THE JEFFERSON CONTROVERSY
THE JEFFERSON CONTROVERSY
For the Gazette of the United States.
July 25, 1792.
The editor of the National Gazette receives a salary from government.
Quere.—Whether this salary is paid him for translations, or for publications, the design of which is to vilify those to whom the voice of the people has committed the administration of our public affairs—to oppose the measures of government, and, by false insinuations, to disturb the public peace?
In common life it is thought ungrateful for a man to bite the hand that puts bread in his mouth; but if the man is hired to do it, the case is altered.
For the Gazette of the United States.
August 4, 1792.
It was easy to foresee, when the hint appeared in your Gazette of the 25th July, that the editor of the National Gazette received a salary from the general government, that advantage would be taken of its want of explicitness and particularity, to make the circumstance matter of merit in Mr. Freneau, and an argument of his independent disinterestedness. Such a turn of the business cannot be permitted to succeed. It is now necessary that the whole truth should be told, and that the real state of the affair should be well understood.
Mr. Freneau, before he came to this city to conduct the National Gazette, was employed by Childs & Swaine, printers of the Daily Advertiser, in New York, in the capacity of editor or superintendent.
A paper more devoted to the views of a certain party, of which Mr. Jefferson is the head, than any to be found in this city, was wanted. Mr. Freneau was thought a fit instrument; a negotiation was opened with him which ended in the establishment of the National Gazette, under his direction.
Mr. Freneau came here, at once editor of the National Gazette and clerk for foreign languages in the department of Mr. Jefferson, Secretary of State; an experiment somewhat new in the history of political manœuvres in this country: a newspaper instituted by a public officer, and the editor of it regularly pensioned with the public money in the disposal of that officer; an example savoring not a little of that spirit which, in the enumeration of European abuses, is the continual theme of declamatory censure; an example which could not have been set by the head of any other department, without having long since rung throughout the United States.
Mr. Freneau is not, then, as he would have it supposed, the independent editor of a newspaper, who, though receiving a salary from government, has firmness enough to expose its mal-administration: he is the faithful and devoted servant of the head of a party, from whose hands he receives the boon. The whole complexion of his paper exhibits a decisive internal evidence of the influence of that patronage under which he acts.
Whether the services rendered by him are equivalent to the compensation he receives, is best known to his employer and himself: there is, however, some room to doubt. It is well known that his employer is, himself, well acquainted with the French language, the only one of which Mr. Freneau is the translator, and it may be a question how often his aid is necessary.
It is somewhat singular, too, that a man acquainted with but one foreign language, engaged in an occupation which, it may be presumed, demands his whole time and attention—the editor of a newspaper,—should be the person selected as the clerk for foreign languages in the department of the United States for foreign affairs. Could no person be found acquainted with more than one foreign language, and who in so confidential a trust could have been regularly attached to, and in the constant employ of, the department, as well as immediately under the eye of the head of it?
But it may be asked—is it possible that Mr. Jefferson, the head of a principal department of the government, can be the patron of a paper, the evident object of which is to decry the government and its measures? If he disapproves of the government itself, and thinks it deserving of his opposition, can he reconcile it to his own personal dignity, and the principles of probity, to hold an office under it, and employ the means of official influence in that opposition? If he disapproves of the leading measures which have been adopted in the course of its administration, can he reconcile it with the principles of delicacy and propriety, to hold a place in that administration, and at the same time to be instrumental in vilifying measures which have been adopted by majorities of both branches of the Legislature, and sanctioned by the Chief Magistrate of the Union?
These questions would certainly be natural. An answer might be left to the facts which establish the relation between the Secretary of State and the editor of the National Gazette as the text, and to the general tenor of that paper, as the commentary. Let any intelligent man read the paper from the commencement of it, and let him determine for himself whether it be not a paper virulently hostile to the government and its measures. Let him then ask himself whether, considering the connection which has subsisted between the Secretary of State and the editor of that paper, coëval with its first establishment, it be probable that the complexion of the paper is contrary to the views of that officer.
If he wishes for a confirmation of the inference which he cannot fail to draw, as a probable one, let him be informed in addition:
1st. That while the Constitution of the United States was depending before the people of this country for their consideration and decision, Mr. Jefferson, being in France, was opposed to it in some of its most important features, and wrote his objections to some of his friends in Virginia. That he at first went so far as to discountenance its adoption, though he afterwards recommended it, on the ground of expediency in certain contingencies.
2d. That he is the declared opponent of almost all the important measures which have been devised by the government, more especially the provision which has been made for the public debt, the institution of the Bank of the United States, and such other measures as relate to the public credit, and the finances of the United States.
It is proper that these facts should be known, for if the people of the United States believe, that their happiness and their safety are connected with the existence and maintenance of an efficient national or federal government; if they continue to think that which they have created and established worthy of their confidence—if they are willing that the powers they have granted to it should be exercised with sufficient latitude to attain the ends they had in view in granting them, and to do the essential business of the nation; if they feel an honest pride in seeing the credit of their country, so lately prostrate, elevated to an equal station with that of any nation upon earth; if they are conscious that their own importance is increased by the increased respectability of their country, which from an abject and degraded state, owing to the want of government, has, by the establishment of a wise Constitution, and the measures which have been pursued under it, become a theme for the praise and admiration of mankind; if they experience that their own situation is improved and improving—that commerce and navigation have advanced, that manufactures are progressive—that agriculture is thriving—that property is more secure than it was—industry more certain of a real, not nominal reward—personal liberty perfectly protected—that, notwithstanding the unavoidable demands upon them to satisfy the justice, retrieve the reputation, and answer the exigencies of the country, they are either less burthened than they were, or more equal to the burthen they have to sustain;—if these are their opinions and their experience, let them know and understand, that the sentiments of the officer who has been mentioned—both as to the principles and the practice of the Constitution which was framed by them, and has been administered by their representatives, freely chosen—are essentially different from theirs.
If, on the contrary, the people of the United States are of opinion, that they erred in adopting their present Constitution—that it contains pernicious principles and dangerous powers—that it has been administered injudiciously and wickedly; that men whose abilities and patriotism were tried in the worst of times, have entered into a league to deceive, defraud, and oppress them; that they are really oppressed and ruined, or in imminent danger of being so; if they think the preservation of national union a matter of no or small consequence; if they are willing to return to the situation from which they have escaped, and to strip the government of some of the most necessary powers with which they have clothed it; if they are desirous that those which may be permitted to remain should be frittered away by a narrow, timid, and feeble exercise of them; if they are disposed to see the national government transformed into the skeleton of power; if they are persuaded that nations are under no ties of moral obligation—that public credit is useless, or something worse—that public debts may be paid or cancelled at pleasure—that when a provision is not likely to be made for them, the discontents to be expected from the omission may honestly be transferred from a government able to vindicate its rights to the breasts of individuals who may first be encouraged to become the substitutes to the original creditors and may afterwards be defrauded without danger ; if for national union, national respectability, public order, and public credit, they are willing to substitute national disunion, national insignificance, public disorder, and discredit, then let them unite their acclamations and plaudits in favor of Mr. Jefferson; let him be the toast of every political club, and the theme of every popular huzza; for to those points, without examining his motives, do the real or pretended political tenets of that gentleman most assuredly tend.
These strictures are made from a conviction that it is important to the people to know the characters intrusted with their public affairs.
As Mr. Jefferson is emulous of being the head of a party whose politics have ever aimed at depressing the national authority, let him enjoy all the glory and all the advantage of it. But let it at the same time be understood by those who are persuaded that the real and permanent welfare of the country is to be promoted by other means, that such are the views by which he is actuated.
August 11, 1792.
Facts, Mr. Fenno, speak louder than words, and, under certain circumstances, louder than oaths. The editor of the National Gazette must not think to swear away their efficacy. If he is truly, as they announce, the pensioned tool of the public character who has been named, no violation of truth in any shape ought to astonish; equivocations and mental reservations are the too common refuge of minds struggling to escape from disgraceful imputations.
It may be very true, in a literal sense, that no negotiation was ever opened with Mr. Freneau by Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State, and yet it may be very certain, that a negotiation was opened with him, directly or circuitously, by a particular friend of that officer, and expectation given of his patronage and encouragement.
It may be very true, in the same sense, that Mr. Freneau’s coming to the city of Philadelphia, as publisher of a newspaper, was at no time urged, advised, or influenced, by the same officer, and yet it may be equally a fact, that it was urged, advised, and influenced by a friend of his, in concert with him, and to answer his views, and with authority to engage his assistance and support. It may in the strictest sense be true, that Mr. Freneau’s coming to Philadelphia was his own voluntary act; and yet true that he came from interested motives, and to do the work of a party; for a man acts not the less voluntarily because he yields to considerations of interest. It may be even true, that the editor of the National Gazette was never either directed, controlled, or attempted to be influenced in any manner, either by the Secretary of State, or any of his friends; and yet it may, in the strongest sense, be true, that under the influence of the emoluments received from that officer, he has acted in precise conformity to his known principles and views.
As to the assertion, that not a single line in the National Gazette was ever, directly or indirectly, written, dictated, or composed for it, by the Secretary of State, it is a shocking instance of rashness and levity. Unless Mr. Freneau be himself the author of every line which has been contained in every one of his papers (a thing not to be believed), it is impossible that he can know that none has ever been directly or indirectly written, dictated, or composed by the officer in question. And if he had been as scrupulous about an oath as he ought to have been, he never could have sworn so positively as he has done, to a thing which it was impossible for him to know; temerity like this would invalidate his testimony in a court of justice, if he were even, as he is not in the present case, a disinterested witness.
No, Mr. Freneau, this is not the way to exculpate yourself before a judicious public, from the conclusions which are to be drawn from the most convincing facts. Nor can it be believed, from any thing that you have either sworn or said, that the whole of what has been alleged is “a lie.”
The material facts which have been alleged, and may be added in confirmation, are either acknowledged, or such as you dare not deny; and they prove decisively your improper connection with the Secretary of State, and the influence of that connection upon your press.
It is a fact which you have acknowledged, that you receive a regular salary from the Secretary of State, as clerk in his department for foreign languages, while you pretend not to act in any other capacity than that of translator of one foreign language.
It is a fact which you tacitly concede, that you came from New York, where you were in the capacity of an editor or director of a newspaper, to become in this city editor of the National Gazette.
It is a fact which you dare not deny, that your appointment as clerk for foreign languages was contemporary with or rather antecedent to the commencement of your paper. The first number of your paper is dated 31st of October, 1791, your appointment was announced in the Daily Advertiser of October 26, 1791 (a paper printed in New York), in the following terms: “We hear from Philadelphia that the Hon. Thomas Jefferson, Esq., Secretary of State for the United States, has appointed Captain Philip Freneau, interpreter of the French language for the Department of State.”
