinds only—corn, flour, and meal.
The French decree, as to the United States, was repeatedly suspended and revived. As to other neutral nations, it continued a permanent precedent to sanction the practice of Great Britain.
This decretal versatility is alone complete evidence of want of principle. It is the more censurable, because it is ascertained that it proceeded, in part at least, from a corrupt source. The sacred power of law-making became the minister and the accomplice of private rapine. Decrees exacted by the solemn obligations of treaty were sacrificed to sea rovers—to enable them to enjoy the prey, for the seizure of which they ought to have been condignly punished.
The next and most injurious of the acts of Great Britain is the order of the 6th of November, 1793, which instructs the commanders of ships of war and privateers to stop, detain, and carry in for adjudication all ships, laden with the produce of any French colony, or carrying provisions or other supplies for the use of such colony. It was under the cover of this order that were committed the numerous depredations on our commerce, which were the immediate cause of sending an envoy to Great Britain.
The terms of this order were ambiguous, warranting a suspicion that they were designed to admit of an oppressive interpretation, and yet to leave room for a disavowal of it. Whether this was really the case, or whether the order was in fact misconstrued by the British officers and tribunals in the West Indies, it is certain that the British Government, almost as soon as their construction was known in England, not only disclaimed it, but issued a new order, dated the first of January, 1794, revoking that of the sixth of November, and expressly restraining the power to detain and carry in vessels for adjudication to such as were laden with the produce of a French island going from a port in the island to a port in Europe, to such as were laden with the like produce belonging to subjects of France whithersoever bound, to such as were laden in whole or in part with naval or military stores bound to a French island.
This last order obviated in a great measure the mischief of the former; and though its principles were in some respect such as we ought never to recognize, yet were they conformable with the practice of the principal maritime powers in antecedent modern wars, especially of France and Great Britain.
These acts comprise the whole of those on which the British spoliations have been founded. Taken with all the latitude of construction adopted by the British officers and courts in the West Indies, they amount to this, and to no more: “the seizure and appropriations of our corn, flour, and meal, going to a French port, on the condition of paying for them, the seizure and confiscation of our vessels with their cargoes, when laden with the produce of a French colony, or in the act of carrying provisions or other supplies for the use of said colony.” Our trade with France herself, except in corn, flour, and meal, and in contraband articles, has in the worst of times remained unmolested, and has even been allowed to be carried on directly from British ports.
Iniquitous and oppressive as were the acts of Great Britain, how very far short do they fall of the more iniquitous and oppressive decrees of France, as these have been construed and acted upon, not only by the colonial administrations, but by some of its tribunals in Europe! The decree of the second of July, 1796, purports in substance, that France will treat the neutral powers as they have permitted her enemies to treat them. But under this masked battery the whole of our trade with the enemies of France has been assailed. The two edicts of her proconsuls in the West Indies proclaim the capture of all neutral vessels bound to or coming from English ports, and the uniform consequence is confiscation of vessel and cargo. We are now likewise officially informed that a French consular tribunal at Cadiz has condemned neutral vessels carried in there, on the same broad principle. The evil to us has been magnified by various aggravations. Our vessels going from one neutral port to another, even our vessels going from French ports, have been the victims of the piratical spirit which dictated those edicts. Outrage, imprisonment, fetters, disease, and death, inflicted or brought upon the commanders and crews of our vessels, cause the bitter cup of our sufferings to overflow, and leave the imagination at a loss for a parallel without seeking for it in the ferocious regions of Barbary.
The ambiguity of the British order of November was a just subject of reproach to its authors. What shall be said of the perfidious ambiguity of the French decree of the 2d of July, 1796? When retaliation of the partial injuries which neutral nations have suffered from the enemies of France was announced, who could have dreamt that a universal war on their trade was meditated? Who that has a spark of the American in his soul can refuse his utmost indignation, as well at the manner as at the matter of this atrocious proceeding? Not only the partisans of France, the advocates for the honor of republican government, but the friends of human nature, must desire that the final explanation may reject, as a criminal abuse, the practice upon that decree, and repair as far as possible the mischiefs which it has occasioned.
But the treaty with Great Britain (still exclaim the dupes or hirelings of France), that abominable instrument, is the Pandora’s box from which all our misfortunes issue. When that instrument was confirmed, who could have expected anything better?
Peace, ye seduced or seducing babblers! Had Denmark or Sweden any share in making that reprobated treaty? Besides the refutation of your flimsy pretence, by the ill-treatment in other shapes of several of the neutral powers in Europe—by the information from Cadiz of the indiscriminate seizure and condemnation of neutral vessels going to or coming from English ports,—do ye not read in the recent accounts from St. Bartholomews, a Swedish island, that not Americans only, that Danes, that Swedes, that all the neutral nations partake in the common calamity—alike the prey of a devouring rapacity? Will ye still then insist on the barefaced imposture of ascribing to the treaty grievances which are the mere effects of a spirit of oppression and rapine? Read the letter of Mr. Skipwith to Mr. Monroe, dated at Paris, the third of October, 1794, prior to the signature of the treaty by Mr. Jay. Remember that he is an American agent, acting under the eye of an American minister, and that both the minister and the agent are distinguished by a partiality for France, which exempts them from the suspicion of exaggerating her misdeeds. What does that letter tell us? Why, in express terms, that “innumerable embarrassments and difficulties had for a long time oppressed her commerce in different ports of the republic; that if the French Government did not soon remedy the incessant abuses and vexations practised daily upon our merchants, the trade of the United States with France must cease.” Hence may we learn, that long before our treaty with Great Britain, the vexations of our trade in the ports of France were so extreme as to have become intolerable; that “the indiscriminate capture of our vessels at sea by the vessels of war of the republic,” formed only one class of the injuries which our commerce has sustained: in a word, that the predatory system of France existed before the treaty, and has only of late acquired greater activity from the cravings of an exhausted treasury.
The man who, after this mass of evidence, shall be the apologist of France, and the calumniator of his own government, is not an American. The choice for him lies between being deemed a fool, a madman, or a traitor.
(From the New York Commercial Advertiser.)
March 10, 1798.
The enlightened friends of America never saw greater occasion of disquietude than at the present juncture. Our nation, through its official organs, has been treatied with studied contempt and systematic insult: essential rights of the country are perseveringly violated, and its independence and liberty eventually threatened by the most flagitious, despotic, and vindictive government that ever disgraced the annals of mankind; by a government marching with hasty and colossal strides to universal empire, and in the execution of this hideous project, wielding with absolute authority the whole physical force of the most enthralled but most powerful nation on earth. In a situation like this, how great is the cause to lament, how afflicting to every heart alive to the honor and interests of its country to observe, that distracted and inefficient councils, that a palsied and unconscious state of the public mind, afford too little assurance of measures adequate either to the urgency of the evils which are felt, or to the magnitude of the dangers which are in prospect.
When Great Britain attempted to wrest from us those rights, without which we must have descended from the rank of freemen, a keen and strong sense of injury and danger ran with electric swiftness through the breasts of our citizens. The mass and weight of talents, property, and character hastened to confederate in the public cause. The great body of our community everywhere burned with a holy zeal to defend it, and were eager to make sacrifices on the altar of their country.
If the nation with which we were called to contend was then the preponderating power of Europe; if by her great wealth and the success of her arms she was in a condition to bias or to awe the cabinets of princes; if her fleets covered and domineered over the ocean, facilitating depredation and invasion; if the penalties of rebellion hung over an unsuccessful contest; if America was yet in the cradle of her political existence; if her population little exceeded two millions; if she was without government, without fleets or armies, arsenals or magazines, without military knowledge; still her citizens had a just and elevated sense of her rights; were thoroughly awake to the violence and injustice of the attack upon them; saw the conduct of her adversary without apology or extenuation; and under the impulse of these impressions and views, determined, with little short of unanimity, to brave every hazard in her defence.
This magnanimous spirit was the sure pledge that all the energies of the country would be exerted to bring all its resources into action; that whatever was possible would be done towards effectual opposition; and this, combined with the immense advantage of distance, warranted the expectation of ultimate success. The event justified the expectation and rewarded the glorious spirit from which it was derived.
Far different is the picture of our present situation! The five tyrants of France, after binding in chains their own countrymen, after prostrating surrounding nations, and vanquishing all external resistance to the revolutionary despotism at home, without the shadow of necessity, with no discernible motive, other than to confirm their usurpation and extend the sphere of their domination abroad,—these implacable tyrants obstinately and remorselessly persist in prolonging the calamities of mankind, and seem resolved, as far as they can, to multiply and perpetuate them. Acting upon the pretension to universal empire, they have at length in fact, though not in name, decreed war against all nations not in league with themselves; and towards this country in particular, they add to a long train of unprovoked aggressions and affronts the insupportable outrage of refusing to receive the extraordinary ambassadors whom we sent to endeavor to appease and conciliate. Thus have they, in regard to us, filled up the measure of national insult and humiliation. ‘T is not in their power, unless we are accomplices in the design, to sink us lower. ‘T is only in our own power to do this by an abject submission to their will.
But though a knowledge of the true character of the citizens of this country will not permit it to be suspected that a majority either in our public councils or in the community can be so degraded or infatuated; yet to the firm and independent lover of his country, there are appearances at once mortifying and alarming.
Among those who divide our legislative councils, we perceive hitherto, on the one side, unremitting efforts to justify or excuse the despots of France, to vilify and discredit our own government, of course to destroy its necessary vigor, and to distract the opinion and to damp the zeal of our citizens,—what is worse, to divert their affections from their own to a foreign country; on the other side, we have as yet seen neither expanded views of our situation, nor measures at all proportioned to the seriousness and extent of the danger. While our independence is menaced, little more is heard than of guarding our trade, and this too in very feeble and tremulous accents.
In the community, though in a sounder state than its representatives, we discover the vestiges of the same divisions which enervate our councils. A few—happily, a contemptible few,—prostituted to a foreign enemy, seem willing that their country should become a province to France. Some of these dare even to insinuate the treasonable and parricidal sentiment, that in case of invasion they would join the standard of France. Another and a more considerable part are weak enough to appear disposed to sacrifice our commerce, to endure every indignity, and even to become tributary, rather than to encounter war or to increase the chances of it; as if a nation could preserve any rights—could even retain its freedom,—which should conduct itself on the principle of passive obedience to injury and outrage; as if the debasement of the public mind did not include the debasement of the individual mind, and the dereliction of whatever adorns or exalts human nature; as if there could be any security in compounding with tyranny and injustice by degrading compliances; as if submission to the existing violations of our sovereignty would not invite still greater, and whet the appetite to devour us by the allurement of an unresisting prey; as if war was ever to be averted by betraying unequivocally a pusillanimous dread of it as the greatest of all evils.
This country has doubtless powerful motives to cultivate peace. It is its policy, for the sake of this object, to go a great way in yielding secondary interests, and to meet injury with patience, as long as it could be done without the manifest abandonment of essential rights—without absolute dishonor. But to do more than this is suicide in any people who have the least chance of contending with effect. The conduct of our government has corresponded with the cogent inducements to a pacific system. Toward Great Britain it displayed forbearance—toward France it hath shown humility. In the case of Great Britain its moderation was attended with success. But the inexorable arrogance and rapacity of the oppressors of unhappy France bar all the avenues to reconciliation as well as to redress, accumulating upon us injury and insult, till there is no choice left but between resistance and infamy. My countrymen, can ye hesitate which to prefer? Can ye consent to taste the brutalizing cup of disgrace; to wear the livery of foreign masters; to put on the hateful fetters of foreign bondage? Will it make any difference to you, that the badge of your servitude is a cap rather than an epaulet? Will tyranny be less odious because five instead of one inflict the rod? What is there to deter you from the manful vindication of your rights and your honor?
