At this session of the legislature Gallatin introduced a new system of county taxation, proposed a clause providing for "trustees yearly elected, one to each township, without whose consent no tax is to be raised, nor any above one per cent. on the value of lands," which he hoped would "tend to crush the aristocracy of every town in the State." Also he proposed a plan to establish a school and library in each county, with a sufficient immediate sum in money, and a yearly allowance for a teacher in the English language.
[Footnote 1: The drafting of this letter was, notwithstanding his protest, intrusted to John Jay, one of the strongest of the Federal leaders, and a warm supporter of the Constitution as it stood.]
UNITED STATES SENATE
The death of the grandfather of Mr. Gallatin, and soon after of his aunt, strongly tempted him to make a journey to Geneva in the summer of 1793. The political condition of Europe at that time was of thrilling interest. On January 21 the head of Louis XVI. fell under the guillotine, to which Marie Antoinette soon followed him. The armies of the coalition were closing in upon France. Of the political necessity for these state executions there has always been and will always be different judgments. That of Mr. Gallatin is of peculiar value. It is found expressed in intimate frankness in a letter to his friend Badollet, written at Philadelphia, February 1, 1794.
"France at present offers a spectacle unheard of at any other period. Enthusiasm there produces an energy equally terrible and sublime. All those virtues which depend upon social or family affections, all those amiable weaknesses, which our natural feelings teach us to love or respect, have disappeared before the stronger, the only, at present, powerful passion, the Amor Patriae. I must confess my soul is not enough steeled, not sometimes to shrink at the dreadful executions which have restored at least apparent internal tranquillity to that republic. Yet upon the whole, as long as the combined despots press upon every frontier, and employ every engine to destroy and distress the interior parts, I think they, and they alone, are answerable for every act of severity or injustice, for every excess, nay for every crime, which either of the contending parties in France may have committed."
Within a few years the publication of the correspondence of De Fersen, the agent of the king and queen, has supplied the proof of the charge that they were in secret correspondence with the allied sovereigns to introduce foreign troops upon the soil of France,—a crime which no people has ever condoned.
The French Revolution, which from its beginning in 1789 reacted upon the United States with fully the force that the American Revolution exerted upon France, had become an important factor in American politics. The intemperance of Genet, the minister of the French Convention to the United States on the one hand, and the breaches of neutrality by England on the other, were dividing the American people into English and French parties. The Federalists sympathized with the English, the late enemies, and the Republicans with the French, the late allies, of the United States.
Mr. Gallatin had about made up his mind to visit Europe, when an unexpected political honor changed his plans. The Pennsylvania legislature elected him a senator of the United States on joint ballot, a distinction the more singular in that the legislature was Federalist and Mr. Gallatin was a representative of a Republican district, and strong in that faith. Moreover, he was not a candidate either of his own motion or by that of his friends, but, on the contrary, had doubts as to his eligibility because of insufficient residence. This objection, which he himself stated in caucus, was disregarded, and on February 28, 1793, by a vote of 45 to 37, he was chosen senator. Mr. Gallatin had just completed his thirty-second year, and now a happy marriage came opportunely to stimulate his ambition and smooth his path to other honors.
Among the friends made at Philadelphia was Alexander J. Dallas, a gentleman two years Gallatin's senior, whose career, in some respects, resembled his own. He was born in Jamaica, of Scotch parents; had been thoroughly educated at Edinburgh and Westminster, and, coming to the United States in 1783, had settled in Philadelphia. He now held the post of secretary of state for Pennsylvania. Mr. Gallatin's constant committee service brought him into close relations with the secretary, and the foundation was laid of a lasting political friendship and social intimacy. In the recess of the legislature, Mr. Gallatin joined Mr. Dallas and his wife in an excursion to the northward. Mr. Gallatin's health had suffered from close confinement and too strict attention to business, and he needed recreation and diversion. In the course of the journey the party was joined by some ladies, friends of Mrs. Dallas, among whom was Miss Hannah Nicholson. The excursion lasted nearly four weeks. The result was that Mr. Gallatin returned to Philadelphia the accepted suitor of this young lady. He describes her in a letter to Badollet as "a girl about twenty-five years old, who is neither handsome nor rich, but sensible, well-informed, good-natured, and belonging to a respectable and very amiable family." Nor was he mistaken in his choice,—a more charming nature, a more perfect, well-rounded character than hers is rarely found. They were married on November 11, 1793. She was his faithful companion throughout his long and honorable career, and death separated them but by a few months. This alliance greatly widened his political connection.
Commodore James Nicholson, his wife's father, famous in the naval annals of the United States as the captain of the Trumbull, the first of American frigates, at the time resided in New York, and was one of the acknowledged leaders of the Republican party in the city. His two brothers—Samuel and John—were captains in the naval service. His two elder daughters were married to influential gentlemen;—Catharine to Colonel Few, senator from Georgia; Frances, to Joshua Seney, member of Congress from Maryland; Maria later (1809) married John Montgomery, who had been member of Congress from Maryland, and was afterwards mayor of Baltimore. A son, James Witter Nicholson, then a youth of twenty-one, was, in 1795, associated with Mr. Gallatin in his Western Company, and, removing to Fayette, made his home in what was later and is now known as New Geneva. Here, in connection with Mr. Gallatin and the brothers Kramer, Germans, he established extensive glass works, which proved profitable.
* * * * *
Mr. Gallatin's election to the United States Senate did not disqualify him for his unfinished legislative term, and, on his return to Philadelphia, he was again plunged in his manifold duties. The few days which intervened between his marriage and the meeting of Congress—a short honeymoon—were spent under the roof of Commodore Nicholson in New York.
On February 28, 1793, the Vice-President laid before the Senate a certificate from the legislature of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to the election of Albert Gallatin as senator of the United States. Mr. Gallatin took his seat December 2, 1793. The business of the session was opened by the presentation of a petition signed by nineteen individuals of Yorktown, Pennsylvania, stating that Mr. Gallatin had not been nine years a citizen of the United States. This petition had been handed to Robert Morris, Mr. Gallatin's colleague for Pennsylvania, by a member of the legislature for the county of York, but he had declined to present it, and declared to Mr. Gallatin his intention to be perfectly neutral on the occasion—at least so Mr. Gallatin wrote to his wife the next day; but Morris did not hold fast to this resolution, as the votes in the sequel show. The petition was ordered to lie upon the table. On December 11 Messrs. Rutherford, Cabot, Ellsworth, Livermore, and Mitchell were appointed a committee to consider the petition. These gentlemen, Gallatin wrote, were undoubtedly "the worst for him that could have been chosen, and did not seem to him to be favorably disposed." He himself considered the legal point involved as a nice and difficult one, and likely to be decided by a party vote. The fourth article of the Constitution of the first Confederation of the United States reads as follows:—
"The better to secure and perpetuate mutual friendship and intercourse among the people of the different States in this Union, the free inhabitants of each of these States, paupers, vagabonds, and fugitives from justice excepted, shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of free citizens in the several States."
Article 1, section 3, of the new Constitution declares:—
"No person shall be a senator who shall not have attained to the age of thirty years, and been nine years a citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen."
Mr. Gallatin landed in Massachusetts in July, 1780, while still a minor. His residence, therefore, which had been uninterrupted, extended over thirteen years. He took the oath of citizenship and allegiance to Virginia in October, 1785, since which, until his election in 1793, nine years, the period called for by the United States Constitution, had not elapsed. On the one hand, his actual residence exceeded the required period of citizenship; on the other, his legal and technical residence as a citizen was insufficient. In point of fact, his intention to become a citizen dated from the summer of 1783.
To take from the case the air of party proscription, which it was beginning to assume, the Senate discharged its special committee, and raised a general committee on elections to consider this and other cases. On February 10, 1794, the report of this committee was submitted, and a day was set for a hearing by the Senate, with open doors. On that day Mr. Gallatin exhibited a written statement of facts, agreed to between himself and the petitioners, and the case was left to the Senate on its merits. On the 28th a test vote was taken upon a motion to the effect that "Albert Gallatin, returned to this House as a member for the State of Pennsylvania, is duly qualified for and elected to a seat in the Senate of the United States," and it was decided in the negative—yeas, 12; nays, 14.
Motion being made that the election of Albert Gallatin to be a senator of the United States was void,—he not having been a citizen of the United States for the term of years required as a qualification to be a senator of the United States,—it was further moved to divide the question at the word "void;" and the question being then taken on the first paragraph, it passed in the affirmative—yeas, 14; nays, 12. The yeas and nays were required, and the Senate divided as before. The resolution was then put and adopted by the same vote. Thus Mr. Gallatin, thirteen years a resident of the country, a large land-holder in Virginia, and for several terms a member of the Pennsylvania legislature, was excluded from a seat in the Senate of the United States.
Mr. Gallatin conducted his case with great dignity. On being asked whether he had any testimony to produce, he replied, in writing, that there was not sufficient matter charged in the petition and proved by the testimony to vacate his seat, and declined to go to the expense of collecting evidence until that preliminary question was settled.
