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Commerce and Seizures - Lance Banning, Liberty and Order: The First American Party Struggle 
Liberty and Order: The First American Party Struggle, ed. and with a Preface by Lance Banning (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2004).
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Commerce and Seizures
France and Britain both intended to deny the other the benefits of neutral commerce; and during 1793, seizures of American vessels posed an increasing problem, especially with Great Britain. Partly as a consequence of this and partly as a consequence of their continuing disgust with British commercial restrictions and British domination of the American import trade, Jefferson and Madison determined to renew the old campaign for commercial discrimination. On 16 December 1793, two weeks before retiring from his position as secretary of state, Jefferson delivered to the first session of the Third Congress a huge “Report on the Privileges and Restrictions on the Commerce of the United States with Foreign Countries,” comparing British policies unfavorably with those of France. Madison followed up, in January 1794, by introducing seven resolutions to retaliate against Great Britain’s mercantilistic regulations. Events defeated him again. By early March, the British had seized some 250 U.S. vessels trading with the French West Indies. The Republicans in Congress moved behind a bill to introduce nonintercourse with Britain and a measure to sequester British debts. The Federalists preferred a final effort to negotiate the crisis, accompanied by measures to bolster the national defenses. Madison’s resolutions were dropped. John Adams cast a tie-breaking vote defeating nonintercourse in the Senate. On 16 April 1794, Washington nominated Chief Justice John Jay to make a final effort at a diplomatic resolution of the crisis.
william loughton smith Speech in the House of Representatives 13 January 1794
The most effective speech against Madison’s resolutions was delivered by his old foe, William Loughton Smith of South Carolina. In his biography of Hamilton, however, John C. Hamilton reported that the speech was drafted by his father.
The House again resolved itself into a Committee of the Whole House on the Report of the Secretary of State on the Privileges and Restrictions on the Commerce of the United States in Foreign Countries. When
Mr. Smith, of South Carolina, rose and addressed the Chair as follows:
Mr. Chairman:—Among the various duties which are assigned by the Constitution to the Legislature of the United States, there is, perhaps, none of a more important nature than the regulation of commerce, none more generally interesting to our fellow-citizens, none which more seriously claims our diligent and accurate investigation… .
It will not be denied that this country is at present in a very delicate crisis, and one requiring dispassionate reflection, cool and mature deliberation. It will be much to be regretted then, if passion should usurp the place of reason, if superficial, narrow, and prejudiced views should mislead the public councils from the true path of national interest.
The report of the Secretary of State … (whatever may have been the design of the reporter) appears … to induce a false estimate of the comparative condition of our commerce with certain foreign nations, and to urge the Legislature to adopt a scheme of retaliating regulations, restrictions, and exclusions.
The most striking contrast which the performance evidently aims at is between Great Britain and France. For this reason, and as these are the two powers with whom we have the most extensive relations in trade, I shall, by a particular investigation of the subject, endeavor to lay before the Committee an accurate and an impartial comparison of the commercial systems of the two countries in reference to the United States, as a test of the solidity of the inferences which are attempted to be established by the report. A fair comparison can only be made with an eye to what may be deemed the permanent system of the countries in question. The proper epoch for it, therefore, will precede the commencement of the pending French Revolution.
The commercial regulations of France during the period of the Revolution have been too fluctuating, too much influenced by momentary impulses, and, as far as they have looked towards this country with a favorable eye, too much manifesting an object of the moment … to consider them as a part of a system. But though the comparison will be made with principal reference to the condition of our trade with France and Great Britain antecedent to the existing revolution, the regulations of the subsequent period will perhaps not be passed over altogether unnoticed.
The table which I have before me comprises the principal features of the subject within a short compass. It is the work of a gentleman of considerable commercial knowledge, and I believe may be relied on for its correctness… .
Accustomed as our ears have been to a constant panegyric on the generous policy of France towards this country in commercial relations and to as constant a philippic on the unfriendly, illiberal, and persecuting policy of Great Britain towards us in the same relations, we naturally expect to find in a table which exhibits their respective systems numerous discriminations in that of France in our favor and many valuable privileges granted to us which are refused to other foreign countries, in that of Great Britain frequent discriminations to our prejudice and a variety of privileges refused to us which are granted to other foreign nations. But an inspection of the table will satisfy every candid mind that the reverse of what has been supposed is truly the case—that neither in France nor the French West Indies is there more than one solitary and important distinction in our favor (I mean the article of fish oil) either with regard to our exports thither, our imports from thence, or our shipping; that both in Great Britain and the British West Indies there are several material distinctions in our favor with regard both to our exports thither and to our imports from thence, and, as it respects Great Britain, with regard also to our shipping; that in the market of Great Britain, a preference is secured to six of our most valuable staples by considerably higher duties on the rival articles of other foreign countries; that our navigation thither is favored by our ships, when carrying our own productions, being put upon as good a footing as their own ships, and by the exemption of several of our productions, when carried in our ships, from duties which are paid on the like articles of other foreign countries carried in the ships of those countries; and that several of our productions may be carried from the United States to the British West Indies, while the like productions cannot be carried thither from any other foreign country; and that several of the productions of those countries may be brought from thence to the United States, which cannot be carried from thence to any other foreign country… .
[Smith then proceeded, item by item, to compare French and British regulations affecting American exports (flour, tobacco, rice, wood, fish, salted meats, etc.), arguing that, in the great majority of cases, British regulations were more favorable to American products than were those of France. He next observed that three-fourths of America’s imports came from Britain and its dominions—some seven and one-half times the dollar value as came from France. This, he said, was not a grievance but a natural consequence of Britain’s ability to “supply us with the greatest number of the articles we want, on the best terms.” It could not be changed except by an effective system of encouraging home manufactures or “by means violent and contrary to our interests”: premiums for imports from other countries or higher duties on British goods “at the expense of the people of the United States.” Turning finally to a comparison of French and British treatment of American shipping, he admitted that French regulations were generally more favorable than those of Britain: American ships carrying American products directly to Great Britain were treated more favorably than those of any other nation, which was not the case in France; but American ships were not permitted to carry the products of other nations to Britain, and Britain excluded American ships from the British West Indies, whereas France admitted American vessels of sixty tons or more. He insisted, nevertheless, that both nations “aimed at securing the greatest possible portion of benefit to themselves, with no greater concession to our interests than was supposed to coincide with their own,” that there were no grounds for extolling the policies of one of them or denouncing those of the other.]
… The system of every country is selfish according to its circumstances and contains all those restrictions and exclusions which it deems useful to its own interest. Besides this, a desire to secure to the mother country a monopoly of the trade of its colonies is a predominant feature in the system of almost every country in Europe. Nor is it without foundation in reason. Colonies, especially small islands, are usually maintained and defended at the expense of the mother country, and it seems a natural recompense for that service that the mother country should enjoy, exclusively of other nations, the benefit of trade with its colonies. This was thought reasonable by the United States while colonies even after their disputes on the point of taxation had begun; and however the question may stand between the mother country and its colonies, between the former and foreign nations, it is not easy to see how the equity of the exclusion can be contested. At any rate, its being the most prevailing system of nations having colonies, there is no room for acrimony against a particular one that pursues it. This ought not to dissuade the United States from availing itself of every just and proper influence to gain admission into the colony trade of the nations concerned; but this object ought to be pursued with moderation, not under the instigation of a sense of injury, but on the ground of temperate negotiation and reasonable equivalent.
