Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER 30: Reelection; Furor over Neutrality; the Extraordinary Citizen Genêt (November 1792 to December 1793) - The Life of George Washington
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CHAPTER 30: Reelection; Furor over Neutrality; the Extraordinary Citizen Genêt (November 1792 to December 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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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.
[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).