This animated debate was succeeded by another, on a question which also brought into full view, the systems that were embraced by the opposite parties, on some of those great national subjects which give a character to an administration.
On the second of January, a resolution was agreed to in the house of representatives declaring "that a naval force adequate to the protection of the commerce of the United States against the Algerine corsairs, ought to be provided." The force proposed was to consist of six frigates; four of forty-four, and two of thirty-six guns.
This measure was founded on the communications of the President, representing the improbability of being able to negotiate a peace with the dey of Algiers; and on undoubted information that the corsairs of that regency had, during their first short cruise in the Atlantic, captured eleven American merchantmen, and made upwards of one hundred prisoners; and were preparing to renew their attack on the unprotected vessels of the United States.
In every stage of its progress this bill was most strenuously opposed.
[Sidenote: Debates on the subject of a navy.]
The measure was viewed simply as a present protection to commerce, and then as the commencement of a permanent naval establishment. In both characters it was reprobated with extreme severity.
As a measure of protection, it was declared to be altogether incompetent to the attainment of its object, because the force contemplated was insufficient, and because it could not be brought into immediate use. The measure, therefore, would be totally inefficacious.
But the object might be effected by other means, more eligible, and less expensive. By proper management, and a due attention to time and circumstances, a peace might be procured with money.
Nations possessing a naval force greatly superior to the proposed armament, had found it to their advantage to purchase the friendship of the Algerines. That mode of procuring peace was recommended both by its efficacy, and its economy. Unless the object was obtained, the money would not be expended.
Another mode of giving security to their commerce, preferable to the plan in the bill, was to purchase the protection of foreign powers. This might be acquired at a less expense than would be incurred in fitting out the proposed armament, and its utility would be immediate.
But the measure was also to be considered as the commencement of a permanent navy. The question which this view of it presented, was one of the most important that could engage the consideration of the house. The adoption of the principle would involve a complete dereliction of the policy of discharging the public debt. History afforded no instance of a nation which continued to increase its navy, and at the same time to decrease its debt.
To the expensiveness of the navy system were ascribed the oppression under which the people of England groaned, the overthrow of the French monarchy, and the dangers which threatened that of Great Britain. The expensiveness of the government was the true ground of the oppression of the people. The king, the nobility, the priesthood, the army, and above all, the navy. All this machinery lessens the number of productive, and increases the number of unproductive hands in the nation.
The United States had already advanced full far enough in this system. In addition to the civil list, they had funded a debt on the principles of duration, had raised an army at an immense expense, and now a proposition was made for a navy.
The system of governing by debts, was the most refined system of tyranny. It seemed to be a contrivance devised by politicians to succeed the old system of feudal tenures. Both were tyrannical, but the objects of their tyranny were different. The one operated on the person, the other operates on the pockets of the individual. The feudal lord was satisfied with the acknowledgment of the tenant that he was a slave, and the rendition of a pepper corn as an evidence of it; the product of his labour was left for his own support. The system of debts affords no such indulgence. Its true policy is to devise objects of expense, and to draw the greatest possible sum from the people in the least visible mode. No device can facilitate the system of debts and expense so much as a navy; and they should hold the liberty of the American people at a lower rate, should this policy be adopted.
Another great objection to the establishment of a navy was, that until the United States should be able to contend with the great maritime powers on the ocean, it would be a hostage, to its full value, for their good behaviour. It would increase rather than lessen their dependence.
In reply, it was said that if it had been the intention of the house to incur a vast expense in the establishment of a navy for vain parade, there might be force in some of the objections which had been made. But this was not the case. It was a measure, not of choice, but of necessity. It was extorted by the pressure of unavoidable events.
It being universally admitted that their commerce required protection against the Algerine corsairs, the question was, simply, whether the plan proposed in the bill was the best mode of affording that protection.
To decide this question, it would be proper to consider the substitutes which had been offered; and then to review the objections which had been made to the measure.
The substitutes were, first, to purchase a peace; and secondly, to subsidize other nations to protect commerce.
