Front Page Titles (by Subject) CORRESPONDENCE ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE BOSTON PATRIOT. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 9 (Letters and State Papers 1799-1811)
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CORRESPONDENCE ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE BOSTON PATRIOT. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 9 (Letters and State Papers 1799-1811) 
The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 9.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
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CORRESPONDENCE ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE BOSTON PATRIOT.
As it was, the pamphlet appeared surreptitiously, whilst Mr. Adams was President, and when he could take no notice of it without materially compromising the dignity of his position. But after his term expired in March, 1801, it seems that he addressed himself to the labor of a reply, and prepared the materials which he designed to use. The reason why he did not perfect his design, is nowhere explained. Possibly it might have grown out of the condition of things consequent upon Mr. Jefferson’s accession to the Presidency, which furnished little chance for a favorable hearing in any quarter. Perhaps it may have been owing to the fall of Mr. Hamilton. A large portion of the federal party, which he had represented, was giving in its adhesion to Mr. Jefferson, whilst the rest was dwindling down to a fragment in the northern and eastern States, exclusively under the guidance of those individuals with whom he had come to a rupture, in sentiment if not in action, during his own administration. The new policy these persons were pursuing was one with which he could as little sympathize as with the old one. Yet he preserved total silence until attacks were revived upon him, and upon his son John Quincy Adams, on account of opinions expressed upon later questions. It happened that in 1809, an extract from the Baltimore Federal Republican, met his eye, in which, among other things, the old charges were repeated against him for instituting the mission of 1799 to France, the gravest article in the pamphlet of Mr. Hamilton; and this led to an extended publication of documents and reasonings in the columns of the Boston Patriot, touching a large part of his public career, but a portion of which is to be found collected in the volume, entitled “Correspondence of the late President Adams,” published in Boston the same year.
For reasons already given, it has been deemed unadvisable to reprint these materials as they appear in the Patriot. Two separate extracts, complete in themselves, are now given. The first is confined to Mr. Adams’s defence of himself against Mr. Hamilton’s attack. This step is made necessary by the republication of that pamphlet in the works of that gentleman. It is proper to state that, although written in 1809, the substantial facts were drawn from the fragments prepared in 1801. This is to be kept in mind, the more because Mr. Gibbs, in his late work, has endeavored to do, what none of the persons alluded to ever attempted in their lifetime,—dispute the accuracy of the narrative, as if composed merely from the impaired recollection of a later period.
It is true that, in a few particulars, incidental additions are made, which show haste in the preparation of the later production, as well as inattention to the exact order of the details; but these errors will not be found to affect the force of the facts, or of the argument, in any essential point. Whatever they are, it is believed they are all mentioned and corrected in the notes. Such portions of the materials prepared in 1801, as are deemed useful to compare with the text, are also appended, together with references to any passages elsewhere in this work, and in other works, that appear to furnish light upon this obscure and disputed portion of American history. An endeavor has been made to strip the consideration of the questions involved of all the acrimony that originally attached to them, and to confine the comments as much as possible to a simple elucidation of the facts.
The second extract embraces an examination of a question of a different nature, and connected with a later period of American politics.
TO THE PRINTERS OF THE BOSTON PATRIOT.
I was glad to see in your paper of the 7th of this month the extract from the Baltimore Federal Republican, for many reasons, which may be explained in due time. One or two may be stated now.
1. I was pleased with the candid acknowledgment, that “Mr. Adams never was a favorite with the leading men of the federal party.” The words leading men will require some explanation, and some limitations and restrictions which may hereafter appear. But, in general, this is a truth which I have known for twenty years, though it has never been publicly avowed, to my knowledge, till now.
2. I am happy to see, what I consider as an acknowledgment, that my unpardonable sin against the federal party, or rather against those leading men, was the peace with France in 1800—an event which has given this country eight years of its most splendid prosperity. The writer mentions the mission to France in 1799, as a measure which brought odium and ridicule on my administration. If you will allow me a little room in your Patriot, I may hereafter produce proofs to the satisfaction of the public, that this measure was neither odious nor ridiculous. At this time I will only send you a communication from General Washington, by which it will appear that the subject was not seen by that great ornament of his country in the same light in which this writer sees it.1
. . . . . . . . . .
The letter from Mr. Barlow, inclosed in General Washington’s, is in these words.2
. . . . . . . . . .
Neither Mr. Barlow’s letter nor General Washington’s opinion would have influenced me to nominate a minister, if I had not received abundant assurances to the same effect from regular diplomatic sources.1 I, however, considered General Washington’s question, whether Mr. Barlow’s was written with a very good or a very bad design; and as, with all my jealousy, I had not sagacity enough to discover the smallest room for suspicion of any ill design, I frankly concluded that it was written with a very good one.
From General Washington’s letter it appears, 1st. That it was his opinion that the restoration of peace upon just, honorable, and dignified terms was the ardent desire of all the friends of this rising empire. 2d. That he thought negotiation might be brought on upon open, fair, and honorable ground. 3d. That he was so desirous of peace, that he was willing to enter into correspondence with Mr. Barlow, a private gentleman, without any visible credentials or public character, or responsibility to either government, in order to bring on a public negotiation. General Washington, therefore, could not consider the negotiation odious.
The institution of an embassy to France, in 1799, was made upon principle, and in conformity to a system of foreign affairs, formed upon long deliberation, established in my mind, and amply opened, explained, and supported in Congress,—that is, a system of eternal neutrality, if possible, in all the wars of Europe,—at least eighteen years before President Washington’s Proclamation of Neutrality, in 1794. For the truth of the antiquity of this system, I appeal to Judge Chase, who made the first motion in Congress for entering into foreign relations. This motion was made in concert with me, and was seconded by me. If I am incorrect in any circumstance, that gentleman can set me right. And here I feel a pride in acknowledging that perhaps no two members of Congress were at that time upon more intimate terms. We flickered, disputed, and wrangled in public and private, but always with a species of good humor that never was suffered to diminish the confidence, esteem, or affection of either in the other. I have long wished for a fair opportunity of transmitting to posterity my humble testimony to the virtues and talents of that able and upright magistrate and statesman.
Our system was, to form treaties of commerce with France, Spain, Holland, and all the other nations of Europe, even with England herself, upon a footing of entire equality; but by no means to form any political or military connections with any power in Europe, or engage in any hostilities against any, unless driven to them by necessity to support our independence and honor, or our just and necessary interests. In what manner and by whose means this plan has ever been abandoned in any degree, I could detail from step to step, but it would require a volume, and is not necessary here. It has never been forgotten by me; but the rectitude and wisdom of it has been confirmed by every year’s and day’s experience from 1776 to 1799, and indeed to 1809.
This introduction will be called pompous, no doubt, and it will be thought an astonishing instance of the bathos to descend from Judge Chase to Mr. Logan; but my plan requires it.
With this system clear in my head, and deeply impressed upon my heart, it was with the utmost reluctance that I found myself under a necessity, in 1798, of having recourse to hostilities against France. But the conduct of that government had been so unjust, arbitrary, and insolent, as to become intolerable. I therefore animated this nation to war, determined, however, to listen to every proposal, and embrace the first opportunity to restore peace, whenever it could be done consistently with the honor and interest of the country. In this spirit I gave all due attention and consideration to General Washington’s and Mr. Barlow’s letters; nor was I wholly inattentive to a multitude of other circumstances, some of which shall be mentioned.
Perhaps at no period of our connection with France has there ever been such a flood of private letters from that country to this as in the winter of 1798 and 1799. The contents of many of them were directly or indirectly communicated to me. They were all in a similar strain with that of Mr. Barlow, that the French government had changed their ground, and were sincerely disposed to negotiation and accommodation. I will instance only two. Mr. Codman, of Boston, wrote largely and explicitly to his friends to the same purpose; and his worthy brother, the late Mr. John Codman, of Boston, not only communicated to me the substance of his brother’s letters, but thanked me, in warm terms, for opening a negotiation; and added, that every true friend of this country, who was not poisoned with party spirit, would thank me for it and support me in it. Mr. Nathaniel Cutting, a consul in France under President Washington’s appointment, and a sensible man, wrote almost as largely as Mr. Barlow, and to the same effect.
I shall conclude this letter with another anecdote. Mr. Logan, of Philadelphia, a gentleman of fortune and education, and certainly not destitute of abilities, who had for several years been a member of the legislature of Pennsylvania, and has since been a senator of the United States, though I knew he had been one of the old constitutional party in that State, and a zealous disciple of that democratical school, which has propagated many errors in America, and, perhaps, many tragical catastrophes in Europe, went to France, either with the pretext or the real design of improving his knowledge in agriculture, and seeing the practice of it in that country. I had no reason to believe him a corrupt character, or deficient in memory or veracity. After his return he called upon me, and in a polite and respectful manner informed me that he had been honored with conversations with Talleyrand, who had been well acquainted with me, and repeatedly entertained at my house, and now visited me at his request to express to me the desire of the Directory as well as his own, to accommodate all disputes with America, and to forget all that was past; to request me to send a minister from America, or to give credentials to some one already in Europe, to treat; and to assure me that my minister should be received, and all disputes accommodated, in a manner that would be satisfactory to me and my country. I knew the magical words, Democrat and Jacobin, were enough to destroy the credibility of any witness with some people. But not so with me. I saw marks of candor and sincerity in this relation, that convinced me of its truth.
But the testimonies of Mr. Codman, Mr. Cutting, Mr. Barlow, and Mr. Logan, and all other private communications, though they might convince my own mind, would have had no influence to dispose me to nominate a minister, if I had not received authentic, regular, official, diplomatic assurances, which may be sent you in another letter.
From Mr. Murray, the American minister at the Hague, who had been appointed by President Washington, I received assurances from the French government similar to those in Mr. Barlow’s letter and so many others. They were conveyed from the French Directory to Mr. Pichon, secretary of the legation and chargé des affaires of the French republic near the Batavian republic, in the absence of the French ambassador, by him officially communicated to Mr. Murray, and by him to the Executive of the United States. The communication was in these words.1
. . . . . . . . . .
This letter was transmitted by Mr. Murray to the American government, and I own I am not acquainted with any words, either in the French or English language, which could have expressed in a more solemn, a more explicit, or a more decided manner, assurances of all that I had demanded as conditions of negotiation. How could I get rid of it with honor, or even without infamy? If ever there was a regular diplomatic communication, this was one. The diplomatic organs were all perfect and complete. Mr. Pichon was well known at Philadelphia, where he had resided some years in a public employment in the family of the French ambassador, as a respectable man and a man of letters. He was now secretary of legation, held a commission from his sovereign as much as a minister plenipotentiary; and every secretary of legation in the absence of his principal minister, is, of course, chargé des affaires; and the acts of a chargé des affaires are as official, as legal, and authentic, as those of an ambassador extraordinary.
In what other manner could Mr. Talleyrand have transmitted the assurances demanded? He had communicated them to Mr. Gerry, but was desirous of sending them by another way, that he might increase the chances of their arrival. At war with England, he could not send them to Mr. King. If he had sent them to Madrid, to Colonel Humphreys, there was no probability of their arriving in America so soon as through Holland. If he had sent them to Berlin, to Mr. Adams, the course would have been still more circuitous, and the probability much greater of long delay and uncertain arrival. If he had sent them to Mr. Smith, at Lisbon, there would have been the same difficulties. Of all the diplomatic organs, therefore, in Europe, he chose the best, the shortest, the safest, and the most certain.
Mr. Gerry’s letter to the Secretary of State, dated Nantasket Road, October the 1st, 1798, confirmed these assurances beyond all doubt, in my mind, and his conversations with me at my own house, in Quincy, if any thing further had been wanting, would have corroborated the whole. As I have not a copy of that gentleman’s letter, if he should chance to read this paper, I ask the favor of him to publish copies of his letter and of Mr. Talleyrand’s letters to him, and, if he pleases, to repeat the assurances he gave me in conversation.1 This gentleman’s merit in this transaction was very great. It has been treated like all his other sacrifices, services, and sufferings in the cause of his country.
If, with all this information, I had refused to institute a negotiation, or had not persevered in it after it was instituted, I should have been degraded in my own estimation as a man of honor; I should have disgraced the nation I represented, in their own opinion and in the judgment of all Europe.
When I had received that authentic act of the sovereign authority of France, a copy of which is inserted in my last letter to you, communicated by their Secretary of State, through their secretary of legation and chargé des affaires, and our minister at the Hague, fully complying with all my requisitions, upon mature deliberation I determined to nominate a minister to France. Some of the communications from France had been accompanied with intimations concerning the characters proper to be employed, which I thought exceptionable, and that they might be made a pretext for again rejecting a minister. I considered, moreover, that France was an undulating ocean in a violent storm; party had exterminated party, and constitution had succeeded constitution, as billow rolls and roars, froths and foams after billow in the Gulf Stream. I knew that in the nature of things an executive authority in five persons could not last long in France or anywhere else; and we were already informed that the Directory was divided into parties, three against two, and that the majority in the legislative assembly adhered to the two, and the minority to the three. A revolution then was to be expected, and the new government might not feel themselves bound by the assurances given by their predecessors. To avoid the possibility of these inconveniences, I provided as cautiously and effectually against them as I could, in my message to the Senate, which never has been published. If this message had been made public, with its contents—the public despatch from France—I have confidence enough in the candor of the nation to believe that it would have obviated many a silly and many a malicious criticism. It was in these words.1
. . . . . . . . . .
In this manner effectual provision was made against any and every possible insidious use of the insinuations concerning characters proper to be employed, and who would be likely to succeed. In this manner, also, provision was made against the possible, and indeed highly probable and fully expected revolution, in the French government. Mr. Murray was not to advance a step towards Paris from the Hague, until after he should have received from the French government, whatever it might be, a repetition of assurances, officially communicated, that he in person should be received.
When this message was received in the Senate, it was postponed, as the greatest part of the executive business usually was, for consideration.1 A great clamor was raised among the members of the House of Representatives, and out of doors, and an abundance of squibs, scoffs, and sarcasms, in what were then called the federal newspapers, particularly Cobbett’s Porcupine and John Ward Fenno’s United States Gazette. And by whom were these written? As I was informed, by Macdonald, the Scottish British commissioner for adjusting the claims of British creditors, and by William Smith, the British agent for claimants before that board of commissioners, of whom Macdonald was one. There were other writers besides these; but I will not condescend to name any others at present. It was given out that John Ward Fenno was the writer of the most important of them, and he was represented as a masterly writer, possessed of a most eloquent pen. But the pen was not his.
This was not all. Something much more serious to me soon took place. A committee of the Senate called upon me, whether appointed on record or whether by private concert, I know not. I was distressed, because I thought the procedure unconstitutional. However, I was determined that not one disrespectful word should escape me concerning the Senate or any member of it, and to that resolution I carefully adhered; and in relating the conference with those honorable gentlemen, which shall appear in my next letter, the same decorum shall be observed.
The gentlemen of the Senate informed me, that they came to confer with me on the subject of the nomination of Mr. Murray to France; that there was a considerable dissatisfaction with it, and they desired to know for what reasons I had preferred Mr. Murray to so many others abroad and at home. My answer to the gentlemen was, that I thought Mr. Murray a gentleman of talents, address, and literature, as well as of great worth and honor, every way well qualified for the service, and fully adequate to all that I should require of him, which would be a strict compliance with his instructions, which I should take care to provide for him, on all points, in terms that he could not misunderstand. That my motives for nominating him in preference to others, were simply because the invitation from the French government had been transmitted through him, and because he was so near to Paris that he might be there in three or four days, and because his appointment would cause a very trifling additional expense.
They then inquired, why I had not nominated Mr. King. I answered that, if Mr. King had been in Holland, I certainly should not have thought of any other character. But he was our ambassador in England, then at war with France, and it would be considered by France as an insult to send them an ambassador, who, as soon as he had accomplished his business, was to return to England and carry with him all the information he might have collected in Paris. That the French government would suspect me of a design to send them a spy for the Court of St. James. That I presumed Mr. King at that time would not be pleased to be removed from England to France for perpetuity or permanence. Besides, that the difficulty of communication between England and France would necessarily occasion an indefinite delay in procuring the necessary passports, and that much depended upon the promptitude and despatch with which the negotiation should be conducted.
The gentlemen asked, why I had not nominated our minister plenipotentiary at Berlin. Neither the remarks with which they accompanied this question, nor the reasons which I gave them in answer, need to be detailed to the public.
I added, “Gentlemen, I maturely considered all these things before I nominated Mr. Murray; and I considered another gentleman, whom you have not mentioned, Mr. Humphreys, at Madrid; but the same objections of distance and delay account in his case as well as that of Mr. Adams.” The gentlemen all agreed that there would have been no advantage in nominating him, more than Mr. Murray.
The gentlemen then inquired, why I had not nominated a commission of three or five, in preference to a single gentleman. The answer was, that I had had a long experience of ten years in this kind of business, had often acted in commissions with various other gentlemen, and I had three times been commissioned alone; that I had found in general that business could be better done by one than by many, in much less time and with much less perplexity; that the business to be done by Mr. Murray would be nothing more than obedience to his instructions, and that would be performed as well by one as by three; that the delay must be great in sending gentlemen from America, and the expense greatly augmented; that very much depended upon the celerity of the enterprise.
The gentlemen thought that a commission would be more satisfactory to the Senate and to the public. I said, although this was not perfectly consonant to my own opinion, I could in such a case easily give up my own to the public; and if they advised it, I would send another message, and nominate a commission of three; but Mr. Murray would be one, for after having brought his name before the public, I never would disgrace him by leaving him out. The gentlemen acquiesced, and one of them, whom I took to be their chairman, was pleased to say, “after this very enlightened explanation of the whole business, I am perfectly satisfied.”1 The others appeared to acquiesce, and took their leave. The next morning I sent another message, which shall appear in my next letter.
The message mentioned in my last letter was in these words.2
To these nominations the Senate advised and consented, and commissions were prepared. My friend, Mr. Henry, declined on account of his age, and Governor Davie, of North Carolina, was appointed in his place. During all this transaction, no motion was made in the Senate to pass a resolution that a mission to France was inexpedient. With the despatches from Talleyrand before his eyes, I believe no member of the Senate would have been willing to record his name in favor of such a resolution, among the yeas and nays. The deputation of senators made no remonstrances to me against the mission, or the diplomatic communications on which it was founded, but only against the missionary, Mr. Murray.1
I sent an invitation to the heads of departments to assemble in my chamber, to consult upon the instructions to be given to our envoys. They all met me accordingly, and, in several long evenings,2 entered into a very serious and deliberate discussion of every article that was to be demanded and insisted on in the proposed treaty. They were all unanimously agreed upon to my entire satisfaction, and reduced to writing. I committed them to the Secretary of State to be reduced into proper form, to have a fair copy made and transmitted to me for revision, correction, or signature, as there might be occasion.
