(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.