It is a fact, which the debates in the Virginia Convention will testify, that Mr. Jefferson was in the origin opposed to the present Constitution of the United States.
It is a fact known to every man who approaches that officer (for he takes no pains to conceal it, and will not thank you to deny it), that he arraigns the principal measures of the government, and it may be added, with indiscreet if not indecent warmth.
It is a fact which results from the whole complexion of your paper, that it is a paper intemperatively devoted to the abuse of the government, and all the conspicuous actors in it, except the Secretary of State and his coadjutors, who are the constant theme of your panegyric. Even the illustrious Patriot who presides at the head of the government has not escaped your envenomed shafts.
And from these facts the inferences which have been drawn are irresistible.
The circumstances of your having come from another State to set up and conduct a new paper; the circumstance of the editor of that new paper being appointed a clerk in the Department of State; the coincidence in point of time of that appointment with the commencement of your paper, or, to speak more correctly, its precedency; the conformity between the complexion of your paper, and the known politics of the head of the department who employed you,—these circumstances, collectively, leave no doubt of your true situation; the conviction arising from them is too strong to be weakened by any of those bold or even solemn declarations, which are among the hackneyed tricks employed by the purists in politics, of every country and age, to cheat the people into a belief of their superior sanctity, integrity, and virtue.
If you had been previously the conductor of a newspaper in this city—if your appointment had been any considerable time subsequent to the institution of your paper, there might have been some room for subterfuge; but as matters stand, you have no possible escape.
The fact of the preliminary negotiation which brought you to this city is not material, when so many other facts presupposing it occur; but even this, if the scruples of family connection, or the dread of party resentment, do not prevent the evidence being brought forward, will be proved incontestably; not, indeed, a negotiation in which Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State, was the immediate agent, but one carried on by a very powerful, influential, and confidential friend and associate of that gentleman.
That officer has had too considerable a part of his political education amidst the intrigues of a European court, to hazard a direct personal commitment in such a case; he knows how to put a man in a situation calculated to produce all the effects he desires without the gross and awkward formality of telling him: “Sir, I mean to hire you for this purpose.”
It is impossible for a correct mind not to pronounce that, in the abstract, a connection like that which is acknowledged to subsist between you and Mr. Jefferson, between the editor of a newspaper and the head of a department of the government, is indelicate and unfit, and consequently of a nature to justify suspicion.
A connection of that sort in a free country is a pernicious precedent, inconsistent with those pretensions to extraordinary republican purity, of which so suspicious a parade is upon every occasion exhibited.
The apology you attempt for it is ill-founded and inadmissible; there is no law which annexes a particular salary to the clerkship in question—the appointment is under the general authority given to the head of the department, to appoint clerks with salaries not exceeding aggregatively five hundred dollars to each; there is therefore no restriction to the sum you mention to induce, as matter of necessity, the employment of a person engaged in other occupations, and not ordinarily and regularly attached to the department. Five hundred dollars, or even more, might be legally given, for a clerk, competent to the duty, and if it was not sufficient wholly to employ him, his surplus time might be dedicated to other business of the department—nor could there have been any mighty difficulty in finding a clerk so qualified.
But if there had been such difficulty, some other character should undoubtedly have been found; the precedent of such a species of influence erected over the press ought to have been avoided. This is so obvious, that the not having avoided it is a proof of sinister design.
The employment of Mr. Pintard, by the Secretary of State, was a natural consequence of particular situation. Mr. Pintard, if I am rightly informed, had been employed in the same capacity under the old government, and it was natural enough to continue him in the old occupation and employment; but Mr. Pintard was not the printer of a gazette.
These strictures, though involving Mr. Freneau, it shall be confessed, have been drawn forth principally with a view to a character of greater importance in the community. They aim at exposing a public officer who is too little scrupled to embarrass and disparage the government of which he is a member, and who has been the prompter, open or secret, of unwarrantable aspersions on men who, so long as actions, not merely professions, shall be the true test of patriotism and integrity, need never decline a comparison with him of their titles to the public esteem.
August 18, 1792.
The charges which have been brought against the editor of the National Gazette, as he himself states them to be, are no otherwise personal charges than as they designate the person against whom they are made.
In their application to Mr. Freneau, they affect him solely in his capacity of editor of a public paper [which may justly be considered as a public capacity], and in relation to matters of public or national concern. It is, therefore, a mere subterfuge to call them personal charges, and then to say they shall not be answered, unless the author of them will come forward to support them. It was easily anticipated that he might have good reasons for not discovering himself, at least at the call of Mr. Freneau, and it was necessary for him to find a shelter. What else could he do? The charges brought against him are substantiated by facts, some of them acknowledged by himself; others proved by a reference to public documents, and to his own paper; others of general notoriety.
The inferences from these facts are the only things that remain for discussion, and these so naturally flow from the premises that they defy the arts of sophistry to obscure them. The expedient, however, which has been adopted comes rather late, considering that Mr. Freneau began to answer even under the solemnities of an oath.
September 11, 1792.
A writer in the Gazette of Saturday last, after several observations with regard to certain charges which have been lately brought forward against the Secretary of State, proceeds to make or insinuate several charges against another political character.
As to the observations which are designed to exculpate the Secretary of State, I shall do nothing more than refer to the discussions which have taken place, and appear to be in a train to be pursued in the Gazette of the United States.
As to the charges which have been brought against the other public character alluded to, I shall assert, generally, from a long, intimate, and confidential acquaintance with him, added to some other means of information, that the matters charged, as far as they are intelligible, are either grossly misrepresented or palpably untrue.
A part of them is of a nature to speak for itself without comment, the malignity and turpitude of the accuser denoting clearly the personal enemy in the garb of the political opponent.
The subject and the situation of the parties naturally impose silence, but this is not the first attempt of the kind that has been made fruitlessly hitherto, and I doubt not, equally fruitlessly in time to come. An opinion on the experience of fifteen years, the greatest part of the time under circumstances affording the best opportunity for an accurate estimate of character, cannot be shaken by slanderous surmises. The charge of which I shall take more particular notice, is contained in the following passage:
“Let him explain the public character, who, if uncontradicted fame is to be regarded, opposed the Constitution in the Grand Convention, because it was too republican, and advocated the British monarchy as the perfect standard to be approached as nearly as the people could be made to bear.” This I affirm to be a gross misrepresentation. To prove it is so, it were sufficient to appeal to a single fact, namely, that the gentleman alluded to was the only member from the State to which he belonged who signed the Constitution, and it is notorious, against the prevailing weight of the official influence of the State, and against what would probably be the opinion of a large majority of his fellow-citizens, till better information should correct their first impressions.
How, then, can he be believed to have opposed a thing which he actually agreed to, and that in so unsupported a situation, and under circumstances of such peculiar responsibility? To this I shall add two more facts. One, that the member in question never made a proposition to the Convention which was not conformable to the republican theory. The other, that the highest-toned of any of the propositions made by him was actually voted for by the representation of several States, including some of the principal ones; and including individuals who, in the estimation of those who deem themselves the only republicans, are pre-eminent for republican character. More than this I am not at liberty to say.
It is a matter generally understood, that the deliberations of the Convention, which were carried on in private, were to remain undisturbed. And every prudent man must be convinced of the propriety both of the one and the other. Had the deliberations been open while going on, the clamors of faction would have prevented any satisfactory result; had they been afterwards disclosed, much food would have been afforded to inflammatory declamation. Propositions made without due reflection, and perhaps abandoned by the proposers themselves, on more mature reflection, would have been handles for a profusion of ill-natured accusation.
Every infallible declaimer, taking his own ideas as the perfect standard, would have railed without measure or mercy at every member of the Convention who had gone a single line beyond his standard.
The present is a period fruitful in accusation—much anonymous slander has been and will be vented—no man’s reputation can be safe, if charges in this form are to be lightly listened to. There are but two kinds of anonymous charges that can merit attention: where the evidence goes along with the charge; and where reference is made to specific facts, the evidence of the truth or falsehood of which is in the power or possession of the party accusing, and he at liberty to make a free use of it. None of the charges brought forward in this instance falls within either of these rules.
catullus to aristides
For the Gazette of the United States.
September 15, 1792.
Though there would be no great hazard of mistake in inferring the writer of the paper under the signature of “Aristides” from “the appropriate and prominent features” which characterize the style of that paper; yet I forbear to imitate the example which has been set, with too little decorum, by naming or describing the supposed author. The similitude of style, or any other circumstance merely probable, is too slight a foundation for so improper a procedure.
Peculiar circumstances which it is not necessary to explain, uniting with the conjecture which is indulged respecting the real “Aristides,” lead to a change of the original party to the charges. The discussion will be taken up and pursued by one who is willing to be responsible for the allegations he shall make, and who consequently will not refuse to be known on proper terms to the officer concerned. It is, however, not meant to invite inquiry on that head. It is most advisable that none should be made. For any public purpose, none will be requisite. For any personal one, none will be proper. What shall be said will merely apply to public conduct, and will be supported by proof and argument.
Why, then, it may be asked, the intimation of a willingness to be known, if required? The answer is merely to put an end to the epithets “cowardly assassin,” “striking in the dark,” and other tropes and figures of a similar nature. Some rhetoric may be spoiled, but the elucidation of truth will be promoted.
It occurs at once to an observant reader, that “Aristides” passes over, in total silence, the leading article of charge brought by “An American” against Mr. Jefferson, namely: That he is the institutor and patron of a certain gazette published in this city, the object and tendency of which are to vilify and depreciate the government of the United States, to misinterpret and traduce the administration of it, except in the single department of which that gentleman is the head; implicating in the most virulent censure the majorities of both houses of Congress, the heads both of the Treasury and War departments, and sparing not even the Chief Magistrate himself; that in the support of this paper, thus hostile to the government, in the administration of which he holds so important a trust, he has not scrupled to apply the money of that very government, departing by this conduct from the rules of official propriety and obligation, and from the duty of a discreet and patriotic citizen.
This is the leading and main charge, which has been brought by “An American” against Mr. Jefferson, which he supports in several ways.
1st.—By direct proof of an official connection between the Secretary of State and the editor of the National Gazette, coëval with, or rather antecedent to, the first establishment of that paper.
2d.—By the suggestion of his being opposed to the present government of the United States, while it was under the consideration of the people.
3d.—By the suggestion of his being opposed to the principal measures which have been adopted in the course of its administration, particularly those relating to the finances.
The object of the above recapitulation is to show the true original state of the question, in order that it may be clearly seen how entirely “Aristides,” in his defence, loses sight of the principal point, and contents himself with an indirect endeavor to involve it in uncertainty, by disputing or denying some positions which form only the collateral evidence.
It will now remain to see how the charges of “An American” have been and can be supported.