The yellow fever was expected, and we were all obliged to fly for our lives: myself and all my family to Quincy, and the heads of departments, with the public offices, to Trenton.3
I had repeatedly endeavored to impress upon the mind of the Secretary of State the necessity of transmitting to me as soon as possible his draught of the instructions, that they might be finished and signed, and every thing prepared for the departure of the envoys. I waited with much concern, expecting from day to day to receive the instructions; but no instructions appeared. At length, instead of them I received a letter signed by all five of the heads of departments, earnestly entreating me to suspend the mission!1
I was astonished at this unexpected, this obstinate and persevering opposition to a measure that appeared so clearly to me to be so essential to the peace and prosperity of the nation, and the honor of the government, at home and abroad. I was not a little surprised at the unanimity of the heads of departments, for two of them had always appeared moderate and candid in relation to this mission. My instantaneous determination was to go to Trenton, meet the gentlemen face to face, to confer with them coolly on the subject, and convince them, or be convinced by them, if I could. On my way, I called upon Chief Justice Ellsworth, at his seat in Windsor, and had a conversation of perhaps two hours2 with him. He was perfectly candid. Whatever should be the determination, he was ready at an hour’s warning to comply. If it was thought best to embark immediately, he was ready. If it was judged more expedient to postpone it for a little time, though that might subject him to a winter voyage, that danger had no weight with him. If it was concluded to defer it till the spring, he was willing to wait. In this disposition I took leave of him. He gave me no intimation that he had any thought of a journey to Trenton.3 I lodged at Hartford, not yet purified of the yellow fever, and there I caught something very like it, or at least almost as bad, a most violent cold, attended with a constant fever, which rendered me for six weeks more fit for a chamber and bed of sickness than for uncomfortable journeys, or much labor of the head or hands. However, I would not consent to be retarded on my journey, and reacned Trenton, where Mr. Hamilton had arrived a few hours before me. Governor Davie had been there some time. Ill as I was, I sent for the heads of departments. Four of them were there. The Attorney-General was gone to Virginia. Many days1 were employed in conferences with them, sometimes at my own apartments, and sometimes at their offices.
The inhabitants of Trenton had been wrought up to a pitch of political enthusiasm that surprised me. The universal opinion appeared to be, that the first arrivals from Europe would bring the glorious news that Louis the XVIII. was restored to the throne of France, and reigning triumphantly at Versailles. Suwarrow, at the head of his victorious Russian army, was to have marched from Italy to Paris on one side, and Prince Charles, at the head of an Austrian army, was to have marched from Germany to Paris on the other, and detachments from both armies were to march down to Havre to receive the king, who was to be brought over by a British fleet and escorted with flying colors to Versailles. I could scarcely believe my own senses, when I heard such reveries. Yet the heads of departments appeared to believe them, and urge them as decisive arguments for suspending the embarkation of our envoys till the spring. In vain did I urge the immense distances the two imperial armies had to march, the great number of towns and cities in the route of both, in positions chosen with great skill, fortified with exquisite art, defended by vast trains of heavy ordnance, garrisoned by numerous troops of soldiers perfectly disciplined, and animated with all the obstinacy and ardor of the revolutionary spirit. In vain did I allege the military maxim, which would certainly govern both Prince Charles and Suwarrow, that is, never to leave a fortified city in the rear of your army, in possession of your enemy; that the siege of one town would consume the whole season; that neither the Russians nor Austrians were, probably, provided with the mortars and heavy cannon necessary for sieges. Nothing would do—Louis XVIII. must be upon the throne of France. “Well, suppose he is, what harm will there be in embarking our envoys? They will congratulate his Majesty, and if his Majesty cannot receive them under their credentials to the French republic, he will be glad to see them in his kingdom, and assure them of his royal protection till they can write home for fresh commissions, and such shall be ready for them at a minute’s warning.” In vain did I urge the entire change of property in France, and the necessity the present possessors were under to defend themselves at every sacrifice and every risk. Mr. Ellsworth had arrived in two or three days after me. I invited him and Governor Davie to dine with me alone, that we might converse with entire freedom. At table, Mr. Ellsworth expressed an opinion somewhat similar to that of the heads of departments and the public opinion at Trenton. “Is it possible, Chief Justice,” said I, “that you can seriously believe that the Bourbons are, or will be soon, restored to the throne of France?” “Why,” said Mr. Ellsworth, smiling, “it looks a good deal so.” “I should not be afraid to stake my life upon it, that they will not be restored in seven years, if they ever are,” was my reply. And then I entered into a long detail of my reasons for this opinion. They would be too tedious to enumerate here, and time has superseded the necessity of them.
The result of the conversation was, that Mr. Davie was decidedly for embarking immediately, as he always had been from his first arrival, and Mr. Ellsworth declared himself satisfied, and willing to embark as soon as I pleased.1
Mr. Hamilton, who had been some time in town, and had visited me several times, came at last to remonstrate against the mission to France. I received him with great civility, as I always had done from my first knowledge of him. I was fortunately in a very happy temper, and very good humor. He went over the whole ground of the victories of Suwarrow and Prince Charles, and the inflexible determination of the two imperial courts, in concert with Great Britain, to restore the house of Bourbon to their kingdom. That there was no doubt the enterprise was already accomplished, or at least would be, before the end of the campaign. That Mr. Pitt was determined to restore the Bourbons. That the confidence of the nation in Mr. Pitt was unbounded. That the nation was never so united and determined to support Mr. Pitt and his resolution to restore the monarchy of France. His eloquence and vehemence wrought the little man up to a degree of heat and effervescence like that which General Knox used to describe of his conduct in the battle of Monmouth, and which General Lee used to call his paroxysms of bravery, but which he said would never be of any service to his country. I answered him in general, as I had answered the heads of departments and Judge Ellsworth, but to no purpose. He repeated over and over again the unalterable resolution of Mr. Pitt and the two imperial courts, the invincible heroism of Suwarrow and Prince Charles, and the unbounded confidence of the British empire in Mr. Pitt, with such agitation and violent action that I really pitied him, instead of being displeased. I only added, that I differed with him in opinion on every point; and that instead of restoring the Bourbons, it would not be long before England would make peace. I treated him throughout with great mildness and civility; but, after he took leave, I could not help reflecting in my own mind on the total ignorance he had betrayed of every thing in Europe, in France, England, and elsewhere. Instead of that unbounded confidence in Mr. Pitt, I knew that the nation had been long working up almost to a ripeness for rebellion against Mr. Pitt, for continuing the war. Accordingly, it was not long before Mr. Pitt was obliged to resign, peace at Amiens was made, and Napoleon acknowledged. Mr. Hamilton, in his most famous pamphlet, has hinted at this conversation, and squinted at my simplicity for expecting peace.
Under the whole, I directed the instructions to be prepared, the heads of departments were assembled, and the instructions deliberately considered, paragraph by paragraph, and unanimously approved by me and by them. Indeed, there had never been any difference of opinion among us on any article of the instructions.1
The instructions were presented to the envoys, and they were requested to embark in the United States frigate as soon as possible. For some cause or other in the state of the ship, they landed in Spain, and went by land from Corunna to Paris, on the same route which Mr. Dana and I had travelled twenty years before, that is, in 1780. Before their arrival, a revolution had occurred, and the consular government succeeded the Directory.
Had Mr. Murray’s nomination been approved, he would probably have finished the business long before, and obtained compensation for all spoliations.
In my next letter you will have the evidence of the compliance of the French government with the conditions and requisitions in my message to the Senate, nominating Mr. Murray and others, ministers and envoys to France.
On the 6th of March, a letter was written by the Secretary of State by my order, in the following words, to Mr. Murray:
Philadelphia, 6 March, 1799.
“I inclose a commission constituting you, in conjunction with the Chief Justice Ellsworth and Patrick Henry, Esq., of Virginia, envoys extraordinary and ministers plenipotentiary to the French republic. By the President’s direction, I inclose for your information copies of his messages to the Senate, of the 18th and 25th of March” (it should have been the 18th and 25th of February), “by the latter of which you will see the motives inducing the nomination of a commission for the purpose of negotiating with France, instead of resting the business wholly with you. This will, doubtless, be agreeable, by relieving you from the weight of a sole responsibility in an affair of such magnitude.
It is the President’s desire, that you, by letter to the French minister of foreign relations, inform him, “that Oliver Ellsworth, Chief Justice of the United States, Patrick Henry, late Governor of Virginia, and yourself, are appointed envoys extraordinary and ministers plenipotentiary of the United States to the French republic, with full powers to discuss and settle by a treaty all controversies between the United States and France.” But, “that the two former will not embark for Europe until they shall have received from the Executive Directory direct and unequivocal assurances, signified by their secretary of foreign relations, that the envoys shall be received in character, to an audience of the Directory, and that they shall enjoy all the prerogatives attached to that character by the law of nations, and that a minister or ministers of equal powers shall be appointed and commissioned to treat with them.”
The answer you shall receive to your letter, you will be pleased to transmit to this office.
You will also be pleased to understand it to be the President’s opinion, that no more indirect and inofficial communications, written or verbal, should be held with any persons whatever, agents on behalf of France, on the subjects of difference between the United States and the French republic. If the French government really desire a settlement of the existing differences, it must take the course pointed out, unless the Executive Directory should prefer sending a minister plenipotentiary to the United States.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, Sir, your obedient servant.”
Mr. Murray obeyed these instructions by a letter in these words:—
W. V. MURRAY TO C. M. TALLEYRAND.
The Hague, 5 May, 1799.
It is with the greatest pleasure that I hasten to fulfil the instructions, which I have just had the honor to receive from the government of the United States of America, by informing you that the President has appointed Oliver Ellsworth, Chief Justice of the United States, Patrick Henry, late Governor of Virginia, and William Vans Murray, minister resident of the United States at the Hague, to be envoys extraordinary and ministers plenipotentiary of the United States to the French republic, with full powers to discuss and settle by a treaty all controversies between the United States and France; but that the two former, Mr. Ellsworth and Mr. Henry, will not embark for Europe until they shall have received from the Executive Directory direct and unequivocal assurances, signified by their minister of foreign relations, that the envoys shall be received in character to an audience of the Directory, and that they shall enjoy all the prerogatives attached to that character by the law of nations, and that a minister or ministers of equal powers shall be appointed and commissioned to treat with them.
I request you, Citizen Minister, to lay this subject before your government, and as the distance is so great and the obstacles so numerous in an Atlantic voyage, that you will favor me, as speedily as possible, with the answer which is to lead to such happy and important consequences.
Accept, Citizen Minister, the assurances of my perfect high esteem.
W. V. Murray.
When Mr. Murray received the answer of the French minister, he inclosed it, with the following letter from himself, to the Secretary of State:—
The Hague, 7 May, 1799.
On the 4th instant, late in the evening, I had the honor to receive your No. 22, containing the commission of envoys.
On the 5th, I addressed, precisely agreeably to your instructions, as I conceived, the inclosed letter to Mr. Talleyrand, the minister of exterior relations. You will perceive, Sir, that I did not think myself at liberty to go, not only not out of the commas, but beyond them. In one word alone I deviated, in the word minister, instead of Secretary of foreign relations. No direct nor indirect and inofficial communications, written or verbal, will be held by me with the French agents on American affairs.
I accept the appointment which it has pleased the President to clothe me with, under a grateful sense of the high honor conferred upon me, so unexpectedly, by this mark of his confidence. I may be allowed to say, that though I was deeply sensible of the honor conferred by the first nomination, and shall always, I hope, retain a most grateful recollection of it, yet, Sir, the new modification of that nomination gave me great pleasure, always conceiving, as I thought I did, that any negotiation with France would be full of anxieties and political perils to the envoys that should be employed by our government. I had no wishes to be engaged in it, and no expectation that I should be. To have a share in it, was by me unsought. You will excuse this declaration, because I was instrumental in certain preliminary steps relative to the advances of France, which produced the basis of the appointment.
I sent the original of the inclosed to Mr. Talleyrand by post; another, a copy, to Major Mountflorence, to be handed to him; a third to a Mr. Griffith for Major M. in case the other failed, to be opened by Mr. G., if Major M. should have been out of Paris, and directed Mr. G. to follow the instructions which he would find in the letter to Major M., which were, to deliver the inclosed to Mr. Talleyrand, and take his letter in answer for me, and send it to me.
As soon as I have the answer of the Directory, I shall have the honor of transmitting copies to you, Sir, by different ways.
I am, with the greatest respect and sincere esteem, dear Sir, faithfully your most obedient servant.
W. V. Murray.
THE MINISTER OF EXTERIOR RELATIONS TO W. VANS MURRAY.
Paris, 23 Floréal, (12 May, 1799,) 7th year of the French republic, one and indivisible.
I augur too well, Sir, from the eagerness you display in fulfilling the instructions of your government, not to hasten to answer the letter I receive from you, dated the 16th of this month.
The Executive Directory being informed of the nomination of Mr. Oliver Ellsworth, of Mr. Patrick Henry, and of yourself, as envoys extraordinary and ministers plenipotentiary of the United States to the French republic, to discuss and terminate all differences which subsist between the two countries, sees with pleasure that its perseverance in pacific sentiments has kept open the way to an approaching reconciliation. It has a long time ago manifested its intentions with respect to this subject. Be pleased to transmit to your colleagues and accept yourself the frank and explicit assurance that it will receive the envoys of the United States in the official character with which they are invested, that they shall enjoy all the prerogatives which are attached to them by the law of nations, and that one or more ministers shall be authorized to treat with them.
It was certainly unnecessary to suffer so many months to elapse for the mere confirmation of what I have already declared to Mr. Gerry, and which, after his departure, I caused to be declared to you at the Hague. I sincerely regret that your two colleagues await this answer at such a distance. As to you, Sir, whom it will reach in a few days, and who understand so well the value of time, when the restoration of harmony between two republics, whom every thing invites to friendship, is in question, be assured that as soon as you can take in hand the object of your mission, I shall have the honor immediately to send you passports.
Accept, Sir, the assurances of my very sincere consideration.
Ch. Mau. Talleyrand.
The foregoing documents were not published till they were communicated to Congress, with my message of December 5th, 1799. The messages to the Senate, nominating the minister and the envoys, were never published till now, as I remember. I may be, however, mistaken. These papers were not published till the mischief was done that they might have prevented, and innumerable prejudices and errors propagated all over the nation.
I have omitted two facts, which ought to have been inserted in a former letter:
1. One is, that one of the heads of departments1 at Trenton was more diffident than the rest. He said he was far from being sanguine. He had signed the letter to me, urging a post-ponement of the mission, because he did not like to be singular; but he wished me to decide the question according to my own judgment and sentiments. He also showed me a letter from the Attorney-General in Virginia,2 saying that the people expected that the envoys should proceed, and would be disappointed if they did not.
2. Another fact is, that I transiently asked one of the heads of departments, whether Ellsworth and Hamilton came all the way from Windsor and Newark to Trenton, to convince me that I ought to suspend the mission.
At first I intended to encumber your paper with no documents but such as were absolutely necessary for my own vindication. But as the peace with France in 1800, was not only an event of great importance in itself, but produced demonstrations of the prejudices, passions, views, designs, and systems of parties, more, perhaps, than any other, I hope you will allow me room for such other papers as may serve to throw light upon this subject. At present it may not be very interesting; but the cause of truth and justice may hereafter be promoted by having the facts and evidences laid together in a series. The future policy of the nation will not be injured by it.
Besides the communications already published from the sovereign of the French nation, through their minister of foreign relations, their diplomatic organ at the Hague, and our minister there, another was communicated through the same channels in these words:—
C. M. TALLEYRAND TO M. PICHON.
Paris, 11 Fructidor, an 6. (28 August, 1798.)
I see with pleasure, citizen, that the intercourse of society has procured you some political conversations with Mr. Murray. I entertain an esteem for that minister. Like all the men at the head of the affairs of the United States, he has received the impressions which the British cabinet has known how to give against us. He thinks the measures of his government just, and supports them; but he possesses reason, understanding, and a true attachment to his country. He is neither French nor English; he is ingenuously an American. I am not at all surprised that he has appeared to you to wish sincerely for the reconciliation of the two republics. I will, therefore, cheerfully answer the questions you put to me on different points, which appeared to you not to be well established in his mind. I do not see between France and the United States any clashing of interest, any cause of jealousy. The Americans wish to be fishermen, sailors, manufacturers, and especially husbandmen. In all these points of view their success is more at the expense of England than us. Why should we be uneasy about them? They aspire to the consolidation of their national existence, and it is to our purpose that they should succeed. In fact, we should have decided upon very superficial views, to sustain their independence, if the matter was to separate them from England merely to leave them finally insulated among themselves, on an extensive sea-coast, weak, rivalling, and impoverished by each other, and torn by foreign intrigues. We know that Great Britain would soon have put together, piece by piece, those scattered shreds, and we should have done nothing useful for ourselves, if so miserable a chance of it were not daily rendered more remote.
What, therefore, is the cause of the misunderstanding which, if France did not manifest herself more wise, would henceforth induce a violent rupture between the two republics? Neither incompatible interests nor projects of aggrandizement divide them. After all, distrust alone has done the whole. The government of the United States has thought that France wanted to revolutionize it. France has thought that the government of the United States wanted to throw itself into the arms of England. It does not require much skill to divine which is the cabinet interested in the two events producing each other, and which invisibly puts in motion all the expedients calculated to make them take effect. Let us open our eyes on both sides. I am disposed to admit that the conduct of the government of the United States may be explained by other causes than those heretofore presumed. But let it on its part understand that the French government, wounded as it may be, is too wise to entertain the views of disturbance, which the other supposes. It concerns a republic, founded on the system of representation, to support and not to weaken similar establishments. The stability of this system abroad is a necessary example at home. France, in fine, has a double motive as a nation and as a republic, not to expose to any hazard the present existence of the United States. Therefore it never thought of making war against them, nor exciting civil commotions among them; and every contrary supposition is an insult to common sense.
These fundamental principles being established, it is natural to ask by what fatality a good understanding was not long since restored. It was because irritation being mingled with distrust neither party yielded to real conciliatory inclinations. In the United States it was supposed that the French government was temporizing, in order to strike the blow with greater certainty, whence resulted a crowd of measures more and more aggravating. In France it was supposed that the government of the United States wished only the appearances of a negotiation, whence resulted a certain demand for pledges of good faith.
Let us substitute calmness for passion, confidence for suspicions, and we shall soon agree. I used my endeavors to enter upon a negotiation in this spirit with Mr. Gerry. My correspondence with him until the day of his departure is a curious monument of advances on my part, and of evasions on his. It is wrong to think that I confined myself to vague protestations. Among that series of official letters, which will doubtless be published at Philadelphia, I select one of the 30th Prairial, wherein you will see that I make very positive propositions, without any mixture of preliminary conditions. This letter was followed by three notes upon the articles to be discussed, and I intended to complete the others in this manner, if Mr. Gerry had not refused to answer thereto.