These observations ought to produce two effects: to moderate our resentments against particular nations and our partialities for others, and to evince the impracticability and Quixotism of an attempt by violence, on the part of this young country, to break through the fetters which the universal policy of nations imposes on their intercourse with each other… .
The Secretary of State, after pointing out the exclusions, restrictions, and burdens which prevent our enjoying all the advantages which we could desire in the trade with foreign countries, proceeds to indicate the remedies; these are counter-exclusions, restrictions, and burdens.
The reason of the thing and the general observations of the Secretary of State would extend the regulations to be adopted to all the nations with whom we have connexions in trade; but his conclusion would seem to confine them to Great Britain, on the suggestion that she alone has declined friendly arrangements by treaty, and that there is no reason to conclude that friendly arrangements would be declined by other nations… .
Why, then, is Great Britain selected, but that it is most in unison with our passions to enter into collisions with her?
If retaliations for restrictions, exclusions, and burdens are to take place, they ought to be dealt out, with a proportional hand, to all those from whom they are experienced. This, justice and an inoffensive conduct require. If, suffering equal impediments to our trade from one power as another, we retaliate on one and not on another, we manifest that we are governed by a spirit of hostility towards the power against whom our retaliation is directed, and we ought to count upon a reciprocation of that spirit. If, suffering fewer from one than from another, we retaliate only on that party from whom we suffer least, the spirit of enmity by which we were actuated becomes more unequivocal. If, receiving a positively better treatment from one than another, we deal most harshly towards that power which treats us best, will it be an evidence either of justice or moderation? Will it not be a proof either of caprice or of a hatred and aversion of a nature to overrule the considerations both of equity and prudence? …
Whatever may be the motive, the operation may clearly be pronounced to be a phenomenon in political history—a government attempting to aid commerce by throwing it into confusion; by obstructing the most precious channels in which it flows, under the pretence of making it flow more freely; by damming up the best outlet for the surplus commodities of the country and the best inlet for the supplies of which it stands in need; by disturbing, without temptation, a beneficial course of things, in an experiment precarious, if not desperate; by arresting the current of a prosperous and progressive navigation to transfer it to other countries, and by making all this wild work in the blameable, but feeble attempt to build up the manufactures and trade of another country at the expense of the United States… .
It is a project calculated to disturb the existing course of three-fourths of our import trade, two-fifths of our export trade, and the means on which depend two-thirds, at least, of our revenues.
To be politic, therefore, it ought to unite these different ingredients:
First. An object of adequate utility to the country.
Second. A moral certainty, at least, of success.
Third. An assurance that the advantage likely to be obtained is not overbalanced by the inconveniences likely to be incurred, and as an equivalent for the jeopardy to which advantages in our possession are exposed.
1st. The direct object professed to be aimed at is a freer trade with Great Britain and access to her West India Islands, in our own ships. A collateral one, the success of which seems most relied on, is to transfer a part of our too great trade with Great Britain to other nations, particularly France.
The first is no doubt an object of real magnitude, worthy of every reasonable and promising exertion. The second, in the single light of obviating a too great dependence for supply on one nation, is not unworthy of attention, but, as before observed, it ought only to be aimed at by expedients neither embarrassing nor expensive; it is a very insufficient object to be pursued either at hazard or expense to the people of the United States. It has been already shown, that to pursue it, either by prohibitions or partial increase of duties, would be a costly undertaking to this country.
2nd. The second ingredient is, “a moral certainty of success.” The argument used to prove the probability, nay, the certainty of success, is this: the United States are a most important customer to Great Britain; they now take off near three millions in her manufactures, and by the progress of their population, which is likely to exceed that of their manufactures, the probability is that their importance as a customer will increase every year; their importance to Great Britain, as a source of supply, is not less than as a customer for her manufactures; the articles with which they furnish her, are those of prime necessity, consisting of the means of subsistence and the materials for ship-building and manufactures, while the articles we derive from her are mostly those of convenience and luxury; her supplies to us are therefore less useful than ours to her; that it would be contrary to all good policy in Great Britain to hazard the turning of a commerce so beneficial into other channels; besides all this, Great Britain is immersed in debt and in a state of decrepitude; derangement of our commerce with her would endanger a shock to the whole fabric of her credit, and by affecting injuriously the interests of a great portion of her mercantile body, and by throwing out of employ a large number of her manufacturers, would raise a clamor against the Ministry too loud and too extensive to be resisted; and that they would consequently be compelled, by the weight of these considerations to yield to our wishes.
It is as great an error in the councils of a country to over-rate as to under-rate its importance. The foregoing argument does this, and it does it in defiance of experience. Similar arguments were formerly used in favor of a non-importation scheme; the same consequences now foretold were then predicted in the most sanguine manner; but the prediction was not fulfilled. This it would seem, ought to be a caution to us now, and ought to warn us against relying upon the like effects, promised from a measure of much less force, namely, an increase of duties.
If our calculations are made on the ordinary course of the human passions, or on a just estimate of relative advantages for the contest proposed, we shall not be sanguine in expecting that the victory will be readily yielded to us, or that it will be easily obtained.
The Navigation Act of Great Britain, the principles of which exclude us from the advantages we wish to enjoy, is deemed by English politicians as the palladium of her riches, greatness, and security.
After having cherished it for such a long succession of years, after having repeatedly hazarded much for the maintenance of it, with so strong a conviction of its immense importance, is it at all probable that she would surrender it to us without a struggle—that she would permit us to extort the abandonment of it from her without a serious trial of strength?
Prejudices riveted by time and habit, opinions fixed by long experience of advantages, a sense of interest, irritated pride, a spirit of resentment at the attempt, all these strong circumstances would undoubtedly prompt to resistance. It would be felt that if a concession were made to us upon the strength of endeavors to extort it, the whole system must be renounced; it would be perceived that the way having been once successfully pointed out to other nations, would not fail to be followed, and that a surrender to one would be a surrender to all.
Resistance, therefore, would certainly follow in one or other mode, a war of arms or of commercial regulations.
If the first should be determined upon, it would not be difficult for Great Britain to persuade the other powers with whom she is united that they ought to make common cause with her. She would represent that our regulations were in fact only a covert method of taking part in the war by embarrassing her, and that it was the interest of the cause in which they were combined to frustrate our attempts.
If war could be foreseen as the certain consequence of the experiment proposed to be made, no arguments would be necessary to dissuade from it. Everybody would be sensible that more was to be lost than gained, and that so great a hazard ought not to be run.