As to the connection between the Secretary of State and the editor of the National Gazette, neither of the following facts can or will be disputed. If any of them should be denied, it will be proved beyond the possibility of doubt:
1st.—That the editor of the National Gazette is a clerk in the Department of State for foreign languages, and as such receives a salary of two hundred and fifty dollars a year.
2d.—That he became so, antecedent to the establishment of his gazette, having actually received his salary from the 17th August, 1791, and not having published the first number of his paper till the 31st of October following.
3d.—That at the time he became so, there was another character, a clerk in the same department, who understood the French language; and that the editor of the National Gazette is a translator of that language only.
4th.—That the appointment was not made under any special provision, marking out a particular clerkship of the kind, its duties, or its emoluments; but, under a general authority to appoint clerks, and allow them salaries not exceeding the average of five hundred dollars to each.
5th.—That the editor of the National Gazette, immediately preceding the establishment of that paper, was the superintendent or conductor of a paper belonging to Childs & Swaine, printed at New York.
These are the facts: the conclusion is irresistible. The secret intentions of men being in the repositories of their own breasts, it rarely happens, and is therefore not to be expected, that direct and positive proof of them can be adduced.
Presumptive facts and circumstances must afford the evidence; and when these are sufficiently strong they ought to decide.
We find the head of a department taking the editor of a gazette into his employment, as a clerk, with a stated salary—not for any special purpose, which could not have been accomplished otherwise; for he had, at the time, in his department, a clerk who was capable of performing the very service required, and could without difficulty have procured others similarly qualified; nor from any particular necessity arising from a too limited allowance, or any other cause; for he had it in his power to allow an adequate compensation to a character who might have been regularly attached to the department.
The very existence of such a connection, then, is alone a sufficient foundation for believing that the design of the arrangement was to secure an influence over the paper, the editor of which was so employed. But the circumstances which attend it explain the nature of it beyond a doubt. That which has been just mentioned, namely, there having been previously a clerk in the department qualified to render the service, is a weighty one. The coming of a new printer, from another State, to institute a new paper—his having been appointed clerk in the department prior to his removal to this city—his having been compensated before he was even present, to satisfy the appearance of his rendering service,—these circumstances give a point and energy to the language of the transaction which render it unequivocal. There perhaps never was a more flimsy covering for the pensioning of a printer. Some ostensible ground for giving him the public money was necessary to be contrived—the clerkship of foreign languages was deemed a plausible pretext. But no man acquainted with human nature, or with the ordinary rules of political intrigue, can be deceived by it.
The medium of negotiation between the Secretary of State and Mr. Freneau, in order to the institution of his paper, is known, and documents are possessed which ascertain the person, but they are at present withheld, from considerations of a particular nature. These are the more readily yielded to, because the facts which have been stated render it unnecessary to exhibit them. These facts prove, to the satisfaction of every impartial mind, that Mr. Jefferson is the Institutor and Patron of the National Gazette.
As to the complexion and tendency of that gazette, a reference to itself is sufficient. No man, who loves the government, or is a friend to the public tranquillity, but must reprobate it as an incendiary and pernicious publication, and condemn the auspices under which it is supported.
In another paper, the charges which have occasioned so much umbrage to “Aristides” will be more correctly stated and enforced. The precise terms of the advice which was given by Mr. Jefferson to Congress, respecting the transfer of the French debt to a company of Hollanders, will be recited.
This characteristic trait in the political principles of that gentleman, will be submitted to the honest feelings not only of the great body of the yeomanry, to whom such affected appeals are so often made, but to honest men of whatsoever class and condition.
September 19, 1792.
“An American,” to confirm the inferences resulting from the official connection between the Secretary of State and the editor of the National Gazette, appeals to a conformity of the political principles and views of that officer with those which are sedulously inculcated in that gazette. If this conformity exists, it certainly affords a strong presumption, in aid of direct facts, of the operation of his influence on the complexion of that paper.
The circumstances of conformity alleged, fall under two heads: one, that the Secretary of State was in the origin opposed to that Constitution which it is the evident object of the National Gazette to discredit; the other, that he has been, and is, opposed to those measures which it is the unremitted, and, it may be said, the avowed endeavor of that paper to censure and subvert.
In contradiction to the first suggestion, “Aristides” cites an authority, which “An American” appears to have relied upon in support of his assertion: the speech of Mr. Pendleton in the Convention of Virginia. Let an analysis of this speech show whether it supports or contradicts the assertion.
Mr. Pendleton represents a certain letter of Mr. Jefferson as containing these particulars: 1st. A strong wish that the first nine conventions may accept the new Constitution, because it would secure the good it contains, which is great and important. 2d. A wish that the four latest, whichever they should be, might refuse to accede to it till amendments were secured. 3d. A caution to take care that no objection to the form of the government should produce a schism in the Union; which Mr. Jefferson admits to be an incurable evil.
From this it appears that, though Mr. Jefferson was of opinion that the Constitution contained “great and important good,” and was desirous that the first nine deliberating States should consent to it for the sake of preserving the existence of the Union, yet he had strong objections to the Constitution; so strong that he was willing to risk an ultimate dismemberment in an experiment to obtain the alterations which he deemed necessary.
If the four last deliberating States (particularly if they had happened to be States in geographical contiguity, which was very possible) had refused to ratify the Constitution, what might not have been the consequence? Who knows whether the assenting States would have been willing to have been coerced into the amendments which the non-assenting States might have been supposed to dictate? Calculating the intrigues and machinations which were to have been expected to stand in the way, who can say, if even two thirds of both houses of Congress should have been found willing to propose that three fourths of the Legislatures, or conventions, in three fourths of the States, would have been brought to adopt the required amendments?
Could any thing but objections to the Constitution of the most serious kind have justified the hazarding an eventual schism in the UNION, in so great a degree as would have attended an adherence to the advice given by Mr. Jefferson? Can there be any perversion of truth in affirming that the person who entertained those objections was opposed to the Constitution?
The opposition which was experienced in every part of the United States, acknowledged the necessity and utility of the Union; and, generally speaking, that the Constitution contained many valuable features; contending only that it wanted some essential alterations to render it upon the whole a safe and good government.
It may be satisfactory to review what was said in the same Convention of Virginia by some other members on the subject of the letter in question.
Mr. Henry (p. 109 of the “Debates”) replies thus to Mr. Pendleton:—"The honorable gentleman has endeavored to explain the opinion of Mr. Jefferson, our common friend, into an advice to adopt this new government. He wishes nine States to adopt, and that four States may be found somewhere to reject it. Now, sir, I say, if we pursue his advice, what are we to do? To prefer form to substance? for give me leave to ask, what is the substantial part of his counsel? It is, sir, that four States should reject. They tell us that, from the most authentic accounts, New Hampshire will adopt it. Where, then, will four States be found to reject, if we adopt it? If we do, the counsel of this worthy and enlightened countryman of ours will be thrown away,” etc. Whether this gentleman argued sincerely, from his impression of the true import of the letter, or made an attempt “to pervert Mr. Jefferson’s sentiments,” as “Aristides” affirms, must be reserved to his own consciousness, and to the candid construction of an impartial public.
Mr. Madison, in reply to Mr. Henry (p. 122 of the same “Debates”), expresses himself thus:—"The honorable member, in order to influence our decision, has mentioned the opinion of a citizen, who is an ornament to this State. When the name of this distinguished character was introduced, I was much surprised. Is it come to this, then, that we are not to follow our own reason? Is it proper to adduce the opinions of respectable men, not within these walls? If the opinion of an important character were to weigh on this occasion, could we not adduce a character equally great on our side? Are we, who (in the honorable gentleman’s opinion) are not to be guided by an erring world, now to submit to the opinion of a citizen beyond the Atlantic? I believe that were that gentleman now on this floor, he would be for the adoption of this Constitution. I wish his name had never been mentioned; I wish every thing spoken here relative to his opinion may be suppressed, if our debates should be published. I know that the delicacy of his feelings will be wounded, when he will see in print what has and may be said concerning him on this occasion. I am in some measure acquainted with his sentiments on this subject. It is not right for me to unfold what he has informed me. But I will venture to assert that the clause now discussed is not objected to by Mr. Jefferson. He approves of it because it enables the government to carry on its operations,” etc. It is observable that Mr. Madison neither advocates the accuracy of Mr. Pendleton’s comment nor denies the justice of that of Mr. Henry. His solicitude appears to be to destroy the influence of what he impliedly admits to be the opinion of Mr. Jefferson, to press out of sight the authority of that opinion, and to get rid of the subject as fast as possible. He confesses a knowledge of Mr. Jefferson’s sentiments, but prudently avoids disclosure, wrapping the matter in mysterious reserve, and leaving the public to this day to conjecture what was the precise import of the sentiments communicated. Enough, however, is seen to justify the conclusion that if the spirit of Mr. Jefferson’s advice had prevailed with the Convention, and full credence had been given to the expected adoption by New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, New York, and Rhode Island would have temporarily thrown themselves out of the Union. And whether, in that event, they would have been at this day reunited to it, or whether there would be now any Union at all, is happily a speculation which need only be pursued to derive the pleasing reflection that the danger was wisely avoided.
To understand more accurately what “An American” meant in asserting that Mr. Jefferson had been opposed to the Constitution, let him be compared with himself. In his first paper he expresses himself thus: “While the Constitution of the United States was depending before the people of this country for their consideration and decision, Mr. Jefferson being in France was opposed to it in some of its most important features, and wrote his objections to some of his friends in Virginia. He at first went so far as to discountenance its adoption; though he afterwards recommended it on the ground of expediency in certain contingencies.”
From this it is evident that so far from denying, he has even admitted, that Mr. Jefferson, at one stage of the business, recommended the adoption of the Constitution to his fellow-citizens, but upon a contingency. And this is literally the fact, as established by the letter quoted in the debates of the Convention. The advice is to adopt, if nine States had not previously adopted; to reject, if that number of States had previously adopted. This is clearly to adopt, or not, upon a contingency. Thus the authority appealed to by “Aristides” confirms the latter part of “An American’s” assertion, without contradicting the former part of it.
“Aristides” has not denied, nor do I believe he will deny, that Mr. Jefferson, in his early communications, discountenanced the adoption of the Constitution in its primitive form. I know the source of “An American’s” information. It is equally authentic and friendly to Mr. Jefferson. Allowing for the bare possibility of misapprehension, it exactly accords with the statement which has been made of it. If the fact shall be denied, the source of information will be indicated, under due guards for the delicacy of the proceeding.
This will serve either to confirm, or, in case of misconception, to correct.
I add that some of Mr. Jefferson’s objections to the Constitution have not been removed by the amendments which have been proposed. Part of his objections went to the structure of particular parts of the government.