When it became necessary to abandon the idea of treating with that envoy, who thought it important only to know how a negotiation might thereafter be resumed, I gave him the most solemn assurances concerning the reception that a new plenipotentiary would receive. It was far from my thoughts to insinuate that the President should send one from the United States, instead of investing with his powers some one who was in Europe; far less that the envoy should land directly in France, instead of announcing it in a neighboring country. I wished merely to say, that the Executive Directory was so decided for a reconciliation, that all tampering would be superfluous; that an act of confidence in it would excite its own. I should be very badly understood, if there should be found in my expressions a restriction on the nature of the choice which the President might make. I wished to encourage Mr. Gerry, by testimonies of regard that his good intentions merited. Although I could not dissemble that he wanted decision at a moment when he might have easily adjusted every thing, it does not thence follow that I designated him. I will even avow that I think him too irresolute to be fit to hasten the conclusion of an affair of this kind. The advantages that I prized in him are common to all Americans, who have not manifested a predilection for England. Can it be believed that a man who should profess a hatred or contempt of the French republic, or should manifest himself the advocate of royalty, can inspire the Directory with a favorable opinion of the dispositions of the government of the United States? I should have disguised the truth, if I had left this matter ambiguous. It is not wounding the independence of that government, to point out to a sincere friend of peace the shoals he ought to avoid.
As to the mediation of the Batavian republic and of Spain, I do not know that there is any serious question about it, and it appears to me absolutely useless. The United States might hesitate, in the present state of things, to refer themselves to their impartiality; and, besides, I see no subject which may not be arranged directly.
I know that the distance which separates France and the United States opens a vast field for incidents, and there have been but too many of them. But the Executive Directory is unshaken in the conduct which may best obviate them. The excess even of provocations has deadened their effect. The government of the United States surrounds itself with precautions against an imaginary attack. To stretch the hand to deluded friends, is what one republic owes to another, and I cannot doubt that the dignity of that attitude will convince the President of our pacific dispositions.
The two governments ought above all to be attentive to indirect attempts to alienate them still more. Their prudence will secure this object, and I shall cite but one example of it. You have told Mr. Murray the truth respecting Dr. Logan. But I perceive that on all hands it is attempted to produce a belief in America that we are negotiating with him. On the 7th of this month a very insidious paragraph was inserted in the “Bien Informé.” It is therein intimated, that, guided by the citizen Thomas Paine, Dr. Logan has made application to the Executive Directory in the character of secret agent. The Doctor has complained of it bitterly to me. He has no need of justifying himself concerning a matter, the falsity of which I know better than anybody; but he assured me that having once met Thomas Paine, at the house of a third person, he found him so prejudiced against the United States, and so opinionative with respect to an influence he neither possesses among them nor us, that he abstained from conversing any more with him. Moreover, to cut short all misunderstanding, I engaged Dr. Logan to postpone till another time the experiments he proposes to make on agriculture, and to return home. As to Mr. Hichborn, of Massachusetts, I was even ignorant till now that he was in Europe. A single word will suffice for the rest.
We want nothing but justice on the part of the United States. We ask it, we offer it to their government. It may depend upon the candor of the Executive Directory.
You will not doubt, citizen, that I approve of the communication which your zeal has caused you to seek with Mr. Murray, since I enable you to resume it with official elucidations, &c., &c., &c.
Ch. Mau. Talleyrand.
This and all the other communications from the French minister, heretofore published in my letter to you, were produced by my message to Congress of the 21st of June, 1798, which was in these words:1
. . . . . .
Mr. Hamilton, in his famous pamphlet, says, “the conduct pursued bore sufficiently the marks of courage and elevation to raise the national character to an exalted height throughout Europe.
“Much is it to be deplored that we should have been precipitated from this proud eminence without necessity, without temptation.”
It is the habitual practice of our parties to affirm or deny, as they find it to their purpose, the honor or the disgrace that is produced in Europe by our measures. But neither party know any thing about the matter. The truth is, that our affairs are much less spoken or thought of in Europe than we imagine. In all parts of Europe, but especially in France and England, they are constantly misrepresented and misunderstood; most of all in England. I will venture to say, that Mr. Hamilton wrote entirely at random, and without a glimmering of genuine information, when he mentioned both the exaltation and precipitation of our national character. To appeal to the courtiers or cabinet, or to the diplomatic corps in Europe, would be idle, because none of them will ever read Hamilton’s pamphlet or these papers; but I would not hesitate to submit the whole subject to any of them. I shall take another course. Chief Justice Ellsworth is no more. I can no longer appeal to him. If I could, I would say no more than the truth, but it would be more than I shall now say; and I aver that his representation to me was the direct reverse of Hamilton’s dogmatical assertions. Governor Davie still lives, and to him I appeal with confidence. He declared to me that, to judge of the conduct of the American government, both in their naval and other preparations for war, and in their political and diplomatic negotiations upon that occasion, a man must go to Europe, where it was considered as the greatest demonstration of genius, firmness, and wisdom. If I represent the governor’s expressions in stronger terms than those he used, I request him to correct them.
In England, I know the Anti-Jacobin journal abused us, and so did Macdonald, Cobbett, Smith, and every Briton in Europe and America, who wished us at war with France and in alliance with England. But even in England all the sober part of the nation applauded us, and that to such a degree, that it soon became a popular cry, “We must imitate the United States of America, change our ministers, and make peace.” Accordingly, they did soon change their ministers, and make peace at Amiens.
Mr. Liston, whose character I respect, had run through a long course of diplomatic experience in various courts and countries in Europe, from a secretary of legation and chargé des affaires to the grade of minister plenipotentiary, and thence to that of ambassador at Constantinople, was probably a better judge than Mr. Hamilton, who had no experience at all in any diplomatic station, and who, I dare to say, had read very little on the subject of diplomatic functions, and still less of the history of embassies, or of the printed despatches of ambassadors. Mr. Liston, if anybody, knew what would procure honor to a nation or government, and what disgrace, what was triumph, and what humiliation.
Now I affirm, that the first time Mr. Liston saw me, after he had been informed of the communications of the French Directory through Talleyrand, Mr. Pichon, and Mr. Murray, he said to me these words: “To what humiliations will not these Frenchmen stoop to appease you? I am very sorry for it; I own,I did hope they would have gone to war with you.” I smiled, but made no answer. I wanted no proof of the sincerity of this declaration. I doubted not the sincerity of his wish more than I did that of Mr. Canning and his associates in the Anti-Jacobin, who, upon receiving the news of Mr. Murray’s nomination, proclaimed that jacobinism was triumphant and carrying all before it in America. They could not, or would not, distinguish between jacobinism and neutrality. Every thing with them was jacobinism, except a war with France and an alliance with Great Britain. They all panted for a war between the United States and France as sincerely, though not so ardently, as Alexander Hamilton.
There were not wanting insinuations and instigations to me to confer with Mr. Liston on the subject of an alliance with Great Britain. And Mr. Liston himself repeatedly suggested to me, in very modest and delicate terms, however, his readiness to enter into any explanations on that head. I always waved it with as easy a politeness as I could. But my system was determined, and had been so for more than twenty years; that is, to enter into no alliance with any power in Europe. In case of war with England, I would not enter into any alliance with France. In case of war with France, I would not form any alliance with England. We want no alliance; we are equal to all our own necessary wars.
We might aid and be aided by a power at war with our enemy, and might concert operations from time to time; but I would make no engagement that should tie up our hands from making peace whenever we pleased. Had the war with France continued, I might have been drawn by the force of public opinion, or the influence of the legislature, into an alliance with England; but it would have been against my own judgment and inclination.
Let me conclude this letter with an anecdote. Dr. Franklin told me, that before his return to America from England, in 1775, he was in company, I believe at Lord Spencer’s, with a number of English noblemen, when the conversation turned upon fables, those of Æsop, La Fontaine, Gay, Moore, &c., &c. Some one of the company observed that he thought the subject was exhausted. He did not believe that any man could now find an animal, beast, bird, or fish, that he could work into a new fable with any success; and the whole company appeared to applaud the idea, except Franklin, who was silent. The gentleman insisted on his opinion. He said, with submission to their lordships, he believed the subject was inexhaustible, and that many new and instructive fables might be made out of such materials. Can you think of any one at present? If your lordship will furnish me a pen, ink, and paper, I believe I can furnish your lordship with one in a few minutes. The paper was brought, and he sat down and wrote:—
“Once upon a time, an eagle scaling round a farmer’s barn, and espying a hare, darted down upon him like a sunbeam, seized him in his claws, and remounted with him in the air. He soon found that he had a creature of more courage and strength than a hare, for which, notwithstanding the keenness of his eyesight, he had mistaken a cat. The snarling and scrambling of the prey was very inconvenient, and, what was worse, she had disengaged herself from his talons, grasped his body with her four limbs, so as to stop his breath, and seized fast hold of his throat with her teeth. Pray, said the eagle, let go your hold, and I will release you. Very fine, said the cat, I have no fancy to fall from this height and be crushed to death. You have taken me up, and you shall stoop and let me down. The eagle thought it necessary to stoop accordingly.”
The moral was so applicable to England and America, that the fable was allowed to be original, and highly applauded.
Let Hamilton say what he will, the French Directory found it convenient to stoop and set us down on our honest ground of neutrality and impartiality, as the English eagle did formerly, and now does a second time.
Another of my crimes, according to my great accuser, was nominating Mr. Murray without previous consultation with any of my ministers. To this charge I shall say but little at present.
In England, the first magistrate is responsible for nothing, his ministers for every thing. Here, according to the practice, if not the Constitution, the ministers are responsible for nothing, the President for every thing. He is made to answer before the people, not only for every thing done by his ministers, but even for all the acts of the legislature. Witness the alien and sedition laws. In all great and essential measures he is bound by his honor and his conscience, by his oath to the Constitution, as well as his responsibility to the public opinion of the nation, to act his own mature and unbiased judgment, though unfortunately, it may be in direct contradiction to the advice of all his ministers. This was my situation in more than one instance. It had been so in the nomination of Mr. Gerry; it was afterwards so in the pardon of Fries; two measures that I recollect with infinite satisfaction, and which will console me in my last hour.
In the case now in question I perfectly knew the sentiments of all my ministers. I knew every argument they could allege, and moreover, I knew the secret motives that governed them better than they did themselves. I knew them then and I know them now, believe it or disbelieve it who will, at the present time; hereafter, the world will be convinced of it.
I knew that if I called the heads of departments together and asked their advice, three of them would very laconically protest against the measure. The other two would be loath to dissent from their brethren, and would more modestly and mildly concur with them. The consequence would be, that the whole would be instantaneously communicated to A, B, C, D, E, F, &c., in the Senate, and G, H, I, &c., in the House of Representatives; the public and the presses would have it at once, and a clamor raised and a prejudice propagated against the measure, that would probably excite the Senate to put their negative on the whole plan. If I had called the heads of department together, and asked their advice, I knew from past experience1 that their answers would have been flat negatives. If I had asked their reasons, they would be such arguments as Hamilton has recorded; for he, it seems, was their recording secretary.
1. The etiquette which required, according to them, that France should send a minister to us.
2. That a negotiation with France would give offence to Great Britain and to Russia, and probably involve us in a war with these powers.
I had twenty times answered these arguments by saying, that there was no such etiquette. It was true that in ancient and more barbarous times, when nations had been inflamed by long wars, and the people wrought up to a degree of fury on both sides, so as to excite apprehensions that ambassadors would be insulted or massacred by the populace, or even imprisoned, as in Turkey, sovereigns had insisted that ambassadors should be exchanged, and that one should be held as a hostage for the other. It had even been insisted that a French ambassador should embark at Calais at the same hour that an English ambassador embarked at Dover. But these times were passed. Nations sent ambassadors now as they pleased. Franklin and his associates had been sent to France; Mr. Jay had been sent to Spain; I had been sent to Holland; Mr. Izard had been commissioned to Tuscany; Mr. W. Lee to Vienna and Berlin, without any stipulation for sending ministers in return. We had a minister in London three years, without any minister from England in return. We have had a minister at Berlin, without any from Prussia.
As to the offence that would be taken by Great Britain, I asked, shall we propose any thing to France, or agree to any thing inconsistent with our treaties and pledged faith with England? Certainly not. What right has England, then, to be offended? Have we not as clear a right to make peace as she has? We are at war with France, at least in part. If Britain should make peace with France, what right have we to complain, provided she stipulates nothing inconsistent with her treaty with us?
As to Russia, what has she to do with us, or we with her? I had confidence enough in the assurances given, firmly to believe that our envoys would be received and respected. Candidates enough were ready to run the risk, and Hamilton himself would have been very proud to have been one of them, if he had not been Commander-in-chief of the army.
I will acknowledge, that when the terror of the power and anger of Great Britain have been held up to me in a manner that appears to me to be base and servile, I sometimes was provoked to say, that in a just cause, when the essential character and interests of the United States should be wronged by Great Britain, I should hold her power in total contempt. It may be said, for it has been said, that this was imprudent, and that I was fretted. Let it be said by whom it will, I now repeat the same sentiment after the coolest reflection of ten years.
On the other hand, by making the nomination on my own authority, I believed that the heads of departments would have some discretion; and although I knew that the British faction would excite a clamor, and that some of the senators, representatives, and heads of departments would make no exertions to discountenance it, if they did not secretly or openly encourage it, yet I was so perfectly convinced of the national sense, and that the Senate felt it so strongly, that they would not dare to negative it, even if the majority had disliked it, which I very well knew they did not. I thought a clamor after the fact would be much less dangerous than a clamor before it. And so it proved in experience. A clamor there was, as I always knew there would be, and Alexander Hamilton had a principal underhand in exciting it.
It is well known that there are continued interviews between the members of the Senate and the members of the House, and the heads of departments. Eternal solicitations for nominations to office are made in this manner. There is not an executive measure, that members of Congress are not almost constantly employed in pumping from the heads of departments. There is not a legislative measure, that the heads of departments do not intermeddle in. It really deserves consideration, whether it would not be better that heads of departments should be members of the legislature. There they would be confronted in all things. Now, all is secrecy and darkness. Washington, I know, was nearly as much vexed and tortured by these things as I was, and resigned his office to get rid of them. And so would I have done with great joy, if I could have been sure of a successor whose sentiments were as conformable to mine, as he knew mine were to his.
Mr. Hamilton, in his pamphlet, speaking of Talleyrand’s despatches, says, “overtures so circuitous and informal, through a person who was not the regular organ of the French government for making them, to a person who was not the regular organ of the American government for receiving them, &c., were a very inadequate basis for the institution of a new mission.”
Here, again, Mr. Hamilton’s total ignorance or oblivion of the practice of our own government, as well as the constant usage of other nations in diplomatic proceedings, appears in all its lustre. In 1784, the Congress of the United States, the then sovereign of our country, issued fifteen commissions, as I remember. If I mistake the number, Colonel Humphreys can correct me, for he was the secretary of legation to them all, and possesses, as I suppose, the original parchments, to John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, to form commercial treaties with all the commercial powers of Europe and the Barbary States. Our instructions were to communicate these credentials to the ambassadors of these powers at Versailles, not to go to those courts. And we did communicate them in this informal and circuitous manner, and received very civil answers. We were not told, “If Congress wishes any connections with us, commercial or political, let them send ambassadors directly to our courts. It is inconsistent with our dignity to receive or pay any attention to such indirect, circuitous, and informal overtures.”
These indirect and circuitous communications, as Hamilton calls them, are of established usage and daily practice all over the world. Instances of them without number might be quoted; I shall only recite two or three.
The Baron de Thulemeier, ambassador from Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, whose name and character Mr. Hamilton affects to admire, wrote me a letter when I was minister plenipotentiary in Holland, informing me that he had received the commands of the king, his master, to make me a visit, and communicate something to me as minister from the United States of America, and desired to know at what hour I would receive him.1 I wrote him in answer, that I would have the honor of receiving him at twelve o’clock of the next day, or, if he wished an earlier interview, I would call on him at his hotel, at any hour he should be pleased to indicate. To this I received no answer, but at the hour I had mentioned his Excellency appeared at my house in the habiliments, and with the equipage of his ministerial character. He said that the king, his master, had ordered him to visit me and ask my opinion of a connection and treaty between Prussia and the United States of America. What a figure should I have made, if I had said, “This is all circuitous and informal; your master, if he wishes a connection, commercial or political, with America, must send an ambassador to Philadelphia, and propose it to Congress”! Yet Mr. Hamilton’s doctrine and reasoning would have required this. The king, however, would have expected more sense of propriety, more knowledge of the intercourse of nations, and a more rational answer, from a deputy of one of our savage tribes, or one of the migratory hordes of Africa or Tartary. My answer was, “Be pleased, Sir, to present my most profound respects to his Majesty, and inform him, that though I have no commission or instructions to enter into official conferences upon the subject, I am very sensible of the high honor done me by this communication, and have no hesitation in expressing my private opinion, that such a connection between the United States and his Majesty’s dominions would be highly honorable and advantageous, and I have no doubt Congress would be unanimous in the same sentiments.” That without loss of time I would transmit to them an account of this conversation, and had no doubt they would authorize a minister to treat with his Majesty’s minister. The Baron then said, he was farther directed to ask my opinion of a proper basis of a treaty. I answered, our treaty lately concluded with Holland would, in my opinion, be such a basis.
Congress, when they received this information from me, did not say, “This is all informal and indirect, from obscure and unauthorized agents. The King of Prussia must send us an ambassador.” Yet I sent them no official act of the king; no official letter under hand and seal from his prime minister, as Mr. Murray did to me. All was mere parol evidence, mere verbal conversation. Yet Congress immediately sent a commission to Adams, Franklin, and Jefferson, to treat with the king’s minister. The king sent a commission to his minister; and a treaty was negotiated, concluded, and ratified, which now remains among the archives and printed documents of our country, not at all to her disgrace.
The king had previously ordered his ambassador to express to me his entire satisfaction with the interview between his ambassador and me; that he had maturely examined our treaty with Holland, and approved it as a basis of negotiation with him.
Another instance. Mr. Weems, a young gentleman of liberal education, from Virginia or Maryland, went to England in hopes of obtaining holy orders in the church. He wrote a letter to me, as American minister in Holland, though he had never seen me, and indeed has never seen me since, bitterly complaining not only of the stern refusal, but even of the rough treatment he had received from the English bishops, and even from the great Hurd.1 He desired to know, if he could receive ordination from the bishops in Holland. There were no bishops in Holland; but there were Protestant bishops in Denmark. At the first meeting of the ambassadors, I asked M. de Saint Saphorin, the ambassador from Denmark, whether an American candidate for the ministry could receive from the bishops in his country Episcopal ordination; and whether any oaths, subscriptions, or professions of faith would be required; and whether the articles of the Church of England were sufficiently conformable to the faith of Denmark. “Mon Dieu! Je n’en sais rien”—“My God!” said Saint Saphorin, “I know nothing of the matter; but if you desire it, I will soon inform myself.” I thanked him, and should be much obliged to him. In a shorter time than I could imagine, he came to inform me that he had written our conversation to the prime minister of his court, who had laid it before the king, who had taken it into consideration in his council, and had ordered it to be laid before the convocation, who had unanimously determined that any American candidate of proper qualifications and good moral character should at any time receive ordination from any bishop in Denmark, without taking any oath or professing any other faith, but merely subscribing the articles of the Church of England. He even went so far as to say that the king, if we desired it, would appoint a bishop in one of his islands in the West Indies, to accommodate American candidates. I wrote this to Mr. Weems, and it soon procured him a more polite reception from the English clergy. Indeed, it laid the first foundation not only of Mr. Weems’s ordination, but of the whole system of Episcopacy in the United States.
