The prohibition of the further importation of slaves, was the first of these measures in time.
This was followed by the abolition of entails, which broke up the hereditary and high-handed aristocracy, which, by accumulating immense masses of property in single lines of families, had divided our country into two distinct orders, of nobles and plebeians.
But further to complete the equality among our citizens so essential to the maintenance of republican government, it was necessary to abolish the principle of primogeniture. I drew the law of descents, giving equal inheritance to sons and daughters which made a part of the revised code.
The attack on the establishment of a dominant religion, was first made by myself. It could be carried at first only by a suspension of salaries for one year, by battling it again at the next session for another year, and so from year to year, until the public mind was ripened for the bill for establishing religious freedom, which I had prepared for the revised code also. This was at length established permanently, and by the efforts chiefly of Mr. Madison, being myself in Europe at the time that work was brought forward.
To these particular services, I think I might add the establishment of our University, as principally my work, acknowledging at the same time, as I do, the great assistance received from my able colleagues of the Visitation. But my residence in the vicinity threw, of course, on me the chief burthen of the enterprise, as well of the buildings, as of the general organization and care of the whole. The effect of this institution on the future fame, fortune, and prosperity of our country, can as yet be seen but at a distance. But an hundred well educated youths, which it will turn out annually, and ere long, will fill all its offices with men of superior qualifications, and raise it from its humble state to an eminence among its associates which it has never yet known; no, not in its brightest days. That institution is now qualified to raise its youth to an order of science unequalled in any other State; and this superiority will be the greater from the free range of mind encouraged there, and the restraint imposed at other seminaries by the shackles of a domineering hierarchy, and a bigoted adhesion to ancient habits. Those now on the theatre of affairs will enjoy the ineffable happiness of seeing themselves succeeded by sons of a grade of science beyond their own ken. Our sister States will also be repairing to the same fountains of instruction, will bring hither their genius to be kindled at our fire, and will carry back the fraternal affections which, nourished by the same alma mater, will knit us to them by the indissoluble bonds of early personal friendships. The good Old Dominion, the blessed mother of us all, will then raise her head with pride among the nations, will present to them that splendor of genius which she has ever possessed, but has too long suffered to rest uncultivated and unknown, and will become a centre of ralliance to the States whose youths she has instructed, and, as it were, adopted.
I claim some share in the merits of this great work of regeneration. My whole labors, now for many years, have been devoted to it, and I stand pledged to follow it up through the remnant of life remaining to me. And what remuneration do I ask? Money from the treasury? Not a cent. I ask nothing from the earnings or labors of my fellow-citizens. I wish no man's comforts to be abridged for the enlargement of mine. For the services rendered on all occasions, I have been always paid to my full satisfaction. I never wished a dollar more than what the law had fixed on. My request is, only to be permitted to sell my own property freely to pay my own debts. To sell it, I say, and not to sacrifice it, not to have it gobbled up by speculators to make fortunes for themselves, leaving unpaid those who have trusted to my good faith, and myself without resource in the last and most helpless stage of life. If permitted to sell it in a way which will bring me a fair price, all will be honestly and honorably paid, and a competence left for myself, and for those who look to me for subsistence. To sell it in a way which will offend no moral principle, and expose none to risk but the willing, and those wishing to be permitted to take the chance of gain. To give me, in short, that permission which you often allow to others for purposes not more moral.
Will it be objected, that although not evil in itself, it may, as a precedent, lead to evil? But let those who shall quote the precedent bring their case within the same measure. Have they, as in this case, devoted three-score years and one of their lives, uninterruptedly, to the service of their country? Have the times of those services been as trying as those which have embraced our Revolution, our transition from a colonial to a free structure of government? Have the stations of their trial been of equal importance? Has the share they have borne in holding their new government to its genuine principles, been equally marked? And has the cause of the distress, against which they seek a remedy, proceeded, not merely from themselves, but from errors of the public authorities, disordering the circulating medium, over which they had no control, and which have, in fact, doubled and trebled debts, by reducing, in that proportion, the value of the property which was to pay them? If all these circumstances, which characterize the present case, have taken place in theirs also, then follow the precedent. Be assured, the cases will be so rare as to produce no embarrassment, as never to settle into an injurious habit. The single feature of a sixty years' service, as no other instance of it has yet occurred in our country, so it probably never may again. And should it occur, even once and again, it will not impoverish your treasury, as it takes nothing from that, and asks but a simple permission, by an act of natural right, to do one of moral justice.
In the 'Thoughts on Lotteries,' the following paper is referred to. It is here copied to spare the trouble of seeking for the-book.
Farewell Address To Th: Jefferson, President Of The United States.
[Agreed to by both Houses, February 7, 1809.]
Sir, The General Assembly of your native State cannot close their session, without acknowledging your services in the office which you are just about to lay down, and bidding you a respectful and affectionate farewell.
We have to thank you for the model of an administration conducted on the purest principles of republicanism; for pomp and state laid aside; patronage discarded; internal taxes abolished; a host of superfluous officers disbanded; the monarchic maxim that 'a national debt is a national blessing,' renounced, and more than thirty-three millions of our debt discharged; the native right to nearly one hundred millions of acres of our national domain extinguished; and, without the guilt or calamities of conquest, a vast and, fertile region added to our country, far more extensive than her original possessions, bringing along with it the Mississippi and the port of Orleans, the trade of the west to the Pacific Ocean, and in the intrinsic value of the land itself, a source of permanent and almost inexhaustible revenue. These are points in your administration which the historian will not fail to seize, to expand, and teach posterity to dwell upon with delight. Nor will he forget our peace with the civilized world, preserved through a season of uncommon difficulty and trial; the good-will cultivated with the unfortunate aborigines of our country, and the civilization humanely extended among them; the lesson taught the inhabitants of the coast of Barbary, that we have the means of chastising their piratical encroachments, and awing them into justice; and that theme, on which, above all others, the historic genius will hang with rapture, the liberty of speech and of the press, preserved inviolate, without which genius and science are given to man in vain.
In the principles on which you have administered the government, we see only the continuation and maturity of the same virtues and abilities, which drew upon you in your youth the resentment of Dunmore. From the first brilliant and happy moment of your resistance to foreign tyranny, until the present day, we mark with pleasure and with gratitude the same uniform, consistent character, the same warm and devoted attachment to liberty and the republic, the same Roman love of your country, her rights, her peace, her honor, her prosperity.
How blessed will be the retirement into which you are about to go! How deservedly blessed will it be! For you carry with you the richest of all rewards, the recollection of a life well spent in the service of your country, and proofs the most decisive, of the love, the gratitude, the veneration of your countrymen.
That your retirement may be as happy as your life has been virtuous and useful; that our youth may see, in the blissful close of your days, an additional inducement to form themselves on your model, is the devout and earnest prayer of your fellow-citizens who compose the General Assembly of Virginia.
LETTER CXCII.—TO JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, March 30, 1826
TO JOHN QUINCY ADAMS.
Monticello, March 30, 1826.
I am thankful for the very interesting message and documents of which you have been so kind as to send me a copy, and will state my recollections as to the particular passage of the message to which you ask my attention. On the conclusion of peace, Congress, sensible of their right to assume independence, would not condescend to ask its acknowledgment from other nations, yet were willing, by some of the ordinary international transactions, to receive what would imply that acknowledgment. They appointed commissioners, therefore, to propose treaties of commerce to the principal nations of Europe. I was then a member of Congress, was of the committee appointed to prepare instructions for the commissioners, was, as you suppose, the draughtsman of those actually agreed to, and was joined with your father and Doctor Franklin to carry them into execution. But the stipulations making part of these instructions, which respected privateering, blockades, contraband, and freedom of the fisheries, were not original conceptions of mine. They had before been suggested by Doctor Franklin, in some of his papers in possession of the public, and had I think, been recommended in some letter of his to Congress I happen only to have been the inserter of them in the first public act which gave the formal sanction of a public authority. We accordingly proposed our treaties, containing these stipulations, to the principal governments of Europe. But we were then just emerged from a subordinate condition; the nations had as yet known nothing of us and had not yet reflected on the relations which it might be their interest to establish with us. Most of them, therefore, listened to our propositions with coyness and reserve; old Frederic alone closing with us without hesitation. The negotiator of Portugal, indeed, signed a treaty with us, which his government did not ratify, and Tuscany was near a final agreement. Becoming sensible, however, ourselves, that we should do nothing with the greater powers, we thought it better not to hamper our country with engagements to those of less significance, and suffered our powers to expire without closing any other negotiation. Austria soon after became desirous of a treaty with us, and her ambassador pressed it often on me; but our commerce with her being no object, I evaded her repeated invitations. Had these governments been then apprized of the station we should so soon occupy among nations, all, I believe, would have met us promptly and with frankness. These principles would then have been established with all, and from being the conventional law with us alone, would have slid into their engagements with one another, and become general. These are the facts within my recollection. They have not yet got into written history; but their adoption by our southern brethren will bring them into observance, and make them, what they should be, a part of the law of the world and of the reformation of principles for which they will be indebted to us. I pray you to accept the homage of my friendly and high consideration.