As to the second fact which “An American” corroborates, the charge of Mr. Jefferson’s participation in the views of the National Gazette, it is in a degree conceded by “Aristides.” He confesses, nay, he even boasts, Mr. Jefferson’s abhorrence of some of the leading principles of Mr. Hamilton’s fiscal administration,—that is, the leading principles of those measures which have provided for the public debt and have restored public credit.
It would have been well if “Aristides” had told us what those leading principles are which are the objects of so much abhorrence to Mr. Jefferson.
The leading principles of Mr. Hamilton’s administration have been: that the public debt ought to be provided for, in favor of those who, according to the express terms of the contract, were the true legal proprietors of it; that it ought to be provided for, in other respects, according to the terms of the contract, except so far as deviations from it should be assented to by the creditors, upon the condition of a fair equivalent; that it ought to be funded on ascertained revenues pledged for the payment of interest, and the gradual redemption of principal; that the debts of the several States ought to be comprised in the provisions, on the same terms with that of the United States; that to render this great operation practicable, avoid the oppression of trade and industry, and facilitate loans to the government in cases of emergency, it was necessary to institute a national bank; that indirect taxes were, in the actual circumstances of the country, the most eligible means of revenue; and that direct taxes ought to be avoided as much and as long as possible.
I aver, from competent opportunities of knowing Mr. Jefferson’s ideas, that he has been hostile to all these positions, except, perhaps, the last; and that even in regard to that, his maxims would oblige the government in practice speedily to resort to direct taxes.
I aver, moreover, that Mr. Jefferson’s opposition to the administration of the government has not been confined to the measures connected with the Treasury Department, but has extended—to use the words of “An American,” to almost all the important measures of the government. The exceptions to the generality of both the preceding assertions I am content to rest on a designation by Mr. Jefferson, or by any person who shall speak from a knowledge of his sentiments, of those principles of the fiscal department, or of those measures of the government of any importance, which he does approve. I insist only that the designation be precise and explicit, and come with such marks of authenticity as are adapted to the nature of an anonymous discussion.
To give an idea of the accuracy with which “Aristides” discloses Mr. Jefferson’s opinions, I shall cite one of his phrases with a short observation. He asserts that a suggestion against Mr. Jefferson, which he states, is made on no better foundation than his being opposed to some of the principles of the funding system of the national bank, and certain other measures of the Secretary of the Treasury. It is matter of general notoriety and unquestionable certainty, that Mr. Jefferson has been opposed to the national bank in toto, to its constitutionality, and to its expediency. With what propriety is it then said that he has been opposed only to “some of the principles of that institution"?
I proceed now to state the exact tenor of the advice which Mr. Jefferson gave to Congress respecting the transfer of the debt due to France to a company of Hollanders. After mentioning an offer which had been made by such a company for the purchase of the debt, he concludes with these extraordinary expressions: “If there is a danger of the public payment not being punctual, I submit whether it may not be better that the discontents which would then arise should be transferred from a court of whose good-will we have so much need to the breasts of a private company.“
The above is an extract which was made from the letter in February, 1787. The date of it was not noted, but the original being on the files of the Department of State, will ascertain that and all other particulars relating to its contents. The genuineness of the foregoing extract may be depended upon.
The letter was the subject of a report from the Board of Treasury in February, 1787. That board treated the idea of the transfer proposed as both unjust and impolitic:—unjust, because the nation would contract an engagement which there was no well-grounded prospect of fulfilling; impolitic, because a failure in the payment of interest, on the debt transferred (which was inevitable), would justly blast all hopes of credit with the citizens of the United Netherlands in future pressing exigencies of the Union; and gave it as their opinion that it would be advisable for Congress, without delay, to instruct their minister at the court of France, to forbear giving his sanction to any such transfer.
* * * * * *
Congress agreeing in the ideas of the board, caused an instruction to that effect to be sent to Mr. Jefferson. Here, then, was a solemn act of government condemning the principle as unjust and impolitic.
If the sentiment contained in the extract which has been recited can be vindicated from the imputation of political profligacy, then is it necessary to unlearn all the ancient notions of justice, and to substitute some new-fashioned scheme of morality in their stead.
Here is no complicated problem which sophistry may entangle or obscure. Here is a plain question of moral feeling. A government is encouraged, on the express condition of not having a prospect of making a due provision for a debt which it owes, to concur in a transfer of that debt, from a nation well able to bear the inconveniences of failure or delay, to individuals whose total ruin might have been the consequence of it, and that upon the interested consideration of having need of the good-will of the creditor nation, and, with the dishonorable motive, as it is clearly implied, of having more to apprehend from the discontents of that nation, than from those of disappointed and betrayed individuals. Let every honest and impartial mind, consulting its own spontaneous emotions, pronounce for itself upon the rectitude of such a suggestion. Let every sober and independent member of the community decide whether it is likely to be a misfortune to the country, that the maxims of the officer at the head of its Treasury Department are materially variant from those of the author of that suggestion.
And let “Aristides” prove, if he can, that Mr. Jefferson gave advice “expressly contrary to that which has been ascribed to him.” Amidst the eccentric ramblings of this political comet, its station in another revolution will not prove that its appearance was not, at one time, at the place which has been assigned for it.
“An American,” it ought to be confessed, has in this instance drawn larger than the life. This he has done by blending with the fact the sudden though natural comments of an honest indignation. But the original itself, in its true size and shape, without the help of the least exaggeration, is to the moral eye a deformed and hideous monster.
Say, “Aristides"! did the character to whom you are so partial, imitate, in this case, the sublime virtue of that venerable Athenian, whose name you have assumed; did he dissuade his countrymen from adopting a proposition, because though “nothing could be more advantageous, nothing could be more unjust"? Did he not rather advise them to do what was both disadvantageous and unjust? May he not, as a public man, discard all apprehension of ostracism, for being the superlatively just?
P. S.—Some additional observations are reserved for another paper.
September 29, 1792.
“Aristides” complains that “An American” has charged Mr. Jefferson with being the patron and promoter of national disunion, national insignificance, public disorder, and discredit. “An American,” however, has only affirmed, that “the real or pretended political tenets of that gentleman tend” to those points.
The facts which have been established clearly demonstrate, that, in the form in which it is made, the charge is well founded.
If Mr. Jefferson’s opposition to the funding system, to the bank, and to the other measures which are connected with the administration of the national finances, had ceased, when those measures had received the sanction of law, nothing more could have been said, than, that he had transgressed the rules of official decorum, in entering the lists against the head of another department (between whom and himself there was a reciprocal duty to cultivate harmony); that he had been culpable in pursuing a line of conduct, which was calculated to sow the seeds of discord in the executive branch of the government, in the infancy of its existence.
But when his opposition extended beyond that point, when it was apparent, that he wished to render odious, and of course to subvert (for in a popular government these are convertible terms), all those deliberate and solemn acts of the Legislature, which had become the pillars of the public credit, his conduct deserved to be regarded with a still severer eye.
Whatever differences of opinion may have preceded those acts, however exceptionable particular features in them may have appeared to certain characters, there is no enlightened nor discreet citizen but must agree that they ought now to remain undisturbed. To set afloat the funding system, after the faith of the nation has been so deliberately and solemnly pledged to it—after such numerous and extensive alienations of property for full value have been made under its sanction—with adequate revenues little burthensome to the people—in a time of profound peace —with not even the shadow of any public necessity—on no better ground than that of theoretical and paradoxical dogmas,—would be one of the most wanton and flagitious acts that ever stained the annals of a civilized nation.
Yet positions tending to that disgraceful result have been maintained, in public discourses, by individuals known to be devoted to the Secretary of State; and have been privately smiled upon as profound discoveries in political science.
Yet the less discreet, though not least important partisans of that officer, talk familiarly of undoing the funding system as a meritorious work. Yet his gazette (which may fairly be regarded as the mirror of his views), after having labored for months to make it an object of popular detestation, has at length told us, in plain and triumphant terms, that “the funding system has had its day”; and very clearly, if not expressly, that it is the object of the party to overthrow it.
“An American,” then, has justly, and from sufficient data, inferred that Mr. Jefferson’s politics, whatever may be the motives of them, tend to national disunion, insignificance, disorder, and discredit. That the subversion of the funding system would produce national discredit, proves itself. Loss of credit, the reason being the same, must attend nations, as well as individuals, who voluntarily and without necessity violate their formal and positive engagements.
Insignificance and disorder, as applied to communities, equally with individuals, are the natural offspring of a loss of credit, premeditatedly and voluntarily incurred.
Disunion would not long lag behind. Soberminded and virtuous men in every State would lose all confidence in, and all respect for, a government, which has betrayed so much levity and inconstancy, so profligate a disregard to the rights of property and to the obligations of good faith. Their support would of course be so far withdrawn or relaxed as to leave it an easy prey to its enemies. These comprise the advocates for separate confederacies; the jealous partisans of unlimited sovereignty, in the State governments—the never to be satiated lovers of innovation and change—the tribe of pretended philosophers, but real fabricators of chimeras and paradoxes, the Catilines and the Cæsars of the community (a description of men to be found in every republic), who, leading the dance to the tune of liberty without law, endeavor to intoxicate the people with delicious but poisonous draughts to render them the easier victims of their rapacious ambition; the vicious and fanatical of every class, who are ever found the willing or deluded followers of those seducing and treacherous leaders.
But this is not all—the invasion of sixty millions of property could not be perpetrated without violent concussions. The States, whose citizens, both as original creditors and purchasers, own the largest portions of the debt (and several such there are), would not remain long bound in the trammels of a party which had so grossly violated their rights. The consequences in experiment would quickly awaken to a sense of injured right, and interest such of them, whose representatives may have wickedly embarked, or been ignorantly betrayed, into the atrocious and destructive project.
Where would all this end but in disunion and anarchy?—in national disgrace and humiliation?
“Aristides” insinuates that “An American” has distinguished Mr. Jefferson as “the Catiline of the day—the ambitious incendiary.” Those epithets are not to be found in either of the papers over that signature. But “An American” has said that Mr. Jefferson “has been the prompter, open or secret, of unwarrantable aspersions on men who, as long as actions, not merely professions, shall be the true tests of patriotism and integrity, need never decline a comparison with him of their titles to the public esteem,” and he is supported in the assertion by facts.
Not to cite or trace those foul and pestilent whispers which, clandestinely circulating through the country, have, as far as was practicable, contaminated some of its fairest and worthiest characters, an appeal to known circumstances will justify the charge.
Some time since there appeared in print certain speculations, which have been construed into an advocation of hereditary distinctions in government. These (whether with or without foundation, is to this moment matter of conjecture) were ascribed to a particular character, pre-eminent for his early intrepid, faithful, persevering, and comprehensively useful services to his country—a man, pure and unspotted in private life, a citizen having a high and solid title to the esteem, the gratitude, and the confidence of his fellow-citizens.