I also wrote a history of it to Congress, who, instead of reprimanding me, ordered me to transmit their thanks to the King of Denmark, which I did afterwards, through another indirect and informal channel, that of his ambassador at the court of London.
It seems that neither St. Saphorin, nor his prime minister, nor the king, their master, nor his council, nor the whole convocation of bishops, nor our American Congress, were such profound adepts in the law of nations and the diplomatic intercourse of sovereigns, as Mr. Hamilton. None of them discovered that it was inconsistent with their dignity to take notice of any thing less formal and direct than immediate communications from a resident ambassador.
Let me add another example. At the instigation of the Count de Vergennes, the Swedish ambassador at Versailles had written to his court to know whether it would be agreeable to them to form a treaty with the United States. Receiving an answer in the affirmative, he suggested this to Dr. Franklin, who, upon this simple verbal insinuation, wrote an account of it to Congress, who immediately sent him a commission. The King of Sweden sent a commission to his ambassador at Versailles. The treaty was concluded at Paris, and afterwards ratified by both powers. Yet no ambassador from Sweden to the United States has ever appeared, and no minister from the United States has ever gone to Sweden, to this day.
In the pamphlet it is said, that “the great alteration in public opinion had put it completely in the power of our executive to control the machinations of any future public agent of France.” Therefore Philadelphia was a safer scene of negotiation than Paris.
Mr. Hamilton’s erroneous conceptions of the public opinion may be excused by the considerations that he was not a native of the United States; that he was born and bred in the West Indies till he went to Scotland for education, where he spent his time in a seminary of learning till seventeen years of age, after which no man ever perfectly acquired a national character; then entered a college at New York, from whence he issued into the army as an aid-de-camp. In these situations he could scarcely acquire the opinions, feelings, or principles of the American people. His error may be excused by the further consideration, that his time was chiefly spent in his pleasures, in his electioneering visits, conferences, and correspondences, in propagating prejudices against every man whom he thought his superior in the public estimation, and in composing ambitious reports upon finance, while the real business of the treasury was done by Duer, by Wolcott, and even, for some time and in part, by Tench Coxe.
His observation, that “France will never be without secret agents,” is true, and it is equally true that England will always have secret agents and emissaries too. That her “partisans among our own citizens can much better promote her cause than any agents she can send,” is also true; but it is at least equally true of the partisans of Great Britain. We have seen, in the foregoing papers, glaring and atrocious instances of the exertions of her public agents, secret emissaries, and partisans, among our citizens. But none have yet been mentioned that bear any comparison, in point of guilt and arrogance, with those of all kinds that have been exhibited within the last two or three years.
My worthy fellow-citizens! Our form of government, inestimable as it is, exposes us, more than any other, to the insidious intrigues and pestilent influence of foreign nations. Nothing but our inflexible neutrality can preserve us. The public negotiations and secret intrigues of the English and the French have been employed for centuries in every court and country of Europe. Look back to the history of Spain, Holland, Germany, Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Prussia, Italy, and Turkey, for the last hundred years. How many revolutions have been caused! How many emperors and kings have fallen victims to the alternate triumphs of parties, excited by Englishmen or Frenchmen! And can we expect to escape the vigilant attention of politicians so experienced, so keen-sighted, and so rich? If we convince them that our attachment to neutrality is unchangeable, they will let us alone; but as long as a hope remains, in either power, of seducing us to engage in war on his side and against his enemy, we shall be torn and convulsed by their manœuvres.
Never was there a grosser mistake of public opinion than that of Mr. Hamilton. The great alteration in public opinion had not then, nor has it yet, taken place. The French republic still existed. The French people were still considered as struggling for liberty, amidst all their internal revolutions, their conflicts of parties, and their bloody wars against the coalitions of European powers. Monarchy, empire, had not been suggested. Bonaparte had appeared only as a soldier; had acted on the public stage in no civil or political employment. A sense of gratitude for services rendered us in our revolution, by far more sincere and ardent than reason or justice could warrant, still remained on the minds, not only of our republicans, but of great numbers of our soundest federalists. Did Mr. Hamilton recollect the state of our presses; recollect the names and popular eloquence of the editors of the opposition papers; that scoffing, scorning wit, and that caustic malignity of soul, which appeared so remarkably in all the writings of Thomas Paine and Callender, which to the disgrace of human nature never fails to command attention and applause; the members of the Senate and House who were decided against the administration, their continual intercourse and communications with French emissaries; the hideous clamor against the alien law and sedition law, both considered as levelled entirely against the French and their friends; and the surrender, according to the British treaty, of the Irish murderer Nash, imposed upon the public for Jonathan Robins? Did he recollect the insurrection in Pennsylvania, the universal and perpetual inflammatory publications against the land tax, stamp tax, coach tax, excise law, and eight per cent. loan? Did he never see nor hear of the circular letters of members of Congress from the middle and southern States? Did he know nothing of the biting sarcasms, the burning rage against himself and his own army? Did he know nothing of a kind of journal that was published, of every irregular act of any officer or soldier, of every military punishment that was inflicted, under the appellation of the Cannibal’s Progress? Did he see nothing of the French cockades, ostentatiously exhibited against the American cockades?
Had a French minister been seen here with his suite, he would have been instantly informed of every source and symptom of discontent. Almost every Frenchman upon the continent, and they were then numerous in all the States, would have been employed in criminating the American Government, in applauding the condescension of the French Directory, and the friendly, conciliating disposition of the French nation. Nothing could have been kept secret. The popular clamor for peace on any terms would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to resist. The multitude in Philadelphia, as it was, were almost as ripe to pull me out of my house as they had been to dethrone Washington in the time of Genet. Even the night of the fastday, the streets were crowded with multitudinous assemblies of the people, especially that before my door, and kept in order only, as many people thought, by a military patrol, ordered, I believe, by the Governor of Pennsylvania.
In these circumstances it was my opinion, and it is so still, it was infinitely better to conduct the negotiation at Paris than in Philadelphia. But if this was and is an error, it was certainly not of such consequence as Hamilton thought fit to represent it. If it was an error, I humbly conceive it would have better become Mr. Hamilton to have been silent than to endeavor to make it unpopular, since the step was taken and irrevocable when he wrote.
But the real truth is, he was in hopes, as well as Mr. Liston, that the French government would neither send a minister here nor receive one there—in short, that they would have gone to war with us. If we had waited for a minister here, much time would have been lost. Our little naval force under Talbot, Truxtun, Decatur, Little, &c., was doing wonders in protecting our commerce, and in fighting and capturing French ships of war. Some of our citizens were not wanting in irritating expressions of exultation and triumph, particularly in parading a French national ship that had been captured by Decatur, up the Delaware, in sight of all the citizens of Philadelphia, with the French national colors reversed under our American flag. Hamilton hoped that such provocations would produce an irreconcilable breach and a declaration of war. He was disappointed, and lost the command of his army. Hinc illæ lacrimæ!
There were other circumstances of more serious and solid importance, indicative of public opinion, which Mr. Hamilton, if he had been a vigilant and sagacious statesman, could not have overlooked. The venerable patriarchs, Pendleton and Wythe, of Virginia, openly declaimed for peace; the former came out in print with his name, protesting against a war with our sister republic of France. General Heath came out with an address to the public in Massachusetts, declaring that every man he met was decidedly for peace. When the election was coming on, the legislature of Massachusetts dare not trust the people, either at large or in districts, to choose electors, but assumed that office to themselves. In New York, the great interest and vast bodies of the people, who are supposed to follow or direct the two great families of Clintons and Livingstons, aided by all the address and dexterity of Aaron Burr, was decidedly for peace with France. In Pennsylvania, Governor M’Kean, with his majority of thirty thousand votes, or in other words, at the head of the two vast bodies of Germans and Irish, reënforced by great numbers of English Presbyterians, Quakers and Anabaptists, were decidedly against a war with France.
After enumerating all these symptoms of the popular bias, it would be frivolous to enlarge upon the conversations, of which I was informed, at taverns and insurance offices, threatening violence to the President by pulling him out of his chair; upon the French cockades that were everywhere paraded before my eyes, in opposition to the black cockade; or upon the declarations and oaths, which I know were made by no small numbers, that if we went to war with France, and the French should come here, they would join them against the federalists and the English. These things I recollect with grief, because they do no honor to our country; but I must say they disgrace it no more than many more solemn actions and declarations of the opposite party, against France and in favor of England, have done within the last twelve months.
In these circumstances, it was the height of folly to say, as Hamilton says, that it would have been safer to negotiate at Philadelphia than at Paris. As to our ambassadors’ being overawed in Paris, by any finesse of politicians, or triumphs of the French arms, we must take care to send men who are equal to such trials. The French have not, as yet, gained any great and unjust advantages of us by all their policy. Our envoys were precisely instructed. Every article was prescribed that was to be insisted on as an ultimatum. In a treaty they could not depart from a punctilio. A convention they might make, as they did, at their own risk. But the President and Senate were under no obligation to ratify it. Had it betrayed a single point of essential honor or interest, I would have sent it back, as Mr. Jefferson did the treaty with England, without laying it before the Senate. If I had been doubtful, the Senate would have decided.
Where, then, was the danger of this negotiation? Nowhere but in the disturbed imagination of Alexander Hamilton. To me only it was dangerous. To me, as a public man, it was fatal, and that only because Alexander Hamilton was pleased to wield it as a poisoned weapon with the express purpose of destroying. Though I owe him no thanks for this, I most heartily rejoice in it, because it has given me eight years, incomparably the happiest of my life, whereas, had I been chosen President again, I am certain I could not have lived another year. It was utterly impossible that I could have lived through one year more of such labors and cares as were studiously and maliciously accumulated upon me by the French faction and the British faction, the former aided by the republicans, and the latter by Alexander Hamilton and his satellites.
Mr. Hamilton, in his pamphlet, speaks of the anterior mission of Messrs. Pinckney, Marshall, and Gerry, and says, “it was resolved to make another and a more solemn experiment in the form of a commission of three.”
When I first read this sentence, I am not certain whether it excited most of astonishment, indignation, contempt, or ridicule. By whom was this measure resolved? By President Washington? Certainly not. If it had been, he would have nominated the ministers. By the President elect, Mr. Adams? Certainly not. He had not been consulted. His resolutions were not known. By whom, then, was this important resolution taken? By Mr. Hamilton and his privy counsellors. And what had Mr. Hamilton and his privy counsellors to do with the business? And who were his privy counsellors?1
Page 22, he says, “the expediency of the step was suggested to Mr. Adams, through a federal channel, a considerable time before he determined to take it. He hesitated whether it could be done, after the rejection of General Pinckney, without national debasement. The doubt was an honorable one.” I disclaim and renounce all the honor of this doubt. I never entertained such a doubt for a moment. I might ask the opinion of twenty persons (for I, too, “consulted much”), in order to discover whether there was any doubt in the public mind, or any party who were averse to such a measure, or had any doubt about it. But I never had any hesitation myself. This passage, like all the rest of this pamphlet, shows that it was written from his mere imagination, from confused rumors, or downright false information.
It is true, “the expediency of the step was suggested to Mr. Adams,” before he took the step, and before he had time to take it, but long after he had determined to take it. The mystery may be revealed. I have no motive, whatever others may have, to conceal or dissemble it.
The morning after my inauguration,2 Mr. Fisher Ames made me a visit to take leave. His period in Congress had expired, and the delicacy of his health, the despondency of his disposition, and despair of a reëlection from the increase of the opposite party in his district, had induced him to decline to stand a candidate. I was no longer to have the assistance of his counsel and eloquence, though Mr. Hamilton continued to enjoy both till his death. Mr. Ames was no doubt one of Mr. Hamilton’s privy council, when he resolved to send a new commission of three. Mr. Ames, with much gravity and solemnity, advised me to institute a new mission to France. Our affairs with that republic were in an unpleasant and dangerous situation, and the people, in a long recess of Congress, must have some object on which to fix their contemplation and their hopes. And he recommended Mr. George Cabot, for the northern States, to be one of the three, if a commission was to be sent, or alone, if but one was to go.
I answered Mr. Ames, that the subject had almost engrossed my attention for a long time. That I should take every thing into serious consideration, and determine nothing suddenly; that I should make deliberate inquiries concerning characters, and maturely consider the qualities and qualifications of candidates, before any thing was finally determined. Mr. Ames departed for Massachusetts.1
I had rolled all these things in my own mind long before. The French nation and their government were in a very umbrageous and inflammable disposition. Much delicacy and deliberation were necessary in the choice of characters. Most of the prominent characters in America were as well known at Paris as they were at Philadelphia. I had sometimes thought of sending Mr. Madison and Mr. Hamilton, to join Mr. Pinckney, in a new commission. I had thought of Mr. Ames himself, as well as Mr. Cabot, Judge Dana, Mr. Gerry, and many others in the northern, middle, and southern States. I thought much of Mr. Jefferson, but had great doubt whether the Constitution would allow me to send the Vice-President abroad. The nation at large had assigned him a station, which I doubted whether he had a right to abandon, or I a right to invite him to relinquish, though but for a time.
I had great doubts about reappointing Mr. Pinckney. He might have been so affected with the horrors he had seen or heard in France, as to have uttered some expressions, which, reported by spies to the ruling powers, might have excited prejudices against him, which would insure his second rejection, and that of his colleagues too. But as I knew of no such accusation, I could not bear the thought of abandoning him. I had not time to communicate all these reflections to Mr. Ames, and, moreover, I had business of more importance to do. I had long wished to avail myself and the public of the fine talents and amiable qualities and manners of Mr. Madison. Soon after Mr. Ames left me, I sought and obtained an interview with Mr. Jefferson. With this gentleman I had lived on terms of intimate friendship for five-and-twenty years, had acted with him in dangerous times and arduous conflicts, and always found him assiduous, laborious, and as far as I could judge, upright and faithful. Though by this time I differed from him in opinion by the whole horizon concerning the practicability and success of the French revolution, and some other points, I had no reason to think that he differed materially from me with regard to our national Constitution. I did not think that the rumbling noise of party calumny ought to discourage me from consulting men whom I knew to be attached to the interest of the nation, and whose experience, genius, learning, and travels had eminently qualified them to give advice. I asked Mr. Jefferson what he thought of another trip to Paris, and whether he thought the Constitution and the people would be willing to spare him for a short time. “Are you determined to send to France?” “Yes.” “That is right,” said Mr. Jefferson; “but without considering whether the Constitution will allow it or not, I am so sick of residing in Europe, that I believe I shall never go there again.” I replied, “I own I have strong doubts whether it would be legal to appoint you; but I believe no man could do the business so well. What do you think of sending Mr. Madison? Do you think he would accept of an appointment?” “I do not know,” said Mr. Jefferson. “Washington wanted to appoint him some time ago, and kept the place open for him a long time; but he never could get him to say that he would go.” Other characters were considered, and other conversation ensued. We parted as good friends as we had always lived; but we consulted very little together afterwards. Party violence soon rendered it impracticable, or at least useless, and this party violence was excited by Hamilton more than any other man.1
I will not take leave of Mr. Jefferson in this place, without declaring my opinion that the accusations against him of blind devotion to France, of hostility to England, of hatred to commerce, of partiality and duplicity in his late negotiations with the belligerent powers, are without foundation.
From Mr. Jefferson I went to one of the heads of departments,2 whom Mr. Washington had appointed, and I had no thoughts of removing. Indeed, I had then no objection to any of the secretaries. I asked him what he thought of sending Mr. Madison to France, with or without others. “Is it determined to send to France at all?” “Determined! Nothing is determined till it is executed,” smiling. “But why not? I thought it deserved consideration.” “So it does.” “But suppose it determined, what do you think of sending Mr. Madison?” “Is it determined to send Mr. Madison?” “No; but it deserves consideration.” “Sending Mr. Madison will make dire work among the passions of our parties in Congress, and out of doors, through the States!” “Are we forever to be overawed and directed by party passions?” All this conversation on my part was with the most perfect civility, good humor, and indeed familiarity; but I found it excited a profound gloom and solemn countenance in my companion, which after some time broke out in, “Mr. President, we are willing to resign.” Nothing could have been more unexpected to me than this observation; nothing was farther from my thoughts than to give any pain or uneasiness. I had said nothing that could possibly displease, except pronouncing the name of Madison. I restrained my surprise, however, and only said, I hope nobody will resign; I am satisfied with all the public officers.
Upon further inquiries of the other heads of departments and of other persons, I found that party passions had so deep and extensive roots, that I seriously doubted whether the Senate would not negative Mr. Madison, if I should name him. Rather than to expose him to a negative, or a doubtful contest in the Senate, I concluded to omit him. If I had nominated Madison, I should have nominated Hamilton with him.1 The former, I knew, was much esteemed in France; the latter was rather an object of jealousy. But I thought the French would tolerate one for the sake of the other. And I thought, too, that the manners of the one would soon wear off the prejudices against him, and probably make him a greater favorite than the other. But having given up Madison, I ought to give up Hamilton too. Whom then should I name? I mentioned Mr. Dana and Mr. Gerry to the heads of departments, and to many leading men in both houses. They all preferred Mr. Dana. But it was evident enough to me that neither Dana nor Gerry was their man. Dana was appointed, but refused. I then called the heads of departments together, and proposed Mr. Gerry. All the five1 voices unanimously were against him. Such inveterate prejudice shocked me. I said nothing, but was determined I would not be the slave of it. I knew the man infinitely better than all of them. He was nominated and approved, and finally saved the peace of the nation; for he alone discovered and furnished the evidence that X. Y. and Z. were employed by Talleyrand; and he alone brought home the direct, formal, and official assurances upon which the subsequent commission proceeded, and peace was made.
I considered Mr. Ames’s candidate, Mr. Cabot,2 as deliberately as any of the others, and with as favorable and friendly a disposition towards him as any other without exception. But I knew his character and connections were as well known in France, particularly by Talleyrand, as Mr. Gerry’s were; and that there were great objections against the former, and none at all against the latter. It would be therefore inexcusable in me to hazard the success of the mission merely to gratify the passions of a party in America, especially as I knew Mr. Gerry, to say the least, to be full as well qualified by his studies, his experience, and every quality, for the service, as the other.
I afterwards nominated Mr. Cabot to be Secretary of the Navy, a station as useful, as important, and as honorable, as the other, and for which he was eminently qualified. But this he refused.
No man had a greater share in propagating and diffusing these prejudices against Mr. Gerry than Hamilton. Whether he had formerly conceived jealousies against him as a rival candidate for the secretaryship of the treasury; (for Mr. Gerry was a financier, and had been employed for years on the committee on the treasury in the old Congress, and a most indefatigable member too; that committee had laid the foundation for the present system of the treasury, and had organized it almost as well, though they had not the assistance of clerks and other conveniences as at present; any man who will look into the journals of the old Congress, may see the organization and the daily labors and reports of that committee, and may form some judgment of the talents and services of Mr. Gerry in that department; I knew that the officers of the treasury, in Hamilton’s time, dreaded to see him rise in the House upon any question of finance, because they said he was a man of so much influence that they always feared he would discover some error or carry some point against them); or whether he feared that Mr. Gerry would be President of the United States before him, I know not.1 He was not alone, however. His friends among the heads of departments, and their correspondents in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, sympathized with him very cordially in his hatred of Gerry, and of every other man who had labored and suffered early in the revolution.