LETTER CXCIII.—TO MR. WEIGHTMAN, June 24, 1826
TO MR. WEIGHTMAN.
Monticello, June 24, 1826.
The kind invitation I receive from you, on the part of the citizens of the city of Washington, to be present with them at their celebration on the fiftieth anniversary of American Independence, as one of the surviving signers of an instrument pregnant with our own, and the fate of the world, is most flattering to myself, and heightened by the honorable accompaniment proposed for the comfort of such a journey. It adds sensibly to the sufferings of sickness, to be deprived by it of a personal participation in the rejoicings of that day. But acquiescence is a duty, under circumstances not placed among those we are permitted to control. I should indeed, with peculiar delight, have met and exchanged there congratulations personally with the small band, the remnant of that host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make for our country, between submission or the sword; and to have enjoyed with them the consolatory fact, that our fellow-citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made. May it be to the world, what I believe it will be (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all), the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day for ever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.
I will ask permission here to express the pleasure with which I should have met my ancient neighbors of the city of Washington and its vicinities, with whom I passed so many years of a pleasing social intercourse; an intercourse which so much relieved the anxieties of the public cares, and left impressions so deeply engraved in my affections, as never to be forgotten. With my regret that ill health forbids me the gratification of an acceptance, be pleased to receive for yourself, and those for whom you write, the assurance of my highest respect and friendly attachments.
ANA.—EXPLANATION OF THE THREE VOLUMES BOUND IN MARBLED PAPER
Explanation of the Three Volumes bound in Marbled Paper.*
In these three volumes will be found copies of the official opinions given in writing by me to General Washington, while I was Secretary of State, with sometimes the documents belonging to the case. Some of these are the rough draughts, some press copies, some fair ones. In the earlier part of my acting in that office, I took no other note of the passing transactions; but after a while, I saw the importance of doing it in aid of my memory. Very often, therefore, I made memorandums on loose scraps of paper, taken out of my pocket in the moment, and laid by to be copied fair at leisure, which, however, they hardly ever were. These scraps, therefore, ragged, rubbed, and scribbled as they were, I had bound with the others by a binder, who came into my cabinet, did it under my own eye, and without the opportunity of reading a single paper. At this day, after the lapse of twenty-five years, or more, from their dates, I have given to the whole a calm revisal, when the passions of the time are passed away, and the reasons of the transactions act alone on the judgment. Some of the informations I had recorded, are now cut out from the rest, because I have seen that they were incorrect, or doubtful, or merely personal or private, with which we have nothing to do. I should perhaps have thought the rest not worth preserving, but for their testimony against the only history of that period, which pretends to have been compiled from authentic and unpublished documents.
[* These are the volumes containing the Ana to the time that the Author retired from the office of Secretary of State. The official opinions and documents referred to, being very voluminous, are for the most part omitted, to make room for the conversations which the same volumes comprise.]
But a short review of facts ***** will show, that the contests of that day were contests of principle between the advocates of republican, and those of kingly government, and that, had not the former made the efforts they did, our government would have been even at this early day, a very different thing from what the successful issue of those efforts have made it.
The alliance between the States under the old Articles of Confederation, for the purpose of joint defence against the aggressions of Great Britain, was found insufficient, as treaties of alliance generally are, to enforce compliance with their mutual stipulations; and these, once fulfilled, that bond was to expire of itself, and each State to become sovereign and independent in all things. Yet, it could not but occur to every one, that these separate independencies, like the petty States of Greece, would be eternally at war with each other, and would become at length the mere partisans and satellites of the leading powers of Europe. All, then, must have looked forward to some further bond of union, which would insure internal peace, and a political system of our own, independent of that of Europe. Whether all should be consolidated into a single government, or each remain independent as to internal matters, and the whole form a single nation as to what was foreign only, and whether that national government should be a monarchy or republic, would of course divide opinions, according to the constitutions, the habits, and the circumstances of each individual. Some officers of the army, as it has always been said and believed, (and Steuben and Knox have ever been named as the leading agents,) trained to monarchy by military habits, are understood to have proposed to General Washington, to decide this great question by the army before its disbandment, and to assume himself the crown, on the assurance of their support. The indignity with which he is said to have scouted this parricide proposition, was equally worthy of his virtue and wisdom. The next effort was, (on suggestion of the same individuals, in the moment of their separation,) the establishment of an hereditary order, under the name of the Cincinnati, ready prepared by that distinction to be engrafted into the future frame of government, and placing General Washington still at their head. The General wrote to me on this subject, while I was in Congress at Annapolis, and an extract from my letter is inserted in 5th Marshall's History, page 28. He afterwards called on me at that place, on his way to a meeting of the society, and after a whole evening of consultation, he left that place fully determined to use all his endeavors for its total suppression. But he found it so firmly riveted in the affections of the members, that, strengthened as they happened to be by an adventitious occurrence of the moment, he could effect no more than the abolition of its hereditary principle. He called again on his return, and explained to me fully the opposition which had been made, the effect of the occurrence from France, and the difficulty with which its duration had been limited to the lives of the present members. Further details will be found among my papers, in his and my letters, and some in the Encyclopedic Methodique et Dictionnaire d'Economic Politique, communicated by myself to M. Meusnier, its author, who had made the establishment of this society the ground, in that work, of a libel on our country.
The want of some authority which should procure justice to the public creditors, and an observance of treaties with foreign nations, produced, some time after, the call of a convention of the States at Annapolis. Although, at this meeting, a difference of opinion was evident on the question of a republican or kingly government, yet, so general through the States was the sentiment in favor of the former, that the friends of the latter confined themselves to a course of obstruction only, and delay, to every thing proposed; they hoped, that nothing being done, and all things going from bad to worse, a kingly government might be usurped, and submitted to by the people, as better than anarchy and wars, internal and external, the certain consequences of the present want of a general government. The effect of their manoeuvres, with the defective attendance of Deputies from the States, resulted in the measure of calling a more general convention, to be held at Philadelphia. At this the same party exhibited the same practices, and with the same views of preventing a government of concord, which they foresaw would be republican, and of forcing: through anarchy their way to monarchy. But the mass of that convention was too honest, too wise, and too steady, to be baffled and misled by their manoeuvres. One of these was a form of government proposed by Colonel Hamilton, which would have been in fact a compromise between the two parties of royalism and republicanism. According to this, the executive and one branch of the legislature were to be during good behavior, i.e. for life, and the governors of the States were to be named by these two permanent organs. This, however, was rejected; on which Hamilton left the convention, as desperate, and never returned again until near its final conclusion. These opinions and efforts, secret or avowed, of the advocates for monarchy, had begotten great jealousy through the States generally; and this jealousy it was, which excited the strong opposition to the conventional constitution; a jealousy which yielded at last only to a general determination to establish certain amendments, as barriers against a government either monarchical or consolidated. In what passed through the whole period of these conventions, I have gone on the information of those who were members of them, being absent myself on my mission to France.
