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Part Two: Father and President of the New Republic - John Marshall, The Life of George Washington 
The Life of George Washington. Special Edition for Schools, ed. Robert Faulkner and Paul Carrese (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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Father and President of the New Republic
Private Statesmanship: Agriculture, Improvements, Union (1783 to 1785)
General Washington devotes his time to agriculture, to the duties of friendship, and to institutions of public utility.—Resolves of Congress and of the Legislature of Virginia for erecting statues to his honor.—He recommends the improvement of internal navigation.—Declines accepting a donation offered by his native state.—The Society of the Cincinnati.—The causes which led to a change of the government of the United States.—Circular letter to the Governors of the several states.
1784When an individual, long in possession of great power, and almost unlimited influence, retires from office with alacrity, and resumes the character of a private citizen with pleasure, the mind is gratified in contemplating the example of virtuous moderation, and dwells upon it with approving satisfaction. Such was the example exhibited by General Washington. His feelings were thus described in his letter to his friend Lafayette:—“I have not only retired from all public employments, but am retiring within myself, and shall be able to view the solitary walk, and tread the paths of private life, with heartfelt satisfaction. Envious of none, I am determined to be pleased with all; and this, my dear friend, being the order of my march, I will move gently down the stream of life, until I sleep with my fathers.”
Every day brought to Mount Vernon testimonials of the grateful and ardent affection universally felt by his fellow-citizens. Congress, soon after peace was proclaimed, unanimously passed a resolution for the erection of an equestrian statue of their General, at the place which should be established as the seat of government. The legislature of Virginia too, at its first session after his resignation, passed the following resolution.
“Resolved that the executive be requested to take measures for procuring a statue of General Washington, to be of the finest marble and best workmanship, with the following inscription on its pedestal:
“The general assembly of the commonwealth of Virginia have caused this statue to be erected as a monument of affection and gratitute to George Washington, who, uniting to the endowments of the hero, the virtues of the patriot, and exerting both in establishing the liberties of his country, has rendered his name dear to his fellow-citizens, and given the world an immortal example of true glory.”
This statue stands in the capitol of his native state.
The time of Washington was now chiefly devoted to agriculture, that great source of national prosperity. The energies of his active mind were directed to its improvement. His energies were extended beyond his own country; and he entered into a correspondence on this interesting subject with those foreigners who had been most distinguished for their additions to the stock of agricultural science.
Mingled with this favorite pursuit, were the multiplied avocations resulting from the high office he had lately filled. But their numerous occupations could not withdraw his mind entirely from objects tending to promote and secure the prosperity of his country.
A person looking beyond the present moment, could not inspect the map of the United States, without perceiving the importance of connecting the west with the east, by facilitating the intercourse between them.
The attention of General Washington had been directed to this subject in early life; and he had obtained the passage of a bill for opening the Potomac and the James. This business was in a train which promised success when the war of the revolution diverted the attention of its patrons from internal improvements to the still greater objects of liberty and independence. As that war approached its termination, internal navigation reclaimed its just place with the wise and thinking part of society.
Accustomed to contemplate America as his country, Washington now took a more enlarged view of the advantages to be derived from opening both the eastern and western waters. After peace had been proclaimed, he traversed the western parts of New England and New York; and saw with prophetic eye the immense advantages which have since been derived from executing the plans he meditated.
Scarcely had he answered those spontaneous offerings of the heart which flowed in upon him from every part of a grateful nation, when his views were seriously turned to this interesting subject. In the autumn of 1784, he made a tour as far west as Pittsburg; after returning from which, his first moments of leisure were devoted to the task of engaging his countrymen in a work which appeared to him to merit still more attention from its political, than from its commercial influence on the Union. In a long and interesting letter to the Governor of Virginia, he detailed the advantages which might be derived from opening the great rivers, the Potomac and the James, as far as should be practicable. His plan also extended to the navigable waters of the west, and to a communication with the great lakes of that region. By these means alone, he thought, could the connexion of the western with the Atlantic country be preserved. This idea was pressed with much earnestness in his letters to several members of Congress.
His letter to the Governor of Virginia was communicated to the legislature, and the internal improvements it recommended were zealously supported by the wisest members of that body. While the subject remained undecided, General Washington, accompanied by the Marquis de Lafayette, who had crossed the Atlantic for the purpose of devoting a part of his time to the delights of an enthusiastic friendship, paid a visit to the capital of the state. Amidst the festivities which were produced by the occasion, the great business of internal improvement was assiduously pressed; and the ardour of the moment was seized to conquer those objections to the plan which still lingered in the bosoms of members who thought that no future advantages could compensate for the present expense.
An exact conformity between the acts of Virginia and Maryland being indispensable to the improvement of the Potomac, a resolution was passed soon after the return of General Washington to Mount Vernon, requesting him to attend the legislature of Maryland, in order to agree on a bill which might receive the sanction of both states. This agreement being happily completed, those bills were enacted which form the first essay towards connecting the navigation of the eastern with the western waters of the United States.
Dec. 1784These acts were succeeded by one which conveys the liberal1 wishes of the legislature with a delicacy not less honorable to its framers than to him who was its object. The treasurer had been instructed to subscribe, in behalf of the state, for a specified number of shares in each company. At the close of the session, a bill was suddenly brought in, and passed unanimously by both houses, authorizing the treasurer to subscribe for the benefit of General Washington, the same number of shares in each company as were to be taken for the state. A preamble was prefixed to the enacting clause of this bill, which enhanced its value. With simple elegance it conveyed the sentiment that, in seizing this occasion to make a donation which would in some degree testify their sense of the merits of their most favored and most illustrious citizen, the donors would themselves be the obliged.
This delicate and flattering testimony of the affection of his fellow-citizens was not without its embarrassments. From his early resolution to receive no pecuniary compensation for his services, he could not permit himself to depart; and yet this mark of the gratitude and attachment of his country could not easily be rejected, without furnishing occasion for sentiments he was unwilling to excite. To the friend who conveyed to him the first intelligence of this bill, his difficulties were fully expressed.
Oct. 1785A correspondence with the Governor on this subject was closed with a letter in which he said, “whilst I repeat therefore my fervent acknowledgments to the legislature for their very kind sentiments and intentions in my favor, and at the same time beg them to be persuaded that a remembrance of this singular proof of their goodness towards me will never cease to cherish returns of the warmest affection and gratitude, I must pray that their act, so far as it has for its object my personal emolument, may not have its effect; but if it should please the General Assembly to permit me to turn the destination of the fund vested in me, from my private emolument to objects of a public nature, it will be my study, in selecting these, to prove the sincerity of my gratitude for the honor conferred upon me, by preferring such as may appear most subservient to the enlightened and patriotic views of the legislature.”
The wish suggested in this letter was gratified: and, at a subsequent time, the trust was executed by conveying the shares respectively, to the use of a seminary of learning established in the vicinity of each river.2
General Washington felt too strong an interest in the success of these works, to refuse the presidency of the companies instituted for their completion.
These were not the only institutions which occasionally drew the farmer of Mount Vernon from his retreat.
The sentiments with which the officers of the American army contemplated a final separation from each other will be comprehended by all who are conversant with the feelings of the human heart. Companions in virtuous suffering, in danger, and in glory—attached to each other by common exertions made in a severe struggle for the attainment of a common object—they felt that to part forever was a calamity too afflicting to be supported. The means of perpetuating those friendships which had been formed, and of renewing that endearing social intercourse which had taken place in camp, were universally desired. Some expedient was sought which might preserve the memory of the army, while it cheered the officers who were on the point of separating with the hope that the separation would not be eternal; that the bonds by which they were connected would not be totally dissolved; and that for many beneficial purposes, they would still form one great society.
May 1783This idea was suggested by General Knox, and matured in a meeting at which the Baron Steuben presided. An agreement was then entered into by which the officers were to constitute themselves into one society of friends, to be denominated the society of the Cincinnati,3 to endure as long as they should endure, or any of their eldest male posterity; and, in failure thereof, any collateral branches judged worthy of becoming members were to be admitted into it. Distinguished individuals of the respective states might be admitted as honorary members for life.
The society was to be designated by a medal of gold representing the American eagle. The insignia of the order were to be presented to the ministers who had represented his Most Christian Majesty at Philadelphia, and to the French officers who had served in the United States, and they were to be invited to consider themselves as members of the society, at the head of which the commander-in-chief was respectfully solicited to place his name.
An incessant attention to the preservation of the exalted rights and privileges of human nature, and an unalterable determination to promote and cherish union and national honor between the respective states, were declared to be the immutable principles of the society. Its objects were to perpetuate the remembrance of the American revolution, as well as cordial affection and the spirit of brotherly kindness among the officers, and to extend acts of beneficence to those officers and their families who might require assistance. For this purpose a common fund was to be created by the contribution of one month’s pay on the part of each officer becoming a member.
The military gentlemen of each state were to constitute a distinct society, deputies from which were to assemble triennially in order to form a general meeting.
Soon after the organization of this institution, those jealousies which had in its first moments been concealed, burst forth into open view. In October 1783, a pamphlet was published by Mr. Burke of South Carolina, pourtraying in the fervid and impetuous language of passion the dangers to equal rights with which it was supposed to be replete.4 The alarm was spread through every state, and a high degree of jealousy pervaded the mass of the people.
It was impossible for General Washington to view this state of the public feeling with indifference. Bound to the officers of the army by the strictest ties of esteem and affection, he was alive to every thing which might affect their reputation or their interest. However ill-founded the public prejudices might be, he thought this a case in which they ought to be respected; and if it should be found impracticable to convince the people that their fears were misplaced, he was disposed “to yield to them in a degree, and not to suffer that which was intended for the best of purposes, to produce a bad one.”
A general meeting was to be held in Philadelphia in May 1784, and, in the meantime, he had been appointed temporary president. The most exact enquiries assiduously made into the true state of the public mind, resulted in a conviction that opinions unfriendly to the institution, in its actual form, were extensively entertained; and that those opinions were founded in real apprehensions for equal liberty.
A wise and necessary policy required, he thought, the removal of these apprehensions; and at the general meeting in May, the hereditary principle, and the power of adopting honorary members, were relinquished. The result demonstrated the propriety of this alteration.
While General Washington thus devoted his time to rural pursuits, to the duties of friendship, and to institutions of public utility, the political state of his country, becoming daily more embarrassed, attracted more and more deeply the anxious solicitude of every enlightened and virtuous patriot. From peace, from independence, and from governments of their own choice, the United States had confidently anticipated every blessing. The glorious termination of their contest with one of the most powerful nations of the earth; the steady and persevering courage with which that contest had been maintained, and the unyielding firmness with which the privations attending it had been supported, had surrounded the infant republics with a great degree of splendor, and had bestowed upon them a character which could be preserved only by a national and dignified system of conduct. A very short time was sufficient to demonstrate that something not yet possessed was requisite, to ensure the public and private prosperity expected to flow from self-government. After a short struggle so to administer the existing system as to make it competent to the great objects for which it was instituted, the effort became apparently desperate; and American affairs were impelled rapidly to a crisis, on which the continuance of the United States as a nation appeared to depend.
A government authorized to declare war, but relying on independent states for the means of prosecuting it, capable of contracting debts, but depending on thirteen distinct sovereignties for the means of payment, could not be rescued from ignominy and contempt but by finding those sovereignties administered by men exempt from the passions incident to human nature.
It has been already stated that the continent was divided into two great political parties, the one of which contemplated America as a nation, and labored incessantly to invest Congress with powers competent to the preservation of the Union. The other attached itself to the state governments, viewed all the powers of Congress with jealousy, and assented reluctantly to measures, however indispensable, which would enable the head to act, in any respect independently of the members. Men of enlarged and liberal5 minds who, in the imbecility of the General Government could discern the imbecility of the nation itself, who felt the full value of national character, and the full obligation of national faith, arranged themselves in the first party. The officers of the army, whose local prejudices had been weakened by associating with each other, and whose experience had furnished lessons on the inefficacy of requisitions not soon to be forgotten, threw their weight into the same scale.
The other party, if not more intelligent, was more numerous and more powerful. It was nourished by prejudices and feelings which grew without effort, and gained strength from the intimate connexion between a state and its citizens. It required a concurrence of extrinsic circumstances to force on minds unwilling to receive the demonstration, a conviction of the necessity of an effective national government, and to give even a temporary ascendency to that party which had long foreseen and deplored the crisis to which the affairs of the United States were hastening.
Sensible that the character of the government would be decided by the measures which should immediately follow the treaty of peace, patriots of the first ability sought a place in the Congress of 1783. Combining their efforts for the establishment of principles which might maintain the honor and promote the interests of the nation, they exerted all their talents to impress on the states the necessity of conferring powers on the government which might be competent to its preservation. With unwearied perseverance, they obtained the assent of Congress to a system which, though unequal to what their judgments would have approved, was believed to be the best that was attainable.
The committee to whom this interesting subject was referred, reported sundry resolutions recommending it to the several states to vest in Congress permanent funds, adequate to the immediate payment of the interest on the national debt, and to the gradual extinction of the principal.
April 1783After a tedious debate, the report was adopted; and a committee, consisting of Mr. Madison, Mr. Hamilton, and Mr. Ellsworth,6 was appointed to prepare an address, which should accompany the recommendation to the several states.
This able state paper will excite, even at this day, emotions of admiration for its authors, and of astonishment at its failure. In the refusal of the states to comply with the measures it recommended, we find a complete demonstration of the impracticability of preserving union without investing its government with adequate powers.
No person felt more anxious solicitude for the complete success of the plan recommended by Congress, than General Washington.
Availing himself of the usage of communicating on national subjects with the state governments, and of the opportunity given by his approaching resignation of the command of the army, to convey to them his sentiments impressively, he had determined to employ all the influence which the circumstances of his life had created, in earnest recommendation of measures on which the happiness and prosperity of his country were believed to depend. On the 8th of June, 1783, he addressed a paternal and affectionate letter to the Governors of the respective states, in which his congratulations on the successful termination of their revolutionary struggle, and on the high destinies in prospect, were mingled with solemn admonitions warning them of the perils with which their new situation was environed. With impressive earnestness he urged upon them “four things,” as essential “to the existence of the United States as an independent power.”
“1st. An indissoluble union of the states under one federal head.
“2d. A sacred regard to public justice.
“3d. The adoption of a proper peace establishment.7
“4th. The prevalence of that pacific and friendly disposition among the people of the United States, which will induce them to forget their local prejudices and politics, to make those mutual concessions which are requisite to the general prosperity, and, in some instances, to sacrifice their individual advantages to the interest of the community.”
The letter enlarged upon these topics, and pressed them on the consideration of those to whom it was addressed, with that anxious earnestness which grew out of a most devoted love of country, and a deep-felt conviction that the prosperity of that country would be determined by the measures it was about to adopt.
This solemn and affecting admonition was laid by the Governors of the several states before their respective assemblies. Its impression could not be surpassed. Like the counsel of a parent, on whom the grave is about to close forever, it sunk deep into the hearts of all. But, like the counsels of a parent withdrawn from view, the advice was too soon forgotten.
The recommendations of Congress did not receive that prompt consideration which the exigence demanded, nor did they meet that universal assent which was necessary to give them effect.8
Not immediately perceiving that the error lay in a system which was unfit for use, the distinguished patriots of the revolution contemplated with increasing anxiety, the anti-American temper which displayed itself in almost every part of the Union.
That the imbecility of the federal government, and the impotence of its requisitions, would abase the American character in the estimation of the world, was no longer a prediction. That course of national degradation had already commenced.
While the system recommended on the 18th of April, 1783, was depending before the states, requisitions for the intermediate supply of the national demands were annually repeated by Congress, and were annually neglected. Happily, a loan had been negotiated in Holland by Mr. Adams, out of which the interest of the foreign debt had been partly paid; but that fund was exhausted, and the United States had no means of replacing it. Unable to pay the interest, they would, in the succeeding year, be liable for the first instalment of the principal; and the humiliating circumstance was to be encountered of a total failure to comply with the most solemn engagements, unaccompanied with the prospect of being enabled to give assurances that, at any future time, their situation would be more eligible. If the condition of the domestic creditors was not absolutely desperate, their prospect of obtaining payment was so distant and uncertain, that their evidences of debt were transferred at an eighth, and even at a tenth of their nominal value.
In 1786, the revenue system of April, 1783, was again solemnly recommended to the consideration of the several states, and again failed to receive their unanimous assent; and thus was finally defeated the laborious and persevering effort made by Congress to obtain the means of preserving the faith of the nation.
General Washington’s letters of that period abound with passages showing the solicitude with which he watched the progress of this recommendation. In a letter of October, 1785, he said—“The war has terminated most advantageously for America, and a fair field is presented to our view; but I confess to you freely, my dear sir, that I do not think we possess wisdom or justice enough to cultivate it properly. Illiberality, jealousy, and local policy, mix too much in our public counsels for the good government of the Union. In a word, the confederation appears to me to be little more than a shadow without the substance; and Congress a nugatory body, their ordinances being little attended to. To me, it is a solecism9 in politics;—indeed, it one of the most extraordinary things in nature, that we should confederate as a nation, and yet be afraid to give the rulers of that nation, who are the creatures of our own making, appointed for a limited and short duration, and who are amenable for every action, recallable at any moment, and subject to all the evils they may be instrumental in producing—sufficient powers to order and direct the affairs of the same. By such policy as this the wheels of government are clogged; and our brightest prospects, and that high expectation which was entertained of us by the wondering world, are turned into astonishment.”10
Political Imbecility; Constituting a Government (1784 to 1789)
Differences between the United States and Great Britain.—Mr. Adams appointed Minister to Great Britain.—Discontents excited by the commercial regulations of that power.—Parties in the United States.—Convention at Annapolis.—Virginia appoints deputies to a convention at Philadelphia.—General Washington chosen one of them.—Insurrection in Massachusetts.—Convention at Philadelphia.—Form of government submitted to the several states.—Ratified by eleven of them.—General Washington elected President.—Meeting of the first Congress.
1784–85While the friends of the national government were making these unavailing efforts to invest it with a revenue which might enable it to preserve the national faith, many causes concurred to prepare the public mind for some great and radical change in the political system of America.
Scarcely had the war of the revolution terminated, when the United States and Great Britain reciprocally charged each other with violations of the treaty of peace. A serious difference of opinion prevailed, on the construction of that part of the seventh article which stipulates against the “destruction or carrying away of any negroes, or other property of the American inhabitants.” In addition to this circumstance, the troops of his Britannic majesty still retained possession of the posts on the American side of the great lakes; which gave them a decided influence over the warlike tribes of Indians in their neighborhood.
On the other hand, the United States were charged with infringing the fourth, fifth, and sixth articles, which contain agreements respecting the payment of debts, the confiscation of property, and prosecution of individuals, for the part taken by them during the war.
These causes of mutual complaint, being permitted to rankle for some time in the bosoms of both nations, produced a considerable degree of irritation.
But the cause of most extensive disquiet was, the vigorous commercial system1 pursued by Great Britain. While colonists, the Americans had carried on a free and gainful trade with the British West Indies. These ports were closed against them, as citizens of an independent state; and their accustomed intercourse with other parts of the empire, was also interrupted by the Navigation Act. To explore new channels of commerce, was opposed by obstacles which almost discouraged the attempt. On every side, they met with rigorous and unexpected restrictions. Their trade with the colonies of other powers, as well as with those of England, was prohibited; and they encountered regulations in all the ports of Europe, which were extremely embarrassing. From the Mediterranean, they were excluded by the Barbary powers; whose hostility they had no force to subdue, and whose friendship they had no money to purchase.2
With many, the desire of counteracting this injurious system triumphed over the attachment to state sovereignty; and the converts to the opinion that Congress ought to be empowered to regulate trade, were daily multiplied. Meanwhile, the United States were unremitting in their endeavors to form commercial treaties. Three commissioners had been deputed for that purpose; and at length, Mr. John Adams was appointed minister plenipotentiary to the Court of St. James.3 His endeavors were not successful. His overtures were declined, because the government of the United States was unable to secure the observance of any general commercial regulations.
Many other causes contributed to diffuse such a general dissatisfaction with the existing state of things, as to prepare the way for some essential change in the American system. In the course of the long war which had been carried on in the bosom of their country, the people of the United States had been greatly impoverished. Their property had been seized for the support of both armies; much of their labor had been drawn from agriculture for military service; the naval power of the enemy had almost annihilated their commerce; those consumable articles which habit had rendered necessary, were exhausted; and peace found the American people not only destitute of the elegancies, and even of the conveniences of life, but also without the means of procuring them, otherwise than by anticipating the proceeds of future industry. On opening their ports, an immense quantity of foreign merchandise was introduced into the country; and they were tempted, by the sudden cheapness of imported goods, and by their own wants, to purchase beyond their capacities for payment. Under the impression made by paper-money, many individuals had made extensive purchases, at high prices, and had thus contributed to prolong the deception imposed upon themselves by those who supposed that the revolution was a talisman whose magic powers were capable of changing the nature of things. The delusive hopes created by these visionary calculations, were soon dissipated; and a great proportion of the people found themselves involved in debts they were unable to discharge.
The consequence of this unprosperous state of things was, a general dissatisfaction with the course of trade, and a desire to compel foreign nations, by retaliatory restrictions, to the adoption of a more liberal and equal system. These dispositions displayed themselves in angry publications, animated resolutions, and addresses to the state legislatures and to the general government, urging the necessity of investing Congress with power to regulate commerce.
During these transactions, the public attention was called to another subject, which increased the impression made on every reflecting mind, of the necessity of enlarging the powers of the general government.
The uneasiness occasioned by the infractions of the treaty of peace on the part of Great Britain, has been noticed. To obtain its complete execution, constituted one of the objects for whichNov. 1785 Mr. Adams had been deputed to the Court of St. James. A memorial from that minister, pressing for a full compliance with the treaty, was answered by an explicit acknowledgment of the obligationsFeb. 1786 created by the seventh article, to evacuate every post within the United States. But the British minister insisted, that the obligation to remove every lawful impediment to the recovery of bona fide debts, was equally clear; and concluded his letter with the assurance, “that whenever America should manifest a real determination to fulfil her part of the treaty, Great Britain would not hesitate to prove her sincerity to co-operate in whatever points depended on her for carrying every article of it into real and complete effect.”
Copies of both documents were immediately transmitted to Congress, by whom they were referred to Mr. Jay, the Minister of Foreign Affairs.4 The report of that upright minister did not affect to exculpate his country.
The government of the United States did not possess the power to carry the treaty into execution on their part; and this inability rendered any attempt to obtain its prior execution on the part of Great Britain entirely hopeless.
The discontents arising from the embarrassments of individuals continued to increase. At length, two great parties were formed in every state, which pursued distinct objects with systematic arrangement.
The one struggled for the exact observance of public and private contracts. Those who composed it were the uniform friends of a regular administration of justice, and of a vigorous course of taxation, which would enable the state to comply with its engagements. By a natural association of ideas, they were also in favor of enlarging the powers of the federal government, and of enabling it to protect the dignity and the character of the nation abroad, and its interests at home.
The other party marked out for themselves a more indulgent course. They were uniformly in favor of relaxing the administration of justice, of affording facilities for the payment of debts or of suspending their collection, and of remitting taxes. The same course of opinion led them to resist every attempt to transfer from their own hands into those of Congress, powers which others deemed essential to the preservation of the Union. Wherever this party was predominant, the emission of paper-money, the delay of legal proceedings, and the suspension of taxes, were the fruits of their rule. Even where they failed to carry their measures, their strength was such as to encourage the hope of succeeding in a future attempt. Throughout the Union the contest between these parties was annually revived, and the public mind was perpetually agitated with hopes and fears on subjects which affected essentially the fortunes of a considerable portion of society. This instability in principles which ought to be rendered immutable, produced a long train of ills; and is believed to have been among the operating causes of those pecuniary embarrassments which influenced the legislation of almost every state. The wise and thinking part of the community, who could trace evils to their source, laboured unceasingly to inculcate opinions favorable to the incorporation of some principles into the political system, which might correct its obvious vices, without endangering its free spirit.
While the advocates of union were exerting themselves to impress its necessity on the public mind, measures were taken in Virginia which, though originating in different views, terminated in a proposition for a general convention to revive the federal system.
Commissioners were appointed by the legislatures of that state, and of Maryland, to form a compact relative to the navigation of the rivers Potomac and Pocomoke, and part of the bay of Chesapeake, who assembled in Alexandria in March 1785. While at Mount Vernon on a visit, they agreed to propose to their respective governments the appointment of other commissioners, with power to make conjoint arrangements with the assent of Congress, for maintaining a naval force in the Chesapeake; and to establish a tariff of duties on imports. Virginia also directed that the resolution relative to the duties on imports should be communicated to all the states in the Union, who were invited to send deputies to the meeting.
A few days after the passage of these resolutions, another was adopted appointing commissioners, “who were to meet such as might be appointed by the other states in the Union, at a time and place to be agreed on, to take into consideration the trade of the United States,” “and to report to the several states such an act relative to this great object, as, when unanimously ratified by them, will enable the United States in Congress assembled, effectually to provide for the same.”
Annapolis in Maryland was proposed as the place, and the ensuing September as the time of meeting. Before the arrival of the time at which these commissioners were to assemble, the idea was carried, by those who saw and deplored the complicated calamities which flowed from the inefficiency of the General Government, much farther than was avowed by the resolutions of Virginia.
Sept. 1786The convention at Annapolis was attended by commissioners from only five states. Perceiving that more ample powers would be required to effect the beneficial purposes which they contemplated, and hoping to procure a representation from a greater number of states, the convention determined to rise without coming to any specific resolutions on the subject referred to them. They agreed, however, on a report to be made to their respective states, in which they represented the necessity of extending the revision of the federal system to all its defects, and recommended that deputies for that purpose be appointed by the several legislatures, to meet in convention in the city of Philadelphia, on the second day of the ensuing May.
Nov. 1786A copy of this report was transmitted to Congress, and to the legislatures of the respective states. On receiving it, the legislature of Virginia passed an act for the appointment of deputies to meet such as might be appointed by other states.
In communicating this act to General Washington, Mr. Madison, its most effective advocate, intimated the intention of aiding it by the influence and character of the chief of the revolution.
“Although,” said the General in reply, “I have bid a public adieu to the public walks of life, and had resolved never more to tread that theatre; yet, if upon an occasion so interesting to the well-being of the confederacy, it had been the wish of the assembly that I should be an associate in the business of revising the federal system, I should, from a sense of the obligation I am under for repeated proofs of confidence in me, more than from any opinion I could entertain of my usefulness, have obeyed its call; but it is now out of my power to do this with any degree of consistency—the cause I will mention.”
The General then proceeded to state, that the triennial general meeting of the Cincinnati was to be held in Philadelphia at the time the convention was to assemble. He had, a few days previously, addressed a circular letter to each state society and to the Vice-President, informing them of his intention not to be at the meeting, and of his desire not to be re-chosen President. He could not consent to appear at the same time and place, on any other occasion.
Dec. 1786Notwithstanding this letter, the name of General Washington was not withdrawn, and he was unanimously chosen a member of the convention. On receiving private information of this appointment, he addressed a second letter to his confidential friend, detailing more at large the motives which induced him to decline a service the importance of which no man felt more sensibly.
His name, however, was continued in the appointment. The gloomy state of affairs in the North was supposed to render this the more necessary.
The Governor of Virginia,5 who was himself elected a member of the convention, transmitted to him the act and the vote of the assembly in a letter, pressing most earnestly on him all those motives for yielding to the general wish, which were furnished by the importance of the crisis, and the gloomy state of American affairs. He was urged, at all events, not to decide positively against it, but to leave himself at liberty to be determined by future events.
General Washington, however, still thought that the delicacy of his situation obliged him to decline the appointment. But it was obvious, that he refused himself reluctantly to the anxious wishes of the wisest of his countrymen; and the executive, unwilling to relinquish the advantages which the legislature expected to derive from exhibiting his name at the head of the Virginia delegation, refused to consider him as having declined the appointment. In the meantime those who expected much good from the proposed convention, continued to urge him, with delicacy but with earnestness, not to withhold on this great and particular occasion, those inestimable services which the confidence so justly reposed in his talents and character enabled him alone to render.
Earnestly as General Washington wished success to the experiment about to be made, he could not surrender his objections to the step its friends urged him to take, without the most serious consideration. In addition to that which grew out of his connexion with the Cincinnati, and to his reluctance to be drawn, on any occasion, into a political station, there were others which could not be disregarded. A convention, not originating in a recommendation of Congress, was deemed by many an illegitimate meeting; and, as the New England states had neglected the invitation to appear by their delegates at Annapolis, it was apprehended they might be equally inattentive to the request now made them to assemble at Philadelphia. To appear in a public character for a purpose not generally deemed of the utmost importance, would not only be unpleasant to himself, but diminish his capacity to be useful on occasions which subsequent events might produce. His enquiries therefore into the public sentiment were carefully and assiduously made.
The ultimate decision of the states on this interesting proposition seems to have been influenced, in no inconsiderable degree, by the commotions which at that time agitated all New England, and particularly Massachusetts.
Those causes of discontent which existed in every part of the Union, were particularly operative in New England. The great exertions which had been made by those states in support of the war had accumulated a mass of debt, the taxes for the payment of which were the more burdensome, because their fisheries had become unproductive. The restlessness produced by the uneasy situation of individuals, connected with lax notions concerning public and private faith, and erroneous opinions which confound liberty with an exemption from the control of law, produced a state of things which alarmed all reflecting men.
Aug. 1786This disorderly spirit was stimulated by unlicensed conventions, which, after voting their own constitutionality, and assuming the name of the people, arrayed themselves against the legislature, and detailed, at great length, the grievances by which they alleged themselves to be oppressed. Its hostility was directed principally against the compensation promised to the officers of the army, against taxes, and against the administration of justice. A depreciated currency was required, as a relief from the pressure of public and private burdens, which had become, it was alleged, too heavy to be longer borne. To such a dangerous extent were these dispositions indulged, that, in many instances, tumultuous assemblages arrested the course of law, and restrained the judges from proceeding in the execution of their duty. The ordinary recourse to the power of the country was found an insufficient protection, and the appeals made to reason were unavailing. The forbearance of the government was attributed to timidity, rather than to moderation, and the spirit of insurrection appeared to be organized into a regular system for the suppression of courts.6
Oct. 1786In the bosom of Washington, these tumults excited attention and alarm. To a member of Congress, who suggested the idea of resorting to his influence for the purpose of quieting them, he said—“You talk, my good sir, of employing influence to appease the present tumults of Massachusetts; I know not where that influence is to be found; nor, if attainable, that it would be a proper remedy for these disorders. Influence is not government. Let us have a government, by which our lives, liberties, and properties will be secured; or let us know the worst at once. Under these impressions, my humble opinion is that there is a call for decision. Know precisely what the insurgents aim at. If they have real grievances, redress them, if possible; or acknowledge the justice of them, and your inability to do it in the present moment. If they have not, employ the force of the government against them at once.”7
Dec. 1786Finding that the lenient measures adopted by the legislature, to reclaim the insurgents, only enlarged their demands; and that they were proceeding systematically to organize a military force for the subversion of the constitution, Governor Bowdoin determined, with the advice of his council, on a vigorous exertion of all the powers he possessed, for the protection and defence of the commonwealth. Upwards of four thousand militia were ordered into service, and were placed under the command of the veteran General Lincoln. The difficulty arising from an empty treasury was removed by the patriotism of individuals. A number of gentlemen in Boston, preceded by the Governor, subscribed8 a sufficient sum to carry on the proposed expedition.