This preference of Mr. Gerry to Mr. Cabot was my first mortal offence against my sovereign heads of departments and their disciples in all the States. It never was or has been forgiven me by those who call themselves, or are called by others, “the leading men” among the federalists.
Mr. Hamilton says, “After the rejection of Mr. Pinckney by the government of France, immediately after the instalment of Mr. Adams as President,2 and long before the measure was taken, I urged a member of Congress, then high in the confidence of the President, to propose to him the immediate appointment of three commissioners, of whom Mr. Jefferson or Mr. Madison to be one, to make another attempt to negotiate.”
I will relate all that I can recollect relative to this subject. Mr. Tracy, of Connecticut, who indeed was always in my confidence, came to me, I believe, at the opening of the special session of Congress, which I called soon after my inauguration, and produced a long, elaborate letter from Mr. Hamilton, containing a whole system of instruction for the conduct of the President, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. I read it very deliberately, and really thought the man was in a delirium. It appeared to me a very extraordinary instance of volunteer empiricism thus to prescribe for a President, Senate, and House of Representatives, all desperately sick and in a state of deplorable debility, without being called. And when I maturely considered the contents of the letter, my surprise was increased. I despised and detested the letter too much to take a copy of it, which I now regret. This letter is still in being, and I doubt not many copies of it are extant. I most earnestly request any gentleman who possesses one, to publish it. That letter, though it had no influence with me, had so much with both houses of Congress as to lay the foundation of the overthrow of the federal party, and of the revolution that followed four years afterwards. I will endeavor to recollect as much of the contents of it as I can, and if I am incorrect in any point, those who possess the letter can, by the publication of it, easily set all right.
It began by a dissertation on the extraordinarily critical situation of the United States.
It recommended a new mission to France of three commissioners, Mr. Jefferson or Mr. Madison to be one.
It recommended the raising an army of fifty thousand men, ten thousand of them to be cavalry; an army of great importance in so extensive a country, vulnerable at so many points on the frontiers, and so accessible in so many places by sea.
It recommended an alien and sedition law.
It recommended an invigoration of the treasury, by seizing on all the taxable articles not yet taxed by the government. And lastly,
It recommended a national Fast, not only on account of the intrinsic propriety of it, but because we should be very unskilful if we neglected to avail ourselves of the religious feelings of the people in a crisis so difficult and dangerous.
There might be more, but these are all that I now recollect.
Mr. Hamilton’s imagination was always haunted by that hideous monster or phantom, so often called a crisis, and which so often produces imprudent measures.1
How it happened that Mr. Hamilton’s contemplations coincided so exactly with mine, as to think of Mr. Jefferson or Mr. Madison for envoy to France, it may be more difficult to explain. But let it be considered that this letter was written long after my conversation with Mr. Jefferson, concerning himself and Mr. Madison, which was the morning after my inauguration;2 that I had communicated that conversation to one or more of the heads of departments the same morning. It is probable, therefore, that Mr. Hamilton received hints from some of his correspondents that I had thought of Madison and Hamilton, and that he was not displeased with the idea.3 I asked one of the heads of departments, how he could account for Hamilton’s recommending Jefferson or Madison. “Why,” said the gentleman, “I suppose Hamilton is weary of his practice as an attorney, at New York, and is willing to enter into some other employment.” Mr. Hamilton, however, might thank those who had been his warmest friends for his disappointment; for, had it not been for their opposition to Madison, I should have appointed him and Hamilton.
The army of fifty thousand men, ten thousand of them to be horse, appeared to me to be one of the wildest extravagances of a knight-errant. It proved to me that Mr. Hamilton knew no more of the sentiments and feelings of the people of America, than he did of those of the inhabitants of one of the planets. Such an army without an enemy to combat, would have raised a rebellion in every State in the Union. The very idea of the expense of it would have turned President, Senate, and House out of doors. I adopted none of these chimeras into my speech, and only recommended the raising of a few regiments of artillery to garrison the fortifications of the most exposed places. Yet such was the influence of Mr. Hamilton in Congress, that, without any recommendation from the President, they passed a bill to raise an army, not a large one, indeed, but enough to overturn the then Federal government.
Nor did I adopt his idea of an alien or sedition law. I recommended no such thing in my speech. Congress, however, adopted both these measures. I knew there was need enough of both, and therefore I consented to them. But as they were then considered as war measures, and intended altogether against the advocates of the French and peace with France, I was apprehensive that a hurricane of clamor would be raised against them, as in truth there was, even more fierce and violent than I had anticipated.
Seizing on all the taxable articles not yet taxed, to support an army of fifty thousand men, at a time when so many tax laws, already enacted, were unexecuted in so many States, and when insurrections and rebellions had already been excited in Pennsylvania, on account of taxes, appeared to me altogether desperate, altogether delirious.1
I wanted no admonition from Mr. Hamilton to institute a national fast. I had determined on this measure long enough before Mr. Hamilton’s letter was written. And here let me say, with great sincerity, that I think there is nothing upon this earth more sublime and affecting than the idea of a great nation all on their knees at once before their God, acknowledging their faults and imploring his blessing and protection, when the prospect before them threatens great danger and calamity. It can scarcely fail to have a favorable effect on their morals in general, or to inspire them with warlike virtues in particular. When most, if not all of the religious sects in the nation, hold such fasts among themselves, I never could see the force of the objections against making them, on great and extraordinary occasions, national; unless it be the jealousy of the separate States, lest the general government should become too national. Those however, who differ from me in opinion on this point, have as good a right to their judgment as I have to mine, and I shall submit mine to the general will.
In fine, Mr. Hamilton, in the passage I have been commenting upon, in this letter, has let out facts which, if he had possessed a grain of common sense, he would have wished should be forever concealed. I should never have revealed or explained them, if he and his partisans had not compelled me.
In page 26, is a strain of flimsy rant, as silly as it is indecent. “The supplement to the declaration was a blamable excess. It waved the point of honor, which after two rejections of our ministers required that the next mission should proceed from France.”
Where did he find this point of honor? If any such point had existed, it had its full force against the second mission; and its principal force consisted in the formal declaration of the Directory, that it “never would receive another minister plenipotentiary without apologies for the President’s speeches and answers to addresses.” If we had a right to wave this point of honor in one instance, we had in two, especially as one member of the second mission was the same man who had been rejected in the first. But after the explicit retraction of the declaration that they would not receive a minister without apologies, the point of honor was completely done away. To give them an opportunity of retracting that declaration, I declared, in my message to Congress, that I would not send another minister to France till this declaration was retracted by assurances that he should be received in character. They embraced the opportunity cordially, when they might have avoided the humiliation by sending a minister here. And whatever Hamilton’s opinion might be, I knew that they might have negotiated more to their advantage here than in Paris. Hamilton’s fingers had not the tact, or tactility, if you like the word better, of the public pulse.
He argues the probability that France would have sent a minister here, from the fact that she did afterwards “stifle her resentment, and invite the renewal of negotiation.” I know not whether this is an example of Mr. Hamilton’s “analysis of investigation” or not. It is an argument a posteriori. It is reasoning upward or backward.
These invitations were not known nor made, when I pledged myself, by implication at least, to send a minister, when such invitations should be made. When they were made, I considered my own honor and the honor of the government committed. And I have not a doubt that Hamilton thought so too; and that one of his principal vexations was, that neither himself nor his privy counsellors could have influence enough with me to persuade or intimidate me to disgrace myself in the eyes of the people of America and the world by violating my parole.
This he might think would assist him in his caucuses at New York and Philadelphia, where the honor, not only of every member, but of every State and every elector, was to be pledged, to give an equal vote for Pinckney and Adams, that the choice of President should be left to the House of Representatives, whose members, on the day of election, or the day before, were to be furnished with this pamphlet, spick and span, to make sure of the sacrifice of Adams. But more of this hereafter.
In the mean time, what reasons had we to expect that the French government would send a minister here? Such an idea had been whispered in private conversation, perhaps, by Dr. Logan and some others; but we had not a color of official information to that effect, that I remember. What motives had the French to send a minister? They had committed depredations upon our commerce, to the amount, it has been said, of twenty millions of dollars. Would the Directory have been animated with any great zeal to send an ambassador to offer us compensation for these spoliations, at a time when they were driven to their wit’s end to find revenues and resources to carry on the war in Europe, and break the confederations against them?
We had declared the treaty of alliance, and all treaties between France and the United States, null and void. Do we suppose the French government would have been in haste to send an ambassador to offer us a solemn revocation, by treaty, of all former treaties? What urgent motive could the French have to be in haste to send a minister? They could not be apprehensive that we should send an army to Europe to conquer France, or assist her enemies. We had no naval power sufficient to combat their navy in Europe, which was then far from being reduced as it has been since. They had no commerce or mercantile navigation, upon which our little navy or privateers could have made reprisals.
There is but one motive that I can imagine should have stimulated them very much, and that is, the apprehension that we might enter into an alliance offensive and defensive with Great Britain. This they might have considered as a serious affair to them in a course of time, though they might not fear any very immediate harm from it. But I doubt not the French had information from a thousand emissaries, and Talleyrand knew from personal observation in various parts of America, and Hamilton must have known, if he had any feeling of the popular pulse, that a vast majority of the people of America dreaded an alliance with Great Britain more than they did a war with France. It would have taken a long time, it would have required a long and bloody war with France, and a violent exasperation of the public mind, to have reconciled the people to any such measure. No, Hamilton and his associates could not have seriously believed that the French would soon send a minister here. If they had not, or if they had delayed it, Hamilton would have continued at the head of his army. Continual provocations and irritations would have taken place between the two nations, till one or the other would have declared war. In the mean time, it was my opinion then, and has been ever since, that the two parties in the United States would have broken out into a civil war; a majority of all the States to the southward of Hudson River, united with nearly half New England, would have raised an army under Aaron Burr; a majority of New England might have raised another under Hamilton. Burr would have beaten Hamilton to pieces, and what would have followed next, let the prophets foretell. But such would have been the result of Hamilton’s “enterprises of great pith and moment.” I say this would probably have been the course and result of things, had a majority of New England continued to be attached to Hamilton, his men and measures. But I am far from believing this. On the contrary, had not our envoys proceeded, had not the people expected a peace with France from that negotiation, New England herself, at the elections of 1800, would have turned out Hamilton’s whole party, and united with the southern and middle States in bringing in men who might have made peace on much less advantageous terms.
And now, let the world judge who “consulted much,” who “pondered much,” who “resolved slowly,” and who “resolved surely.”
Mr. Hamilton acknowledges, that “the President had pledged himself in his speech” (he should have said in his message) “to send a minister, if satisfactory assurances of a proper reception were given.” Notwithstanding this, Mr. Hamilton, and all his confidential friends, exerted their utmost art and most strenuous endeavors to prevail on the President to violate this pledge. What can any man think of the disposition of these men towards the personal or official character of the President, but that they were secretly, if not avowedly, his most determined and most venomous enemies? When the measure had been solemnly, irrevocably determined, and could not be recalled nor delayed without indelible dishonor, I own I was astonished, I was grieved, I was afflicted, to see such artificial schemes employed, such delays studied, such embarrassments thrown in the way, by men who were, or at least ought to have been, my bosom friends.
This was a point of honor indeed; not such a stupid, fantastical point of honor as that which Mr. Hamilton maintains with so much fanaticism and so much folly; but a point of honor in which my moral character was involved as well as the public faith of the nation. Hamilton’s point of honor was such as one of those Irish duellists, who love fighting better than feasting, might have made a pretext for sending a challenge; and however conformable it might be to Hamilton’s manner of thinking, it was altogether inconsistent with the moral, religious, and political character of the people of America. It was such a point of honor as a Machiavelian or a Jesuit might have made a pretext for a war. It was such a point of honor as a Roman senate, in the most corrupt days of that republic, might have made a pretext for involving the nation in a foreign war, when patrician monopolies of land, and patrician usury at twelve per cent. a month, had excited the plebeian debtors to the crisis of a civil war. But the American people were not Roman plebeians. They were not to be deceived by such thin disguises.
Surely, those who have lately censured Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison, for insisting on knowing the satisfaction which was to be given for the outrage on the Chesapeake, before they revoked a certain proclamation, can never blame me for not insisting on a point that was no point of honor at all.
Mr. Hamilton says, “When the President pledged himself in his speech” (he should have said his message) “to send a minister, if satisfactory assurances of a proper reception were given, he must have been understood to mean such as were direct and official, not such as were both informal and destitute of a competent sanction.”
The words “direct and indirect,” “official and inofficial,” “formal and informal,” “competent sanction,” &c., appear to have seized this gentleman’s mind, and to have rolled and tumbled in it till they had produced an entire confusion of his understanding.
He here supposes that I did not understand my own message, and patriotically undertakes to expound it both for me and the public. According to his metaphysics, I meant, by assurances of a proper reception, assurances direct and official, not such as were informal. Let me ask, what more formal or official assurances could have been given than Talleyrand’s letters? What more formal, official, or direct, than Mr. Gerry’s letters? If I understand Mr. Hamilton, he must have meant to say that my message demanded an ambassador to be sent directly from the Directory to me, for the express purpose of assuring me that they would receive a minister plenipotentiary from me. This, instead of being my meaning, was directly the reverse of it. From first to last I had refused to be taken in this snare. I had always refused to demand that a minister should be sent here first, though I had declared explicitly enough in my speech, that a French minister, if sent, should be received. I had always insisted that both the doors of negotiation should be held open. And as I have already said, I now repeat, that I preferred to send a minister rather than to receive one; not only for the reasons explained in a former letter, but because I thought the amende honorable ought to be made at Paris, where the offence was given; where it would be known and observed by all Europe; whereas, if it had been made at Philadelphia, little notice would have been taken of it by any part of the world.
I am somewhat disappointed in not finding in this pamphlet the word “obscure” applied to Mr. Pichon, because the newspapers in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, written by Mr. Hamilton’s coadjutors and fellow-laborers in the same field of scandal, had profusely scattered their dull sarcasms on the obscurity of the agent or agents at the Hague. Mr. Pichon obscure! A secretary of legation and chargé des affaires obscure, especially in the absence of his ambassador! The office of secretary of legation is an object of ambition and desire to many of the first scientific and literary characters in Europe. The place is worth about a thousand guineas a year, and affords a fine opportunity and great advantages for travel, and is commonly a sure road to promotion. These secretaries are almost always men of science, letters, and business. They are often more relied upon than the ambassadors themselves for the substantial part of business. Ambassadors are often chosen for their birth, rank, title, riches, beauty, elegance of manners, or good humor. They are intended to do honor to their sovereigns by their appearance and representation. Secretaries of legation are selected for their science, learning, talents, industry, and habits of business. I doubt not Mr. Locke or Sir Isaac Newton in their younger days would have thought themselves fortunate to have been offered such a place. Would these have been called obscure? Was Matthew Prior or David Hume obscure? Yet both of them were secretaries of legation!
Such reflections as these, which were thrown upon Mr. Pichon, might impose upon a people who knew no better than the writers, but must have been despised by every man who knew any thing of the world.
Had Talleyrand sent his letters to General Washington to be communicated to me, had he sent them directly to my Secretary of State, had he sent them to the Spanish minister to be by him communicated to the Secretary of State, or to the Dutch minister for the same purpose, I do not say that I would have nominated a minister in consequence of them; nor will I say that I would not. There is no need to determine this question, because, in fact, the utmost rigor of diplomatic etiquette was observed. But I will say, that my message demanded nothing but evidence to convince my own mind and give satisfaction to the Senate and the public, that a minister would be received. And if such evidence had arrived to me in any manner that would leave no doubt in the public mind, I would not have sacrificed the national neutrality to any diplomatic trammels or shackles whatever.
In page 26, Mr. Hamilton says, that the mission “could hardly fail to injure our interests with other countries.”
This is another of those phantoms which he had conjured up to terrify minds and nerves as weak as his own. It was a commonplace theme of discourse, which, no doubt, the British faction very efficaciously assisted him in propagating. I know it made impression on some, from whose lips I too often heard it, and from whom I expected more sense and firmness. It appeared to me so mean, servile, and timorous, that I own I did not always hear it with patience.
Which were those other countries? They could not be Spain, Holland, or any countries in the north or south of Europe which were in alliance with France or under her obedience. They could be only England, Russia, and Sweden, for we had nothing to do with any but maritime powers. And what interest of ours could be injured with any of these powers? Would any of these powers make war upon us, and sacrifice the benefits they received from our commerce, because we made peace with France, asserted and maintained our impartial neutrality, and stipulated nothing inconsistent with their rights, honor, or dignity? If such chimerical fears as these were to govern our conduct, it was idle to talk of our independence. We might as well petition the king and parliament of Great Britain to take us again under their gracious protection.
In page 36, he says, I “might secretly and confidentially have nominated one or more of our ministers actually abroad for the purpose of treating with France; with eventual instructions predicated upon appearances of approaching peace.”
Mr. Hamilton had entirely forgot the Constitution of the United States. All nominations must be made to the Senate, and if the President requests, and the Senate enjoins secrecy, secrecy will not be kept. Stephens Thompson Mason was then a member of the Senate; and if he had not been, there were twenty other means of communicating the thing to the public. Had secrecy been requested and enjoined when Mr. Murray was nominated, every man whose emulation was mortified would have had the secret in three hours. But had the secret been kept, Mr. Murray must have gone to Paris with his full powers, or must have communicated them to Mr. Pichon; the French government must have appointed a minister to treat with him; their full powers must have been exchanged; neither the French government nor their ministers would have kept it secret. And why all this cunning? That we might not give umbrage to England. This very motive, if there had been any thing in it, would have induced the French to proclaim it to all Europe. In truth, such a sneaking idea never entered my brain, and if it had, I would have spurned it as unworthy a moment’s consideration. Besides, this would have been the very indirect, circuitous mode that Mr. Hamilton so deeply deplores.
In page 37, another instance is given of my jealousy and suspicious disposition. The most open, unsuspicious man alive is accused of excessive suspicion!
I transiently asked one of the heads of departments, whether Ellsworth and Hamilton had come all the way from Windsor and New York to persuade me to countermand the mission. How came Mr. Hamilton to be informed of this?1
I know of no motive of Mr. Ellsworth’s journey. However, I have already acknowledged that Mr. Ellsworth’s conduct was perfectly proper.2 He urged no influence or argument for counteracting or postponing the mission.