On the first substitute, it was said that the late communications must satisfy every person who had attended to them, that all hope of purchasing a peace must be abandoned, unless there was a manifestation of some force which might give effect to negotiation. So long as the vessels of the United States remained an easy and tempting prey to the cupidity of those corsairs, it would be vain to expect that they would sell a peace for the price the government would be willing to give, or that a peace would be of any duration. If the executive had experienced such difficulties while the Algerine cruisers had captured only one or two vessels, and were confined to the Mediterranean by a Portuguese squadron, how much less prospect was there of success after they had captured a considerable number of ships, were likely to capture many more, and were at liberty to cruise on the Atlantic to the very coasts of the United States? Even that little prospect of success would be diminished, when the dey of Algiers should understand that the United States would take no measures to protect their trade, and were afraid of the expense of a small armament.
It was to be understood that they did not rely solely on the operations of the armament. They still looked forward to negotiation, and were willing to provide the means for purchasing a peace. But the former measure was necessary to give success to the latter, and the armament might be employed to advantage should negotiation fail.
The other substitute was to subsidize foreign powers. The national dishonour of depending upon others for that protection which the United States were able to afford themselves, was strongly urged. But there were additional objections to this project. Either the nations in contemplation were at peace or at war with the regency of Algiers. If the former, it was not to be expected that they would relinquish that peace for any indemnification the United States could make them. If the latter, they had sufficient inducements to check the depredations of their enemies without subsidies. Such a protection would be hazardous, as it would be, at any time, in the power of the nation that should be employed, to conclude a truce with Algiers, and leave the trade of the United States at the mercy of her corsairs. While the expense of protection was perpetually to be incurred, it would never furnish the strength which that expense ought to give.
With a navy of her own, America might co-operate to advantage with any power at war with Algiers, but it would be risking too much to depend altogether on any foreign nation.
To the argument that the force was incompetent to the object, it was answered, that, from the documents before them, and from the diligent inquiries of a large committee, the number and strength of the Algerine corsairs had been ascertained, and the armament contemplated in the bill was believed to be sufficient. If gentlemen thought differently, it was surprising that they did not move to augment it.
The expense of the frigates had been strongly urged. But the saving in insurance, in ships and cargoes, and in the ransom of seamen, was more than equivalent to this item. "But are not the slavery of our fellow citizens, and the national disgrace resulting from it, to be taken into the account? these are considerations beyond all calculation. Who can, after reading the affecting narratives of the unfortunate, sit down contented with cold calculations and syllogisms? their narratives ought to excite every possible exertion, not only to procure the release of the captured, but to prevent the increase of the number of these unhappy victims."
That a bill providing six frigates, to exist during the war with the Algerines, should excite apprehensions of a large permanent navy, and of an immense debt, was truly astonishing. But even if the bill had not contained a clause enabling the President to discontinue the armament provided peace should be concluded with the regency of Algiers, the weight of the objection was denied. America was peculiarly fitted for a navy; she abounded in all kinds of naval resources, and had within herself, those means which other nations were obliged to obtain from abroad. Her situation, and the dispositions of a considerable proportion of her citizens, evinced still more the propriety of a naval establishment. Perhaps the country was not yet mature for such an establishment to any great extent. But the period was not far distant when it would be. The United States had an increasing population, much individual wealth, and considerable national resources. It was not believed that the expense of equipping a small naval armament for the protection of their commerce, would be insupportable.
It was, however, matter of surprise, that gentlemen who had deemed the improvement of American navigation, as a source of defence, an object of so much importance as to be anxious to wage an immediate commercial war with Great Britain for that purpose, should avow such a fixed determination against resorting to that resource in any degree whatever, under circumstances the most urgent.
The original resolution was carried only by a majority of two voices; but as the bill advanced, several members who were accustomed to vote in the opposition gave it their support; and, on the final question, a majority of eleven appeared in its favour. The other branch of the legislature concurred, and it received the cordial assent of the President.
Pending these discussions, the irritations in which they commenced were greatly aggravated by accounts, that captures of American vessels by British cruisers were made to an extent altogether unprecedented; and early in March, an authentic paper was received which proved that those captures were not unauthorized.