Short as the period was during which Mr. Gallatin held his seat, it was long enough for him seriously to annoy the Federal leaders. Indeed, it is questionable whether, if he had delayed his embarrassing motion, a majority of the Senate could have been secured against him. Certain it is that the Committee on Elections, appointed on December 11, did not send in its report until the day after Mr. Gallatin moved his resolution, calling upon the secretary of the treasury for an elaborate statement of the debt on January 1, 1794, under distinct heads, including the balances to creditor States, a statement of loans, domestic and foreign, contracted from the beginning of the government, statements of exports and imports; finally for a summary statement of the receipts and expenditures to the last day of December, 1790, distinguishing the moneys received under each branch of the revenue and the moneys expended under each of the appropriations, and stating the balances of each branch of the revenue remaining unexpended on that day, and also calling for similar and separate statements for the years 1791, 1792, 1793. This resolution, introduced on January 8, was laid over. On the 20th it was adopted. It was not until February 10 that a reply from the secretary of the treasury was received by the Senate, and on the 11th submitted to Gallatin, Ellsworth, and Taylor for consideration and report. In this letter (February 6, 1794) Hamilton stated the difficulty of supplying the precise information called for, with the clerical forces of the department, the interruption it would cause in the daily routine of the service, and deprecated the practice of such unexpected demands.
With this response of the secretary the inquiry fell to the ground, but it was neither forgotten nor forgiven by his adherents, and Mr. Gallatin paid the penalty on at least one occasion. This was years later, when he himself was secretary of the treasury. On March 2, 1803, the day before the adjournment of Congress, Mr. Griswold, Federalist from Connecticut, attacked the correctness of the accounts of the sinking fund, and demanded an answer to a resolution of the House on the management of this bureau. Had such been his desire, Mr. Gallatin was foreclosed from Hamilton's excuse. On the night of the 3d he sent in an elaborate statement which set accusation at rest and criticism at defiance.
Mr. Gallatin's short stay in the Senate revealed to the Federalists the character of the man, who, disdaining the lesser flight, checked only at the highest game. He accepted his exclusion with perfect philosophy. Soon after the session opened he said, "My feelings cannot be much hurt by an unfavorable decision, since having been elected is an equal proof of the confidence the legislature of Pennsylvania reposed in me, and not being qualified, if it is so decided, cannot be imputed to me as a fault." His exclusion was by no means a disadvantage to him. It made common cause of the honor of Pennsylvania and his own; it endeared him to the Republicans of his State as a martyr to their principles. It "secured him," to use his own words, "many staunch" friends throughout the Union, and extended his reputation, hitherto local and confined, over the entire land; more than all, it led him to the true field of political contest—the House of Representatives of the people of the United States.
[Footnote 2: The yeas and nays being required by one fifth of the senators present, there were: Affirmative.—Bradley, Brown, Burr, Butler, Edwards, Gunn, Jackson, Langdon, Martin, Monroe, Robinson, Taylor; 12.
Negative.—Bradford, Cabot, Ellsworth, Foster, Frelinghuysen, Hawkins, Izard, King, Livermore, Mitchell, Morris, Potts, Strong, Vining; 14.]
THE WHISKEY INSURRECTION
Mr. Gallatin was now out of public life. For eighteen months since he came up to the legislature with his friends of the Pittsburgh convention, he had not returned to Fayette. His private concerns were suffering in his absence. Neither his barn, his meadow, nor his house was finished at the close of 1793. In May, 1794, he took his wife to his country home. Their hopes of a summer of recreation and domestic comfort in the wild beauties of the Monongahela were not to be realized. Before the end of June the peaceful country was in a state of mad agitation.
The seeds of political discontent, sown at Pittsburgh in 1792, had ripened to an abundant harvest. An act passed by Congress June 5, 1794, giving to the state courts concurrent jurisdiction in excise cases, removed the grievance of which Gallatin complained, the dragging of accused persons to Philadelphia for trial, but was not construed to be retroactive in its operation. The marshal, accordingly, found it to be his duty to serve the writs of May 31 against those who had fallen under their penalties. These writs were returnable in Philadelphia. They were served without trouble in Fayette County. Not so in Allegheny. Here on July 15, 1794, the marshal had completed his service, when, while still in the execution of his office, and in company with the inspector, he was followed and fired upon. The next day a body of men went to the house of the marshal and demanded that he should deliver up his commission. They were fired upon and dispersed, six were wounded, and the leader killed. A general rising followed. The marshal's house, though defended by Major Kirkpatrick, with a squad from the Pittsburgh garrison, was set on fire, with the adjacent buildings, and burned. On July 18 the insurgents sent a deputation of two or three to Pittsburgh, to require of the marshal a surrender of the processes in his possession, and of the inspector the resignation of his office. These demands were, of course, rejected; but the officers, alarmed for their personal safety, left the town, and, descending the Ohio by boat to Marietta, proceeded by a circuitous route to Philadelphia, and made their report to the United States authorities.
This was the outbreak of the Western or Whiskey Insurrection. The excitement spread rapidly through the western counties. Fayette County was not exempt from it. The collector's house was broken into, and his commission taken from him by armed men; the sheriff refused to serve the writs against the rioters of the spring. Since these disturbances there had been no trouble in this county. But the malcontents elsewhere rose in arms, riots ensued, and the safety of the whole community was compromised. The news reaching Fayette, the distillers held a meeting at Uniontown, the county seat, on July 20. Both Gallatin and Smilie were present, and by their advice it was agreed to submit to the laws. The neighboring counties were less fortunate. On July 21 the Washington County committee was summoned to meet at Mingo Creek Meeting-house. On the 23d there was a large assemblage of people, including a number of those who had been concerned in burning the house of the Pittsburgh inspector. James Marshall, the same who opposed the ratification of the federal Constitution, David Bradford, the "empty drum," and Judge Brackenridge of Pittsburgh, attended this meeting. Bradford, the most unscrupulous of the leaders, sought to shirk his responsibility, but was intimidated by threats, and thereafter did not dare to turn back. Brackenridge was present to counsel the insurgents to moderation. In spite of his efforts the meeting ended in an invitation, which the officers had not the boldness to sign, to the townships of the four western counties of Pennsylvania and the adjoining counties of Virginia to send representatives to a general meeting on August 14, at Parkinson's Ferry on the Monongahela, in Washington County. Bradford, determined to aggravate the disturbance, stopped the mail at Greensburg, on the road between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and robbed it of the Washington and Pittsburgh letters, some of which he published, to the alarm of their authors.
On July 28 a circular signed by Bradford, Marshall, and others was sent out from Cannonsburg to the militia of the county, whom it summoned for personal service, and likewise called for volunteers to rendezvous the following Wednesday, July 30, at their respective places of meeting, thence to march to Braddock's Field, on the Monongahela, the usual rendezvous of the militia, about eight miles south of Pittsburgh, by two o'clock of Friday, August 1. It closed in these words, "Here is an expedition proposed in which you will have an opportunity for displaying your military talents and of rendering service to your country." Nothing less was contemplated by the more extreme of these men than an attack upon Fort Pitt and the sack of Pittsburgh. Thoroughly aroused at last, the moderate men of Washington determined to breast the storm. A meeting was held; James Ross of the United States Senate made an earnest appeal, and was supported by Scott of the House of Representatives and Stokely of the Senate of Pennsylvania. Marshall and Bradford yielded, and consented to countermand the order of rendezvous. But the excited population poured into the town from all quarters, and Bradford, who found that he had gone too far to retreat, again took the lead of the movement, already beyond restraint.
There are accounts of this formidable insurrection by H. H. Brackenridge and William Findley, eye-witnesses. These supply abundant details. Findley says that he knew that the movement would not stop at the limit apparently set for it. "The opposing one law would lead to oppose another; they would finally oppose all, and demand a new modeling of the Constitution, and there would be a revolution." There was great alarm in Pittsburgh. A meeting was held there Thursday evening, July 31, at which a message from the Washington County insurgents was read, violent resolutions adopted, and the 9th of August appointed as the day for a town meeting for election of delegates to a general convention of the counties at Parkinson's Ferry; Judge Brackenridge of Pittsburgh, a man of education, influence, and infinite jest and humor, was present at this meeting. Of Scotch-Irish birth himself, his sympathies of race were with his countrymen, but in political sentiments he was not in harmony with their leaders. They were nearly all Republicans, while he had sided with the Federalists in the convention which adopted the new Constitution of the United States. He was a man of peace, and of too much sagacity not to foresee the inevitable ruin upon which they were rushing. At Mingo Creek he had thwarted the plans of immediate revolution. The evident policy of moderate men was to prevent any violence before the convention at Parkinson's Ferry should meet, and to bend all their energies to control the deliberations of that body. The people of Pittsburgh were intensely excited by the armed gathering almost at their doors.