Unsuspicious as I was, I could not resist the evidence of my senses. Hamilton, unasked, had volunteered his influence with all the arguments his genius could furnish, all the eloquence he possessed, and all the vehemence of action his feeble frame could exert. He had only betrayed his want of information, and his ardent zeal to induce me to break my word and violate the faith of the government. I know of no business he had at Trenton. Indeed I knew, that in strict propriety he had no right to come to Trenton at all without my leave. He was stationed at Newark, in the command of his division of the army, where he ought to have been employed in accommodating, disciplining, and teaching tactics to his troops, if he had been capable of it. He wisely left these things to another officer, who understood them better, but whom he hated for that very reason.
I have no more to say upon this great subject. Indeed, I am weary of exposing puerilities that would disgrace the awkwardest boy at college.
Mr. Hamilton says, my “conduct in the office of President was a heterogeneous compound of right and wrong, of wisdom and error.” As at that time, in my opinion, his principal rule of right and wrong, of wisdom and error, was his own ambition and indelicate pleasures, I despise his censure, and should consider his approbation as a satire on my administration.
“The outset,” he says, “was distinguished by a speech which his friends lamented as temporizing. It had the air of a lure for the favor of his opponents at the expense of his sincerity.” Until I read this, I never heard one objection to that speech; and I have never heard another since, except in a letter from a lady, who said she did not like it, because there was but one period in it, and that period was too long. I fully agreed to that lady’s opinion, and now thank her for her criticism. Since that time I have never heard nor read, except in Wood’s History, any objection or criticism.
That address was dictated by the same spirit which produced my conference the next day with Mr. Jefferson, in which I proposed to him the idea of sending him to France, and the more serious thought of nominating Mr. Madison. It sprung from a very serious apprehension of danger to our country, and a sense of injustice to individuals, from that arbitrary and exclusive principle of faction which confines all employments and promotions to its own favorites. There is a distinction founded in truth and nature, between party and faction. The former is founded in principle and system, concerning the public good; the latter in private interest and passions. An honest party man will never exclude talents and virtues, and qualities eminently useful to the public, merely on account of a difference in opinion. A factious man will exclude every man alike, saint or sinner, who will not be a blind, passive tool. If I had been allowed to follow my own ideas, Hamilton and Burr, in my opinion, with submission to Divine Providence, would have been alive at this hour; General Muhlenberg, of Pennsylvania, would have been a Brigadier, under Hamilton, in the army, as long as it lasted; and the great body of Germans in Pennsylvania, instead of being disgraced with imputations of rebellion, would have been good friends of government. I have not room to develop all this at present.
But I soon found myself shackled. The heads of departments were exclusive patriots. I could not name a man who was not devoted to Hamilton, without kindling a fire.1 The Senate was now decidedly federal. During President Washington’s whole administration of eight years, his authority in the Senate was extremely weak. The Senate was equally divided in all great constitutional questions, and in all great questions of foreign relations; and such as were the most sharply contested were brought to my decision as Vice-President. When I was elected, the States had been pleased to make an entire change in the Senate. Two thirds of that honorable body were now decidedly federal. And prosperity had its usual effect on federal minds. It made them confident and presumptuous. I soon found that if I had not the previous consent of the heads of departments, and the approbation of Mr. Hamilton, I run the utmost risk of a dead negative in the Senate. One such negative, at least, I had, after a very formal and a very uncivil remonstrance of one of their large, unconstitutional committees in secret.
I have great reason to believe, that Mr. Jefferson came into office with the same spirit that I did, that is, with a sincere desire of conciliating parties, as far as he possibly could, consistently with his principles. But he soon found, as I did, that the Senate had a decided majority of republicans, five or six to one, a much greater majority than there was in my time of federalists, which was never more than two to one.
In the House of Representatives, in Mr. Washington’s time, the majority of federalists was very small. In my time, it was somewhat larger, but still small. In Mr. Jefferson’s time, the majority of republicans was immense, two or three, or four, to one. Consciousness of this strength had the same effect upon republicans as it had upon the federalists in my time. It made them confident, exclusive, and presumptuous. Mr. Jefferson found it impossible, as I did, to follow his own inclination on many occasions.
It may be thought presumption in me to impute errors to the nation; but, as I have never concealed from the people any truth which it was important to them to know, nor any opinion of my own, which was material in public affairs, I hope to be excused if I suggest, that the general sentiment in most parts of the continent, that all the danger to liberty arises from the executive power, and that the President’s office cannot be too much restrained, is an error.
Corruption in almost all free governments has begun and been first introduced in the legislature. When any portion of executive power has been lodged in popular or aristocratical assemblies, it has seldom, if ever, failed to introduce intrigue. The executive powers lodged in the Senate are the most dangerous to the Constitution, and to liberty, of all the powers in it.1 The people, then, ought to consider the President’s office as the indispensable guardian of their rights. I have ever, therefore, been of opinion, that the electors of President ought to be chosen by the people at large. The people cannot be too careful in the choice of their Presidents; but when they have chosen them, they ought to expect that they will act their own independent judgments, and not be wheedled nor intimidated by factious combinations of senators, representatives, heads of departments, or military officers.
The exclusive principle which has been adopted and too openly avowed by both our great divisions, when the pendulum has swung to their side, is a principle of faction, and not of honest party. It is intolerance! It is despotism! It destroys the freedom of the press! the freedom of elections! the freedom of debate! the freedom of deliberation! the freedom of private judgment! And as long as the Senate shall be determined to negative all but their own party, the President can have no will or judgment of his own. I most earnestly entreat all parties to reconsider their resolutions on this subject.
In page 29, Mr. Hamilton says, “When an ordinary man dreams himself to be a Frederick,” &c.
To this I shall make but a short answer. When a Miss of the street shall print a pamphlet in London, and call the Queen of England an ordinary woman who dreams herself a Catharine of Russia, no Englishman will have the less esteem for his queen for that impudent libel.
There is something in the 24th page of a graver complexion. It is said, that “the session which ensued the promulgation of the despatches of our commissioners was about to commence.” This was the session of 1798. “Mr. Adams arrived at Philadelphia. The tone of his mind seemed to have been raised.”
Let me ask a candid public, how did Mr. Hamilton know any thing of the tone of Mr. Adams’s mind, either before or at that conference? To make the comparison, he must have known the state of Mr. Adams’s mind at both these periods. He had never conversed with Mr. Adams before, nor was he present at that conference. Who was the musician that took the pitch of Mr. Adams’s mind, at the two moments here compared together? And what was the musical instrument, or whose exquisite ear was it, that ascertained so nicely the vibrations of the air, and Mr. Adams’s sensibility to them? Had Mr. Hamilton a spy in the cabinet, who transmitted to him, from day to day, the confidential communications between the President and heads of department? If there existed such a spy, why might he not communicate these conferences to Mr. Liston, or the Marquis Yrujo, as well as to Mr. Hamilton? He had as clear a right. I believe that all the privy counsellors of the world but our own are under an oath of secrecy; and ours ought to be. But as they are not, their own honor and sense of propriety ought, with them, to be obligations as sacred as an oath.1
The truth is, I had arrived at Philadelphia from a long journey, which had been delayed longer than I intended, very much fatigued; and as no time was to be lost, I sent for the heads of departments to consult, in the evening, upon the points to be inserted in the speech to Congress, who were soon to meet.
My intention was, in the language of the lawyers, merely to break the questions, or meet the points necessary for us to consider; not intending to express any opinion of my own, or to request any opinion of theirs upon any point; but merely to take the questions into their consideration, and give me their advice upon all of them at a future meeting.
I observed that I found, by various sources of information, and particularly by some of the newspapers in Boston and New York, that there was a party who expected an unqualified recommendation of a declaration of war against France.
These paragraphs, I was well satisfied, were written by gentlemen who were in the confidence and correspondence of Hamilton, and one of the heads of departments at least, though I gave them no intimation of this.
I said to the gentlemen, that I supposed it would be expected of us, that we should consider this question, and be able to give our reasons for the determination, whatever it might be.
The conduct of the gentlemen upon this question was such as I wished it to be upon all the others. No one of them gave an opinion either for or against a declaration of war. There was something, however, in the total silence and reserve of all of them, and in the countenances of some, that appeared to me to be the effect of disappointment. It seemed to me, that they expected I should have proposed a declaration of war, and only asked their advice to sanction it. However, not a word was said.
That there was a disappointment, however, in Hamilton and his friends, is apparent enough from this consideration, that when it was known that a declaration of war was not to be recommended in the President’s speech, a caucus was called of members of Congress, to see if they could not get a vote for a declaration of war, without any recommendation from the President, as they had voted the alien and sedition law, and the army.1 What passed in that caucus, and how much zeal there was in some, and who they were, Judge Sewall can tell better than I. All that I shall say is, that Mr. Hamilton’s friends could not carry the vote.2
My second proposition to the heads of departments was to consider, in case we should determine against a declaration of war, what was the state of our relations with France, and whether any further attempt at negotiation should be made.
Instead of the silence and reserve with which my first question was received, Mr. Hamilton shall relate what was said.
Mr. Hamilton says, “It was suggested to him (Mr. Adams) that it might be expedient to insert in the speech a sentiment of this import; that, after the repeatedly rejected advances of this country, its dignity required that it should be left with France in future to make the first overture; that if, desirous of reconciliation, she should evince the disposition by sending a minister to this government, he would be received with the respect due to his character, and treated with in the frankness of a sincere desire of accommodation. The suggestion was received in a manner both indignant and intemperate.”
I demand again, how did Mr. Hamilton obtain this information? Had he a spy in the cabinet? If he had, I own I had rather that all the courts in Europe should have had spies there; for they could have done no harm by any true information they could have obtained there; whereas Hamilton has been able to do a great deal of mischief by the pretended information he has published.1
It is very true, that I thought this proposition intended to close the avenues to peace, and to ensure a war with France; for I did believe that some of the heads of departments were confident, in their own minds, that France would not send a minister here.
From the intimate intercourse between Hamilton and some of the heads of departments, which is demonstrated to the world and to posterity by this pamphlet, I now appeal to every candid and impartial man, whether there is not reason to suspect and to believe, whether there is not a presumption, a violent presumption, that Hamilton himself had furnished this machine to his correspondent in the cabinet,2 for the very purpose of ensnaring me, at unawares, of ensuring a war with France, and enabling him to mount his hobby-horse, the command of an army of fifty thousand, ten thousand of them to be horse.
Hamilton says, “the suggestion was received in a manner both indignant and intemperate.” This is false. It is true, it was urged with so much obstinacy, perseverance, and indecency, not to say intemperance, that at last I declared I would not adopt it, in clear and strong terms.3
Mr. Hamilton says, “Mr. Adams declared, as a sentiment he had adopted on mature reflection, that if France should send a minister here to-morrow, he would order him back the day after.”
Here I ask again, where, how, and from whom did he get this information. Was it from his spy in the cabinet? Or was it the fabrication of his own “sublimated, eccentric,”1 and intemperate imagination? In either case, it is an entire misrepresentation.
I said that, when in my retirement at Quincy, the idea of the French government sending a minister here had sometimes occurred to me, my first thoughts were, that I would send him back the next day after his arrival, as a retaliation for their sending ours back; and because the affront offered to us had been at Paris, publicly, in the face of all Europe, the atonement ought to be upon the same theatre; and because, as the French government had publicly and officially declared that they would receive no minister plenipotentiary from the United States until the President had made apologies for his speeches and answers to addresses, they ought to be made to retract and take back that rash declaration on the same spot where it had been made. They might send a minister here consistently with that offensive declaration. This was my first thought; but upon mature reflection I saw that this would not be justifiable; for to retaliate one breach of principle by another breach of principle, was neither the morality nor the policy that had been taught me by my father and my tutors. Our principle was, that the right of embassy was sacred. I would therefore sacredly respect it, if they sent a minister here. But I would not foreclose myself from sending a minister to France, if I saw an opening for it consistent with our honor; in short, that I would leave both doors and all doors wide open for a negotiation. All this refutation came from myself, not from the heads of departments.
All that he says in this place and in the beginning of the next page, of my wavering, is false. My mind never underwent any revolution or alteration at all, after I left Quincy. I inserted no declaration in my speech, that I would not send a minister to France, nor any declaration that, if France would give assurances of receiving a minister from this country, I would send one. Nothing like that declaration was ever made, except in my message to Congress, of the 21st of June, 1798, in these words: “I will never send another minister to France, without assurances that he will be received, respected, and honored, as the representative of a great, free, powerful, and independent nation.” This declaration finally effected the peace.1
Both the doors of negotiation were left open. The French might send a minister here without conditions; we might send one to France upon condition of a certainty that he would be received in character.
What conduct did the French government hold in consequence of this declaration? They retracted their solemn and official declaration, that they would receive no minister plenipotentiary, in future, from the United States, without apologies from the President for his speeches and answers to addresses. They withdrew, and expressly disavowed, all claims of loans and douceurs, which had been held up in a very high tone. They even gave encouragement, I might say they promised, to make provision for an equitable compensation for spoliations. They promised to receive our ministers, and they did receive them, and made peace with them,—a peace that completely accomplished a predominant wish of my heart for five-and-twenty years before, which was to place our relations with France and with Great Britain upon a footing of equality and impartiality, that we might be able to preserve, in future, an everlasting neutrality in all the wars of Europe.
I see now with great pleasure, that England professes to acknowledge and adopt this our principle of impartiality, and I hope that France will soon adopt it too. The two powers ought to see, that it is the only principle we can adopt with safety to ourselves or justice to them. If this is an error, it is an error in which I have been invariably and unchangeably fixed for five-and-thirty years, in the whole course of which I have never seen reason to suspect it to be an error, and I now despair of ever discovering any such reasons.
Nevertheless, Mr. Hamilton calls the declaration that accomplished all this “a pernicious declaration!”
Pernicious it was to his views of ambition and domination. It extinguished his hopes of being at the head of a victorious army of fifty thousand men, without which, he used to say, he had no idea of having a head upon his shoulders for four years longer.
Thus it is, when self-sufficient ignorance impertinently obtrudes itself into offices and departments, in which it has no right, nor color, nor pretence to interfere.
Thus it is, when ambition undertakes to sacrifice all characters, and the peace of nations, to its own private interest.
I have now finished all I had to say on the negotiations and peace with France in 1800.
In the mean time, when I look back on the opposition and embarrassments I had to overcome, from the faction of British subjects, from that large body of Americans who revere the English and abhor the French, from some of the heads of departments, from so many gentlemen in Senate, and so many more in the House of Representatives, and from the insidious and dark intrigues as well as open remonstrances of Mr. Hamilton, I am astonished at the event.
In some of my jocular moments I have compared myself to an animal I have seen take hold of the end of a cord with his teeth, and be drawn slowly up by pullies, through a storm of squibs, crackers, and rockets, flashing and blazing round him every moment; and though the scorching flames made him groan, and mourn, and roar, he would not let go his hold till he had reached the ceiling of a lofty theatre, where he hung some time, still suffering a flight of rockets, and at last descended through another storm of burning powder, and never let go till his four feet were safely landed on the floor.
In some of my social hours I have quoted Virgil:
But this is all levity. There have been sober hours, not a few; and I know not that there has been one in which I have not adored that providence of Almighty God, which alone could have carried me safely through, to a successful issue, this transaction, and so many others equally difficult, and infinitely more dangerous to my life, if not to my reputation.
Quincy, 10 June, 1809.
THE INADMISSIBLE PRINCIPLES OF THE KING OF ENGLAND’S PROCLAMATION OF OCTOBER 16, 1807, CONSIDERED.
This letter, in the date of its publication in the Boston Patriot, precedes those which have gone before. It was subsequently published in a pamphlet with the above title. It is placed in this order, because it is connected with the history of later events.
The difficulties with Great Britain, which led to the adoption of the act of embargo, of 1808, by the Congress of the United States, incidentally opened a new subject of difference between Mr. Pickering and Mr. Adams. Mr. Pickering was then a senator of the United States from Massachusetts, and in that capacity published, in the form of a letter addressed to Governor Sullivan, an appeal to the people of the State against that measure. In the course of it he alluded to the proclamation of the King of England, which constituted one great cause of difficulty, in the terms which are quoted, and which form the text of the following paper. The letter of the 26th of December, alluded to at the commencement, was addressed to J. B. Varnum, then a member of the House of Representatives from Massachusetts. It may be found in the general correspondence.
Quincy, 9 January, 1809.
In my letter of the 26th of December, it was remarked that the proclamation for pressing seamen from our merchant ships had not been sufficiently reprobated. Some of the reasons for that opinion will be found in the following commentaries, which were written for private amusement, within a few days after the appearance in public of this
“The proclamation of the King of Great Britain, requiring the return of his subjects, the seamen especially, from foreign countries, to aid in this hour of peculiar danger, in defence of their own . . . .
“But it being an acknowledged principle, that every nation has a right to the service of its subjects in time of war, that proclamation could not furnish the slightest ground for an embargo.”
This partial description has a tendency to deceive many, and no doubt has deceived thousands. It is concealing the asp in a basket of figs. The dangerous, alarming, and fatal part of the proclamation is kept carefully out of sight.
Proclamations of one kind are of immemorial usage; but the present one is the first of the kind. Proclamations of the first kind, issued usually in the beginning of a war, are in effect but simple invitations to subjects, who happen to be abroad, to return home. To deny the right of the king to issue them, would be as unreasonable as to deny his right to send a card of invitation to one of his subjects to dine with him on St. George’s day; but in neither case is the subject bound by law to accept the invitation. As it is natural to every human mind to sympathize with its native country when in distress or danger, it is well known that considerable numbers of British commonly return home from various foreign countries, in consequence of these invitations by proclamation. The British ambassadors, consuls, agents, governors, and other officers give the proclamations a general circulation, stimulate the people to return, and contrive many means to encourage and facilitate their passages. All this is very well. All this is within the rules of modesty, decency, law, and justice. No reasonable man will object to it. But none of these proclamations, till this last, ever asserted a right to take British subjects, by force, from the ships of foreign nations, any more than from the cities and provinces of foreign nations. On the other hand, it is equally clear, that British subjects in foreign countries are under no indispensable obligation of religion, morality, law, or policy, to return, in compliance with such proclamations. No penalty is annexed by English laws to any neglect; no, nor to any direct or formal disobedience. Hundreds, in fact, do neglect and disobey the proclamations, to one who complies with them. Thousands who have formed establishments and settled families, or become naturalized, or made contracts, or enlisted on board merchant ships, or even ships of war, in foreign countries, pay no regard to these orders or invitations of their former sovereign. Indeed, all who have become naturalized in foreign countries, or entered into contracts of any kind, public or private, with governments or merchants, farmers or manufacturers, have no right to return until they have fulfilled their covenants and obligations. The President of the United States has as legal authority to issue similar proclamations, and they would be as much respected by American citizens all over the globe. But every American would say his compliance was voluntary, and none, whose engagements abroad were incompatible with compliance, would obey.