I returned from that mission in the first year of the new government, having landed in Virginia in December, 1789, and proceeded to New York in March, 1790, to enter on the office of Secretary of State. Here, certainly, I found a state of things which, of all I had ever contemplated, I the least expected. I had left France in the first year of her revolution, in the fervor of natural rights, and zeal for reformation. My conscientious devotion to these rights could not be heightened, but it had been aroused and excited by daily exercise. The President received me cordially, and my colleagues and the circle of principal citizens, apparently with welcome. The courtesies of dinner-parties given me, as a stranger newly arrived among them, placed me at once in their familiar society. But I cannot describe the wonder and mortification with which the table conversations filled me. Politics were the chief topic, and a preference of kingly over republican government, was evidently the favorite sentiment. An apostate I could not be, nor yet a hypocrite; and I found myself, for the most part, the only advocate on the republican side of the question, unless among the guests there chanced to be some member of that party from the legislative Houses. Hamilton's financial system had then passed. It had two objects; 1. as a puzzle, to exclude popular understanding and inquiry; 2. as a machine for the corruption of the legislature: for he avowed the opinion, that man could be governed by one of two motives only, force or interest: force, he observed, in this country, was out of the question, and the interests, therefore, of the members must be laid hold of, to keep the legislature in unison with the executive. And with grief and shame it must be acknowledged that his machine was not without effect; that even in this, the birth of our government, some members were found sordid enough to bend their duty, to their interests, and to look after personal rather than public good.
It is well known that during the war, the greatest difficulty we encountered, was the want of money or means to pay our soldiers who fought, or our farmers, manufacturers, and merchants, who furnished the necessary supplies of food and clothing for them. After the expedient of paper money had exhausted itself, certificates of debt were given to the individual creditors, with assurance of payment, so soon as the United States should be able. But the distresses of these people often obliged them to part with these for the half, the fifth, and even a tenth of their value; and speculators had made a trade of cozening them from the holders, by the most fraudulent practices, and persuasions that they would never be paid. In the bill for funding and paying these, Hamilton made no difference between the original holders, and the fraudulent purchasers of this paper. Great and just repugnance arose at putting these two classes of creditors on the same footing, and great exertions were used to pay the former the full value, and to the latter, the price only which they had paid, with interest. But this would have prevented the game which was to be played, and for which the minds of greedy members were already tutored and prepared. When the trial of strength, on these several efforts, had indicated the form in which the bill would finally pass, this being known within doors sooner than without, and especially, than to those who were in distant parts of the Union, the base scramble began. Couriers and relay-horses by land, and swift-sailing pilot-boats by sea, were flying in all directions. Active partners and agents were associated and employed in every State, town, and country neighborhood, and this paper was bought up at five shillings, and even as low as two shillings in the pound, before the holder knew that Congress had already provided for its redemption at par. Immense sums were thus filched from the poor and ignorant, and fortunes accumulated by those who had themselves been poor enough before. Men thus enriched by the dexterity of a leader, would follow of course the chief who was leading them to fortune, and become the zealous instruments of all his enterprises.
This game was over, and another was on the carpet at the moment of my arrival; and to this I was most ignorantly and innocently made to hold the candle. This fiscal manoeuvre is well known by the name of the Assumption. Independently of the debts of Congress, the States had, during the war, contracted separate and heavy debts; and Massachusetts particularly, in an absurd attempt, absurdly conducted, on the British post of Penobscot: and the more debt Hamilton could rake up, the more plunder for his mercenaries. This money, whether wisely or foolishly spent, was pretended to have been spent for general purposes, and ought, therefore, to be paid from the general purse. But it was objected, that nobody knew what these debts were, what their amount, or what their proofs. No matter; we will guess them to be twenty millions. But of these twenty millions, we do not know how much should be reimbursed to one State, or how much to another. No matter; we will guess. And so another scramble was set on foot among the several States, and some got much, some little, some nothing. But the main object was obtained, the phalanx of the Treasury was reinforced by additional recruits. This measure produced the most bitter and angry contests ever known in Congress, before or since the Union of the States. I arrived in the midst of it. But a stranger to the ground, a stranger to the actors on it, so long absent as to have lost all familiarity with the subject, and as yet unaware of its object, I took no concern in it. The great and trying question, however, was lost in the House of Representatives. So high were the feuds excited by this subject, that on its rejection business was suspended. Congress met and adjourned from day to day without doing any thing, the parties being too much out of temper to do business together. The eastern members particularly, who, with Smith from South Carolina, were the principal gamblers in these scenes, threatened a secession and dissolution. Hamilton was in despair. As I was going to the President's one day, I met him in the street. He walked me backwards and forwards before the President's door for half an hour. He painted pathetically the temper into which the legislature had been wrought; the disgust of those who were called the creditor States; the danger of the secession of their members, and the separation of the States. He observed that the members of the administration ought to act in concert; that though this question was not of my department, yet a common duty should make it a common concern; that the President was the centre on which all administrative questions ultimately rested, and that all of us should rally around him, and support, with joint efforts, measures approved by him; and that the question having been lost by a small majority only, it was probable that an appeal from me to the judgment and discretion of some of my friends, might effect a change in the vote, and the machine of government, now suspended, might be again set into motion. I told him that I was really a stranger to the whole subject; that not having yet informed myself of the system of finance adopted, I knew not how far this was a necessary sequence; that undoubtedly, if its rejection endangered a dissolution of our Union at this incipient stage, I should deem that the most unfortunate of all consequences, to avert which all partial and temporary evils should be yielded. I proposed to him, however, to dine with me the next day, and I would invite another friend or two, bring them into conference together, and I thought it impossible that reasonable men, consulting together coolly, could fail, by some mutual sacrifices of opinion, to form a compromise which was to save the Union. The discussion took place. I could take no part in it but an exhortatory one, because I was a stranger to the circumstances which should govern it. But it was finally agreed, that whatever importance had been attached to the rejection of this proposition, the preservation of the Union and of concord among the States was more important, and that therefore it would be better that the vote of rejection should be rescinded, to effect which, some members should change their votes. But it was observed that this pill would be peculiarly bitter to the Southern States, and that some concomitant measure should be adopted to sweeten it a little to them. There had before been propositions to fix the seat of government either at Philadelphia, or at Georgetown on the Potomac; and it was thought that by giving it to Philadelphia for ten years, and to Georgetown permanently afterwards, this might, as an anodyne, calm in some degree the ferment which might be excited by the other measure alone. So two of the Potomac members (White and Lee, but White with a revulsion of stomach almost convulsive,) agreed to change their votes, and Hamilton undertook to carry the other point. In doing this, the influence he had established over the eastern members, with the agency of Robert Morris with those of the middle States, effected his side of the engagement; and so the Assumption was passed, and twenty millions of stock divided among favored States, and thrown in as a pabulum to the stock-jobbing herd. This added to the number of votaries to the Treasury, and made its chief the master of every vote in the legislature, which might give to the government the direction suited to his political views.
I know well, and so must be understood, that nothing like a majority in Congress had yielded to this corruption. Far from it. But a division, not very unequal, had already taken place in the honest part of that body, between the parties styled republican and federal. The latter being monarchists in principle, adhered to Hamilton of course, as their leader in that principle, and this mercenary phalanx added to them, insured him always a majority in both Houses: so that the whole action of the legislature was now under the direction of the Treasury. Still the machine was not complete. The effect of the funding system, and of the Assumption, would be temporary; it would be lost with the loss of the individual members whom it had enriched, and some engine of influence more permanent must be contrived, while these myrmidons were yet in place to carry it through all opposition. This engine was the Bank of the United States. All that history is known, so I shall say nothing about it. While the government remained at Philadelphia, a selection of members of both Houses were constantly kept as directors, who, on every question interesting to that institution, or to the views of the federal head, voted at the will of that head; and, together with the stock-holding members, could always make the federal vote that of the majority. By this combination, legislative expositions were given to the constitution, and all the administrative laws were shaped on the model of England and so passed. And from this influence we were not relieved, until the removal from the precincts of the bank, to Washington. Here then was the real ground of the opposition which was made to the course of administration. Its object was to preserve the legislature pure and independent of the executive, to restrain, the administration to republican forms and principles, and not permit the constitution to be construed into a monarchy, and to be warped, in practice, into all the principles and pollutions of their favorite English model. Nor was this an opposition to General Washington. He was true to the republican charge confided to him; and has solemnly and repeatedly protested to me, in our conversations, that he would lose the last drop of his blood in support of it; and he did this the oftener and with the more earnestness, because he knew my suspicions of Hamilton's designs against it, and wished to quiet them. For he was not aware of the drift, or of the effect of Hamilton's schemes. Unversed in financial projects and calculations and budgets, his approbation of them was bottomed on his confidence in the man.