But we are assured that there is no danger of this consequence, that no nation would have a right to take umbrage at any regulations we should adopt with regard to our own trade, and that Great Britain would take care how she put to risk so much as she would hazard by a quarrel with us.
All this is far more plausible than solid. Experience has proved to us that the councils of that country are influenced by passion as well as our own. If we should seize the present moment to attack her in a point where she is peculiarly susceptible, she would be apt to regard it as a mark of determined hostility. This would naturally tend to kindle those sparks of enmity which are alleged to exist on her side. War is as often the result of resentment as of calculation. A direct and immediate war between us would not be surprising; but if this should not take place, mutual ill offices and irritations, which naturally grow out of such a state of things, would be apt quickly to lead to it. Insults and aggressions might become so multiplied and open as not to permit forbearance on either side… .
Let us, however, take it for granted that she would prefer the other course, that of retaliating regulations; how will the contest stand? The proportion of the whole exports of Great Britain which comes to the United States is about one-fifth; the proportion of our exports which goes to Great Britain is about one-eighth of the whole amount of her imports. Taking the mean of these proportions of imports and exports, the proportion which our trade with Great Britain bears to the totality of her trade is about one-sixth.
The proportion of imports from the dominions of Great Britain into the United States may be stated at three-fourths of our whole importation; the proportion which our exports to the same dominions bears to our total exportation may be stated at two-fifths; taking the mean of those two, the proportion which our trade with Great Britain bears to our whole trade is something more than one-half.
This much greater proportional derangement of our trade than of hers by a contest is a mathematical demonstration that the contest would be unequal on our part; that we should put more to hazard than Great Britain would do; should be likely to suffer greater inconvenience than her, and consequently (the resolution and perseverance of the two parties being supposed equal) would be soonest induced to abandon the contest… .
The main argument for the chance of success is that our supplies to Great Britain are more necessary to her than hers to us. But this is a position which our self-love gives more credit to than facts will altogether authorize. Well-informed men in other countries (whose opportu-nities of information are at least as good as ours) affirm that Great Britain can obtain a supply of most of the articles she obtains from us as cheap and of as good a quality elsewhere, with only two exceptions, namely, tobacco and grain, and the latter is only occasionally wanted; a considerable substitute for our tobacco, though not of equal quality, may be had elsewhere; and even admitting this position to be too strongly stated, yet there is no good reason to doubt that it is in a great degree true. The colonies of the different European powers on this continent, some countries on the Mediterranean, and the northern countries of Europe, are in situations adapted to becoming our competitors.
On the other hand, the manufactured articles which we do not make ourselves (the greatest part of which are, in civilized countries, necessaries) are as important to us as our materials for manufacture (the only articles for which her demand is constant) are to Great Britain. The position is as true that no other nation can supply us as well as that country with several essential articles which we want, as that no nation can supply her equally well with certain articles which she takes from us; and as to other articles of subsistence, it is certain that our demand for manufactured supplies is more constantly urgent than her demand for those articles. Where, indeed, shall we find a substitute for the vast supply of manufactures which we get from that country? No gentleman will say that we can suddenly replace them by our manufactures, or that this, if practicable, could be done without a violent distortion of the natural course of our industry. A substitute of our own being out of the question, where else shall we find one?
France was the power which could best have filled any chasm that might have been created. But this is no longer the case. It is undeniable that the money capitals of that country have been essentially destroyed; that manufacturing establishments, except those for war, have been essentially deranged. The destruction to which Lyons appears to be doomed is a severe blow to the manufactures of France; that city, second in importance, in all respects, was perhaps the first in manufacturing impor-tance. It is more than probable that France, for years to come, will herself want a foreign supply of manufactured articles… .
james madison Speech in the House of Representatives 14 January 1794
The House again resolved itself into a Committee of the Whole House on the Report of the Secretary of State … when Mr. Madison rose in reply to Mr. Smith. … The propositions immediately before the committee turned on the question whether any thing ought to be done at this time, in the way of commercial regulations, towards vindicating and advancing our national interests. Perhaps it might be made a question with some whether, in any case, legislative regulations of commerce were consistent with its nature and prosperity.
He professed himself to be a friend to the theory which gives to industry a free course, under the impulse of individual interest and the guidance of individual sagacity. He was persuaded that it would be happy for all nations if the barriers erected by prejudice, by avarice, and by despotism were broken down and a free intercourse established among them. Yet to this, as to all other general rules, there might be exceptions. And the rule itself required, what did not exist, that it should be general… .
This subject, as had been remarked on a former occasion, was not a novel one. It was co-eval with our political birth and has at all times exercised the thoughts of reflecting citizens. As early as the year succeeding the peace, the effect of the foreign policy which began to be felt in our trade and navigation excited universal attention and inquietude. The first effort thought of was an application of Congress to the states for a grant of power for a limited time to regulate our foreign commerce, with a view to control the influence of unfavorable regulations in some cases and to conciliate an extension of favorable ones in others. From some circumstances then incident to our situation, and particularly from a radical vice in the then political system of the United States, the experiment did not take effect.
The states next endeavored to effect their purpose by separate but concurrent regulations. Massachusetts opened a correspondence with Virginia and other states in order to bring about the plan. Here again the effort was abortive. Out of this experience grew the measures which terminated in the establishment of a government competent to the regulation of our commercial interests and the vindication of our commercial rights.
As these were the first objects of the people in the steps taken for establishing the present government, they were universally expected to be among the first fruits of its operation. In this expectation the public were disappointed. An attempt was made in different forms and received the repeated sanction of this branch of the legislature, but they expired in the Senate. Not indeed, as was alledged, from a dislike to the attempt altogether, but the modifications given to it. It has not appeared, however, that it was ever renewed in a different form in that house; & for some time it has been allowed to sleep in both.
If the reasons which originally prevailed against measures such as those now proposed had weight in them, they can no longer furnish a pretext for opposition.
When the subject was discussed in the first Congress at New-York, it was said that we ought to try the effect of a generous policy towards Great-Britain; that we ought to give time for negotiating a treaty of commerce; that we ought to await the close of negotiations for explaining and executing the treaty of peace. We have now waited a term of more than four years. The treaty of peace remains unexecuted on her part, tho’ all pretext for delay has been removed by the steps taken on ours. No treaty of commerce is either in train or in prospect. Instead of relaxations in former articles complained of, we suffer new and aggravated violations of our rights.
In the view which he took of the subject, he called the attention of the committee particularly to the subject of navigation, of manufactures, and of the discrimination proposed in the motion between some nations and others.
On the subject of navigation, he observed that we were prohibited by the British laws from carrying to Great-Britain the produce of other countries from their ports, or our own produce from the ports of other countries, or the produce of other countries from our own ports, or to send our own produce from our own or other ports in the vessels of other countries. This last restriction was, he observed, felt by the United States at the present moment. It was indeed the practice of Great-Britain sometimes to relax her navigation act so far in time of war as to permit to neutral vessels a circuitous carriage; but as yet the act was in full force against the use of them for transporting the produce of the United States.