But “it is an acknowledged principle, that every nation has a right to the service of its subjects in time of war.” By whom is this principle acknowledged? By no man, I believe, in the unlimited sense in which it is here asserted. With certain qualifications and restrictions it may be admitted. Within the realm and in his own dominions the king has a right to the service of his subjects, at sea and on land, by voluntary enlistments, and to send them abroad on foreign voyages, expeditions, and enterprises; but it would be difficult to prove the right of any executive authority of a free people to compel free subjects into service by conscriptions or impressments, like galley-slaves, at the point of the bayonet, or before the mouths of field artillery. Extreme cases and imperious necessity, it is said, have no laws; but such extremities and necessity must be very obvious to the whole nation, or freemen will not comply. Impressments of seamen from British merchantmen, in port or at sea, are no better than the conscriptions of soldiers by Napoleon, or Louis XIV. who set him the example.
So much for that part of the proclamation, which the text produces to public view. Now for the other part, which it has artfully concealed. The king not only commands his subjects to return, but he commands the officers of his navy to search the merchant ships of neutrals (meaning Americans, for it is not applicable to any others, nor intended to be applied to any others,) and impress all British seamen they find on board, without regard to any allegations of naturalization; without regard to any certificates of citizenship; without regard to any contracts, covenants, or connections they have formed with captains or owners; and without regard to any marriages, families, or children they may have in America. And in what principle or law is this founded? Is there any law of God to support it? Is there any law of nature to justify it? Is there any law of England to authorize it? Certainly not. The laws of England have no binding force on board American ships, more than the laws of China or Japan. The laws of the United States alone, of which the law of nations is a part, have dominion over our merchant ships. In what law, then, is it grounded? In the law of nations? It is a counterfeit foisted into that law, by this arbitrary, fraudulent proclamation, for the first time. Such a title, as Impressment of Seamen, was never found in any code of laws, since the first canoe was launched into the sea; not even in that of England. Whoever claims a right, must produce a law to support it. But this proclamation attempts to transfer a pretended right of impressing seamen from their own ships, which, in truth, is only an enormous abuse, to the impressment of seamen from foreign nations, foreign ships, and foreign subjects. The horror of this gross attempt, this affront to our understandings as well as feelings, this contempt of our natural and national resentment of injuries, as well as of our sympathies with fellow-citizens and fellow-creatures, suffering the vilest oppression under inhumanity and cruelty, could never have appeared in the world, had not the spirits of Lord Bute and Lord George Germaine risen again at St. James’s.
It is in vain for the Britons to say, these men are the king’s subjects. How are they the king’s subjects? By British laws. And what are the British laws to us, on the high seas? No more than the laws of Otaheite. We Americans must say, they are our fellow-citizens by our laws. They have sworn allegiance to the United States. We have admitted them to all the rights and privileges of American citizens, and by this admission have contracted with them to support and defend them in the enjoyment of all such rights. Our laws acknowledge no divine right of kings greater than those of subjects, nor any indefeasible duty of subjects, more than that of kings, to obedience. These remnants of feudal tyranny and ecclesiastical superstition have been long since exploded in America. The king claims them, to make them slaves. The President of the United States claims them, as it is his duty to do, by his office and his oath, not to enslave them, but to protect them and preserve them free. Our laws are as good as British laws. Our citizens have as good a right to protection as British subjects, and our government is as much bound to afford it.
What is impressment of seamen? It is no better than what the civilians call plagiat, a crime punishable with death by all civilized nations, as one of the most audacious and punishable offences against society. It was so considered among the Hebrews. “He that stealeth a man and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.” Exodus xxi. 16. “If a man be found stealing any of his brethren, then that thief shall die.” Deuteronomy xxiv. 7. The laws of Athens, like those of the Hebrews, condemned the plagiary or man-stealer to death; and the laws of Rome pronounced the same judgment against the same outrage. But to descend from the Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans to the British; what is the impressment of seamen in England, by their own laws, in their own ports, from their own ships within the four seas, or anywhere on the high seas? It is said to be an usage. So were ship-money, loans, and benevolences in the reign of Charles the First; and arguments were used by his courtiers to prove their legality, as plausible and conclusive as any that have been produced by Judge Foster in favor of impressment. It is at best but an abuse, subsisting only by toleration and connivance, like the practice in Holland of kidnapping men for settlers or servants in Batavia. It is in direct contradiction and violation of every principle of English liberty. It is a direct violation of Magna Charta, and the fifty-five confirmations of it in parliament, and a bold defiance of all the ecclesiastical execrations against the violators of it. It is in direct violation of all their other statutes, bills, and petitions of right, as well as the Habeas Corpus Act. It deprives free subjects of their liberty, property, and often of their lives, without alleging or pretending any accusation against them of any crime or fault. It deprives them of the trial by jury, and subjects them to scourges and death by martial law and the judgments of courts-martial. It is a kind of civil war made upon innocent, unoffending subjects. It is said that in a general impressment, like that of Admiral Keppell, it cost the nation, in cutters, luggers, press-gangs, and it might have been added, Nanny-houses and rendezvous of debauchery and corruption, a hundred pounds for every man they obtained. The practice is not avowed or acknowledged by the nation. No parliament ever dared to legitimate or sanction it. No court of law ever dared to give a judgment in favor of it. No judge or lawyer that ever I heard of, till Foster, ever ventured to give a private opinion to encourage it.
Thurlow, when he was Chancellor, hazarded a saying to a committee of the city of London, that the practice of impressment of seamen was legal; but the committee answered him respectfully, but firmly, though in the presence of the king in council—“We acknowledge the high authority of your lordship’s opinion, but we must declare that we are of a very different opinion;” and their answer appeared to be applauded by the nation. Press-gangs are continually opposed and resisted at sea by the sailors, whenever they have the means or the least hope of escaping. Navy officers and men are sometimes killed, and there is no inquisition for their blood. As little noise as possible is made about it. It is known to be justifiable homicide to take the life of an assailant in the necessary defence of a man’s liberty. There is not a jury in England who would find a verdict of murder or manslaughter against any sailor, on land or at sea, who should kill any one of a press-gang in the necessary defence of his liberty from impressment. Press-gangs on shore are often resisted by the people, fired on, some of them wounded and sometimes killed. Yet no inquisition is made for this. The practice is held in abhorrence by the men-of-war’s-men themselves. The boatswain of the Rose frigate, after the acquittal of the four Irish sailors, who were prosecuted in a special court of admiralty at Boston, for killing a gallant and amiable officer, Lieutenant Panton, said, “This is a kind of work in which I have been almost constantly engaged for twenty years, i. e., in fighting with honest sailors, to deprive them of their liberty. I always suspected that I ought to be hanged for it, but now I know it.”
Since I have alluded to this case, it may not be amiss to recollect some other circumstances of it. A press-gang from the Rose, commanded by Lieutenant Panton, with a midshipman and a number of ordinary seamen, visited and searched a merchant-ship from Marblehead, belonging to Mr. Hooper, at sea. The lieutenant inquired if any English, Irish, or Scotchmen were on board. Not satisfied with the answer he received, he prepared to search the ship from stem to stern. At last he found four Irishmen retired and concealed in the forepeak. With swords and pistols he immediately laid siege to the inclosure, and summoned the men to surrender. Corbet, who had the cool intrepidity of a Nelson, reasoned, remonstrated, and laid down the law with the precision of a Mansfield. “I know who you are. You are the lieutenant of a man-of-war, come with a press-gang to deprive me of my liberty. You have no right to impress me. I have retreated from you as far as I can. I can go no father. I and my companions are determined to stand upon our defence. Stand off.” The sailors within and without employed their usual language to each other, and a midshipman, in the confusion, fired a pistol into the forepeak, and broke an arm of one of the four. Corbet, who stood at the entrance, was engaged in a contest of menaces and defiances with the lieutenant. He repeated what he had before said, and marking a line with a harpoon in the salt, with which the ship was loaded, said, “You are determined to deprive me of my liberty, and I am determined to defend it. If you step over that line, I shall consider it as a proof that you are determined to impress me, and by the eternal God of Heaven, you are a dead man.” “Aye, my lad,” said the lieutenant, “I have seen many a brave fellow before now.” Taking his snuff-box out of his pocket, and taking a pinch of snuff, he very deliberately stepped over the line, and attempted to seize Corbet. The latter, drawing back his arm, and driving his harpoon with all his force, cut off the carotid artery and jugular vein, and laid the lieutenant dead at his feet. The Rose sent a reënforcement to the press-gang. They broke down the bulk-head, and seized the four Irishmen, and brought them to trial for piracy and murder. The court consisted of Governor Bernard, Governor Wentworth, Chief Justice Hutchinson, Judge Auchmuty, Commodore Hood himself, who then commanded all the ships of war on the station, now a peer of the British empire, and twelve or fifteen others, counsellors of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. After the trial, the President, Governor Bernard, pronounced the judgment of the court, that the act of the prisoners was justifiable homicide, and in this opinion the whole court was unanimous.1 The sailor who was wounded in the arm, brought an action against the midshipman, and Commodore Hood himself interposed and made compensation to the sailor, to his satisfaction, after which the action was withdrawn. Such was the impressment of seamen, as it stood, by law, before our revolution. The author of my text, then, carries his courtly complaisance to the English government, farther than the Governors Bernard and Hutchinson, and even than Lord Hood carried it, when we were a part of the British empire. He thinks, that, as every nation has a right to the service of its subjects, in time of war, the proclamation of the King of Great Britain, commanding his naval officers to practise such impressments on board, not the vessels of his own subjects, but of the United States, a foreign nation, could not furnish the slightest ground for an embargo! It is not necessary for me to say, that any thing could furnish a sufficient ground for an embargo, for any long time; this, I leave to the responsibility of our President, senators, and representatives in Congress. But, I say, with confidence, that it furnished a sufficient ground for a declaration of war. Not the murder of Pierce, nor all the murders on board the Chesapeake, nor all the other injuries and insults we have received from foreign nations, atrocious as they have been, can be of such dangerous, lasting, and pernicious consequence to this country, as this proclamation, if we have servility enough to submit to it.
What would the author of my text have advised? Would he counsel the President to stipulate, in a treaty with Great Britain, that his navy officers should forever hereafter have a right to visit and search all American merchant-ships, and impress from them all English, Scotch, and Irish seamen? Will he be so good as to explain the distinction between ships of war and merchant-ships? Are not merchant-ships under the jurisdiction and entitled to the protection of the laws of their country upon the high seas as much as ships of war? Is not a merchant-ship as much the territory of the United States as a ship of war? Would the author of my text advise the President and Congress to acquiesce, in silence, under this proclamation, and permit it to be executed forever hereafter? Would not such a tame and silent acquiescence as effectually yield the point, and establish the practice, if not the law, as an express stipulation in a solemn treaty? If the United States had as powerful a navy as Great Britain, and Great Britain as feeble a force at sea as ours, would he advise the President either to concede the principle by treaty, or acquiesce in it in silence? Does the circumstance of great power or great weakness make any alteration in the principle or the right? Should the captain or crew of an American merchant-man resist a British press-gang on the high seas, and, in defence of their liberty, kill the commander and all under him, and then make their escape, and after returning to Salem be prosecuted, would the writer of my text, as a judge or a juror, give his judgment for finding them guilty of murder or piracy?
Although the embargo was made the watchword in our late elections, the votes, in our greatest nurseries of seamen, for example, in Salem, in Marblehead, in Barnstable, Sandwich, and other places on Cape Cod, in Nantucket, and the Vineyard, and other places, seemed to show, that our seamen preferred to be embargoed rather than go to sea to be impressed.
No doubt it will be said, that we have nothing to do with the question in England concerning the legality or illegality of impressments. This, as long as they confine the law and the practice to their own territory, to their own ships, and their own seamen, is readily acknowledged. We shall leave them to justify their own usage, whether it is a mere abuse or a legitimate custom, to their own consciences, to their own sense of equity, humanity, or policy. But when they arrogate a right, and presume in fact, to transfer their usurpation to foreign nations, or rather to Americans, whom they presume to distinguish from all other foreign nations, it becomes the interest, the right, and the indispensable duty of our government to inquire into the nefarious nature of it in England, in order to expose the greater turpitude of it when transferred to us, as well as to oppose and resist it to the utmost of their power; and it is equally the duty of the people to support their government in such opposition to the last extremity.
Permit me now to inquire, what will be the effects of an established law and practice of British impressments of seamen from American ships, upon the commerce, the navigation, and the peace of the United States, and, above all, upon the hearts and minds of our seamen.
In considering those innumerable dangers, from winds and seas, rocks and shoals, to which all ships are exposed in their voyages, the owner and master must sit down together in order to determine the number of seamen necessary for the voyage. They must calculate the chances of impressment, and engage a supernumerary list of sailors, that they may be able to spare as many as the British lieutenant shall please to take, and have enough left to secure the safety of the ship and cargo, and above all, the lives of the master and crew. They know not how many British ships of war they may meet, nor how many sailors the conscience of each lieutenant may allow him to impress. For the lieutenant is to be judge, jury, sheriff, and gaoler, to every seaman in American vessels. He is to try many important questions of law and of fact; whether the sailor is a native of America; whether he has been lawfully naturalized in America; whether he is an Englishman, Scotchman, or Irishman; whether he emigrated to America before the revolution or since. Indeed, no evidence is to be admitted of any naturalization by our laws, in any of the States since the revolution, if before. In truth, the doctrine of the inherent and indefeasible duty of allegiance is asserted so peremptorily in the proclamation, that the lieutenant may think it his duty to impress every man who was born in the British dominions. It may be the opinion of this learned judge, that the connection between the king and subject is so sacred and divine, that allegiance cannot be dissolved by any treaty the king has made, or even by any act of parliament. And this pious sentiment may subject us all to impressment at once. This, however, en passant.
The lieutenant is to order the captain of the merchant-man to lay before him a list of his crew; he is then to command the crew to be ordered, or summoned, or mustered, to pass in review before him. A tribunal ought to be erected. The lieutenant is to be the judge, possessed of greater authority than the Chief Justice of any of our States, or even than the Chief Justice of the United States. The midshipman is to be clerk, and the boatswain, sheriff or marshal. And who are these lieutenants? Commonly very young gentlemen, the younger sons of wealthy families, who have procured their commissions to give them an honorable living, instead of putting them apprentices to trade, merchandise, law, physic, or divinity. Their education, their experience, their manners, their principles, are so well known, that I shall say nothing of them. Lord Keppel said, that he knew the maxim of British seamen to be, “to do no right and receive no wrong.” The principles of the officers I believe to be somewhat better; but in this they all seem to agree, officers and men, and their present ministry seem to be of the same opinion, that the world was made for the British nation, and that all nature and nations were created for the dignity and omnipotence of the British navy.
It is impossible to figure to ourselves, in imagination, this solemn tribunal and venerable judge, without smiling, till the humiliation of our country comes into our thoughts, and interrupts the sense of ridicule, by the tears of grief or vengeance.
the lieutenant examines the countenance, the gait and air of every seaman. Like the sage of old, commands him to speak “that he may know him.” He pronounces his accent and dialect to be that of the Scotch, Irish, West Country, Yorkshire, Welsh, Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, or Sark. Many native Americans are the descendants of emigrants from all these countries, and retain a tincture of the language and pronunciation of their fathers and grandfathers. These will be decided to be the king’s subjects. Many will be found to be emigrants or the descendants of emigrants from Germany, Holland, Sweden, France, Spain, Portugal, or Italy. These will be adjudged by the lieutenant not to be native Americans. They will be thought to have no friends in America who will care enough for them to make much noise, and these will be impressed. If there should be any natives or sons of natives of any of the West India Islands, or of any part of the East Indies, where the king is said to have thirty millions of subjects, these must all be impressed, for conquest confers the indelible character of subjects as well as birth. But if neither English, Scotch, Irish, Welsh, Italian, German, Dutchman, Spaniard, Portuguese, East or West India man is found, the reverend lieutenant will think, if he is prudent enough not to say, Jura negat sibi lata, nihil non arrogat armis. “Our ship is so weakly manned, that we cannot fight an enemy; we cannot even navigate her in safety in bad weather. Procul a Jove, procul a fulmine. I will take as many native Americans as I please. It will be long before I can be called to account; and at last, I can say that I saved the king’s ship, and perhaps beat a Frenchman, by the aid of this meritorious impressment, and I am sure of friends who will not only bring me off, but obtain a promotion for me even for this patriotic action.” How many American ships and cargoes will be sunk in the sea, or driven on shore, wrecked and lost; how many masters and remaining sailors will be buried in the oceans for want of the assistance of the men thus kidnapped and stolen, no human foresight can calculate. It is, however, easy to predict that the number must be very great. These considerations, it seems, have no weight in the estimation of the British ministry. Their hearts are not taught to feel another’s woe. But all these things the captain and owner of an American merchant-ship must take into consideration, and make the subjects of calculation before they can venture to sea. In short, there should be a corporation erected in every State for the express purpose of insuring against impressment of seamen. In a course of time and experience the chances might be calculated, so that the insurers and insured might at a great expense be secure. But the poor sailors can never be safe.
The law must be settled, or remain unsettled. If such impressments are determined to be legal, either by treaty or by acquiescence in the King’s Proclamation, it will establish in the minds of British seamen a pride of superiority and a spirit of domination, and in the minds of American seamen a consciousness of inferiority and a servile spirit of submission, that ages will not eradicate. If the question is allowed to remain undetermined, American seamen will fight in defence of their liberty whenever they see the smallest prospect of escaping, and sometimes when there is none. They will kill and be killed. Some will be punished for their resistance on board the British men of war; and some may be carried to a British port and there be prosecuted for piracy and murder. This, however, will seldom or ever be done; for I still believe there is sense and justice enough in the British nation and their juries to acquit any seaman, American or British, who should kill a press-gang in defence of his liberty; but if he should escape and return to America, and be here prosecuted, I will not believe there is a judge or juror on the continent so ignorant of the law, so dead to every sense of justice, so abandoned by every feeling of humanity, as to find him guilty of any crime, if it were proved that he had killed a dozen press-gangs in defence of his freedom. We shall have a continual warfare at sea, like that lately at Canton. Our Secretary of State’s office will be filled with representations and complaints. Our nation will be held in a constant state of irritation and fermentation, and our government always distressed between their anxiety to relieve their fellow-citizens, and their inability to serve them.
A republican, who asserts the duty of jealousy, ought to suspect that this proclamation was dictated by a spirit as hostile and malicious as it was insidious, for the determined purpose of depressing the character of our seamen. Take from a sailor his pride and his courage, and he becomes a poor animal indeed; broken-hearted, dejected, depressed even below the standard of other men of his own level in society. A habit of fear will be established in his mind. At the sight of a British man-of-war a panic will seize him; his spirits will sink, and if it be only a cutter or a lugger, he will think of nothing but flight and escape. What but the haughty spirit of their seamen, which has been encouraged and supported for ages by the nation, has given the British navy its superiority over the navies of other nations? “Who shall dare to set bounds to the commerce and naval power of Great Britain?” is the magnificent language of defiance in parliament, and it vibrates and echoes through every heart in the nation. Every British sailor is made to believe himself the master and commander of the world. If the right of impressment is conceded by us, in theory or practice, our seamen’s hearts will be broken, and every British seaman will say to every American seaman, as the six nations of Indians said to the southern tribes, whom they had conquered, “We have put petticoats on you.” In such a case many would have too much reason to say, let us no longer rejoice for independence, or think of a navy or free commerce, no longer hope for any rank in the world, but bow our necks again to the yoke of Great Britain.