Brackenridge felt that the only safe issue from the situation was to take part in and shape the action of that gathering. Under his lead a committee from the Pittsburgh meeting, followed by a large body of the citizens, went out to the rendezvous. Here they found a motley assemblage, arrayed in the picturesque campaign costume which the mountaineers wore when they equipped themselves to meet the Indians,—yellow hunting-shirts, handkerchiefs tied about their heads, and rifles on the shoulder; the militia were on foot, and the light horse of the counties were in military dress. Conspicuous about the field, "haughty and pompous," as Gallatin described him in the legislature, was David Bradford, who had assumed the office of major-general. Brackenridge draws a lifelike picture of him as, mounted on a superb horse in splendid trappings, arrayed in full uniform, with plume floating in the air and sword drawn, he rode over the ground, gave orders to the military, and harangued the multitude. On the historic ground where Washington plucked his first military laurels were gathered about seven thousand men, of whom two thousand militia were armed and accoutred as for a campaign,—a formidable and remarkable assemblage, when it is considered that the entire male population of sixteen years of age and upwards of the four counties did not exceed sixteen thousand, and was scattered over a wide and unsettled country. This is Brackenridge's estimate of the numbers. Later, Gallatin, on comparison of the best attainable information, estimated the whole body at from fifteen hundred to two thousand men. Whatever violence Bradford may have intended, none was accomplished. That he read aloud the Pittsburgh letters, taken from the mail, shows his purpose to inflame the people to vindictive violence. He was accused by contemporary authorities of imitation of the methods of the French Jacobins, which were fresh examples of revolutionary vigor. But the mass was not persuaded. After desultory conversation and discussion, the angry turn of which was at times threatening to the moderate leaders, the meeting broke up on August 2; about one third dispersed for their homes, and the remainder, marching to Pittsburgh, paraded through the streets, and finally crossing the river in their turn scattered. They did no damage to the town beyond the burning of a farm belonging to Major Kirkpatrick of the garrison. The taverns were all closed, but the citizens brought whiskey to their doors. Judge Brackenridge reports that his sacrifice to peace on this occasion cost him four barrels of his best old rye.
This moderation was no augury of permanent quiet. Brackenridge, who was a keen observer of men, says of the temper of the western population at this period: "I had seen the spirit which prevailed at the Stamp Act, and at the commencement of the revolution from the government of Great Britain, but it was by no means so general and so vigorous amongst the common people as the spirit which now existed in the country." Nor did the armed bands all return peaceably to their homes. The house of the collector for Fayette and Washington counties was burned, and warnings were given to those who were disposed to submit to the law. The disaffected were called "Tom the tinker" men, from the signature affixed to the threatening notices. From a passage in one of Gallatin's letters it appears that there was a person of that name, a New England man, who had been concerned in Shays's insurrection. Liberty poles, with the device, "An equal tax and no excise law," were raised, and the trees placarded with the old revolutionary motto, "United we stand, divided we fall," with a divided snake as an emblem. Mr. Gallatin's neighborhood was not represented at Braddock's Field, and not more than a dozen were present from the entire county. But now the flame spread there also, and liberty poles were raised. Mr. Gallatin himself, inquiring as to their significance and expressing to the men engaged the hope that they would not behave like a mob, was asked, in return, if he was not aware of the Westmoreland resolution that any one calling the people a mob should be tarred and feathered,—an amusing example of that mob logic which proves the affirmative of the proposition it denies.
Mr. Gallatin did not attend the meeting at Braddock's Field. Somewhat isolated at his residence at the southerly border of the county, engaged in the care of his long neglected farm, and in the full enjoyment of release from the bustle and excitement of public life, he had paid little attention to passing events. He was preparing definitively to abandon political pursuits and to follow some kind of mercantile business, or take up some land speculation and study law in his intervals of leisure. It was not a year since he had given hostages to fortune. He was now in the full tide of domestic happiness, which was always to him the dearest and most coveted. He might well have hesitated before again engaging upon the dangerous and uncertain task of controlling an excited and aggrieved population. But he did not hesitate.
The people among whom he had made his home, and whose confidence had never failed him, were his people. By them he would stand in their extremity, and if hurt or ruin befell them, it should not be for want of the interposition of his counsel. He knew his powers, and he determined to bring them into full play. He knew the danger also, but it only nerved him to confront and master it. He knew his duty, and did not swerve one hair from the line it prompted. In no part of his long, varied, and useful political life does he appear to better advantage than in this exciting episode of the Whiskey Insurrection. His self-possession, his cool judgment, swayed neither by timidity nor rashness, never for a moment failed him. Here he displayed that remarkable combination of persuasion and control,—the indispensable equipment of a political chief,—which, in later days, gave him the leadership of the Republican party. With intuitive perception of the political situation he saw that the only path to safety, beset with difficulty and danger though it were, was through the convention at Parkinson's Ferry. He did not believe that any revolutionary proceedings had yet been taken, or that the convention was an illegal body, but he was determined to separate the wheat from the chaff, and disengage the moderate and the law-abiding from the disorderly. By the light of his own experience he had learned wisdom. He also had drawn a lesson from the French Revolution, and knew the uncontrollable nature of large popular assemblages. The news from Philadelphia, the seat of government, was of a kind to increase his alarm. Washington was not the man to overlook such an insult to authority as the resistance to the marshal and inspector; nor was it probable that Hamilton would let pass such an occasion for showing the strength and vigor of the government.
Before the meeting at Braddock's Field, the secretary's plans for a suppression of the insurrection were matured. On August 2 he laid before the President an estimate of the probable armed force of the insurgents, and of that with which he proposed to reduce them to submission. When the question of the use of force came before the cabinet, Edmund Randolph, who was secretary of state, opposed it in a written opinion, one phrase of which deserves repetition:—
"It is a fact well known that the parties in the United States are highly inflamed against each other, and that there is but one character which keeps both in awe. As soon as the sword shall be drawn, who shall be able to retain them."
Mifflin, the governor of Pennsylvania, deprecated immediate resort to force; the venerable Chief Justice McKean suggested the sending of commissioners on the part of the federal and state governments. Washington, with perfect judgment, combined these plans, and happily allied conciliation with force. A proclamation was issued on August 7 summoning all persons involved in the disturbance to lay down their arms and repair to their homes by September 1. Requisitions were made upon the governors of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and New Jersey for fifteen thousand men in all, and a joint commission of five was raised,—three of whom on the part of the United States were appointed by the President, and two on the part of the State of Pennsylvania. This news was soon known at Pittsburgh, and rapidly spread through the adjacent country; and it was clear that in the proceedings to be taken at Parkinson's Ferry the question of resistance or submission must be definitively settled. On August 14, 1794, the convention assembled; two hundred and twenty-six delegates in all, of whom ninety-three were from Washington, forty-nine from Westmoreland, forty-three from Allegheny, thirty-three from Fayette, two from Bedford, five from Ohio County in Virginia, with spectators to about the same number.
Parkinson's Ferry, later called Williamsport, and now Monongahela City, is on the left bank of the Monongahela, about half way between Pittsburgh and Red Stone Old Fort or Brownsville. Brackenridge pictures the scene with his usual local color: "Our hall was a grove, and we might well be called 'the Mountain' (an allusion to the radical left of the French convention), for we were on a very lofty ground overlooking the river. We had a gallery of lying timber and stumps, and there were more people collected there than there was of the committee." In full view of the meeting stood a liberty pole, raised in the morning by the men who signed the Braddock's Field circular order, and it bore the significant motto, "Liberty and no excise and no asylum for cowards." Among the delegates, or the committee, to use their own term, were Bradford, Marshall, Brackenridge, Findley, and Gallatin. Before the meeting was organized, Marshall came to Gallatin and showed him the resolutions which he intended to move, intimating at the same time that he wished Mr. Gallatin to act as secretary. Mr. Gallatin told him that he highly disapproved the resolutions, and had come to oppose both him and Bradford, and therefore did not wish to serve. Marshall seemed to waver; but soon the people met, and Edward Cook of Fayette, who had presided at Braddock's Field, was chosen chairman, with Gallatin for secretary. Bradford opened the proceedings with a summary sketch of the action previously taken, declared the purpose of the committee to be to determine on a course of action, and his own views to be the appointment of committees to raise money, purchase arms, enlist volunteers, or draft the militia: in a word, though he did not use it, to levy war.
At this point in the proceedings the arrival of the commissioners from the President was announced, but the progress of the meeting was not interrupted. The commissioners were at a house near the meeting, but there were serious objections against holding a conference at this place.
Marshall then moved his resolutions. The first, declaratory of the grievance of carrying citizens great distances for trial, was unanimously agreed to. The second called for a committee of public safety "to call forth the resources of the western country to repel any hostile attempts that may be made against the rights of the citizens, or of the body of the people." Had this resolution been adopted, the people were definitively committed to overt rebellion. This brought Mr. Gallatin at once to his feet. He denied that any hostile attempts against the rights of the people were threatened, and drew an adroit distinction between the regular army, which had not been called out, and the militia, who were a part of the people themselves; and to gain time he moved a reference of the resolutions to a committee who should be instructed to wait the action of the government. In the course of his speech Gallatin denied the assertion that resistance to the excise law was legal, or that coercion by the government was necessarily hostile. He was neither supported by his own friends nor opposed by those of Bradford. He stood alone.
But Marshall withdrew his resolution, and a committee of sixty was appointed, with power to summon the people. The only other objectionable resolution was that which pledged the people to the support of the laws, except the excise law and the taking of citizens out of their counties for trial,—an exception which Gallatin succeeded in having stricken out. He then urged the adoption of the resolution, without the exception, as necessary "to the establishment of the laws and the conservation of the peace," and here he was supported by Brackenridge. The entire resolutions were finally referred to a committee of four,—Gallatin, Bradford, Husbands, and Brackenridge. The meeting then adjourned. The next morning a standing committee of sixty was chosen, one from each township. From these a committee of twelve was selected to confer with the government commissioners. Upon this committee were Cook, the chairman, Bradford, Marshall, Gallatin, Brackenridge, and Edgar. The meeting then adjourned.