The first volume of the Rights of Man makes its appearance. The opportunity is eagerly seized to answer the double purpose of wounding a competitor, and of laying in an additional stock of popularity, by associating and circulating the name of Thomas Jefferson with a popular production of a favorite writer on a favorite subject.
For this purpose, the Secretary of State sits down and pens an epistle to a printer in the city of Philadelphia, transmitting the work for republication, and expressing his approbation of it in a way which we learn, from the preface of that printer to his edition of the work, was calculated not only to do justice to the rights of Mr. Paine, but to do honor to Mr. Jefferson, by directing the mind to a contemplation of that republican firmness and democratic simplicity which ought to endear him to every friend to the Rights of Man.
The letter, as we learn from the same preface, contained the following passages: “I am extremely pleased to find it will be reprinted here, and that something is at length to be publicly said against the political heresies which have sprung up among us.” “I have no doubt our citizens will rally a second time round the standard of common-sense.”
There was not a man in the United States acquainted with the insinuations which had been propagated, who did not instantly apply the remark, and the signal was so well understood by the partisans of the writer, that a general attack immediately commenced. The newspapers in different States resounded with invective and scurrility against the patriot, who was marked out as the object of persecution and, if possible, of degradation.
Under certain circumstances, general expressions designate a person or an object as clearly as an indication of it by name. So it happened in the present case. The javelin went directly to its destination.
It was quickly perceived that discerning and respectable men disapproved the step. It was of consequence to endeavor to maintain their good opinion. Protestations and excuses as frivolous as awkward were multiplied to veil the real design.
“The gentleman alluded to never once entered into the mind. It was never imagined that the printer would be so incautious as to publish the letter or any part of it. Nothing more was in view than to turn a handsome period, and avoid the baldness of a note that did nothing but present the compliments of the writer.”
Thus a solemn invocation to the people of America, on the most serious and important subject, dwindled at once into a brilliant conceit, that tickled the imagination too much to be resisted. The imputation of levity was preferred to that of malice.
But when the people of America presented themselves to the disturbed patriotic fancy, as a routed host, scattered and dispersed by political sorcerers, how was it possible to resist the heroic, the chivalrous desire of erecting for them some magic standard of orthodoxy, and endeavoring to rally them round it for mutual protection and safety?
In so glorious a cause, the considerations that a citizen of the United States had written in a foreign country a book containing strictures on the government of that country which would be regarded by it as libellous and seditious, that he had dedicated this book to the Chief Magistrate of the Union, that a republication of it under the auspices of the Secretary of State would wear the appearance of its having been promoted, at least of its being patronized, by the government of this country, were considerations too light and unimportant to occasion a moment’s hesitation or pause.
Those who, after an attentive review of circumstances, can be deceived by the artifices which have been employed to varnish over this very exceptional proceeding, must understand little of human nature, must be little read in the history of those arts, which in all countries and at all times have served to disguise the machinations of factious and intriguing men.
The remaining circumstance of public notoriety, which fixes upon Mr. Jefferson the imputation of being the prompter or instigator of detraction, exists in his patronage of the National Gazette.
Can any attentive reader of that gazette, doubt for a moment that it has been systematically devoted to the calumniating and blackening of public characters? Can it be a question, that a main object of the paper is to destroy the public confidence in a particular public character, who it seems is to be hunted down at all events, for the unpardonable sin of having been the steady, invariable, and decided friend of broad national principles of government? Can it be a question, that the persecution of the officer alluded to is agreeable to the views of the institutor of the paper?
Does all this proceed from motives purely disinterested and patriotic? Can none of a different complexion be imagined, that may at least have operated to give a stimulus to patriotic zeal?
No. Mr. Jefferson has hitherto been distinguished as the quiet, modest, retiring philosopher; as the plain, simple, unambitious republican. He shall not now, for the first time, be regarded as the intriguing incendiary, the aspiring turbulent competitor.
How long it is since that gentleman’s real character may have been divined, or whether this is only the first time that the secret has been disclosed, I am not sufficiently acquainted with the history of his political life to determine; but there is always a “first time” when characters studious of artful disguises are unveiled; when the visor of stoicism is plucked from the brow of the epicurean; when the plain garb of Quaker simplicity is stripped from the concealed voluptuary; when Cæsar coyly refusing the proffered diadem, is seen to be Cæsar rejecting the trappings, but tenaciously grasping the substance of imperial domination.
It is not unusual to defend one post by attacking another. “Aristides” has shown a disposition to imitate this policy. He by clear implication tells us, and doubtless means it as a justification of the person whom he defends, that attachment to aristocracy, monarchy, hereditary succession, a titled order of nobility, and all the mock pageantry of kingly government, form the appropriate and prominent features in the character to which he boasts Mr. Jefferson’s opposition, and which it seems to be a principal part of the business of his gazette to depreciate. This is no more than what has been long matter for malevolent insinuation. I mistake, however, the man to whom it is applied, if he fears the strictest scrutiny into his political principles and conduct; if he does not wish there “were windows in the breast,” and that assembled America might witness the inmost springs of his public actions. I mistake him—however a turn of mind less addicted to dogmatizing than reasoning, less fond of hypotheses than experience, may have led to speculative doubts concerning the probable success of the republican theory—if he has not uniformly and ardently, since the experiment of it began in the United States, wished it success; if he is not sincerely desirous that the sublime idea of a perfect equality of rights among citizens, exclusive of hereditary distinctions, may be practically justified and realized; and if among the sources of the regret which his language and conduct have testified, at the overdriven maxims and doctrines that too long withstood the establishment of firm government in the United States, and now embarrass the execution of the government which has been established, a principal one has not been their tendency to counteract a fair trial of the theory to which he is represented to be adverse. I mistake him, if his measures proceeding upon the ground of a liberal and efficient exercise of the powers of the national government, have had any other object than to give it stability and duration: the only solid and rational expedient for preserving republican government in the United States.
It has been pertinently remarked by a judicious writer, that Cæsar, who overturned the republic, was the Whig, Cato, who died for it, the Tory, of Rome; such, at least, was the common cant of political harangues, the insidious tale of hypocritical demagogues.
October 17, 1792.
Attempts in different shapes have been made to repel the charges which have been brought against the Secretary of State. The defence of him, however, in the quarter in which he has been principally assailed, has hitherto gone no further than a mere show of defending him. I speak as to his improper connection with the editor of the National Gazette. But a more serious and plausible effort has been made to obviate the impression which arises from his having been originally an objector to the present Constitution of the United States.
For this purpose several letters said to have been written by Mr. Jefferson while in Europe have been communicated. How far they are genuine letters or mere fabrications; how far they may have been altered or mutilated, is liable, from the manner of their appearance, to question and doubt. It is observable also, that the extract of a letter of the 6th July, contained in the American Daily Advertiser of the 10th instant, though it seems to be intended as part of the one which is mentioned in the “Debates of the Virginia Convention,” does not answer to the description given of it by Mr. Pendleton, who professes to have seen it. For Mr. Pendleton expressly states with regard to that letter, that Mr. Jefferson, after having declared his wish respecting the issue of the deliberations upon the Constitution, proceeds to enumerate the amendments which he wishes to be secured. The extract which is published, speaks only of a bill of rights, as the essential amendment to be obtained by the rejection of four States, which by no means satisfies the latitude of Mr. Pendleton’s expressions.
Such, nevertheless, as it is, it affords an additional confirmation of that part of “An American’s” statement, which represents Mr. Jefferson as having advised the people of Virginia to adopt or not upon a contingency.
It happens, likewise, that the letters which have been communicated tend to confirm the only parts of “An American’s” statement of the sentiments and conduct of Mr. Jefferson, in relation to the Constitution, which remained to be supported; namely, “that he was opposed to it in some of its most important features, and at first went so far as to discountenance its adoption.” By this I understand without previous amendments.
From the first of those letters, dated “Paris the 20th December, 1787,” it appears that Mr. Jefferson, among other topics of objection, “disliked, and greatly disliked, the abandonment of the principle of rotation in office, and most particularly in the case of President,” from which the inference is clear, that he would have wished the principle of rotation to have extended not only to the executive, but to the other branches of the government, to the Senate at least, as is explained by a subsequent letter. This objection goes to the structure of the government in a very important article; and while it justifies the assertion that Mr. Jefferson was opposed to the Constitution, in some of its most important features, it is a specimen of the visionary system of politics of its author. Had it been confined to the office of Chief Magistrate, it might have pretended not only to plausibility but to a degree of weight and respectability. By being extended to other branches of the government, it assumes a different character, and evinces a mind prone to projects which are incompatible with the principles of stable and systematic government, disposed to multiply the outworks, and leave the citadel weak and tottering.
But the fact not the merit of the objection is the material point. In this particular, it comes fully up to the suggestion which has been made.
It now only remains to see how far it is proved, that Mr. Jefferson at first discountenanced the adoption of the Constitution in its primitive form.
Of this, a person acquainted with the manner of that gentleman, and with the force of terms, will find sufficient evidence in the following passage: “I do not pretend to decide, what would be the best method of procuring the establishment of the manifold good things in the Constitution, and of getting rid of the bad: whether by adopting it in hopes of future amendment; or after it has been duly weighed and canvassed by the people,—after seeing the parts they generally dislike, and those they generally approve, to say to them, ’We see now what you wish—send together your deputies again—let them frame a Constitution for you, omitting what you have condemned, and establishing the powers you approve.’”
Mr. Jefferson did not explicitly decide which of these two modes was best, and while it is clear, that he had not determined in favor of an adoption without previous amendments, it is not difficult to infer from the terms of expression employed, that he preferred the last of the two modes; a recurrence to a second convention. The faintness of the phrase “in hopes of future amendment,” and the emphatical method of displaying the alternative, are sufficient indications of the preference he entertained.
The pains which he takes in the same letter to remove the alarm naturally inspired by the insurrection which had happened in Massachusetts, are an additional illustration of the same bias. It is not easy to understand what other object his comments on that circumstance could have, but to obviate the anxiety which it was calculated to inspire, for an adoption of the Constitution, without a previous experiment to amend it.
It is not possible to avoid remarking by the way, that these comments afford a curious and characteristic sample of logic and calculation. “One rebellion in thirteen States, in the course of eleven years, is but one for each State in a century and a half”; while France, it seems, had had three insurrections in three years. In the latter instance the subdivisions of the entire nation are confounded in one mass; in the former, they are the ground of calculation. And thus a miserable sophism is gravely made a basis of political consolation and conduct. For, according to the data stated, it was as true that the United States had had one rebellion in eleven years, endangering their common safety and welfare, as that France had had three insurrections in three years.