But Hamilton was not only a monarchist, but for a monarchy bottomed on corruption. In proof of this, I will relate an anecdote, for the truth of which I attest the God who made me. Before the President set out on his southern tour in April, 1791, he addressed a letter of the fourth of that month, from Mount Vernon, to the Secretaries of State, Treasury, and War, desiring that if any serious and important cases should arise during his absence, they would consult and act on them. And he requested that the Vice-President should also be consulted. This was the only occasion on which that officer was ever requested to take part in a cabinet question. Some occasion for consultation arising, I invited those gentlemen (and the Attorney General, as well as I remember,) to dine with me, in order to confer on the subject. After the cloth was removed, and our question agreed and dismissed, conversation began on other matters, and, by some circumstance, was led to the British constitution, on which Mr. Adams observed, 'Purge that constitution of its corruption, and give to its popular branch equality of representation, and it would be the most perfect constitution ever devised by the wit of man.' Hamilton paused and said, 'Purge it of its corruption, and give to its popular branch equality of representation, and it would become an impracticable government: as it stands at present, with all its supposed defects, it is the most perfect government which ever existed.' And this was assuredly the exact line which separated the political creeds of these two gentlemen. The one was for two hereditary branches and an honest elective one: the other, for an hereditary King, with a House of Lords and Commons corrupted to his will, and standing between him and the people. Hamilton was, indeed, a singular character. Of acute understanding, disinterested, honest, and honorable in all private transactions, amiable in society, and duly valuing virtue in private life, yet so bewitched and perverted by the British example, as to be under thorough conviction that corruption was essential to the government of a nation. Mr. Adams had originally been a republican. The glare of royalty and nobility, during his mission to England, had made him believe their fascination a necessary ingredient in government; and Shays's rebellion, not sufficiently understood where he then was, seemed to prove that the absence of want and oppression, was not a sufficient guarantee of order. His book on the American Constitutions having made known his political bias, he was taken up by the monarchical federalists in his absence, and, on his return to the United States, he was by them made to believe that the general disposition of our citizens was favorable to monarchy. He here wrote his Davila, as a supplement to the former work, and his election to the Presidency confirmed him in his errors. Innumerable addresses too, artfully and industriously poured in upon him, deceived him into a confidence that he was on the pinnacle of popularity, when the gulph was yawning at his feet, which was to swallow up him and his deceivers. For when General Washington was withdrawn, these energumeni of royalism, kept in check hitherto by the dread of his honesty, his firmness, his patriotism, and the authority of his name, now mounted on the car of State and free from control, like Phaeton on that of the sun, drove headlong and wild, looking neither to right nor left, nor regarding any thing but the objects they were driving at; until, displaying these fully, the eyes of the nation were opened, and a general disbandment of them from the public councils took place.
Mr. Adams, I am sure, has been long since convinced of the treacheries with which he was surrounded during his administration. He has since thoroughly seen, that his constituents were devoted to republican government, and whether his judgment is resettled on its ancient basis, or not, he is conformed as a good citizen to the will of the majority, and would now, I am persuaded, maintain its republican structure with the zeal and fidelity belonging to his character. For even an enemy has said, 'He is always an honest man, and often a great one.' But in the fervor of the fury and follies of those who made him their stalking-horse, no man who did not witness it can form an idea of their unbridled madness, and the terrorism with which they surrounded themselves. The horrors of the French revolution, then raging, aided them mainly, and using that as a raw-head and bloody-bones, they were enabled by their stratagems of X. Y. Z. in which ——— was a leading mountebank, their tales of tub-plots, ocean-massacres, bloody-buoys, and pulpit-lyings and slanderings, and maniacal ravings of their Gardiners, their Osgoods, and Parishes, to spread alarm into all but the firmest breasts. Their Attorney General had the impudence to say to a republican member, that deportation must be resorted to, of which, said he, 'you republicans have set the example'; thus daring to identify us with the murderous Jacobins of France. These transactions, now recollected but as dreams of the night, were then sad realities; and nothing rescued us from their liberticide effect, but the unyielding opposition of those firm spirits who sternly maintained their post in defiance of terror, until their fellow-citizens could be aroused to their own danger, and rally and rescue the standard of the constitution. This has been happily done. Federalism and monarchism have languished from that moment, until their treasonable combinations with the enemies of their country during the late war, their plots of dismembering the Union, and their Hartford Convention, have consigned them to the tomb of the dead: and I fondly hope, 'we may now truly say, We are all republicans, all federalists,' and that the motto of the standard to which our country will for ever rally, will be, 'Federal union, and republican government': and sure I am we may say, that we are indebted for the preservation of this point of ralliance, to that opposition of which so injurious an idea is so artfully insinuated and excited in this history.
Much of this relation is notorious to the world; and many intimate proofs of it will be found in these notes. From the moment where they end, of my retiring from the administration, the federalists * got unchecked hold of General Washington. His memory was already sensibly impaired by age, the firm tone of mind for which he had been remarkable, was beginning to relax, its energy was abated, a listlessness of labor, a desire for tranquillity had crept on him, and a willingness to let others act, and even think for him. Like the rest of mankind, he was disgusted with atrocities of the French revolution, and was not sufficiently aware of the difference between the rabble who were used as instruments of their perpetration, and the steady and rational character of the American people, in which he had not sufficient confidence. The opposition too of the republicans to the British treaty, and the zealous support of the federalists in that unpopular but favorite measure of theirs, had made him all their own. Understanding, moreover, that I disapproved of that treaty, and copiously nourished with falsehoods by a malignant neighbor of mine, who ambitioned to be his correspondent, he had become alienated from myself personally, as from the republican body generally of his fellow-citizens; and he wrote the letters to Mr. Adams and Mr. Carroll, over which, in devotion to his imperishable fame, we must for ever weep as monuments of mortal decay.
Th: Jefferson. February 4th, 1818.
* See conversation with General Washington, of October 1,1792,
August the 13th, 1791. Notes of a conversation between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Th: Jefferson mentioned to him a letter received from John Adams, disavowing Publicola, and denying that he ever entertained a wish to bring this country under an hereditary executive, or introduce an hereditary branch of legislature, &c. See his letter. Alexander Hamilton condemning Mr. Adams's writings, and most particularly Davila, as having a tendency to weaken the present government, declared in substance as follows: 'I own it is my own opinion, though I do not publish it in Dan or Beersheba, that the present government is not that which will answer the ends of society, by giving stability and protection to its rights, and that it will probably be found expedient to go into the British form. However, since we have undertaken the experiment, I am for giving it a fair course, whatever my expectations may be. The success, indeed, so far, is greater than I had expected, and therefore, at present, success seems more possible than it had done heretofore, and there are still other and other stages of improvement, which, if the present does not succeed, may be tried, and ought to be tried, before we give up the republican form altogether; for that mind must be really depraved, which would not prefer the equality of political rights, which is the foundation of pure republicanism, if it can be obtained consistently with order. Therefore, whoever by his writings disturbs the present order of things, is really blameable, however pure his intentions may be, and he was sure Mr. Adams's were pure.' This is the substance of a declaration made in much more lengthy terms, and which seemed to be more formal than usual for a private conversation between two, and as if intended to qualify some less guarded expressions which had been dropped on former occasions. Th: Jefferson has committed it to writing in the moment of A. Hamilton's leaving the room.
December the 25th, 1791. Colonel Gunn (of Georgia), dining the other day with Colonel Hamilton, said to him, with that plain freedom he is known to use, 'I wish, Sir, you would advise your friend King to observe some kind of consistency in his votes. There has been scarcely a question before the Senate on which he has not voted both ways. On the representation bill, for instance, he first voted for the proposition of the Representatives, and ultimately voted against it.' 'Why,' says Colonel Hamilton, 'I 'll tell you as to that, Colonel Gunn, that it never was intended that bill should pass.' Gunn told this to Butler, who told it to Th: Jefferson.
CONVERSATIONS WITH THE PRESIDENT.