With an immense ocean rolling between the United States and France; with ample materials for ship-building, and a body of hardy seamen more numerous and more expert than France can boast; with a population exceeding five millions, spread over a wide extent of country, offering no one point, the seizure of which, as of the great capitals of Europe, might decide the issue; with a soil liberal of all the productions that give strength and resource; with the rudiments of the most essential manufactures, capable of being developed in proportion to our want; with a numerous and, in many quarters, well-appointed militia; with respectable revenues and a flourishing credit; with many of the principal sources of taxation yet untouched; with considerable arsenals, and the means of extending them; with experienced officers ready to form an army under the command of the same illustrious chief who before led them to victory and glory, and who, if the occasion should require it, could not hesitate to obey the summons of his country;—what a striking and encouraging contrast does this situation in many respects present, to that in which we defied the thunder of Britain! What is there in it to excuse or palliate the cowardice and baseness of a tame surrender of our rights to France?
The question is unnecessary. The people of America are neither idiots nor dastards. They did not break one yoke to put on another. Though a portion of them have been hitherto misled; yet not even these, still less the great body of the nation, can be long unaware of the true situation, or blind to the treacherous arts by which they are attempted to be hoodwinked. The unfaithful and guilty leaders of a foreign faction, unmasked in all their intrinsic deformity, must quickly shrink from the scene appalled and confounded. The virtuous whom they have led astray will renounce their exotic standard. Honest men of all parties will unite to maintain and defend the honor and the sovereignty of their country.
The crisis demands it. ‘T is folly to dissemble. The despots of France are waging war against us. Intoxicated with success and the inordinate love of power, they virtually threaten our independence. All amicable means have in vain been tried towards accommodation. The problem now to be solved is whether we will maintain or surrender our sovereignty. To maintain it with firmness is the most sacred of duties, the most glorious of tasks. The happiness of our country, the honor of the American name, demands it; the genius of independence exhorts to it; the secret mourning voice of oppressed millions in the very country whose despots menace us, admonish to it by their suffering example; the offended dignity of man commands us not to be accessory to its further degradation; reverence to the Supreme Governor of the universe enjoins us not to bow the knee to the modern Titans who erect their impious crests against him and vainly imagine they can subvert his eternal throne.
But ‘t is not enough to resist. ‘T is requisite to resist with energy. That will be a narrow view of our situation which does not contemplate that we may be called, at our very doors, to defend our independence and liberty, and which does not provide against it by bringing into activity and completely organizing all the resources of our country. A respectable naval force ought to protect our commerce, and a respectable army ought both to diminish the temptation to invasion, by lessening the apparent chance of success, and to guarantee us not only against the signal success of such an attempt, but against the serious though partial calamities which in that case would certainly await us if we have to rely on militia alone against the enterprises of veteran troops, drenched in blood and slaughter, and led by a skilful and daring chief.
April 4, 1798.
The description of vice, by a celebrated poet, may aptly be applied to the Revolutionary Government of France. It is
“A monster of such horrid mien As to be hated needs but to be seen.“
Unfortunately, however, for mankind, a species of moral pestilence has so far disordered the mental eye of a considerable portion of it, as to prevent a distinct view of the deformities of this prodigy of human wickedness and folly. It is the misfortune of this country in particular, that too many among its citizens have seen the monster, in all its dreadful transformations, with complacency or toleration. Nor is it among the least of the contradictions of the human mind, that a religious, moral, and sober people should have regarded with indulgence so frightful a volcano of atheism, depravity, and absurdity; that a gentle and humane people should have viewed without detestation, so hateful an instrument of cruelty and bloodshed; that a people having an enlightened and ardent attachment to genuine liberty, should have contemplated without horror so tremendous an engine of despotism and slavery. The film indeed begins to be removed, but the vision of many of those who have been under its influence is not yet restored to the necessary energy or clearness.
It is of the last importance to our national safety and welfare, that the remaining obscurity should be speedily dispelled. Till this shall be the case, we shall stand on the brink of a precipice.
To exhibit the hydra in all its horrible pre-eminence of guilt and mischief, would require volumes. Slight sketches, chiefly to portray its character in reference to other nations, are all that will comport with the plan of these papers.
In retracing the progress of a war which has immersed Europe in blood and calamity, it is an error as common as it is strange to acquit France of responsibility, and throw the whole blame upon her adversaries. This is a principal source of the indulgence which is shown to the extravagances and enormities of her revolution. And yet the plainest facts demonstrate that the reverse of this supposition is far more agreeable to truth. It required all the bold imposing pretences of the demagogues of France, all the docile partiality of a warm admiration for her revolution, to have secured a moment’s success to so glaring a deception.
The origin of the war is usually charged to the treaty of Pilnitz and to the counter-revolutionary projects of the parties to it.
To this day we are without authentic and accurate evidence of the nature of that treaty. Taking its existence for granted, there is not the least proof that it comprehended any other powers than Austria, Prussia, and Sardinia. Beyond these therefore unless suspicion be substituted for fact, it could not afford even a pretext for hostility. It is likewise certain that, after the date assigned to the treaty of Pilnitz, the emperor, who was the reputed head of the confederacy, gave strong proof of the renunciation of its object, if hostile to the revolution, by signifying, through his ministers, to all the foreign courts, his determination to acquiesce in the constitution of 1792, accepted by Louis the XVI.
The diplomatic correspondence between France and Austria, which preceded the rupture, evinces that the treaty of Pilnitz was not the cause of the war, for it is not even mentioned. The immediate, ostensible cause, as it there appears, was the refusal of Austria to disarm in compliance with the peremptory demand of France: a demand to which this apparently very reasonable reply was given—that France had previously armed to a greater extent; and that Austria could not safely reduce her force while France remained in so disturbed and inflamed a state as to leave her neighbors every moment exposed to the enterprises of her revolutionary fervor. There is no absolute criterion by which it can be pronounced whether this reply was merely a pretext or the dictate of a serious apprehension. But it is certain that the correspondence discovers great appearance of moderation and candor, on the part of the imperial cabinet, and it is not to be denied, that the state of effervescence of the French nation at this juncture furnished real cause of alarm to the neighboring governments.
It is then, at best, problematical, whether France in declaring war, as she did at the same time against Austria and Prussia, was actuated by the conviction that it was necessary to anticipate and disconcert the unfriendly views of those powers; or whether the war, as has been suggested with great probability, was sought by the republican party as a means of embarrassing the executive government, and paving the way for the overthrow of royalty. Two things well established are instructive on this point. The one, that the king was driven against his wish, by a ministry forced upon him by the popular party, to propose the declaration of war, which he considered as the tomb of his family; the other, that Brissot, the head of the then prevailing faction, some time afterwards exultingly boasted that, “but for this war, the revolution of the tenth of August would never have taken place—that, but for this war, France would never have been a republic.”
Admitting nevertheless that the true source of the war with Austria and Prussia is enveloped in some obscurity, there is none as to the wars in which France became subsequently engaged. It is clear as to them that she was the original aggressor.
It appeared from contemporary testimony that one of the first acts of that assembly which dethroned the king was, in a paroxysm of revolutionary frenzy, to declare itself “A Committee of Insurrection of the whole human race, for the purpose of overturning all existing government.” This extravagant declaration surpasses any thing to be found in the ample record of human madness. It amounted to an act of hostility against mankind. The republic of America no less than the despotism of Turkey was included in the anathema. It breathed that wild and excessive spirit of fanaticism which would scruple no means of establishing its favorite tenets; and which, in its avowed object, threatening the disorganization of all governments, warranted a universal combination to destroy the monstrous system of which it was the soul.
The decrees of the 19th of November and the 15th of December, 1792, were modifications of the same spirit. The first offered fraternity and assistance to every people who should wish to recover their liberty, and charged the executive power to send orders to their generals to give that assistance, and to defend those citizens who had been or might be vexed for the cause of liberty.
The last declared that the French nation would treat as enemies any people who, refusing or renouncing liberty and equality, were desirous of preserving, recalling, or entering into accommodation with their prince and privileged castes.
The first was a general signal to insurrection and revolt. It was an invitation to the seditious of every country, in pursuit of chimerical schemes of more perfect liberty, to conspire under the patronage of France against the established government, however free. To assist a people in a reasonable and virtuous struggle for liberty, already begun, is both justifiable and laudable; but to incite to revolution everywhere by indiscriminate offers of assistance beforehand, is to invade and endanger the foundation of social tranquillity. There is no term of reproach or execration too strong for so flagitious an attempt.
The last of the two decrees is not merely in spirit—it is in terms equivalent to a manifesto of war against every nation having a prince or nobility. It declares explicitly and formally that the French nation will treat as enemies every people who may desire to preserve or restore a government of that character.
It is impossible not to feel the utmost indignation against so presumptuous and so odious a measure. It was not only to scatter the embers of a general conflagration in Europe; it was to interfere coercively in the interior arrangements of other nations; it was to dictate to them, under the penalty of the vengeance of France, what form of government they should live under; it was to forbid them to pursue their political happiness in their own way; it was to set up the worst of all despotisms, a despotism over opinion, not against one nation, but against almost all nations. With what propriety is the interference of the powers ultimately coalesced against France, in her interior arrangements, imputed to them as an unpardonable crime, when her leaders had given so terrible an example, and had provoked retaliation as a means of self-preservation?
These decrees preceded the transactions which immediately led to a rupture between France and the other powers, Austria and Prussia excepted.
It is idle to pretend, that they did not furnish to those powers just cause of war. There is no rule of public law better established, or on better grounds, than that when one nation unequivocally avows maxims of conduct dangerous to the security and tranquillity of others, they have a right to attack her and to endeavor to disable her from carrying her schemes into effect. They are not bound to wait till inimical designs are matured for action, when it may be too late to defeat them.
How far it may have been wise in a particular government to have taken up the gauntlet, or, if in its option, to have left France to the fermentations of the pernicious principles by which its leaders were actuated, is a question of mere expediency, distinct from the right. It is also a complicated and difficult question, one which able and upright men might decide different ways. But the right is still indisputable. The moment the convention vomited forth these venomous decrees, all the governments threatened were justifiable in making war upon France.
Neither were they bound to be satisfied with after-explanations or qualifications of the principles which had been declared. They had a right to judge conscientiously whether reliance could be placed on any pretended change of system, and to act accordingly. And while the power of France remained in the same men, who had discovered such hostile views, and while the effervescence of the public mind continued at its height, there could not have been, in the nature of things, any security in assurance of greater moderation. Fanaticism is a spirit equally fraudulent and intractable. Fanatics may dissemble the better to effect their aims, but they seldom suddenly reform. No faith is due to the reformation which they may effect, unless it has been the work of time and experience.
But whether a wrong or right election, in point of expediency, may have been made by all or any of the powers which, after the passing of those decrees, became engaged in hostility with France, it is not the less true, that her government was the first aggressor, and is primarily chargeable with the evils which have followed. This conclusion is greatly aided by the striking fact, that it was France which declared war, not only against Austria and Prussia, but against England, Spain, Sardinia, and Holland.