Jan. 1787In the depth of winter, the troops from the eastern part of the state assembled near Boston, and marched towards the scene of action. Those from the western counties, met in arms under General Shepherd, and took possession of the arsenal at Springfield. Before the arrival of Lincoln, a party of insurgents attempted to dislodge Shepherd, but were repulsed with some loss.
Lincoln urged his march with the utmost celerity, and soon came up. Pressing the insurgent army, he endeavored by a succession of rapid movements, in which the ardor of his troops triumphed over the severity of the season, to disperse, or to bring it to action. Their generals retreated from post to post, with a celerity which, for some time, eluded his designs; and, rejecting every proposition to lay down their arms, used all their address to procure a suspension of hostilities until an accommodation might be negotiated with the legislature. “Applications were also made,” says General Lincoln, “by committees and selectmen of the several towns in the counties of Worcester and Hampshire, praying that the effusion of blood might be avoided, while the real design of these applications was supposed to be, to stay our operations until a new court should be elected. They had no doubt, if they could keep up their influence until another choice of the legislature and of the executive, that matters might be moulded in general court to their wishes. To avoid this was the duty of government.” In answer to their applications, Lincoln exhorted those towns who sincerely wished to put an end to the rebellion, without the effusion of blood, “to recall their men now in arms, and to aid in apprehending all abettors of those who should persist in their treason, and all who should yield them any comfort or supplies.”
Feb. 1787The army of the government continued to brave the rigors of the season, and to press the insurgents without intermission. At length, with the loss of a few killed, and several prisoners, the rebels were dispersed, their leaders driven out of the state, and this formidable and wicked rebellion was quelled.
The same love of country which had supported the officers and soldiers of the late army through a perilous war, still glowed in their bosoms; and the patriot veterans of the revolution, uninfected by the wide-spreading contagion of the times, arranged themselves, almost universally, under the banners of the constitution and of the laws.
The most important effect of this unprovoked rebellion, was a deep conviction of the necessity of enlarging the powers of the general government; and the consequent direction of the public mind towards the convention which was to assemble at Philadelphia.
In producing this effect, a resolution of Congress had also considerable influence.
New York, by giving her final veto to the impost system, had virtually decreed the dissolution of the existing government. The confederation was apparently expiring from mere debility. Congress was restrained from giving its sanction to the proposed convention, only by the apprehension that taking an interest in the measure would impede rather than promote it. That body was at length relieved from this embarrassment by the legislature of New York. A vote of that state, which passed in the senate by a majority of only one voice, instructed its delegation to move a resolution in Congress, recommending to the several states to appoint deputies to meet in convention, for the purpose of revising and proposing amendments to the federal constitution. On the succeeding day, the 21st of February, 1787, it was declared, “in the opinion of Congress, to be expedient that, on the second Monday in May next, a convention of delegates, who shall have been appointed by the several states, be held at Philadelphia, for the sole and express purpose of revising the articles of confederation, and reporting to Congress, and the several legislatures, such alterations and provisions therein as shall, when agreed to in Congress, and confirmed by the states, render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of government, and the preservation of the Union.”
This recommendation removed all objections to the regularity of the convention; and co-operated with the impressions made by the licentious and turbulent spirit which had lately endangered the peace and liberty of New England, to incline those states to favor the measure. By giving the proposed meeting a constitutional sanction, and by postponing it to a day subsequent to that on which the Cincinnati were to assemble, it also removed one impediment, and diminished another, to the attendance of General Washington as a member. He persuaded himself, that by repairing to Philadelphia previous to the second Monday in May, in order to attend the meeting of the Cincinnati, he should efface any unfavorable impressions which might be excited in the bosoms of his military friends. On the 28th of March, he addressed a letter to the Governor of Virginia, declaring his purpose to attend the convention, provided the executive had not turned their thoughts to some other person.
May 1787At the time and place appointed, the representatives of twelve states convened. Rhode Island alone refused to send deputies. Having unanimously chosen General Washington for their President, the convention proceeded, with closed doors, to discuss the interesting and extensive subject submitted to their consideration.
More than once, there was reason to fear that the rich harvest of national felicity which had been anticipated from the ample stock of worth collected in convention, would be blasted by the rising9 of that body, without effecting the object for which it was formed. At length, the importance attached to union triumphed over local interests; and, on the 17th of September, that constitution, which has been alike the theme of panegyric and invective, was presented to the American public.
The instrument, with its accompanying resolutions, was, by the unanimous order of the convention, transmitted to Congress, in a letter subscribed10 by the President, in which it was said to be “the result of a spirit of amity, and of that mutual deference and concession, which the peculiarity of their political situation rendered indispensable.”
Congress resolved, unanimously, that the report, with the letter accompanying it, be transmitted to the several legislatures, in order to be submitted to a convention of delegates chosen in each state, by the people thereof.
1787–88Neither the intrinsic merits of the constitution, nor the imposing weight of character by which it was supported, gave assurance that it would be adopted. Its friends and its enemies were stimulated to exertion by motives equally powerful; and, during the interval between its publication and adoption, every faculty of the mind was strained to secure its reception or rejection. The press teemed with the productions of genius, of temperate reason, and of passion.
To decide the interesting question which agitated a continent, the best talents of the several states were assembled in their several conventions. So balanced were parties in some of them, that even after the subject had been discussed for a considerable time, the fate of the constitution could scarcely be conjectured; and so small, in many instances, was the majority in its favor, as to afford strong ground for the opinion, that had the influence of character been removed, the intrinsic merits of the instrument would not have secured its adoption.
Nov. 1788At length, the conventions of eleven states assented to, and ratified the constitution; and the preparatory measures were taken for carrying it into operation.
The attention of all was directed to General Washington, as the first President of the United States. He alone possessed so entirely the confidence of the people, that under his auspices, the friends of the government might hope to see it introduced, with a degree of firmness which would enable it to resist the open assaults and secret plots of its numerous adversaries. Fears were entertained, by all who knew him, that his fondness for private life would prevail over the wishes of the public; and, soon after the adoption of the constitution was ascertained, its friends began to press him on a point which was believed to be essential to the great work on which the grandeur and happiness of America was supposed to depend. The interesting correspondence of the time evinces with how much difficulty he yielded to the very earnest representations and arguments of the friends of a government which might preserve the Union.
1789After the elections had taken place,11 a general persuasion prevailed, that the public will, respecting the chief magistrate of the Union, had been too unequivocally manifested not to be obeyed; and several applications were made to General Washington for those offices in the respective states which would be in the gift of the President of the United States. The following extract from one of the many letters written to persons whose pretensions he was disposed to favor, speaks the frame of mind with which he came into the government. “Should it become absolutely necessary for me to occupy the station in which your letter presupposes me, I have determined to go into it perfectly free from all engagements, of every nature whatsoever. A conduct in conformity to this resolution, would enable me, in balancing the various pretensions of different candidates for appointments, to act with a sole reference to justice and the public good. This is, in substance, the answer that I have given to all applications (and they are not a few) which have already been made.”
The impotence of the late government, added to the dilatoriness inseparable from its perplexed mode of proceeding, had produced such habitual disregard of punctuality in the attendance of members, that although the new government was to commence its operations on the 4th of March, 1789, a House of Representatives was not formed until the 1st, nor a Senate until the 6th day of April.
At length the votes for President and Vice-President of the United States were opened and counted in the Senate. Neither the animosity of parties, nor the preponderance of the enemies of the new government in some of the states, could deprive General Washington of a single vote. By the unanimous voice of the people, he was called to the chief magistracy of the nation. The second number of votes was given to Mr. John Adams.12 George Washington and John Adams were therefore declared to be duly elected President and Vice-President of the United States, to serve for four years, from the 4th day of March, 1789.
Conciliating the Public: Election, Inauguration, and First Appointments (1789)
The election of General Washington officially announced to him.—He proceeds to the seat of government.—Marks of affection shown him on his journey.—His inauguration.—His system of intercourse with the world.—Answers of both houses of Congress to his speech.—Domestic and foreign relations of the United States.—Debates in Congress.—Amendments to the constitution.—Appointments to office.—Adjournment of Congress.—The President visits New England.—North Carolina adopts the constitution.
1789The election of General Washington to the office of chief magistrate of the United States, was announced to him at Mount Vernon, on the 14th of April, 1789. Accustomed to respect the wishes of his fellow-citizens, he did not think himself at liberty to decline an appointment conferred upon him by the suffrage of an entire people.
As the public business required the immediate attendance of the President at the seat of government, he hastened his departure; and, on the second day after receiving notice of his appointment, took leave of Mount Vernon.
In an entry made in his diary, the feelings of the occasion are thus described. “About ten o’clock I bade adieu to Mount Vernon, to private life, and to domestic felicity; and, with a mind oppressed with more anxious and painful sensations than I have words to express, set out for New York in company with Mr. Thompson and Colonel Humphries, with the best dispositions to render service to my country in obedience to its call, but with less hope of answering its expectations.”
Throughout his journey the people continued to manifest the ardent and respectful affection which animated almost every bosom. Crowds flocked around him wherever he stopped; and corps of militia, and companies of the most respectable citizens escorted him through their respective states.
At Philadelphia, and at Trenton, he was received with peculiar splendor, and in a manner calculated to excite the deepest interest. At Brunswick, he was joined by the Governor of New Jersey, who accompanied him to Elizabethtown Point. A committee of Congress received him on the road, and conducted him with military parade to the Point, where he took leave of the Governor and other gentlemen of Jersey, and embarked for New York in an elegant barge of thirteen oars, manned by thirteen branch pilots,1 prepared for the purpose by the citizens of New York.
“The display of boats,” says the General in his private journal, “which attended and joined on this occasion, some with vocal and others with instrumental music on board, the decorations of the ships, the roar of cannon, and the loud acclamations of the people which rent the sky as I passed along the wharves, filled my mind with sensations as painful (contemplating the reverse of this scene which may be the case after all my labors to do good) as they were pleasing.”
At the stairs on Murray’s wharf, he was received by the Governor of New York, and conducted with military honors through an immense concourse of people, to the apartments provided for him. These were attended by all who were in office, and by many private citizens of distinction.
It is no equivocal mark of the worth of Washington, and of the soundness of his judgment, that it could neither be corrupted nor misguided by these flattering testimonials of attachment.
A President of the United States being a new political personage, to a great portion of whose time the public was entitled, it was obviously proper to digest a system of conduct to be observed in his intercourse with the world, which would keep in view the duties of his station, without entirely disregarding his personal accommodation, or the course of public opinion. After consulting those most capable of advising on the subject, some rules were framed by General Washington for his government in these respects. As one of them, the allotment of a particular hour for receiving visits not on business, became the subject of much animadversion,2 and has constituted not the least important of the charges made against his administration, the motives assigned by himself for the rule, may not be unworthy of attention.
Not long after the government came into operation, a gentleman nearly connected with the President, addressed to him a letter stating the accusations which were commonly circulating in Virginia on various subjects; and especially on the regal manners of those who administered the affairs of the nation.
In answer to this letter, the President observed, “while the eyes of America, perhaps of the world, are turned to this government, and many are watching the movements of all those who are concerned in its administration, I should like to be informed through so good a medium, of the public opinion of both men and measures, and of none more than myself;—not so much of what may be thought commendable parts, if any, of my conduct, as of those which are conceived to be of a different complexion.”
After some other general observations, the letter adds, “this leads me to think that a system which I found it indispensably necessary to adopt upon my first coming to this city might have undergone severe strictures, and have had motives very foreign from those that governed me, assigned as causes thereof. I mean first, returning no visits; second, appointing certain days to receive them generally, not to the exclusion however of visits on any other days under particular circumstances.” After stating a third rule, he added “a few days evinced the necessity of the two first in so clear a point of view that, had I not adopted it, I should have been unable to attend to any sort of business, unless I had applied the hours allotted to rest and refreshment, to this purpose; for, by the time I had done breakfast, and thence until dinner, and afterwards until bed-time, I could not get relieved from the ceremony of one visit before I had to attend to another. In a word, I had no leisure to read or to answer the dispatches that were pouring in upon me from all quarters.”
The ceremonies of the inauguration having been adjusted by Congress, the President attended in the Senate chamber, on the 30th of April, in order to take the oath prescribed by the constitution, in the presence of both houses.
To gratify the public curiosity, an open gallery adjoining the Senate chamber had been selected as the place in which the oath should be administered. Having taken it in the view of an immense concourse of people, whose loud and repeated acclamations attested the joy with which the occasion inspired them, he returned to the Senate chamber, where he delivered the first address ever made by a President to a Congress of the United States.3
In their answer to his speech the Senate say, “the unanimous suffrage of the elective body in your favor is peculiarly expressive of the gratitude, confidence and affection of the citizens of America, and is the highest testimonial at once of your merit and their esteem. We are sensible, sir, that nothing but the voice of your fellow-citizens could have called you from a retreat, chosen with the fondest predilection, endeared by habit, and consecrated to the repose of declining years. We rejoice, and with us all America, that, in obedience to the call of our common country, you have returned once more to public life. In you, all parties confide; in you, all interests unite, and we have no doubt that your past services, great as they have been, will be equalled by your future exertions; and that your prudence and sagacity as a statesman will tend to avert the dangers to which we were exposed, to give stability to the present government, and dignity and splendor to that country, which your skill and valor as a soldier, so eminently contributed to raise to independence and to empire.”
The answer of the House of Representatives glowed with equal affection for the person and character of the President.
“The representatives of the people of the United States,” says this address, “present their congratulations on the event by which your fellow-citizens have attested the pre-eminence of your merit. You have long held the first place in their esteem. You have often received tokens of their affection. You now possess the only proof that remained of their gratitude for your services, of their reverence for your wisdom, and of their confidence in your virtues. You enjoy the highest because the truest honor, of being the first magistrate, by the unanimous choice of the freest people on the face of the earth.”
A perfect knowledge of the antecedent state of things being essential to a due administration of the executive department, its attainment engaged the immediate attention of the President; and he required the temporary heads of departments to prepare and lay before him such statements and documents as would give this information.
His attention was attracted to the West, by discontents which were expressed with some violence, and which originated in circumstances and interests peculiar to that country.
Spain, in possession of the mouth of the Mississippi, had refused to permit the citizens of the United States to follow its waters into the ocean; and had occasionally tolerated or interdicted their commerce to New Orleans, as had been suggested by interest or caprice. The eyes of the inhabitants adjacent to the waters of that river, were turned down it, as the only channel through which the surplus produce of their luxurious soil could be conveyed to the markets of the world; and they had given some evidence of a disposition to drop from the confederacy, if this valuable acquisition could not be otherwise made.
The President had received intelligence, previous to his departure from Mount Vernon, of private machinations, by real or pretended agents, both of Spain and Great Britain.
Spain had intimated that the navigation of the Mississippi could never be conceded, while the inhabitants of the western country remained connected with the Atlantic states, but might be freely granted to them, if they should form an independent empire.
On the other hand, a gentleman from Canada, whose ostensible business was the recovery of some lands formerly granted to him on the Ohio, frequently discussed the vital importance of the navigation of the Mississippi, and privately assured several individuals of great influence that, if they were disposed to assert their rights, he was authorized by the Governor of Canada to assure them that they might rely confidently on his assistance.4
In contemplating the situation of the United States, no subject demanded more immediate attention than the hostility of the Indian tribes. The nations between the lakes, the Mississippi and the Ohio, could bring five thousand men into the field. Of these, about fifteen hundred were at war with the United States. Treaties had been concluded with the residue; but there was cause for the apprehension that these treaties would soon be broken.
In the South, the Creeks, whose force amounted to six thousand fighting men, were at war with Georgia. The subject of contest was a tract of land on the Oconee, which Georgia claimed under a purchase, the validity of which was denied by the Indians.
The army of the United States was less than six hundred men. Not only the policy of accommodating differences by negotiation, which the government was in no condition to terminate by the sword, but a real respect for the rights of the natives, disposed the President to endeavor, in the first instance, to remove every cause of quarrel by treaty.
The United States had formed a treaty with the Emperor of Morocco, but had been unable to purchase peace from Algiers, Tunis, or Tripoli; and those regencies considered all as enemies to whom they had not sold their friendship. The unprotected vessels of America presented a tempting object to their rapacity; and their hostility was the more terrible, because, by their public law, prisoners become slaves.
The United States were at peace with all the powers of Europe; but controversies of a delicate nature existed with some of them.
The attempt to form a treaty with Spain had been ineffectual. His Catholic Majesty adhered inflexibly to the exclusion of the citizens of the United States from the navigation of the Mississippi below their southern boundary. The violence with which the discontents of the western people were expressed, furnished Spain with additional motives for perpetuating the evil of which they complained. A contest respecting boundary also existed with the same power. The treaty of peace had extended the limits of the United States down the Mississippi to the thirty-first degree of north latitude; but the pretensions of the Catholic King were carried north of that line to an undefined extent. He claimed as far as he had conquered from Britain; but the precise limits of his conquest were not ascertained.
The difference with Great Britain was still more serious, because a temper unfavorable to accommodation had been uniformly displayed. The resentments growing out of the war were not terminated with their cause. The idea that Great Britain was the natural enemy of America had become habitual.
The general restrictions on commerce, by which every maritime power sought to promote its own navigation, and that part of the European system, in particular, by which each aimed at a monopoly of the trade of its colonies, were felt with peculiar keenness when enforced by England. The people of America were the more sensible to the British regulations on this subject, because, having composed a part of that empire, they had grown up in the habit of a free intercourse with all its ports.
The failure of an attempt to form a commercial treaty with Portugal, was attributed to the influence of the cabinet of London. The depredations of the Barbary corsairs,5 and the bloody incursions of the Indians, were also ascribed to the machinations of the same power.
With France, the most perfect harmony subsisted. Those attachments which originated in the signal services received from his Most Christian Majesty during the war of the revolution, had sustained no diminution; and a disposition was felt extensively to enable the merchants of that nation, by legislative encouragements, to compete with those of Britain in the American market.
A great revolution had commenced in that country, the first stage of which was completed by limiting the powers of the monarch, and by establishing a popular assembly. In no part of the globe was this revolution hailed with more joy than in America. Its ulterior effects were not distinctly foreseen, and but one sentiment existed respecting it.
The relations of the United States with the other powers of Europe, were rather friendly than otherwise.
The subjects which pressed for immediate attention on the first legislature, were numerous and important. Much was to be created, and much to be reformed.
The qualification of the members was succeeded by a motion for the House to resolve itself into a committee of the whole6 on the state of the Union, in which Mr. Madison moved a resolution, declaring that certain duties ought to be levied on goods, wares, and merchandise imported into the United States; and on the tonnage of vessels. He presented a scheme of impost, by which specific duties were imposed on certain enumerated articles; and an ad valorem duty on those not enumerated; to which he added a general proposition for a duty on tonnage. In proceeding to fill up the blanks with the sum taxable on each article, great contrariety of opinion prevailed. The taxes proposed were believed to press unequally on the states; and apprehensions were expressed that, in the form of protecting duties, the industry of one part of the Union would be encouraged by premiums charged on the labor of another part. On the discrimination between the duty on the tonnage on foreign and American bottoms, a great degree of sensibility was discovered. It was said that the increased tonnage on foreign bottoms operated as a tax on agriculture, and a premium to navigation. This discrimination, therefore, ought to be very small. These arguments were answered with great ability by Mr. Madison.
No part of the system was discussed with more animation than that which proposed to favor those nations with whom the United States had formed commercial treaties. In the debate on this subject, opinions and feelings were disclosed, which, strengthening with circumstances, afterwards agitated every part of the Union.
At length, the bills passed the House of Representatives, and were carried to the senate, where they were amended, by expunging the discrimination made in favor of the tonnage and distilled spirits of those nations with which commercial treaties had been formed. These amendments were disagreed to; and each house insisting on its opinion, a conference took place; after which, the point was reluctantly yielded by the House of Representatives.
This debate was succeeded by one on the question in what manner the high officers who filled the executive departments should be removable. In a committee of the whole House, on the bill “to establish an executive department, to be denominated the department of foreign affairs,” Mr. White7 moved to strike out the clause which declared the secretary to be removable by the President. The power of removal, where no express provision existed, was, he said, in the nature of things, incidental to that of appointment; and, as the Senate was associated with the President in making appointments, that body must, in the same degree, participate in removing from office.
The amendment was opposed by arguments drawn from the constitution, and from general convenience. The friends of the original bill relied especially on that part of the constitution which vests the executive power in the President. No power, it was said, could be more completely executive in its nature, than that of removal from office.
After an ardent discussion, which consumed several days, the committee divided; and the amendment was negatived. But the express grant of the power rather implied a right in the legislature to give or to withhold it at discretion. To obviate any misunderstanding of the principle, a motion was made in the House to amend the clause, so as to imply clearly that the power of removal resided solely in the President; after which, the whole was stricken out; thus leaving the President to exercise the power as a constitutional privilege. As the bill became a law, it has ever been considered as a full expression of the sense of the legislature, on this important part of the American constitution.
The bill to establish the treasury department contained a clause making it the duty of the secretary, “to digest and report plans for the improvement and management of the revenue, and for the support of public credit.” This clause encountered serious opposition. After a very animated discussion, the motion to strike it out was rejected.
Among the interesting points which were settled in the first Congress, was the question by what style the President and Vice-President should be addressed. Mr. Benson,8 from a committee appointed to confer with a committee of the Senate on the subject, reported, “that it is not proper to annex any style or title to the respective styles or titles of office expressed in the constitution;” and this report was agreed to in the House of Representatives. In the senate, it was disapproved. A committee of conference not being able to agree, the subject was permitted to rest; and the Senate, conforming to the precedent given by the House of Representatives, addressed the President, in their answer to his speech, by the terms used in the constitution.
While the representatives were preparing bills for organizing the great executive departments, the senate was occupied with digesting the system of a national judiciary. This complex and extensive subject was taken up in the commencement of the session, and was completed towards its close.
In the course of the session, Mr. Madison brought forward a proposition for recommending to the consideration and adoption of the states, several articles to be added to the constitution.
To conciliate the affection of their brethren to the government, was an object greatly desired by its friends. Disposed to respect what they deemed the errors of their opponents, when that respect could be manifested without a sacrifice of essential principles, they were anxious to annex to the constitution, those explanations and barriers against the possible encroachments of rulers on the liberties of the people, which had been loudly demanded, however unfounded, in their judgments, the fears by which those demands were suggested might be. Among the most zealous friends of the constitution, were found the first and warmest advocates for amendments.
The government being completely organized, and a system of revenue established, the important duty of filling the offices which had been created, remained to be performed. In the execution of this delicate trust, the purest virtue and the most impartial judgment were exercised in selecting the best talents, and the greatest weight of character, which the United States could furnish.
At the head of the department of foreign affairs, since denominated the Department of State, the President placed Mr. Jefferson.9
This gentleman had been a distinguished member of the second Congress, and had been offered a diplomatic appointment, which he declined. On withdrawing from the administration of continental affairs, he had been elected Governor of Virginia, which office he filled for two years. He afterwards again represented his native state in the government of the Union; and, in the year 1784, was appointed to succeed Dr. Franklin at the court of Versailles. In that situation, he had acquitted himself much to the public satisfaction. His Notes on Virginia, which were read with applause, were believed to evince sound political opinions; and the declaration of independence was universally ascribed to his pen. He had been long placed by America among the most eminent of her citizens, and had long been classed by the President with those who were most capable of serving the nation. Having obtained permission to return for a short time to the United States, he was, while on his passage, nominated to this important office; and, on his arrival in Virginia, found a letter from the President, giving him the option of becoming the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, or of retaining his station at the court of Versailles. In changing his situation, he appears to have consulted the wishes of the Chief Magistrate, more than the preference of his own mind.
The task of restoring public credit, of drawing order and arrangement from the chaotic confusion in which the finances of America were involved, and of devising means which should produce revenue in a manner least burdensome to the people, was justly classed among the most arduous of the duties which were devolved on the new government. In discharging it, much aid was expected from the head of the treasury. This important, and at that time intricate department, was assigned to Colonel Hamilton.
This gentleman, with all the enthusiasm of youth, engaged first his pen, and afterwards his sword, in the stern contest between the American colonies and their parent state. Among the first troops raised by New York, was a corps of artillery, in which he was appointed a captain. Soon after the war was transferred to the Hudson, his superior endowments recommended him to the commander-in-chief, into whose family, before completing his twenty-first year, he was invited to enter. Equally brave and intelligent, he continued to display, in this situation, a degree of firmness and capacity, which commanded the confidence and esteem of his general, and of the principal officers of the army.
After the capitulation of Yorktown, the war languished throughout America; and the probability that its termination was approaching, daily increased.
The critical circumstances of the existing government gave a deep interest to the events of the civil government; and Colonel Hamilton accepted a seat in the Congress of the United States. He was greatly distinguished amongst those eminent men whom the crisis had attracted to the councils of their country. He had afterwards been active in promoting those measures which led to the convention in Philadelphia, of which he was a member, and had contributed greatly to the adoption of the constitution by the state of New York. In the pre-eminent part he had performed, both in the military and civil transactions of his country, he had acquired a great degree of well-merited fame; and the frankness of his manners, the openness of his temper, the warmth of his feelings, and the sincerity of his heart, had secured him many valuable friends.
The department of war was already filled by General Knox, and he was again nominated to it.10
Throughout the contest of the revolution, this officer had continued at the head of the American artillery. In this important station, he had maintained a high military character; and, on the resignation of General Lincoln, had been appointed secretary of war. To his past services, and to unquestionable integrity, he was admitted to unite a sound understanding; and the public judgment, as well as that of the chief magistrate, pronounced him to be competent in all respects to the station he occupied.
The office of attorney-general was filled by Mr. Edmund Randolph. To a distinguished reputation in his profession, this gentleman added a considerable degree of political eminence. After having been for several years the attorney-general of Virginia, he had been elected its Governor. While in this office, he was chosen a member of the convention which framed the constitution, and also of that by which it was adopted. After having served the term permitted by the constitution in the executive of the state, he entered into its legislature, where he preserved a great share of influence.
Such was the first cabinet council. In its composition, public opinion as well as intrinsic worth had been consulted, and a high degree of character had been combined with real talent.
In the selection of persons for high judicial offices, the President was guided by the same principles. At the head of this department he placed Mr. John Jay.
From the commencement of the revolution, this gentleman had filled a large space in the public mind. Remaining without intermission in the service of his country, he had passed through a succession of high offices, and, in all of them had merited the approbation of his fellow-citizens. To his pen, while in Congress, America was indebted for some of those masterly addresses which reflected most honor upon the government; and to his firmness and penetration, the happy issue of those intricate negotiations which terminated the war was, in no small degree, to be ascribed. On returning to the United States, he had been appointed secretary of foreign affairs, in which station he had displayed his accustomed ability. A sound judgment improved by extensive reading and great knowledge of public affairs, unyielding firmness, and inflexible integrity, were qualities of which Mr. Jay had given frequent and signal proofs. Although withdrawn for some years from that profession to which he was bred, the acquisitions of his early life had not been lost, and the subjects on which his mind had been exercised were not entirely foreign from those which would, in the first instance, employ the courts in which he was to preside.
John Rutledge of South Carolina, James Wilson of Pennsylvania, William Cushing of Massachusetts, Robert Harrison of Maryland, and John Blair of Virginia, were appointed associate justices.11 Some of those gentlemen had filled the highest law offices in their respective states; and all of them had received distinguished marks of the public confidence.
In the systems of the several states, offices corresponding to those created by the revenue laws of Congress, had been established. Uninfluenced by considerations of personal regard, the President could not be induced to change men whom he found in place, if worthy of being employed.12 In deciding between candidates for vacant offices, if an equality of fitness existed, former merits and sufferings in the service of the public, gave claims to preference which could not be overlooked.
In the legislature as well as the executive and judicial departments, great respectability of character was also associated with an eminent degree of talent. Impelled by an anxious solicitude respecting the first measures of the government, its zealous friends had pressed into its service; and men were found in both branches of the legislature, who possessed the fairest claims to public confidence.
The Vice-President of the United States, though not a member of the legislature, was classed, in the public estimation, with that department. Mr. John Adams was one of the earliest and most ardent friends of the revolution. Bred to the bar, he had necessarily studied the constitution of his country, and was among the most determined asserters of its rights. Active in guiding that high spirit which animated all New England, he became a member of the Congress of 1774, and was among the first who dared to avow sentiments in favor of independence. He soon attained eminence in that body, and was chosen one of the commissioners to whom the interests of the United States in Europe were confided. In his diplomatic character, he had contributed greatly to those measures which drew Holland into the war; had negotiated the treaty with the Dutch republic, and had, at critical points of time, obtained loans which were of great advantage to his country. In the negotiations which terminated the war, he had also rendered important services; and, after the ratification of the treaty of peace, had been deputed to Great Britain for the purpose of effecting commercial arrangements with that nation.
As a statesman, this gentleman had always ranked high in the estimation of his countrymen. He had improved a sound understanding by extensive political and historical reading; and perhaps no American had reflected more profoundly on the science of government.13 The exalted opinion he entertained of his own country was flattering to his fellow-citizens; and the purity of his mind, the unblemished integrity of a life spent in the public service, had gained their confidence.
A government supported in all its departments by so much character and talent, at the head of which was placed a man whose capacity was undoubted, whose life had given one great and continued lesson of patriotism, and for whom almost every bosom glowed with an attachment bordering on enthusiasm, could not fail to make a rapid progress in conciliating the affection of the people.
Towards the close of the session, a petition which had been presented by the creditors of the public residing in Pennsylvania was taken up by the House of Representatives, and two resolutions were passed; the one declaring “that the house considered an adequate provision for the support of the public credit, as a matter of high importance to the national honor and prosperity;” and the other directing “the secretary of the treasury to prepare a plan for that purpose, and to report the same to the house at its next meeting.”