If the spirit of a man should remain in our sailors, they will sometimes resist. Should a British cutter demand to search an American merchant-ship of five hundred tons burthen, armed as they sometimes are, and have a right to be—the commander of the cutter calls for a muster of the men, in order to impress such as be, in his wisdom, shall judge to be British subjects. Is it credible that the captain and crew of the merchant-man will submit to such usage? No, he will sink the boat, and the cutter too, rather than to be so insulted, and every American must applaud him for his spirit.
Is this right of impressment to be all on one side, or is it to be reciprocal? British modesty may say, “It is an exclusive privilege which we claim, assert, and will maintain, because it is necessary to support our dominion of the seas, which is necessary to preserve the balance of power in Europe against France, and to prevent the French emperor from sending fifty thousand men to conquer the United States of America.” All this will not convince American seamen. They will answer, “We think a balance of power on the ocean as necessary as on the continent of Europe. We thank you for your civility in kindly giving us hopes that you will defend us from the French army of fifty thousand men; but we are very willing to take our defence upon ourselves. If you have a right to impress seamen from our ships, we have an equal right to impress from yours.” Should one of our gun-boats meet a British East India man, armed with fifty guns—the gun-boat demands a search for American seamen, calls for the muster-roll, commands the men to pass in review before him. Would the East India captain submit? No. He would sooner throw overboard the pressgang and run down the gun-boat. Such will be the perpetual altercations between Britons and Americans at sea, and lay an immovable foundation of eternal hatred between the two nations. The king’s proclamation will be found as impolitic a step as ever the court of St. James has taken.
It is said in the context, “the British ships of war, agreeably to a right claimed and exercised for ages—a right claimed and exercised during the whole of the administrations of Washington, of Adams, and of Jefferson,—continue to take some of the British seamen found on board our merchant vessels, and with them a small number of ours, from the impossibility of always distinguishing Englishmen from the citizens of the United States.” We have before seen what sort of a right to impress men from their own ships has been claimed, in what manner it has been exercised, and in what light it has been considered by the English nation. It amounts to a right of getting their officers lawfully killed. But surely, no right was ever before claimed to impress men from foreign ships. If such a pretended right was ever exercised, or, in other words, if such a crime was ever committed, I presume it would be no better proof of a legal right than a robbery, burglary, or murder, committed on shore, would prove that such actions are innocent and lawful. To argue from single facts, or a few instances, to a general law, is a sophistry too common with political writers, and is sometimes imputable to compilers of the laws of nations; but none of them ever went to such extravagance as this. No claim or pretension of any right to search foreign vessels for seamen ever existed before our revolution, and no exercise of such a right ever prevailed since, except such as resembles the exercise of the right of committing robbery, burglary, and murder in some of our cities. No “ages” have passed since our revolution. The right was never asserted or claimed till the late proclamation of the king appeared, and that proclamation will make an epoch of disgrace and disaster to one nation or the other, perhaps to both.
From the peace of 1783 to the commencement of our government, under the present national Constitution, whenever any American seamen were impressed they were immediately demanded in the name of the old Congress, and immediately discharged without ever pretending to such right of impressment. During the administration of Washington, whenever information was received of any impressment, immediate orders were sent to demand the men, and the men were promised to be liberated. Washington sent Captain Talbot to the West Indies as an agent to demand seamen impressed on board British men-of-war. Talbot demanded them of the British commanders, captains, and admirals, and was refused. He went then on shore, and demanded and obtained of the Chief Justice of the island writs of Habeas Corpus, by virtue of which the impressed seamen were brought from the king’s ships, and set at liberty by law, the commanders not daring to disobey the king’s writ. During the administration of Adams, the Secretary of State’s office can show what demands were made, and the success of them. The remonstrances that were made in consequence of positive instructions, and the memorials presented at court by our minister, were conceived in terms as strong as the English language could furnish, without violating that respect and decorum which ought always to be preserved between nations and governments, even in declarations of war. The practice was asserted to be not only incompatible with every principle of justice and every feeling of humanity, but wholly irreconcilable with all thoughts of a continuance of peace and friendship between the two nations. The effect of the memorial was an immediate order to the commanders of the navy to liberate the demanded men. I shall say nothing of Mr. Jefferson’s administration, because the negotiations already made public sufficiently show, that he has not been behind either of his predecessors in his zeal for the liberty of American seamen. During all this time, excuses and apologies were made, and necessity was sometimes hinted; but no serious pretension of right was advanced. No. The first formal claim was the king’s proclamation. With what propriety, then, can this be called “a right, claimed and exercised for ages, and during the whole of the administrations of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson”?
Is there any reason why another proclamation should not soon appear, commanding all the officers of the army in Canada and Nova Scotia to go over the line, and take by force all the king’s subjects they can find in our villages? The right would stand upon the same principles; but there is this difference, it would not be executed with so little danger.
A few words more on the subject of pressing. In strictness we have nothing to do with the question, whether impressments of seamen in England are legal or illegal. Whatever iniquity or inhumanity that government may inflict on their own subjects, we have no authority to call them to an account for it. But when they extend that power to us, a foreign nation, it is natural for us, and it is our duty as well as interest, to consider what it is among themselves.
The most remarkable case in which this subject has been touched in Westminster Hall, is in Cowper’s Reports, page 512, Rex vs. John Tubbs. The report of the case is very long, and I shall only observe, that the question of the legality of the power of impressment was not before the court. The question was, whether the Lord Mayor had a right to exempt thirty or forty watermen for his barges. Lord Mansfield sufficiently expresses his alarm, and his apprehension of the consequences of starting a question relative to the subject, in the following words: “I am very sorry that either of the respectable parties before the court, the city of London on the one hand, or the lords commissioners of the admiralty on the other, have been prevailed upon to agitate this question,” &c.
“I was in hopes the court would have had an opportunity of investigating this point to the bottom, instead of being urged to discuss it so instantaneously,” &c. “I own I wished for a more deliberate consideration upon this subject; but being prevented of that, I am bound to say what my present sentiments are. The power of pressing is founded upon immemorial usage, allowed for ages. If it be so founded, and allowed for ages, it can have no ground to stand upon, nor can it be vindicated or justified by any reason, but the safety of the State; and the practice is deduced from that trite maxim of the constitutional law of England, that private mischief had better be submitted to than public detriment and inconvenience should ensue. To be sure, there are instances where private men must give way to the public good; in every case of pressing, every man must be very sorry for the act and for the necessity which gives rise to it. It ought, therefore, to be exercised with the greatest moderation and only upon the most cogent necessity, and though it be a legal power, it may, like many others, be abused in the exercise of it.”
The case is too long to transcribe; but it is worth reading. My remarks upon it shall be short.
1. Lord Mansfield most manifestly dreaded the question, probably on account of the innumerable difficulties attending it, as well as the national uproar it would most certainly excite.
2. His lordship carefully avoided the use of the word right. He knew the sense, force, and power of the word too well to profane that sacred expression by applying it to a practice so loose and undefined, so irregular and capricious, so repugnant to the inherent, hereditary, unalienable and indefeasible birthrights of British subjects.
3. He calls it a practice and a power, but he does not even venture to call it a prerogative of the crown.
4. He does not even affirm that there exists such an immemorial usage allowed for ages. He says, “if it be so founded and allowed for ages.” The existence of such an immemorial usage, allowed for ages, was probably one of the principal points he wished to investigate.
5. He does not affirm that such a custom, usage, power, or practice could be pleaded or given in evidence against Magna Charta. If his lordship had been allowed time to investigate the subject to the bottom, he perhaps would not have found evidence of any such immemorial usage allowed for ages. He certainly would not have found it allowed by any national act or legal authority; and, without one or the other, how can it be said to have been allowed? Allowed by whom? By those who committed the trespass, and no others. His lordship, moreover, might have found, that no custom, usage, power, or practice could be alleged, pleaded, or given in evidence in any court of justice against Magna Charta.
6. All the judges allow that exemptions, badges, and protections against impressment, have been given by Peers, Commons, Lord Mayors, Lords and officers of the Admiralty, and, as I understand Lord Mansfield, by officers of the navy. Now, what a loose, undefined, arbitrary power is this, to be legally established as an immemorial usage allowed for ages!
7. I wonder not that his lordship dreaded the discussion of it, and an investigation of it to the bottom, for he must have foreseen the endless difficulties of ascertaining, defining, and limiting the usages which were immemorial, and distinguishing them from such as were modern, temporary, usurped, and not allowed.
8. The counsel for the city had before observed, that the legality of pressing, if founded at all, could only be supported by immemorial usage, there being clearly no statute in force investing the crown with any such authority.
9. The infinite difficulty of determining who were seamen and who were not, must be obvious, and all agree that the power is confined to seamen and them only.
Christian, in his edition of Blackstone, vol. i. p. 419, says, in a note, “The legality of pressing is so fully established, that it will not now admit of a doubt in any court of justice;” and in proof of this he quotes Lord Mansfield’s opinion in the case of the King against Tubbs, in the words I have transcribed. Whereas I think that, taking all Lord Mansfield says together, he makes the subject as doubtful as ever, and encumbered with innumerable and insuperable difficulties.
Upon the whole, all I conclude from the conduct of the modern judges and lawyers in England is, that their pride in the navy has got the better of their sense of law and justice, and that court and county lawyers, as well as administration and opposition, have been gradually endeavoring to unite for the last thirty or forty years, in sacrificing the principles of justice and law to reasons of state, by countenancing this branch of arbitrary power. But let them keep their arbitrary powers at home, not practise them upon us, our ships, or seamen.
Quincy, 25 April, 1809.
[1 ]Here follows a letter of General Washington, which is now omitted, as it can be readily found in Mr. Sparks’s edition of his writings. Vol. xi. p. 399.
[2 ]Mr. Barlow’s letter is printed in Sparks’s Washington, vol. xi. Appendix, p. 560.
[1 ]Mr. Adams’s answer to General Washington is printed in this work. Vol. viii. p. 624.
[1 ]This communication has been already printed in this work, in its connection with the letters of Mr Murray. Vol. viii. Appendix, p. 690.
[1 ]Note by Mr. Gerry: “The ‘assurances’ to which Mr. Adams has referred as having been imparted to him in conversation by Mr. Gerry, are presumed by the latter to have reference to those which the French Directory made to him by their minister, Mr. Talleyrand, and by confidential persons, after the departure of the other envoys. They were expressed in the strongest terms to evince the disposition of the Directory for accommodating all subjects of difference between the two republics; for accrediting any minister or ministers which should thereafter have been sent by the United States, immediately on the presentment of their letters of credence; for adopting a commercial treaty that should be liberal and beneficial to the said States; and for making effectual arrangements to discharge the numerous and just demands of American citizens on the French republic. Indeed, the ‘assurances’ were such as that any departure from them must have forfeited any subsequent claim of credit on the part of the French republic.”
[1 ]For this message, see p. 162 of this volume.
[1 ]It was postponed partly to gain time to write to Mr. Hamilton. See the letters that passed between Mr. Sedgwick and Mr. Hamilton. The latter suggesting the enlargement of the mission. Hamilton’s Works, vol. vi. pp. 396-397.
[1 ]The committee consisted of Messrs. Sedgwick, Bingham, Ross, Read, and Stockton, all federalists. If the first named is the one alluded to in the text, his own account, written to Mr. Hamilton, of this conference, which took place on Saturday evening, varies in regard to his expression of satisfaction, as well as in other particulars. He says, that Mr. Adams felt it his duty to insist upon the Senate’s action on the nomination of Mr. Murray. And in case of a rejection, he would then propose the commission of three. In consequence of this, a meeting of federal senators was held at the house of Mr. Bingham, probably on Sunday evening, the 24th of February, at which it was determined to reject the nomination. The commission of three was nominated in a message sent on Monday morning. Hamilton’s Works, vol. vi. p. 399.
[2 ]See page 163 of this volume for this message.
[1 ]Mr. Sedgwick’s first letter is a curious specimen of the perplexity into which a political partisan will sometimes be thrown, by a measure, the bearings of which he has not taken time to understand. Hamilton’s Works, vol. vi. p. 396.
[2 ]A slight error. The fact is correctly stated in the original fragment. There was one evening and one morning consultation. On the 10th of March the points were fully discussed. They were reduced to writing, and finally agreed upon the next day—the 11th—the same day on which Mr. Adams left Philadelphia. See the points as finally transmitted, in vol. viii. p. 627.
[3 ]The offices were moved to Trenton in the latter part of August. The difference is slight, but Mr. Gibbs seems to think it material. Mr. Pickering assigns it as a cause of the delay of the instructions. See page 23 of this volume. Gibbs’s Federal Administrations, vol. ii. p. 272.
[1 ]This is not quite accurate. The instructions were sent on the 10th of September and received on the 14th. The letter referred to was dated the 11th, and signed by Mr. Pickering only, but it had been approved by Messrs. Wolcott and McHenry, and concurred in by Mr. Stoddert. It was received on the 17th at night. Mr. Lee, as is stated a few lines below, was not at Trenton at the time; and he did not agree to the sentiments. It is curious that Mr. Hamilton, in his pamphlet, likewise calls the letter a joint letter of the ministers. It certainly was so regarded by those of them from whom he had his information. pp. 23 and 31 of this volume.
[2 ]This was on October 3d. Mr. Ellsworth, in a letter written, probably to Mr. Pickering, on the 5th October, says half an hour, according to Mr. Gibbs, but the letter is not given. The original draught says, “a long conversation.” Gibbs’s Federal Administrations, vol. ii. p. 267.
[3 ]See his own letter, written the same day, 5th October, p. 37 of this volume.
[1 ]Six days. From the 10th to the 15th October, inclusive.
[1 ]Mr. Ellsworth seems to have immediately reported this conversation to Mr. Pickering and Mr. Wolcott. Mr. Pickering gives a sketch of it in a letter to General Washington, of the 24th October, published in Mr. Gibbs’s Work, vol. ii. p. 280. He says that he “desired Mr. Wolcott to commit the whole recital to writing, which he promised to do.” No such paper appears in that work. Certainly it was a singular occupation for cabinet ministers.
[1 ]Mr. Gibbs, in his work, affirms that the dinner, and the conversation with Mr. Hamilton, took place after the preparation of the instructions, and after the order to embark was given. Perhaps it may be as well to compare with this account the fuller one given in 1801.
[1 ]Mr. Stoddert, Secretary of the Navy.
[2 ]Mr. Lee. The letter was addressed to Mr. Adams himself. See page 38.
[1 ]See page 159 for this message, ending with the following words:
[1 ]Compare with this the letter to the Secretary of State, of 20th October, 1798, vol. viii. p. 612, which seems never to have been answered. Also the directions to the same officer, 15th January, 1799, to prepare a plan of a treaty, vol. viii. p. 621, of which no notice whatever was taken. Likewise the draught of a passage to be put into the message of December, 1798, which was not adopted, p. 131, of this volume.
[1 ]See volume viii. p. 189.
[1 ]See his letter, vol. viii. p. 184.
[1 ]These questions, in process of time, find their solution. See the letter of Mr. Hamilton to T. Sedgwick, Senator from Massachusetts, 26th February, 1797. Hamilton’s Works, vol. vi. p. 209.
[2 ]This conversation occurred the day before the inauguration; which is confirmed by Mr. Jefferson, in his account of the interview that followed; also by a letter to Mr. Gerry, vol. viii. p. 539.
[1 ]This is an abridgment of the following account originally drawn up in 1801:
[1 ]Compare Mr. Jefferson’s account of this conference, vol. iv. of his works, p. 501. Also pp. 538-539 of volume viii. of this work.
[2 ]O. Wolcott, Jr., Secretary of the Treasury.
[1 ]In the early draught, Mr. Adams says, he “would very willingly have appointed Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Madison, with one other, if he had thought it probable Mr. Madison would accept, and that the Senate would consent, and if he had thought it compatible with the spirit which America ought to display at that time.”
[1 ]A mistake pointed out by Mr. Stoddert, one of the five ministers alluded to, but his office had not been created in March, 1797. Mr. Adams promised to correct it in any later publication of these papers, but none has taken place until now.
[2 ]Or rather nominated by Mr. Hamilton, not only through Mr. Ames, but Mr. Pickering and Mr. Wolcott. Hamilton’s Works, vol. vi. pp. 214, 218, 230.
[1 ]This is regarded as very unjust by Mr. Gibbs. But it is deserving of particular notice that no leading public man of the country, in any way of rival powers, receives aid to his reputation from the publication that has been made of Mr. Hamilton’s writings.
[2 ]The anachronism here, so far as the first event can be supposed to have had any share in Mr. Hamilton’s action at the time here specified, is evident. Mr. Pinckney’s letter of the 1st of February, notifying his rejection, was not received in America until the month of April.
[1 ]See Sparks’s Life of Gouverneur Morris. G. Morris to Aaron Ogden, vol. iii. p. 216-17.
[2 ]The morning before. Mr. Wolcott is the head of department alluded to.
[3 ]This is not just to Mr. Hamilton, who certainly had suggested this mission as early as February, 1797, to Mr. Sedgwick.
[1 ]See Mr. Hamilton’s plan, in his letter to O. Wolcott. Works, vol. vi. pp. 252-254.
[1 ]The question is now answered. The cabinet member disclosed it. Gibbs’s Federal Administrations, vol. ii. pp. 397, 422.
[2 ]In the first draught is the following addition,—
[1 ]Mr. Stoddert, in a private letter, remonstrated against being classed in this manner. He expresses himself thus respecting Hamilton:
[1 ]The tendencies of the present day render this prediction worthy to be kept in mind.
[1 ]All this is now cleared up by Mr. Gibbs, and by the works of Mr. Hamilton. The information furnished by three of the cabinet ministers seems to have been continuous and complete.
[1 ]In the fragment of 1801, it is said,—
[2 ]Mr. Stoddert in his private letter considers the result of this caucus as having been decisive of the policy of the country. He says;—
[1 ]The information was furnished by O. Wolcott, Secretary of the Treasury, whom Mr. Adams never suspected. Mr. Hamilton states this explicitly in a letter published in Mr. Gibbs’s book, vol. ii. p. 422. It is not in Hamilton’s works.
[2 ]The fact seems to be admitted by Mr. Gibbs in his late work, vol. ii. p. 186.
[3 ]This appears more in detail in the earlier fragment.
[1 ]It is a curious fact, that one of his own friends, Gouverneur Morris, should, in substance, affirm the same thing of Mr. Hamilton himself, which he affirmed both of Mr. Adams and Mr. Jefferson.
[1 ]From the draught of 1801:
Upon the coolest review and reëxamination, he thinks it the wisest action of his life, and, as he knew the pains that would be taken to defeat it and to render it unpopular, it was the most resolute and the most disinterested.”
[1 ]Compare this account with that given by Hutchinson in the third volume of his History, since published, p. 231, likewise with the reflections in the Diary, vol. ii. of this work, p. 224-226, also the note and the appendix B.