Two very important inferences result from the facts which have been presented: one, that in blowing up the dreadful flame which has overwhelmed Europe in misfortune, France is the party principally culpable; the other, that the prominent original feature of her revolution is the spirit of proselytism, or the desire of new modelling the political institutions of the rest of the world according to her standard. The course of the revolution also demonstrates that, whatever change of system may have been at any time pretended, or however the system may in particular instances have yielded to a temporary policy, it has continued in the main to govern the conduct of the parties who have successively triumphed and tyrannized.
April 7, 1798.
In reviewing the disgusting spectacle of the French Revolution, it is difficult to avert the eye entirely from those features of it which betray a plan to disorganize the human mind itself, as well as to undermine the venerable pillars that support the edifice of civilized society. The attempt by the rulers of a nation to destroy all religious opinion, and to pervert a whole nation to atheism, is a phenomenon of profligacy reserved to consummate the infamy of the unprincipled reformers of France. The proofs of this terrible design are numerous and convincing.
The animosity to the Christian system is demonstrated by the single fact of the ridiculous and impolitic establishment of the decades, with the evident object of supplanting the Christian Sabbath. The inscriptions by public authority on the tombs of the deceased, affirming death to be an eternal sleep, witness the desire to discredit the belief of the immortality of the soul. The open profession of atheism in the convention, received with acclamations; the honorable mention on its journals of a book professing to prove the nothingness of all religion ; the institution of a festival to offer public worship to a courtesan decorated with the pompous title of “Goddess of Reason”; the congratulatory reception of impious children appearing in the hall of the convention to lisp blasphemy against the King of kings, are among the dreadful proofs of a conspiracy to establish atheism on the ruins of Christianity,—to deprive mankind of its best consolations and most animating hopes, and to make a gloomy desert of the universe.
Latterly, the indications of this plan are not so frequent as they were, but from time to time something still escapes which discovers that it is not renounced. The late address of Buonaparte to the Directory is an example. That unequalled conqueror, from whom it is painful to detract, in whom one would wish to find virtues worthy of his shining talents, profanely unites religion (not superstition) with royalty and the feudal system as the scourges of Europe for centuries past. The decades likewise remain the catapulta which are to batter down Christianity.
Equal pains have been taken to deprave the morals as to extinguish the religion of the country, if indeed morality in a community can be separated from religion. It is among the singular and fantastic vagaries of the French Revolution, that while the Duke of Brunswick was marching to Paris a new law of divorce was passed, which makes it as easy for a husband to get rid of his wife, and a wife of her husband, as to discard a worn-out habit. To complete the dissolution of those ties, which are the chief links of domestic and ultimately of social attachment, the journals of the convention record with guilty applause the accusations preferred by children against their parents.
It is not necessary to heighten the picture by sketching the horrid group of proscriptions and murders which have made France a den of pillage and slaughter; blackening with eternal opprobrium the very name of man.
The pious and moral weep over these scenes as a sepulchre destined to entomb all they revere and esteem. The politician who loves liberty, sees them with regret as a gulf that may swallow up the liberty to which he is devoted. He knows that morality overthrown (and morality must fall with religion), the terrors of despotism can alone curb the impetuous passions of man, and confine him within the bounds of social duty.
But let us return to the conduct of revolutionary France towards other nations, as more immediately within our purpose.
It has been seen that she commenced her career as the champion of universal liberty; and proclaiming destruction to the governments which she was pleased to denominate despotic, made a tender of fraternity and assistance to the nations whom they oppressed. She at the same time disclaimed conquest and aggrandizement.
But it has since clearly appeared that at the very moment she was making these professions, and while her diplomatic agents were hypocritically amusing foreign courts with conciliatory explanations and promises of moderation, she was exerting every faculty, by force and fraud, to accomplish the very conquest and aggrandizement which she insidiously disavowed. The people of Belgium, ensnared by fair pretences, believed that in abandoning the defence of their country and the cause of their ancient sovereign, they acquired a title to enjoy liberty under a government of their own choice, protected by France. Contrary to the hopes which were inspired—contrary to the known will of a large majority of that people—contrary to all their religious and national prejudices, they have been compelled to become departments of France. And their violated temples have afforded a rich plunder to aliment further conquest and oppression. The Dutch, seduced by the same arts to facilitate rather than obstruct the entrance of a French army into their country, thought they were only getting rid of their stadtholder and nobles, and were to retain their territory and their wealth, secured by such a civil establishment as they should freely choose. Their reward is the dismemberment of their country and the loss of their wealth by exhausting contributions; and they are obliged to take a government, dictated by a faction openly countenanced and supported by France. Completely a province of France, in imitation of their frantic masters they are advancing with rapid strides to a lawless tyranny at home. France, professing eternal hatred to kings, was to be the tutelary genius of republics. Holland, Genoa, Venice, the Swiss Canton, and the United States, are agonizing witnesses of her sincerity.
Of undone Holland no more need be said; nothing remains for us but to exercise tender sympathy in the unfortunate fate of a country which generously lent its aid to establish our independence, and to deduce from her melancholy example an instructive lesson to repel with determined vigor the mortal embrace of her seducer and destroyer.
Genoa, a speck on the globe, for having at every hazard resisted the efforts of the enemies of France to force her from a neutral station, is recompensed with a subversion of her government and the pillage of her wealth, by compulsory and burthensome contributions.
Venice is no more! In vain had she preserved a faithful neutrality, when, perhaps, her interposition might have inclined the scale of victory in Italy against France. A few of her citizens kill some French soldiers. Instant retaliation takes place. Every atonement is offered. Nothing will suffice but the overthrow of her government. ‘T is effected. Her own citizens, attracted by the lure of democracy, become accessory to it, and receive a popular government at the hand of France. What is the sequel? what the faith kept with them? It suits France to bribe the emperor to a surrender of the Netherlands and to peace, that she may pursue her projects elsewhere with less obstacle. It suits France to extend her power and commerce by the acquisitions of portions of the Venetian territories. The bribe is offered and accepted. Venice is divided. She disappears from the map of nations. The tragedy of Poland is re-enacted with circumstances of aggravated atrocity. France is perfidious enough to sacrifice a people who at her desire, had consented to abrogate their privileged castes to the chief of those despots against whom she had vowed eternal hatred.
The Swiss Cantons—the boast of republicans—the model to which they have been glad to appeal in proof that a republican government may consist with the order and happiness of society—the old and faithful allies of France, who are not even pretended to have deviated from sincere neutrality,—what are they at this moment? Perhaps like Venice, a story told! The despots of France had found pretences to quarrel with them; commotions were excited; the legions of France were in march to second the insurgents. Little other hope remains than that the death of this respectable people will be as glorious as their life; that they will sell their independence as dearly as they bought it. But why despair of a brave and virtuous people who appear determined to meet the impending danger with a countenance emulous of their ancient renown?
The United States—what is their situation? Their sovereignty trampled in the dust, and their commerce bleeding at every pore, speak in loud accents the spirit of oppression and rapine which characterizes the usurpers of France. But of this a distinct view is requisite, and will be taken.
In these transactions we discover ambition and fanaticism marching hand in hand—bearing the ensigns of hypocrisy, treachery, and rapine. The dogmas of a false and fatal creed second the weapons of ambition. Like the prophet of Mecca, the tyrants of France press forward with the alcoran of their faith in one hand and the sword in the other. They proselyte, subjugate, and debase; no distinction is made between republic and monarchy; all must alike yield to the aggrandizement of the “great nation”—the distinctive, the arrogant appellation lately assumed by France to assert in the face of nations her superiority and ascendency. Nor is it a mere title with which vanity decorates itself—it is the substantial claim of dominion. France, swelled to a gigantic size, and aping ancient Rome, except in her virtues, plainly meditates the control of mankind, and is actually giving the law to nations. Unless they quickly rouse and compel her to abdicate her insolent claim, they will verify the truth of that philosophy, which makes man in his natural state a quadruped, and it will only remain for the miserable animal, converting his hands into paws in the attitude of prone submission, to offer his patient and servile back to whatever burthens the lordly tyrants of France may think fit to impose.
April 12, 1798.
In the pursuit of her plan of universal empire, the two objects which now seem to occupy the attention of France, are a new organization of Germany favorable to other influence, and the demolition of Great Britain. The subversion and plunder, first of Portugal and next of Spain, will be merely collateral instances in the great drama of iniquity.
In the new distribution of the territories, population, and political power of the Germanic body, which has been announced as in contemplation of the Directory, three characters are conspicuous: a despotism to build up rivals to the imperial chief, strong enough to feel the sentiment of competition, but too weak to hazard it alone, who will therefore stand in need of the patronage of France, and, as a consequence, will facilitate her influence in the affairs of the empire; a generosity in making compensation, at the expense of others, for the spoils with which she has aggrandized herself; a facility of transferring communities like herds of cattle from one master to another, without the privilege of an option. In a project like this, it is impossible to overlook the plain indications of a restless, overbearing ambition, combined with a total disregard of the rights and wishes of nations. The people are counted for nothing, their masters every thing.
The conduct of France towards Great Britain is the copy of that of Rome towards Carthage. Its manifest aim is to destroy the principal obstacle to a domination over Europe. History proves that Great Britain has repeatedly upheld the balance of power there, in opposition to the grasping ambition of France. She has no doubt occasionally employed the pretence of danger, as the instrument of her own ambition; but it is not the less true that she has been more than once an essential and effectual shield against real danger. This was remarkably the case in the reign of Louis the XIVth, when the security of Europe was seriously threatened by the successful enterprises of that very ambitious monarch
The course of the last negotiation between France and Britain leaves no doubt that the former was resolved against peace on any practicable terms. This of itself indicates that the destruction of the latter is the direct object in view. But this object is not left to inference. It has been fastidiously proclaimed to the world; and the necessity of crushing the tyrant of the sea has been trumpeted as a motive to other powers to acquiesce in the execution of a plan by which France endeavors to become the tyrant both of sea and land. The understanding of mankind has, at the same time, been mocked with the proposition that the peace of Europe would be secured by the aggrandizement of France on the ruins of her rivals; because then, it is said. having nothing to fear, she would have no motive to attack; as if moderation was to be expected from a government or people having the power to impose its own will without control. The peace of Europe would in such a case be the peace of vassalage.
Towards the execution of the plan of destroying Great Britain, the rights of other nations are daringly and openly invaded. The confiscation is decreed of all vessels with their cargoes, if composed in any part of articles of British fabric; and all nations are to be compelled to shut their ports against the meditated victim. Hamburg is stated to have already reluctantly yielded to this humiliating compulsion.
While the demolition of Great Britain is eagerly pursued as a primary object, that of Portugal seems designed to form an episode in the tragedy. Her fears had induced her to buy a peace. The money she had paid was the immediate instrument of the revolution of September last. Yet no sooner had the news of pacification with the emperor reached Paris, than pretences were sought to elude the ratification of the purchased treaty. A larger tribute was demanded—more probably than it was expected Portugal would be able to pay, to serve as an excuse for marching an army to revolutionize and plunder. The blow may perhaps be suspended by further sacrifices, but it is not likely to be finally averted.
Spain, too, was in a fair way of enjoying the fruits of her weakness in putting on the yoke of France, and of furnishing another proof of the general scheme of aggrandizement and oppression. The demand of the cession of Louisiana, long pressed upon her, had at length become categoric. The alternative was to comply or offend. The probability is that before this time the cession has been made; and Spain has learnt to her cost that the chief privilege of an ally of France is to be plundered at discretion. With the acquisition of Louisiana, the foundation will be laid for stripping her of South America and her mines; and perhaps for dismembering the Untied States. The magnitude of this mighty mischief is not easily calculated.