Thus it appears from the very documents produced in exculpation of Mr. Jefferson, that he in fact discountenanced, in the first instance, the adoption of the Constitution, favoring the idea of an attempt at previous amendments by a second convention; which is the only part of the allegation of “An American” that remained to be established.
As to those letters of Mr. Jefferson which are subsequent to his knowledge of the ratification of the Constitution by the requisite number of States, they prove nothing but that Mr. Jefferson was willing to play the politician.
They can at best only be received as acts of submission to the opinion of the majority which he professes to believe infallible, resigning to it, with all possible humility, not only his conduct but his judgment.
It will be remarked that there appears to have been no want of versatility in his opinions. They kept pace tolerably well with the progress of the business, and were quite as accommodating as circumstances seemed to require. On the 31st July, 1788, when the adoption of the Constitution was known, the various and weighty objections of March, 1787, had resolved themselves into the simple want of a bill of rights; in November following, on the strength of the authority of three States (overruling in that instance the maxim of implicit deference for the opinion of a majority), that lately solitary defect acquires a companion in a revival of the objection to the perpetual re-eligibility of the President. And another convention, which appeared no very alarming expedient while the entire Constitution was in jeopardy, became an object to be deprecated, when partial amendments to an already established Constitution were alone in question.
From the fluctuations of sentiment which appear in the letters that have been published, it is natural to infer, that had the whole of Mr. Jefferson’s correspondence on the subject been given to the public, much greater diversities would have been discovered.
In the preface to the publication of the letters under consideration, the question is put, “Wherein was the merit or offence of a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the Constitution, and to whom rendered?”
It is a sufficient answer to this question, as it relates to the present discussion, to say, that the intimation which was given of Mr. Jefferson’s dislike of the Constitution, in the first instance, was evidently not intended as the imputation of a positive crime, but as one link in a chain of evidence tending to prove that the National Gazette was conducted under his auspices, and in conformity to his views.
After showing that the editor of that paper was in his pay, and had been taken into it some short time previous to the commencement of the publication, the inference resulting from the circumstance, of that paper being a political engine, in his hands, is endeavored to be corroborated, first, by the suggestion that Mr. Jefferson had originally serious objections to the Constitution; secondly, by the further suggestion, that he has disapproved of most of the important measures adopted in the course of the administration of the government.
In this light, and with this special reference, were those suggestions made, and certainly as far as they are founded in fact, the argument they afford is fair and forcible. A correspondency of the principles and opinions of Mr. Jefferson, with the complexion of a paper, the conductor of which is in the regular pay of his department, is surely a strong confirmation of the conclusion—that the paper is conducted under his influence, and agreeably to his views.
Nothing but a known opposition of sentiment on the part of Mr. Jefferson to the doctrines inculcated in the National Gazette, could obviate the inference deducible from his ascertained and very extraordinary connection with it. A coincidence of sentiments is a direct and irresistible confirmation of that inference.
An effort scarcely plausible has been made by another “Aristides” to explain away the turpitude of the advice, which was given respecting the French debt. It is represented that a company of adventuring speculators had offered to purchase the debt at a discount, foreseeing the delay of the payment, calculating the probable loss, and willing to encounter the hazard. The terms employed by Mr. Jefferson refute this species of apology. His words are: “If there is a danger of the public payments not being punctual, I submit whether it may not be better, that the discontents which would then arise, should be transferred from a court, of whose good-will we have so much need, to the breasts of a private company.“
He plainly takes it for granted that discontents would arise from the want of an adequate provision, and proposes that they should be transferred to the breasts of individuals. This he could not have taken for granted if, in his conception, the purchasers had calculated on delay and loss.
The true construction then is, that the company expected to purchase at an undervalue, from the probability that the court of France might be willing to raise a sum of money on this fund, at a sacrifice,—supposing that the United States, counting that her friendly indulgence might be less inclined to press the reimbursement,—not that they calculated on material delay or neglect when the transfer should be made to them. They probably made a very different calculation (to wit), that as it would be ruinous to the credit of the United States abroad, to neglect any part of its debt which was contracted there with individuals, from the impossibility of one part being distinguishable from another in the public apprehension, this consideration would stimulate to exertions to provide for it. And so it is evident, from his own words, that Mr. Jefferson understood it.
But the persons who offered to purchase were speculators. The cry of speculation as usual is raised, and this, with some people, is the panacea, the universal cure for fraud and breach of faith.
It is true, as alleged, that Mr. Jefferson mentioned an alternative, the obtaining of money by new loans, to reimburse the court of France; but this is not mentioned in any way that derogates from, or waives the advice given in the first instance. He merely presents an alternative, in case the first idea should be disapproved.
It may be added, that the advice respecting the transfer of the debt was little more honorable to the United States as it regarded the court of France, than as it respected the Dutch company. What a blemish on our national character, that a debt of so sacred a nature should have been transferred at so considerable a loss to so meritorious a creditor!
A still less plausible effort has been made to vindicate the National Gazette from the charge of being a paper devoted to calumniating and depreciating the government of the United States. No original performance in defence of the government or its measures, has, it is said, been refused by the editor of that paper. A few publications of that tendency have appeared in it, principally, if not wholly, since the public detection of the situation of its conductor.
What a wretched apology! Because the partiality has not been so daring and unprecedented, as to extend to a refusal of original publications in defence of the government, a paper which industriously copies every inflammatory publication against it that appears in any part of the United States, and carefully avoids every answer which is given to them, even when specially handed to the editor for the purpose, is not to be accounted a malicious and pernicious engine of detraction and calumny towards the government!!!
But happily here no proof nor argument is necessary. The true character and tendency of the paper may be left to the evidence of every reader’s senses and feelings. And “Aristides,” as often as he looks over that paper, must blush, if he can blush, at the assertion that “it has abounded since its commencement with publications in favor of the measures of the government.”
Deception, however artfully veiled, seldom fails to betray some unsound part. “Aristides” assures us that Mr. Jefferson “has actually refused in any instance to mark a single paragraph, which appeared in the foreign prints, for republication in the National Gazette.” On what ground was such an application to Mr. Jefferson made, if he was not considered as the patron of the paper? What printer would make a similar application to the head of any other department? I verily believe none. And I consider the circumstance stated as a confirmation of the relation of patron and client between the SECRETARY OF STATE and the editor of the National Gazette.
The refusal, if it happened, is one of those little underplots, with which the most intriguing man in the United States is at no loss, to keep out of sight the main design of the drama.
October 24, 1792.
The votaries of Mr. Jefferson, whose devotion for their idol kindles at every form in which he deigns to present himself, have deduced matter of panegyric from his opposition to the measures of the government. ’T is according to them the sublimest pitch of virtue in him, not only to have extra-officially embarrassed plans, originating with his colleagues in the course of their progress, but to have continued his opposition to them, after they had been considered and enacted by the Legislature, with such modifications as appeared to them proper, and had been approved by the Chief Magistrate. Such conduct, it seems, marks “a firm and virtuous independence of character.” If any proof were wanting of that strange inversion of the ideas of decorum, propriety, and order, which characterizes a certain party, this making a theme of encomium of what is truly a demonstration of a caballing, self-sufficient, and refractory temper, would afford it.
In order to show that the epithets have been mis-applied, I shall endeavor to state what course a firm and virtuous independence of character, guided by a just and necessary sense of decorum, would dictate to a man in the station of Mr. Jefferson.
This has been rendered more particularly requisite by the formal discussion of the point, which appears to be the object of a continuation of a defence of that gentleman, in the American Daily Advertiser of the 10th inst.
The position must be reprobated that a man who had accepted an office in the Executive Department, should be held to throw the weight of his character into the scale, to support a measure which in his conscience he disapproved, and in his station had opposed—or, that the members of the administration should form together a close and secret combination, into whose measures the profane eye of the public should in no instance pry. But there is a very obvious medium between aiding or countenancing, and intriguing and machinating against a measure; between opposing it in the discharge of an official duty, or volunteering an opposition to it in the discharge of no duty; between entering into a close and secret combination with the other members of an administration, and being the active leader of an opposition to its measures.
The true line of propriety appears to me to be the following: A member of the administration, in one department, ought only to aid those measures of another which he approves—where he disapproves, if called upon to act officially, he ought to manifest his disapprobation, and avow his opposition, but out of an official line he ought not to interfere as long as he thinks fit to continue a part of the administration. When the measure in question has become a law of the land, especially with a direct sanction of the chief magistrate, it is peculiarly his duty to acquiesce. A contrary conduct is inconsistent with his relations as an officer of the government, and with a due respect as such for the decisions of the Legislature, and of the head of the executive department. The line here delineated, is drawn from obvious and very important considerations. The success of every government—its capacity to combine the exertion of public strength with the preservation of personal right and private security, qualities which define the perfection of a government, must always naturally depend on the energy of the executive department. This energy again must materially depend on the union and mutual deference which subsists between the members of that department, and the conformity of their conduct with the views of the executive chief.
Difference of opinion between men engaged in any common pursuit, is a natural appendage of human nature. When only exerted in the discharge of a duty, with delicacy and temper, among liberal and sensible men, it can create no animosity; but when it produces officious interferences, dictated by no call of duty—when it volunteers a display of itself in a quarter where there is no responsibility, to the obstruction and embarrassment of one who is charged with an immediate and direct responsibility, it must necessarily beget ill-humor and discord between the parties. Applied to the members of the executive administration of any government, it must necessarily tend to occasion, more or less, distracted councils, to foster factions in the community, and practically to weaken the government.
Moreover, the heads of the several executive departments are justly to be viewed as auxiliaries to the executive chief. Opposition to any measure of his, by either of those heads of departments, except in the shape of frank, firm, and independent advice to himself, is evidently contrary to the relations which subsist between the parties. And it cannot well be controverted that a measure becomes his, so as to involve the duty of acquiescence on the part of the members of his administration, as well by its having received his sanction in the form of a law, as by its having previously received his approbation.
In the theory of our government, the chief magistrate is himself responsible for the exercise of every power vested in him by the Constitution. One of the powers intrusted to him, is that of objecting to bills which have passed the two houses of Congress. This supposes the duty of objecting, when he is of opinion that the object of any bill is either unconstitutional or pernicious. The approbation of a bill implies, that he does not think it either the one or the other; and it makes him responsible to the community for this opinion. The measure becomes his by adoption, nor could he escape a portion of the blame which should finally attach itself to a bad measure to which he had given his consent.
I am prepared for some declamation against the principles which have been laid down. Some plausible flourishes have already been indulged; and it is to be expected that the public ear will be still further assailed with the commonplace topics that so readily present themselves, and are so dexterously detailed by the traffickers in popular prejudices. But it need never be feared to submit a solid truth to the deliberate and final opinion of an enlightened and sober people.