February the 28th, 1792. I was to have been with him long enough before three o'clock (which was the hour and day he received visits) to have opened to him a proposition for doubling the velocity of the post-riders, who now travel about fifty miles a day, and might, without difficulty, go one hundred, and for taking measures (by way-bills) to know where the delay is, when there is any. I was delayed by business, so as to have scarcely time to give him the outlines. I run over them rapidly, and observed afterwards, that I had hitherto never spoken to him on the subject of the post-office, not knowing whether it was considered as a revenue law, or a law for the general accommodation of the citizens: that the law just passed seemed to have removed the doubt, by declaring that the whole profits of the office should be applied to extending the posts, and that even the past profits should be refunded by the Treasury for the same purpose: that I therefore conceived it was now in the department of the Secretary of State: that I thought it would be advantageous so to declare it for another reason, to wit, that the department of the Treasury possessed already such an influence as to swallow up the whole executive powers, and that even the future Presidents (not supported by the weight of character which himself possessed) would not be able to make head against this department. That in urging this measure I had certainly no personal interest, since, if I was supposed to have any appetite for power, yet, as my career would certainly be exactly as short as his own, the intervening time was too short to be an object. My real wish was to avail the public of every occasion, during the residue of the President's period, to place things on a safe footing. He was now called on to attend his company, and he desired me to come and breakfast with him the next morning.
February the 29th. I did so; and after breakfast we retired to his room, and I unfolded my plan for the post-office, and after such an approbation of it as he usually permitted himself on the first presentment of any idea, and desiring me to commit it to writing, he, during that pause of conversation which follows a business closed, said, in an affectionate tone, that he had felt much concern at an expression which dropped from me yesterday, and which marked my intention of retiring when he should. That as to himself, many motives obliged him to it. He had, through the whole course of the war, and most particularly at the close of it, uniformly declared his resolution to retire from public affairs, and never to act in any public office; that he had retired under that firm resolution: that the government however, which had been formed, being found evidently too inefficacious, and it being supposed that his aid was of some consequence towards bringing the people to consent to one of sufficient efficacy for their own good, he consented to come into the convention, and on the same motive, after much pressing, to take a part in the new government, and get it under way. That were he to continue longer, it might give room to say, that having tasted the sweets of office, he could not do without them: that he really felt himself growing old, his bodily health less firm, his memory, always bad, becoming worse, and perhaps the other faculties of his mind showing a decay to others of which he was insensible himself; that this apprehension particularly oppressed him: that he found, moreover, his activity lessened, business therefore more irksome, and tranquillity and retirement become an irresistible passion. That, however he felt himself obliged, for these reasons, to retire from the government, yet he should consider it as unfortunate, if that should bring on the retirement of the great officers of the government, and that this might produce a shock on the public mind of dangerous consequence.
I told him that no man had ever had less desire of entering into public offices than myself; that the circumstance of a perilous war, which brought every thing into danger, and called for all the services which every citizen could render, had induced me to undertake the administration of the government of Virginia; that I had both before and after refused repeated appointments of Congress to go abroad in that sort of office, which, if I had consulted my own gratification, would always have been the most agreeable to me; that at the end of two years, I resigned the government of Virginia, and retired with a firm resolution never more to appear in public life; that a domestic loss, however, happened, and made me fancy that absence and a change of scene for a time might be expedient for me; that I therefore accepted a foreign appointment, limited to two years; that at the close of that, Doctor Franklin having left France, I was appointed to supply his place, which I had accepted, and though I continued in it three or four years, it was under the constant idea of remaining only a year or two longer; that the revolution in France coming on, I had so interested myself in the event of that, that when obliged to bring my family home, I had still an idea of returning and awaiting the close of that, to fix the era of my final retirement; that on my arrival here I found he had appointed me to my present office; that he knew I had not come into it without some reluctance; that it was, on my part, a sacrifice of inclination to the opinion that I might be more serviceable here than in France, and with a firm resolution in my mind, to indulge my constant wish for retirement at no very distant day; that when, therefore, I had received his letter, written from Mount Vernon, on his way to Carolina and Georgia (April the 1st, 1791), and discovered, from an expression in that, that he meant to retire from the government ere long, and as to the precise epoch there could be no doubt, my mind was immediately made up, to make that the epoch of my own retirement from those labors of which I was heartily tired. That, however, I did not believe there was any idea in either of my brethren in the administration of retiring; that on the contrary, I had perceived at a late meeting of the trustees of the sinking fund, that the Secretary of the Treasury had developed the plan he intended to pursue, and that it embraced years in its view.
He said, that he considered the Treasury department as a much more limited one, going only to the single object of revenue, while that of the Secretary of State, embracing nearly all the objects of administration, was much more important, and the retirement of the officer therefore, would be more noticed: that though the government had set out with a pretty general good will of the public, yet that symptoms of dissatisfaction had lately shown themselves far beyond what he could have expected, and to what height these might arise, in case of too great a change in the administration, could not be foreseen.
I told him that in my opinion, there was only a single source of these discontents. Though they had indeed appeared to spread themselves over the War department also, yet I considered that as an overflowing only from their real channel, which would never have taken place, if they had not first been generated in another department, to wit, that of the Treasury. That a system had there been contrived, for deluging the States with paper-money instead of gold and silver, for withdrawing our citizens from the pursuits of commerce, manufactures, buildings, and other branches of useful industry, to occupy themselves and their capitals in a species of gambling, destructive of morality, and which had introduced its poison into the government itself. That it was a fact, as certainly known as that he and I were then conversing, that particular members of the legislature, while those laws were on the carpet, had feathered their nests with paper, had then voted for the laws, and constantly since lent all the energy of their talents, and instrumentality of their offices, to the establishment and enlargement of this system; that they had chained it about our necks for a great length of time, and in order to keep the game in their hands, had, from time to time, aided in making such legislative constructions of the constitution, as made it a very different thing from what the people thought they had submitted to; that they had now brought forward a proposition far beyond every one ever yet advanced, and to which the eyes of many were turned, as the decision which was to let us know, whether we live under a limited or an unlimited government. He asked me to what proposition I alluded; I answered, to that in the report on manufactures, which, under color of giving bounties for the encouragement of particular manufactures, meant to establish the doctrine, that the power given by the constitution to collect taxes to provide for the general welfare of the United States, permitted Congress to take every thing under their management which they should deem for the public welfare, and which is susceptible of the application of money; consequently, that the subsequent enumeration of their powers was not the description to which resort must be had, and did not at all constitute the limits of their authority: that this was a very different question from that of the bank, which was thought an incident to an enumerated power: that, therefore, this decision was expected with great anxiety; that, indeed, I hoped the proposition would be rejected, believing there was a majority in both Houses against it, and that if it should be, it would be considered as a proof that things were returning into their true channel: and that, at any rate, I looked forward to the broad representation which would shortly take place, for keeping the general constitution on its true ground; and that this would remove a great deal of the discontent which had shown itself. The conversation ended with this last topic. It is here stated nearly as much at length as it really was; the expressions preserved where I could recollect them, and their substance always faithfully stated.
March 1, 1792.
On the 2nd of January, 1792, Messrs. Fitzsimmons and Gerry (among others) dined with me. These two staid, with a Mr. Learned of Connecticut, after the company was gone. We got on the subject of references by the legislature to the Heads of departments, considering their mischief in every direction. Gerry and Fitzsimmons clearly opposed to them.
Two days afterwards (January the 4th), Mr. Bourne from Rhode Island presented a memorial from his State, complaining of inequality in the Assumption, and moved to refer it to the Secretary of the Treasury. Fitzsimmons, Gerry, and others opposed it; but it was carried.
January the 19th. Fitzsimmons moved, that the President of the United States be requested to direct the Secretary of the Treasury, to lay before the House information to enable the legislature to judge of the additional revenue necessary on the increase of the military establishment. The House, on debate, struck out the words, 'President of the United States.'
March the 7th. The subject resumed. An animated debate took place on the tendency of references to the Heads of departments; and it seemed that a great majority would be against it: the House adjourned. Treasury greatly alarmed, and much industry supposed to be used before next morning, when it was brought on again, and debated through the day, and on the question, the Treasury carried it by thirty-one to twenty-seven: but deeply wounded, since it was seen that all Pennsylvania, except Jacobs, voted against the reference; that Tucker of South Carolina voted for it, and Sumpter absented himself, debauched for the moment only, because of the connection of the question with a further assumption which South Carolina favored; but showing that they never were to be counted on among the Treasury votes.