On the 29th of September, Congress adjourned to the first Monday in the succeeding January.
Anxious to visit New England, to observe in person the condition of the country, and the dispositions of the people towards the government and its measures, the President determined to avail himself of the short respite from official duties afforded by the recess of Congress, to make a tour through the eastern states. He left New York on the 15th of October; and, passing through Connecticut and Massachusetts, proceeded as far as Portsmouth in New Hampshire. From that place he returned by a different route to the seat of government, where he arrived on the 13th of November.
The reappearance of their General in the high station he now filled, renewed the recollection of the perilous transactions of the war; and the reception universally given to him attested the unabated love which was felt for his person and character, and indicated unequivocally the growing popularity, at least in that part of the Union, of the government he administered.
Soon after his return to New York, the President was informed of the failure of his first attempt to negotiate a treaty with the Creeks. Some difficulties arose on the subject of boundary; but the principal obstacles to a peace were supposed to grow out of the personal interests of Mr. McGillivray, their chief, and his connexions with Spain.14
This information was more than counterbalanced by the intelligence from North Carolina. A second convention had met under the authority of the legislature of that state, in the month of November, and had adopted the constitution by a great majority.
Defense, Finance, Foreign Affairs— and the First “Systematic Opposition” (1790 to 1791)
Meeting of Congress.—President’s speech.—Report of the Secretary of the Treasury.—Debate thereon.—Bill for fixing the seat of government.—Adjournment of Congress.—Treaty with the Creek Indians.—Relations of the United States with Great Britain and Spain.—Constitution adopted by Rhode Island.—Congress meets at Philadelphia.—Speech of the President.—Debates on the excise.—On the bank.—Division in the cabinet on the law.—Defeat of Harmar.—Adjournment of Congress.
1790On the 8th of January, 1790, the President met both Houses of Congress in the Senate chamber.
In his speech, which was delivered from the chair of the Vice-President, after congratulating Congress on the adoption of the constitution by the important state of North Carolina, and on the prosperous aspect of American affairs, he proceeded to recommend certain great objects of legislation to their more especial consideration.1 A provision for the common defence merited, he said, their particular regard. “To be prepared for war,” he added, “is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.
“A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well-digested plan is requisite; and their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent on others for essential, particularly for military supplies.”
He suggested the propriety of providing the means of keeping up their intercourse with foreign nations, and the expediency of establishing a uniform rule of naturalization.
After expressing his confidence in their attention to many improvements essential to the prosperity of the interior, he recommended the promotion of science and literature to their patronage. “Knowledge,” he added, “is, in every country, the surest basis of public happiness. In one in which the measures of government receive their impression so immediately from the sense of the community as in ours, it is proportionably essential.”
“Whether this desirable object will be best promoted by affording aids to seminaries of learning already established, by the institution of a national university, or by other expedients, will be well worthy of a place in the deliberations of the legislature.”
The answers of both Houses indicated the harmony which existed between the executive and legislative departments.
Early in January, the report of the Secretary of the Treasury, containing a plan for the support of public credit, prepared in obedience to the resolution of the 21st of September, 1789, was laid before Congress.2
“It was agreed,” he said, “by all, that the foreign debt should be provided for, according to the precise terms of the contract. It was to be regretted that, with respect to the domestic debt, the same unanimity of sentiment did not prevail.”
The first point on which the public appeared to be divided, was the question “whether a discrimination ought to be made between original holders of the public securities, and present possessors by purchase.” He supported, with great strength of argument, the opinion against this discrimination.
He next proceeded to the question, whether any difference ought to remain between the creditors of the Union and those of individual states. He was earnestly opposed to this difference. “Both descriptions of debt were contracted for the same objects, and were in the main the same.” Equity required “the same measure of retribution for all. There were many reasons,” some of which were stated, “for believing this would not be the case, unless the state debts should be assumed by the nation.”
After an elaborate discussion of these and some other points connected with the subject, the secretary proposed that a loan should be opened to the full amount of the debt, as well of the particular states as of the Union.
To enable the treasury to support this increased demand upon it, an augmentation of the duties on imported wines, spirits, tea, and coffee, was proposed; and a duty on home-made spirits was also recommended.
This celebrated report, which has been alike the theme of extravagant praise and bitter censure, merits the more attention, because the first systematic opposition to the principles on which the government was administered, originated in the measures which were founded on it.
On the 8th of February, Mr. Fitzsimmons3 moved several resolutions affirmative of the principles contained in the report. To the first, which respected a provision for the foreign debt, the House agreed without a dissenting voice. The second, in favor of appropriating permanent funds for the payment of the interest on the domestic debt, and for the gradual redemption of the principal, gave rise to a very animated debate.
Mr. Scott4 avowed the opinion that the United States were not bound to pay their domestic creditors the sums specified in their certificates of debt, because the original holders had parted with them at two shillings and six-pence in the pound. He therefore moved an amendment, requiring a resettlement of the debt.
After this proposition had been negatived, Mr. Madison rose, and, in an eloquent speech, proposed an amendment to the resolution, the effect of which was to pay the present holder of assignable paper the highest price it had borne in the market, and to give the residue to the original creditor.5 The debate was long, argumentative, and interesting. At length the question was put, and the amendment was rejected by a great majority.
The succeeding resolution, affecting political interests and powers which are never to be approached without danger, seemed to unchain all those fierce passions which a high respect for the government, and for those who administered it, had in a great measure restrained.
The debt incurred in support of the war, had been contracted partly by the continent and partly by the states. When the measure of compensating the army for the depreciation of their pay became necessary, this burden, under the recommendation of Congress, was assumed by the respective states. Some of them had funded this debt, and paid the interest upon it. Others had made no provision for the interest; but all, by taxes, paper-money, or purchase, had reduced the principal.
The Secretary of the Treasury proposed to assume these debts; and to fund them in common with that which continued to be the debt of the Union.
The resolution which comprehended this principle of the report, was vigorously opposed. Even its constitutionality was questioned. But the argument which seemed to have most weight, was that which maintained that the general government would acquire an undue influence, and that the state governments would be annihilated by the measure.
After a very animated discussion of several days, the resolution was carried by a small majority. Soon after this decision, while the subject was pending before the House, the delegates from North Carolina took their seats, and changed the strength of parties. The resolution was recommitted by a majority of two voices; and, after a long and ardent debate, was negatived by the same majority.
This proposition continued to be supported with a degree of earnestness which its opponents termed pertinacious, but not a single opinion was changed. It was brought forward in the less exceptionable form of assuming specific sums from each state. But this alteration produced no change of sentiment; and the bill was sent to the Senate, with a provision for those creditors only, whose certificates of debt purported to be payable by the United States.
In this state of things, the measure is understood to have derived aid from another, which was of a character strongly to interest particular parts of the Union.
From June, 1783, when Congress was driven from Philadelphia, by the mutiny of a part of the Pennsylvania line, the necessity of selecting some place for the permanent residence of the government, in which it might protect itself from insult, had been generally acknowledged.
In September 1784, an ordinance had been passed for appointing commissioners to purchase land on the Delaware in the neighborhood of the falls, and to erect the necessary buildings thereon; but the southern interest had been sufficiently strong to arrest the execution of this ordinance by preventing an appropriation of funds, which required the assent of nine states. Under the existing government, many different places from the Delaware to the Potomac inclusive, had been earnestly supported; but a majority of both houses had not concurred in favor of any one place. Attempts had been made with as little success to change the temporary residence of Congress. At length a compact respecting the temporary and permanent seat of government was entered into between the friends of Philadelphia and the Potomac, stipulating that Congress should hold its sessions in Philadelphia for ten years, during which time buildings for the accommodation of government should be erected at some place on the Potomac to which the government should remove on the expiration of that time. This compact having united the representatives of Pennsylvania and Delaware with the friends of the Potomac, a majority was produced in favor of both situations; and a bill brought into the Senate in conformity with this arrangement, passed both Houses by small majorities. This act was immediately followed by an amendment to the bill for funding the public debt, similar to that which had been proposed unsuccessfully in the House of Representatives.
When the question was taken in the House of Representatives on this amendment, two members representing districts on the Potomac, who had voted against the assumption, declared themselves in its favor, and thus the majority was changed.
This measure has constituted one of the great grounds of accusation against the administration of Washington. It is fair to acknowledge that, though, in its progress, it derived no aid from the President, it received the full approbation of his judgment.
A bill at length passed both houses, funding the debt on principles which lessened the weight of the public burden, and was entirely satisfactory to the public creditors.
The effects produced by giving the debt a permanent value justified the predictions of the most sanguine. The sudden increase of moneyed capital derived from it, invigorated commerce, and gave a new stimulus to agriculture.
About this time a great and visible improvement took place in the circumstances of the people. Although the funding system was not inoperative in producing this improvement, it cannot be ascribed to any single cause. Progressive industry had gradually repaired the losses sustained by the war; and the influence of the constitution on habits of thinking and acting, though silent, was considerable.
On the 12th of August, Congress adjourned, to meet in Philadelphia on the first Monday in the following December.
While the discussions in the national legislature related to subjects, and were conducted in a temper well calculated to rouse the active spirit of party, the external relations of the United States wore an aspect not perfectly serene. An increased degree of importance was given to the hostile temper of the Indians, by the apprehension that their discontents were fomented by the intrigues of Britain and Spain. It was feared that the latter power might take a part in the open hostilities threatened by the irritable dispositions of individuals both in Georgia and the Creek nation. From the intimate connexion subsisting between the members of the house of Bourbon, this event was peculiarly deprecated; and the means of avoiding it were sought with solicitude.6 These considerations induced the President to make another effort at negotiation; but to preserve the respect of these savages for the United States, it was resolved that the agent employed should visit their country under other pretexts. Colonel Willett was selected for this service; and he acquitted himself so well of the duty as to induce the chiefs of the nation with McGillivray at their head, to repair to New York, where negotiations were opened which terminated in a treaty of peace.
The pacific overtures made to the Indians of the Wabash and Miamis not having been successful, the inhabitants of the western frontiers were still exposed to their destructive incursions,7 and still retained the hostility they had originally manifested to the constitution.
No progress had been made in adjusting the points of controversy with Spain and Britain.
The cabinet of St. James having never appointed a minister to the United States, the President felt some difficulty in repeating advances which had been treated with neglect. Yet there was much reason to desire full explanations with the British government. The subjects for discussion were of peculiar delicacy, and could not be permitted to remain unadjusted without hazarding the most serious consequences. In October 1789, the President had resolved on taking informal measures to sound the British cabinet, and to ascertain its views respecting the points of controversy between the two nations. This negotiation was entrusted to Mr. Gouverneur Morris, who had been carried to Europe by private business.8 In his conferences with the Duke of Leeds and with Mr. Pitt, those ministers expressed a wish to be on the best terms with America; but repeated the complaints which had been made by Lord Carmaerthen of the non-execution of the treaty of peace on the part of the United States. In a subsequent note, the Duke of Leeds avowed the intention, if the delay on the part of the American government to fulfil its engagements should have rendered its final completion impossible, to retard the fulfilment of those which depended entirely on Great Britain, until redress should be granted to the subjects of his majesty on the specific points of the treaty itself, or a fair and just compensation should be obtained for their non-performance.
Whilst these negotiations were depending, intelligence was received at London, of the attack made on the British settlement at Nootka Sound.9 The vigor with which the government armed in support of its pretensions, furnished strong reasons for the opinion that a war with Spain, and probably with France, would soon be commenced.
This was considered in America as a favorable juncture for urging the claims of the United States to the free navigation of the Mississippi. Mr. Carmichael, their charge d’affaires at the court of Madrid, was instructed not only to press this point with earnestness, but to use his utmost endeavours to secure the unmolested use of that river in future, by obtaining a cession10 of the island of New Orleans, and of the Floridas.
The opinion was seriously entertained by the American government that, in the event of a war between Great Britain and Spain, Louisiana would be invaded from Canada; and the attention of the executive was turned to the measures which it would be proper to take, should application be made for permission to march a body of troops through the unsettled territories of the United States into the dominions of Spain. Lord Dorchester, the Governor of that province, had intimated a wish to visit New York on his return to England; but the prospect of a rupture with Spain had determined him to remain in Canada. Under the pretext of making his acknowledgments for the readiness with which his desire to pass through New York had been acceded to, his lordship dispatched Major Beckwith, a member of his family, to sound the American government, and, if possible, to ascertain its dispositions towards the two nations.
The communications of this gentleman were entirely amicable. He was instructed to express the conviction of Lord Dorchester that the British cabinet was inclined not only towards a friendly intercourse, but towards an alliance with the United States. After expressing the concern with which that nobleman had heard of the depredations of the savages, he declared that his lordship, so far from countenancing the depredations, had taken every proper opportunity to impress pacific dispositions on the Indians; and, on hearing of the outrages lately committed, had sent a messenger to endeavour to prevent them. Major Beckwith intimated farther, that the perpetrators of the late murders were banditti,11 composed chiefly of Creeks and Cherokees in the Spanish interest, over whom the Governor of Canada possessed no influence.
The President directed that the further communications of Major Beckwith should be heard civilly, and that their want of official authenticity should be hinted delicately, without urging any expressions which might in the remotest degree impair the freedom of the United States to pursue without reproach the line of conduct which the honor or the interest of the nation might dictate.
In the opinion that it would be equally useless and dishonorable further to press a commercial treaty, the powers given to Mr. Morris were withdrawn. About the same time, the dispute between Great Britain and Spain was adjusted.
In the preceding May, Rhode Island had adopted the constitution; and the union of the states was completed.
On the 6th day of December, 1790, Congress assembled at Philadelphia.
The speech delivered at the commencement of the session, after taking a comprehensive view of the external and internal interests of the nation, concluded with the following impressive sentiment. “It will be happy for us both, and our best reward, if, by a successful administration of our respective trusts, we can make the established government more and more instrumental in promoting the good of our fellow-citizens, and more and more the object of their attachment and confidence.”
In the short debate which took place in the House of Representatives, on the address in answer to the speech, a direct disapprobation of one of the measures of the executive was, for the first time, openly expressed.
In the treaty lately concluded with the Creeks, an extensive country claimed by Georgia under treaties the validity of which was contested by Indian chiefs, had been relinquished. This relinquishment excited serious discontents in that state; and was censured by Mr. Jackson with considerable warmth.12
Scarcely were the debates on the address concluded, when several reports were received from the Secretary of the Treasury, suggesting such further measures as was deemed necessary for the establishment of public credit.
The assumption of the state debts not having been adopted until late in the preceding session, the discussion on the revenue for this portion of the public debt did not commence until the House had become impatient for an adjournment. As much contrariety of opinion was disclosed, and the subject did not press, it was deferred to the ensuing session; and the Secretary of the Treasury was required to report such further provision as might, in his opinion, be necessary for establishing the public credit. In obedience to this resolution, several reports had been prepared, the first of which repeated the recommendation of an additional impost on foreign distilled spirits, and of a duty on spirits distilled within the United States.
A new tax is the certain rallying point to all those who are unfriendly to the minister by whom it is proposed. The bill introduced in pursuance of the report was opposed with great vehemence and bitterness by a majority of the southern and western members. When required to produce a system in lieu of that which they so much execrated, the opponents of the bill alternately mentioned an increased duty on imported articles generally, a particular duty on molasses, a direct tax, a tax on salaries, pensions, and lawyers, a duty on newspapers, and stamp act.
After a very angry debate, a motion made by Mr. Jackson to strike out the section which imposed a duty on domestic distilled spirits, was negatived by thirty-six to sixteen; and the bill was carried by thirty-five to twenty-one.
Some days after the passage of this bill, another question was brought forward, which was supposed to involve principles deeply interesting to the government.
Feb. 1791The Secretary of the Treasury had been the uniform advocate of a national bank. A bill conforming to the plan he had suggested, was sent down from the Senate, and was permitted to proceed, in the House of Representatives, to a third reading.13 On the final question, an unexpected opposition was made to its passage. The great strength of the argument was directed against the constitutional authority of Congress to pass the act.
After a debate of great length and ability, the bill was carried in the affirmative by a majority of nineteen votes.
The cabinet also was divided on the measure. The Secretary of State and the Attorney-General conceived that Congress had transcended their constitutional powers; while the Secretary of the Treasury maintained the opposite opinion. The advice of each minister, with his reasoning in support of it, was required in writing; and their arguments were considered by the President with that attention which the magnitude of the question, and the interest it had excited, so eminently required. This deliberate investigation terminated in a conviction that the constitution of the United States authorised the measure; and the sanction of the executive was given to the act.
The division of opinion on this constitutional question ought not to excite surprise. It must be recollected, that the conflict between the powers of a general and state government was coeval with those governments. Even during the war, the preponderance of the states was obvious; and, in a very short time after the peace, the struggle ended in the abandonment of the general government. Many causes concurred to produce a constitution more competent to the preservation of the Union; but the old line of division was still as strongly marked as ever.
To this great and radical division of opinion, which would necessarily affect every question on the authority of the national legislature, other motives were added, which were believed to possess considerable influence on all measures connected with the finances.
As an inevitable effect of the state of society, the public debt had greatly accumulated in the middle and northern states. This circumstance could not fail to contribute to the complacency with which the plans of the secretary were viewed by those who had felt their benefit, nor to the irritation with which they were contemplated by others who had parted with their claims on the nation. It is not impossible that personal considerations also mingled themselves with those which were of a public nature.
This measure made a deep impression on many members of the legislature, and contributed not inconsiderably to the complete organization of those distinct and visible parties which, in their long and dubious conflict for power, have since shaken the United States to their centre.
Among the last acts of the present Congress, was one to augment the military establishment of the United States.
The earnest endeavors of the President to give security to the north-western frontier, by pacific arrangements, having proved unavailing, he had planned an expedition against the hostile tribes in that quarter.
1790General Harmar marched from fort Washington on the 30th of September, with three hundred and twenty regulars.14 The army, when joined by the militia of Pennsylvania and Kentucky, amounted to fourteen hundred and fifty-three men. About the middle of October, Colonel Hardin was advanced with six hundred men, chiefly militia. On his approach, the Indians set fire to the principal village, and fled to the woods. As the object of the expedition could not be accomplished without defeating the savages, Colonel Hardin was again detached at the head of two hundred and ten men, thirty of whom were regulars. About ten miles west of Chillicothe, he was attacked by a party of Indians. The militia fled at the first appearance of the enemy. The regulars, commanded by Lieutenant Armstrong, made a brave resistance. After twenty-three of them had fallen in the field, the surviving seven rejoined the army.
Notwithstanding this check, the remaining towns on the Scioto were reduced to ashes, and the provisions laid up for the winter were utterly destroyed.
Being desirous of wiping off the disgrace which his arms had sustained, General Harmar once more detached Colonel Hardin, with orders to bring on an engagement. His command consisted of three hundred and sixty men, of whom sixty were regulars, commanded by Major Wyllys. Early next morning, this detachment reached the confluence of the St. Joseph and St. Mary, where it was divided into three columns. The left was commanded by Colonel Hardin in person; the centre, consisting of the regular troops, was led by Major Wyllys; and the right was commanded by Major M’Millar. The columns were soon met by a considerable body of Indians, and a severe engagement ensued. The militia retrieved their reputation. The right flank of the centre was attacked with great fury. Though Major Wyllys was among the first who fell, the battle was maintained by the regulars with spirit. At length, the scanty remnant of this small band was driven off the ground, leaving Major Wyllys, Lieutenant Farthingham, and fifty of their comrades, dead on the field. The loss sustained by the militia was also severe. It amounted to upwards of one hundred men, among whom were nine officers. After an obstinate engagement, the detachment rejoined the main army, which proceeded to fort Washington.
The information respecting this expedition was quickly followed by intelligence stating the deplorable condition of the frontier. The communications made by the President induced the legislature to add a regiment to the permanent military establishment; and to authorise him to raise a body of two thousand men for six months, and to appoint a Major-General and a Brigadier-General, to continue in command so long as he should think their services necessary.
With the 3d of March, 1791, the first Congress elected under the constitution of the United States terminated. The party denominated federal having prevailed at the elections, a majority of the members were steadfast friends of the constitution.15 To organize a government, to retrieve the national character, to establish a system of revenue, and to create public credit, were among the arduous duties which were imposed upon them, by the situation of their country. With persevering labor, guided by no inconsiderable portion of virtue and intelligence, these objects were, in a great degree, accomplished. Had it even been the happy and singular lot of America to see its national legislature assemble uninfluenced by those prejudices which grew out of the previous divisions of the country, the many delicate points which they were under the necessity of deciding, could not have failed to disturb this enviable state of harmony, and to mingle some share of party spirit with their deliberations. But when the actual state of the public mind was contemplated, and due weight was given to the important consideration that, at no very distant day, a successor to the present chief magistrate must be elected, it was still less to be hoped that the first Congress could pass away, without producing strong and permanent dispositions in parties, to impute to each other designs unfriendly to the public happiness. As yet, however, these imputations did not extend to the President. His character was held sacred, and the purity of his motives was admitted by all.
Democratic Rebellion; Indian War; the French Model (March 1791 to March 1793)
Major-General St. Clair appointed commander-in-chief.—The President makes a tour through the southern states.—Meeting of Congress.—President’s speech.—Debate on the bill for apportioning representatives.—Defeat of General St. Clair.—Opposition to the augmentation of the army.—Report of the Secretary of the Treasury.—Debate thereon.—Arrangement respecting the seat of government.—Congress adjourns.—Disagreement between the Secretaries of State and Treasury.—Opposition to the excise law.—Proclamation issued by the President.—Insurrection in St. Domingo.—General Wayne appointed to command the army.—Meeting of Congress.—President’s speech.—Resolution implicating the Secretary of the Treasury rejected.—Congress adjourns.—Progress of the French revolution.—The effects on parties.
March 1791More ample means for the protection of the frontier having been placed under the control of the executive, the immediate attention of the President was directed to this interesting object. Major-General Arthur St. Clair, governor of the territory north-west of the Ohio, a gentleman who had served with reputation through the war of the revolution, was appointed commander-in-chief of the forces to be employed in the meditated expedition.1
After making the necessary arrangements for recruiting the army, the President prepared to make his long-contemplated tour through the southern states. Having remained a few days on the Potomac, in order to execute finally the powers vested in him by the legislature for fixing on a place for the permanent seat ofApril 1791 government, he proceeded on this tour. He was received universally with the same marks of affectionate attachment with which he had been welcomed in the northern and middle states. To the sensibilities which these demonstrations of regard could not fail to inspire, was added the high gratification produced by observing the improvements of the country, and the advances made by the government in acquiring the confidence of the people. But this progress towards conciliation was perhaps less considerable than was indicated by appearances. The hostility to the government, which originated with it, though diminished, was far from being subdued; and, under this smooth exterior, a mass of discontent was concealed, which, though it did not obtrude itself on the view of the man who united almost all hearts, was active in its exertions to effect its objects.
The difficulties which impeded the recruiting, protracted the completion of the regiments to a late season of the year; but the summer was not permitted to waste in total inaction. The act for the defence of the frontiers had empowered the President to call mounted militia into the field. Under this authority, two expeditions had been conducted against the villages on the Wabash, the first led by General Scott, in May; the second, by General Wilkinson, in September. These desultory incursions had not much influence on the war.
On the 24th of October, the second Congress assembled in Philadelphia. In his speech, at the opening of the session, the President mentioned the rapidity with which the shares in the Bank of the United States had been subscribed, as “among the striking and pleasing evidences which presented themselves, not only of the confidence in the government, but of resources in the community.”
In his review of Indian affairs, he recommended “justice to the savages, and such rational experiments for imparting to them the blessings of civilization, as might, from time to time, suit their condition.”
In speaking of the act laying a duty on distilled spirits, he said, “If there are any circumstances in the law which, consistently with its main design, may be so varied as to remove any well-intentioned objections that may happen to exist, it will comport with a wise moderation to make the proper variations.”
The answers of the two Houses, though perhaps less warm than those of the preceding Congress, manifested great respect for the executive magistrate.
Among the first subjects which engaged the attention of the legislature, was a bill for apportioning representatives among the people of the several states, according to the first enumeration.2
This bill gave to each state one member for every thirty thousand persons. On a motion to strike out the number “thirty thousand,” the debate turned chiefly on the policy of a more or less numerous House of Representatives; but, with the general arguments suggested by the subject, strong and pointed allusions to the measures of the preceding Congress were interspersed, which indicated much more serious hostility to the administration than had hitherto been expressed.
After a long and animated discussion, the amendment was rejected, and the bill passed in its original form.
In the Senate, the bill was amended, so as to give one representative for every thirty-three thousand persons. This amendment was disagreed to; and each House adhering to its opinion, the bill fell; but was again introduced in a new form, though without any material variation in its provisions. After a debate, in which the gross injustice of the fractions produced by the ratio it adopted, was strongly pressed, it passed that House. In the Senate, it was again amended, not by reducing, but by enlarging, the number of representatives.
The Senate applied the number thirty thousand as a divisor to the total population, and taking the quotient, which was one hundred and twenty, they apportioned that number among the several states by that ratio, until as many representatives as it would give were allotted to each. The residuary members were then distributed among the states having the highest fractions. The result was a more equitable apportionment of representatives to population; but its constitutionality was questioned.3
The amendment was disagreed to in the House of Representatives, and a conference took place. The conferees did not agree; but finally, the House of Representatives receded from their disagreement, and the bill passed.
The duty of deciding the solemn question whether an act of the legislature consisted with the constitution, now devolved once more on the President.
In his cabinet, a difference of opinion is understood to have again existed. The Secretary of State and the Attorney-General were of opinion that the act was at variance with the constitution; the Secretary at War was rather undecided; and the Secretary of the Treasury, thinking that neither construction could be absolutely rejected, was in favor of acceding to the interpretation given by the legislature.
After weighing deliberately the arguments on each side of the question, the President was confirmed in the opinion, that the bill was unconstitutional, and returned it to the House in which it originated, with his objections. The question was taken on its passage by ayes and noes, and it was rejected. One of the objections made by the President would seem to be conclusive. It is, that the bill allotted to eight of the states more than one representative for every thirty thousand persons.
An act was soon afterwards passed, which apportioned the representation on the several states at the ratio of one for every thirty-three thousand persons.
1791In December, intelligence was received that the American army had been totally defeated on the 4th of the preceding month.
Such delays had attended the recruiting service, that the troops were not assembled in the neighborhood of fort Washington until the month of September. On the 7th of that month, they moved northward. After garrisoning forts Hamilton and Jefferson, two intermediate posts, which were constructed as places of deposit, the effective number of the army, including militia, amounted to rather less than two thousand men. Small parties of Indians frequently interrupted their line of march, and some unimportant skirmishes took place. As the army approached the country in which they might expect to meet an enemy, sixty of the militia deserted in a body. Though this diminution of force was not in itself an object of much concern, there was reason to fear that the example might be followed extensively; and it was reported to be the intention of the deserters to plunder convoys of provisions, which were advancing in the rear. To prevent these serious mischiefs, the General detached Major Hamtrank, with the first regiment, in pursuit of the deserters.
The army, consisting of about fourteen hundred rank and file, continued its march; and encamped in two lines, on the 3d of November, fifteen miles south of the Miamis villages, with a creek about twelve yards wide in its front. The militia crossed the creek, and encamped about a quarter of a mile in advance.
Before sunrise next morning, just after the troops had been dismissed from parade, an unexpected attack was made on the militia, who fled in the utmost confusion, and, rushing into the camp through the first line of continental troops, which had been formed on hearing the first fire, threw them too into disorder. The Indians pressed close on the heels of the flying militia, and engaged General Butler with great intrepidity.4 The action instantly became extremely warm; and the fire of the assailants, passing round both flanks of the first line, was, in a few minutes, poured with equal fury on the rear division. Its greatest weight was directed against the centre of each wing, where the artillery was posted; and the artillerists were mowed down in great numbers. The assailants were scarcely seen but when springing from one covert to another, in which manner they advanced close up to the American lines, and to the very mouths of their field-pieces. They fought with the daring courage of men whose trade is war, and who are stimulated by every passion which can impel the mind to vigorous exertion.
Under circumstances thus arduous, raw troops may be expected to exhibit that inequality which is found in human nature. Some performed their duty with resolution, others were dismayed and terrified. The officers were, as usual, the victims of this conduct. While fearlessly exposing themselves to the most imminent danger, they fell in great numbers. The commander-in-chief, though enfeebled by a severe disease, delivered his orders with judgment and self-possession.
As the American fire could produce no considerable effect on a concealed enemy, Lieutenant-Colonel Darke, at the head of the second regiment, which formed the extreme left, made an impetuous charge with the bayonet, forced the assailants from their ground with some loss, and drove them about four hundred yards. But the want of riflemen to press this advantage deprived him of its benefits; and, as soon as the pursuit was discontinued, the Indians renewed their attack. Meanwhile, General Butler was mortally wounded, the left of the right wing was broken, the artillerists killed almost to a man, the guns seized, and the camp penetrated. Darke was ordered again to charge with the bayonet at the head of his own regiment, and of the battalions commanded by Majors Butler and Clark. The Indians were driven out of the camp, and the artillery recovered. But, while they were pressed on one point, their fire was kept up from every other with fatal effect. Several corps charged them separately, but no universal effort could be made; and, in every charge, a great loss of officers was sustained. To save the remnant of his army, General St. Clair, about half-past nine, ordered Lieutenant-Colonel Darke to charge a body of Indians who had intercepted their retreat, and to gain the road. Major Clark, with his battalion, was directed to cover the rear. A disorderly flight commenced. The pursuit was kept up for about four miles; when that avidity for plunder, which is a ruling passion among savages, called back the victors to the camp, where the spoils of the vanquished were to be divided.
The routed troops continued their flight to fort Jefferson, where they met Major Hamtrank. A council of war determined against farther offensive operations, and the army continued its retreat to fort Washington.
In this disastrous battle, the loss on the part of the Americans was very great when compared with the numbers engaged. Thirty-eight officers and five hundred and ninety-three non-commissioned officers and privates were killed. Thirty-one officers, several of whom afterwards died of their wounds, and two hundred and forty-two non-commissioned officers and privates were wounded. Among the dead, was the brave and much-lamented General Butler. At the head of the list of the wounded, were Lieutenant-Colonels Gibson and Darke, Major Butler, and Adjutant-General Sergeant.
Nothing could be more unexpected than this severe disaster. The public had confidently anticipated a successful campaign, and could not believe that the General, who had been unfortunate, had not been culpable.