What! (it will probably be asked) is a man to sacrifice his conscience and his judgment to an office? Is he to be a dumb spectator of measures which he deems subversive of the rights or interests of his fellow-citizens? Is he to postpone to the frivolous rules of a false complaisance, or the arbitrary dictates of a tyrannical decorum, the higher duty which he owes to the community?
I answer, No! he is to do none of these things. If he cannot coalesce with those with whom he is associated, as far as the rules of official decorum, propriety, and obligation may require, without abandoning what he conceives to be the true interest of the community, let him place himself in a situation in which he will experience no collision of opposite duties. Let him not cling to the honor or emolument of an office, whichever it may be that attracts him, and content himself with defending the injured rights of the people by obscure or indirect means. Let him renounce a situation which is a clog upon his patriotism; tell the people that he could no longer continue in it without forfeiting his duty to them, and that he had quitted it to be more at liberty to afford them his best services.
Such is the course which would be indicated by a firm and virtuous independence of character. Such the course that would be pursued by a man attentive to unite the sense of delicacy with the sense of duty, in earnest about the pernicious tendency of public measures, and more solicitous to act the disinterested friend of the people, than the interested, ambitious, and intriguing head of a party.
November 24, 1792.
It was my intention to have closed with my last paper the discussion of Mr. Jefferson’s conduct, in the particulars which have been suggested, but the singular complexion of the last number of a series of papers originating in the American Daily Advertiser, obliges me to resume it.
As if bold assertion were capable of imposing any thing for truth, an attempt is made in the papers alluded to to impress the following opinions: 1st. That the extract which was given of Mr. Jefferson’s letter, on the subject of a proposition for the transfer of the French debt, is “false,” “deceptive,” and “mutilated.” These are the epithets in different passages applied to it. 2d. That Mr. Jefferson was the mere vehicle, or, to use the precise terms, “only the vehicle of communication to Congress.” 3d. That he “discountenanced” the proposition. 4th. That the “only” proposition which he made to Congress was to borrow the money in Holland to discharge the debt.
To give color to these assertions, I am called upon to produce the entire paragraph, from which the extract has been made, and it is suggested that the whole was deposited in the quarter whence the extract is believed to have been taken.
I pledge my veracity that this suggestion is unfounded; as is another—that the information which has been communicated by me is derived from the opportunities of official situation. I affirm unequivocally that I obtained, through different channels, a full knowledge of the transaction in February, 1787—being in no public station whatever; that I then saw the extract, which has been published, and which was at that time taken from the original letter, and has since been preserved in the most authentic form; that I then also received information equally authentic of the general substance of the letter, as relating to the matter in question, and of all other particulars concerning it, which have heretofore been stated, and which have been preserved in a manner that admits no doubt of their accuracy and genuineness. For this, I again appeal to the letter itself, on the files of the Department of State, where alone, as far as I am informed, its entire contents are deposited, and which I entertain no doubt will confirm not only the truth of the extract which has been given, but the justness of the representation of the contents of the letter in all other respects.
Considering the extract as genuine, which undoubtedly it is, it speaks for itself—and unequivocally falsifies the suggestion that Mr. Jefferson was “only the vehicle” of communication to Congress. It imports, without the possibility of evasion, advice to accede to the proposition which was made to the Dutch company, on the dishonorable ground of there being danger that the public payments would not be punctual, and of its being in that case expedient to transfer the discontents, which would arise from the want of punctuality, from the court of France to the breasts of a private company. It therefore clearly makes him more than the mere vehicle of communication—the patron and adviser of the measure upon the condition which has been stated. It as clearly refutes the astonishing assertion that he “discountenanced” the proposition, whatever subterfuge may be brought to color it. And it equally destroys the other allegation, that the only proposition which Mr. Jefferson made to Congress, was to borrow the money in Holland to discharge the debt.
It has been admitted, that there was another proposition, in the same letter, of that import; but it is denied, under the appeal which has been made, that it in any manner derogates from the advice contained in the extract. It is understood to have been offered as an alternative, in case the proposition of the Dutch company should not be approved—as another mode which might be adopted to effect the payment of France.
It will be remarked by an attentive reader that, while an artful attempt is made to bring into question the genuineness of the extract, a direct denial of its genuineness is not hazarded. Recourse is had to equivocal implications. It is said to be “false” and “deceptive,” not in terms, but “upon a sound construction,"—that “the contents of the letter, even in the extract published, have been shamefully misrepresented,“—not that the extract is itself a forgery, but that “other parts of the letter, absolutely necessary for the full comprehension of it, are kept back.” The jargon of asserting, that a literal extract from a paper is “false and deceptive upon a sound construction,” is a proof of the embarrassment of the commentator. Whoever will examine the extract will perceive, that as to the purpose to which it has been applied, it is an entire thing. The sentiment reprobated is there complete, and can be affected by nothing collateral. The inferences resulting from it can only be repelled by establishing that the extract is in terms false. This, I believe, will not be pretended.
It is as little true (in the sense in which it is evidently meant to be understood) that the proposition for the transfer of the debt has been imposed upon Mr. Jefferson as his own, as it is that he discountenanced it. It has been acknowledged that the offer was first made by the Dutch company; and has only been maintained that Mr. Jefferson advised its acceptance on principles contrary to good morals; a position which can never be overthrown without introducing a new system of ethics. In this sense, too, and with the disapprobation which belongs to it, was it understood by those to whom the advice was addressed, to the honor of the public councils of the day.
It is suggested that the animadversions upon Mr. Jefferson’s conduct in these papers proceed from “private revenge.” This supposes some private injury, real or imagined. The assertor must be not a little embarrassed to support the probability of such a cause. It is affirmed that none such exists. Private revenge, therefore, cannot be the stimulus. Let facts speak the true motives.
December 22, 1792.
If perseverance can supply the want of judgment, Mr. Jefferson has an excellent advocate in the writer of his “Vindication.” But I mistake, if his last attempt is not found to involve still more deeply the character he wishes to extricate.
To repel the imputation on Mr. Jefferson arising from the advice which he gave to Congress respecting the debt to France, he not only labors to show that, taken in all its circumstances, it is not of the exceptional complexion under which it has been represented, but endeavors to infuse a belief, that the sense of the extract originally communicated has been altered by the interpolation of certain words, as well as by the suppression of a part of a paragraph from which the extract is derived.
It will strike the most careless observer as not a little extraordinary, that a person who by undertaking to state the contents of a letter with precise accuracy, and even to detect a minute verbal deviation, must be understood to have access to the original, should, instead of submitting to the public eye a literal transcript of that original, content himself with giving his own paraphrase of it, and should expect that this would be accepted upon the strength of his assurance, that it exhibits the genuine contents of the letter, on the point in dispute, contained in one paragraph only; “that the arrangement of the idea is the same, and that in substance nothing has been added to or taken from it,” thus modestly offering his own construction of substance, the very thing in question, for the thing itself.
That the extract, as given by me, is correct in every material expression, is proved by the statement in the VINDICATION. That it is literally correct, I must continue to believe until something more to be depended upon than constructive substance is offered in lieu of it.
The information I possess is drawn from two sources; one a memorandum in the handwriting of a friend, which was given to me as an exact transcript of the words of the letter, and which was copied verbatim, in the second of these papers; the other, a document of unquestionable authenticity, not long since consulted, which states the contents of Mr. Jefferson’s letter in the following form:
Mr. Jefferson suggests, that if there is a danger of the public payments not being punctual, “whether it might not be better that the discontents which would then arise, should be transferred from a court, of whose good will we have so much need, to the breasts of a private company.”
“That the credit of the United States is sound in Holland, and that it would probably not be difficult to borrow in that country the whole sum of money due to the court of France; and to discharge that debt without any deduction, thereby doing what would be grateful to the court, and establishing with them a confidence in our honor.”
This statement in the document alluded to serves to confirm the memorandum, in form as well as substance. Speaking in the third person, it represents Mr. Jefferson as suggesting “whether it might not be better,” etc., whence it is natural to infer that, speaking in the first person in the letter, the terms are, “I submit whether it may not be better,” etc.
The form of conveying the idea by way of question is common to both vouchers; and the word “whether,” which is also common to both, presupposes the words “I suggest,” or “I submit,” the last being the most accurate, and in that view the most likely to have been used.
It is observable, also, that the same statement disconnects the two propositions, and gives them a distinct and independent aspect. The conjunction “but,” which is alleged to be in the original, does not appear in that statement.
It is possible, nevertheless, that some immaterial departures from literal precision may have found their way into the transcripts, which are relied upon. But while this concession as a bare possibility is made, it is not intended as an escape from a rigorous responsibility for the essential accuracy of the disclosure. If there be in what has been communicated as a literal extract, any expression the least material, tending to the crimination of Mr. Jefferson, which is not to be found in the original, it is admitted to be inexcusable. But not having been possessed of the original, as has been several times stated, any accidental variation of expression, not affecting at all the sense of the quotation, or not affecting it disadvantageously to Mr. Jefferson, cannot be admitted to be of moment in regard either to the merits of the discussion or to the fairness of the procedure. To press such a variance as an objection, is to cavil, and to betray a consciousness of weakness.
Now it happens that the variance which is alleged to exist, if it has any influence upon the meaning of the passage, has one favorable to Mr. Jefferson; taking it for granted that his apologist has given a true account of it. This will be seen by carefully contrasting the phraseology in the two cases.
The extract, as stated by me, is in these words:
“If there is a danger of the public payments not being punctual, I submit whether it may not be better that the discontents which would then arise, should be transferred from a court, of whose good will we have so much need, to the breasts of a private company.“
The statement in the vindication represents that Mr. Jefferson “having stated the proposition as above (referring to the proposition for the purchase of the debt), observes further upon it in its relation to this country, that if there be a danger our payments may not be punctual, it might be better that the discontents which would then arise, should be transferred from a court, of whose good will we have so much need, to the breasts of a private company.”
All the material and exceptionable phrases are the same in the two statements. The only difference between them is that in the first Mr. Jefferson is made to submit in the modest form of a question, “whether it might not be better,” the identical sentiment or advice, which, in the last, he is made to convey in the affirmative tone of an observation, that “it might be better.” The last mode of expression is certainly stronger than the first, and if the sentiment conveyed be, as it undoubtedly is, an improper one, the censure due to it is increased by the greater degree of decision with which it is expressed, as being an indication of a more decided state of mind concerning it. This remark, which might otherwise appear nice and critical, is naturally drawn forth by the attempt to have it understood that the words “I submit whether,” which are said to have been interpolated, have an influence upon the sense of the clause injurious to Mr. Jefferson.
The result is that the alteration of terms said to have been made, if real, must have been casual, because it either does not vary the sense, or varies it favorably to Mr. Jefferson; and, consequently, that the charge which has been brought rests upon him in its primitive force, unmitigated by the alleged change of terms.