Such vast projects and pretensions pursued by such unexampled means are full evidence of a plan to acquire an absolute ascendant among nations. The difficulties in the final execution of a plan of this kind are, with many, decisive reasons against its existence.
But, in the case of ancient Rome, did it not in fact exist, and was it not substantially realized? Does the experience of the past day warrant the opinion that men are not as capable of mad and wicked projects as they were at any former period? Does not the conduct of the French Government display a vastness and sublimation of views, an enormity of ambition, and a destitution of principle which render the supposition of such a design probable? Has not a more rapid progress been made towards its execution than was ever made by Rome in an equal period? In their intercourse with foreign nations, do not the Directory affect an ostentatious imitation of Roman pride and superiority? Is it not natural to conclude that the same spirit points to the same ends? The project is possible. The evidence of its existence is strong, and it will be the wisdom of every other state to act upon the supposition of its reality.
Let it be understood, that the supposition does not imply the intention to reduce all other nations formally to the condition of provinces. This was not done by Rome in the zenith of her greatness. She had her provinces, and she had her allies. But her allies were in fact her vassals. They obeyed her nod. Their princes were deposed and created at pleasure.
Such is the proud pre-eminence to which the ambition of France aspires! After securing as much territory as she thinks it expedient immediately to govern, after wresting from Great Britain and attaching to herself the command of the sea, after despoiling Spain of the riches of Mexico and Peru, after attaining by all these means to a degree of strength sufficient to defy and awe competition, she may be content, under the modest denomination of allies, to rule the rest of the world by her frown or her smile.
The character of the actual Directory of France justifies the imputation to them of any project the most extravagant and criminal. Viewed internally, as well as externally, their conduct is alike detestable. They have overturned the constitution, which they were appointed to administer, with circumstances of barefaced guilt that disgrace a revolution, before so tarnished as seemed scarcely to admit of greater degradation, and have erected in its stead a military despotism, clothed but not disguised with the mere garb of the constitution which they have abolished. In the accomplishment of this usurpation, they have assassinated one of their colleagues and seized and banished another, together with all those members of the two councils who were disposed and able to combat their pernicious aims. They have done more; not content with rendering themselves masters of the two councils, and converting them into the mere pageants of national representation, they have thought it proper to secure their own power by exiling or imprisoning such private citizens as they feared might promote the future election of men hostile to their views, on the futile pretence of a counter-revolutionary plot, to be effected by royalizing the elections. Thus have they not only monopolized all the power for the present, but they have made provisions for its perpetuation, so long at least as the Prætorian bands will permit.
No impartial man can doubt that the plot charged upon the exiled members is a forgery. The characters of several of the accused belie it. Barthelemy and Pichegru are virtuous men. The former has long merited and possessed this character. The latter has given numerous proofs of a good title to it; his only fault seems to have been that of enthusiasm in the worst of causes. Neither of them, like Dumourier, had been, from his entrance on public life, marked out as the votary of an irregular ambition. The alleged object of the plot, as to such men, from the circumstances of the conjuncture, was wholly improbable; nothing like satisfactory proof has come to light. But the decisive argument of their innocence is that the usurpers did not dare to confront them with a fair legal accusation and trial. It was so clearly their interest and policy to have justified themselves by establishing the guilt of the accused, if in their power, that the omission to attempt it is the demonstration of its impossibility. Having all authority in their own hands, and the army at their devotion, they had nothing to fear from the pursuit; and they must have foreseen that the banishment without trial would finally marshal public opinion against them. There can be little doubt that the people of France at this moment regard with compassion and regret the banished directors and deputies, and with horror and detestation the authors of their disgrace. But the people of France internally are annihilated; to their liberty and happiness this last usurpation gave a more fatal blow than any or all of the former. It has more of system in it, been less sanguinary, and is less likely to provoke resistance from despair.
The inference from the transaction is evident. The real crime of the banished was the desire of arresting the mad career of the Directory, and of restoring peace to France, in the hope that peace might tend to settle the government on the foundation of order, security, and tranquility. The majority of the Directory foresaw that peace would not prove an element congenial with the duration of their power; or perhaps, under the guidance of Sieyès, the conjurer of the scene, they judged it expedient to continue in motion the revolutionary wheel till matters were better prepared for creating a new dynasty and a new aristocracy to regenerate the exploded monarchy of France with due regard to their own interest.
Thus we perceive that the interior conduct of the Directory has the same characters with their exterior—the same irregular ambition, the same contempt of principle, the same boldness of design, the same temerity of execution. From such men what is not to be expected? The development of their recent conduct towards the United States will no doubt confirm all the inferences to be drawn from other parts of the portrait, and will contribute to prove that there is nothing too abandoned or too monstrous for them to meditate or attempt.
Who that loves his country, or respects the dignity of his nature, would not rather perish than subscribe to the prostration of both before such men and such a system? What sacrifice, what danger is too great to be incurred in opposition to both? What security in any compromise with such unprincipled men? What safety, but in union, in vigor, in preparation for every extremity; in a decisive and courageous stand for the rights and honor of our injured and insulted country?
April 16, 1798.
To estimate properly the conduct of revolutionary France towards the United States, the circumstances which have reciprocally taken place must be viewed together. It is a whole, not a part, which is to be contemplated. A rapid summary, nevertheless, of the most material is all that can be presented.
Not only the unanimous good wishes of the citizens of this country spontaneously attached themselves to the revolution of France in its first stages, but no sooner was the change from monarchy to a republic officially announced, than our government, consulting the principles of our own revolution, and the wishes of our citizens, hastened to acknowledge the new order of things. This was done to the last minister sent by Louis the XVIth, before the arrival of the first envoy from the republic. Genet afterwards came; his reception by the government was cordial—by the people, enthusiastic.
The government did not merely receive the minister of the republic, in fact, and defer the obligation of treaties till the contest concerning its establishment had been terminated by success; but giving the utmost latitude to the maxim that real treaties bind nations, notwithstanding revolutions of government, ours did not hesitate to admit the immediate operation of the antecedent treaties between the two countries, though the revolution could not be regarded as yet fully accomplished—though a warrant for a contrary policy might have been found in the conduct of France herself—and though the treaties contained several stipulations which gave to her important preferences relative to war, and which were likely to give umbrage to the powers coalesced against her.
In acknowledging the republic, the United States preceded every other nation. It was not till a long time after, that any of the neutral powers followed the example. Had prudence been exclusively consulted, our government might not have done all that it did at this juncture, when the case was very nearly Europe in arms against France.
But good faith and a regard to consistency of principle prevailed over the sense of danger. It was resolved to encounter it; qualifying the step by the manifestation of a disposition to observe a sincere neutrality, as far as it should consist with the stipulations of treaty. Hence the proclamation of neutrality.
It ought to have no small merit in the eyes of France, that at so critical a period of her affairs, we were willing to run risks so imminent. The fact is, that it had nearly implicated us in the war on her side, at a juncture when all calculations were against her, and when it was certain she could have afforded us no protection or assistance.
What was the return? Genet came with neutrality on his lips, but war in his heart. The instructions published by himself, and his practice upon them, demonstrate that it was the premeditated plan to involve us in the contest; not by a candid appeal to the judgment, friendship, or interest of our country but by alluring the avarice of bad citizens into acts of predatory hostility, by instituting within our territory military expeditions against nations with whom we were at peace. And when it was found that our Executive would not connive at this insidious plan, bold attempts were made to create a schism between the people and the government, and, consequently, to sow the seeds of civil discord, insurrection, and revolution. Thus began the republic.
It is true that the Girondist faction, having been subverted by that of Robespierre, our complaint of the agent of the former was attended with success. The spirit of vengeance came in aid of the justice of our demand. The offending minister was recalled with disgrace. But Robespierre did not fail in a public speech to give a gentle hint of delinquency in the United States, sufficiently indicating that the authors and the manner were more in fault, in his opinion, than the thing. It was not the expedient to quarrel with us. There was still a hope that a course of things, or more dexterous management, might embark us in the war, as an auxiliary to France.
The treaties were made by us the criterion of our duty; but as they did not require us to go to war, as France did never even pretend this to be the case, listening to the suggestions, not only of interest, but of safety, we resolved to endeavor to preserve peace. But we were equally resolved to fulfil our real obligations in every respect. We saw without murmur our property seized in belligerent vessels; we allowed to French ships of war and privateers, all the peculiar exclusive privileges in our ports to which they were entitled by our treaties upon fair construction—upon a construction fully concurred in by the political leader of the adherents to France; we went further, and gratuitously suffered her to sell her prizes in our country, in contravention, perhaps, of the true principles of neutrality; we paid to her new government the debt contracted by us with the old, not only as fast as it became due, but by an anticipation, which did not give pleasure to her enemies. While our government was faithful, our citizens were zealous. Not content with good wishes, they adventured their property in the furnishing of supplies to an extent that showed, in many cases, the co-operation of zeal with interest.
Our country, our merchants, and our ships, in the gloomy periods of her revolution, have been the organs of succors to France, to a degree which gives us an undoubted title to the character of very useful friends.
Reverse the medal. France from the beginning, has violated essential points in the treaties between the two countries. The first formal unequivocal act by either of the belligerent parties, interfering with the rule that “free ships make free goods,“ was a decree of the French convention. This violation has been persisted in, and successive violations added, till they amount to a general war on our commerce.
First, the plea of necessity repelled our feeble and modest complaints of infractions. Next, the plea of delinquencies on our part was called in aid of the depredations which it was found convenient to practice upon our trade. Our refusal to accord privileges not granted by our treaties, but claimed by misconstructions destitute even of plausibility—privileges which would have put us at once in a state of war with the enemies of France; the reciprocal application to them of principles originally established against their remonstrances in favor of France; occasional embarrassments to her privateers, arising from the established forms of our courts, and the necessity of vigilance to frustrate her efforts to entangle us against our will in the war; delays in giving relief in a few instances, rendered unavoidable by the nature of our government, and the great extent of our territory; these were so many topics of bitter accusation against our government, and of insult, as rude as it was unmerited.
Our citizens, in judging whether the accusation was captious or well founded, ought to bear in mind, that most of the transactions on which it was predicated happened under the administration of Jefferson and Randolph, and, as is well ascertained, with their full assent and co-operation. They will not readily suppose that these very cunning men were the dupes of colleagues actuated by ill-will towards France; but they will discover in this union of opinion, among men of very opposite principles, a strong probability that our government acted with propriety, and that the dissatisfaction of France, if more than a color, was unreasonable.
Hitherto, the progress no less than the origin of our controversy with France exhibits plain marks of a disposition on her part to disregard those provisions in the treaties which it was our interest should be observed by her—to exact from us a scrupulous performance of our engagements, and even the extension of them beyond their true import—to embroil us with her enemies, contrary to our inclination and interest, and without even the allegation of a claim upon our faith—to make unreasonable demands upon the grounds of complaints against us, and excuses to violate our property and rights—to divide our nation, and to disturb our government.
Many of the most determined advocates of France among us appear lately to admit, that previous to the treaty with Great Britain the complaints of France against the United States were frivolous; those of the United States against France, real and serious.
But the treaty with Great Britain, it is affirmed, has changed the ground. This, it is said, has given just cause of discontent to France; this has brought us to the verge of war with our first ally and best friend; to this fatal instrument are we indebted for the evils we feel, and the still greater which impend over our heads.