Upon this representative body there seems to have been no outside pressure. The proclamation of the President, which arrived while it was in session, showed the determination, while the appointment of the commission showed the moderation, of the government. Gallatin availed of each circumstance with consummate adroitness, pointing out to the desperate the folly of resistance, and to the moderate an issue for honorable retreat.
Meanwhile, the commissioners reached Pittsburgh, where on August 20 the committee of conference was received by them, and an informal understanding arrived at, which was put in writing. The laws were to be enforced with as little inconvenience to the people as possible. All criminal suits for indictable offenses were to be dropped, but civil suits were to take their course. Notice was given that a definitive submission must be made by September 1 following. On the 22d the conference committee answered that they must consult with the committee of sixty. Thursday the 28th was appointed for a meeting at Red Stone Old Fort, the very spot where the original resolutions of opposition were passed in 1791. In the report drawn up every member of the twelve, except Bradford, favored submission.
The hour was critical, the deliberations were in the open air, and under the eyes of a threatening party of seventy riflemen accidentally present from Washington County across the stream. Bradford, who instinctively felt that he had placed himself beyond the pale of pardon, and to whom there was no alternative to revolution but flight, pressed an instant decision and rejection of the written terms of the commissioners. In the presence of personal danger, the conferrees only dared to move that part of their report which advised acceptance of the proffered terms. The question of submission they left untouched. An adjournment was obtained. The next day, to quote the words of Brackenridge, "the committee having convened, Gallatin addressed the chair in a speech of some hours. It was a piece of perfect eloquence, and was heard with attention and without disturbance." Never was there a more striking instance of intellectual control over a popular assemblage. He saved the western counties of Pennsylvania from anarchy and civil war. He was followed by Brackenridge, who, warned by the example of his companion, or encouraged by the quiet of the assemblage, supported him with vigor. Bradford, on the other hand, faced the issue with directness and savage vehemence. He repelled the idea of submission, and insisted upon an independent government and a declaration of war. Edgar of Washington rejoined in support of the report. Gallatin now demanded a vote, but the twelve conferrees alone supported him. He then proposed an informal vote, but without result. Finally a secret ballot was proposed by a member. A hat was passed, and when the slips of paper were taken out, there were thirty-four yeas and twenty-three nays. The report was declared to be adopted, and amid the scowls of the armed witnesses the meeting adjourned; not, however, before a new committee of conference had been appointed. On this new committee not one of the old leaders was named. They evidently knew the folly of further delay, or of attempting to secure better terms. As his final act Colonel Cook, the chairman of the standing committee of sixty, indorsed the resolution adopted. It declared it to be "to the interest of the people of the country to accede to the proposals made by the commissioners on the part of the United States." This was duly forwarded, with request for a further conference. The commissioners consented, but declined to postpone the time of taking the sense of the people beyond September 11.
William Findley said of the famous and critical debate at Red Stone: "I had never heard speeches that I more ardently desired to see in print than those delivered on this occasion. They would not only be valuable on account of the oratory and information displayed in all the three, and especially in Gallatin's, who opened the way, but they would also have been the best history of the spirit and the mistakes which then actuated men's minds." Findley, in his allotment of the honors of the day, considers that "the verbal alterations made by Gallatin saved the question." Brackenridge thought that his own seeming to coincide with Bradford prevented the declaration of war; and he has been credited with having saved the western counties from the horrors of civil war, Pittsburgh from destruction, and the Federal Union from imminent danger.
Historians have agreed in according to Gallatin the honor of this field day. It was left to John C. Hamilton, half a century later, to charge a want of courage upon Gallatin,—a baseless charge. Not Malesherbes, the noble advocate defending the accused monarch before the angry French convention, with the certainty of the guillotine as the reward of his generosity, is more worthy of admiration than Gallatin boldly pleading the cause of order within rifle range of an excited band of lawless frontiersmen. If, as he confessed later, in his part in the Pittsburgh resolutions he was guilty of "a political sin," he nobly atoned for it under circumstances that would have tried the courage of men bred to danger and to arms. Sin it was, and its consequences were not yet summed up. For although the back of the insurrection was broken at Red Stone Old Fort, there was much yet to be done before submission could be completed.
Bradford attempted to sign, but found that his course at Red Stone Old Fort had placed him outside the amnesty. Well might the moderate men say in their familiar manner of Scripture allusion, "Dagon is fallen." He fled down the Ohio and Mississippi to Louisiana, then foreign soil. The commissioners waited at Pittsburgh for the signatures of adhesion on September 10, which was the last day allowed by the terms of amnesty. They required that meetings should be held on this day in the several townships; the presiding officers to report the result to commissioner Ross at Uniontown the 16th of the same month, on which day he would set out for Philadelphia. The time was inadequate, but there was no help. Gallatin hastened the submission of Fayette, and a meeting of committees from the several townships met at the county seat, Uniontown, on September 10, 1794, when a declaration drawn by Mr. Gallatin was unanimously adopted. A passage in this admirable paper shows the comparative order which prevailed in Fayette County during this period of trouble. It is an appeal to the people of the neighboring counties, who, under the influence of their passions and resentment, might blame those of Fayette for their moderation.
"The only reflection we mean to suggest to them is the disinterestedness of our conduct upon this occasion. The indictable offences to be buried in oblivion were committed amongst them, and almost every civil suit that has been instituted under the revenue law, in the federal court, was commenced against citizens of this county. By the terms proposed, the criminal prosecutions are to be dropped, but no condition could be obtained for the civil suits. We have been instrumental in obtaining an amnesty, from which those alone who had a share in the riots derive a benefit, and the other inhabitants of the western country have gained nothing for themselves."
This declaration was forwarded on September 17 to Governor Mifflin, with reasons for the delay, and advice that signatures were fast being obtained, not only in the neighboring counties, but even in Fayette, where this formality had not been thought necessary. It closes with a forcible appeal to delay the sending of troops until every conciliatory measure should have proved abortive.
But the commissioners, unfortunately, were not favorably impressed with the reception they met with or the scenes they witnessed on their western mission. They had heard of Bradford's threat to establish an independent government west of the mountains, and they had seen a liberty pole raised upon which the people with the greatest difficulty had been dissuaded from hoisting a flag with six stripes—emblematic of the six counties represented in the committee. The flag was made, but set aside for the fifteen stripes with reluctance. This is Findley's recollection, but Brackenridge says that it was a flag of seven stars for the four western counties, Bedford, and the two counties of Virginia. This, he adds, was the first and only manifestation among any class of a desire to separate from the Union. But here his memory failed him.
Hamilton had long been impatient. Again, as in old days, he presented his arguments directly to the people. Under the heading, "Tully to the people of the United States," he printed a letter on August 26, of which the following is a passage:—
"Your representatives in Congress, pursuant to the commission derived from you, and with a full knowledge of the public exigencies, have laid an excise. At three succeeding sessions they have revised that act ... and you have actually paid more than a million of dollars on account of it. But the four western counties of Pennsylvania undertake to rejudge and reverse your decrees. You have said, 'The Congress shall have power to lay excises.' They say, 'The Congress shall not have this power;' or, what is equivalent, they shall not exercise it, for a power that may not be exercised is a nullity. Your representatives have said, and four times repeated it, 'An excise on distilled spirits shall be collected;' they say, 'It shall not be collected. We will punish, expel, and banish the officers who shall attempt the collection.'"
The peace commissioners returned to Philadelphia and made their report on September 24. The next day, September 25, Washington issued a proclamation calling out the troops. In it he again warned the insurgents. The militia, already armed, accoutred, and equipped, and awaiting marching orders, moved at once. Governor Mifflin at first hesitated about his power to call out the militia, but when the President's requisition was made, he summoned the legislature in special session, and obtained from it a hearty support, with authority to accept volunteers and offer a bounty. Thus fortified, he made a tour through the lower counties of the State, and by his extraordinary popular eloquence soon filled up the ranks. The old soldier led his troops in person. Those of New Jersey were commanded by their governor, Richard Howell of Revolutionary fame. These formed the right wing and marched to rendezvous at Bedford to cross the mountains by the northern and Pennsylvania route. The left wing, composed of the Virginia troops, under the veteran Morgan, and those of Maryland, under Samuel Smith, a brigadier-general in the army of the Revolution, assembled at Cumberland to cross the mountains by Braddock's Road. The chief command was confided to Governor Henry Lee of Virginia. Washington accompanied the army as far as Bedford. Hamilton continued with it to Pittsburgh, which was reached in the last days of October and the first of November, after a wearisome march across the mountains in heavy weather. Arrived in the western counties, the army found no opposition.
Meanwhile, on October 2, the standing committee met again at Parkinson's Ferry, and unanimously adopted resolutions declaring the general submission, and explaining the reasons why signatures to the amnesty had not been general. Findley and Redick were appointed to take these resolutions to the President, and to urge him to stop the march of the troops. They met the left wing at Carlisle. Washington received them courteously, but did not consent to countermand the march. They hurried back for more unequivocal assurances, which they hoped to be able to carry to meet Washington on his way to review the right wing. On October 14, the day of the autumn elections, general submissions were universally signed, and finally, on October 24, a third and last meeting was held at Parkinson's Ferry, at which a thousand people attended, when, with James Edgar, chairman, and Albert Gallatin, secretary, it was resolved, first, that the civil authority was fully competent to punish both past and future breaches of the law; secondly, that surrender should be made of all persons charged with offenses, in default of which the committee would aid in bringing them to justice; thirdly, that offices of inspection might be opened, and that the distillers were willing and ready to enter their stills.