In like manner, admitting the statement of what is said to follow as a part of the same paragraph, to be truly represented in the vindication, it either corresponds with the view I have heretofore given of the matter, or it implicates Mr. Jefferson in greater reprehensibility than has yet been charged upon him. It either presents an alternative proposition predicated upon the supposition of a state of things different from that which is the basis of the first, namely, the danger of a deficiency of means for punctual payment, and in that case does not derogate from the first; or proceeding upon the supposition of the same state of things, it contains advice to Congress to avail themselves of the yet sound state of their credit in Holland, treacherously to induce individuals upon the invitation of the government to lend their money on the ordinary terms, for the purpose of making full payment to France, in order to guard her from loss, and preserve her confidence, in direct contemplation of not being able to render the stipulated justice to those individuals. If this was the advice of Mr. Jefferson, it leaves his conduct without even those slight extenuations which have been supposed to afford a semblance of apology. It takes away the feeble pretexts deduced from the offer having originated with the company, and from their gaining a considerable boon in the first purchase.
The last, I acknowledge, is the construction best warranted by the structure of the paragraph as delineated in the vindication. This, as it there stands, would be the most obvious and natural reading. If there be a danger that our payments may not be punctual, it may be better that the discontents which would then arise, should be transferred from a court, of whose good will we have so much need, to the breasts of a private company. But still it has occurred to me that we may do what is preferable to accepting the proposition of the Dutch company. We may find occasion to do what would be grateful to the court of France, and establish with them a confidence in our honor. Our credit is good in Holland—may it not be possible then to borrow there the four and twenty millions due to France, and pay them the whole debt at once? This, besides transferring the discontents to be expected from the want of punctual payments, from the court of France to the breasts of individuals, would have the further advantage of saving that court from any loss on our account. It is in this sense only, that the first suggestion can be considered as overruled by or absorbed in the last, and that Mr. Jefferson can be said to have discountenanced the proposition made by the Dutch company. If this be the meaning intended to be contended for, no pains will be taken to dispute it; and the comment will be left to Mr. Jefferson’s most partial admirers.
The writer of the vindication continues to insist that Mr. Jefferson was only the vehicle of communication, assigning as reasons for this assertion, that the transaction had taken place between the parties, before any mention was made of it to him, and that in communicating it to Congress, he only made known to that body the desire both of the company and of the French court, that the opinion which he gave arose out of the proposition, was in furtherance of the views of the parties, and that, in fact, no decision could be formed on it, either by the Congress, or himself, without a comparison of the parties as creditors of the United States. But these reasons do not prove that Mr. Jefferson was only the vehicle of communication; they prove the contrary: that he was both the vehicle of communication, and the patron though not the author of the proposition. The precise difference between being the mere vehicle, and being both the vehicle and the patron of a proposition, consists in this: that in the first case the agent does nothing more than communicate the proposition; in the last, he gives an opinion arising out of it, in furtherance of the views of the proposers; which is exactly what is acknowledged to have been done by Mr. Jefferson.
The plea that there could be no immortality or indelicacy in espousing a proposition coming from the parties interested, amounts to nothing. The charge is not that advice was given to accede to the proposition, but that advice was given to accede to it, upon a ground which was dishonorable and unjust. It is the condition upon which the acceptance is advised that constitutes the culpability.
In No. 4 of the vindication, the attack upon Mr. Jefferson is said to proceed from private revenge. In No. 5, it changes its nature, and becomes an attack upon principles—a monarchical plot against the republican character of the community. How long and how often are the people of America to be insulted with this hypocritical rant? When will these political pharisees learn that their countrymen have too much discernment to be the dupes of their hollow and ostentatious pretensions; that the citizens know how to distinguish the men who serve them from those who only flatter them, the men who have substantial claims to their confidence from those who study to conceal the want of qualities, really solid and useful, under the mask of extraordinary and exclusive patriotism and purity?
It is curious to observe the pathetic wailings which have been produced by the animadversions in these papers. It would seem as if a certain party considered themselves as the sole and rightful censors of the Republic; and every attempt to bestow praise or blame not originating with them, as a usurpation of their prerogative,—every stricture on any of their immaculate band, as a breach of their privilege. They appear to think themselves authorized to deal out anathemas, without measure or mercy, against all who dare to swerve from their standard of political orthodoxy, which are to be borne without retaliation or murmur. And if any symptom of either shows itself, they are sure to raise the dismal cry of persecution; themselves the first to assail, and the first to complain. But what is not permitted to men who have so clearly established a title, little less than divine, to a monopoly of all the patriotic virtues!
The only answer which is due to the feint of offering to enter into arrangements for ascertaining whether the writer of these papers has, in the instance under consideration, been guilty of misrepresentation—and the breach of an official duty,—is to remind the public, that in my first paper I declared myself willing to be known on proper terms to the officer concerned. To this I adhere in the spirit of the original intimation, but I deem a personal disclosure to any subaltern of his, improper; nor do I perceive that it is in the present case necessary to an investigation of the facts. The writer of the vindication admits in substance what is alleged; and as to his collateral statements, it has been shown that they imply more blame on the character meant to be exculpated than was originally charged. I forbear any comment on the indecency of naming upon conjecture the person who has been named as the author of these papers, or upon the palpable artifice of making an avowal of them, by that particular person, the condition of a disclosure of the name of the writer of the vindication. Indecency and artifice are the proper weapons of such adversaries.
a plain honest man
For the Gazette of the United States.
In consequence of the intimation contained in the first number of the vindication of Mr. Jefferson, which originated in the American Daily Advertiser, that, “if any doubt should be suggested of the authenticity of the extracts published, they should be immediately made accessible to others,” a person called upon Mr. Dunlap to obtain an inspection of those originals. He replied that they had not been left with him, neither was he possessed of the necessary information where to direct or inquire, but if desired he would, by advertisement, notify the application for a perusal of the letters.
A statement of this answer, as extraordinary as unexpected, was prepared to be inserted in this gazette, and was communicated to Mr. Dunlap with a view to verify its accuracy. The evening before that destined for its appearance, Mr. D. called upon the person and informed him that the originals were now to be seen, and would be communicated to any person who might incline to see them, observing, at the same time, that it appeared to him that it could not be necessary to publish the statement which has been mentioned, as intended. This was accordingly forborne.
On the 17th November, Mr. D. was again applied to and again proposed an advertisement, but afterwards hinted, as a preliminary condition of the letters being seen, that the person in whose possession the letters were should be made acquainted with the name of the person who applied for that purpose. Mr. D. afterwards said he would apply again for the letters and have them in his own possession to show them, agreeable to the declaration published; but after this, being again applied to, answered as before, that the applicant must be previously known.
On the—a note appeared in Mr. Dunlap’s paper of that day, which, after commenting on the disingenuousness of some doubts printed in one of the papers under the signature of “Catullus,” gives “notice that any gentleman of known honor and delicacy, who shall be named to the editor of the American Daily Advertiser shall have an opportunity of examining not only the passages extracted, but the entire contents of the original letter.”
What gentleman of real delicacy would be willing to present himself under the professed character of a “gentleman of known honor and delicacy,” at the hazard of being affronted by a rejection to obtain the proffered access? Is not an offer so clogged a felo de se? What is the natural inference? If I am not, Mr. Printer, a “gentleman of known honor and delicacy,” I hope you will not think the worse of me for being only
A Plain Honest Man.
hamilton to washington
September 9, 1792.
Sir:—I have the pleasure of your private letter of the 26th of August. The feelings and views which are manifested in that letter are such as I expected would exist. And I most sincerely regret the causes of the uneasy sensations you experience. It is my most anxious wish, as far as may depend upon me, to smooth the path of your administration, and to render it prosperous and happy. And if any prospect shall open of healing or terminating the differences which exist, I shall most cheerfully embrace it; though I consider myself as the deeply injured party. The recommendation of such a spirit is worthy of the moderation and wisdom which dictated it. And if your endeavors should prove unsuccessful, I do not hesitate to say, that in my opinion the period is not remote, when the public good will require substitutes for the differing members of your administration. The continuance of a division there must destroy the energy of government, which will be little enough with the strictest union. On my part there will be a most cheerful acquiescence in such a result.
I trust, sir, that the greatest frankness has always marked, and will always mark, every step of my conduct towards you. In this disposition I cannot conceal from you, that I have had some instrumentality of late in the retaliations which have fallen upon certain public characters, and that I find myself placed in a situation not to be able to recede for the present.
I considered myself as compelled to this conduct by reasons public as well as personal, of the most cogent nature. I know that I have been an object of uniform opposition from Mr. Jefferson, from the moment of his coming to the city of New York to enter upon his present office. I know from the most authentic sources, that I have been the frequent subject of the most unkind whispers and insinuations from the same quarter. I have long seen a party formed in the Legislature under his auspices, bent upon my subversion. I cannot doubt from the evidence I possess, that the National Gazette was instituted by him for political purposes, and that one leading object of it has been to render me, and all the measures connected with my department, as odious as possible. Nevertheless, I can truly say, that, except explanations to confidential friends, I never directly or indirectly retaliated or countenanced retaliation till very lately. I can even assure you, that I was instrumental in preventing a very severe and systematic attack upon Mr. Jefferson by an association of two or three individuals, in consequence of the persecution which he brought upon the Vice-President, by his indiscreet and light letter to the printer, transmitting Paine’s pamphlet.
As long as I saw no danger to the government from the machinations which were going on, I resolved to be a silent sufferer of the injuries which were done me. I determined to avoid giving occasion to any thing which could manifest to the world dissensions among the principal characters of the government; a thing which can never happen without weakening its hands, and in some degree throwing a stigma upon it.
But when I no longer doubted that there was a formed party deliberately bent upon the subversion of measures, which in its consequences would subvert the government; when I saw that the undoing of the funding system in particular (which, whatever may be the original merits of that system, would prostrate the credit and the honor of the nation, and bring the government into contempt with that description of men who are in every society the only firm supporters of government) was an avowed object of the party, and that all possible pains were taken to produce that effect, by rendering it odious to the body of the people, I considered it as a duty to endeavor to resist the torrent, and, as an effectual means to this end, to draw aside the veil from the principal actors. To this strong impulse, to this decided conviction, I have yielded. And I think events will prove that I have judged rightly.
Nevertheless, I pledge my honor to you, sir, that if you shall hereafter form a plan to reunite the members of your administration upon some steady principle of coöperation, I will faithfully concur in executing it during my continuance in office; and I will not directly or indirectly say or do a thing that shall endanger a feud.
I have had it very much at heart to make an excursion to Mount Vernon, by way of the federal city, in the course of this month, and have more than once been on the point of asking your permission for it. But I now despair of being able to effect it. I am, nevertheless, equally obliged by your kind invitation.
With the most affectionate and faithful attachment, etc.