These suggestions are without the shadow of foundation. They prove the infatuated devotion to a foreign power of those who invented them, and the easy credulity of those with whom they have obtained currency. The evidence of a previous disposition in France to complain without a cause, and to injure without provocation, is a sufficient comment upon the resentment she professes against the treaty. The partiality or indulgence with which the ill treatment received from her prior to that event was viewed by her decided partisans, is a proof of the facility with which they credit her pretensions and palliate her aggressions.
The most significant of the charges against the treaty, as it respects France, are, that it abandons the rule of free ships making free goods; that it extended unduly the list of contraband articles, and gave color to the claim of a right to subject provisions to seizure; that a treaty of amity with the enemy of France, in the midst of a war, was a mark of preference to that enemy, and of ill-will to her.
The replies which have been given to these charges are conclusive.
As to the first point, the stipulation of two powers to observe between themselves a particular rule in their respective wars—a rule, too, innovating upon the general law of nations—can, on no known or reasonable principle of interpretation, be construed to intend that they will insist upon that rule with all other nations, and will make no treaty with any, however beneficial in other respects, which does not comprehend it. To tie up the will of a nation, and its power of providing for its own interests, to so immense an extent, required a stipulation in positive terms. In vain shall we seek in the treaty for such a stipulation or its equivalent. There is not even a single expression to imply it. The idea is, consequently, no less ridiculous than it is novel. The contemporary proceedings, legislative and judicial, of our government, show that it was not so understood in this country. Congress even declined to become a formal party to the armed neutrality of which it was the basis; unwilling to be pledged to the coercive maintenance of a principle which they were only disposed to promote by particular acts. It is equally futile to seek to derive the obligation of the United States to adhere to this rule, from the supposition of a change in the law of nations by the force of that league. Neither theory nor practice warrants the attributing so important an effect to a military association, springing up in the war and ending with it, not having had the universal consent of nations, nor a course of long practice to give it a sanction.
Were it necessary to resort to an auxiliary argument, it might be said with conclusive force that France, having before our treaty with Great Britain violated in practice the rule in question, absolved us from all obligations to observe it, if any did previously exist.
As to the second point, it has been repeatedly demonstrated that the enumeration of contraband in the treaty with Great Britain, is agreeable to the general law of nations. But this is a matter from its nature liable to vary according to relative situation, and to be variously modified, not only between different nations, but between one nation and different nations. Thus, in our treaty with Great Britain, some articles are enumerated which are omitted in that with France; in that with France, some articles are inserted which are omitted in that with Britain. But it is, perhaps, the first time that a diversity of this sort has been deemed a ground of umbrage to a third party.
With regard to provisions, the treaty only decides that where by the law of nations they are subject to seizure, they are to be paid for. It does not define or admit any new case. As to its giving color to abuse in this respect, this, if true, would amount to nothing. For, till some abuse has actually happened, and been tolerated to the prejudice of France, there was no cause of complaint. The possibility of abuse from a doubtful construction of a treaty between two powers, is no subject of offence to a third. It is the fact which must govern. According to this indisputable criterion, France has had no cause to complain on this account; for since the ratification of the treaty, no instance of the seizure of provisions has occurred, and it is known that our government protested against such a construction.
Further, the treaty has made no change whatever in the actual antecedent state of things to the disadvantage of France.
Great Britain had, before the treaty, with the sanction of our government, acted upon the principles as to free ships making free goods, and generally, as to the affair of contraband which the treaty recognizes. Nor was that sanction merely tacit, but explicit and direct. It was even diplomatically communicated to the agents of France. If there was any thing wrong, therefore, in this matter, it was chargeable, not upon the treaty, but upon the prior measures of the government, which had left these points mere points of form in the treaty.
The remaining charge against that instrument involves a species of political metaphysics. Neither the theory of writers nor the history of nations will bear out the position, that a treaty of amity between a neutral state and one belligerent party, not granting either succors or new privileges relative to war, not derogatory from any obligation of the neutral state to the other belligerent party, is a cause of umbrage to the latter. There can be no reason why a neutral power should not settle differences or adjust a plan of intercourse beneficial to itself with another power, because this last happens to be at war with a third. All this must be a mere question of courtesy; and might be uncourteous or otherwise according to circumstances, but never a ground of quarrel. If there even might have been want of courtesy in the United States to have entered into a treaty of this sort with the enemy of France, had they volunteered it without cogent motives, there could be none in the particular situation. They were led to the treaty by pre-existing differences, which had nearly ripened to a rupture, and the amicable settlement of which affected very important interests. No favorable conjuncture for this settlement was to be lost. The settlement, by the usual formulas in such cases, would amount to a treaty of amity.
Thus it is evident that the treaty, like all the rest, has been a mere pretence for ill treatment. But admitting that this was not the case, that it really afforded some cause of displeasure, was this of a nature to admit of no atonement, or of none short of the humiliation of our country? If the contrary must be conceded, it is certain that our government has done all that was possible towards reconciliation, and enough to have satisfied any reasonable or just government.
France, after the treaty, proceeded to inflict still deeper wounds upon our commerce. She has endeavored to intercept and destroy it with all the ports of her enemies. Nor was this the worst. The spoliation has frequently attended our trade with her own dominions—attended with unparalleled circumstances of rapacity and violence.
The diplomatic representative of the French Government to the United States was ordered to deliver to our government a most insulting manifesto, and then to withdraw.
Yet our government, notwithstanding this accumulation of wrongs, after knowing that it had been repeatedly outraged in the person of one minister, condescended to send another specially charged to endeavor to conciliate. This minister was known to unite fidelity to his country with principles friendly to France and her revolution. It was hoped that the latter would make him acceptable, and that he would be able, by amicable explanations and overtures, to obviate misunderstanding and restore harmony. He was not received.
Though it was very problematical whether the honor of the United States, after this, permitted a further advance, yet the government, anxious if possible to preserve peace, concluded to make another and more solemn experiment. A new mission, confided to three extraordinary ministers, took place. They were all three, in different degrees, men well affected to France and her revolution. They were all men of high respectability, and among the purest characters of our country. Their powers and instructions were so ample as to have extorted, from the most determined opposers of the government in the two houses of Congress, a reluctant approbation in this instance of the President’s conduct.
In contempt of the established usage, and of the respect due to us an independent people, with the deliberate design of humbling and mortifying our government, these special and extraordinary ministers have been refused to be received. Admitting all the charges brought against us by France to be well founded, still ministers of that description ought on every principle to have been accredited and conferred with, till it was ascertained that they were not ready to do as much as was expected. Not to pursue this course was to deny us the rank of an independent nation; it was to treat us as Great Britain did while we were yet contending with her for this character.
Instead of this, informal agents, probably panders and mistresses, are appointed to intrigue with our envoys. These, attending only to the earnest wish of their constituents for peace, stoop to the conference. What is the misshapen result?
Money, money, is the burden of the discordant song of these foul birds of prey. Great indignation is at first professed against expressions in the President’s speech of May last. The reparation of a disavowal is absolutely due to the honor of the Directory and of the Republic, but it turns out that there is a practicable substitute more valuable. The honor of both, being a marketable commodity, is ready to be commuted for gold.
A douceur of 50,000 pounds sterling for the special benefit of the Directory was to pave the way. Instead of reparation for the spoliations on our commerce exceeding twenty millions of dollars, a loan equal to the amount of them is to be made by us to the French Government. Then perhaps a mode might be settled for the liquidation of the claims of our merchants, to be compensated at some future period. The depredations, nevertheless, were to continue till the treaty should be concluded, which, from the distance between the two countries, must at all events take a great length of time, and might be procrastinated indefinitely at the pleasure of the Directory.
In addition to all this, we must purchase of the Directory, at par, Dutch inscriptions to the amount of thirty millions of florins, and look to the ability of the Batavian Republic to redeem them. Already are these assignats depreciated to half their nominal value, and in all probability will come to nothing, serving merely as a flimsy veil to the extortion of a further and immense contribution. “Money, a great deal of money,” is the cry from the first to the last; and our commissioners are assured that without this they may stay in Paris six months without advancing a step. To enforce the argument they are reminded of the fate of Venice.
At so hideous a compound of corruption and extortion, at demands so exorbitant and degrading, there is not a spark of virtuous indignation in an American breast, which will not kindle into a flame. And yet there are men, could it be believed, vile and degenerate enough to run about the streets to contradict, to palliate, to justify, to preach the expediency of compliance. Such men merit all the detestation of all their fellow-citizens: and there is no doubt that, with time and opportunity, they will merit much more from the offended justice of the laws.
April 19, 1798.
The inevitable conclusion, from the facts which have been presented, is that revolutionary France has been and continues to be governed by a spirit of proselytism, conquest, domination, and rapine. The detail well justifies the position that we may have to contend at our very doors for our independence and liberty. When the wonders achieved by the arms of France are duly considered, the possibility of the overthrow of Great Britain seems not to be chimerical. If, by any of those extraordinary coincidences of circumstances which occasionally decide the fate of empires, the meditated expedition against England shall succeed; or if, by the immense expense to which that country is driven, and the derangement of her commerce by the powerful means employed to that end, her affairs shall be thrown into such disorder as may enable France to dictate to her the terms of peace; in either of these unfortunate events the probability is, that the United States will have to choose between the surrender of their sovereignty, the new-modelling of their government according to the fancy of the Directory, the emptying of their wealth by contributions into the coffers of the greedy and insatiable monster, and resistance to invasion in order to compel submission to those ruinous conditions.
In opposition to this it is suggested that the interest of France, concurring with the difficulty of execution, is a safeguard against the enterprise. It is asked, what incentives sufficiently potent can stimulate to so unpromising an attempt? The answer is, the strongest passions of bad hearts—inordinate ambition—the love of domination, that prime characteristic of the despots of France,—the spirit of vengeance for the presumption of having thought and acted for ourselves, a spirit which has marked every step of the revolutionary leaders,—the fanatical egotism of obliging the rest of the world to adapt their political system to the French standard of perfection—the desire of securing the future control of our affairs by humbling and ruining the independent supporters of their country, and of elevating the partisans and tools of France,—the desire of entangling our commerce with preferences and restrictions which would give to her the monopoly;—these passions, the most imperious,—these motives, the most enticing to a crooked policy, are sufficient persuasives to undertake the subjugation of this country.
Added to these primary inducements, the desire of finding an outlet for a part of the vast armies which, on the termination of the European war, are likely to perplex and endanger the men in power, would be an auxiliary motive of great force. The total loss of the troops sent would be no loss to France. Their cupidity would be readily excited to the undertaking by the prospect of dividing among themselves the fertile lands of this country. Great Britain once silenced, there would be no insuperable obstacle to the transportation. The divisions among us which have been urged to our commissioners as one motive to a compliance with the unreasonable demands of the Directory, would be equally an encouragement to invasion. It would be believed that a sufficient number would flock to the standard of France to render it easy to quell the resistance of the rest. Drunk with success, nothing would be thought too arduous to be accomplished.
It is too much a part of our temper to indulge an overweening security. At the close of our revolution war, the phantom of perpetual peace danced before the eyes of everybody. We see at this early period with how much difficulty war has been parried, and that with all our efforts to preserve peace, we are now in a state of partial hostility. Untaught by this experience we now seem inclined to regard the idea of invasion as incredible, and to regulate our conduct by the belief of its improbability. Who would have thought, eighteen months ago, that Great Britain would at this time have been in serious danger of an invasion from France? Is it not now more probable that such a danger may overtake us, than it was then that it would so soon Great Britain?