The commander-in-chief5 earnestly requested a court-martial on his conduct; but the army did not furnish a sufficient number of officers of a grade to form a court on military principles. Late in the session, a committee of the House of Representatives was appointed to inquire into the cause of the failure of the expedition, whose report exculpated the commander-in-chief. This inquiry, however, was instituted for the purpose of examining the conduct of civil rather than of military officers. More satisfactory testimony in favor of St. Clair is furnished by the fact that he still retained the undiminished esteem and good opinion of the President.
The war now assumed a still more serious aspect. There was reason to fear that the hostile tribes would derive a great accession of strength from the impression which their success would make upon their neighbors. The President, therefore, lost no time in causing the estimates for a competent force to be prepared and laid before Congress. In conformity with the report made by the Secretary of War, a bill was brought into the House of Representatives, directing three additional regiments of infantry and a squadron of cavalry to be raised. The whole military establishment, if completed, would amount to five thousand men. The additional regiments were to be disbanded as soon as peace should be concluded, and the President was authorized to discharge, or to forbear to raise, any part of them.
It must excite some surprise, that even this necessary measure encountered the most strenuous opposition. The debate was conducted in a temper which demonstrates the extent to which the spirit of party had been carried. A motion to strike out the section which authorized an augmentation of force was at length lost, and the bill was passed.
The increased expenses of the war requiring additional revenue, a select committee, to whom the subject was referred, brought in a resolution directing the Secretary of the Treasury to report his opinion on the best mode of raising those additional supplies which the public service might require.
This proposition was opposed earnestly, but not successfully. The resolution was carried; thirty-one members voting in its favor, and twenty-seven against it.
The report made in pursuance of this resolution, recommended an augmentation of duties on imports; and was immediately referred to a committee of the whole House, in which resolutions were passed which were to form the basis of a bill.
Before the question was taken on the bill, a motion was made to limit its duration, the vote upon which marked the progress of opinion respecting those systems of finance which were believed to have established the credit of the United States.
The secretary of the treasury had deemed it indispensable to the creation of public credit that the appropriation of funds for the payment of the interest, and the gradual redemption of the principal of the national debt, should be not only sufficient but permanent. The arguments used against this permanent appropriation appear to have been more successful with the people, than they had been with the legislature.
The bill founded on the last report of the secretary contained the same principle. Thirty-one members were in favor of limiting the duration of the bill, and thirty against it. By the rules of the house, the speaker has a right to vote as a member, and, if the members should then be equal, to decide as speaker. Being opposed to the limitation, the motion was lost by his voice.
1792On the 8th of May, Congress adjourned to the first Monday in November.
The asperity which on more than one occasion discovered itself in debate, was a certain index of the growing exasperation of parties; and the strength of the opposition on those questions which brought into review the points on which the administration was to be attacked, denoted the impression which the specific charges brought against those who conducted public affairs, had made on the minds of the people in an extensive division of the continent.
The symptoms of irritation in the public mind had assumed appearances of increased malignity during the session of Congress which had just terminated; and, to the President, who believed firmly that the union and the liberty of the states depended on the preservation of the government, they were the more unpleasant, and the more alarming, because they were displayed in full force in his cabinet.
A disagreement existed between the secretaries of the state and treasury departments, which seems to have originated in an early stage of the administration, and to have acquired a regular accession of strength from circumstances which were perpetually occurring, until it grew into open and irreconcileable hostility.
Without tracing this disagreement to those motives which, in elective governments especially, often produce enmities between distinguished personages neither of whom acknowledge the superiority of the other, such radical differences of opinion were supposed to exist between the secretaries as, in a great measure, to account for this inextinguishable enmity. These differences were, perhaps, to be ascribed in some measure to a difference in the original structure of their minds, and in some measure to the different situations in which they had been placed.
Until near the close of the war, Mr. Hamilton had served his country in the field, and, just before its termination, had passed from the camp into Congress, where he remained for some time after the establishment of peace. In the former station, the danger to which the independence of his country was exposed from the imbecility of its government was perpetually before his eyes; and, in the latter, his attention was forcibly directed towards the loss of its reputation, and the sacrifice of its best interests, which were to be ascribed to the same cause. Mr. Hamilton therefore was the friend of a government which should possess, in itself, sufficient powers and resources to maintain the character and defend the integrity of the nation. Having long felt and witnessed the mischiefs produced by the absolute sovereignty of the states, and by the control which they were enabled and disposed separately to exercise over every measure of general concern, he was particularly apprehensive of danger from that quarter; which he believed was to be the more dreaded, because the habits and feelings of the American people were calculated to inspire state, rather than national prepossessions. He openly avowed the opinion that the greatest hazard to which the constitution was exposed arose from its weakness, and that American liberty and happiness had much more to fear from the encroachments of the states than from those of the general government.
Mr. Jefferson had retired from Congress before the depreciation of the currency had produced an entire dependence of the general on the local governments, after which he filled the highest offices in his native state. About the close of the war, he was re-elected to Congress; but was soon afterwards employed on a mission to the court of Versailles, where he remained while the people of France were taking the first steps in that immense revolution which has astonished and agitated two quarters of the world. It is not unreasonable to suppose that, while residing at that court, and associating with those who meditated the great events which have since taken place, his mind might be warmed with the abuses of monarchy which were perpetually in his view, and he might be led to the opinion that liberty incurred its greatest danger from established governments. Mr. Jefferson therefore seems to have entertained no apprehensions from the debility of the government; no jealousy of the state sovereignties; no suspicion of their encroachments. His fears took a different direction; and all his precautions were used to check and limit the exercise of the powers vested in the government of the United States. From that alone could he perceive danger to liberty.
He did not feel the necessity of adopting the constitution so sensibly as they did who had continued in the country; and he had at one time avowed a wish that it might be rejected by such a number of states as would secure certain alterations which he thought essential. From this opinion, however, he is understood to have receded.
To these causes of division another was superadded, the influence of which was soon felt in all the political transactions of the government.
The war which terminated in 1783, had left in the bosoms of the American people, a strong attachment to France and enmity to Great Britain. These feelings in a greater or less degree, were, perhaps, universal; and were demonstrated by all those means by which public sentiment is usually displayed.
Although affection for France and jealousy of Britain were sentiments common to the people of America, the same unanimity did not exist respecting the influence which ought to be allowed to those sentiments over the political conduct of the nation. While many favored such discriminations as might turn the commerce of the United States into new channels, others maintained that no sufficient motives existed for that sacrifice of national and individual interests which was involved in the discriminations proposed.
The former opinion was taken up with zeal by the secretary of state, and the latter was adopted with equal sincerity by the secretary of the treasury. This contrariety of sentiment respecting commercial regulations was only a part of a general system. It extended itself to all the relations which might exist between America and those two great powers.
In all popular governments, the press is the ready channel through which the opinions and the passions of the few are communicated to the many; and of the press, the two great parties sought to avail themselves. The Gazette of the United States6 supported the systems of the treasury department, while other papers enlisted themselves under the banners of the opposition. Conspicuous among these, was the National Gazette, a paper edited by a clerk in the department of state.7 It became the vehicle of calumny against the funding and banking systems, against the duty on home-made spirits, and against the men who had proposed and supported those measures. With perhaps equal asperity, the papers attached to the party which had defended these systems, assailed the motives of the leaders of the opposition.
This schism in his cabinet was a subject of extreme mortification to the President. Entertaining a high respect for the talents and a real esteem for the characters of both gentlemen, he was unwilling to part with either; and exerted all the influence he possessed to effect a reconciliation between them. His exertions were not successful. Their hostility sustained no diminution, and its consequences became every day more diffusive.
Among the immediate effects of these internal dissensions was the encouragement they afforded to a daring and criminal resistance which was made to the execution of the laws imposing a duty on spirits distilled within the United States.
To the inhabitants of that part of Pennsylvania which lies west of the Allegheny Mountains, this duty was, from local causes, peculiarly odious; nor was their hostility to the measure diminished by any affection for its source. The constitution itself had encountered the most decided opposition from that part of the state, and this early enmity had sustained no abatement. Its measures generally, and the whole system of finance particularly, had been reprobated with extreme bitterness by the most popular men of the district. With these dispositions, a tax law, the operation of which was extended to them, could not be favorably received, however generally it might be supported in other parts of the Union. But when, to this pre-existing temper, were superadded the motives which arose from perceiving that the measure was censured on the floor of Congress as unnecessary and tyrannical; that resistance to its execution was treated as probable; that a powerful and active party pervading the Union, arraigned the whole system of finance as being hostile to liberty; and charged its advocates with designing to subvert the republican institutions of America; we ought not to be surprised that the awful impressions, which usually restrain combinations to resist the laws, were lessened; and that the malcontents were emboldened to hope that those combinations might be successful.
The resistance commenced with the circulation of opinions which might render the law still more odious, and with endeavors to defeat the collection of the duty, by directing the public resentment against those who were inclined either to comply with the act, or to accept offices under it. These indications of ill-temper were succeeded by neighborhood-meetings, in which resolutions of extreme violence were adopted, and by acts of outrage against the persons of revenue officers. At length, in September, 1791, a meeting of delegates from the malcontent counties was held at Pittsburg, in which resolutions, breathing the same spirit with those which had been previously agreed to in county assemblies, were adopted. Prosecutions were directed against those who had committed acts of violence, but the deputy-marshal8 was too much intimidated to execute the process. There was even reason to fear that the judiciary would be unable to punish them, and the legislature had not empowered the executive to aid that department. Farther proceedings were suspended, in the hope that the execution of the law elsewhere, and such a revision of it by Congress as should remove any real objections to it which might be suggested by experience, would render measures of coercion unnecessary.
An amendatory act was passed in May, 1792; but this conciliatory measure did not produce the desired effect. Offices of inspection in every county were necessary to its execution. The malcontents, for a considerable time, deterred every individual from permitting one to be held at his house, and the few who were prevailed on by the supervisors to grant this permission, were compelled, by personal violence and by threats, to retract the consent they had given.
Aug. 1792A meeting was again convened at Pittsburg, by which committees of correspondence were established; and the determination was avowed to persist in every legal measure to obstruct the execution of the law; and to hold no intercourse with those who held offices for the collection of the duty.
The President issued a proclamation exhorting and admonishing all persons to desist from any combinations or proceedings whatsoever, tending to obstruct the execution of the laws; and requiring the interference of the civil magistrate.9 The proclamation produced no salutary effect.
Still solicitous to avoid extremities, the government adopted the following system:
Prosecutions were instituted against delinquents. The spirits distilled in the non-complying counties were intercepted in their way to market, and seized by the officers of the revenue; and the agents for the army were directed to purchase only those spirits on which the duty had been paid. Could the distillers have obeyed their wishes, these measures would have produced the desired effect. But, impelled by a furious multitude, they found it much more dangerous to obey the laws than to resist them.
During these party struggles, the external affairs of the United States sustained no material change.
A melancholy occasion had presented itself for evincing the alacrity with which the American executive could embrace any proper occasion for manifesting its disposition to promote the interests of France.
Early and bitter fruits of that malignant philosophy which can deliberately pursue through oceans of blood, abstract systems for the attainment of some imaginary good, were gathered in the French West Indies. Instead of proceeding in the correction of abuses by those cautious steps which gradually introduce reform without ruin, the revolutionists of France formed the mad and wicked project of spreading their doctrines of equality among persons between whom distinctions and prejudices exist, to be subdued only by the grave. The rage excited by the pursuit of this visionary theory, after many threatening symptoms, burst forth on the 23d day of August, 1791, with a fury alike general and destructive. A preconcerted insurrection of the blacks took place, in one night, throughout the colony of St. Domingo;10 and the white inhabitants of the country, while sleeping in their beds, were involved in one indiscriminate massacre. Only a few females, reserved for a fate more cruel than death, were intentionally spared; and some were fortunate enough to escape into the fortified cities. A bloody war then commenced between the insurgents and the whites inhabiting the towns. The minister of his Most Christian Majesty11 applied to the executive of the United States for a sum of money which would enable him to preserve this valuable colony, to be deducted out of the debt to his sovereign; and the request was granted in a manner evincing the interest taken by the administration in whatever might concern France.
Spain still persisted in measures calculated to embroil the United States with the southern Indians.
An official diplomatic intercourse had at length been opened with Great Britain. Mr. Hammond, the minister plenipotentiary of that nation, had arrived at Philadelphia in the autumn of 1791; upon which Mr. Thomas Pinckney had been charged with the interests of his country at the court of London.12 Soon after the arrival of Mr. Hammond, the non-execution of the treaty of peace became the subject of a correspondence between him and the Secretary of State, in which the complaints of their respective nations were urged in terms manifesting the sense entertained by each of the justice of those complaints, without furnishing solid ground for the hope that they would be immediately removed on either side. The views of the respective parties in relation to some important principles were too wide apart to render any commercial treaty probable.
1792The preparations for prosecuting the war with the north-western Indians were earnestly pressed. General Wayne13 was appointed to succeed General St. Clair, who had resigned the command of the army; but the recruiting business advanced too slowly to authorize a hope that the meditated expedition could be prudently undertaken in the course of the present year. Meanwhile, the clamor against the war continued to be loud and violent. From respect for opinions extensively professed, it was thought advisable to make still another effort to procure peace by a direct communication of the views of the executive. The fate of those who were employed in these efforts, was still more to be lamented than their failure. Colonel Hardin and Major Truman, two brave officers and estimable men, were severally despatched with propositions of peace, and each was murdered by the savages.
On the 5th of November, Congress again convened. In the speech delivered at the commencement of the session, Indian affairs were treated at considerable length, and apprehensions were expressed that the war would be extended to the southern tribes also.
The subject next adverted to was the impediments which continued to embarrass the collection of duties on spirits distilled within the United States. After observing that symptoms of such increased opposition had manifested themselves lately in certain places as in his judgment to render his special interposition advisable, the President added—“Congress may be assured that nothing within constitutional and legal limits which may depend on me, shall be wanting to assert and maintain the just authority of the laws.”
After noticing various other objects, the President addressed himself particularly to the House of Representatives, and said, “I entertain a strong hope that the state of the national finances is now sufficiently matured to enable you to enter into a systematic and effectual arrangement for the regular redemption and discharge of the public debt, according to the right which has been reserved to the government. No measure can be more desirable, whether viewed with an eye to its intrinsic importance, or to the general sentiments and wish of the nation.”
The addresses of the two houses in answer to the speech were, as usual, respectful and affectionate. But the subsequent proceedings of the legislature did not fulfil the expectations excited by this auspicious commencement.
At an early day, Mr. Fitzsimmons moved “that measures for the reduction of so much of the public debt as the United States have a right to redeem, ought to be adopted; and that the Secretary of the Treasury be directed to report a plan for that purpose.” After a vehement contest, a motion to strike out the proposed reference to the Secretary of the Treasury was overruled, and the resolution was carried.
The report of the Secretary proposed a plan for the redemption of the debt. But the expenses of the Indian war rendering it unsafe in his opinion to rest absolutely on the existing revenue, he also proposed to extend the internal taxes to pleasure horses, or pleasure carriages, as the legislature might deem most eligible.
Jan. 1793The consideration of this report was deferred on various pretexts; and a motion was made to reduce the military establishment. The debate on this subject was peculiarly earnest; and it was not until the 4th of January 1793, that the motion was rejected. While that question remained undecided, the report of the Secretary was unavoidably postponed. It would seem not improbable that the opponents of the financial system, who constituted rather a minority of the present Congress, but who expected to become a majority in the next, were desirous of referring every question concerning the treasury department to the succeeding legislature. The measures earnestly pressed by the administration could not be carried. Those who claimed the favor and confidence of the people as a just reward for their attachment to liberty, and especially for their watchfulness to prevent augmentation of debt, were found in opposition to a system for its diminution, which was urged by men who were incessantly charged with entertaining designs for its excessive accumulation, in order to render it the corrupt instrument of executive influence. But when party passions are highly inflamed, reason itself submits to their control, and becomes the instrument of their will.
Soon after the motion for the reduction of the military establishment was disposed of, another subject was introduced, which effectually postponed for the present session, every measure connected with the finances.
An act of Congress which passed on the 4th of August 1790, authorised the President to cause to be borrowed any sum not exceeding twelve millions of dollars, to be applied in payment of the foreign debt. Another act authorised a loan not exceeding two millions, to be applied in aid of the sinking fund, towards the extinguishment of the domestic debt.
A power to make these loans was delegated by the President to the Secretary of the Treasury. The commission was accompanied by written instructions directing the Secretary to pay such parts of the foreign debt as should become due at the end of the year 1791; but leaving him with respect to the residue, to be regulated by the interests of the United States. Two loans were negotiated in 1790, and others at subsequent periods.
Each loan was negotiated under both laws; and, consequently the moneys produced by each were applicable to both objects, in such proportions as the President might direct.
At this period the domestic debt bore a low price in the market, and foreign capital was pouring into the United States for its purchase. The immediate application of the sinking fund to this object would consequently acquire a large portion of the debt, and would also accelerate its appreciation. Under the influence of these considerations, the Secretary had, with the approbation of the President, directed a part of the first loan to be paid in discharge of the instalments of the foreign debt which were actually due, and had drawn a part of it into the treasury in aid of the sinking fund.
The execution of the instructions given in May 1791, to the agent of the United States in Europe, to apply the proceeds of future loans in payment to France except such sums as should be specially reserved, was delayed partly by a suggestion of the minister of marine as to a plan, to which a decree of the national assembly would be necessary, for converting a large sum into supplies for St. Domingo; and partly to a desire of the American agent, to settle the rule by which the moneys paid should be liquidated, and credited to the United States. Such was the state of this transaction when the calamities which finally overwhelmed St. Domingo, induced the American government, on the application of the French minister, to furnish supplies to that ill-fated colony, in payment of the debt to France. This being a mode of payment which, to a certain extent, was desired by both creditor and debtor, a consequent disposition prevailed to use it so far as might comport with the wishes of the French government; and a part of the money designed for foreign purposes, was drawn into the United States.
1793On the 23d of January, Mr. Giles14 moved several resolutions, requiring information, among other things, on the various points growing out of these loans. Observations were made in the speech introducing them which implied charges of a much more serious nature than inattention to the exact letter of an appropriation law. Estimates were made in support of the position that a large balance was unaccounted for.
The resolutions were agreed to without debate; and in a few days the Secretary transmitted a report containing the information that was required.
On the 27th of February, Mr. Giles moved sundry resolutions founded on the information before the house. The idea of a balance unaccounted for was necessarily relinquished; but the Secretary was charged with neglect of duty, with violating the law of the 4th of August 1790; with deviating from the instructions of the President, with negotiating a loan at the bank while public money lay unemployed in its vaults, and with an indecorum to the House in undertaking to judge of its motives in calling for information.
These resolutions were followed by one directing that a copy of them should be transmitted to the President.
The debate was conducted in a spirit of acrimony, demonstrating the soreness of the wounds which had been given and received in the party war which had been previously waged. It terminated in a rejection of all the resolutions. The highest number in favor of any one of them was sixteen.15
1793On the 3d of March, a constitutional period was put to the existence of the present Congress. The members separated with obvious symptoms of extreme irritation. Various causes had combined to organize two distinct parties in the United States, which were rapidly taking the form of a ministerial, and an opposition party. These divisions were beginning to be essentially influenced by the great events of Europe.
That revolution which has been the admiration, the wonder, and the terror of the civilized world, had, from its commencement, been viewed with the deepest interest. In its first stage, but one sentiment respecting it prevailed. When the labors of the convention had terminated in a written constitution, this unanimity of sentiment was in some degree impaired.16 A very few feared that a system so ill-balanced could not be permanent. A deep impression was made on the same persons by the influence of the galleries over the legislature, and of mobs over the executive. The tumultuous assemblages of the people, and their licentious excesses during the short and sickly existence of the regal authority, were not, they thought, symptoms of a healthy constitution, or of genuine freedom. Persuaded that the present state of things could not last, they doubted, and they feared for the future.17
In total opposition to this sentiment was that of the public. There seems to be something infectious in the example of a powerful and enlightened nation verging towards democracy, which imposes on the human mind, and binds human reason in fetters. The constitution of France, therefore, was generally received with unqualified plaudits. The establishment of a legislature consisting of a single body, was defended, not only as being adapted to the particular condition of that country, but as being right in itself. To question the duration of the present order of things, was thought to evince an attachment to unlimited monarchy, or a blind prejudice in favour of British institutions.
In this stage of the revolution, however, the division of sentiment was not marked with sufficient distinctness, nor the passions of the people agitated with sufficient violence to produce any powerful effect. But when the monarchy was overthrown and a republic decreed, the people of the United States seemed electrified by the measure.18 The war in which the several potentates of Europe were engaged against France, although, in almost every instance, commenced by that power, was pronounced to be a war for the extirpation of human liberty, and for the banishment of free government from the face of the earth. The preservation of the independence of the United States was supposed to depend on its issue, and the coalition against France was treated as a coalition against America also.19
A cordial wish that the war might terminate without diminishing the power of France, and so as to leave the people of that country free to choose their own form of government, was perhaps universal; but perfect unanimity of opinion did not prevail respecting the probable issue of their internal conflicts. By some few individuals, the practicability of governing under the republican form an immense military nation, whose institutions, habits, and morals were adapted to monarchy, and which was surrounded by armed neighbours, was deemed a problem which time alone could solve. The circumstances under which the abolition of royalty was declared, the massacres which preceded it, the scenes of turbulence and violence which were acted in every part of the nation, appeared to them to present an awful and doubtful state of things; and the idea that a republic was to be introduced and supported by force, was, to them, a paradox in politics. Under the influence of these appearances, the apprehension was entertained that the ancient monarchy would be restored, or a military despotism established.
By the many, these unpopular doubts were deemed unpardonable heresies; and the few to whom they were imputed, were pronounced hostile to liberty. The French revolution will be found to have exercised great influence over the affairs of the United States.
Reelection; Furor over Neutrality; the Extraordinary Citizen Genêt (November 1792 to December 1793)
General Washington again unanimously elected President of the United States.—War between Great Britain and France.—Proclamation of Neutrality.—Arrival of Mr. Genêt as minister of France.—His conduct.—Illegal proceedings of French Cruisers.—Opinions of the Cabinet.—State of Parties.—Democratic Societies.—Genêt openly insults the Government.—Rules to be observed in the Ports of the United States respecting the Powers at War.—The President requests the recall of Genêt.—British order of the 8th of June, 1793.
1792–93The term for which the President and Vice-President were elected being to expire on the third of March, the attention of the public had been directed to the choice of persons who should fill those offices.
Nov. 1792General Washington had been prevailed upon to withhold a declaration he had at one time purposed to make, of his determination to retire from political life; and but one opinion existed respecting the President. The public was divided on the Vice-President.
The profound statesman who had been called to that office, had drawn upon himself a great degree of obloquy by some political tracts in which he had labored to maintain the proposition that a balance in government was essential to the preservation of liberty. He was charged by his opponents with having disclosed sentiments in these disquisitions favorable to distinct orders in society.1 He was also known to be friendly to the system of finance; and was believed to be among the few who questioned the durability of the French republic.
Mr. Jefferson being excluded by a constitutional restriction which must deprive him of the vote of Virginia,2 Mr. George Clinton was selected as the opponent of Mr. Adams.
Through the war of the revolution, this gentleman had filled the office of Governor of New York, and had performed its duties with courage and energy. A devoted friend of State supremacy, he had contributed greatly to the rejection of the resolutions for investing Congress with the power of collecting duties on imports, was a determined enemy to the adoption of the constitution, and to the system of measures pursued by the general government.
Both parties seemed confident in their strength, and both made the utmost exertions to ensure success. On opening the ballotsDec. 1792 to Feb. 1793 in the Senate Chamber, it appeared that the unanimous suffrage of his country had been once more conferred on General Washington: and that Mr. Adams had received the next greatest number of votes.3
July 1793The unceasing endeavors of the executive to terminate the Indian war had at length succeeded with the savages of the Wabash, and a negotiation was pending with those of the Miamis, during which hostilities were forbidden. This prohibition increased the irritation of Georgia against the administration.4
The Indian war was becoming an object of secondary magnitude. The critical and irritable state of things in France began to affect the United States so materially, as to require an exertion of all the prudence and all the firmness of government. The 10th of August, 1792, was succeeded by such a state of anarchy, and by scenes of so much blood and horror; and the nation was understood to be so divided, as to afford reason to doubt whether the fallen monarch would be finally deposed or reinstated.5 The American minister at Paris requested explicit instructions for the regulation of his future conduct; and, in the mean time, pursued a course which should in no respect compromise the United States.
The administration entertained no doubt of the propriety of recognizing the existing authority of France, whatever form it might assume; nor of paying the instalments of the debt as they should fall due, to those who might be authorized to receive it. These instructions were accompanied with assurances that the government would omit no opportunity of convincing the French people of its cordial wish to serve them.
The attachment of the President to the French nation was as strong as consisted with a due regard to the interests of his own; and his wishes for its happiness were as ardent as was compatible with the duties of a Chief Magistrate to the state over which he presided. But he still preserved the fixed purpose of maintaining the neutrality of the United States, however general the war might be in Europe. The firmness of this resolution was soon put to the test.
1793Early in April, the declaration of war by France against Great Britain and Holland reached the United States. This event restored full vivacity to a flame which a peace of ten years had not been able to extinguish. A great majority of the American people deemed it criminal to remain unconcerned spectators of a conflict between republican France and their ancient enemy. The few who did not embrace this opinion, and they were very few, were held up as objects of popular detestation; and were calumniated as the tools of Britain and the satellites of despotism. Indications were immediately given in some of the seaports, of a disposition to engage in the business of privateering on the commerce of the belligerent powers. As the President was determined to suppress this practice, he requested the attention of the heads of departments to the subject. At that meeting, it was unanimously agreed that a proclamation ought to issue, forbidding the citizens of the United States to take part in any hostilities on the seas, with or against any of the belligerent powers; warning them against carrying to any of those powers articles deemed contraband; and enjoining them from all acts inconsistent with the duties of a friendly nation towards those at war. The proclamation was prepared by the Attorney-General; and, being approved by the cabinet, was signed by the President.6
This measure derives importance from the consideration that it was the commencement of that system to which the American government afterwards inflexibly adhered, and to which much of the national prosperity is to be ascribed. It is not less important in another view. Being at variance with the prejudices, the feelings, and the passions of a large portion of society, and being founded on no previous proceedings of the legislature, it presented the first occasion, which was thought a fit one, for openly assaulting a character around which the affections of the people had thrown an armour theretofore deemed sacred, and for directly criminating the conduct of the President himself. It was only by opposing passion to passion, by bringing the feeling in favor of France into conflict with that in favor of the chief magistrate, that the enemies of his administration could hope to obtain the victory.
As soon as the commotions which succeeded the deposition of Louis XVI had in some degree subsided, the attention of the French government was directed to the United States; and the resolution was taken to replace the minister who had been appointed by the king, with one who might be expected to enter more zealously into the views of the republic.
The citizen Genêt, a gentleman of considerable talents and of an ardent temper, was selected for that purpose.7
The letters which he brought to the executive, and his instructions, which he occasionally communicated, were highly flattering to the nation, and decently respectful to its government. But he was also furnished with private instructions, which subsequent events tempted him to publish. These indicate that, should the American executive prove to be not sufficiently compliant with the views of France, the resolution was taken to employ with the people of the United States, the same policy which had been so successful with those of Europe.
1793On the 8th of April, Mr. Genêt arrived, not at Philadelphia, but at Charleston; a port whose contiguity to the West Indies gave it peculiar advantages as a resort for privateers. He was received by the Governor of the state, and by its citizens, with an enthusiasm well calculated to dissipate any doubt concerning the dispositions on which he was to operate. During his stay at that place, he undertook to authorize the fitting and arming of vessels, enlisting men, and giving commissions to commit hostilities on nations with whom the United States were at peace. The captures made by these cruisers were brought into port, and the consuls of France were assuming, under the authority of Mr. Genêt, to hold courts of admiralty for their trial, condemnation, and sale.
On the 16th of May, Mr. Genêt arrived at the seat of government, preceded by the intelligence of his transactions in South Carolina. Means had been taken to render his entry triumphal; and the opposition papers exultingly stated that he was met at Gray’s ferry by “crowds of people, who flocked from every avenue of the city to meet the republican ambassador of an allied nation.”
The day succeeding his arrival, he received addresses of congratulation from particular societies, and from the citizens of Philadelphia, who waited on him in a body, in which they expressed their fervent gratitude for the zealous and disinterested aids which the French people had furnished to America, unbounded exultation at the success of their arms, and a positive conviction that the safety of the United States depended on the establishment of the republic. The answers to these addresses were well calculated to preserve the idea of a complete fraternity between the people of the two nations.
The day after being thus accredited by the citizens of Philadelphia, Mr. Genêt was presented to the President, by whom he was received with expressions of a sincere and cordial regard for his nation. In the conversation which took place, he gave the most explicit assurances that France did not wish to engage the United States in the war.
Before the ambassador of the republic had reached the seat of government, a long catalogue of complaints, partly founded on his proceedings in Charleston, had been presented by the British Minister to the American executive.8 These were still farther aggravated by the commission of actual hostilities within the United States. The ship Grange, a British vessel, which had sailed from Philadelphia, was captured by the French frigate L’Ambuscade, within the capes of the Delaware.
The prizes thus unwarrantably made, being brought within the power of the American government, Mr. Hammond demanded their restitution.
On many of the points suggested by the conduct of Mr. Genêt, and by the memorials of the British minister, it would seem impossible that a difference of opinion could exist among intelligent men, not under the dominion of blind infatuation. Accordingly, it was agreed, without a dissenting voice, in the cabinet, that the jurisdiction of every independent nation, within its own territory, being of a nature to exclude the exercise of any authority therein by a foreign power, the proceedings complained of, not being warranted by treaty, were usurpations of national sovereignty, and violations of neutral rights, a repetition of which it was the duty of the government to prevent.
The question of restitution, except as to the Grange, was more dubious. The Secretary of State and the Attorney-General were of opinion that vessels which had been captured on the high seas, and brought into the ports of the United States, by vessels fitted out and commissioned in their ports, ought not to be restored. The Secretaries of the Treasury and of War were of a different opinion.9
June 1793The President took time to deliberate on the point on which his cabinet was divided. Those principles on which they were united being considered as settled, the Secretary of State was desired to communicate them to the ministers of France and Britain; and circular letters were addressed to the executives of the several states, requiring their co-operation, with force if necessary, in the execution of the rules which were established.