On the other hand, the laws of the United States allowed Great-Britain to bring into their ports any thing she might please, from her own or from other ports, and in her own or in other vessels.
In the trade between the United States and the British West-Indies, the vessels of the former were under an absolute prohibition, whilst British vessels in that trade enjoyed all the privileges granted to other, even the most favored, nations in their trade with us. The inequality in this case was the more striking as it was evident that the West-Indies were dependent on the United States for the supplies essential to them, and that the circumstances which secured to the United States this advantage enabled their vessels to transport the supplies on far better terms than could be done by British vessels.
To illustrate the policy requisite in our commercial intercourse with other nations, he presented a comparative view of the American and foreign tonnage employed in the respective branches of it, from which it appeared that the foreign stood to the American as follows—
It results from these facts that in proportion as the trade might be diminished with Great-Britain and increased with other nations, would be the probable increase of the American tonnage. It appeared, for example, that as the trade might pass from British channels into those of France it would augment our tonnage at the rate of ten to one… .
Such a disproportion, taking even the reduced one, in the navigation with Great-Britain was the more mortifying when the nature and amount of our exports are considered. Our exports are not only for the most part either immediately necessaries of life or … necessaries of employment and life to manufacturers, and must thence command a sure market wherever they are received at all. But the peculiar bulkiness of them furnishes an advantage over the exports of every other country, and particularly over those of Great-Britain. … The bulk of her exports to us compared with that of ours to her is as nothing. An inconsiderable quantity of shipping would suffice for hers, whilst ours can load about 222,000 tons. Including the articles she exports from the West-Indies to this country, they bear no proportion to ours. Yet in the entire trade between the United States and the British dominions, her tonnage is to that of the United States as 156,000, employing 9,360 seamen, to 66,000, employing 3,690 seamen. Were a rigid exertion of our right to take place, it would extend our tonnage to 222,000, and leave to G.B. employment for much less than the actual share now enjoyed by the United States. It could not be wished to push matters to this extremity. It showed, however, the very unequal and unfavorable footing on which the carrying trade, the great resource of our safety and respectability, was placed by foreign regulations, and the reasonableness of peaceable attempts to meliorate it. We might at least, in availing ourselves of the merit of our exports, contend for such regulations as would reverse the proportion and give the United States the 156,000 tonnage and 9,360 seamen, instead of the 66,000 tonnage and 3,690 seamen… .
It was not the imports but exports that regulated the quantity of tonnage. What was imported in American vessels, which would otherwise return empty, was no doubt a benefit to the American merchant, but could slightly only, if at all, increase the mass of our tonnage. The way to effect this was to secure exportations to American bottoms.
Proceeding to the subject of manufactures, he observed that it presented no compensations for the inequalities in the principles and effects of the navigation system.
We consume British manufactures to double the amount of what Britain takes from us; and quadruple the amount of what she actually consumes.
We take everything after it has undergone all the profitable labor that can be bestowed on it. She receives, in return, raw materials, the food of her industry.
We send necessaries to her. She sends superfluities to us.
We admit every thing she pleases to send us, whether of her own or alien production. She refuses not only our manufactures, but the articles we wish most to send her; our wheat and flour, our fish, and our salted provisions. These constitute our best staples for exportation, as her manufactures constitute hers.
It appeared by an authentic document he had examined that of the manufactured articles imported in 1790, amounting to 15,295,638 dollars 97 cents, we received from and thro’ Great-Britain, 13,965,464 dollars 95 cents.
During the same year, the manufactures imported from France, the next great commercial country, and consuming more of our produce than Great-Britain, amounted to no more than 155,136 dollars and 63 cents.
To give a fuller view of our foreign commerce, he stated the balances with the several nations of Europe and their dominions as follow:
This enormous balance to G.B. is on the exports to her. On her consumption the balance is still greater, amounting to nine or ten millions, to which again is to be added her profits on the re-exports in a manufactured and raw state.
It might be said that an unfavorable balance was no proof of an unfavorable trade, that the only important balance was the ultimate one on our aggregate commerce.
That there was much truth in this general doctrine was admitted, at the same time it was equally certain that there were exceptions to it, some of which were conceived to be applicable to the situation of the United States.
But whether the doctrine were just or not, as applied to the United States, it was well known that the reasoning and practice of other countries were governed by a contrary doctrine. In all of them, an unfavorable balance to be paid in specie was considered as an evil. Great-Britain in particular had always studied to prevent it as much as she could. What then may be the effect on the policy of a nation with which we have the most friendly and beneficial relations when it sees the balance of trade with us not only so much against her, but all the specie that pays it flowing immediately into the lap of her greatest rival, if not her most inveterate enemy.
As to the discrimination proposed between nations having and not having commercial treaties with us, the principle was embraced by the laws of most, if not all the states, whilst the regulation of trade was in their hands.
It had the repeated sanction of votes in the House of Representatives during the session of the present government at New-York.
It has been practiced by other nations, and in a late instance against the United States.
It tends to procure beneficial treaties from those who refuse them, by making them the price of enjoying an equality with other nations in our commerce.
It tends, as a conciliatory preference, to procure better treaties from those who have not refused them.
It was a prudent consideration, in dispensing commercial advantages, to favor rather those whose friendship and support may be expected in case of necessity than those whose disposition wore a contrary aspect. He did not wish to enter at present, nor at all, if unnecessary, into a display of the unfriendly features which marked the policy of Great-Britain towards the United States. He should be content to lay aside, at least for the present, the subject of the Indians, the Algerines, the spoliations, &c. but he could not forbear remarking, generally, that if that or any other nation were known to bear us a settled ill-will, nothing could be more impolitic than to foster resources which would be more likely to be turned against us than exerted in our favor.
It had been admitted by the gentleman who spoke yesterday (Mr. Smith of South Carolina) to be a misfortune that our trade should be so far engrossed by any one nation as it is in the hands of Great-Britain. But the gentleman added nothing to alleviate the misfortune when he advised us to make no efforts for putting an end to it. The evils resulting from such a state of things were as serious as they were numerous. To say nothing of sudden derangements from the caprice with which sovereigns might be seized, there were casualties which might not be avoidable. A general bankruptcy, which was a possible event, in a nation with which we were so connected, would reverberate upon us with a most dreadful shock. A partial bankruptcy had actually and lately taken place; and was severely felt in our commerce. War is a common event particularly to G. Britain and involves us in the embarrassments it brings on her commerce whilst ours is so disproportionately interwoven with it. Add the influence that may be conveyed into the public councils by a nation directing the course of our trade by her capital, & holding so great a share in our pecuniary institutions, and the effect that may finally ensue on our taste, our manners, and our form of government itself.
If the question be asked, what might be the consequence of counter-efforts, and whether this attempt to vindicate our public interests would not produce them? His answer was that he did not in the least apprehend such a consequence, as well because the measure afforded no pretext, being short of what was already done by Great-Britain in her commercial system, as because she would be the greatest sufferer from a stagnation of the trade between the two countries if she should force on such a crisis.