There are currents in human affairs when events, at other times little less than miraculous, are to be considered as natural and simple. Such were the eras of Macedonian, of Roman, of Gothic, of Saracen inundation. Such is the present era of French fanaticism. Wise men, when they discover symptoms of a similar era, look for prodigies, and prepare for them with foresight and energy.
Admit that in our case invasion is upon the whole improbable; yet, if there are any circumstances which pronounce that the apprehension of it is not absolutely chimerical, it is the part of wisdom to act as if it were likely to happen. What are the inconveniences of preparation compared with the infinite magnitude of the evil if it shall surprise us unprepared? They are lighter than air, weighed against the smallest probability of so disastrous a result.
But what is to be done? Is it not wiser to compound on any terms than to provoke the consequences of resistance?
To do this is dishonor—it is ruin—it is death. Waiving other considerations, there can be no reliance on its efficacy. The example of Portugal teaches us that it is to purchase disgrace, not safety. The cravings of despotic rapacity may be appeased, but they are not to be satisfied. They will quickly renew their force, and call for new sacrifices in proportion to the facility with which the first were made. The situation of France is likely to make plunder for considerable time to come an indispensable expedient of government. Excluding the great considerations of public policy, and bringing the matter to the simple test of pecuniary calculation, resistance is to be preferred to submission. The surrender of our whole wealth would only procure respite, not safety. The disbursements for war will chiefly be at home. They will not necessarily carry away our riches, and they will preserve our honor and give us security.
But, in the event supposed, can we oppose with success? There is no event in which we may not look with confidence to a successful resistance. Though Great Britain should be impolitic or wicked enough (which is hoped to be impossible) to compromise her difficulties with France, to divide the United States according to the insulting threat of the agents of France, still it is in our power to maintain our independence and baffle every enemy. The people of the United States, from their number, situation, and resources, are invincible, if they are provident and faithful to themselves.
The question returns, What is to be done? Shall we declare war? No; there are still chances to avoid a rupture, which ought to be taken. Want of success must bring the present despots to reason. Every day may produce a revolution which may substitute better men in their place, and lead to honorable accommodation.
Our true policy is, in the attitude of calm defiance, to meet the aggressions upon us by proportionate resistance, and to prepare vigorously for further resistance. To this end, the chief measures requisite are—to invigorate our treasury by calling into activity the principal untouched resources of revenue—to fortify in earnest our chief seaports—to establish founderies, and increase our arsenals—to create a respectable naval force, and to raise with the utmost diligence a considerable army. Our merchant vessels ought to be permitted not only to arm themselves, but to sink or capture their assailants. Our vessels of war ought to cruise on our coast and serve as convoys to our trade. In doing this, they ought also to be authorized not only to sink or capture assailants, but likewise to capture and bring in privateers found hovering within twenty leagues of our coast. For this last measure, precedent, if requisite, is to be found in the conduct of neutral powers on other occasions.
This course, it will be objected, implies a state of war. Let it be so. But it will be a limited, a mitigated state of war, to grow into a general war or not at the election of France. What may be that election will probably depend on future and incalculable events. The continuation of success on the part of France would insure war. The want of it might facilitate accommodation. There are examples in which states have been for a long time in a state of partial hostility without proceeding to general rupture. The duration of this course of conduct on our part may be restricted to the continuance of the two last decrees of France: that by which the trade of neutrals with the ports of her enemies has been intercepted, and that by which vessels and their cargoes composed in whole or in part of British fabrics, are liable to seizure and condemnation.
The declared suspension of our treaties with France, is a measure of evident justice and necessity. It is the natural consequence of a total violation on one side. It would be preposterous to be fettered by treaties, which are wholly disregarded by the other party. It is essentially our interest to get rid of the guaranty in the treaty of alliance, which, on the part of France, is likely to be henceforth nugatory; on the part of the United States, is a substantial and dangerous stipulation, obliging them in good faith to take part with France in any future defensive war in which her West India colonies may be attacked. The consular convention is likewise a mischievous instrument, devised by France in the spirit of extending her influence into other countries, and producing to a certain extent imperium in imperio.
It may be happy for the United States that an occasion has been furnished by France in which with good faith they may break through these trammels; readjusting, when reconciliation shall take place, a basis of connection or intercourse more convenient and more eligible.
The resolution to raise an army, it is to be feared, is that one of the measures suggested which will meet with the greatest obstacles, and yet it is the one which ought to unite opinion. Being merely a precaution for internal security, it can in no sense tend to provoke war; and looking to eventual security in a case which, if it should happen, would threaten our very existence as a nation, it is the most important.
The history of our revolution war is a serious admonition to it. The American cause had nearly been lost for want of creating, in the first instance, a solid force commensurate in duration with the war. Immense additional expense and waste and a variety of other evils were incurred, which might have been avoided.
Suppose an invasion, and that we are left to depend on militia alone, can it be doubted that a rapid and formidable progress would, in the first instance, be made by the invaders? Who can answer what dismay this might inspire, how far it might go to create general panic, to rally under the banners of the enemy the false and the timid? The imagination cannot, without alarm, anticipate the consequences. Prudence commands that they shall be guarded against. To have a good army on foot will be the best of all precautions to prevent, as well as to repel, invasion.
The propriety of the measure is so palpable that it will argue treachery or incapacity in our councils, if it be not adopted. The friends of the government owe it to their own characters to press it; its opposes can give no better proof that they are not abandoned to a foreign power, than to concur in it. The public safety will be more indebted to its advocates than to the advocates of any other measure, in proportion as our independence and liberty are of more consequence than our trade.
It is the fervent wish of patriotism that our councils and nation may be united and resolute. The dearest interests call for it. A great public danger commands it. Every good man will rejoice to embrace the adversary of his former opinions, if he will now by candor and energy evince his attachment to his country. Whoever does not do this, consigns himself to irrevocable dishonor. But it is not the triumph over a political rival which the true lover of his country desires—it is the safety and the welfare of that country; and he will gladly share with his bitterest opponent the glory of defending and preserving her. Americans, rouse—be unanimous, be virtuous, be firm, exert your courage, trust in Heaven, and nobly defy the enemies both of God and man!
April 21, 1798.
The dispatches from our envoys have at length made their appearance. They present a picture of the French Government exceeding in turpitude whatever was anticipated from the previous intimations of their contents. It was natural to expect that the perusal of them would have inspired a universal sentiment of indignation and disgust; and that no man calling himself an American would have had the hardihood to defend or even to palliate a conduct so atrocious. But it is already apparent that an expectation of this kind would not have been well founded.
There are strong symptoms that men in power in France understand better than ourselves the true character of their faction in this country, at least of its leaders; and that as to these, the agents who conferred with our envoys were not mistaken in predicting that the unreasonableness of the demands upon us would not serve to detach the party from France, or to reunite them to their own country. The high-priest of this sect, with a tender regard for the honor of the immaculate Directory, has already imagined several ingenious distinctions to rescue them from the odium and corruption unfolded by the dispatches. Among these is the suggestion that there is no proof of the privity of the Directory—all may have been the mere contrivance of the Minister for Foreign Relations.
The presumption from so miserable a subterfuge is, that had the propositions proceeded immediately from the Directory, the cry from the same quarter would have been—there is no evidence the council or nation approved of them; they, at least, are not implicated; the friendship of the two republics ought not to be disturbed on account of the villany of the transitory and fugitive organs of one of them. The inventor of the subterfuge, however, well knew that the executive organ of a nation never comes forward in person to negotiate with foreign ministers; and that unless it be presumed to direct and adopt what is done by its agents, it may always be sheltered from responsibility or blame. The recourse to so pitiful an evasion, betrays in its author a systematic design to excuse France at all events—to soften a spirit of submission to every violence she may commit—and to prepare the way for implicit subjection to her will. To be the proconsul of a despotic Directory over the United States, degraded to the condition of a province, can alone be the criminal, the ignoble aim of so seditious, so prostitute a character.
The subaltern mercenaries go still further. Publications have appeared, endeavoring to justify or extenuate the demands upon our envoys, and to inculcate the slavish doctrine of compliance. The United States, it is said, are the aggressors, and ought to make atonement. France assisted them in their revolution with loans, and they ought to reciprocate the benefit; peace is a boon worth the price required for it, and it ought to be paid. In this motley form our country is urged to sink, voluntarily and without a struggle, to a state of tributary vassalage. Americans are found audacious and mean enough to join in the chorus of a foreign nation, which calls upon us to barter our independence for a respite from the lash.
The charge of aggression upon the United States is false; and if true, the reparation, from the nature of the case, ought not to be pecuniary. This species of indemnification between nations is only proper where there has been pecuniary injury.
The loans received by us from France were asked as a favor, on condition of reimbursement by the United States; and were freely granted for a purpose of mutual advantage. The advances to be made by us were exacted as the price of peace. Though in name loans, they would be in fact contributions, by the coercion of a power which has already wrested from our citizens an immense property, for which it owes to them compensation.
To pay such a price for peace, is to prefer peace to independence, and the nation which becomes tributary takes a master. Peace is doubtless precious, but it is a bauble compared with national independence, which includes national liberty. The evils of war to resist such a precedent are insignificant, compared with the evils of the precedent. Besides that, there could be no possible security for the enjoyment of the object for which the disgraceful sacrifice was made. To disguise the poison, misrepresentation is combined with sophistry. It is alleged that finally no more was asked than that the United States should purchase sixteen millions of Dutch inscriptions, and that by doing this, they would have secured compensation to their citizens for depredations on their trade to four times the amount, with an intermission of the depredations; that no hazard of ultimate loss could have attended the operation, because the United States owed the Dutch a much larger sum, which would be a pledge for payment or discount.
This is a palpable attempt to deceive. The first propositions were such as have been represented in a former paper; but it appears in the sequal that the French agents, seeing the inflexible opposition of our envoys to their plan, and hoping to extort finally a considerable sum, though less than at first contemplated, relaxed so far in their demands, as to narrow them down to the payment of a douceur of twelve hundred thousand livers, with a positive engagement to advance to the French Government a sum equal to the amount of the spoliations of our trade, and a further engagement to send to our government for power to purchase of France thirty-two millions of the inscriptions (12,800,000 dollars); in return for all which, our envoys were to be permitted to remain six months in Paris, depredations on our trade during that time were to be suspended, and a commission of five persons was to be appointed to liquidate the claims for past depredations, which were to be satisfied “in a time and manner to be agreed upon.” The substance of these demands is to pay absolutely twenty millions of dollars more than the estimated amount of the spoliations; for what? Barely for the acknowledgment of a debt due to our citizens, which, without it, is not the less due, and for the suspension of hostilities for six months.
Afterwards, in a conversation between the French minister himself and one of our envoys, the propositions assumed another form. The United States were required to purchase of France, at par, sixteen millions of inscriptions, and to promise further aid when in their power. This arrangement being first made, and not before, France was to take measures for reimbursing the equitable demands of our citizens on account of captures.
The purchase of the inscriptions was to be a preliminary. The arrangement for reimbursing our merchants was to follow. The nature of it was not explained; but it is to be inferred from all that preceded that the expedient of the advance of an equal sum by the United States would have been pressed as the basis of the promised arrangement. This last proposal was in its principle as bad as either of the former; its tendency, worse. The promise of future assistance would have carried with it the privilege to repeat at pleasure the demand of money, and to dispute with us about our ability to supply; and it would have embarked us as an associate with France in the war. It was to promise her the most effectual aid in our power, and that of which she stood most in need.