The citizen Genêt was much dissatisfied with these decisions. He thought them contrary to natural right, and subversive of the treaties by which the two nations were connected. Intoxicated with the sentiments expressed by a great portion of the people, and not appreciating the firm character of the executive, he seems to have expected that the popularity of his nation would enable him to overthrow that department, or to render it subservient to his views. It is difficult otherwise to account for his persisting to disregard its decisions, and for passages with which his letters abound, such as the following.
“Every obstruction by the government of the United States to the arming of French vessels, must be an attempt on the rights of man, upon which repose the independence and laws of the United States—a violation of the ties which unite the people of France and America, and even a manifest contradiction of the system of neutrality of the President; for in fact, if our merchant vessels, or others, are not allowed to arm themselves, when the French alone are resisting the league of all the tyrants against the liberty of the people, they will be exposed to inevitable ruin in going out of the ports of the United States; which is certainly not the intention of the people of America. Their fraternal voice has resounded from every quarter around me, and their accents are not equivocal. They are pure as the hearts of those by whom they are expressed; and the more they have touched my sensibility, the more they must interest in the happiness of America the nation I represent; the more I wish, sir, that the federal government would observe, as far as in their power, the public engagements contracted by both nations; and that, by this generous and prudent conduct, they will give at least to the world, the example of a true neutrality, which does not consist in the cowardly abandonment of their friends in the moment when danger menaces them, but in adhering strictly, if they can do no better, to the obligations they have contracted with them. It is by such proceeding that they will render themselves respectable to all the powers—that they will preserve their friends, and deserve to augment their numbers.”
A few days previous to the reception of the letter from which the foregoing extract is taken, two citizens of the United States, who had been engaged by Mr. Genêt, in Charleston, to cruise in the service of France, were arrested by the civil magistrate, in pursuance of a determination of the executive to prosecute persons having thus offended against the laws. Mr. Genêt demanded their release, in the following extraordinary terms:
“I have this moment been informed that two officers in the service of the republic of France, citizen Gideon Henfield and John Singletary, have been arrested on board the privateer of the French republic, the Citizen Genêt, and conducted to prison. The crime laid to their charge—the crime which my mind cannot conceive, and which my pen almost refuses to state—is the serving of France, and defending, with her children, the common glorious cause of liberty.
“Being ignorant of any positive law or treaty which deprives Americans of this privilege, and authorizes officers of police arbitrarily to take mariners, in the service of France, from on board their vessels, I call upon your intervention, sir, and that of the President of the United States, in order to obtain the immediate releasement of the above-mentioned officers, who have acquired, by the sentiments animating them, and by the act of their engagement, anterior to every act to the contrary, the right of French citizens, if they have lost that of American citizens.”
Though this lofty offensive style could not fail to make a deep impression on a mind penetrated with a just sense of those obligations by which the Chief Magistrate is bound to guard the dignity of his government, and to take care that his nation be not degraded in his person, yet, in no single instance did the administration permit itself to be betrayed into the use of one intemperate expression.
The deliberate perseverance of Mr. Genêt in this open defiance of the executive, appears to have been occasioned by a belief that the sentiments of the people were in direct opposition to the measures of their government. So excessive were the demonstrations of enthusiastic devotion to France, so thin was the veil which covered the Chief Magistrate from that stream of malignant opprobrium directed against every measure which thwarted the views of this minister, that a person less sanguine than Mr. Genêt might have cherished the hope of being able ultimately to triumph over the opposition to his designs.
The press, too, to a great extent, was enlisted in his cause. In various modes, that important engine contributed its powerful aid to the extension of opinions calculated to vary the situation of the United States. The proclamation of neutrality, which was denominated a royal edict, was not only considered as assuming powers not belonging to the executive, and as proving the monarchical tendencies of that department, but as demonstrating its disposition to break the connexion with France, and to dissolve the friendship which united the people of the two republics.
With infectious enthusiasm, it was contended that there was a natural and inveterate hostility between monarchies and republics; that the combination against France was a combination against liberty in every part of the world; and that the destinies of America were inseparably linked to those of the French republic.
On every point of controversy between the executive and Mr. Genêt, this powerful party openly embraced the principles for which that minister contended. He was exhorted not to relax in his endeavors to maintain the just rights of his country; and was assured, that he would find a firm and certain support in the affections of the people.
These principles and opinions derived considerable aid from the labors and intrigues of certain societies who had constituted themselves the guardians of American liberty.
July 1793Soon after the arrival of Mr. Genêt, a democratic society was formed in Philadelphia, on the model of the Jacobin Club in Paris;10 and, to give the more extensive operation to their labors, a corresponding committee was appointed, through whom they were to communicate with other similar societies throughout the United States.
Faithful to their founder, and true to the real objects of the association, these societies continued to be the resolute champions of all the encroachments attempted by the agents of the French republic on the government of the United States, and the steady defamers of the views and measures of the American executive.
June 1793The President was called to Mount Vernon on urgent business; and, in his absence, the heads of departments superintended the execution of the rules which had been previously established. Information being received that a vessel equipped as a privateer in the port of Philadelphia was about to sail on a cruise, GovernorJuly 1793 Mifflin was requested to inquire into the fact.11 Understanding that she was to sail the next day, under the name of Le Petit Democrat, the Governor, in pursuance of the instructions of the President, sent Mr. Secretary Dallas12 for the purpose of prevailing on Mr. Genêt to relieve him from the employment of force, by detaining the vessel until the arrival of the President. On receiving this communication, the minister gave way to the most extravagant passion. After much grossly unbecoming language, he said the President was not the sovereign of this country. The powers of peace and war being vested in Congress, it belonged to that body to decide questions which might involve peace or war; and the President, therefore, ought to have assembled the national legislature before he ventured to issue his proclamation of neutrality, or to prohibit, by his instructions to the state Governors, the enjoyment of the particular rights which France claimed under the express stipulations of the treaty of commerce. After many intemperate expressions, he peremptorily refused to delay the departure of the privateer, and cautioned Mr. Dallas against any attempt to seize her, as she belonged to the republic, and would unquestionably repel force by force.
Governor Mifflin ordered out one hundred and twenty militia, and communicated the case to the officers of the executive government. Mr. Jefferson waited on Mr. Genêt, in the hope of prevailing on him to detain the privateer in port till the arrival of the President. The minister indulged himself in a repetition of nearly the same violent language he had used to Mr. Dallas, and persisted in refusing to detain the vessel. The threat that, should an attempt be made to take possession of the vessel, force would be repelled by force, was renewed.
He afterwards said she would change her position, and fall down the river a small distance on that day; but was not yet ready to sail.
Mr. Jefferson stated to Governor Mifflin his conviction that the privateer would remain in the river until the President should decide on her case, in consequence of which the Governor dismissed the militia, and requested the advice of the heads of departments. Both the Governor and Mr. Jefferson stated that Mr. Dallas, in reporting his conversation with Mr. Genêt, said that Mr. Genêt threatened, in express words, “to appeal to the people.”
Thus braved and insulted in the very heart of the empire, the Secretaries of the Treasury and of War were of opinion that, if the vessel should attempt to depart before the decision of the President could be obtained, military coercion should be employed to arrest her progress at Mud island. The Secretary of State dissenting from this opinion, the measure was not adopted; and the vessel fell down to Chester before the arrival of the President, and sailed on her cruise before the power of the government could be interposed.
On the 11th of July, while the Little Democrat lay at Chester, the President reached Philadelphia, and requested a meeting of his cabinet ministers the next morning at nine.
Among the papers placed in his hands by the Secretary of State, who had retired indisposed to his seat in the country, were those relating to the Little Democrat. On reading them, the President addressed a letter to him, in which he asked, “Is the minister of the French republic to set the acts of government at defiance with impunity, and threaten the executive with an appeal to the people? What must the world think of such conduct, and of the American government in submitting to it?”
In answer to this letter, the Secretary stated the assurances which had on that day been given him by Mr. Genêt, that the vessel would not sail before the President’s decision respecting her should be made. Immediate coercive measures were suspended; and, in the council of the next day, it was determined to retain all privateers in port, which had been equipped by any of the belligerents within the United States. In contempt of this determination, the Little Democrat sailed on her cruise.
In this, as in every effort made by the executive to maintain the neutrality of the United States, that great party, which denominated itself “the people,” could perceive only a settled hostility to France and to liberty, a tame subserviency to British policy, and a desire to engage America in the war, for the extirpation of republican principles.
The administration received additional evidence of the difficulty of executing its system, in the acquittal of Gideon Henfield, who had been prosecuted in pursuance of the advice of the Attorney-General.
As the trial approached, a great degree of sensibility was displayed, and the verdict of acquittal was celebrated with the most extravagant marks of exultation. It bereaved the government of the strength to be derived from the opinion that punishment might be legally inflicted on those who should openly violate the rules prescribed for the preservation of neutrality.
About this time a question of considerable importance was presented to the consideration of the executive.
The principle that free bottoms make free goods13 was engrafted into the treaty of commerce with France, but no stipulation on the subject had been made with England. It followed that the belligerent rights of Britain were to be decided by the law of nations. Construing this law to give security to the goods of a friend in the bottoms of an enemy, and to subject the goods of an enemy to capture in the bottoms of a friend, the British cruisers took French property out of American vessels, and their courts condemned it as lawful prize.
Mr. Genêt had remonstrated against the acquiescence of the executive in this exposition of the law of nations, in such terms as he was accustomed to employ. On the 9th of July, in the midst of the contest respecting the Little Democrat, he had written a letter demanding an immediate and positive answer to the question, what measures the President had taken or would take to cause the American flag to be respected.
Towards the close of July, Mr. Genêt again addressed the Secretary of State on the subject. After complaining of the insults offered to the American flag by seizing the property of Frenchmen confided to its protection, he added, “your political rights are counted for nothing.” “In vain does the desire of preserving peace, lead to sacrifice the interest of France to that of the moment, in vain does the thirst of riches preponderate over honor in the political balance of America; all this management, all this condescension, all this humility, end in nothing; our enemies laugh at it; and the French, too confident, are punished for having believed that the American nation had a flag, that they had some respect for their laws, some conviction of their strength, and entertained some sentiment of their dignity.” “If our fellow-citizens have been deceived, if you are not in a condition to maintain the sovereignty of your people, speak; we have guarantied it when slaves, we shall be able to render it formidable having become freemen.”
On the day preceding the date of this offensive letter, the Secretary of State had answered that of the 9th; and, without noticing the unbecoming style in which the decision of the executive was demanded, had avowed and defended the opinion that by the general law of nations the goods of an enemy found in the vessels of a friend, are lawful prize. This fresh insult might therefore be passed over in silence.
While a hope remained that the forbearance of the executive, and the unceasing manifestations of its friendly dispositions towards the French republic, might induce the minister of that nation to respect the rights of the United States, an anxious desire not to impair the harmony which subsisted between the two republics, had restrained the President from adopting those measures respecting Mr. Genêt, which the conduct of that gentleman required. But the full experiment had now been made; and the result was a conviction that moderation would only invite additional injuries.
Aug. 1793The judgment of the President was never hastily formed; but, once formed, it was seldom to be shaken. In a cabinet council, it was unanimously agreed that a letter should be written to Mr. Morris, the minister of the United States at Paris, stating the conduct of Mr. Genêt, reviewing the points of difference between the government and that gentleman, assigning the reasons for the opinions of the former, and desiring the recall of the latter; directing also that this letter, with those which had passed between the Secretary of State and Mr. Genêt, should be laid before the executive of the French government.
An adequate idea of the passion it excited in Mr. Genêt, who received the communication in September, at New York, can be produced only by a perusal of his letter addressed, on that occasion, to the Secretary of State. The asperity of his language was not confined to the President, whom he still set at defiance, nor to those “gentlemen who had been painted to him so often as aristocrats and partisans of England.” Its bitterness was also extended to the Secretary of State himself, who had, he said, “initiated him into mysteries which had inflamed his hatred against all those who aspire to an absolute power.”
During these deliberations, Mr. Genêt was received in New York with the same marks of unlimited attachment which had been exhibited in the more southern states. At this place too, he manifested the same desire to encourage discontent at the conduct of the government, and to embark America in the quarrel by impressing the opinion that the existence of liberty depended on the success of the French republic.
While these exertions were successfully making to give increased force to opinions which might subvert the system adopted by the executive, Mr. Jay and Mr. King arrived in New York from Philadelphia.14 They had been preceded by a report that the French minister had avowed a determination to appeal from the President to the people. These gentlemen were asked whether the report was true, and had answered that it was.
On being repeatedly required in the public papers to admit or deny that they had made this assertion, they published a certificate avowing that they had made the declaration imputed to them.
This communication made a serious impression on reflecting men. The recent events in Poland, whose dismemberment and partition were readily traced to the admission of foreign influence, gave additional solemnity to the occurrence, and led to a more intent consideration of the awful causes which would embolden a foreign minister to utter such a threat.15 In every quarter of the Union the people assembled in their districts, and the strength of parties was tried. The contest was warm and strenuous. But public opinion appeared to preponderate greatly in favor of neutrality, and of the proclamation by which its observance was directed. Yet it was not to be concealed that the arrogance of Mr. Genêt, his direct insults to the President, and the attachment which many, who opposed the general measures of the administration, still retained for the person of that approved patriot, contributed greatly to the prevalence of the sentiment which was called forth by the occasion.
Foreseeing the effect which the certificate of Mr. Jay and Mr. King might have, Mr. Genêt sought to defeat its influence by questioning its veracity. Although it was well understood that the exceptionable expressions had not been used to the President or in his presence, he addressed a letter to the chief magistrate, which, being written for publication, was itself the act he had threatened. In this letter he subjoined to a detail of his accusations against the executive, the demand of an explicit declaration that he had never intimated to him an intention to appeal to the people.
In answer, the Secretary of State said, “the President does not conceive it to be within the line of propriety or duty, for him to bear evidence against a declaration, which, whether made to him or others, is perhaps immaterial; he therefore declines interfering in the case.”
Immense efforts were made to direct the censure merited by these expressions, against those who had communicated them to the public. The darkest motives were assigned for the disclosure, and the reputation of those who made it, has scarcely been rescued by a lapse of years, and by a change of the subjects of controversy, from the peculiar party odium with which they were, at the time, overwhelmed.
Sentiments of a still more extraordinary character were openly avowed. The people alone being in a republic the source of all power, it was asserted that if Mr. Genêt dissented from the interpretation given by the President to existing treaties, he might rightfully appeal to the real sovereign whose agent the President was.
While insult was thus added to insult, fresh instances of the attempts of Mr. Genêt to violate the neutrality of the United States were perpetually recurring. Among these was an outrage committed in Boston, too flagrant to be overlooked.
A schooner brought as a prize into the port of Boston by a French privateer was claimed by the British owner, who instituted proceedings at law for the purpose of obtaining a decision on the validity of the capture. She was rescued from the possession of the marshal16 by an armed force acting under the authority of Mr. Duplaine the French Consul, which was detached from a frigate then lying in port. Until the frigate sailed, she was guarded by a part of the crew; and, in contempt of the determination that Consuls should not exercise prize jurisdiction within the United States, Mr. Duplaine declared his purpose to take cognizance of the case.
It was impossible for the President to submit to this act of open defiance. The exequatur17 which had been granted to Mr. Duplaine was revoked, and he was forbidden further to exercise the consular functions. Even this necessary measure could not escape censure. The self-proclaimed champions of liberty discovered in it a violation of the constitution, and a new indignity to France.
Mr. Genêt did not confine his attempts to wield the force of America against the enemies of his country, to maritime enterprises. He planned an expedition against Florida, to be carried on from Georgia; and another against Louisiana, to be carried on from Kentucky. Intelligence was received, that the principal officers were engaged; and the temper of the people inhabiting the western country furnished some grounds for the apprehension, that the restraints which the executive could impose would be found too weak to prevent the execution of these measures. The course of Britain and Spain, by furnishing weapons to the enemies of neutrality, rendered the task of the executive still more arduous. The avidity with which the neutral merchants pressed forward to reap the rich harvest offered to them by the wants of France, presented a harvest not less rich to the cruisers of her enemies. Captures to a great extent were made, and the irritations inseparable from disappointment in gathering any of the expected fruits of a gainful traffic, were communicated extensively to the agricultural part of society.
The vexations on the ocean to which neutrals are commonly exposed during war, were aggravated by a measure of the British cabinet, which war was not supposed to justify.
The vast military exertions of the French Republic had carried many cultivators of the earth into the field, and the measures of government had discouraged labor, by rendering its profits insecure. These causes, aided perhaps by unfavorable seasons, had produced a scarcity which threatened famine. This state of things suggested to their enemies the policy of increasing the internal distress, by cutting off the external supply. The British cruisers were instructed “to stop all vessels loaded wholly or in part with corn, flour, or meal, bound to any port in France, or any port occupied by the armies of France, and to send them to such port as shall be most convenient, in order that such corn, meal, or flour, may be purchased on behalf of his Majesty’s government, and the ships be relieved after such purchase, and after a due allowance for freight; or that the masters of such ships, on giving due security, to be approved by the Court of Admiralty, be permitted to proceed, to dispose of their cargoes of corn, meal, or flour, in the ports of any country in amity with his Majesty.”18
This attempt to make a principle which was understood to be applicable only to blockaded places, subservient to the impracticable plan of starving an immense agricultural nation, was resisted with great strength of reasoning, by the administration; and added, not inconsiderably, to the resentments felt by the great body of the people.
Hostilities on the ocean disclosed still another source of irritation, which added its copious stream to the impetuous torrent which threatened to sweep America into the war that desolated Europe.
The British government had long been accustomed to man their fleet by impressment. Merchantmen in their ports, and even at sea, were visited, and mariners taken out of them. The profits of trade enabling neutral merchants to give high wages, British sailors entered their service in great numbers; but the neutral ship furnished no protection.
The Americans were peculiarly exposed to the abuse to which such usages are liable. The distinction between them and the English was not always so visible as to prevent unintentional error; nor were the captains of ships of war at all times very solicitous to avoid mistakes. Native Americans, therefore, were frequently impressed.
The British cabinet disclaimed all pretensions to the impressment of American citizens, and declared their willingness to discharge them, on the establishment of their citizenship; but time was necessary to procure these testimonials. There was, too, one class of citizens, concerning whose rights a difference of opinion prevailed, which has not yet been adjusted. These were British subjects who had been naturalized in the United States.
The continuance of the Indian war added still another item to the catalogue of discontents.
The efforts of the United States to make a treaty with the savages of the Miamis, had been disappointed. The question of boundary could not be adjusted. It was extensively believed, that the treaty was defeated by British influence.
The causes of discontent which were furnished by Spain, though less the theme of public declamation, continued to be considerable. That which related to the Mississippi, was peculiarly embarrassing. The opinion had been industriously circulated, that an opposition of interests existed between the eastern and the western people, and that the endeavors of the executive to openDec. 1793 this great river were feeble and insincere. At a meeting of the Democratic Society, in Lexington, Kentucky, this sentiment was unanimously avowed, in terms of extreme disrespect to the government; and a committee was appointed to open a correspondence with the inhabitants of the whole western country, for the purpose of uniting them on this all-important subject, and of preparing a remonstrance to the President and Congress of the United States, to be expressed “in the bold, decent, and determined language, proper to be used by injured freemen, when they address the servants of the people.” They claimed much merit for having thus long abstained from using the means they possessed, for the assertion of “a natural and unalienable right;” and indicated the opinion, that this forbearance could not be long continued. The probability that the public expression of these dangerous dispositions would perpetuate the evil, could not moderate them. This restless temper gave additional importance to the project of an expedition against Louisiana, which had been formed by Mr. Genêt.
The apprehension of hostilities with Spain, was strengthened by private communications. The government had received intelligence from their ministers in Europe, that propositions had been made by the cabinet of Madrid to that of London, the object of which was the United States. The precise nature of these propositions was not ascertained; but it was understood generally, that their tendency was hostile.
Thus unfavorable to the pacific views of the executive, were the circumstances under which Congress was to assemble.
“The Path of Duty”: Averting War, Maintaining Independence (December 1793 to June 1794)
Meeting of Congress.—President’s speech.—His message on foreign relations.—Report of the Secretary of State.—His resignation.—Is succeeded by Mr. Randolph.—Mr. Madison’s resolutions, founded on the report of the Secretary of State.—Debate thereon.—Mission of Mr. Jay to Great Britain.—Internal taxes.—Congress adjourns.
Aug.–Dec. 1793A malignant fever, believed to be infectious, had severely afflicted the city of Philadelphia, and dispersed the officers of government. Although the fear of contagion was not entirely dispelled, such was the expectation that important communications would be made by the executive, and that legislative measures, not less important, would be founded on them, that Congress was full on the first day.
On the 4th of December, at twelve, the President met both Houses in the Senate chamber. His speech commenced with his own re-election, his feelings at which were thus expressed:—
“Since the commencement of the term for which I have been again called into office, no fit occasion has arisen for expressing to my fellow-citizens at large the deep and respectful sense which I feel of the renewed testimony of public approbation. While, on the one hand, it awakened my gratitude for all those instances of affectionate partiality with which I have been honored by my country, on the other, it could not prevent an earnest wish for that retirement from which no private consideration could ever have torn me. But, influenced by the belief that my conduct would be estimated according to its real motives, and that the people, and the authorities derived from them, would support exertions having nothing personal for their object, I have obeyed the suffrage which commanded me to resume the executive power; and I humbly implore that Being on whose will the fate of nations depends, to crown with success our mutual endeavors for the general happiness.”
Passing to those measures which had been adopted by the executive for the regulation of its conduct towards the belligerent nations, he observed, “as soon as the war in Europe had embraced those powers with whom the United States have the most extensive relations, there was reason to apprehend that our intercourse with them might be interrupted, and our disposition to peace drawn into question by suspicions too often entertained by belligerent nations. It seemed, therefore, to be my duty to admonish our citizens of the consequence of a contraband trade, and of hostile acts to any of the parties; and to obtain, by a declaration of the existing state of things, an easier admission of our rights to the immunities belonging to our situation. Under these impressions, the proclamation, which will be laid before you, was issued.
“In this posture of affairs, both new and delicate, I resolved to adopt general rules, which should conform to the treaties, and assert the privileges of the United States. These were reduced to a system, which shall be communicated to you.”
After suggesting those legislative provisions on this subject, the necessity of which had been pointed out by experience, he pressed on Congress the propriety of placing the country in a state of complete defence; and earnestly recommended measures for the regular redemption and discharge of the public debt.
On the succeeding day, a message was sent to both Houses, containing some important communications relative to the connexion of the United States with foreign powers.
After stating the friendly disposition generally manifested by the French government, he added, “A decree, however, of the National Assembly, subjecting vessels laden with provisions to be carried into their ports, and making enemy-goods lawful prize in the vessel of a friend, contrary to our treaty, though revoked at one time as to the United States, has been since extended to their vessels also.”1
“It is with extreme concern I have to inform you, that the person whom they have unfortunately appointed minister plenipotentiary here, has breathed nothing of the friendly spirit of the nation which sent him. The tendency, on the contrary, has been to involve us in a war abroad, and in discord and anarchy at home.”
The order issued by the British government on the 8th of June, and the consequent measures taken by the United States, were noticed. The discussions which had taken place in relation to the non-execution of the treaty of peace were also mentioned; and the message was concluded with a reference to the negotiations with Spain.
This message was accompanied with copies of the correspondence between the Secretary of State and the French minister; and of the letter written by Mr. Jefferson to Mr. Morris.
The strength of parties had been tried in the late elections; and the opposition had derived so much aid from associating the cause of France with its own principles, as to furnish much reason to suspect that, in one branch of the legislature at least, it had become the majority. The first act of the House of Representatives served to strengthen this suspicion. Each party brought forward a candidate for the chair; and Mr. Muhlenberg, who was supported by the opposition, was elected by a majority of ten votes over Mr. Sedgwick, who was supported by the federalists.2
The answers, however, to the speech breathed a spirit indicating that the leaders, at least, still venerated their Chief Magistrate; and that no general intention, as yet, existed to involve him in the obloquy directed against his measures.
The neighborhood of the Spanish colonies to the United States, had given rise to various subjects of discussion in addition to those relating to boundary, and the navigation of the Mississippi. One of these had assumed a serious aspect.
Having strong reason to suppose that the hostility of the southern Indians was excited by the agents of Spain, the President had directed the American commissioners at Madrid to make the proper representations on the subject, and to propose that each nation should, with good faith, promote the peace of the other with their savage neighbors.
About the same time, the Spanish government entertained, or affected to entertain, suspicions of like hostile excitements by the agents of the United States, to disturb their peace with the same nations. These representations were accompanied with pretensions to which the American executive could not be inattentive. His Catholic Majesty claimed to be the protector of those Indians. He assumed a right to mediate between them and the United States, and to interfere in the settlement of their boundaries. At length, his representatives, complaining of the aggressions of American citizens on the Indians, declared “that the continuation of the peace, good harmony, and perfect friendship of the two nations was very problematical for the future, unless the United States should take more convenient measures, and of greater energy than those adopted for a long time past.”
Though the pretensions of the French republic, as asserted by their minister, were still supported with enthusiastic zeal out of doors, they found no open advocate in the House. An attack on the administration could be placed on no ground more disadvantageous than on its controversy with Mr. Genêt. The conduct and language of that minister were offensive to reflecting men of all parties. To the various considerations growing out of the discussions themselves, and of the parties engaged in them, one was added which could not be disregarded. The party in France, to which Mr. Genêt owed his appointment, had lost its power; and his fall was the inevitable consequence of the fall of his patrons. That he would probably be recalled was known in America; and that his conduct had been disapproved, was generally believed.3 The future course of the French republic towards the United States could not be foreseen; and it would be committing something to hazard, not to wait events.
These objections did not exist to an indulgence of the national feeling towards the belligerent powers, in measures suggested by its resentment against Great Britain.
In addition to the causes of dissatisfaction with Great Britain, which have already been suggested, others soon occurred. Under her auspices, a truce for one year had been lately negotiated between Portugal and Algiers, which, by withdrawing a small squadron stationed by the former power in the Streights, opened a passage into the Atlantic to the cruisers of the latter. The capture of American vessels, which was the immediate consequence of this measure, was believed in the United States to have been its motive.4
This transaction was afterwards ascribed by England to her desire to serve an ally, and to enable that ally to act more efficaciously in a common cause.
Early in the session, a report was made by the Secretary of State on the nature and extent of the privileges and restrictions of the commercial intercourse of the United States with foreign nations.
Its statements and arguments tended to enforce the policy of making discriminations which might favor the commerce of the United States with France, and discourage that with England; and which might promote the increase of American navigation as a branch of industry, and a resource of defence.
This was the last official act of the Secretary of State. He resigned his office on the last day of December, and was succeeded by Mr. Edmund Randolph. The office of Attorney-General was filled by Mr. William Bradford, a gentleman of considerable eminence in Pennsylvania.5
1794On the 4th of January, the House resolved itself into a committee of the whole on the report of the Secretary of State; when Mr. Madison laid on the table a series of resolutions, which imposed additional duties on the manufactures and on the tonnage of vessels of nations not having a commercial treaty with the United States, while they reduced the duties already imposed on the tonnage of vessels belonging to nations having such treaty.
The debate commenced on the 13th of January, and continued until the 3d of February. It was eloquent, animated, and interesting. Party feelings were mingled with commercial policy; and all the strong passions which agitated the country were manifested in the House. Arguments on the general interests of the United States were also advanced, which still merit the attention of every American statesman.
On the 3d of February, the first resolution was carried by a majority of five. The further consideration of the resolutions was then postponed until the first Monday in March.
This animated debate was succeeded by another, on a question which also brought into full view, the systems of the opposite parties, on some of those great national subjects which determine the character of government.
On the 2d of January, a resolution had been agreed to in the House of Representatives, declaring “that a naval force adequate to the protection of the commerce of the United States against the Algerine corsairs, ought to be provided.” The force proposed was to consist of six frigates.
This measure was founded on the communications of the President respecting the improbability of being able to negotiate a peace with the Dey of Algiers; and on undoubted information that the corsairs of that regency had, during their first short cruise in the Atlantic, captured eleven American merchantmen, and made upwards of one hundred prisoners; and were preparing to renew their attack on the unprotected vessels of the United States.
In every stage of its progress this bill was most strenuously opposed. On no question had the influence of party feeling been more strongly exhibited. Not even the argument that it would be cheaper to purchase the protection of foreign powers than to afford it by a small naval force, was too humiliating to be urged.
The original resolution was carried by a majority of two voices only; but as the bill advanced, several members who were accustomed to vote in the opposition gave it their support; and, on the final question, a majority of eleven appeared in its favor. The other branch of the legislature concurred, and it received the cordial assent of the President.
Pending these discussions, the irritations in which they commenced were greatly aggravated by accounts that captures of American vessels were made by British cruisers, to an extent altogether unprecedented; and, early in March, an authentic paper was received which proved that these captures were not unauthorized.
On the 6th of November 1793, additional instructions had been issued to the ships of war and privateers of Great Britain, requiring them to stop and detain all ships laden with goods, the produce of any colony belonging to France, or carrying provisions or other supplies to any such colony, and to bring the same, with their cargoes, to legal adjudication in the British courts of admiralty.
These instructions made a serious impression on the most reflecting men in the United States. It was believed that they originated in a spirit of hostility which must lead to war; and that it had become the part of prudence to prepare for that event.
1794On the 12th of March, Mr. Sedgwick laid on the table several resolutions, the objects of which were, to raise a military force, and to authorize the President to lay an embargo. Two days afterwards, a motion was made to take up that which related to an embargo; but this motion was negatived for the purpose of resuming the consideration of the commercial resolutions offered by Mr. Madison. On the motion of Mr. Nicholas,6 those resolutions were amended so as to subject the manufactures of Great Britain alone, instead of those of all nations having no commercial treaty with the United States, to the proposed augmentation of duties. They were again debated with great earnestness, but no decision was made on them.
On the 21st of March, the motion authorizing the President to lay an embargo was negatived by a majority of two voices; but in a few days, the consideration of that subject was resumed, and a resolution was passed, prohibiting all trade from the United States to any foreign port or place for thirty days, and empowering the President to carry the resolution into effect. This resolution was accompanied with vigorous provisional measures for defence.
While the measures of Congress indicated the expectation of war, a document made its appearance which seemed to show that Great Britain also was preparing for that event. This was the answer of Lord Dorchester, on the 20th of February, to a speech delivered by the deputies of a great number of Indian tribes assembled at Quebec.7 In this answer his lordship had openly avowed the opinion, that a war between Great Britain and the United States was probable, and that a new line between the two nations must then be drawn by the sword.
On the 27th of March, Mr. Dayton8 moved a resolution for sequestering all debts due to British subjects, and for taking means to secure their payment into the treasury, as a fund out of which to indemnify9 the citizens of the United States for depredations committed on their commerce by British cruisers.