These resolutions were published in the "Pittsburgh Gazette." Findley carried them to Bedford, but before he reached the army the President had returned to Philadelphia. The march of the army was not stopped. The two wings made a junction at Uniontown. Companies of horse were scattered through the country. New submissions were made, and the oath of allegiance, required by General Lee, was generally taken.
Hamilton now investigated the whole matter of the insurrection, and it was charged against him, and the charge is supported by Findley, with names of persons, that he spared no effort to secure evidence to bring Gallatin within the pale of an indictment. Of course he failed in this purpose, if indeed it were ever seriously entertained. But the belief that Gallatin was the arch-fiend, who instigated the Whiskey Insurrection, had already become a settled article in the Federalist creed, and for a quarter of a century, long after the Federalist party had become a tradition of the past, the Genevan was held up to scorn and hatred, as an incarnation of deviltry—an enemy of mankind.
On the 8th of November, Hamilton, who remained with the army, wrote to the President that General Lee had concluded to take hold of all who are worth the trouble by the military arm, and then to deliver them over to the disposition of the judiciary. In the mean time, he adds, "all possible means are using to obtain evidence, and accomplices will be turned against the others."
The night of November 13, 1794, was appointed for the arrests; a dreadful night Findley describes it to have been. The night was frosty; at eight o'clock the horse sallied forth, and before daylight arrested in their beds about two hundred men. The New Jersey horse made the seizures in the Mingo Creek settlement, the hot-bed of the insurrection and the scene of the early excesses. The prisoners were taken to Pittsburgh, and thence, mounted on horses, and guarded by the Philadelphia Gentlemen Corps, to the capital. Their entrance into Cannonsburg is graphically described by Dr. Carnahan, president of Princeton College, in his account of the insurrection.
"The contrast between the Philadelphia horsemen and the prisoners was the most striking that can be imagined. The Philadelphians were some of the most wealthy and respectable men of that city. Their uniform was blue, of the finest broadcloth. Their horses were large and beautiful, all of a bay color, so nearly alike that it seemed that every two of them would make a good span of coach horses. Their trappings were superb. Their bridles, stirrups, and martingales glittered with silver. Their swords, which were drawn, and held elevated in the right hand, gleamed in the rays of the setting sun. The prisoners were also mounted on horses of all shapes, sizes, and colors; some large, some small, some long tails, some short, some fat, some lean, some every color and form that can be named. Some had saddles, some blankets, some bridles, some halters, some with stirrups, some with none. The riders also were various and grotesque in their appearance. Some were old, some young, some hale, respectable looking men; others were pale, meagre, and shabbily dressed. Some had great coats,—others had blankets on their shoulders. The countenance of some was downcast, melancholy, dejected; that of others, stern, indignant, manifesting that they thought themselves undeserving such treatment. Two Philadelphia horsemen rode in front and then two prisoners, and two horsemen and two prisoners, actually throughout a line extending perhaps half a mile.... If these men had been the ones chiefly guilty of the disturbance, it would have been no more than they deserved. But the guilty had signed the amnesty, or had left the county before the army approached."
Dallas, the secretary of state, Gallatin's friend, was one of this troop. Gallatin saw him soon after his return. In a letter to his wife of December 3, Gallatin relates the experience of the trooper who had little stomach for the work he had to do.
"I saw Dallas yesterday. Poor fellow had a most disagreeable campaign of it. He says the spirits, I call it the madness, of the Philadelphia Gentlemen's Corps was beyond conception before the arrival of the President. He saw a list (handed about through the army by officers, nay, by a general officer) of the names of those persons who were to be destroyed at all events, and you may easily guess my own was one of the most conspicuous. Being one day at table with sundry officers, and having expressed his opinion that, if the army were going only to support the civil authority, and not to do any military execution, one of them (Dallas did not tell me his name, but I am told it was one Ross of Lancaster, aide-de-camp to Mifflin) half drew a dagger he wore instead of a sword, and swore any man who uttered such sentiments ought to be dagged. The President, however, on his arrival, and afterwards Hamilton, took uncommon pains to change the sentiments, and at last it became fashionable to adopt, or at least to express, sentiments similar to those inculcated by them."
Randolph was, perhaps, not far out of the way in his fear of a civil war should blood be drawn, and in his conviction that the influence of Washington was the only sedative for the fevered political pulse. On November 17 general orders were issued for the return of the army, a detachment of twenty-five hundred men only remaining in the West, under command of General Morgan. There were no further disturbances. The army expenses gave a circulating medium, and the farmers, having now the means to pay their taxes, made no further complaints of the excise law. The total expense of the insurrection to the government was $800,000.
Mr. Gallatin returned with his wife from his western home early in November. He had been again chosen at the October elections to represent Fayette in the Pennsylvania Assembly. Moreover, at the same time, he was elected to represent the congressional district of Washington and Allegheny in the House of Representatives of the United States. Of four candidates Gallatin led the poll. Judge Brackenridge was next in order. No better proof is needed of the firm hold Gallatin had in the esteem and affection of the people. No doubt, either, that they understood his principles, and relied upon his sincere attachment to the country he had made his home.
When he appeared to take his seat in the Assembly he found that his election was contested. A petition was presented from thirty-four persons calling themselves peaceable citizens of Washington County, which stated that their votes had not been cast, because of the disturbed condition of the country, and requested the Assembly to declare the district to have been in a state of insurrection at the time of the election, and to vacate the same. Mr. Gallatin knew the person who procured the signatures, and also that the business originated in the army. It was couched in terms insulting to all the members elect from that district. After a protracted debate the election was declared void on January 9, 1795. It was during this debate that Mr. Gallatin made the celebrated speech called "The speech on the western elections," in which occurs the confession already alluded to. Speaking of the Pittsburgh resolutions of 1792, he said:—
"I might say that those resolutions did not originate at Pittsburgh, as they were almost a transcript of the resolutions adopted at Washington the preceding year; and I might even add that they were not introduced by me at the meeting. But I wish not to exculpate myself where I feel I have been to blame. The sentiments thus expressed were not illegal or criminal; yet I will freely acknowledge that they were violent, intemperate, and reprehensible. For, by attempting to render the office contemptible, they tended to diminish that respect for the execution of the laws which is essential to the maintenance of a free government; but whilst I feel regret at the remembrance, though no hesitation in this open confession of that my only political sin, let me add that the blame ought to fall where it is deserved."
This was the first speech of Gallatin that appeared in print—simple, lucid, convincing. The result of the new Assembly election would naturally determine the right of the representatives of the contested district to their seats in Congress. Word had gone forth from the Treasury Department that Gallatin must not take his seat in Congress, and the whippers-in took heed of the desire of their chief. A line of instruction to Badollet, who lived at Greensburg in Washington County, across the river from Gallatin's residence, determined the matter. Gallatin warned him against the attempt that would be made to disaffect that district because none of the representatives whose seats had been vacated were residents of it. "Fall not into the snare," he wrote; "take up nobody from your own district; reelect unanimously the same members, whether they be your favorites or not. It is necessary for the sake of our general character." Here is an instance of that true political instinct which made of him "the ideal party leader." His advice was followed, and all the members were reelected but one, who declined. Mr. Gallatin returned to his seat in the Assembly on February 14, and retained it until March 12, when he asked and obtained leave of absence. He does not appear to have taken further part in the session. The subjects, personal to himself, which occupied his attention during the summer will be touched upon elsewhere.
The pitiful business of the trial of the western prisoners needs only brief mention. In May Gallatin was summoned before the grand jury as a witness on the part of the government. The inquiry was finished May 12, and twenty-two bills were found for treason. Against Fayette two bills were found; one for misdemeanor in raising the liberty pole in Uniontown. The petit jury was composed of twelve men from each of the counties of Fayette, Washington, Allegheny, and Northumberland, but none from Westmoreland. One man, a German from Westmoreland, who was concerned in a riot in Fayette, was found guilty and condemned to death. Mr. Gallatin, at the request of the jury, drew a petition to the President, who granted a pardon. Washington extended mercy to the only other offender who incurred the same penalty.
To the close of this national episode, which, in its various phases of incident and character, is of dramatic interest, Gallatin, through good repute and ill repute, stood manfully by his constituents and friends.
[Footnote 3: Hamilton's History of the Republic, vi. 96.]
MEMBER OF CONGRESS
The first session of the fourth Congress began at Philadelphia on Monday, December 7, 1795. Washington was president, John Adams vice-president. No one of Washington's original constitutional advisers remained in his cabinet. Jefferson retired from the State Department at the beginning of the first session of the third Congress. Edmund Randolph, appointed in his place, resigned in a cloud of obloquy on August 19, 1795, and the portfolio was temporarily in charge of Timothy Pickering, secretary of war. Hamilton resigned the department of the Treasury on January 31, 1795, and Oliver Wolcott, Jr., succeeded him in that most important of the early offices of the government. General Henry Knox, the first secretary of war, pressed by his own private affairs and the interests of a large family, withdrew on December 28, 1794, and Timothy Pickering, the postmaster-general, had been appointed in his stead January 2, 1795. The Navy Department was not as yet established (the act creating it was passed April 30, 1798), but the affairs which concerned this branch of the public service were under the direction of the secretary of war. The administration of Washington was drawing to a close. In the lately reconstructed cabinet, honest, patriotic, and thorough in administration, there was no man of shining mark. The Senate was still in the hands of the Federal party. The bare majority which rejected Gallatin in the previous Congress had increased to a sufficient strength for party purposes, but neither in the ranks of the administration nor the opposition was there in this august assemblage one commanding figure.