On the sixth of November, 1793, additional instructions had been issued to the ships of war and privateers of Great Britain, requiring them to stop and detain all ships, laden with goods the produce of any colony belonging to France, or carrying provisions or other supplies to any such colony, and to bring the same, with their cargoes, to legal adjudication, in the British courts of admiralty.
These instructions made a serious impression on the most reflecting and moderate men in the United States. It was believed that they originated in a spirit of hostility which must lead to war; and that it had now become the part of prudence to prepare for that event.
On the 12th of March, Mr. Sedgewick moved several resolutions, the objects of which were to raise a military force, and to authorize the President to lay an embargo. The armament was to consist of fifteen thousand men, who should be brought into actual service in case of war with any European power, but not until war should break out. In the mean time, they were to receive pay while assembled for the purpose of discipline, which was not to exceed twenty-four days in each year.
After stating the motives which led to the introduction of these resolutions, they were laid on the table for the consideration of the members. Two days afterwards, a motion was made to take up that which related to an embargo; but this motion was negatived for the purpose of resuming the consideration of the commercial regulations which had been offered by Mr. Madison. On the motion of Mr. Nicholas, those resolutions were amended so as to subject the manufactures of Great Britain alone, instead of those of all nations having no commercial treaties with the United States, to the proposed augmentation of duties. They were again debated with great earnestness, but no decision on them was made.
In addition to the objections urged against them as forming a commercial system in time of peace, they were said to be particularly inapplicable to the present moment. If, as was believed, the United States were about to be forced into a war, the public counsels ought to be directed to measures of defence. In that event, the resolutions would, at best, be useless. But the greater the danger of war, the more incumbent was it on the government to unite public opinion in support of it; and this would best be effected by observing a line of conduct which would furnish no just cause of hostility. The commercial discriminations proposed were of a hostile and irritating nature, might render war certain, would be considered by many as unnecessary, and might impair that unanimity in which the great strength of the country consisted. It was submitted to the gentlemen to decide whether it was wise to press their system through, with so small a majority as was in its favour.
The resolutions were defended on the principle, that though not in themselves contributing to the national defence, they would not prevent the adoption of such other measures as the state of things might render necessary. If war should take place, they could do no harm. But war must at some time be succeeded by peace: and they would form a valuable basis for negotiation.
[Footnote 15: In the course of this debate the resolutions were still considered as calculated to promote the interests, not of the United States, but of France. Mr. Ames said they had French stamped upon the very face of them. This expression produced a warm retort from Colonel Parker. He wished there was a stamp on the forehead of every person to designate whether he was for France or Britain. For himself he would not be silent and hear that nation abused to whom America was indebted for her rank as a nation. He was firmly persuaded that but for the aid of France in the last war, those gentlemen now on the floor who prided themselves in abusing her, would not have had an opportunity in that place of doing it. This sentiment produced a clap in the galleries. This indecorum was severely reprobated, and a motion was made to clear the galleries. Although the debate shows that the degree of sensibility excited by this disorder was extremely different in the different parties, it was justified by none, and the galleries were cleared.]
[Sidenote: An embargo law.]
On the 21st of March, Mr. Sedgewick's motion authorizing the President to lay an embargo was negatived by a majority of two voices; but in a few days, the consideration of that subject was resumed, and a resolution passed, prohibiting all trade from the United States to any foreign port or place for the space of thirty days, and empowering the President to carry the resolution into effect.
This resolution was accompanied with vigorous provisional measures for defence, respecting the adoption of which, no considerable division of sentiment was avowed.
While the measures of congress indicated that expectation of war, a public document made its appearance which seemed to demonstrate that Great Britain also was preparing for that event. This was the answer of Lord Dorchester, on the 10th of February, to a speech delivered by the deputies of a great number of Indian tribes assembled at Quebec. In this answer, his lordship had openly avowed the opinion, founded, as he said, on the conduct of the American people, that a war between Great Britain and the United States, during the present year, was probable, and that a new line between the two nations must then be drawn by the sword.
This document was not authentic; but it obtained general belief, and contributed to confirm the opinion that war was scarcely to be avoided.
On the 27th of March, Mr. Dayton moved a resolution for sequestering all debts due to British subjects, and for taking means to secure their payment into the treasury, as a fund out of which to indemnify the citizens of the United States for depredations committed on their commerce by British cruisers, in violation of the laws of nations.