The debate on this resolution was such as was to be expected from the irritable state of the public mind. Before any question was taken on it, Mr. Clark10 moved a resolution to prohibit all intercourse with Great Britain until her government should make full compensation for all injuries done to the citizens of the United States, by armed vessels, or by any person or persons acting under the authority of the British King; and until the western posts should be delivered up.
On the 4th of April, the President laid before Congress a letter just received from Mr. Pinckney, communicating additional instructions to the commanders of British armed ships dated the 8th of January, which revoked those of the 6th of November, and directed British cruisers to bring in those neutral vessels only which were laden with cargoes, the produce of the French islands, and were on a direct voyage from those islands to Europe.
This letter detailed a conversation with Lord Grenville in which his lordship explained the motives which led to the order of the 6th of November.11 It was intended to answer two purposes;—one, to prevent the abuses which might be the consequence of the whole St. Domingo fleet having gone to the United States; the other, on account of the attack designed upon the French West India islands by the armament under the command of Sir John Jarvis, and Sir Charles Grey; but it was no longer necessary to continue the regulations for those purposes. His lordship added, that the order of the 6th of November did not direct the confiscation of all vessels trading with the French islands, but only that they should be brought in for adjudication.
The influence of this communication on the federal party was considerable. Believing that the differences between the two nations still admitted of adjustment, they opposed all measures which tended to irritate, or which might be construed into a dereliction of the neutral character they were desirous of maintaining; but gave all their weight to those which might prepare the nation for war should negotiation fail.
No change of sentiment or of views was produced on the opposite party. Their system seems to have been matured, and not to have originated in the feelings of the moment. Their propositions were still discussed with great animation; but, notwithstanding an ascertained majority in their favor, were permitted to remain undecided, as if their fate depended on some extrinsic circumstance.
Meanwhile, great exertions were made to increase the public agitation, and to stimulate the resentments which were felt against Great Britain. The artillery of the press was played with unceasing fury, on the minority of the House of Representatives; and the democratic societies brought their whole force into operation. Language will scarcely afford terms of greater outrage than were employed against those who sought to moderate the rage of the moment.
The proceedings of the legislature continued to manifest a fixed purpose to pursue the system which had been commenced. That the nation was advancing rapidly to a state of war was firmly believed by many intelligent men who doubted its necessity, and denied its policy. In addition to the calamities which must in any state of things result from the measure, there were considerations belonging exclusively to the moment which were certainly entitled to great respect.
That war with Britain during the continuance of the passionate and almost idolatrous devotion of a great majority of the people to the French republic, would throw America so completely into the arms of France, as to leave her no longer mistress of her own conduct, was not the only fear which the temper of the day suggested. That the ferocious spirit which triumphed in that nation, and deluged it with the blood of its revolutionary champions, might cross the Atlantic, and desolate the hitherto safe and peaceful dwellings of the American people, was an apprehension not unsupported by appearances. Already had an imitative spirit, captivated with the splendor and copying the errors of a great nation, reared up self-created corresponding societies, who, claiming to be the people, assumed a control over the government, and were loosening its bonds. Already were the Mountain, and a revolutionary tribunal, favorite toasts;12 and already were principles familiarly proclaimed, which, in France, had been the precursors of that tremendous and savage despotism, which, in the name of the people, and by the instrumentality of affiliated societies, had spread its terrific sway over that fine country, and had threatened to extirpate all that was wise and virtuous.13 That a great majority of those statesmen who conducted the opposition14 would deprecate such a result, was no security against it. When the physical force of a nation usurps the place of its wisdom, those who have produced such a state of things no longer control it.
These apprehensions produced in those who felt them, an increased solicitude for the preservation of peace. Their aid was not requisite to confirm the judgment of the President. Fixed in his purpose of maintaining the neutrality of the United States until foreign aggression should clearly render neutrality incompatible with honor; and conceiving from the last advices received from England, that the differences between the two nations had not yet attained that point, he determined to make one decisive effort which should either remove the ostensible causes of quarrel, or demonstrate the indisposition of Great Britain to remove them. This determination was executed by the nomination of an Envoy Extraordinary to his Britannic Majesty, which was announced to the Senate on the 16th of April, in the following terms:
“The communications which I have made to you during your present session, from the despatches of our minister in London, contain a serious aspect of our affairs with Great Britain. But as peace ought to be pursued with unremitted zeal, before the last resource which has so often been the scourge of nations, and cannot fail to check the advanced prosperity of the United States, is contemplated, I have thought proper to nominate, and do hereby nominate John Jay, as Envoy Extraordinary of the United States to his Britannic Majesty.
“My confidence in our Minister Plenipotentiary in London, continues undiminished. But a mission like this, while it corresponds with the solemnity of the occasion, will announce to the world a solicitude for the friendly adjustment of our complaints, and a reluctance to hostility. Going immediately from the United States, such an Envoy will carry with him a full knowledge of the existing temper and sensibility of our country; and will thus be taught to vindicate our rights with firmness, and to cultivate peace with sincerity.”
No public act of the President has drawn on his administration a greater degree of censure than this. That such would be its effect could not be doubted by any person who had observed the ardor with which the opinions it thwarted had been embraced, or the extremity to which the contests and passions of the moment had carried all orders of men. But it is the province of real patriotism to consult the utility, more than the popularity of a measure; and to pursue the path of duty although it may be rugged.
In the Senate, the nomination was approved by a majority of ten voices; and, in the House of Representatives, it was urged as an argument against persevering in the system which had been commenced. On the 18th of April, however, the resolution for cutting off all commercial intercourse with Great Britain was carried in the affirmative; and a bill conforming to it passed by a considerable majority. It was lost in the Senate by the casting vote of the Vice-President. The system of the House of Representatives was pressed no further.
The altercations between the executive and the minister of the French republic had given birth to many questions on which a great diversity of sentiment prevailed.
The opinion that the relations produced by existing treaties, and indeed by a state of peace independent of treaty, imposed obligations on the United States, an observance of which it was the duty of the executive to enforce, had been reprobated15 with extreme bitterness. It was contended, certainly by the most active, perhaps by the most numerous part of the community, not only that the treaties had been grossly misconstrued, but also that, under any construction of them, the interference of the executive required the sanction of the legislature. The right of the President to call out the militia for the detention of privateers about to violate the rules he had established, was, in some instances, denied; attempts to punish those who had engaged, within the United States, to carry on expeditions against foreign nations, were unsuccessful; and a grand jury had refused to find a bill against Mr. Duplaine for having rescued a vessel which had been taken into custody by an officer of justice. The propriety of legislative provision was suggested by the President at the commencement of the session, and a bill was brought into the Senate “in addition to the act for punishing certain crimes against the United States.”
Necessary as this measure was, the whole strength of the opposition was exerted to defeat it. Motions to strike out the most essential clause were repeated, and each motion was negatived by the casting vote of the Vice-President. It was only by his voice that the bill finally passed. In the House of Representatives also the bill encountered serious opposition, and a section which prohibited the sale of prizes in the United States was struck out.
The preparations for an eventual war, and a heavy appropriation which, under the title of foreign intercourse, was made for the purpose of purchasing peace from Algiers, and liberating the Americans who were in captivity, created demands upon the treasury which the ordinary revenues were insufficient to satisfy.
The Committee of Ways and Means reported several resolutions for extending the internal duties to various objects, for an augmentation of the imposts, and for a direct tax.
Only thirteen members voted for the direct tax. The augmentation of the duty on imports met with no opposition. The internal duties were introduced in separate bills, that each might encounter those objections only which should be made to itself. A resolution in favor of stamps was rejected; the others were carried, after repeated and obstinate debates.
On the 9th of June, this active and stormy session was closed by an adjournment to the first Monday in November.
Executive Vigor Confronts War, Rebellion, and Treaty-making (January 1794 to June 1796)
Genêt recalled.—Is succeeded by Mr. Fauchet.—Mr. Morris recalled.—Is succeeded by Mr. Monroe.—Kentucky Remonstrance.—Intemperate Resolutions of the people of that State.—General Wayne Defeats the Indians on the Miamis.—Insurrection in the western part of Pennsylvania.—Quelled.—Meeting of Congress.—President’s Speech.—Democratic Societies.—Resignation of Colonel Hamilton.—He is succeeded by Mr. Wolcott.—Resignation of General Knox.—He is succeeded by Colonel Pickering.—Treaty with Great Britain.—Conditionally ratified.—Is unpopular.—Mr. Randolph resigns.—Is succeeded by Colonel Pickering.—Mr. McHenry appointed Secretary of War.—Charges against the President rejected.—Treaty with the Indians.—With Algiers.—With Spain.—Meeting of Congress.—President’s Speech.—Mr. Adet succeeds Mr. Fauchet.—The House of Representatives call on the President for papers.—He declines sending them.—Debates on the treaty-making power.—On the bill for making appropriations to carry the Treaty with Great Britain into effect.—Congress adjourns.—The President endeavours to procure the liberation of Lafayette.
1794That the most material of those measures on which the two great parties in the United States were divided might be presented in one unbroken view, some transactions have been passed over which will now be noticed.
The resolution of the President to bear with the insults of Mr. Genêt until his appeal to the French government should be fairly tried, was shaken by fresh proofs, received in January, of conduct which could not be tolerated. That minister had deliberately planned two expeditions to be carried on against the dominions of Spain, and had granted commissions to citizens of the United States, who were privately recruiting troops for the service. The first was destined against the Floridas, and the second against Louisiana. That against the Floridas, while in progress, was fully developed1 by the vigilance of the legislature of South Carolina, and some of its principal agents were arrested.
About the same time, intelligence was received that the expedition against Louisiana, which was to be carried on from Kentucky, down the Ohio, was in equal maturity.
Believing further forbearance to be incompatible with the dignity, perhaps with the safety of the United States, the cabinet came to the resolution of superseding his diplomatic functions; and a message was prepared, communicating to Congress the determination to carry this measure into execution, unless it should be disapproved by that body, when the business was arrested by a letter received from Mr. Morris, announcing the recall of this rash minister.
His successor, Mr. Fauchet, arrived in February, and brought with him strong assurances that his government disapproved the conduct of his predecessor.2
Not long afterwards, the executive of France requested the recall of Mr. Morris. Mr. Monroe, a senator from Virginia, who had embraced the cause of the French Republic with ardor, and was particularly acceptable to the party in opposition, was appointed to succeed him.3
The discontents long fomented in the west, had assumed an alarming appearance.
May 1794A remonstrance from the inhabitants of Kentucky, respecting the navigation of the Mississippi, was laid before the executive and each branch of the legislature. In the language of an offended sovereign people, injured by the maladministration of public servants, it demanded the use of the Mississippi as a natural right, which had been unjustly withheld; and charged the government openly with being under the influence of a local policy, which had prevented its making a single real effort for the security of a good which was all-essential to the western people. Several intemperate aspersions on the legislature and executive were accompanied by threats obviously pointing to dismemberment.
Both branches of the legislature expressed their conviction, that the executive was urging the claim of the United States to the navigation of the Mississippi in the manner most likely to prove successful; and the Senate added a resolution, “that the President of the United States be, and he is hereby required, to cause to be communicated to the executive of the state of Kentucky, such part of the existing negotiation between the United States and Spain, relative to this subject, as he may deem advisable, and consistent with the course of the negotiation.”
Had the measures pursued in the western country been dictated exclusively by a wish to obtain an important good, these resolutions would have allayed the ferment. But when the real motives for human action are latent, it is vain to demonstrate the unreasonableness of those which are avowed. After they were received, a number of the principal citizens, from various parts of Kentucky, assembled at Lexington, and passed other resolutions, breathing the same intemperate and dangerous spirit.
These proceedings were intimately connected with the machinations of Mr. Genêt.
Authentic information of the measures taken by that minister, for the expedition against New Orleans, had been communicated to the Governor of Kentucky, so early as October, 1793, by Mr. Jefferson, with a request that he would use those means of prevention which the law enabled him to employ. This letter was accompanied with one from the Secretary of War, conveying the desire of the President, that should preventive means fail, he would employ military force to arrest the expedition; and General Wayne was ordered to hold a body of troops at the disposal of the Governor, should he find the militia insufficient for his purpose.
The Governor was apprised of the proposed expedition, but doubted the lawfulness of arresting it; and was unwilling to exercise the power, if he possessed it. On the reception of the very extraordinary letter which announced this determination, the President directed General Wayne to establish a post at fort Massac, on the Ohio, for the purpose of stopping by force, if peaceable means should fail, any body of armed men who should be proceeding down that river.
This precaution appears to have been necessary. The preparations for the expedition were still carried on with considerable activity; and there is reason to believe that it was not absolutely relinquished until Spain ceased to be the enemy of France.
While these turbulent scenes were acting, the loud plaudits of France were re-echoed from every part of the American continent. The friendship of that republic for the United States, her respect for their rights, the ingratitude with which her continuing benefits were repaid, the injustice done her by the executive, and its tameness under British insults, were the inexhaustible themes of loud, angry, and unceasing declamation.
Nov. 1793After the total failure of the attempt to treat with the hostile Indians, the campaign was opened with as much vigor as circumstances would permit. It was too late to complete the preparations which would enable General Wayne to enter their country, and to hold it. He therefore contented himself with establishing his troops for the winter about six miles in advance of fort Jefferson, and taking possession of the ground on which the Americans had been defeated in 1791, on which he erected fort Recovery. These positions afforded considerable protection to the frontiers.
The delays inseparable from the transportation of supplies through an uninhabited country, infested by an active enemy, peculiarly skilled in partisan war, unavoidably protracted the opening of the campaign until near midsummer. Meanwhile, several sharp skirmishes took place, in one of which a few white men were said to be mingled with the Indians.
1794On the 8th of August, General Wayne reached the confluence of the Au Glaize and the Miamis of the Lakes. The richest settlements of the western Indians lay about this place.
The mouth of the Au Glaize is distant about thirty miles from a post then occupied by the British, on the Miamis of the Lakes; in the vicinity of which, the whole strength of the enemy, amounting, as General Wayne was informed, to rather less than two thousand men, was collected. The legion was not much inferior in number to the Indians; and a reinforcement of eleven hundred mounted militia, commanded by General Scott, had been received from Kentucky.
On the 15th of August, the American army advanced down the Miamis; and on the 18th, arrived at the rapids, where they halted, on the 19th, in order to erect a temporary work for the protection of the baggage, and to reconnoitre the situation of the enemy.
The Indians were advantageously posted behind a thick wood, and behind the British fort.
At eight, in the morning of the 20th, the American army advanced in columns, the right flank of the legion covered by the Miamis. One brigade of mounted volunteers, commanded by General Todd, was on the left; the other, commanded by General Barbee, brought up the rear. A select battalion, commanded by Major Price, moved in front of the legion.
After marching about five miles, Major Price received a heavy fire from a concealed enemy, and was compelled to retreat.
The Indians had chosen their ground with judgment. They had advanced into a thick wood in front of the British works, and had taken a position rendered almost inaccessible to horse by a quantity of fallen timber. They were drawn up in three lines, extending at right angles with the river, about two miles, and their immediate effort was to turn the left flank of the American army.
On the discharge of the first rifle, the legion was formed in two lines, and the front was ordered to advance with trailed arms,4 and rouse the Indians from their covert at the point of the bayonet; then, and not till then, to deliver a fire, and to press the fugitives too closely to allow them time to load after discharging their pieces. Perceiving that the enemy was endeavoring to turn the American left, the general ordered up the second line. The legion cavalry, led by Captain Campbell, was directed to penetrate between the Indians and the river, in order to charge their left flank; and General Scott, at the head of the mounted volunteers, was directed to make a considerable circuit, and to turn their right.
These orders were executed with spirit and promptitude; but so impetuous was the charge made by the first line of infantry, so entirely was the enemy broken by it, and so rapid was the pursuit, that only a small part of the second line, and of the mounted volunteers could get into the action. In the course of one hour, the Indians were driven more than two miles, through thick woods; when the pursuit terminated within gun-shot of the British fort.
General Wayne remained three days on the banks of the Miamis, in front of the field of battle, during which time the houses and corn-fields above and below the fort, some of them within pistol-shot of it, were reduced to ashes. During these operations, a correspondence took place between General Wayne and Major Campbell, the commandant of the fort, which shows that hostilities between them were prevented only by the prudent acquiescence of the latter in this destruction of property within the range of his guns.
On the 28th, the army returned to Auglaize by easy marches, destroying, on its route, all the villages and corn within fifty miles of the river.
In this decisive battle, the loss of the Americans, in killed and wounded, amounted to one hundred and seven. Among the dead, was Captain Campbell of the cavalry, and Lieutenant Towles of the infantry. General Wayne bestowed great and well-merited praise on every part of the army.
The hostility of the Indians still continuing, their whole country was laid waste, and forts were erected in the heart of their settlements, to prevent their return.
This seasonable5 victory rescued the United States from a general war with the Indians.
About this time, the resistance to the execution of the law imposing duties on spirits distilled within the United States, had advanced, in the western counties of Pennsylvania, to a point which required the decisive interposition of government.
In consequence of a steady adherence to the system of counteraction, adopted by the executive, the law was slowly gaining ground, and several distillers in the disaffected country were induced to comply with its requisites. Congress having at length passed an act containing those provisions which had been suggested by the chief of the Treasury Department, the malcontents perceived that the certain loss of a market for the article, added to the penalties to which delinquents were liable, would gradually induce a compliance on the part of the distillers, unless they could deprive the government of the means it employed for carrying the law into execution.
Bills of indictment had been found in a court of the United States against some of the perpetrators of the outrages which had been committed, upon which, as well as against several of the non-complying distillers, process6 was directed to issue.
On the 15th of July, while the marshal was in the execution of his duty, he was fired on by a party of armed men; and, at daybreak the ensuing morning, a party attacked the house of General Neville the inspector, but were compelled to retreat.7 Apprehending that it would be repeated, he applied to the magistrates and militia officers8 for protection, but could obtain none.
On the succeeding day, the insurgents reassembled to the number of about five hundred men, to renew the attack. The inspector had obtained a detachment of eleven men from the garrison at fort Pitt, who were joined by Major Kirkpatrick. Successful resistance being hopeless, a parley took place, at which the assailants, after all their other demands were conceded, required that the party in the house should march out and ground their arms. This being refused, the assault commenced. The action continued until the assailants set fire to several adjacent buildings, which compelled the party defending the house to surrender.
The marshal was seized on his way to General Neville’s house, and his life was threatened. He obtained his liberty only by entering into a solemn engagement to serve no more processes on the western side of the Allegheny Mountains.
The perpetrators of these treasonable practices, desirous of discovering their latent enemies, intercepted the mail from Pittsburg to Philadelphia, and took out the letters it contained. On acquiring the intelligence they sought, delegates were deputed to Pittsburg, to demand the banishment of the offenders. The inhabitants of Pittsburg complied with this demand, and also agreed to assemble the next day in Braddock’s field, and to elect delegates to a convention which was to meet on the 14th of August at Parkinson’s ferry. The avowed objects of these outrages were to compel the resignation of all officers engaged in the collection of duties; to withstand the authority of the United States by force of arms; to extort the repeal of the law imposing those duties; and to compel an alteration in the conduct of the government.
The opposition had now reached a point which seemed to forbid the continuance of a temporizing system. The alternative of subduing resistance, or of submitting to it, was presented to the government.
The act of Congress, which provided for calling forth the militia, required, as a prerequisite to the exercise of the power, that a judge should certify “that the laws of the United States were opposed, or their execution obstructed, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the marshals.” It also provided, “that if the militia of the state where such combination may happen, shall refuse or be insufficient to suppress the same, the President may employ the militia of other states.”
Aug. 1794The certificate of the judge having been obtained, the subject was again seriously considered in the cabinet; and the Governor of Pennsylvania was also consulted. All concurred in the appointment of commissioners, who should convey a full pardon for past offences, upon the condition of future submission; but a difference of opinion prevailed respecting ulterior eventual measures. The act made it the duty of the President, previous to the employment of military force, to issue his proclamation commanding the insurgents to disperse within a limited time. The Secretary of State, (and the Governor of Pennsylvania was understood to concur with him,) was of opinion that this conciliatory mission should be unaccompanied by any measure which might wear the appearance of coercion. The Secretaries of the Treasury and of War, and the Attorney General, were of a different opinion. They thought that the occasion required a full trial of the ability of the government to enforce obedience to the laws; and that the employment of a force which would render resistance desperate, was dictated equally by humanity and sound policy. The insurgent counties contained sixteen thousand men capable of bearing arms; and the computation was that they could bring seven thousand into the field. An army of twelve thousand would present an imposing force, which the insurgents could not venture to meet.
Aug. 7, 1794It was impossible that the President could hesitate to embrace the latter of these opinions. The proclamation, therefore, was issued, and, on the same day, a requisition was made on the Governors of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, for their several quotas of militia, to compose an army of twelve thousand men.
While steps were taking to bring this force into the field, a last essay was made to render its employment unnecessary. Three distinguished and popular citizens of Pennsylvania were deputed as the bearers of a general amnesty on the sole condition of future obedience to the laws.
Meanwhile the insurgents omitted nothing which might enlarge the circle of disaffection. They made incursions into the counties east of the Allegheny, and into the neighboring counties of Virginia, for the purpose of spreading their principles, and suppressing offices of inspection.
The convention at Parkinson’s ferry had appointed a committee of safety, consisting of sixty members, who chose fifteen of their body to receive and report the propositions of the commissioners. They expressed themselves unanimously in favor of accepting the terms offered by the government. The committee of safety appeared rather inclined to the same opinion, but determined finally to refer the question to the people.
This reference resulted in demonstrating that, though many were disposed to demean9 themselves peaceably, a vast mass of opposition remained, determined to obstruct the re-establishment of civil authority.
From some causes, among which was disaffection, the prospect of bringing the Pennsylvania quota into the field was at first unpromising. But the assembly, which was convened by the Governor, expressed its abhorrence of this daring attempt to subvert the government: and a degree of ardor was displayed by the people of other states which exceeded the hopes of the most sanguine friends of the administration. Some feeble and insidious attempts to produce disobedience to the requisition, by declaring, among other things, that the people would never be made the instruments of the Secretary of the Treasury to shed the blood of their fellow-citizens, were silenced by the general sense of the nation, which loudly proclaimed that the government and laws must be supported. From the exertions of her Governor, Pennsylvania was not behind10 her sister states.
On the 25th of September, the President issued a second proclamation, stating the perverse spirit in which the lenient propositions of government had been received, and declaring his fixed determination, in obedience to the high duty consigned to him by the constitution, to reduce the refractory to obedience.
The troops of New Jersey and Pennsylvania were directed to rendezvous at Bedford, and those of Maryland and Virginia at Cumberland, on the Potomac. The command of the expedition had been conferred on Governor Lee of Virginia.11
Sept. 1794From Cumberland and Bedford, the army marched in two divisions into the country of the insurgents. The disaffected did not venture to assemble in arms. Several of the leaders, who had refused to give assurance of future submission to the laws, were seized, and some of them detained for legal prosecution.
But although no direct and open opposition was made, the spirit of insurrection was not subdued. A sour and malignant temper was displayed, which indicated, too plainly, that the disposition to resist had sunk under the great military force brought into the country, but would rise again should that force be withdrawn. It was therefore thought advisable to station a detachment to be commanded by Major-General Morgan,12 in the centre of the disaffected country, for the winter.
Thus, without shedding a drop of blood, did the prudent vigor of the executive terminate an insurrection which, at one time, threatened to shake the government to its foundation. That so perverse a spirit should have been excited in the bosom of prosperity, without the pressure of a single grievance, is among those political phenomena which occur, not unfrequently, in the course of human affairs, and which the statesman can never safely disregard.
To the intemperate abuse which was cast on the measures of the government, and on all who supported them; to the violence with which the discontents of the opponents of those measures were expressed; and especially to the denunciations which were uttered against them by the democratic societies; the friends of the administration ascribed that criminal attempt which had been made to oppose the will of the nation by force. Had these misguided men believed that the opposition was confined within their own narrow limits, they could not have been so mad or so weak as to engage in it.
The ideas of the President on this subject were freely given to his confidential friends. “The real people,” he said, “occasionally assembled in order to express their sentiments on political subjects, ought never to be confounded with permanent self-appointed societies usurping the right to control the constituted authorities, and to dictate to public opinion. While the former is entitled to respect, the latter is incompatible with all government, and must either sink into general disesteem, or finally overturn the established order of things.”
Nov. 1794In his speech at the opening of Congress, the President detailed the progress of opposition, and the measures finally taken to reduce the refractory to submission. After bestowing a high encomium on the alacrity with which persons in every station had come forward to assert the dignity of the laws, he added, “but let them persevere in their affectionate vigilance over that precious deposit of American happiness—the constitution of the United States. And when in the calm moments of reflection, they shall have retraced the origin and progress of the insurrection, let them determine whether it has not been fomented by combinations of men who, careless of consequences, and disregarding the unerring truth that those who rouse cannot always appease a civil convulsion, have disseminated, from an ignorance or perversion of facts, suspicions, jealousies, and accusations of the whole government.”
He mentioned the intelligence from the army, the state of Indian affairs, recommended a revisal of the militia system, and urged a definitive plan for the redemption of the public debt.
After referring to subsequent communications respecting the intercourse of the United States with foreign nations, he added, “it may not, however, be unreasonable to announce that my policy in our foreign transactions has been, to cultivate peace with all the world; to observe treaties with pure and inviolate faith; to check every deviation from the line of impartiality; to explain what may have been misapprehended, and correct what may have been injurious to any nation; and having thus acquired the right, to lose no time in acquiring the ability, to insist upon justice being done to ourselves.”
An answer was reported in the Senate, containing a direct censure on the disorganizing proceedings of certain self-created societies, and an unequivocal approbation of the policy adopted by the executive with regard to foreign nations. To the latter, no objection was made. The clause respecting democratic societies was seriously opposed; but the address reported by the committee was agreed to without alteration.
The same spirit did not prevail in the House of Representatives. In that branch of the legislature, the opposition party continued to be the most powerful, and the respect of their leaders for the person and character of the Chief Magistrate was visibly diminishing. His interference with a favorite system was not forgotten; and the mission of Mr. Jay still rankled in their bosoms. No direct censure of the democratic societies, or approbation of the conduct of the administration towards foreign powers, could be carried.
This triumph over the administration revived for a moment the drooping energies of these pernicious societies. But it was only for a moment. The agency ascribed to them by the opinion of the public as well as of the President, in producing an insurrection which was generally execrated, had essentially affected them; and while languishing under this wound, they received a deadly blow from a quarter whence hostility was least expected.
The remnant of the French convention, rendered desperate by the ferocious despotism of the Jacobins, and of the sanguinary tyrant who had become their chief, had at length sought for safety by confronting danger; and, succeeding in a desperate attempt to bring Robespierre to the guillotine, had terminated his reign of terror.13 The colossal power of the clubs fell with that of their favorite member, and they sunk into long-merited disgrace. Not more certain is it that the boldest streams must disappear if the fountains which fed them be emptied, than was the dissolution of the democratic societies in America, when the Jacobin clubs were denounced in France. As if their destinies depended on the same thread, the political death of the former was the unerring signal for that of the latter.
Notwithstanding the disagreement between the President and one branch of the legislature, concerning self-created societies, and the policy observed towards foreign nations, his speech was treated with marked respect; and the several subjects which it recommended engaged the immediate attention of Congress.
He had repeatedly pressed on the legislature the adoption of measures which might effect the gradual redemption of the public debt; but, although that party which had been reproached with a desire to accumulate debt as a means of subverting the republican system, had exerted themselves to accomplish this object, their efforts had hitherto been opposed by obstacles they were unable to surmount. These were intrinsic difficulties in the subject.
The duty on imported articles and on tonnage could not, immediately, be rendered sufficiently productive to meet the various exigencies of the treasury, and yield a surplus for the secure establishment of a fund to redeem the principal of the debt. Additional sources of revenue were to be explored. New taxes are the never-failing sources of discontent. In a government where popularity is power, it requires no small degree of patriotism to encounter the odium which, however necessary, they seldom fail to excite. No clamour could deter the Secretary of the Treasury from continuing to recommend measures which he believed to be essential toJan. 1795 the due administration of the finances. While the legislature was engaged in discussing a report made by a select committee on a resolution moved by Mr. Smith, of South Carolina,14 purporting that farther provision ought to be made for the reduction of the public debt, he addressed a letter to the House of Representatives, through their Speaker, informing them that he had digested and prepared a plan on the basis of the actual revenues, for the farther support of public credit, which he was ready to communicate.
This comprehensive and valuable report presented the result of his laborious and useful investigations, on a subject equally intricate and interesting.
It was the last official act of Colonel Hamilton. The penurious provision made for those who filled high offices in the executive departments, excluded from a long continuance in them, all men of moderate fortune, whose professional talents placed a decent independence within their reach. While slandered as the accumulator of thousands by illicit means, he had wasted in the public service a great part of the property acquired by his previous labors, and had found himself compelled to decide on retiring from political station. The accusations brought against him in the last session of the second Congress, had postponed the execution of this design, and subsequent events of a nature to render the continuance of peace precarious, deferred it still longer. On the first of December, on his return from the western country, the dangers of domestic insurrection or foreign war having subsided, he gave notice that he should, on the last day of January, give in his resignation.
Seldom has any minister excited the opposite passions of love and hate in a higher degree than Colonel Hamilton. His talents were too prominent not to receive the tribute of profound respect from all; and his integrity and honor as a man, not less than his official rectitude, though slandered at a distance, were admitted to be superior to reproach by those enemies who knew him.
But with respect to his political principles and designs, the most contradictory opinions were entertained. While one party sincerely believed his object to be the preservation of the Constitution of the United States in its purity; the other, with perhaps equal sincerity, imputed to him the insidious intention of subverting it. While his friends were persuaded that, as a statesman, he viewed foreign nations with an equal eye, his enemies could perceive in his conduct only hostility to France, and attachment to her rival.
In the good opinion of the President, to whom he was best known, he had always held a high place; and he carried with him out of office the same cordial esteem for his character, and respect for his talents, which had induced his appointment.
The vacant office was filled by Mr. Wolcott, of Connecticut, a gentleman of sound judgment, who was well versed in its duties.15
The report of the select committee recommended additional objects for internal taxation, and that the temporary duties already imposed should be rendered permanent. The opposition was so ardent that the bill did not pass till late in February. At length, by the persevering exertions of the federal party, it was carried, and a system adopted which would discharge all the engagements of the United States.
