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.