Some others absented themselves. Gerry changed sides. On the whole, it showed that Treasury influence was tottering. Committed to writing this 10th of March, 1792.
March the 11th, 1792. Consulted verbally by the President, on whom a committee of the Senate (Izard, Morris, and King) are to wait to-morrow morning, to know whether he will think it proper to redeem our Algerine captives, and make a treaty with the Algerines, on the single vote of the Senate, without taking that of the Representatives.
My opinions run on the following heads.
We must go to Algiers with cash in our hands. Where shall we get it? By loan? By converting money now in the treasury?
Probably a loan might be obtained on the President's authority: but as this could not be repaid without a subsequent act of legislature, the Representatives might refuse it. So if money in the treasury be converted, they may refuse to sanction it.
The subsequent approbation of the Senate being necessary to validate a treaty, they expect to be consulted beforehand, if the case admits.
So the subsequent act of the Representatives being necessary where money is given, why should not they expect to be consulted in like manner, when the case admits? A treaty is a law of the land. But prudence will point out this difference to be attended to in making them; viz. where a treaty contains such articles only as will go into execution of themselves, or be carried into execution by the judges, they may be safely made; but where there are articles which require a law to be passed afterwards by the legislature, great caution is requisite.
For example; the consular convention with France required a very small legislative regulation. This convention was unanimously ratified by the Senate. Yet the same identical men threw by the law to enforce it at the last session, and the Representatives at this session have placed it among the laws which they may take up or not, at their own convenience, as if that was a higher motive than the public faith.
Therefore, against hazarding this transaction without the sanction of both Houses.
The President concurred. The Senate express the motive for this proposition, to be a fear that the Representatives would not keep the secret. He has no opinion of the secrecy of the Senate. In this very case, Mr. Izard made the communication to him, sitting next to him at table, on one hand, while a lady (Mrs. McLane) was on his other hand, and the French minister next to her; and as Mr. Izard got on with his communication, his voice kept rising, and his stutter bolting the words out loudly at intervals, so that the minister might hear if he would. He said he had a great mind at one time to have got up, in order to put a stop to Mr. Izard.
March the 11th, 1792. Mr. Sterret tells me that sitting round a fire the other day with four or five others, Mr. Smith (of South Carolina) was one. Somebody mentioned that the murderers of Hogeboom, sheriff of Columbia county, New York, were acquitted. 'Ay,' says Smith, 'this is what comes of your damned trial by jury.'
1791. Towards the latter end of November, Hamilton had drawn Ternant into a conversation on the subject of the treaty of commerce recommended by the National Assembly of France to be negotiated with us, and, as he had no ready instructions on the subject, he led him into a proposal that Ternant should take the thing up as a volunteer with me, that we should arrange conditions, and let them go for confirmation or refusal. Hamilton communicated this to the President, who came into it, and proposed it to me. I disapproved of it, observing, that such a volunteer project would be binding on us, and not them; that it would enable them to find out how far we would go, and avail themselves of it. However, the President thought it worth trying, and I acquiesced. I prepared a plan of treaty for exchanging the privileges of native subjects, and fixing all duties for ever as they now stood. Hamilton did not like this way of fixing the duties, because, he said, many articles here would bear to be raised, and therefore, he would prepare a tariff. He did so, raising duties for the French, from twenty-five to fifty per cent. So they were to give us the privileges of native subjects, and we, as a compensation, were to make them pay higher duties. Hamilton, having made his arrangements with Hammond to pretend that though he had no powers to conclude a treaty of commerce, yet his general commission authorized him to enter into the discussion of one, then proposed to the President at one of our meetings, that the business should be taken up with Hammond in the same informal way. I now discovered the trap which he had laid, by first getting the President into the step with Ternant. I opposed the thing warmly. Hamilton observed, if we did it with Ternant we should also with Hammond. The President thought this reasonable. I desired him to recollect, I had been against it with Ternant, and only acquiesced under his opinion. So the matter went off as to both. His scheme evidently was, to get us engaged first with Ternant, merely that he might have a pretext to engage us on the same ground with Hammond, taking care, at the same time, by an extravagant tariff, to render it impossible we should come to any conclusion with Ternant: probably meaning, at the same time, to propose terms so favorable to Great Britain, as would attach us to that country by treaty. On one of those occasions he asserted, that our commerce with Great Britain and her colonies was put on a much more favorable footing than with France and her colonies. I therefore prepared the tabular comparative view of the footing-of our commerce with those nations, which see among my papers. See also my project of a treaty and Hamilton's tariff. Committed to writing March the 11th, 1792.
It was observable, that whenever, at any of our consultations, any thing was proposed as to Great Britain, Hamilton had constantly ready something which Mr. Hammond had communicated to him, which suited the subject and proved the intimacy of their communications; insomuch, that I believe he communicated to Hammond all our views, and knew from him, in return, the views of the British court. Many evidences of this occurred; I will state some. I delivered to the President my report of instructions for Carmichael and Short, on the subject of navigation, boundary, and commerce, and desired him to submit it to Hamilton. Hamilton made several just criticisms on different parts of it. But where I asserted that the United States had no right to alienate an inch of the territory of any State, he attacked and denied the doctrine. See my report, his note, and my answer. A few days after came to hand Kirkland's letter, informing us that the British, at Niagara, expected to run a new line between themselves and us; and the reports of Pond and Stedman, informing us it was understood at Niagara, that Captain Stevenson had been sent here by Simcoe to settle that plan with Hammond. Hence Hamilton's attack of the principle I had laid down, in order to prepare the way for this new line. See minute of March the 9th. Another proof. At one of our consultations, about the last of December, I mentioned that I wished to give in my report on commerce, in which I could not avoid recommending a commercial retaliation against Great Britain. Hamilton opposed it violently: and among other arguments, observed, that it was of more importance to us to have the posts than to commence a commercial war; that this, and this alone, would free us from the expense of the Indian wars; that it would therefore be the height of imprudence in us, while treating for the surrender of the posts, to engage in any thing which would irritate them; that if we did so, they would naturally say, 'These people mean war; let us therefore hold what we have in our hands.' This argument, struck me forcibly, and I said, 'If there is a hope of obtaining the posts, I agree it would be imprudent to risk that hope by a commercial retaliation. I will, therefore, wait till Mr. Hammond gives me in his assignment of breaches, and if that gives a glimmering of hope that they mean to surrender the posts, I will not give in my report till the next session.' Now, Hammond had received my assignment of breaches on the 15th of December, and about the 22nd or 23rd had made me an apology for not having been able to send me his counter-assignment of breaches; but in terms which showed I might expect it in a few days. From the moment it escaped my lips in the presence of Hamilton, that I would not give in my report till I should see Hammond's counter-complaint, and judge if there was a hope of the posts, Hammond never said a word to me on any occasion, as to the time he should be ready. At length the President got out of patience, and insisted I should jog him. This I did on the 21st of February, at the President's assembly: he immediately promised I should have it in a few days, and accordingly, on the 5th of March I received it.
Written March the 11th, 1792.
March the 12th, 1792. Sent for by the President, and desired to bring the letter he had signed to the King of France. Went. He said the House of Representatives had, on Saturday, taken up the communication he had made of the King's letter to him, and come to a vote in their own name; that he did not expect this when he sent this message and the letter, otherwise he would have sent the message without the letter, as I had proposed. That he apprehended the legislature would be endeavoring to invade the executive. I told him, I had understood the House had resolved to request him to join their congratulations to his on the completion and acceptance of the constitution; on which part of the vote, there were only two dissentients (Barnwell and Benson); that the vote was thirty-five to sixteen on the part which expressed an approbation of the wisdom of the constitution; that in the letter he had signed, I had avoided saying a word in approbation of the constitution, not knowing whether the King, in his heart, approved it. 'Why, indeed,' says he,' I begin to doubt very much of the affairs of France; there are papers from London as late as the 10th of January, which represent them as going into confusion. He read over the letter he had signed, found there was not a word which could commit his judgment about the constitution, and gave it to me back again. This is one of many proofs I have had, of his want of confidence in the event of the French revolution. The fact is, that Gouverneur Morris, a highflying monarchy man, shutting his eyes and his faith to every fact against his wishes, and believing every thing he desires to be true, has kept the President's mind constantly poisoned with his forebodings. That the President wishes the revolution may be established, I believe from several indications. I remember, when I received the news of the King's flight and capture, I first told him of it at his assembly. I never saw him so much dejected by any event in my life. He expressed clearly, on this occasion, his disapprobation of the legislature referring things to the Heads of departments.