The House was nearly equally divided. The post of speaker was warmly contested. Frederick A. Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania, who had presided over the House at the sessions of the first Congress, 1789-1791, and again over the third, 1793-1795, was the candidate of the Federalists, but was defeated by Jonathan Dayton of New Jersey, whose views in the last session had drifted him into sympathy with the Republican opposition. The House, when full, numbered one hundred and five members, among whom were the ablest men in the country, veterans of debate versed in parliamentary law and skilled in the niceties of party fence. In the Federal ranks, active, conscious of their power, and proud of the great party which gloried in Washington as their chief, were Robert Goodloe Harper of South Carolina, Theodore Sedgwick of Massachusetts, Roger Griswold and Uriah Tracy of Connecticut, who led the front and held the wings of debate; while in reserve, broken in health but still in the prime of life, the pride of his party and of the House, was Fisher Ames, the orator of his day, whose magic tones held friend and foe in rapt attention, while he mastered the reason or touched the heart. Upon these men the Federal party relied for the vindication of their principles and the maintenance of their power. Supporting them were William Vans Murray of Maryland, Goodrich and Hillhouse of Connecticut, William Smith of South Carolina, Sitgreaves of Pennsylvania, and in the ranks a well-trained party. Opposed to this formidable array of Federal talent was the Republican party, young, vigorous, and in majority, bold in their ideas but as yet hesitating in purpose under the controlling if not overruling influence of the name and popularity of Washington.
Hamilton watched the shifting fortunes of his party from a distance, and found time in the pressure of a large legal practice to aid each branch of administration in turn with his advice. But though he still inspired its councils, he no longer directed its course. In his Monticello home Jefferson waited till the fruit was ripe for falling, occasionally impatient that his followers did not more roughly shake the tree.
The open rupture of Jefferson with Hamilton was the first great break in the Federal administration; the lukewarmness of Madison, whose leanings were always towards Jefferson, followed.
At the head of the Republican opposition was Madison. Wise in council, convincing in argument, an able and even adroit debater, he was an admirable leader, but his tactics were rather of the closet than the field. He was wanting in the personal vigor which, scorning defense, delights in bold attack upon the central position of the enemy, and carries opposition to the last limit of parliamentary aggression. With this mildness of character, though recognized as the leader of his party, he, as a habit, waived his control upon the floor of the House, and, reserving his interference for occasions when questions of constitutional interpretation arose, left the general direction of debate to William B. Giles of Virginia, a skillful tactician and a ready debater, keen, bold, and troubled by no scruples of modesty, respect, or reverence for friend or foe. Of equal vigor, but of more reserve, was John Nicholas of Virginia—a man of strong intellect, reliable temper, and with the dignity of the old school. To these were now added Albert Gallatin and Edward Livingston. Edward Livingston, from New York, was young, and as yet inexperienced in debate, but of remarkable powers. He was another example of that early intellectual maturity which was a characteristic of the time.
When Congress met, the all-disturbing question was the foreign policy of the United States. The influence of the French Revolution upon American politics was great. The Federalists, conservative in their views, held the new democratic doctrines in abhorrence, and used the terrible excesses of the French Revolution with telling force against their Republican adversaries. The need of a strong government was held up as the only alternative to anarchy. In the struggle which now united Europe against the French republic, the sympathies of the Federalists were with England. Hence they were accused of a desire to establish a monarchy in the United States, and were ignominiously called the British party. Shays's Rebellion in Massachusetts and the Whiskey Insurrection in Pennsylvania gave point to their arguments.
On the other side was the large and powerful party which, throughout the war in the Continental Congress, under the confederation in the national convention which framed and in the state conventions which ratified the Constitution, had opposed the tendency to centralization, but had been defeated by the yearning of the body of the plain people for a government strong enough at least to secure them peace at home and protection abroad. This natural craving being satisfied, the old aversion to class distinctions returned. The dread of an aristocracy, which did not exist even in name, threw many of the supporters of the Constitution into the ranks of its opponents, who were democrats in name and in fact. The proclamation of the rights of man awoke this latent sentiment, and aroused an intense sympathy for the people of France. This again was strengthened by the memory, still warm, of the services of France in the cause of independence. Lafayette, who represented the true French republican spirit, and held a place in the affections of the American people second only to that of Washington, was languishing, a prisoner to the coalition of sovereigns, in an Austrian dungeon.
Jefferson returned from France deeply imbued with the spirit of the French Revolution. His views were warmly received by his political friends, and the principles of the new school of politics were rapidly spread by an eager band of acolytes, whose ranks were recruited until the feeble opposition became a powerful party. Democratic societies, organized on the plan of the French Jacobin clubs, extended French influence, and no doubt were aided in a practical way by Genet, whose recent marriage with the daughter of George Clinton, the head of the Republican party in New York, was an additional link in the bond of alliance.
During the second session of the third Congress Madison had led the opposition in a mild manner; party lines were not yet strongly defined, and the influence of Washington was paramount. In the interim between its expiration and the meeting of the fourth Congress in December, the country was wildly agitated by the Jay treaty. This document not reaching America until after the adjournment of Congress in March, Washington convened the Senate in extra and secret session on June 1, and the treaty was ratified by barely two thirds majority. Imprudently withheld for a time, it was at last made public by Senator Mason of Virginia, one of the ten who voted against its ratification. It disappointed the people, and was denounced as a weak and ignominious surrender of American rights. The merchants of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston protested against it in public meetings. It was burned, and the English flag was trailed in the dust before the British minister's house at the capital. Jay was hung in effigy, and Hamilton, who ventured to defend the treaty at a public meeting, was stoned. To add to the popular indignation that the impressment of American seamen had been ignored in the instrument, came the alarming news that the British ministry had renewed their order to seize vessels carrying provisions to France, whither a large part of the American grain crop was destined. On the other hand, Randolph, the secretary of state, had compromised the dignity of his official position in his intercourse with Fauchet, the late French ambassador, whose correspondence with his government, thrown overboard from a French packet, had been fished up by a British man-of-war, and forwarded to Grenville, by whom it was returned to America. Thus petard answered petard, and the charge by the Republicans upon the Federalists of taking British gold was returned with interest, and the accusation of receiving bribe money was brought close home to Randolph, if not proved.
Hard names were not wanting either; Jefferson was ridiculed as a sans-culotte and red-legged Democrat. Nor was Washington spared. He was charged with an assumption of royal airs, with political hypocrisy, and even with being a public defaulter; a charge which no one dared to father, and which was instantly shown to be false and malicious. It was made by Bache in "The Aurora," a contemptible sheet after the fashion of "L'Ami du Peuple," Marat's Paris organ.
Such was the temper of the people when the House of Representatives met on December 7, 1795. The speaker, Dayton, was strongly anti-British in feeling. He was a family connection of Burr, but there is no reason to suppose that he was under the personal influence of that adroit and unscrupulous partisan. On the 8th President Washington, according to his custom, addressed both houses of Congress. This day for the first time the gallery was thrown open to the public. When the reply of the Senate came up for consideration, the purpose of the Republicans was at once manifest. They would not consent to the approbation it expressed of the conduct of the administration. They would not admit that the causes of external discord had been extinguished "on terms consistent with our national honor and safety," or indeed extinguished at all, and they would not acknowledge that the efforts of the President to establish the peace, freedom, and prosperity of the country had been "enlightened and firm." Nevertheless the address was agreed to by a vote of 14 to 8.
In the House a resolution was moved that a respectful address ought to be presented. The opposition immediately declared itself. Objection was made to an address, and in its stead the appointment of a committee to wait personally on the President was moved. The covert intent was apparent through the thin veil of expediency, but the Republicans as a body were unwilling to go this length in discourtesy, and did not support the motion. Only eighteen members voted for it. Messrs. Madison, Sedgwick, and Sitgreaves, the committee to report an address, brought in a draft on the 14th which was ordered to be printed for the use of the members. The next day the work of dissection was begun by an objection to the words "probably unequaled spectacle of national happiness" applied to the country, and the words "undiminished confidence" applied to the President. The words "probably unequaled" were stricken out without decided opposition by a vote of forty-three to thirty-nine. Opinions were divided on that subject even in the ranks of the Federalists. The cause of dissatisfaction was the Jay treaty. The address was recommitted without a division. The next day Madison brought in the address with a modification of the clause objected to. In its new form the "very great share" of Washington's zealous and faithful services in securing the national happiness was acknowledged. The address thus amended was unanimously adopted. In this encounter nothing was gained by the Republicans. The people would not have endured an open declaration of want of confidence in Washington. But the entering wedge of the new policy was driven. The treaty was to be assailed. It was, however, the pretext, not the cause of the struggle, the real object of which was to extend the powers of the House, and subordinate the executive to its will. Before beginning the main attack the Republicans developed their general plan in their treatment of secondary issues; of these the principal was a tightening of the control of the House over the Treasury Department.