1795On the 3d of March, this important session was ended. Although the party in opposition had obtained a small majority in one branch of the legislature, several circumstances had concurred to give great weight to the recommendations of the President. Among these, were the victory obtained by General Wayne, and the suppression of the western insurrection. In some points, however, which he had pressed with earnestness, his sentiments did not prevail. One of these was a plan for preserving peace with the Indians by protecting them from the intrusions of the whites. He had scarcely permitted a Congress to pass without calling their attention to this subject. It had been mentioned in his speech at the commencement of this session, and had been farther enforced by a message accompanying a report made upon it by the Secretary of War. The plan suggested in this report was, to add to those arrangements respecting trade which were indispensable to the preservation of peace, a chain of garrisoned posts within the territory of the Indians, provided their assent could be obtained; and to subject all trespassers on their lands to martial law. A bill founded on this report passed the Senate, but was lost in the House of Representatives.
This report preceded the resignation of the Secretary of War but a few days. This valuable officer, too, was driven from the service of the public by the scantiness of the compensation allowed him.
Colonel Pickering, a gentleman who had filled many important offices through the war of the revolution; who had discharged several trusts of confidence under the present government; and who, at the time, was Post-Master General, was appointed to succeed him.16
On the 7th of March, the treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation, between the United States and Great Britain, which had been signed on the 19th of the preceding November, was received at the office of State.
From his arrival in London, Mr. Jay had been assiduously employed on the objects of his mission. By a deportment respectful, yet firm, this minister avoided those little asperities which frequently embarrass measures of great concern, and smoothed the way to the adoption of those which were suggested by the real interests of both nations. Many and intricate were the points to be discussed. On some of them an agreement was found to be impracticable; but, at length, a treaty was concluded, which Mr. Jay declared to be the best that was attainable, and which he believed it to be for the interest of the United States to accept. Indeed it was scarcely possible to contemplate the evidence of extreme exasperation which was given in America, and the nature of the differences between the two countries, without feeling a conviction that war was inevitable should this attempt to adjust those differences prove unsuccessful.
On Monday, the 8th of June, the Senate, in conformity with a summons from the President, convened in the Senate chamber, and the treaty, with the documents connected with it, were submitted to their consideration.
On the 24th of the same month, after a minute and laborious investigation, the Senate, by precisely a constitutional majority, advised and consented to its conditional ratification.
In regulating the intercourse between the United States and the British West Indies, the parties intended to admit the direct trade, but not to permit the productions of the latter to be carried to Europe in the vessels of the former. To give effect to this intention, the exportations from the United States of those articles which were the principal productions of the islands, was to be prohibited. Among these was cotton. This article, which a few years before was scarcely raised in sufficient quantity for domestic consumption, was becoming one of the richest staples of the southern states. The Senate, being informed of this fact, which was unknown to Mr. Jay, advised and consented that the treaty should be ratified, on condition that an article be added thereto, suspending that part of the 12th article, which related to the intercourse with the West Indies.
This resolution of the Senate presented difficulties which required consideration. Whether they could advise and consent to an article which had not been laid before them, and whether their resolution was to be considered as the final exercise of their power, were questions not free from difficulty. Nor was it clear that the executive could ratify the treaty, under the advice of the Senate, until the suspending article should be introduced into it. When these doubts were removed, intelligence was received from Europe, which superseded the determination the President had formed.17
July 1795The English papers contained an account that the order of the 8th of June, 1793, respecting provisions going to French ports, was renewed. In the apprehension that this order might be intended as a practical construction of the article which seemed to favor the idea that provisions might occasionally become contraband, a construction in which he had determined not to acquiesce, he thought it wise to reconsider his decision. A strong memorial against this objectionable order was directed; and the propositions a) to withhold the ratification of the treaty, until the same should be repealed; b) to make the exchange of ratifications dependent on that event; and c) to connect his ratification with the memorial he had directed, as explanatory of the sense in which his ratification was made, were severally under consideration.18 In conformity with his practice of withholding his opinion on controverted points, until it should become necessary to decide them, he suspended his determination until the memorial should be prepared and laid before him. In the mean time, his private affairs required that he should visit Mount Vernon.
Meanwhile, the restless, uneasy temper of parties was active in its operations. That the instrument itself was not communicated to the public even previous to its being laid before the Senate, and that the Senate deliberated upon it with closed doors, were considered as additional evidences of the contempt in which their rulers held the people.
Although the contents of the treaty were unknown, a decisive judgment was extensively formed on any reconciliation between the two countries. The sentiments called forth by the occasion, demonstrated that no possible adjustment with Great Britain could be satisfactory. That a treaty of amity and commerce should have been concluded, whatever might be its principles, was said to be a degrading insult to the American people, a pusillanimous surrender of their honor, and an insidious injury to France.
Such was the state of parties, when the Senate advised the ratification of the treaty. In violation of common usage, and of a positive resolution of the Senate, an abstract of this instrument, not very faithfully taken, was given to the public; and, on the 29th of June, a senator of the United States transmitted a copy of it to the most distinguished editor of the opposition party in Philadelphia, for publication.
If amicable arrangement, whatever might be its character, had been previously condemned, it was not to be expected that the treaty would assuage the irritation. If the people at large enter keenly into the points of controversy with a foreign power, they can seldom be satisfied with any equal adjustment of those points: nor will it be difficult, unless there be undue attachment to the adversary nation, to prove to them that they give too much, and receive too little. The operation of this principle was not confined to those whose passions urged them to take part in the war, nor to the open enemies of the executive. The friends of peace and of the administration had generally received impressions unfavorable to the fair exercise of judgment in the case, which it required time and reflection to efface. Even among them, strong prejudices had been imbibed in favor of France, which her open attempts on the sovereignty of the United States had only weakened.
The treaty, therefore, found one party prepared for an intrepid attack; but the other not ready in its defence.
That an instrument involving many complicated national interests, and adjusting differences of long standing, would require a patient and laborious investigation before even those most conversant in diplomatic transactions could form a just estimate of its merits, would be conceded by all reflecting men. But an immense party in America, not in the habit of considering national compacts, without understanding the instrument, and in most instances without reading it, rushed impetuously to its condemnation; and, confident that public opinion would be surprised by the suddenness, and stormed by the fury of the assault, expected that the President would be compelled to yield to its violence.
In the populous cities, meetings of the people were immediately summoned to take the instrument into consideration, and express their opinion of it. Those who distrusted their capacity to form intuitively a correct judgment on so complex a subject, and who were disposed to act knowingly, declined attending these meetings. The most intemperate assumed as usual the name of the people, pronounced an unqualified condemnation of every article in the treaty, and, with the utmost confidence, assigned reasons for their opinions which, in many instances, had no real existence, and in some, were obviously founded on their strong prejudices with regard to foreign powers.
The first meeting was held in Boston. The example was soon followed by New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Charleston; and, their addresses being designed at least as much for their fellow-citizens as for their President, while one copy was transmitted to him, another was committed to the press. The precedent set by these large cities was followed with wonderful rapidity throughout the Union; and the spirit of violence sustained no diminution in its progress.
1795On the 18th of July, at Baltimore, on his way to Mount Vernon, the President received the resolutions passed at Boston, in a letter from the selectmen of that town. His answer evinced the firmness with which he had resolved to meet the effort that was obviously making to control the exercise of his constitutional functions, by giving promptness and vigor to the expressions of the sentiments of party, which might impose it on the world as the deliberate judgment of the public.
He viewed the opposition which the treaty was receiving in a very serious light:—“not because there was more weight in any of the objections than was foreseen; for in some, there was none; and in others, there were gross misrepresentations: nor as respected himself personally, for that should have no influence on his conduct.” But he was alarmed on account of the effect it might have on France, and the advantage which the government of that country might be disposed to make of the spirit which was at work, to cherish a belief that the treaty was calculated to favor Great Britain at her expense. “Whether she believed or disbelieved these tales, their effect,” he said, “would be nearly the same.”
In the afternoon of the 11th of August, the President returned to Philadelphia; and, on the next day, the question respecting the immediate ratification of the treaty was laid before the cabinet. The Secretary of State maintained, singly, the opinion that, during the existence of the provision order, this step ought not to be taken. His opinion did not prevail. The resolution was adopted to ratify the treaty immediately, and to accompany its ratification with a strong memorial against the provision order, which should convey, in explicit terms, the sense of the American government on that subject. By this course, the views of the executive were happily accomplished. The order was revoked, and the ratifications of the treaty were exchanged.
The President was most probably determined to the immediate adoption of this measure by the extreme violence with which the treaty was opposed, and the rapid progress which this violence was making. It was obvious that, unless this temper could be checked, it would soon become so extensive, as to threaten dangerous consequences. It had become necessary either to attempt a diminution of its action by rendering its exertions hopeless, and by giving to the treaty the weight of his character and influence, or to yield to it.
The soundness of this policy was proved by the event. The confidence which was reposed in the judgment and virtue of the Chief Magistrate, induced many, who, swept away by the popular current, had yielded to the common prejudices, to re-examine and discard opinions which had been too hastily embraced; and many were induced to take a more active part in the general contest than they would otherwise have pursued. The consequence was, that more moderate opinions began to prevail.
If the ratification of the treaty increased the number of its open advocates, it also gave increased acrimony to the opposition.
Previous to the mission of Mr. Jay, charges against the Chief Magistrate, though frequently insinuated, had seldom been directly made. That mission visibly affected the decorum which had been usually observed towards him; and the ratification of the treaty brought sensations into open view, which had long been ill-concealed. His military and political character was attacked with equal violence; and it was averred that he was totally destitute of merit, either as a soldier or a statesman. The calumnies with which he was assailed were not confined to his public conduct; even his qualities as a man were the subjects of detraction. That he had violated the constitution in the treaty lately negotiated with Great Britain, was openly maintained, for which an impeachment was publicly suggested; and that he had drawn from the treasury for his private use, more than the salary annexed to his office, was asserted without a blush. This last allegation was said to be supported by extracts from the treasury accounts which had been laid before the legislature, and was maintained with the most persevering effrontery.
Oct. 1795Though the Secretary of the Treasury denied officially in the papers, that the appropriations made by the legislature had ever been exceeded, the atrocious charge was still confidently repeated; and the few who could triumph in any spot which might tarnish the lustre of Washington’s fame, felicitated themselves on the prospect of obtaining a victory over the reputation of a patriot to whose single influence they ascribed the failure of their political plans.
The confidence felt by the real public in the integrity of their Chief Magistrate, remained unshaken; but so imposing was the appearance of the documents adduced, as to excite an apprehension that the transaction might be placed in a light to show that some indiscretion in which he had not participated, had been inadvertently committed.
This state of anxious suspense was of short duration. The late Secretary of the Treasury, during whose administration of the finances this peculation19 was alleged to have taken place, came forward with a full explanation of the fact. It appeared that the President himself had never touched any part of the compensation annexed to his office, but that the whole was received and disbursed by the gentleman who superintended the expenses of his household;—that it was the practice of the Treasury, when a sum had been appropriated for the current year, to pay it to that gentleman occasionally, as the situation of the family might require. The expenses at some periods of the year exceeded, and at others fell short of the allowance for the quarter; so that sometimes money was paid in advance for the ensuing quarter, and at others, that which was due at the end of the quarter was not completely drawn out; the Secretary entered into an examination of the constitution and laws to show that this practice was justifiable; and illustrated his arguments by many examples in which an advance on account of money appropriated to a particular object, before the service was completed, would be absolutely necessary. However this might be, it was a transaction in which the President, personally, was unconcerned.
When possessed of the entire fact, the public viewed with just indignation, this attempt to defame a character which was the nation’s pride. Americans felt themselves involved in this atrocious calumny on their most illustrious citizen; and its propagators were frowned into silence.
Nov. 1795 to Jan. 1796The Secretary of State had resigned on the 19th of August, and, after some time, was succeeded by Colonel Pickering. Mr. McHenry was appointed to the Department of War.20 By the death of Mr. Bradford, a vacancy was also produced in the office of Attorney-General, which was filled by Mr. Lee.21
Many of those embarrassments in which the government had been involved from its institution, were now ended or approaching their termination.
The opposition to the laws in the western counties of Pennsylvania existed no longer.
A firm peace had been made with the north-western Indians; and an accommodation had taken place with the powerful tribes of the south.
After the failure of several attempts to purchase peace from the regency of Algiers, a treaty was at length negotiated on terms which, though disadvantageous, were the best that could be obtained.
The unwearied exertions of the executive to settle the controversy with Spain had at length been successful. That power, embarrassed by its war with France, had lately discovered symptoms of a temper more inclined to conciliation, and a treaty was concluded on the 20th of October, at Madrid, in which the claims of the United States on the important points of boundary, and the navigation of the Mississippi, were fully conceded.
Dec. 1795Although the signature of the treaties with Spain and Algiers had not been officially announced, the intelligence was such as to enable the President, in his speech at the opening of Congress, to assure the legislature that those negotiations were in a train which promised a happy issue.
After expressing his gratification at the prosperous state of American affairs, the various favorable events which have been enumerated were detailed in a succinct statement, at the close of which he mentioned the treaty with Great Britain.
In the Senate, an address was reported which echoed back the sentiments of the speech.
In this House of Representatives, as in the last, the party in opposition to the administration had obtained the majority.22 This party was unanimously hostile to the treaty with Great Britain. The answer reported by the committee, contained a declaration that the confidence of his fellow-citizens in the Chief Magistrate remained undiminished.
On a motion to strike out this clause, it was averred that it asserted an untruth. It was not true, that the confidence of the people in the President was undiminished.
The friends of the administration opposed the motion with zeal, but were outnumbered; and, to avoid a direct vote, the address was recommitted, and two members were added to the committee, who so modified it as to avoid the exception.
1796Early in the month of January, the President transmitted a message to both Houses of Congress, accompanying certain communications from the French government, which were well calculated to cherish those ardent feelings that prevailed in the legislature.
It was the fortune of Mr. Monroe to reach Paris soon after the death of Robespierre. On his reception, which was in the convention, he delivered to the President of that body, with his credentials, two letters addressed by the Secretary of State to the committee of public safety.
So fervent were the sentiments expressed on this occasion, that the convention decreed that the flags of the two republics should be united, and suspended in its own hall. To evince the impression made by this act, Mr. Monroe presented to the convention the flag of the United States, which he prayed that body to accept as a proof of the sensibility with which his country received every mark of friendship from its ally.
The committee of safety again addressed the legislature in terms adapted to that department of government which superintends its foreign intercourse. Mr. Adet, the successor of Mr. Fauchet, was the bearer of this letter, and also brought with him the colors of France, which he was directed to present to the United States.23 He announced them late in December; and the first day of the new year was named for their reception, when they were delivered to the President, with the letter directed to Congress.
In executing this duty, Mr. Adet addressed a speech to the President, which, in the glowing language of his country, represented France as struggling not only for her own liberty, but for that of the world.
To answer this speech was a task of some delicacy. It was necessary to express feelings adapted to the occasion, without implying sentiments respecting the belligerent powers, which the Chief Magistrate of a neutral country could not properly avow. The President, in his reply, kept both these objects in view.
The address of Mr. Adet, the answer of the President, the colors of France, and the letter from the committee of safety, were transmitted to Congress.
In the House of Representatives, a resolution was passed unanimously, requesting the President to make known to the representatives of the French republic the sincere and lively sensations which were excited by this honorable testimony of the existing sympathy and affection of the two republics.
In the Senate, a resolution passed expressing these sentiments to the President, unaccompanied with a request to communicate them to the government of France.
In February, the treaty with Great Britain was returned, ratified by his Britannic Majesty. The constitution having declared a treaty to be the supreme law of the land, the President announced it officially to the people in a proclamation requiring its observance by all persons; a copy of which was transmitted to each House on the 1st of March.
The party in opposition having openly denied the right of the President to negotiate a treaty of commerce, was not a little dissatisfied at his venturing to issue this proclamation before the sense of the House of Representatives had been declared on the obligation of the instrument.
1796On the 7th of March, Mr. Livingston24 moved a resolution requesting the President “to lay before the House a copy of the instructions to the minister of the United States who negotiated the treaty with the King of Great Britain, communicated by his message of the 1st of March, together with the correspondence and other documents relative to the said treaty.”
The debate on this resolution soon glided into an argument on the nature and extent of the treaty-making power. The opposition contended that the power to make treaties, if applicable to every object, conflicted with powers which were vested exclusively in Congress. That it must be so limited as not to touch these objects, or the assent and co-operation of the House of Representatives must be required to the validity of any compact, so far as it might comprehend them. A treaty, therefore, so far as it required an act of Congress to carry it into effect, had no obligatory force until the House of Representatives had acted on it. They were at liberty to withhold such law without incurring the imputation of violating any existing obligation, or of breaking the faith of the nation.
The debate was protracted until the 24th of March, when the resolution was carried by sixty-two to thirty-seven voices.
The situation in which this vote placed the President was peculiarly delicate. The popularity of a demand for information, the large majority by which that demand was supported, the additional force which a refusal to comply with it would give to suspicions already insinuated, that circumstances had occurred in the negotiation which the administration dared not expose, and that the President was separating himself from the representatives of the people, furnished motives not lightly to be overruled, for yielding to the request which had been made.
But these considerations were opposed by others which possess an irresistible influence over a mind resolved to pursue steadily the path of duty, however it may abound with thorns.
That the future diplomatic transactions of the government might be seriously affected by establishing the principle that the House of Representatives could demand as a right, the instructions given to a foreign minister, and all the papers connected with a negotiation, was too apparent to be unobserved. It was, too, a subject for serious reflection, that the information was asked for the avowed purpose of determining whether the House of Representatives would give effect to a public treaty, and that, in an elaborate debate, that House had claimed a right of interference in the formation of treaties, which, in his judgment, the constitution had denied them. TheMarch 30, 1796 opinion of the President being completely formed on the course it became him to pursue, he returned an answer to the resolution which had been presented to him, in which, after detailing his reasons in an argument of great strength, he declined making the communications which had been required.
The terms in which this decided, and it would seem unexpected, negative to the call for papers had been conveyed, appeared to break the last cord of that attachment which had theretofore bound some of the active leaders of the opposition to the President personally. Amidst all the irritations of party, a sincere respect and real affection for the Chief Magistrate, the remnant of former friendship, had still lingered in the bosoms of some who had engaged with ardor in the political contests of the day. If the last spark of this affection was not now extinguished, it was concealed under the more active passions of the moment.
A motion to refer the message of the President to a committee of the whole house was carried by a large majority. In committee, resolutions were moved by Mr. Blount of North Carolina,25 declaring the sense of the House respecting its own power on the subject of treaties. Those resolutions take a position less untenable than had been maintained in argument, and rather inexplicit on an essential part of the question.
In the course of the month of March, the treaties with his Catholic Majesty, and with the Dey of Algiers, were ratified by the President, and were laid before Congress.26 On the 13th of April, Mr. Sedgwick moved “that provision ought to be made by law for carrying into effect with good faith, the treaties lately concluded with the Dey and Regency of Algiers, the King of Great Britain, the King of Spain, and certain Indian tribes north-west of the Ohio.”
This motion produced a warm altercation. After a discussion manifesting great irritation, the resolution was so amended as to declare that it was expedient to make provision by law for carrying into effect the treaty lately concluded with the King of Spain. The resolution, thus amended, was agreed to without a dissenting voice; and then similar resolutions passed respecting the treaties with Algiers, and with the Indians.
This business being dispatched, the treaty with Great Britain was brought before the House. The friends of that instrument urged an immediate decision of the question. They appeared to have entertained the opinion that the majority would not dare to encounter the immense responsibility of breaking that treaty without previously ascertaining that the great body of the people were willing to meet the consequences of the measure. But its opponents, though confident of their power to reject the resolution, called for its discussion.
The minority soon desisted from urging an immediate decision of the question; and the spacious field which was opened by the propositions before the House, was entered with equal avidity and confidence by both parties.
At no time have the members of the national legislature been stimulated to great exertions by stronger feelings than impelled them on this occasion. Never has a greater display been made of argument, of eloquence, and of passion, and never has a subject been discussed in which all classes of their fellow-citizens took a deeper interest. Those who supported the resolution, believed firmly that the faith of the nation was pledged, and that its honor, its character, and its constitution, depended on the vote about to be given. They also believed that the best interests of the United States required an observance of the compact as formed.
The opposite party was undoubtedly of opinion that the treaty contained stipulations really injurious to the United States. But no consideration appears to have had more influence than the apprehension that the amicable arrangements made with Great Britain, would seriously affect the future relations of the United States with France.
Might a conjecture be hazarded, it would be that, in the opinion of many intelligent men, the preservation of that real neutrality at which the executive had aimed, was impracticable; that America would probably be forced into the war; and that the possibility of a rupture with France, was a calamity too tremendous not to be avoided at every hazard.
As had been foreseen, this animated debate drew forth the real sentiments of the people. The whole country was agitated; meetings were again held throughout the United States; and the strength of parties was once more tried.
The fallacy of many objections to the treaty had been exposed, the odium originally excited against it had been diminished, and the belief that its violation must precipitate the nation into a war was almost universal. These considerations brought reflecting men into action; and the voice of the nation was pronounced unequivocally with the minority in the House of Representatives.
This manifestation of the public sentiment was decisive with Congress. On the 29th of April, the question was taken in committee of the whole, and was determined by the casting vote of the chairman in favor of making the necessary laws. The resolution was finally carried, fifty-one voting in the affirmative, and forty-eight in the negative.27
That necessity to which a part of the majority had reluctantly yielded, operated on no other subject.
So excessive had been the hostility of the opposition to a maritime force, that, even under the pressure of the Algerine war, the bill providing a naval armament could not be carried through the House without the insertion of a section suspending all proceedings under the act, should that war be terminated. That event having occurred, not a single frigate could be completed without further authority from the legislature. Although no peace had been concluded with Tunis or Tripoli, it was with the utmost difficulty, that a bill for the completion of three, instead of six frigates could be carried.
To secure the complete execution of the system for the gradual redemption of the public debt, it was believed that some additional aid to the treasury would be required. The friends of the administration were in favor of extending the system of indirect internal taxation. But those who wished power to change hands had generally manifested a disposition to oblige those who exercised it to resort to a system of revenue by which a greater degree of sensibility will always be excited. The indirect taxes proposed were strongly resisted; and only that for augmenting the duty on carriages for pleasure was passed into a law.
On the 1st day of June, this long and interesting session was terminated.
It may not be unacceptable to turn aside for a moment from this view of the angry conflicts of party, and to look back to a transaction in which the movements of a feeling heart were disclosed.
No one of those foreigners who, during the war of the revolution, had engaged in the service of the United States, had embraced their cause with so much enthusiasm, or had held so distinguished a place in the affections of General Washington, as the Marquis de Lafayette. For his friend while guiding the course of a revolution which fixed the anxious attention of the world, or while a prisoner in Prussia, or in the dungeon of Olmutz, the President manifested the same esteem, and felt the same solicitude.28 The extreme jealousy however with which those who administered the government of France as well as a large party in America, watched his deportment towards all whom the ferocious despotism of the Jacobins had banished from their country, imposed upon him the painful necessity of observing great circumspection in his official conduct, on this delicate subject. A formal interposition in favor of the virtuous and unfortunate victim of their fury would have been unavailing. But the American ministers at foreign courts were instructed to seize every fair occasion to express, unofficially, the interest taken by the President in the fate of Lafayette. A confidential person had been sent to Berlin to solicit his liberation;29 but before this message had reached his destination, the King of Prussia had delivered over his illustrious prisoner to the Emperor of Austria. Mr. Pinckney had been instructed not only to indicate the wishes of the President to the Austrian minister at London, but to endeavor unofficially to obtain the powerful mediation of Britain.
May 1796After being disappointed in these attempts, he addressed a private letter to the Emperor of Germany. How far it operated in mitigating immediately the rigor of Lafayette’s confinement, or in obtaining his liberation, is unknown.
[1. ]Generous; appropriate for gentlemen.
[2. ]One object of Washington’s benefactions eventually became Washington and Lee University. Governor Patrick Henry and the Virginia legislature endorsed Washington’s proposal for charitable use of the shares in the James and Potomac River Companies bestowed upon him. In 1785 he had suggested to Madison, Randolph, and others that two schools for poor children be established, but by 1795, when the companies and shares had matured, he proposed that the 50 shares of the Potomac River Company be used to establish a national university in the District of Columbia. His Farewell Address of 1796 endorses the idea without mentioning his private benefaction (see chapter 33 and appendix B, below), but given the suspicions about encroaching federal power among the supporters of the Democratic-Republican party, a national university was not established. In 1796 the 100 shares of the James River Company were endowed to the Liberty Hill Academy in Virginia; at the time, Washington’s was the largest gift ever made to a private educational foundation in America, and it saved the Academy from possible closure. In 1798 the trustees changed the name to Washington Academy and later to Washington College—and in 1871, after the tenure of Robert E. Lee as its president, to Washington and Lee University. See William B. Allen, ed., George Washington: A Collection (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1988), letters 102, 107, 215, and 299, and Washington’s will (no. 235, pp. 669–71); and James T. Flexner, George Washington: Anguish and Farewell (1793–1799), volume 4 of Flexner’s biography of Washington (Boston: Little, Brown, 1969, 1972), pp. 199–201.
[3. ]Named after Lucius Quintius Cincinnatus, Roman senator and renowned republican of the fifth century The Senate twice called upon him to become military dictator in an emergency (458 and 439 ), and each time, immediately after rescuing Rome and her desperate armies, he resigned his power. Washington’s designation as a latter-day Cincinnatus is one instance of a general appeal in America’s revolutionary and founding era to the leading statesmen of Roman republicanism, as evident from such famous pen-names of the time as Cato, Brutus, Publius, and Agrippa.
[4. ]Aedanus Burke (1743–1802) of Ireland and South Carolina, Lieutenant in the Continental army (to 1778) and militia captain (1780), state judge and legislator, U.S. Representative (1789–91); his pamphlet Considerations on the Society or Order of the Cincinnati was widely circulated in America and translated into French and German.
[5. ]Not low in mind; i.e., enlightened.
[6. ]James Madison (1751–1836) of Virginia, lawyer, state revolutionary leader, Continental and Confederation Congressman (1780–83), state legislator, leading framer of the 1787 Constitution and co-author of The Federalist Papers, U.S. Representative (leading framer of the Bill of Rights), Secretary of State under Jefferson, fourth President; Alexander Hamilton of New York; Oliver Ellsworth (1745–1807) of Connecticut, lawyer, state judge, state revolutionary leader, Continental and Confederation Congressman (1778–83), active delegate and proponent of the 1787 Constitution, U.S. Senator (1789–96), Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1796–1801).
[7. ]Marshall is quoting from Washington’s 1783 Circular to the States; the third point, on a “proper peace establishment,” refers to the military establishment of a nation in time of peace. William B. Allen has called this message to the states “the centerpiece of [Washington’s] statesmanship, carrying directly to his countrymen a coherent vision of the unfinished work which lay before them in the aftermath of peace.” George Washington: A Collection, p. 227.
[8. ]The recommended augmentation in the powers of Congress would require amendment of the existing constitution of the union, the Articles of Confederation; according to Article Thirteen of that constitution, any amendment to it requires the unanimous consent of the member states.
[9. ]An impropriety in language, the unfitness of one word to another; Washington employs it in an analogous sense.
[10. ]To James Warren (1726–1808) of Massachusetts, trusted adviser of John and Samuel Adams in the revolutionary period, President of the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts in 1775, speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1776 and 1787; husband of the poet and historian Mercy Otis Warren; not related to the Massachusetts brothers Joseph and John Warren (doctors, revolutionary patriots).
[1. ]Marshall uses “system” with a broader meaning than today’s “policy”—a set of principles or practices which form a particular political plan or mode of governing.
[2. ]The Barbary states of northern Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunis, Tripolitania) were small kingdoms nominally under the Ottoman Empire but actually autonomous; pirates acting with the full knowledge of these governments raided shipping in the Mediterranean and nearby Atlantic, and many governments purchased protection from them by treaty and tribute.
[3. ]A plenipotentiary minister is invested with full power to negotiate on behalf of his government. John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson were authorized by Congress in 1784 to negotiate commercial treaties with several European countries, and in 1785 Adams was specifically designated to negotiate a range of issues with England.
[4. ]John Jay (1745–1829) of New York, lawyer, state revolutionary leader, Continental and Confederation Congressman (1774–75, 1778–79; President in 1779), state chief justice (1777–79), Minister to Spain (1779–82), peace negotiator (1782–83), Secretary of Foreign Affairs (1784–90), co-author of The Federalist Papers, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1789–95), Governor of New York (1795–1801).
[5. ]Edmund Randolph (1753–1813) of Virginia, state legislator and attorney general, Confederation Congressman (1779–82), state governor (1786–88), U.S. Attorney General (1789–93), Secretary of State (1794–95).
[6. ]Marshall is alluding to the most famous of these insurrections, Shays’s Rebellion, which occurred in September 1786 when five hundred men under retired Continental army Captain Daniel Shays confronted six hundred Massachusetts militia under General William Shepherd who were guarding the state Supreme Court session in Springfield; Shays’s men forced the court to adjourn.
[7. ]To Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee of Virginia.
[8. ]To pledge a stipulated sum of money for the promotion or support of some undertaking.
[10. ]To consent or attest to by signing one’s name. Washington’s letter to Congress, September 17, 1787, is reprinted in appendix B below.
[11. ]Marshall refers to presidential elections in the plural because for the first few presidential selections the provisions of Article II, section 1, of the Constitution operated such that the presidential electors (the electoral college) exercised real choice in casting their votes, thereby producing a genuinely two-stage selection process. Prior to the predominance of a popular vote for specific candidates, or of parties which control the vote of particular electors—both of which substantially reduce the role of the Article II electors in the actual selection of the president—presidential electors were chosen either by state legislatures or by popular vote, and in a second round those electors cast their votes to choose the president. In the first presidential election, electors were chosen on January 7, 1789, and cast their votes for president on February 4, 1789. According to Article II, section 1, the President of the Senate, in the presence of the House and Senate, later opens and counts those votes.
[12. ]Prior to the Twelfth Amendment (ratified June 1804), Article II of the Constitution stipulated that each presidential elector was to cast votes for two different persons—one of which must be for a person not an inhabitant of their state (so as to diminish regional or state partisanship). The person with the greatest number of votes cast was elected president if that number was a majority of the number of electors (the vice-president was the next highest vote winner, simply). That is, the system was designed to permit the successful election of a president who received just one more than one quarter of the total number of votes, since it was assumed that it would be difficult for electors from a large republic to agree upon, or even give majority support to, a single candidate. Given the expectations and structure of the presidential selection system, Washington’s unanimous selection by the electors—receiving the maximum permissible one vote from each—is remarkable. Unanimity of votes cast by the electors has been achieved only one other time, in 1792.