Her merchants would feel it. Her navigation would feel it. Her manufacturers would feel it. Her West-Indies would be ruined by it. Her revenue would deeply feel it. And her government would feel it thro’ every nerve of its operations. We too should suffer in some respects but in a less degree, and, if the virtue and temper of our fellow citizens were not mistaken, the experiment would find in them a far greater readiness to bear it. It was clear to him, therefore, that if Great-Britain should, contrary to all the rules of probability, stop the commerce between the two countries, the issue would be a complete triumph to the United States.
He dwelt particularly on the dependence of British manufactures on the market of the United States. He referred to a paper in Anderson’s History of Commerce, which states the amount of British manufactures at £51,310,000 sterling, and the number of souls employed in, and supported by them, at 5,250,000. Supposing the United States to consume two and a half millions of British manufactures, which is a moderate estimate, the loss of their market would deprive of subsistence 250,000 souls. Add 50,000 who depend for employment on our raw materials. Here are 300,000 souls who live by our custom. Let them be driven to poverty and despair by acts of their own government, and what would be the consequence? Most probably an acquisition of so many useful citizens to the United States, which form the natural asylum against the distresses of Europe. But whether they should remain in discontent and wretchedness in their own country or seek their fortunes in another, the evil would be felt by the British government as equally great, and be avoided with equal caution.
It might be regarded, he observed, as a general rule, that where one nation consumed the necessaries of life produced by another, the consuming nation was dependent on the producing one. On the other hand, where the consumption consisted of superfluities, the producing nation was dependent on the consuming one. The United States were in the fortunate situation of enjoying both these advantages over Great-Britain. They supply a part of her dominions with the necessaries of life. They consume superfluities which give bread to her people in another part. Great-Britain, therefore, is under a double dependence on the commerce of the United States. She depends on them for what she herself consumes; she depends on them for what they consume.
In proportion as a nation manufactures luxuries must be its disadvantage in contests of every sort with its customers. The reason is obvious. What is a luxury to the consumer is a necessary to the manufacturer. By changing a fashion, or disappointing a fancy only, bread may be taken from the mouths of thousands whose industry is devoted to the gratification of artificial wants.
He mentioned the case of a petition from a great body of buckle makers presented a few years ago to the Prince of Wales, complaining of the use of strings instead of buckles in the shoes and supplicating his royal highness, as giving the law to fashions, to save them from want and misery by discontinuing the new one. It was not, he observed, the prince who petitioned the manufacturers to continue to make the buckles, but the manufacturers who petitioned their customers to buy them. The relation was similar between the American customers and the British manufacturers. And if a law were to pass for putting a stop to the use of their superfluities, or a stop were otherwise to be put to it, it would quickly be seen from which the distress and supplications would flow.
Suppose that Great-Britain received from us alone the whole of the necessaries she consumes, and that our market alone took off the luxuries with which she paid for them. Here the dependence would be complete, and we might impose whatever terms we pleased on the exchange. This to be sure is not absolutely the case; but in proportion as it is the case, her dependence is on us.
The West-Indies, however, are an example of complete dependence. They cannot subsist without our food. They cannot flourish without our lumber and our use of their rum. On the other hand we depend on them for not a single necessary, and can supply ourselves with their luxuries from other sources. Sugar is the only article about which there was ever a question, and he was authorized to say that there was not at the most one sixth of our consumption supplied from the British islands.
In time of war or famine the dependence of the West-Indies is felt in all its energy. It is sometimes such as to appeal to our humanity as well as our interest for relief. At this moment, the governor of Jamaica is making proclamation of their distresses. If ever, therefore, there was a case where one country could dictate to another the regulations of trade between them, it is the case of the United States and the British West-Indies. And yet the gentleman from South Carolina (Mr. Smith) had considered it as a favor that we were allowed to send our provisions in British bottoms, & in these only, to the West-Indies. The favor reduced to plain language in the mouth of their planters would run thus: We will agree to buy your provisions rather than starve and let you have our rum, which we can sell nowhere else; but we reserve out of this indulgence a monopoly of the carriage to British vessels.
With regard to revenue, the British resources were extremely exhausted in comparison with those of the United States.
The people of Great-Britain were taxed at the rate of 4s a head; the people of the United States at not more than 6d a head, less than one-sixth of the British tax.
As the price of labor which pays the tax is double in the United States to what it is in Great-Britain, the burden on American citizens is less than one-twelfth of the burden on British subjects.
It is true, indeed, that Britain alone does not bear the whole burden. She levies indirect taxes on her West-Indies and on her East-Indies, and derives from an acquiescence in her monopolizing regulations an imperceptible tribute from the whole commercial world.
Still, however, the difference of burden in the two countries is immense.
Britain has moreover great arrears of unfunded debts. She is threatened with defects in her revenue even at this time. She is engaged in an expensive war. And she raises the supplies for it on the most expensive terms.
Add to the whole that her population is stationary if not diminishing, whilst that of the United States is in a course of increase beyond example.
Should it still be asked whether the impost might not be affected, and how a deficiency could be supplied? He thought sufficient answers might be given.
He took for granted that the articles subjected to the additional duties would continue to come according to the demand for them. And believed if the duties were prudently adjusted, the increase of the duties would balance the decrease of importation… .
james madison “Political Observations” 20 April 1795
After the Third Congress adjourned, Madison again defended his commercial propositions and Republican conduct in general in this anonymous pamphlet.
A variety of publications, in pamphlets and other forms, have appeared in different parts of the Union since the session of Congress which ended in June, 1794, endeavoring, by discolored representations of our public affairs, and particularly of certain occurrences of that session, to turn the tide of public opinion into a party channel. The immediate object of the writers was either avowedly or evidently to operate on the approaching elections of Federal Representatives. As that crisis will have entirely elapsed before the following observations will appear, they will, at least, be free from a charge of the same views; and will, consequently, have the stronger claim to that deliberate attention and reflection to which they are submitted.
The publications alluded to have passed slightly over the transactions of the First and Second Congress; and so far, their example will here be followed.
Whether, indeed, the funding system was modelled either on the principles of substantial justice or on the demands of public faith? Whether it did not contain ingredients friendly to the duration of the public debt and implying that it was regarded as a public good? Whether the assumption of the state debts was not enforced by overcharged representations; and Whether, if the burdens had been equalized only, instead of being assumed in the gross, the states could not have discharged their respective proportions by their local resources sooner and more conveniently than the general government will be able to discharge the whole debts by general resources? Whether the excise system be congenial with the spirit and conducive to the happiness of our country; or can even justify itself as a productive source of revenue? Whether, again, the bank was not established without authority from the Constitution? Whether it did not throw unnecessary and unreasonable advantages into the hands of men previously enriched beyond reason or necessity? And whether it can be allowed the praise of a salutary operation until its effects shall have been more accurately traced and its hidden transactions shall be fully unveiled to the public eye: These and others are questions which, though of great importance, it is not intended here to examine. Most of them have been finally decided by the competent authority; and the rest have, no doubt, already impressed themselves on the public attention.