In this Mr. Gallatin took the lead. His first measure was the appointment of a standing Committee of Finance to superintend the general operations of this nature,—an efficient aid to the Treasury when there is accord between the administration and the House, an annoying censor when the latter is in opposition. This was the beginning of the Ways and Means Committee, which soon became and has since continued to be the most important committee of the House. To it were to be referred all reports from the Treasury Department, all propositions relating to revenue, and it was to report on the state of the public debt, revenue, and expenditures. The committee was appointed without opposition. It consisted of fourteen members, William Smith, Sedgwick, Madison, Baldwin, Gallatin, Bourne, Gilman, Murray, Buck, Gilbert, Isaac Smith, Blount, Patten, and Hillhouse, and represented the strength of both political parties. To this committee the estimates of appropriations for the support of the government for the coming year were referred. The next step was to bring to the knowledge of the House the precise condition of the Treasury. To this end the secretary was called upon to furnish comparative views of the commerce and tonnage of the country for every year from the formation of the department in 1789, with tables of the exports and imports, foreign and domestic, separately stated, and with a division of the nationality of the carrying vessels. Later, comparative views were demanded of the receipts and expenditures for each year; the receipts under the heads of Loans, Revenue in its various forms, and others in their several divisions; the expenditures, also, to be classified under the heads of Civil List, Foreign Intercourse, Military Establishment, Indian Department, Naval, etc. Finally a call was made for a statement of the annual appropriations and the applications of them by the Treasury. The object of Mr. Gallatin was to establish the expenses of the government in each department of service on a permanent footing for which annual appropriations should be made, and for any extraordinary expenditure to insist on a special appropriation for the stated object and none other. By keeping constantly before the House this distinction between the permanent fund and temporary exigencies, he accustomed it to take a practical business view of its legislative duties, and the people to understand the principles he endeavored to apply.
In a debate at the beginning of the session, on a bill for establishing trading houses with the Indians, Mr. Gallatin showed his hand by declaring that he would not consent to appropriate any part of the war funds for the scheme; nor, in view of the need of additional permanent funds for the discharge of the public debt, would he vote for the bill at all, unless there was to be a reduction in the expense of the military establishment; and he would not be diverted from his purpose although Mr. Madison advocated the bill because of its extremely benevolent object. The Federal leaders saw clearly to what this doctrine would bring them, and met it in the beginning. The first struggle occurred when the appropriations for the service of 1796 were brought before the House. Beginning with a discussion upon the salaries of the officers of the mint, the debate at once passed to the principle of appropriations. The Federalists insisted that a discussion of the merits of establishments was not in order when the appropriations were under consideration; that the House ought not, by withholding appropriations, to destroy establishments formed by the whole legislature, that is, by the Senate and House; that the House should vote for the appropriations agreeably to the laws already made. This view was sanctioned by practice. Mr. Gallatin immediately opposed this as an alarming and dangerous principle. He insisted that there was a certain discretionary power in the House to appropriate or not to appropriate for any object whatever, whether that object were authorized or not. It was a power vested in the House for the purpose of checking the other branches of government whenever necessary. He claimed that this power was shown in the making of yearly instead of permanent appropriations for the civil list and military establishments, yet when the House desired to strengthen public credit it had rendered the appropriation for those objects permanent and not yearly. It was, therefore, "contradictory to suppose that the House was bound to do a certain act at the same time that they were exercising the discretionary power of voting upon it." The debate determined nothing, but it is of interest as the first declaration in Congress of the supremacy of the House of Representatives.
The great debate which, from the principles involved in it as well as the argument and oratory with which they were discussed, made this session of the House famous, was on the treaty with Great Britain. This was the first foreign treaty made since the establishment of the Constitution. The treaty was sent in to the House "for the information of Congress," by the President, on March 1, with notice of its ratification at London in October. The next day Mr. Edward Livingston moved that the President be requested to send in a copy of the instructions to the minister of the United States who negotiated the treaty, together with the correspondence and other documents. A few days later he amended his resolution by adding an exception of such of said papers as any existing negotiations rendered improper to disclose. The Senate in its ratification of the treaty suspended the operation of the clause regulating the trade with the West Indies, on which Great Britain still imposed the old colonial restriction, and recommended the President to open negotiations on this subject; and in fact such negotiations were in progress. The discussion was opened on the Federal side by a request to the gentlemen in favor of the call to give their reasons. Mr. Gallatin supported the resolution, and expressed surprise at any objection, considering that the exception of the mover rendered the resolution of itself unexceptionable. The President had not informed the House of the reasons upon which the treaty was based. If he did not think proper to give the information sought for, he would say so to them. A question might arise whether the House should get at those secrets even if the President refused the request, but that was not the present question. In reply to Mr. Murray, who asserted that the treaty was the supreme law of the land, and that there was no discretionary power in the House except on the question of its constitutionality, Mr. Gallatin said that Congress possessed the power of regulating trade,—perhaps the treaty-making power clashed with that,—and concluded by observing that the House was the grand inquest of the nation, and that it had the right to call for papers on which to ground an impeachment. At present he did not contemplate an exercise of that right. Mr. Madison said it was now to be decided whether the general power of making treaties supersedes the powers of the House of Representatives, particularly specified in the Constitution, so as to give to the executive all deliberative will and leave the House only an executive and ministerial instrumental agency; and he proposed to amend the resolution so as to read, "except so much of said papers as in his (the President's) judgment it may be inconsistent with the interest of the United States at this time to disclose." But his motion was defeated by a vote of 47 nays to 37 yeas.
The discussion being resumed in committee of the whole, the expressions of opinion were free on both sides, but so moderate that one of the members made comment on the calmness and temper of the discussion. Nicholas said that, if the treaty were not the law of the land, the President should be impeached. But the parts of the treaty into which the President had not the right to enter, he could not make law by proclamation. Swanwick supported the call as one exercised by the House of Commons. On the Federal side, Harper said that the papers were not necessary, and, being unnecessary, the demand was an improper and unconstitutional interference with the executive department. If he thought them necessary, he would change the milk and water style of the resolutions. In that case the House had a right to them and he had no idea of requesting as a favor what should be demanded as a right. Gallatin, he said, had declared that it was a request, but that in case of refusal it might be considered whether demand should not be made, and he charged that when, at the time the motion was made, the question had been asked, what use was to be made of the papers, Gallatin did not and could not reply. Mr. Gallatin answered that whether the House had a discretionary power, or whether it was bound by the instrument, there was no impropriety in calling for the papers. He hoped to have avoided the constitutional question in the motion, but as the gentlemen had come forward on that ground, he had no objection to rest the decision of the constitutional power of Congress on the fate of the present question. He would therefore state that the House had a right to ask for the papers.
The constitutional question being thus squarely introduced, Mr. Gallatin made an elaborate speech, which, from its conciseness in statement, strength of argument, and wealth of citations of authority, was, to say the least, inferior to no other of those drawn out in this memorable struggle. In its course he compared the opinion of those who had opposed the resolution to the saying of an English bishop, that the people had nothing to do with the law but to obey it, and likened their conduct to the servile obedience of a Parliament of Paris under the old order of things. He concluded with the hope that the dangerous doctrine, that the representatives of the people have not the right to consult their discretion when about exercising powers delegated by the Constitution, would receive its death-blow. Griswold replied in what by common consent was the strongest argument on the Federal side. The call, at first view simple, had, he said, become a grave matter. The gist of his objection to it was that the people in their Constitution had made the treaty power paramount to the legislative, and had deposited that power with the President and Senate.
Mr. Madison once more rose to the constitutional question. He said that, if the passages of the Constitution be taken literally, they must clash. The word supreme, as applied to treaties, meant as over the state Constitutions, and not over the Constitution and laws of the United States. He supported Mr. Gallatin's view of the congressional power as cooeperative with the treaty power. A construction which made the treaty power omnipotent he thought utterly inadmissible in a constitution marked throughout with limitations and checks.
Mr. Gallatin again claimed the attention of the House, as the original question of a call for papers had resolved itself into a discussion on the treaty-making power. In the treaty of peace of 1783 there were three articles which might be supposed to interfere with the legislative powers of the several States: 1st, that which related to the payment of debts; 2d, the provision for no future confiscations; 3d, the restitution of estates already confiscated. The first could not be denied. "Those," he said, "might be branded with the epithet of disorganizers, who threatened a dissolution of the Union in case the measures they dictated were not obeyed; and he knew, although he did not ascribe it to any member of the House, that men high in office and reputation had industriously spread an alarm that the Union would be dissolved if the present motion was carried." He took the ground that a treaty is not valid, and does not bind the nation as such, till it has received the sanction of the House of Representatives. Mr. Harper closed the argument on the Federal side. On March 24 the resolution calling for the papers was carried by a vote of yeas 62, nays 37, absent 5, the speaker 1 (105). Livingston and Gallatin were appointed to present the request to the President.
On March 30 the President returned answer to the effect that he considered it a dangerous precedent to admit this right in the House; that the assent of the House was not necessary to the validity of a treaty; and he absolutely refused compliance with the request. The letter of instructions to Jay would bear the closest examination, but the cabinet scorned to take shelter behind it, and it was on their recommendation that the President's refusal was explicit. This message, in spite of the opposition of the Federalists, was referred, by a vote of 55 yeas to 37 nays, to the committee of the whole. This reference involved debate. In his opposition to this motion, Mr. Harper said that the motives of the friends of the resolution had been avowed by the "gentleman who led the business, from Pennsylvania;" whereby it appears that Mr. Gallatin led the Republicans in the first debate. During this his first session he shared this distinction with Mr. Madison. At the next he became the acknowledged leader of the Republican party.