Written March the 12th.
Eodem die. Ten o'clock, A. M. The preceding was about nine o'clock. The President now sends Lear to me, to ask what answer he shall give to the committee, and particularly, whether he shall add to it, that, 'in making the communication, it was not his expectation that the House should give any answer.' I told Mr. Lear, that I thought the House had a right, independently of legislation, to express sentiments on other subjects. That when these subjects did not belong to any other branch particularly, they would publish them by their own authority; that in the present case, which respected a foreign nation, the President being the organ of our nation with other nations, the House would satisfy their duty, if, instead of a direct communication, they should pass their sentiments through the President: that if expressing a sentiment were really an invasion of the executive power, it was so faint a one, that it would be difficult to demonstrate it to the public, and to a public partial to the French revolution, and not disposed to considered the approbation of it from any quarter is improper. That the Senate, indeed, had given many indications of their wish to invade the executive power: the Representatives had done it in one case, which was indeed mischievous and alarming; that of giving orders to the Heads of the executive departments, without consulting the President; but that the late vote for directing the Secretary of the Treasury to report ways and means, though carried, was carried by so small a majority, and with the aid of members so notoriously under local influence on that question, as to give a hope that the practice would be arrested, and the constitutional course be taken up, of asking the President to have information laid before them. But that in the present instance, it was so far from being clearly an invasion of the executive, and would be so little approved by the general voice, that I could not advise the President to express any dissatisfaction at the vote of the House; and I gave Lear, in writing, what I thought should be his answers. See it.
March the 31st. A meeting at the President's; present, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Henry Knox, and Edmund Randolph. The subject was the resolution of the House of Representatives, of March the 27th, to appoint a committee to inquire into the causes of the failure of the late expedition under Major General St. Clair, with the power to call for such persons, papers, and records, as may be necessary to assist their inquiries. The committee had written to Knox for the original letters, instructions, &tc. The President had called us to consult, merely because it was the first example, and he wished that so far as it should become a precedent, it should be rightly conducted. He neither acknowledged nor denied, nor even doubted the propriety of what the House were doing, for he had not thought upon it, nor was acquainted with subjects of this kind: he could readily conceive there might be papers of so secret a nature, as that they ought not to be given up. We were not prepared, and wished time to think and inquire.
April the 2nd. Met again at the President's, on the same subject. We had all considered, and were of one mind, first, that the House was an inquest, and therefore might institute inquiries. Secondly, that it might call for papers generally. Thirdly, that the executive ought to communicate such papers as the public good would permit, and ought to refuse those, the disclosure of which would injure the public: consequently were to exercise a discretion. Fourthly, that neither the committee nor House had a right to call on the Head of a department, who and whose papers were under the President alone; but that the committee should instruct their chairman to move the House to address the President. We had principally consulted the proceedings of the Commons in the case of Sir Robert Walpole, 13 Chandler's Debates. For the first point, seepages 161, 170, 172,183, 187,207; for the second, pages 153, 173,207; for the third, 81, 173, Appendix, page 44; for the fourth, page 246. Note: Hamilton agreed with us in all these points, except as to the power of the House to call on Heads of departments. He observed, that as to his department, the act constituting it had made it subject to Congress, in some points, but he thought himself not so far subject, as to be obliged to produce all the papers they might call for. They might demand secrets of a very mischievous nature. [Here I thought he began to fear they would go to examining how far their own members and other persons in the government had been dabbling in stocks, banks, &c. and that he probably would choose in this case to deny their power; and, in short, he endeavored to place himself subject to the House, when the executive should propose what he did not like, and subject to the executive, when the House should propose any thing disagreeable.] I observed here a difference between the British parliament and our Congress; that the former was a legislature, an inquest, and a council (S. C. page 91.) for the King. The latter was, by the constitution, a legislature and an inquest, but not a council. Finally agreed, to speak separately to the members of the committee, and bring them by persuasion into the right channel. It was agreed in this case, that there was not a paper which might not be properly produced; that copies only should be sent, with an assurance, that if they should desire it, a clerk should attend with the originals to be verified by themselves. The committee were Fitzsimmons, Steele, Mercer, Clarke, Sedgwick, Giles, and Vining.
April the 9th, 1792. The President had wished to redeem our captives at Algiers, and to make a peace with them on paying an annual tribute. The Senate were willing to approve this, but unwilling to have the lower House applied to previously to furnish the money; they wished the President to take the money from the treasury, or open a loan for it. They thought that to consult the Representatives on one occasion, would give them a handle always to claim it, and would let them into a participation of the power of making treaties, which the constitution had given exclusively to the President and Senate. They said, too, that if the particular sum was noted by the Representatives, it would not be a secret. The President had no confidence in the secrecy of the Senate, and did not choose to take money from the treasury or to borrow. But he agreed he would enter into provisional treaties with the Algerines, not to be binding on us till ratified here. I prepared questions for consultation with the Senate, and added, that the Senate were to be apprized, that on the return of the provisional treaty, and after they should advise the ratification, he would not have the seal put to it till the two Houses should vote the money. He asked me, if the treaty stipulating a sum and ratified by him, with the advice of the Senate, would not be good under the constitution, and obligatory on the Representatives to furnish the money. I answered, it certainly would, and that it would be the duty of the Representatives to raise the money; but that they might decline to do what was their duty, and I thought it might be incautious to commit himself by a ratification with a foreign nation, where he might be left in the lurch in the execution: it was possible too, to conceive a treaty, which it would not be their duty to provide for. He said that he did not like throwing too much into democratic hands, that if they would not do what the constitution called on them to do, the government would be at an end, and must then assume another form. He stopped here; and I kept silence to see whether he would say any thing more in the same line, or add any qualifying expression to soften what he had said: but he did neither. I had observed, that wherever the agency of either, or both Houses would be requisite subsequent to a treaty, to carry it into effect, it would be prudent to consult them previously, if the occasion admitted. That thus it was, we were in the habit of consulting the Senate previously, when the occasion permitted, because their subsequent ratification would be necessary. That there was the same reason for consulting the lower House previously, where they were to be called on afterwards, and especially in the case of money, as they held the purse-strings, and would be jealous of them. However, he desired me to strike out the intimation that the seal would not be put till both Houses should have voted the money.
April the 6th. The President called on me before breakfast, and first introduced some other matter, then fell on the representation bill, which he had now in his possession for the tenth day. I had before given him my opinion in writing, that the method of apportionment was contrary to the constitution. He agreed that it was contrary to the common understanding of that instrument, and to what was understood at the time by the makers of it: that, yet it would bear the construction which the bill put, and he observed that the vote for and against the bill was perfectly geographical, a northern against a southern vote, and he feared he should be thought to be taking side with a southern party. I admitted the motive of delicacy, but that it should not induce him to do wrong: urged the dangers to which the scramble for the fractionary members would always lead. He here expressed his fear that there would, ere long, be a separation of the Union; that the public mind seemed dissatisfied and tending to this. He went home, sent for Randolph, the Attorney General, desired him to get Mr. Madison immediately and come to me, and if we three concurred in opinion that he should negative the bill, he desired to hear nothing more about it, but that we would draw the instrument for him to sign. They came. Our minds had been before made up.
We drew the instrument. Randolph carried it to him, and told him we all concurred in it. He walked with him to the door, and as if he still wished to get off, he said, 'And you say you approve of this yourself.' 'Yes, Sir,' says Randolph, 'I do upon my honor.' He sent it to the House of Representatives instantly. A few of the hottest friends of the bill expressed passion, but the majority were satisfied, and both in and out of doors it gave pleasure to have, at length, an instance of the negative being exercised.
Written this the 9th of April.