Passing on then to the session of Congress preceding the last, we are met in the first place by the most serious charges against the southern members of Congress in general and particularly against the representatives of Virginia. They are charged with having supported a policy which would inevitably have involved the United States in the war of Europe, have reduced us from the rank of a free people to that of French colonies, and possibly have landed us in disunion, anarchy, and misery; and the policy from which these tremendous calamities was to flow is referred to certain commercial resolutions moved by a member from Virginia in the House of Representatives.
To place in its true light the fallacy which infers such consequences from such a cause, it will be proper to review the circumstances which preceded and attended the resolutions.
It is well known that at the peace between the United States and Great Britain, it became a question with the latter whether she should endeavor to regain the lost commerce of America by liberal and reciprocal arrangements or trust to a relapse of it into its former channels without the price of such arrangements on her part. Whilst she was fearful that our commerce would be conducted into new and rival channels, she leaned to the first side of the alternative, and a bill was actually carried in the House of Commons by the present Prime Minister corresponding with that sentiment. She soon, however, began to discover (or to hope) that the weakness of our Federal Government and the want of concurrence among the state governments would secure her against the danger at first apprehended. From that moment all ideas of conciliation and concession vanished. She determined to enjoy at once the full benefit of the freedom allowed by our regulations and of the monopolies established by her own.
In this state of things, the pride as well as the interest of America were everywhere aroused. The mercantile world in particular was all on fire; complaints flew from one end of the continent to the other; projects of retaliation and redress engrossed the public attention. At one time, the states endeavored by separate efforts to counteract the unequal laws of Great Britain. At another, correspondencies were opened for uniting their efforts. An attempt was also made to vest in the former Congress a limited power for a limited time, in order to give effect to the general will.
All these experiments, instead of answering the purpose in view, served only to confirm Great Britain in her first belief, that her restrictive plans were in no danger of retaliation.
It was at length determined by the Legislature of Virginia to go to work in a new way. It was proposed, and most of the states agreed, to send commissioners to digest some change in our general system that might prove an effectual remedy. The commissioners met; but finding their powers too circumscribed for the great object which expanded itself before them, they proposed a convention on a more enlarged plan for a general revision of the Federal Government.
From this convention proceeded the present Federal Constitution, which gives to the general will the means of providing in the several necessary cases for the general welfare; and particularly in the case of regulating our commerce in such manner as may be required by the regulations of other countries.
It was natural to expect that one of the first objects of deliberation under the new constitution would be that which had been first and most contemplated in forming it. Accordingly it was, at the first session, proposed that something should be done analogous to the wishes of the several states and expressive of the efficiency of the new government. A discrimination between nations in treaty and those not in treaty, the mode most generally embraced by the states, was agreed to in several forms, and adhered to in repeated votes, by a very great majority of the House of Representatives. The Senate, however, did not concur with the House of Representatives, and our commercial arrangements were made up without any provision on the subject.
From that date to the session of Congress ending in June, 1794, the interval passed without any effective appeal to the interest of Great Britain. A silent reliance was placed on her voluntary justice, or her enlightened interest.
The long and patient reliance being ascribed (as was foretold) to other causes than a generous forbearance on the part of the United States had, at the commencement of the Third Congress, left us with respect to a reciprocity of commercial regulations between the two countries precisely where the commencement of the First Congress had found us. This was not all, the western posts, which entailed an expensive Indian war on us, continued to be withheld, although all pretext for it had been removed on our part. Depredations as derogatory to our rights as grievous to our interests had been licenced by the British Government against our lawful commerce on the high seas. And it was believed, on the most probable grounds, that the measure by which the Algerine Pirates were let loose on the Atlantic had not taken place without the participation of the same unfriendly counsels. In a word, to say nothing of the American victims to savages and barbarians, it was estimated that our annual damages from Great Britain were not less than three or four millions of dollars.
This distressing situation spoke the more loudly to the patriotism of the representatives of the people as the nature and manner of the communications from the President seemed to make a formal and affecting appeal on the subject to their co-operation. The necessity of some effort was palpable. The only room for different opinions seemed to lie in the different modes of redress proposed. On one side nothing was proposed, beyond the eventual measures of defence, in which all concurred, except the building of six frigates, for the purpose of enforcing our rights against Algiers. The other side, considering this measure as pointed at one only of our evils, and as inadequate even to that, thought it best to seek for some safe but powerful remedy that might be applied to the root of them; and with this view the Commercial Propositions were introduced.
They were at first opposed on the ground that Great Britain was amicably disposed towards the United States, and that we ought to await the event of the depending negociation. To this it was replied that more than four years of appeal to that disposition had been tried in vain by the new government; that the negotiation had been abortive and was no longer depending; that the late letters from Mr. Pinckney, the minister at London, had not only cut off all remaining hope from that source, but had expressly pointed commercial regulations as the most eligible redress to be pursued.
Another ground of opposition was that the United States were more dependent on the trade of Great Britain than Great Britain was on the trade of the United States. This will appear scarcely credible to those who understand the commerce between the two countries, who recollect that it supplies us chiefly with superfluities whilst in return it employs the industry of one part of her people, sends to another part the very bread which keeps them from starving, and remits moreover, an annual balance in specie of ten or twelve millions of dollars. It is true, nevertheless, as the debate shows, that this was the language, however strange, of some who combated the propositions.
Nay, what is still more extraordinary, it was maintained that the United States had, on the whole, little or no reason to complain of the footing of their commerce with Great Britain; although such complaints had prevailed in every state, among every class of citizens, ever since the year 1783; and although the Federal Constitution had originated in those complaints, and had been established with the known view of redressing them.
As such objections could have little effect in convincing the judgement of the House of Representatives, and still less that of the public at large, a new mode of assailing the propositions has been substituted. The American People love peace; and the cry of war might alarm when no hope remained of convincing them. The cry of war has accordingly been echoed through the continent, with a loudness proportioned to the emptiness of the pretext; and to this cry has been added another still more absurd, that the propositions would in the end enslave the United States to their allies and plunge them into anarchy and misery.
It is truly mortifying to be obliged to tax the patience of the reader with an examination of such gross absurdities; but it may be of use to expose, where there may be no necessity to refute them.
What were the commercial propositions? They discriminated between nations in treaty and nations not in treaty by an additional duty on the manufactures and trade of the latter; and they reciprocated the navigation laws of all nations who excluded the vessels of the United States from a common right of being used in the trade between the United States and such nations.
Is there any thing here that could afford a cause or a pretext for war to Great Britain or any other nation? If we hold at present the rank of a free people, if we are no longer colonies of Great Britain, if we have not already relapsed into some dependence on that nation, we have the self-evident right to regulate our trade according to our own will and our own interest, not according to her will or her interest. This right can be denied to no independent nation. It has not been and will not be denied to ourselves by any opponent of the propositions.