The scheme of concealment was a trick. The interest of France to engage us in the war against Great Britain, as a means of wounding her commerce, is too strong to have permitted the secret to be kept by her. By the ratification of the treaty, in which the Senate must have concurred, too many would have obtained possession of the secret to allow it to remain one. While it did, the apprehension of discovery would have enabled France to use it as an engine of unlimited extortion. But a still greater objection is, that it would have been infamous in the United States thus covertly to relinquish their neutrality, and with equal cowardice and hypocrisy to wear the mask of it, when they had renounced the reality.
The idea of securing our advances, by means of the debt which we owe to the Dutch, is without foundation. The creditors of the United States are the private citizens of the Batavian Republic. Their demands could not be opposed by a claim of our government upon their government. The only shape in which it could be attempted must be in that of reprisals for the delinquency of the government. But this would not only be a gross violation of the principle, it would be contrary to express stipulations in the contracts for the loans.
In the same spirit of deception it has also been alleged that our envoys, by giving the douceur of twelve hundred thousand livers, and agreeing to send for powers to make a loan, might have obtained a suspension of depredations for six months. There is not a syllable in the dispatches to countenance this assertion. A large advance in addition, either on the basis of the spoliations, or by way of purchase of the inscriptions, is uniformly made the condition of suspending hostilities.
Glosses so false and insidious as these, in a crisis of such imminent public danger, to mislead the opinion of our nation concerning the conduct and views of a foreign enemy, are shoots from a pernicious trunk.
Opportunity alone is wanting to unveil the treason which lurks at the core.
What signifies the quantum of the contribution had it been really as unimportant as it is represented? ‘T is the principle which is to be resisted at every hazard. ‘T is the pretension to make us tributary, in opposition to which every American ought to resign the last drop of his blood.
The pratings of the Gallic faction at this time remind us of those of the British faction at the commencement of our revolution.
The insignificance of a duty of three pence per pound on tea was echoed and re-echoed as the bait to an admission of the right to bind us in all cases whatsoever.
The tools of France incessantly clamor against the treaty with Britain as the just cause of the resentment of France. It is curious to remark, that in the conferences with our envoys this treaty was never once mentioned by the French agents. Particular passages in the speech of the President are alone specified as a ground of dissatisfaction. This is at once a specimen of the fruitful versatility with which causes of complaint are contrived, and of the very slight foundations on which they are adopted. A temperate expression of sensibility at an outrageous indignity, offered to our government by a member of the Directory, is converted into a mortal offence. The tyrants will not endure a murmur at the blows they inflict. But the dispatches of our envoys, while they do not sanction the charge preferred by the Gallic faction against the treaty, confirm a very serious charge which the friends of the government bring against that faction. They prove by the unreserved confession of her agents, that France places absolute dependence on this party in every event, and counts upon their devotion to her as an encouragement to the conditions which they attempt to impose. The people of this country must be infatuated indeed, if after this plain confession they are at a loss for the true source of the evils they suffered, or may hereafter suffer from the despots of France. ‘T is the unnatural league of a portion of our citizens with the oppressors of their country.
Every day brings fresh confirmations of the truth of the prediction to our envoys that the French faction in America would go all lengths with their imperious and unprincipled masters. It is more and more evident that as many of them as may dare will join the standard of France if once erected in this country. After all that has happened, there is no other solution of the indefatigable and malignant exertions which they are making to propagate disaffection to our own government, and to justify or extenuate the conduct of France. The authors of these exertions understand too well the human heart not to know, that ideas which have once taken deep root in a community, and have enlisted its passions against one object and in favor of another, cannot suddenly be changed; and that in the event of an invasion they could not, if so disposed, prevent their followers from acting in conformity with the strong bias which had been previously given to their feelings. They know this so well that if they were not in their hearts more Frenchmen than Americans; if they were not ready in the gratification of ambition, vanity, or revenge, or in compliance with the wages of corruption, to immolate the independence and welfare of their country at the shrine of France * * * they would not, as they do, pursue a conduct which they cannot be insensible leads to that fatal result. Their pride, if not their patriotism, would prevent them. Openly claimed by a foreign government as its obsequious tools, the jealousy of their own honor would prompt them to be forward in giving the lie to a claim to them so pregnant with ignominy. That this has not been the effect, is a convincing proof that they have embarked beyond the power of retreat. It affords a presumption that they are in a situation which leaves them no longer wills of their own. It is astonishing to observe, that they not only do not contradict the charge by their actions, but seem little, if at all, solicitous to disavow it in their language. And in the measures which they advocate, with an effrontery unequalled, under similar circumstances, in the history of any nation, they display unequivocally their prostitute devotion to the enemies of their country.
A principal expedient employed by these men to second the views of the French Government, and counteract the salutary impressions on the public mind, which its abominable treatment of us is calculated to produce, is to inculcate that our envoys, in the conferences they have communicated, have been the dupes of unauthorized and swindling impostors, and that our government, in publishing these dispatches, has been actuated by a desire to make the circumstance subservient to a long premeditated design of rupture with France.
The French account of a transaction in which the despots of France have violated a right of nations sacred among savages as well as civilized men, by imprisoning the Ambassador of Portugal, is pressed into the service of the infamous scheme of defaming our own government and vindicating those despots. This account represents the Portuguese Minister as having been deceived into the advance of a large sum of money, as a bribe to three of the Directory, by pretended agents of the French Government, which, coming to light through the channel of the French Minister at the Court of Portugal, occasioned the imprisonment of the Portuguese Ambassador and several of the pretended agents. And it is alleged that a like imposition has, in all probability, been practised upon our envoys.
What may appear to be the real nature of the transaction in question can only be judged of when the Portuguese Government, free from the dread of France, shall have told its story; when, if ever, the imprisoned Minister shall be at liberty to explain the grounds of the confidence which he reposed in the agents to whom the money was advanced. Till then all judgment of the true complexion of the affair must be suspended.
In the meantime the character of bold iniquity which the Directory have so eminently earned, authorizes the supposition that the agents now disavowed were really agents of the government—that they actually received the bribe for the Directory; that these, deeming it expedient afterwards to disappoint the expectation given to Portugal, found it necessary to disclaim the inducement, and as a color to their ill-faith, and a shield against the infamy of the proceeding, to imprison the Minister and the inferior agents. The present rulers of France have soared to so stupendous a height of profligacy that the diminutive vices of other men afford no standard by which to judge of their conduct—no clue to the mysterious labyrinth of their complicated crimes.
There are even circumstances to countenance the supposition of this double plot. It is stated that Wascowitch, one of the persons disavowed and seized, was apparently in close connection with Beaumarchais; was in “ostensible familiarity with government men,“ and had actually had communication with a real agent of government for the purpose of discovering the views of newly-arrived foreign envoys. And it appears that Beaumarchais is not among the persons seized.
It may serve as an index to the affair to understand that Beaumarchais is one of the most cunning and intriguing men of Europe; that he was employed under the royal government as a secret confidential agent, in which capacity he acted between the United States and France, before the acknowledgment of our independence, and that he is known to be in intimate connection with the present French Minister for Foreign Relations.
In the capacity of confidential agent a considerable part of the monies advanced by France for the use of the United States passed through his hands. There was a sum of a million of livres which Dr. Franklin, in the carelessness of confidence, acknowledged to have been received, of which the application could not be traced. When inquiry on behalf of our government was made of the French Minister concerning the appropriation of this million, the only answer to be obtained was that it was a “secret du cabinet.“ But the Revolution has unravelled this secret. During the reign of Robespierre, Beaumarchais was in disgrace and a fugitive. The ministry of that period, not scrupling to unveil the corruptions of the old government, charged the receipt of the missing million upon Beaumarchais, and furnished a copy of the receipt which he is alleged to have given for it.
This transaction proves that Beaumarchais, besides being the confidential political agent of the then administration of France, was the instrument or accomplice of its cupidity. What but the participation of the Minister in a scheme of embezzlement could have induced him to make a cabinet secret of the application of this million?
Who a more likely, a more fit instrument of the avidity of the present government than this same Beaumarchais? When men apparently in close connection with him take bribes from foreign ministers, professedly for the use of the Directory, what more probable than that they are truly for that use—that Beaumarchais is the link between the Directory and the ostensible agents?
If afterwards expedient or necessary to disavow, what more easy to be managed? Beaumarchais is no doubt too adroit to transact such business in a manner that can admit of proof of his agency. If inculpated by his agents he has only boldly to deny the charge and to treat it as a part of the imposture. The all sufficient patronage of the Directory could not fail to ensure credit to his denial and to shield him from detection.
In such a case the appearances to be expected are exactly such as occur in the present affair. The immediate and chief agent goes untouched. The subalterns are consigned to punishment, real or seeming. The semblance of punishment may even be a thing understood all round. As yet nothing more than imprisonment is known to have taken place; and it is very possible that final impunity may attend Wascowitch and his colleagues; though from the character of the Directory, if necessary to their purposes, they would find no difficulty in the sacrifice of these men, by hurrying them to the guillotine after a mock-trial, or by giving them, like Carnot, a secret passport to the other world.
If it be true, as we are told, that France has suspended the project of invading Portugal, and is in negotiation with her under the auspices of Spain, it is very possible that the precautions of the Portuguese Minister to establish the participation of the Directory were better than was at first suspected, and that the apprehension of having the affair seriously probed may obtain for Portugal a suspension from Ruin.
This comment upon the affair is justified by the facts ascertained in our case. The participation of the French Minister for Foreign Relations in the propositions of the secret agents to our envoys admits of no question. To be convinced of these we have only to compare the declarations and proposals of the agents with those of the Minister himself.
In the communications of those agents the leading ideas are that the Directory were greatly incensed at some passages in the President’s speech; that reparation must be made for them; that money might be a substitute for other reparation; that this money was to be offered by our envoys, and to serve as pocket-money, as a gratuity, for the Directory; and that in addition to it there must be a loan to the republic, in the shape of purchase of Dutch rescriptions, or in some other shape. The gratuity to be about £50,000 sterling.
The same ideas substantially appear in the conference with Talleyrand himself.
As a criterion of this it is in the first place to be observed that these agents originally suggested the bribe or gratuity, contradistinguished from the loan as a substitute for other reparation to the Directory for a pretended insult in the President’s speech. In the conference between the Minister Talleyrand and one of our envoys of the 28th of October, the same idea is distinctly marked; so as to evince a concert not only in substance but in circumstances between the Minister and the agents. They began their conferences by stating the umbrage taken by the Directory at the President’s speech, the necessity of reparation for it, and the possibility of commuting that reparation for money to be offered by our envoys. The Minister, treading in their steps, began the conference by observing that the Directory had passed an arrêt, in which they had demanded of the envoys an explanation of some parts and reparation for other parts of the President’s speech to Congress; that he was sensible difficulties would exist on the part of the envoys relative to this demand, but that by their offering money he thought he could prevent the effect of the arrêt.
The characteristic features in both cases are—offence given by the speech, reparation to be demanded by the Directory, and a commutation of the required reparation for money. The only difference is that the agents call this pocket-money for the Directory a gratuity, etc., while the Minister gives it no specific name or designation. But we discover still more clearly from what follows that he means the same thing with the agents. The envoy having answered that he and his colleagues had no power to make a loan, but could send one of their number for instructions on the proposition, if deemed expedient, provided that the other objects of the negotiation could be discussed and adjusted, Talleyrand replied that this matter about the money might be settled directly without sending to America; that he would not communicate the arrêt for a week, and that if the envoys could adjust the difficulty with respect to the speech an application would nevertheless go to the United States for a loan. The loan is here manifestly a different thing from the money to be advanced for reparation. The last might be arranged immediately, though the first might wait the issue of an application to the government of this country. The first is plainly the 50,000 sterling for pocket-money; the last is the contribution by way of loan to the republic. This coincidence fixes definitively the concert between the Minister and the agents, and traces unequivocally to the former the double demand of a bribe and a loan. The conclusion is inevitable.
