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.