If the propositions could give no right to Great Britain to make war, would they have given any color to her for such an outrage on us? No American citizen will affirm it. No British subject who is a man of candor will pretend it; because he must know that the commercial regulations of Great Britain herself have discriminated among foreign nations whenever it was thought convenient. They have discriminated against particular nations by name; they have discriminated with respect to particular articles by name, by the nations producing them, and by the places exporting them. And as to the navigation articles proposed, they were not only common to the other countries along with Great Britain; but reciprocal between Great Britain and the United States: Nay, it is notorious that they fell short of an immediate and exact reciprocity of her own Navigation Laws.
Would any nation be so barefaced as to quarrel with another for doing the same thing which she herself has done, for doing less than she herself has done, towards that particular nation? It is impossible that Great Britain would ever expose herself by so absurd as well as arrogant a proceeding. If she really meant to quarrel with this country, common prudence and common decency would prescribe some other less odious pretext for her hostility.
It is the more astonishing that such a charge against the propositions should have been hazarded when the opinion and the proceedings of America on the subject of our commercial policy is reviewed.
Whilst the power over trade remained with the several states, there were few of them that did not exercise it on the principle, if not in the mode, of the commercial propositions. The eastern states generally passed laws either discriminating between some foreign nations and others or levelled against Great Britain by name. Maryland and Virginia did the same. So did two, if not the three, of the more southern states. Was it ever, during that period, pretended at home or abroad that a cause or pretext for quarrel was given to Great Britain or any other nation? Or were our rights better understood at that time than at this or more likely then than now to command the respect due to them.
Let it not be said, Great Britain was then at peace, she is now at war. If she would not wantonly attempt to control the exercise of our sovereign rights when she had no other enemy on her hands, will she be mad enough to make the attempt when her hands are fully employed with the war already on them? Would not those who say now, postpone the measures until Great Britain shall be at peace, be more ready, nay have more reason to say in time of peace, postpone them until she should be at war; there will then be no danger of her throwing new enemies into the scale against her.
Nor let it be said that the combined powers would aid and stimulate Great Britain to wage an unjust war on the United States. They are too fully occupied with their present enemy to wish for another on their hands; not to add that two of those powers, being in treaty with the United States, are favored by the propositions; and that all of them are well known to entertain an habitual jealousy of the monopolizing character and maritime ascendency of that nation.
One thing ought to be regarded as certain and conclusive on this head; whilst the war against France remains unsuccessful, the United States are in no danger from any of the powers engaged in it. In the event of a complete overthrow of that Republic, it is impossible to know what might follow. But if the hostile views of the combination should be turned towards this continent, it would clearly not be to vindicate the commercial interests of Great Britain against the commercial rivals of the United States. The object would be to root out Liberty from the face of the earth. No pretext would be wanted, or a better would be contrived than anything to be found in the commercial proposition.
On whatever other side we view the clamor against these propositions as inevitably productive of war, it presents neither evidence to justify it nor argument to color it.
The allegation necessarily supposes either that the friends of the propositions could discover no probability, where its opponents could see a certainty, or that the former were less averse to war than the latter.
The first supposition will not be discussed. A few observations on the other may throw new lights on the whole subject.
The members, in general, who espoused these propositions have been constantly in that part of the Congress who have professed with most zeal, and pursued with most scruple, the characteristics of republican government. They have adhered to these characteristics in defining the meaning of the Constitution, in adjusting the ceremonial of public proceedings, and in marking out the course of the Administration. They have manifested, particularly, a deep conviction of the danger to liberty and the Constitution from a gradual assumption or extension of discretionary powers in the executive departments; from successive augmentations of a standing army; and from the perpetuity and progression of public debts and taxes. They have been sometimes reprehended in debate for an excess of caution and jealousy on these points. And the newspapers of a certain stamp, by distorting and discolouring this part of their conduct, have painted it in all the deformity which the most industrious calumny could devise.
Those best acquainted with the individuals who more particularly supported the propositions will be foremost to testify that such are the principles which not only govern them in public life, but which are invariably maintained by them in every other situation. And it cannot be believed nor suspected that with such principles they could view war as less an evil than it appeared to their opponents.
Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds are added to those of subduing the force of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes and the opportunities of fraud growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could reserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
Those truths are well established. They are read in every page which records the progression from a less arbitrary to a more arbitrary government, or the transition from a popular government to an aristocracy or a monarchy.
It must be evident, then, that in the same degree as the friends of the propositions were jealous of armies and debts and prerogative, as dangerous to a republican Constitution, they must have been averse to war, as favourable to armies and debts and prerogative.
The fact accordingly appears to be that they were particularly averse to war. They not only considered the propositions as having no tendency to war, but preferred them as the most likely means of obtaining our objects without war. They thought, and thought truly, that Great Britain was more vulnerable in her commerce than in her fleets and armies; that she valued our necessaries for her markets and our markets for her superfluities, more than she feared our frigates or our militia; and that she would, consequently, be more ready to make proper concessions under the influence of the former than of the latter motive.
Great Britain is a commercial nation. Her power, as well as her wealth, is derived from commerce. The American commerce is the most valuable branch she enjoys. It is the more valuable, not only as being of vital importance to her in some respects, but of growing importance beyond estimate in its general character. She will not easily part with such a resource. She will not rashly hazard it. She would be particularly aware of forcing a perpetuity of regulations which not merely diminish her share, but may favour the rivalship of other nations. If anything, therefore, in the power of the United States could overcome her pride, her avidity, and her repugnancy to this country, it was justly concluded to be, not the fear of our arms, which, though invincible in defense, are little formidable in a war of offense, but the fear of suffering in the most fruitful branch of her trade and of seeing it distributed among her rivals.
If any doubt on this subject could exist, it would vanish on a recollection of the conduct of the British ministry at the close of the war in 1783. It is a fact which has been already touched, and it is as notorious as it is instructive, that during the apprehension of finding her commerce with the United States abridged or endangered by the consequences of the revolution, Great Britain was ready to purchase it, even at the expense of her West-Indies monopoly. It was not until after she began to perceive the weakness of the federal government, the discord in the counteracting plans of the state governments, and the interest she would be able to establish here, that she ventured on that system to which she has since inflexibly adhered. Had the present federal government, on its first establishment, done what it ought to have done, what it was instituted and expected to do, and what was actually proposed and intended it should do; had it revived and confirmed the belief in Great Britain that our trade and navigation would not be free to her without an equal and reciprocal freedom to us in her trade and navigation, we have her own authority for saying that she would long since have met us on proper ground; because the same motives which produced the bill brought into the British Parliament by Mr. Pitt, in order to prevent the evil apprehended, would have produced the same concession at least, in order to obtain a recall of the evil after it had taken place.