July the 10th, 1792. My letter of —— to the President, directed to him at Mount Vernon, had not found him there, but came to him here. He told me of this, and that he would take an occasion of speaking with me on the subject. He did so this day. He began by observing that he had put it off from day to day, because the subject was painful; to wit, his remaining in office, which that letter solicited. He said that the declaration he had made when he quitted his military command, of never again entering into public life, was sincere. That, however, when he was called on to come forward to set the present government in motion, it appeared to him that circumstances were so changed as to justify a change in his resolution: he was made to believe that in two years all would be well in motion, and he might retire. At the end of two years he found some things still to be done. At the end of the third year, he thought it was not worth while to disturb the course of things, as in one year more his office would expire, and he was decided then to retire. Now he was told there would still be danger in it. Certainly, if he thought so, he would conquer his longing for retirement. But he feared it would be said his former professions of retirement had been mere affectation, and that he was like other men, when once in office he could not quit it. He was sensible, too, of a decay of his hearing, perhaps his other faculties might fall off and he not be sensible of it. That with respect to the existing causes of uneasiness, he thought there we're suspicions against a particular party, which had been carried a great deal too far: there might be desires, but he did not believe there were designs to change the form of government into a monarchy: that there might be a few who wished it in the higher walks of life, particularly in the great cities; but that the main body of the people in the eastern States were as steadily for republicanism as in the southern. That the pieces lately published, and particularly in Freneau's paper, seemed to have in view the exciting opposition to the government. That this had taken place in Pennsylvania as to the excise-law, according to information he had received from General Hand. That they tended to produce a separation of the Union, the most dreadful of all calamities, and that whatever tended to produce anarchy, tended, of course, to produce a resort to monarchical government. He considered those papers as attacking him directly, for he must be a fool indeed to swallow the little sugar-plumbs here and there thrown out to him. That in condemning the administration of the government, they condemned him, for if they thought there were measures pursued contrary to his sentiments, they must conceive him too careless to attend to them, or too stupid to understand them. That though, indeed, he had signed many acts which he did not approve in all their parts, yet he had never put his name to one which he did not think, on the whole, was eligible. That as to the bank, which had been an act of so much complaint, until there was some infallible criterion of reason, a difference of opinion must be tolerated. He did not believe the discontents extended far from the seat of government. He had seen and spoken with many people in Maryland and Virginia in his late journey. He found the people contented and happy. He wished, however, to be better informed on this head. If the discontents were more extensive than he supposed, it might be, that the desire that he should remain in the government was not general.
My observations to him tended principally to enforce the topics of my letter. I will not, therefore, repeat them, except where they produced observations from him. I said, that the two great complaints were, that the national debt was unnecessarily increased, and that it had furnished the means of corrupting both branches of the legislature; that he must know, and every body knew, there was a considerable squadron in both, whose votes were devoted to the paper and stock-jobbing interest, that the names of a weighty number were known, and several others suspected on good grounds. That on examining the votes of these men, they would be found uniformly for every Treasury measure, and that as most of these measures had been carried by small majorities, they were carried by these very votes. That, therefore, it was a cause of just uneasiness, when we saw a legislature legislating for their own interests, in opposition to those of the people. He said not a word on the corruption of the legislature, but took up the other point, defended the Assumption, and argued that it had not increased the debt, for that all of it was honest debt. He justified the excise-law, as one of the best laws which could be passed, as nobody would pay the tax who did not choose to do it. With respect to the increase of the debt by the Assumption, I observed to him, that what was meant and objected to was, that it increased the debt of the General Government, and carried it beyond the possibility of payment. That if the balances had been settled, and the debtor States directed to pay their deficiencies to the creditor States, they would have done it easily, and by resources of taxation in their power, and acceptable to the people; by a direct tax in the south, and an excise in the north. Still, he said, it would be paid by the people. Finding him decided, I avoided entering into argument with him on those points.
Bladensburg, October the 1st, 1792. This morning, at Mount Vernon, I had the following conversation with the President. He opened it by expressing his regret at the resolution in which I appeared so fixed, in the letter I had written him, of retiring from public affairs. He said, that he should be extremely sorry that I should do it, as long as he was in office, and that he could not see where he should find another character to fill my office. That as yet, he was quite undecided whether to retire in March or not. His inclinations led him strongly to do it. Nobody disliked more the ceremonies of his office, and he had not the least taste or gratification in the execution of its functions. That he was happy at home alone, and that his presence there was now peculiarly called for by the situation of Major Washington, whom he thought irrecoverable, and should he get well, he would remove into another part of the country, which might better agree with him. That he did not believe his presence necessary; that there were other characters who would do the business as well or better. Still, however, if his aid was thought necessary to save the cause to which he had devoted his life principally, he would make the sacrifice of a longer continuance. That he therefore reserved himself for future decision, as his declaration would be in time if made a month before the day of election. He had desired Mr. Lear to find out from conversation, without appearing to make the inquiry, whether any other person would be desired by any body. He had informed him, he judged from conversations that it was the universal desire he should continue, and he believed that those who expressed a doubt of his continuance, did it in the language of apprehension, and not of desire. But this, says he, is only from the north; it may be very different in the south. I thought this meant as an opening to me to say what was the sentiment in the south, from which quarter I came. I told him, that as far as I knew, there was but one voice there, which was for his continuance. That as to myself, I had ever preferred the pursuits of private life to those of public, which had nothing in them agreeable to me. I explained to him the circumstances of the war which had first called me into public life, and those following the war, which had called me from a retirement on which I had determined. That I had constantly kept my eye on my own home, and could no longer refrain from returning to it. As to himself, his presence was important; that he was the only man in the United States who possessed the confidence of the whole; that government was founded in opinion and confidence, and that the longer he remained, the stronger would become the habits of the people in submitting to the government, and in thinking it a thing to be maintained; that there was no other person, who would be thought any thing more than the head of a party. He then expressed his concern at the difference which he found to subsist between the Secretary of the Treasury and myself, of which he said he had not been aware. He knew, indeed, that there was a marked difference in our political sentiments, but he had never suspected it had gone so far in producing a personal difference, and he wished he could be the mediator to put an end to it. That he thought it important to preserve the check of my opinions in the administration, in order to keep things in their proper channel, and prevent them from going too far. That as to the idea of transforming this government into a monarchy, he did not believe there were ten men in the United States whose opinions were worth attention, who entertained such a thought. I told him there were many more than he imagined. I recalled to his memory a dispute at his own table, a little before we left Philadelphia, between General Schuyler on one side and Pinckney and myself on the other, wherein the former maintained the position, that hereditary descent was as likely to produce good magistrates as election. I told him, that though the people were sound, there were a numerous sect who had monarchy in contemplation; that the Secretary of the Treasury was one of these. That I had heard him say that this constitution was a shilly-shally thing, of mere milk and water, which could not last, and was only good as a step to something better. That when we reflected, that he had endeavored in the convention, to make an English constitution of it, and when failing in that, we saw all his measures tending to bring it to the same thing, it was natural for us to be jealous; and particularly, when we saw that these measures had established corruption in the legislature, where there was a squadron devoted to the nod of the Treasury, doing whatever he had directed, and ready to do what he should direct. That if the equilibrium of the three great bodies, legislative, executive, and judiciary, could be preserved, if the legislature could be kept independent, I should never fear the result of such a government; but that I could not but be uneasy, when I saw that the executive had swallowed up the legislative branch. He said, that as to that interested spirit in the legislature, it was what could not be avoided in any government, unless we were to exclude particular descriptions of men, such as the holders of the funds, from all office. I told him, there was great difference between the little accidental schemes of self-interest, which would take place in every body of men, and influence their votes, and a regular system for forming a corps of interested persons, who should be steadily at the orders of the Treasury. He touched on the merits of the funding system, observed there was a difference of opinion about it, some thinking it very bad, others very good; that experience was the only criterion of right which he knew, and this alone would decide which opinion was right. That for himself, he had seen our affairs desperate and our credit lost, and that this was in a sudden and extraordinary degree raised to the highest pitch. I told him, all that was ever necessary to establish our credit, was an efficient government and an honest one, declaring it would sacredly pay our debts, laying taxes for this purpose, and applying them to it. I avoided going further into the subject. He finished by another exhortation to me not to decide too positively on retirement, and here we were called to breakfast.