[1. ]In this sense, a barge is a ship of state, used for ceremonial occasions; branch pilots are helmsmen certified as qualified to steer ships in a harbor or other area requiring local knowledge.
[2. ]Censure, reproof.
[3. ]Washington’s First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789, is reprinted in appendix B, below.
[4. ]This ostensibly private gentleman was George Beckwith (1753–1823), Major in the British army. Since Britain did not establish formal diplomatic relations with the United States after the 1783 peace treaty, a series of British agents operated in America to supplement the reports and activities of British consuls; Beckwith held this post from 1787 to 1791, during which he admitted only to being an aide to the Governor of Canada (General Guy Carleton, now Lord Dorchester), and that he happened to be in America on private business. His initial, and sustained, contact was with Alexander Hamilton.
[6. ]This procedural device, in which the presiding officer of the House adjourns the entire body into a committee, permits the members to engage in a freer debate (due to more expeditious rules of procedure), to amend proposed legislation, and to take a preliminary vote before returning to the normal rules of the House for a final vote on the bill or resolution in question.
[7. ]Alexander White (1738–1804) of Virginia, U.S. Representative (1789–93); Federalist.
[8. ]Egbert Benson (1746–1833) of New York, Revolutionary leader in New York, Confederation Congressman, U.S. Representative (1789–93), Federalist; later New York Supreme Court Justice.
[9. ]Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) of Virginia, Secretary of State (1790–95), Vice President of the United States (1797–1801), third President of the United States (1801–9).
[10. ]Henry Knox (1750–1806) of Massachusetts, promoted to Major General in 1781, conceived and organized the Society of the Cincinnati in 1783, chosen Secretary of War by Congress in 1785, reappointed and confirmed as Secretary, serving until 1794.
[11. ]John Rutledge (1739–1800), Governor of South Carolina, elected to South Carolina chancery court, active delegate at 1787 Constitutional Convention, later chief justice of South Carolina and nominated (but not confirmed) U.S. chief justice; James Wilson (1742–98), leading framer of the 1787 Constitution, professor of law in the College of Philadelphia, later author of the 1790 Pennsylvania Constitution; William Cushing (1732–1810), judge, senior associate judge, and chief justice of Massachusetts superior court; Robert Harrison (1745–90), officer on Washington’s staff from 1775 to 1781, later chief justice of the general court of Maryland (he declined Washington’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court); John Blair (1732–1800), colonial and state legislator, state judge and judge of the first court of appeals of Virginia, delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention.
[12. ]Some of the states, under the Continental and Confederation Congresses, had appointed revenue collectors to promote compliance with Congressional requisitions; as these offices were transformed into federal posts under the new Constitution, Washington’s policy was to retain officeholders if worthy.
[13. ]In 1787, while American ambassador in London, Adams authored his three-volume Defense of the Constitutions of the United States (published in 1787–88). Among other writings, he published the pamphlet Thoughts on Government in 1776, and his utopian tract Discourses of Davila in 1791. See The Works of John Adams, ed. Charles Francis Adams, 10 volumes (Boston: Little, Brown, 1856).
[14. ]Alexander McGillivray (c. 1759–93), chieftain among the Creek Indians, Loyalist during the Revolutionary War; son of a Scotch father and a mother of combined French and Creek descent. He sought to maintain the independence of the Creek and other southern tribes by alliance with Spain against both the American government and the land speculators of Georgia (the Yazoo scheme); to this end, he enjoyed a subsidy from the Spanish crown and partnership in a Spanish fur-trading company.
[1. ]The presidential speech delivered at the commencement of a session of Congress was for many years called the Annual Address; not until later was it referred to by the language of Article II, section 3, of the Constitution, as the “State of the Union” address.
[2. ]Hamilton’s first Report on the Public Credit, often termed Hamilton’s report on “the funding system,” which produced the Funding Act of August 4, 1790.
[3. ]Thomas Fitzsimmons (1741–1811) of Pennsylvania, state legislator and Confederation Congressman, delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, U.S. Representative from 1789 to 1795, Federalist.
[4. ]Thomas Scott (1739–96) of Pennsylvania, lawyer, state legislator, judge, U.S. Representative from 1789 to 1791 and from 1793 to 1795.
[5. ]The amendments proposed by Representatives Scott and Madison would thwart the first of the recommendations of Hamilton’s report mentioned by Marshall—that “certificates of debt” should be repaid at face value, and that there should be no “discrimination” made between “original holders” of these certificates or the government “bills of credit” (paper currency) on the one hand and “present possessors” who had purchased such notes on the other. Hamilton thought both measures were necessary to restore faith in the public finances. Rampant inflation from 1775 to 1781 (when the paper currency collapsed) and throughout the 1780s had severely depreciated the value of these notes (the eventual Funding Act recognized this, recommending that specific certificates of debt be paid at face value or “specie value,” but that old currency be purchased at a rate of one hundred for one new interest-bearing bond). Such depreciation had forced many poor, agrarian holders of these notes to sell them to “speculators” for a fraction of their face value. Resettling the debt (as Scott proposed), by paying holders less than face value, would prevent speculators from making great gains at the expense of the poorer, original holders of either kind; this end could also be achieved by paying part of the value to current holders, and part to the original holders (as Madison proposed).
[6. ]Descendants of the House of Bourbon ruled both Spain and France in this period, as a consequence of the War of Spanish Succession (1701–14), which failed to stop Philip of Anjou, grandson of King Louis XIV of France, from succeeding Charles II as King Philip V of Spain. Thus, Charles III of Spain was the uncle of Louis XVI of France. Washington pressed his friend the Marquis de Lafayette—who in 1790 was seen as both a patron of liberty and a protector of the throne, and was thus for a moment among the most powerful men in France—to urge the Bourbon rulers of France to employ their influence with the Bourbons of Spain. The aim was to prevent Spain from waging war against America in conjunction with McGillivray, the Creek chieftain then on the Spanish payroll.
[7. ]These tribes are in the Ohio territory, part of the Northwest Territory established by Congress in 1787. The Wabash river is in what is now northern Indiana; the Miami and Little Miami rivers are in what is now southwestern Ohio.
[8. ]Gouverneur Morris (1752–1816) of New York, lawyer, financier, state revolutionary leader and drafter of the 1777 New York Constitution, Confederation Congressman, leading drafter of the 1787 U.S. Constitution; later U.S. ambassador to France and U.S. Senator, Federalist.
[9. ]Britain had established a fur-trading station in Nootka Sound, Vancouver Island, in what is now British Columbia, Canada; this was a deliberate challenge to Spanish claims on the Pacific coast of North America, and Spanish forces seized the British ships.
[10. ]A ceding, yielding up.
[11. ]Outlaws; plural of the Italian, bandito.
[12. ]James Jackson (1757–1806) of England and Georgia, officer in the militia, lawyer, state legislator, U.S. Representative (1789–91), U.S. Senator (1793–95, 1801–6), Governor (1798–1801), Republican.
[13. ]A term of parliamentary procedure adopted from the British; bills go through several readings—when first presented, then when examined and developed in committee and in floor debate—before going to a final question (final vote).
[14. ]Josiah Harmar (1753–1813) of Pennsylvania, Colonel in the Continental army, breveted Brigadier General; from 1784 to 1791 Commander of the U.S. Army. Fort Washington was in what is now Cincinnati, Ohio.
[15. ]Though Marshall has previously discussed the “two great parties” which existed at the time of the American founding, this is his first mention of a name for either. The supporters of the 1787 Constitution, with its augmentation of governmental power at the national level, gave themselves the name “Federalist,” thereby blunting some of the attacks made by the opponents to the Constitution that it had abandoned a properly federal league between states in favor of a consolidated national government. During the ratification debate such opponents were called Anti-Federalists, but with the formation of the new government a different name emerged, and under the leadership of Thomas Jefferson this party was known as the Republicans or (later) Democratic-Republicans. The pre-eminent leader of the Federalists was Alexander Hamilton, with John Adams second only to Hamilton in importance.
[1. ]Arthur St. Clair (1737–1818) of Scotland and Pennsylvania, Major General in the Continental army; Confederation Congressman (1785–87; President, 1787); first governor of Northwest Territory (1789–1802).
[2. ]The enumeration required by Article I, section 2, of the Constitution, which also required a re-enumeration to adjust the apportionment of representatives in the House within every ten years. The first decennial Census was conducted in August 1790.
[3. ]Article I, section 2, of the Constitution, regarding the House, states: “The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand [persons], but each state shall have at Least one Representative.” The Senate bill sought a more proportionally equitable and fuller representation of the population by apportioning not on a state-by-state basis—which left large fractions of less than 30,000 people without representation, thus a smaller total of representatives—but by dividing the whole population (roughly 3.6 million, for purposes of apportionment) by the constitutional minimum (30,000); this gives an initital apportionment to each state of 1:30,000, but then the states with the largest remaining fractions of unrepresented people were given more, up to a total of 120 representatives (the theoretical maximum for the eligible 3.6 million at the maximum ratio of 1:30,000). These additional seats would apportion representation to a particular state at an average ratio of 1 to less than 30,000, though in other states the ratio is 1 to more than 30,000.
[4. ]Richard Butler (1743–91) of Pennsylvania, Lieutenant Colonel through much of the Revolutionary War, breveted Brigadier General. His younger brother, Major Edward Butler, accompanied him in this expedition into the Ohio region.
[5. ]General St. Clair.
[6. ]Published and edited by John Fenno (1751–98), the Gazette of the United States began publication in New York in 1789, and moved to Philadelphia in 1790; Hamilton was both a contributor and patron.
[7. ]Philip Morin Freneau (1752–1832), poet and Princeton classmate of James Madison, edited the National Gazette in Philadelphia from its inception in August 1791 until 1793; he was on the State Department payroll as a translator.
[8. ]A United States Marshal, an administrative officer attached to the Federal Judiciary. The United States Marshals Service was established in 1789 within the Department of Justice, with Marshals assigned to each Federal judicial district.
[9. ]That is, the proclamation called upon all courts and officials at both the state and federal levels of government to use all their powers in enforcing the law.
[10. ]The French colony of Saint Domingue on the western half of the island of Hispaniola, now Haiti; the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo lay on the eastern half, and is now the Dominican Republic.
[11. ]Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette held the throne (however precariously) until August 1792, and thus the French government’s ministers maintained such royal protocol several years after the beginning of the French Revolution.
[12. ]Thomas Pinckney (1750–1828) of South Carolina, lawyer, Major in the Continental army, Governor of South Carolina (1787–89), U.S. ambassador to Britain (1792–95), special U.S. ambassador to Spain (1795), U.S. Representative (1797–1801), Federalist; younger brother of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.
[13. ]Anthony Wayne (1745–96) of Pennsylvania, Brigadier General in the Continental army; “Mad Anthony” commanded Wayne’s Light Infantry during 1779 (in which Captain-Lieutenant John Marshall of Virginia served) and continued in field command until the end of the war; he was breveted Major General in 1783, and appointed commander in chief of the U.S. troops in the Ohio region in March 1792.
[14. ]William Branch Giles (1762–1830) of Virginia, lawyer, U.S. Representative (1790–98, 1801), U.S. Senator (1804–15), Governor of Virginia (1827–30), Democratic-Republican.
[15. ]Before the reapportionment based on the 1790 census took effect, there were sixty-five Representatives in the House.
[16. ]The first stage of the French Revolution was marked by King Louis XVI’s reluctant calling of the Estates General (nobles, clergy, and commoners) to meet in early May 1789; by mid-June the third estate declared itself the National Constituent Assembly, and many of the nobles and clergy grudgingly joined in its determination to frame a new constitution; the July 14 storming of the Bastille (a royal prison-fortress in Paris), which confirmed that the commoners had the upper hand, is the date usually given as the start of the Revolution. The relatively moderate character of change to this point can be measured by the status of Lafayette, who simultaneously served as protector of the royal family and commander of the new National Guard. By July of 1790 a liberal constitutional monarchy developed by the Assembly was practically (though not formally) accepted by the King: a dominant one-chamber legislature elected by a wide suffrage, a merely suspensive (delaying) royal veto, abolition of all hereditary titles and parlements (provincial assemblies and courts), and state control of church property and the clergy. Marshall refers to this written constitution as the product of “the convention,” but strictly speaking the meeting of the National Convention (September 1792–October 1795) marked a third, purely republican, and more radical stage of the Revolution (see note 18 below).
[17. ]The second stage of the Revolution, marked by the meeting of the Legislative Assembly established in the Constitution of 1791 (October 1791–September 1792), had its origins in the attempted flight of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (June 1791), who were subsequently held in Paris (though not yet deposed). This weakening of royal power was fed by the rise since 1790 of the power of various political clubs—chiefly the radical republican Jacobins and Cordeliers, and the moderate monarchist Feuillants. The National Assembly dissolved itself in September of 1791 after Louis XVI (now practically imprisoned) formally accepted the new constitution, and the new Legislative Assembly comprised four parties: Feuillants and greater or lesser defenders of the monarchy on the weakening right, and on the dominant left a competition between two parties, the Montagnards (Jacobins and Cordeliers) and Girondists (moderate liberal republicans), for the uncommitted deputies of “the Plain.” While a struggle ensued in the Assembly over whether to abolish the monarchy and what should replace it, France declared war against Austria and Prussia in April 1792, and the mob violence of July and October 1789 was repeated in June 1792 when a mob attacked the Tuilleries Palace.
[18. ]The third stage of the Revolution was marked by the demise of the monarchy, Legislative Assembly, and 1791 Constitution, and the rise of the republican National Convention. On August 10, 1792, the Tuilleries was stormed by a mob, and Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were arrested for treason. Lafayette, then commanding one of the French armies fighting Austria and Prussia, denounced this as a violation of the constitution; by August 20 the Assembly had stripped him of command and declared him a traitor; see chapter 32, note 28. The “September Massacres” were perpetrated (mostly in Paris) by mobs of Revolutionaries against alleged counterrevolutionaries and traitors—royal troops and bodyguards, aristocrats, judges, priests—who had been imprisoned since August 10; prisoners were executed, some having been summarily tried by impromptu courts; soon debtors, thieves, and juvenile and female prisoners were killed as well. The Convention opened on September 21, immediately abolished the monarchy, and declared a republic; it met until 1795, during which time it fought not only wars on its frontiers but a civil war against royalists, clergy, moderate republicans, and other anti-Jacobin factions (especially in the west and south of France).
[19. ]The First Coalition, an alliance of European nations against France in the Revolutionary wars of the 1790s, was primarily the work of Britain; France declared war against Great Britain, Holland, and Spain on February 1, 1793, and these countries then joined with Austria, Prussia, and smaller states to form a loose (and ineffective) military alliance against France.
[1. ]John Adams published the pamphlet Thoughts on Government in 1776, his three-volume A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America in 1787–88, and his utopian tract Discourses of Davila in 1791.
[2. ]See chapter 26, note 12: prior to the Twelfth Amendment (ratified June 1804), Article II, section 1, of the Constitution stipulated that each presidential elector was to cast votes for two different persons—one of which must be for a person not an inhabitant of their own state, so as to diminish regional or state partisanship.
[3. ]The general election to choose presidential electors was held on November 1, 1792; the electors cast their ballots on December 5, 1792; the ballots were opened in the Senate on February 13, 1793. Washington received all 132 possible votes (one from each elector)—the only time the unanimous vote of 1789 has been repeated—while the Vice Presidential vote split four ways: seventy-seven for Adams, fifty for Clinton, four for Jefferson, one for Aaron Burr (of New York, U.S. Senator and later Vice President under Jefferson from 1801 to 1805).
[4. ]In the full Life Marshall writes: “In Georgia, where a desire to commence hostilities against the southern Indians had been unequivocally manifested, this restraint increased the irritation against the administration” (II, p. 300). See chapter 27, note 14, and chapter 29: with the national government suspending hostilities and maintaining General Wayne’s army in the Ohio territory as an incentive to negotiate, Georgia claimed that the government was not protecting its frontiersmen, and that a resolution was not being reached by the government as to the question of Georgia’s Yazoo land scheme and the Creek Indian opposition to it.
[5. ]Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were deposed, and a republic declared, on August 10, 1792; see chapter 29, note 18.
[6. ]The Proclamation of Neutrality was signed on April 22 and issued on May 2, 1793.
[7. ]Edmond Charles Édouard Genêt (1763–1834), French diplomat, appointed minister plenipotentiary to the United States in November 1792; after his recall in 1794, he sought and was granted political asylum in the United States (his faction in the National Convention, the Girondins, had lost power to the more radical Jacobins in May 1793). He became a citizen, married a daughter of Governor George Clinton, and eventually settled in upstate New York.
[8. ]Britain’s first ambassador to the United States (minister plenipotentiary) was George Hammond.
[9. ]Washington began his second term with the Cabinet officers from his first: Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia; Attorney General, Edmund Randolph of Virginia; Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton of New York; Secretary of War, Henry Knox of Massachusetts.
[10. ]The Pennsylvania Democratic Society was founded on July 4, 1793, by associates of Genêt; some historians find its roots more in the Sons of Liberty and Committees of Correspondence of the American Revolution, while others support Marshall’s judgment that it was an importation of the French Revolution. The Jacobin Club was founded in 1789 as a political club of republican deputies in the Estates General; when that assembly moved to Paris, this Society of the Friends of the Constitution met in the convent of the Jacobins (Dominican nuns of the rue Saint-Jacques) and the society thus acquired its most common name. Like other clubs, it had satellites in provincial cities and throughout France for spreading its principles. Originally dominated by moderate republicans and constitutional monarchists (Lafayette was an early member), the club eventually became more radical when moderates left (especially after the detention of the King in July 1791) and to prevent its irrelevance in light of the more radically republican Cordeliers (see chapter 29, note 17). Under the leadership of Robespierre it became the Society of the Jacobin Friends of Liberty and Equality; in 1793–94 (the period known as the Terror) the Jacobins, and the spirit and principles of Jacobinism, dominated all clubs and government institutions.
[11. ]Thomas Mifflin (1744–1800) of Pennsylvania, Continental and Confederation Congressman, aide-de-camp to Washington and Quartermaster General of the Continental army, retiring in 1779 with rank of Major General; delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, governor of Pennsylvania from 1790 to 1799, Democratic-Republican.
[12. ]Alexander J. Dallas (1759–1817) of West Indies (Jamaica) and Pennsylvania, lawyer, appointed Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1791; later U.S. Attorney for Eastern Pennsylvania and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.
[13. ]That is, that the cargo carried by the merchant ships (bottoms) of neutral or allied countries was as protected from seizure or hostile action as the ships themselves.
[14. ]John Jay of New York, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and Rufus King of New York (formerly of Massachusetts), U.S. Senator, Federalist. Jay was later the Federalist governor of New York (1795–1801); King was later the U.S. ambassador to Britain (1796–1803), the Federalist candidate for the Vice Presidency (1804, 1808) and Presidency (1816), U.S. Senator (1813–1825), and ambassador to Britain (1825).
[15. ]Poland was partitioned among Austria, Russia, and Prussia in 1772, 1793, and 1795.
[16. ]A United States Marshal, an administrative officer attached to a Federal court.
[17. ]An official recognition of a consul or commercial agent by the government of the country to which he is accredited, authorizing him to exercise his power; from Latin, literally “he may perform.”
[18. ]This is known as the Order-in-Council of June 8, 1793, and in chapter 31 Marshall refers to this as the “order issued by the British government on the 8th of June” (p. 399, below).
[1. ]The final “their” refers to the United States in the plural, thus to American vessels; it has been noted that not until after the American Civil War (1861–65) is “the United States” employed as a singular noun.
[2. ]Frederick A. C. Muhlenberg (1750–1801) of Pennsylvania, Lutheran clergyman, U.S. Representative (1789–97, initially as a Federalist), Speaker of the House in the First Congress (1789–91) but displaced by Sedgwick in the Second, regaining the Speaker’s chair in the Third Congress with the support of Democratic-Republican votes; Theodore Sedgwick (1746–1813) of Massachusetts, lawyer, U.S. Representative (1789–96; Speaker, 1791–93), Federalist. With 103 House seats at stake in the fall 1792 elections, the apparent party breakdown of the results was Democratic-Republicans, fifty-five, Federalists, forty-eight, but party affiliations were fluid or difficult to ascertain in the early years of the history of American political parties.
[3. ]Genêt was appointed in November 1792 when the Girondins dominated the National Convention, but by May 1793 the more radical Jacobins had taken control. In the summer of 1793 he was censured by his government, and eventually the Committee of Public Safety (the executive arm of the Convention) sent commissioners to America to arrest him, and appointed his successor.
[4. ]By arranging a treaty between Portugal and one of the Barbary Kingdoms (Algeria) such that Portugal would withdraw its squadron protecting merchant shipping through the Straits of Gibraltar (connecting the Mediterranean and the Atlantic), Britain—which had a treaty with the Barbary states to prevent piracy against its vessels—would expose states which did not have treaties to the corsairs (cruisers) of the Barbary pirates.
[5. ]William Bradford (1755–95) of Pennsylvania, Colonel in the Continental army, lawyer, attorney general of Pennsylvania (1780–91), Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice (1791–94), U.S. Attorney General from 1794 until his death in 1795.
[6. ]John Nicholas (1756?–1819) of Virginia, lawyer, U.S. Representative (1793–1801), Democratic-Republican; one of four politically active sons of a Revolutionary Virginia patriot. His brother George was a leading framer (with Thomas Jefferson) of the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 declaring that state’s right to interpose and nullify the Federalist-sponsored Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798.
[7. ]Sir Guy Carleton, in 1786 named Lord Dorchester, Major General in the British army and from 1786 serving his second tour as Governor of Quebec.
[8. ]Jonathan Dayton (1760–1824) of New Jersey, U.S. Representative (1791–99), Federalist.
[9. ]Compensate for losses or injuries suffered.
[10. ]Abraham Clark (1726–94) of New Jersey, U.S. Representative (1791–94); he had opposed ratification of the 1787 Constitution until amended by a Bill of Rights.
[11. ]William Wyndham, Lord Grenville (1759–1834), from 1791 British Foreign Secretary in the Cabinet of Prime Minister William Pitt (the Younger).
[12. ]In the full Life, Marshall appends this footnote to “the Mountain”: “A well known term designating the most violent party in France” (II, p. 383, n. 1); he does not identify the tribunal. In the National Convention of 1792–95 the Montagnards (“mountaineers”) were the most radical of the deputies, in opposition to the more moderate Girondins; they were dominated by the Jacobins and supported the government of the Terror under Robespierre (see chapter 29, notes 17, 18 and chapter 30, note 10). Their name derived from the seats they occupied early in the Convention, the highest seats to the left of the speaker, but it developed symbolic meaning: The Mountain recalled Moses bringing the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai, or Christ preaching the Sermon on the Mount—thus establishing the radical Jacobins as the highest lawgivers of the new France. The tribunal Marshall refers to is probably the Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris, a special high court established in March 1793 to try crimes against the Republic. Initially some degree of due process for the accused was observed, but by the time of the September Massacres of that year it descended into terror, and it became a leading instrument of the Terror in 1794. By the time it was abolished in 1795 the Tribunal had condemned to death more than 2,700 people, including (toward the end) some of its own founders and members, among them Robespierre and its most severe public prosecutor, Fouquier-Tinville.
[13. ]Marshall is referring to the Terror of 1793–94, and the Jacobin Clubs; see chapter 30, note 10.
[14. ]The opposition party in the United States, namely the Democratic-Republican party.
[15. ]Strongly condemned.
[1. ]The opposite of enveloped: removed from concealment, exposed (from the French, développer, to unwrap, unravel, display).
[2. ]Joseph (Jean-Antoine) Fauchet (1761–1834), appointed by the Jacobin government of Robespierre as minister plenipotentiary to the United States; he arrived in February 1794.
[3. ]James Monroe (1758–1831) of Virginia, Major in the Continental army, state legislator, Confederation Congressman (1783–86), Anti-Federalist in Virginia ratifying convention, U.S. Senator (1790–94), ambassador to France 1794 to 1796; later Governor of Virginia (1799–1802), envoy and negotiator for Jefferson in Europe (1801–6), Secretary of State (1811–17), Secretary of War (1814–15), fifth President of the United States (1816–25).
[4. ]With rifles or muskets carried by the trail (the stock) and held in a horizontal position extending in front of the soldier; used when troops are attacking, especially with the bayonet.
[5. ]Opportune, timely.
[6. ]Legal proceedings in a court of law.
[7. ]General John Neville had recently been appointed Inspector of the Western Survey; both he and the marshal were federal government officials.
[8. ]Of the county government of Pennsylvania, state officials.
[9. ]To behave or conduct oneself.
[10. ]I.e., not trailing behind or failing to support the other states in their support of the federal government.
[11. ]Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee (1756–1818) of Virginia, Colonel in the Continental army, famous commander of the irregular cavalry unit known as “Lee’s Legion”; Confederation Congressman (1785–88), Federalist; Governor of Virginia (1792–95). Lee was appointed General in the United States army in 1794 to command the army assembled to quell the Whiskey Rebellion; from 1799 to 1801 he returned to the U.S. Congress as a Federalist. Father of Robert E. Lee.
[12. ]Daniel Morgan (1736–1802) of New Jersey (Pennsylvania?) and Virginia, Brigadier General in the Continental army, famous commander of successive corps of riflemen, rangers, and light troops in the war; appointed Major General in the U.S. army in 1794 to quell the Whiskey Rebellion, commanding the Virginia militia; U.S. Representative from Virginia (1797–99), Federalist.
[13. ]The National Convention had Robespierre executed on July 28, 1794; the Jacobin Club was suppressed by the Convention and abolished by that November. The Terror, which had begun during the September Massacres of 1793, and which had eluded Robespierre’s control (having made him its last famous victim), was ended by more moderate deputies of the Convention by the end of August 1794. Roughly 17,000 persons had been executed under some form of Revolutionary legislation; another roughly 20,000 died or were killed without any trial or procedure, whether in prisons, after surrendering in battle, or being declared enemies of the Republic.
[14. ]William Loughton Smith (c. 1758–1812) of South Carolina, U.S. Representative (1789–97), Federalist; later U.S. Minister to Portugal (1797–1801).
[15. ]Oliver Wolcott, Jr. (1760–1833) of Connecticut, lawyer, appointed Auditor of the U.S. Treasury in 1789 and Comptroller of the Treasury in 1791, he served as Secretary of the Treasury from 1795 to 1800; having become a Democratic-Republican, he was elected Governor of Connecticut and served from 1817 to 1827, during which time he ushered in a new state constitution.
[16. ]Timothy Pickering (1745–1829) of Massachusetts, Quartermaster General of the Continental army (1780–83), Indian negotiator for the United States from 1790, U.S. Postmaster General from 1791 to 1795; served as Secretary of War in 1795, and U.S. Secretary of State from 1795 to 1800; later U.S. Senator (1803–11) and U.S. Representative (1813–17).
[17. ]That is, the determination that Washington had made to ratify the treaty if the Senate approved it. Unlike today’s constitutional parlance, in which a president sends a treaty to the Senate for it to ratify, Washington read Article II, section 2, of the Constitution (“He shall have power . . . to make treaties”) as giving the ratifying function ultimately to the president. Indeed, a treaty could not be ratified without “the Advice and Consent of the Senate” (“two-thirds of Senators present” being required), but this did not mean that the president must accept, or ratify, a treaty simply because the Senate endorses it; if the Senate approved, the President must still choose to ratify and promulgate the treaty as the law of the land. In the full Life Marshall writes: “before transmitting [the Jay Treaty] to the senate, he had resolved to ratify it, if approved by that body” (II, p. 428). See note 26 below.
[18. ]The sequence of letters and semicolons has been added to this long sentence in order to clarify its meaning.
[19. ]Embezzlement of public funds.
[20. ]James McHenry (1753–1816) of Ireland and Maryland, surgeon in the Continental army, later aide to Washington and Lafayette, eventually holding rank of Major; Confederation Congressman (1783–86), Federalist; delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention; state legislator (1788–96); U.S. Secretary of War from 1796 to 1800.
[21. ]Charles Lee (1758–1815) of Virginia, lawyer, state legislator, U.S. Attorney General from 1795 to 1801; later Federal Circuit Court judge (1801–2); brother of Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee.
[22. ]Party control in the first several Congresses is a somewhat speculative question, since the party affiliations of certain members were fluid or difficult to ascertain in the first years of American political parties. According to The Encyclopedia of the United States Congress, ed. Donald C. Bacon, Roger H. Davidson, and Morton Keller (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), the House elections of the fall of 1794 produced fifty-four Federalists and fifty-two Democratic-Republicans.
[23. ]Pierre-Auguste Adet (1763–1834), appointed to succeed Joseph Fauchet as ambassador to the United States in October 1794 after the Jacobins fell from power; Adet arrived in the United States in June 1795 and served until November 1796.
[24. ]Edward Livingston (1764–1836) of New York, lawyer, U.S. Representative from 1795 to 1801, Democratic-Republican; later Mayor of New York, U.S. Attorney for New York; an aide to General Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, he returned to Congress as Representative from Louisiana (1823–29) and Senator (1829–31); U.S. Secretary of State (1831–33), U.S. Ambassador to France (1833–35).
[25. ]Thomas Blount (1759–1812) of North Carolina, U.S. Representative (1793–99, 1805–9, 1811–12), Democratic-Republican.
[26. ]See note 17 above on Washington’s understanding of the ratifying function. The treaty with Spain reached the United States in February, 1796, and the Senate unanimously approved it on March 3; Washington then ratified it and promulgated it to Congress on March 29. Similarly, after the Senate had ratified the treaty with the Dey of Algiers, Washington ratified it and promulgated it as law to Congress on March 7, 1796.
[27. ]See chapter 27, note 6, on the procedural device of adjourning the entire House into a committee (the Committee of the Whole) before taking a final vote on a bill or resolution.
[28. ]See chapter 29, notes 16 and 18. After Lafayette was stripped of his command in the French army and declared a traitor by the Legislative Assembly in August 1792, he and members of his general staff fled across the Prussian border; they were arrested by Prussian sentinels and taken prisoner. In May of 1793 the Prussians transferred Lafayette to the Austrians, who imprisoned him at Olmutz; he remained there in squalid conditions until a special provision of the 1797 Treaty of Campoformio (between Napoleon and the Hapsburgs of Austria) secured his release, which occurred in September 1797.
[29. ]This was James Marshall (1764–1848) of Virginia, lawyer, land owner, brother of John Marshall; later assistant judge of the District of Columbia, 1801–2.