The aversion to war in the friends of the propositions may be traced through the whole proceedings and debates of the session. After the depredations in the West-Indies, which seemed to fill up the measure of British aggressions, they adhered to their original policy of pursuing redress rather by commercial than by hostile operations; and with this view unanimously concurred in the bill for suspending importations from British ports, a bill that was carried through the House by a vote of fifty-eight against thirty-four. The friends of the propositions appeared, indeed, never to have admitted that Great Britain could seriously mean to force a war with the United States, unless in the event of prostrating the French Republic; and they did not believe that such an event was to be apprehended.
Confiding in this opinion, to which time has given its full sanction, they could not accede to those extraordinary measures which nothing short of the most obvious and imperious necessity could plead for. They were as ready as any to fortify our harbours and fill our magazines and arsenals; these were safe and requisite provisions for our permanent defense. They were ready and anxious for arming and preparing our militia; that was the true republican bulwark of our security. They joined also in the addition of a regiment of artillery to the military establishment, in order to complete the defensive arrangement on our eastern frontier. These facts are on record, and are the proper answer to those shameless calumnies which have asserted that the friends of the commercial propositions were enemies to every proposition for the national security.
But it was their opponents, not they, who continually maintained that on a failure of negotiation, it would be more eligible to seek redress by war than by commercial regulations; who talked of raising armies that might threaten the neighbouring possessions of foreign powers; who contended for delegating to the executive the prerogatives of deciding whether the country was at war or not, and of levying, organizing, and calling into the field a regular army of ten, fifteen, nay, of twenty-five thousand men.
It is of some importance that this part of the history of the session, which has found no place in the late reviews of it, should be well understood. They who are curious to learn the particulars must examine the debates and the votes. A full narrative would exceed the limits which are here prescribed. It must suffice to remark that the efforts were varied and repeated until the last moment of the session, even after the departure of a number of members forbade new propositions, much more a renewal of rejected ones; and that the powers proposed to be surrendered to the executive were those which the Constitution has most jealously appropriated to the legislature.
The reader shall judge on this subject for himself.
The Constitution expressly and exclusively vests in the legislature the power of declaring a state of war; it was proposed that the executive might, in the recess of the legislature, declare the United States to be in a state of war.
The Constitution expressly and exclusively vests in the legislature the power of raising armies: it was proposed, that in the recess of the legislature, the executive might, at its pleasure, raise or not raise an army of ten, fifteen, or twenty-five thousand men.
The Constitution expressly and exclusively vests in the legislature the power of creating offices; it was proposed that the executive, in the recess of the legislature, might create offices, as well as appoint officers, for an army of ten, fifteen, or twenty-five thousand men.
A delegation of such powers would have struck, not only at the fabric of our Constitution, but at the foundation of all well organized and well checked governments.
The separation of the power of declaring war from that of conducting it is wisely contrived to exclude the danger of its being declared for the sake of its being conducted.
The separation of the power of raising armies from the power of commanding them is intended to prevent the raising of armies for the sake of commanding them.
The separation of the power of creating offices from that of filling them is an essential guard against the temptation to create offices for the sake of gratifying favorites or multiplying dependents.
Where would be the difference between the blending of these incompatible powers, by surrendering the legislative part of them into the hands of the executive, and by assuming the executive part of them into the hands of the legislature? In either case the principle would be equally destroyed, and the consequences equally dangerous.
An attempt to answer these observations by appealing to the virtues of the present chief magistrate and to the confidence justly placed in them will be little calculated either for his genuine patriotism or for the sound judgment of the American public.
The people of the United States would not merit the praise universally allowed to their intelligence if they did not distinguish between the respect due to the man and the functions belonging to the office. In expressing the former, there is no limit or guide but the feelings of their grateful hearts. In deciding the latter, they will consult the Constitution; they will consider human nature, and, looking beyond the character of the existing magistrate, fix their eyes on the precedent which must descend to his successors.
Will it be more than truth to say that this great and venerable name is too often assumed for what cannot recommend itself, and for what there is neither proof nor probability that its sanction can be claimed? Do arguments fail? Is the public mind to be encountered? There are not a few ever ready to invoke the name of Washington; to garnish their heretical doctrines with his virtues and season their unpallatable measures with his popularity. Those who take this liberty will not, however, be mistaken; his truest friends will be the last to sport with his influence, above all for electioneering purposes. And it is but a fair suspicion that they who draw most largely on that fund are hastening fastest to bankruptcy in their own.
As vain would be the attempt to explain away such alarming attacks on the Constitution by pleading the difficulty, in some cases, of drawing a line between the different departments of power; of recurring to the little precedents which may have crept in at urgent or unguarded moments.
It cannot be denied that there may, in certain cases, be a difficulty in distinguishing the exact boundary between legislative and executive powers; but the real friend of the Constitution and of liberty, by his endeavors to lessen or avoid the difficulty, will easily be known from him who labours to encrease the obscurity, in order to remove the constitutional landmarks without notice.
Nor will it be denied that precedents may be found where the line of separation between these powers has not been sufficiently regarded; where an improper latitude of discretion, particularly, has been given or allowed to the executive departments. But what does this prove? That the line ought to be considered as imaginary; that constitutional organizations of power ought to lose their effect? No—It proves with how much deliberation precedents ought to be established, and with how much caution arguments from them should be admitted. It may furnish another criterion, also, between the real and ostensible friend of constitutional liberty. The first will be as vigilant in resisting as the last will be in promoting the growth of inconsiderate or insidious precedents into established encroachments.
The next charge to be examined, is the tendency of the propositions to degrade the United States into French colonies.
As it is difficult to argue against suppositions made and multiplied at will, so it is happily impossible to impose on the good sense of this country by arguments which rest on suppositions only. In the present question it is first supposed that the exercise of the self-evident and sovereign right of regulating trade, after the example of all independent nations and that of the example of Great Britain towards the United States, would inevitably involve the United States in a war with Great Britain. It is then supposed that the other combined powers, though some of them be favored by the regulations proposed, and all of them be jealous of the maritime predominance of Great Britain, would support the wrongs of Great Britain against the rights of the United States. It is lastly supposed that our allies (the French) in the event of success in establishing their own liberties, which they owe to our example, would be willing, as well as able, to rob us of ours, which they assisted us in obtaining; and that so malignant is their disposition on this head that we should not be spared, even if embarked in a war against her own enemy. To finish the picture, it is intimated that in the character of allies, we are the more exposed to this danger, from the secret and hostile ambition of France.
It will not be expected, that any formal refutation should be wasted on absurdities which answer themselves. None but those who have surrendered their reasoning faculties to the violence of their prejudices will listen to suggestions implying that the freest nation in Europe is the basest people on the face of the earth; that instead of the friendly and festive sympathy indulged by the people of the United States, they ought to go into mourning at every triumph of the French arms; that instead of regarding the French Revolution as a blessing to mankind and a bulwark to their own, they ought to anticipate its success as of all events the most formidable to their liberty and sovereignty; and that, calculating on the political connection with that nation as the source of additional danger from its enmity and its usurpation, the first favorable moment ought to be seized for putting an end to it… .