It is also confirmed by what took place on the 17th of December, when one of our envoys mentioned to the Minister that the person designated as Y had that morning made him propositions (alluding to those for the gratuity and loan). The Minister replied that the information which Y had given was just, and might always be relied upon. This was explicitly to recognize Y as his agent and to authorize the giving of credit to his propositions. A quibble has been started on this point. It is pretended that the declaration that the information given by Y was just, did not import that the propositions he had made were authorized. But besides that it was natural to look for vagueness of expression in so mysterious and so foul a transaction,—as the term information was used in reply to the suggestion that propositions had been made, it must necessarily be understood and intend that the information which Y had given, in reference to the propositions spoken of by the envoy, was just and might be relied upon. Again, information was the most apt term that could have been employed. Y and the other agents professed not to make propositions, but to inform our envoys what propositions made by them were likely to be acceptable.
Such are the wretched shifts to which the factious adherents of France are driven in the attempts to obscure the truth and to mislead their countrymen. Their futility is evident. It is evident that the agents who conferred with our envoys were not impostors but were truly the commissaries of the French minister, and that their most odious propositions were not only sanctioned but even reiterated by him. The connection between the Minister and the Directory, from the nature of the thing, can only be inferred from his office and from his personal character. The most circumspect man in the world, it is utterly incredible that he would hazard himself in such a way unless, acting for the Directory, he was assured of their omnipotent support. Whether he be himself a mercenary partaker of the bribes which are extorted, or only the instrument of the rapacity of the Directory to retain his influence with them for the accomplishment of some great ulterior design, must be referred to time, and is of little moment to the United States.
Whatever, then, may have been the case with respect to the Portuguese Minister, ‘t is demonstrated that our envoys have not been, as alleged, the dupes of unauthorized agents, but have had the dexterity to ascertain the conception and expression from the mouth of the Minister himself. The probability is that in the other instance likewise the corruption which is now denied did really exist, as it most certainly does in our case; though it is to be looked for that here also it will be denied, and our envoys, if within the grasp of the monsters, made the victims of their fraudulent tyranny. The abject partisans of France, anticipating this result, are preparing the way for its justification.
a french faction
There is a set of men whose mouths are always full of the phrases, British faction—British agents—British influence. Feeling that they themselves are interested in a foreign faction, they imagine that it must be so with every one else, and that whoever will not join with them in sacrificing the interests of their country to another country, must be engaged in an opposite foreign faction; Frenchmen in all their feelings and wishes, they can see in their opponents nothing but Englishmen. Every true American—every really independent man, becomes, in their eyes, a British agent—a British emissary.
The truth is, that there is in this country a decided French faction, but no other foreign faction. I speak as to those who have a share in the public councils, or in the political influence of the country; those who adhered to Great Britain during the revolution may be presumed, generally, to have still a partiality for her. But the number of those who have at this time any agency in public affairs is very insignificant. They are neither numerous nor weighty enough to form in the public councils a distinct faction. Nor is it to this description of men that the passage is applied.
The satellites of France have the audacity to bestow it upon men who have risked more in opposition to Great Britain, than but few of them ever did—to men who have given every possible proof of their exclusive devotion to the interests of their own country. Let facts speak. The leaders of the French faction during the war managed to place the minister of the country abroad in a servile dependence on the ministry of France, and but for the virtuous independence of those men, which led them to break their instructions, it is very problematical we should have had as early, or as good a peace as that we obtained. The same men, during the same period, effected the revocation of a commission which had been given for making a commercial treaty with Great Britain, and again, on the approach of peace, defeated an attempt to produce a renewal of that commission, and thus lost an opportunity known to have been favorable for establishing a beneficial treaty of commerce with that country—though they have since made the obtaining of such a treaty, a pretext for reiterated attempts to renew hostilities with her. The same men have been constantly laboring, from the first institution of the present government, to render it subservient, not to the advancement of our own manufactures, but to the advancement of the navigation and manufactures of France.
In a proposal which aims at fostering our own navigation and elevating our own manufactures, by giving them advantages over those of all foreign nations, a thousand obstacles occur, a thousand alarms are sounded—usurpation of ungranted powers, designs to promote the interests of different parts of the Union at the expense of the other parts of it, and innumerable other spectres are conjured up to terrify us from the pursuit. Is the project to confer particular favors upon the navigation and manufactures of France, even at the expense of the United States?—then all difficulties vanish. This is the true and only object of the Constitution—for this it was framed—by this alone it can live and have a being. To this precious end, we are assured, the States who may particularly suffer will be willing to sacrifice. In this holy cause we are to risk every thing—our trade, our navigation, our manufactures, our agriculture, our revenues, our peace. Not to consent is to want spirit—to want honor—to want patriotism. Thus does Gallicism assume the honorable part of patriotism.
the war in europe
Every step of the progress of the present war in Europe has been marked with horrors. If the perpetration of them was confined to those who are the acknowledged instruments of despotic power, it would excite less surprise; but when they are acted upon by those who profess themselves to be the champions of the rights of man, they naturally occasion both wonder and regret. Passing by the extreme severities which the French have exercised in Italy, what shall we think of the declarations of Jourdan to the inhabitants of Germany?
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Good God! is it a crime for men to defend their own government and country? Is it a punishable offence in the Germans that they will not accept from the French what they offer as liberty at the point of the bayonet? This is to confound all ideas of morality and humanity; it is to trample upon all the rights of man and nations; it is to restore the ages of barbarism; according to the laws and practice of modern war, the peasantry of a country, if they remain peaceably at home, are protected from other harm than a contribution to the necessities of the invading army. Those who join the armies of their country and fight with them, are considered and treated as other soldiers. But the present French doctrine is, that they are to be treated as rebels and criminals.
German patriotism is a heinous offence in the eyes of French patriots. How are we to solve this otherwise than by observing that the French are influenced by the same spirit of domination which governed the ancient Romans. They considered themselves as having a right to be the masters of the world, and to treat the rest of mankind as their vassals. How clearly is it proved by this that the praise of a civilized world is justly due to Christianity;—war, by the influence of the humane principles of that religion, has been stripped of half its horrors. The French renounce Christianity, and they relapse into barbarism;—war resumes the same hideous and savage form which it wore in the ages of Gothic and Roman violence.
A globe, with Europe and part of Africa on one side, America on the other, the Atlantic between. The portion occupied by America to be larger than that occupied by Europe. A Colossus to be placed on this globe, with one foot on Europe, the other extending partly over the Atlantic toward America; having on his head a quintuple crown, in his right hand an iron sceptre, projecting, but broken in the middle; in his left hand a pileus (cap of liberty) reversed; the staff entwined by a snake with its head downward, having the staff of the pileus in its mouth, and folding in its tail (as if in the act of strangling) a label with the words “Rights of Man.” Upon a base supported by fifteen columns erected on the continent of America, the genius of America to be placed, represented by the figure of Pallas—a female in armor, with a firm, composed countenance, a golden breastplate, a spear in her right hand, and an ægis or shield in her left, having upon it the scales of justice (instead of the Medusa’s head); her helmet encircled with wreaths of olive, her spear striking upon the sceptre of the Colossus and breaking it asunder; over her head a radiated crown of glory. It would improve the allegory to represent the Atlantic in a tempest, as indicative of rage, and Neptune in the position of aiming a blow at the Colossus with his trident.
Explanation.—It is known that the globe is an ancient symbol of universal dominion. This, with the Colossus, alluding to the French Directory, will denote the project of acquiring such dominion—the position of the Colossus signifying the intent to extend it to America. The Colossus will represent the French Republic; and Pallas, as the genius of America, will intimate that though loving peace as a primary object (of which the olive-wreath is the symbol), yet, guided by wisdom and justice, America successfully exerts her valor to break the sceptre of the tyrant.
(For the Evening Post.)
Since the question of independence, none has occurred more deeply interesting to the United States than the cession of Louisiana to France.
This event threatens the early dismemberment of a large portion of the country; more immediately, the safety of all the Southern States; and remotely, the independence of the whole Union. This is the portentous aspect which the affair presents to all men of sound and reflecting minds, of whatever party; and it is not to be concealed, that the only question which now offers itself, is how the evil is to be averted?
The strict right to resort at once to war, if it should be deemed expedient, cannot be doubted. A manifest and great danger to the nation; the nature of the cession to France, extending to ancient limits without respect to our rights by treaty; the direct infraction of an important article of the treaty itself, in withholding the deposit of New Orleans: either of these affords justifiable cause of war, and that they would authorize immediate hostilities, is not to be questioned by the most scrupulous mind.
The whole is then a question of expediency. Two courses only present: First, to negotiate, and endeavor to purchase; and if this fails, to go to war. Secondly, to seize at once on the Floridas and New Orleans, and then negotiate. A strong objection offers itself to the first. There is not the most distant probability that the ambitious and aggrandizing views of Buonaparte will commute the territory for money. Its acquisition is of immense importance to France, and has long been an object of her extreme solicitude. The attempt, therefore, to purchase, in the first instance, will certainly fail; and in the end, war must be resorted to, under all the accumulation of difficulties caused by a previous and strongly fortified possession of the country by our adversary.
The second plan is, therefore, evidently the best. First, because effectual; the acquisition easy; the preservation afterwards easy. The evils of a war with France at this time are certainly not very formidable: her fleet crippled and powerless; her treasury empty; her resources almost dried up; in short, gasping for breath after a tremendous conflict, which, though it left her victorious, left her nearly exhausted under her extraordinary exertions. On the other hand, we might count with certainty on the aid of Great Britain with her powerful navy.
Secondly, this plan is preferable, because it affords us the only chance of avoiding a long-continued war. When we have once taken possession the business will present itself to France in a new aspect. She will then have to weigh the immense difficulties, if not the utter impracticability, of wresting it from us. In this posture of affairs she will naturally conclude it is her interest to bargain. Now it may become expedient to terminate hostilities by a purchase, and a cheaper one may reasonably be expected. To secure the better prospect of final success, the following auxiliary measures ought to be adopted. The army should be increased to ten thousand men, for the purpose of insuring the preservation of the conquest. Preparations for increasing our naval force should be made. The militia should be classed, and effectual provision made for raising, on an emergency, forty thousand men. Negotiations should be pushed with Great Britain, to induce her to hold herself in readiness to co-operate fully with us, at a moment’s warning. This plan should be adopted and proclaimed before the departure of our envoy. Such measures would astonish and disconcert Buonaparte himself; our envoy would be enabled to speak and treat with effect, and all Europe would be taught to respect us. These ideas have been long entertained by the writer, but he has never given himself the trouble to commit them to the public, because he despaired of their being adopted. They are now thrown out with very little hope of their producing any change in the conduct of the Administration, yet with the encouragement that there is a strong current of public feeling in favor of decisive measures. If the President would adopt this course, he might yet retrieve his character, induce the best part of the community to look favorably upon his political career, exalt himself in the eyes of Europe, save the country, and secure a permanent fame. But, for this, alas! Jefferson is not destined.