Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER 29: Democratic Rebellion; Indian War; the French Model (March 1791 to March 1793) - The Life of George Washington
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CHAPTER 29: Democratic Rebellion; Indian War; the French Model (March 1791 to March 1793) - 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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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.
[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.