On April 3 the debate was resumed. This second debate was led by Mr. Madison, who considered two points: 1st, the application for papers; 2d, the constitutional rights of Congress. His argument was of course calm and dispassionate after his usual manner. The contest ended on April 7, with the adoption of two resolutions: 1st, that the power of making treaties is exclusively with the President and Senate, and the House do not claim an agency in making them, or ratifying them when made; 2d, that when made a treaty must depend for the execution of its stipulations on a law or laws to be passed by Congress; and the House have a right to deliberate and determine the expediency or inexpediency of carrying treaties into effect. These resolutions were carried by a vote of 63 to 27.
There was now a truce of a few days. In the meanwhile the country was agitated to an extent which, if words mean anything, really threatened an attempt at dissolution of the Union, if not civil war itself. The objections on the part of the Republicans were to the treaty as a whole. Their sympathies were with France in her struggle for liberty and democratic institutions and against England, and their real and proper ground of antipathy to the instrument lay in its concession of the right of capture of French property in American vessels, whilst the treaty with France forbade her to seize British property in American vessels. The objections in detail had been formulated at the Boston public meeting the year before. The commercial cities were disturbed by the interference with the carrying trade; the entire coast, by the search of vessels and the impressment of seamen; the agricultural regions, by the closing of the outlet for their surplus product; the upland districts, by the stoppage of the export of timber. But the country was without a navy, was ill prepared for war, and the security of the frontier was involved in the restoration of the posts still held by the British.
The political situation was uncertain if not absolutely menacing. The threats of disunion were by no means vague. The Pendleton Society in Virginia had passed secession resolutions, and a similar disposition appeared in other States. While the treaty was condemned in the United States, British statesmen were not of one opinion as to the advantages they had gained by Grenville's diplomacy. Jay's desire, expressed to Randolph, "to manage so that in case of wars our people should be united and those of England divided," was not wholly disappointed. And there is on record the expression of Lord Sheffield, when he heard of the rupture in 1812, "We have now a complete opportunity of getting rid of that most impolitic treaty of 1794, when Lord Grenville was so perfectly duped by Jay." Washington's ratification of the treaty went far to correct the hasty judgment of the people, and to reconcile them to it as a choice of evils. Supported by this modified tone of public opinion, the Federalists determined to press the necessary appropriation bills for carrying the treaties into effect. Besides the Jay treaty there were also before the House the Wayne treaty with the Indians, the Pinckney treaty with Spain, and the treaty with Algiers. With these three the House was entirely content, and the country was impatient for their immediate operation. Wayne's treaty satisfied the inhabitants on the frontier. The settlers along the Ohio, among whom was Gallatin's constituency, were eager to avail themselves of the privileges granted by that of Pinckney, which was a triumph of diplomacy; and all America, while ready to beard the British lion, seems to have been in terror of the Dey of Algiers. Mr. Sedgwick offered a resolution providing for the execution of the four treaties. Mr. Gallatin insisted on and received a separate consideration of each. That with Great Britain was reserved till the rest were disposed of. It was taken up on April 14. Mr. Madison opened the debate. He objected to the treaty as wanting in real reciprocity; 2d, in insufficiency of its provisions as to the rights of neutrals; 3d, because of its commercial restrictions. Other Republican leaders followed, making strong points of the position in which the treaty placed the United States with regard to France, to whom it was bound by a treaty of commercial alliance, which was a part of the contract of aid in the Revolutionary War; and also of the possible injustice which would befall American claimants in the British courts of admiralty.
The Federalists clung to their ground, defended the treaty as the best attainable, and held up as the alternative a war, for which the refusal of the Republicans to support the military establishment and build up a navy left the country unprepared. In justice to Jay, his significant words to Randolph, while doubtful of success in his negotiation, should be remembered: "Let us hope for the best and prepare for the worst." To the red flag which the Federalists held up, Mr. Gallatin replied, accepting the consequences of war if it should come, and gave voice to the extreme dissatisfaction of the Virginia radicals with Jay and the negotiation. He charged that the cry of war and threats of a dissolution of the government were designed for an impression on the timidity of the House. "It was through the fear of being involved in a war that the negotiation with Great Britain had originated; under the impression of fear the treaty had been negotiated and signed; a fear of the same danger, that of war, had promoted its ratification; and now every imaginary mischief which could alarm our fears was conjured up in order to deprive us of that discretion which this House thought they had a right to exercise, and in order to force us to carry the treaty into effect." He insisted on the important principle that 'free ships make free goods,' and complained of its abandonment by the negotiators.
In a reply to this attack upon Jay, whose whole life was a refutation of the charge of personal or moral timidity, Mr. Tracy passed the limits of parliamentary courtesy. "The people," he said, "where he was most acquainted, whatever might be the character of other parts of the Union, were not of the stamp to cry hosannah to-day and crucify to-morrow; they will not dance around a whiskey pole to-day and curse their government, and upon hearing of a military force sneak into a swamp. No," said he, "my immediate constituents, whom I very well know, understand their rights and will defend them, and if they find the government will not protect them, they will attempt at least to protect themselves;" and he concluded, "I cannot be thankful to that gentleman for coming all the way from Geneva to give Americans a character for pusillanimity." He held it madness to suppose that if the treaty were defeated war could be avoided. Called to order, he said that he might have been too personal, and asked pardon of the gentleman and of the House.
The brilliant crown of the debate was the impassioned speech of Fisher Ames, the impression of which upon the House and the crowded gallery is one of the traditions of American oratory. The scene, as it has been handed down to us, resembles, in all save its close, that which Parliament presented when Chatham made his last and dying appeal. Like the great earl, Ames rose pale and trembling from illness to address a House angry and divided. Defending himself and the Federal party against the charge of being in English interest, he said, "Britain has no influence, and can have none. She has enough—and God forbid she ever should have more. France, possessed of popular enthusiasm, of party attachments, has had and still has too much influence on our politics,—any foreign influence is too much and ought to be destroyed. I detest the man and disdain the spirit that can ever bend to a mean subserviency to the views of any nation. It is enough to be American. That character comprehends our duties and ought to engross our attachments." Considering the probable influence on the Indian tribes of the rejection of the treaty, he said, "By rejecting the Posts we light the savage fires, we bind the victims.... I can fancy that I listen to the yells of savage vengeance and shrieks of torture. Already they seem to sigh in the west wind,—already they mingle with every echo from the mountains." His closing words again bring Chatham to mind. "Yet I have perhaps as little personal interest in the event as any one here. There is, I believe, no member who will not think his chance to be a witness of the consequences greater than mine. If, however, the vote should pass to reject, and a spirit should rise, as rise it will, with the public disorders to make confusion worse confounded, even I, slender and almost broken as my hold upon life is, may outlive the government and Constitution of my country." This appeal, supported by the petitions and letters which poured in upon the House, left no doubt of the result. An adjournment was carried, but the speech was decisive. The next day, April 29, it was resolved to be expedient to make the necessary appropriations to carry the treaty into effect. The vote stood 49 ayes to 49 nays, and was decided in the affirmative by Muhlenberg, who was in the chair. But the House would not be satisfied without an expression of condemnation of the instrument. On April 30 it was resolved that in the opinion of the House the treaty was objectionable.
While Mr. Gallatin in this debate rose to the highest rank of statesmanship, he showed an equal mastery of other important subjects which engaged the attention of the House during the session. He was earnest for the protection of the frontier, but had no good opinion of the Indians. "Twelve years had passed," he said, "since the peace of 1783; ever since that time he had lived on the frontier of Pennsylvania. Not a year of this period had passed, whether at war or peace, that some murders had not been committed by the Indians, and yet not an act of invasion or provocation by the inhabitants." In the matter of impressment of American seamen, he urged the lodging of sufficient power in the executive. Men had been impressed, and he held it to be the duty of the House to take notice of it by war or negotiation. In the establishment of land offices for the sale of the western lands he brought to bear upon legislation his practical experience. He urged that the tracts for sale be divided, and distinctions be made between large purchasers and actual settlers—proposing that the large tracts be sold at the seat of government, and the small on the territory itself. He instanced the fact that in 1792 all the land west of the Ohio was disposed of at 1s. 6d. the acre, and a week afterwards was resold at $1.50, so that the money which should have gone into the treasury went to the pockets of speculators. He also suggested that the proceeds of the sales should be a fund to pay the public debt, and that the public stock should always be received at its value in payment for land; a plan by which the land would be brought directly to the payment of the debt, as foreigners would gladly exchange the money obligations of the government for land. On the question of taxation he declared himself in favor of direct taxes, and held that a tax on houses and lands could be levied without difficulty. He would satisfy the people that it was to pay off the public debt, which he held to be a public curse. He supported the excise duty on stills under regulations which would avoid the watching of persons and houses and inspection by officers, and proposed that licenses be granted for the time applied for.
The military establishment he opposed in every way, attacked the principle on which it was based, and fought every appropriation in detail, from the pay of a major-general to the cost of uniforms for the private soldiers. He was not afraid of the army, he said, but did not think that it was necessary for the support of the government or dangerous to the liberties of the people; moreover, it cost six hundred thousand dollars a year, which was a sum of consequence in the condition of the finances.