The debate on this resolution was such as was to be expected from the irritable state of the public mind. The invectives against the British nation were uttered with peculiar vehemence, and were mingled with allusions to the exertions of the government for the preservation of neutrality, censuring strongly the system which had been pursued.
Before any question was taken on the proposition for sequestering British debts, and without a decision on those proposed by Mr. Madison, Mr. Clarke moved a resolution, which in some degree suspended the commercial regulations that had been so earnestly debated. This was to prohibit all intercourse with Great Britain until her government should make full compensation for all injuries done to the citizens of the United States by armed vessels, or by any person or persons acting under the authority of the British king; and until the western posts should be delivered up.
[Footnote 16: A few days before the motions of Mr. Dayton and Mr. Clarke, a report was made by the secretary of state relative to the vexations of American commerce committed by the officers and cruisers of the belligerent powers. It was made from materials collected in an inquiry which had been instituted by the President before the meeting of congress. In this report, after detailing the numerous complaints which were made against Great Britain, the secretary proceeded to notice those which were brought against other nations. Against France, he said, it was urged that her privateers harassed the American trade no less than those of the British. That their courts of admiralty were guilty of equal oppression. That they had violated the treaty between the two nations. That a very detrimental embargo had detained a number of American vessels in her ports, and that the government had discharged a specie contract with assignats. The effect of this report seems to have been to excite a suspicion that the secretary of state was not sufficiently attached to liberty and to France.]
On the fourth of April, before any decision was made on the several propositions which have been stated, the President laid before congress a letter just received from Mr. Pinckney, the minister of the United States at London, communicating additional instructions to the commanders of British armed ships, which were dated the eighth of January. These instructions revoked those of the sixth of November; and, instead of bringing in for adjudication all neutral vessels trading with the French islands, British cruisers were directed to bring in those only which were laden with cargoes the produce of the French islands, and were on a direct voyage from those islands to Europe.
The letter detailed a conversation with Lord Grenville on this subject, in which his lordship explained the motives which had originally occasioned the order of the sixth of November, and gave to it a less extensive signification than it had received in the courts of vice admiralty.
It was intended, he said, to be temporary, and was calculated to answer two purposes. One was, to prevent the abuses which might take place in consequence of the whole of the St. Domingo fleet having gone to the United States; the other was, on account of the attack designed upon the French West India islands by the armament under Sir John Jarvis and Sir Charles Grey; but it was now no longer necessary to continue the regulations for those purposes. His lordship added, that the order of the sixth of November did not direct the confiscation of all vessels trading with the French islands, but only that they should be brought in for legal adjudication; and he conceived that no vessel would be condemned under it, which would not have been previously liable to the same sentence.
The influence of this communication on the party in the legislature which was denominated federal, was very considerable. Believing that the existing differences between the two nations still admitted of explanation and adjustment, they strenuously opposed all measures which were irritating in their tendency, or which might be construed into a dereliction of the neutral character they were desirous of maintaining; but they gave all their weight to those which, by putting the nation in a posture of defence, prepared it for war, should negotiation fail.
On the opposite party, no change of sentiment or of views appears to have been produced. Their system seems to have been matured, and not to have originated in the feelings of the moment. They adhered to it therefore with inflexible perseverance; but seemed not anxious to press an immediate determination of the propositions which had been made. These propositions were discussed with great animation; but, notwithstanding an ascertained majority in their favour, were permitted to remain undecided, as if their fate depended on some extrinsic circumstance.
Meanwhile, great exertions were made to increase the public agitation, and to stimulate the resentments which were felt against Great Britain. The artillery of the press was played with unceasing fury on the minority of the house of representatives; and the democratic societies brought their whole force into operation. Language will scarcely afford terms of greater outrage than were employed against those who sought to stem the torrent of public opinion, and to moderate the rage of the moment. They were denounced as a British faction, seeking to impose chains on their countrymen. Even the majority was declared to be but half roused; and to show little of that energy and decision which the crisis required.
Unequivocal evidence, it was said, had been obtained of the liberticide intentions of Great Britain; and only the successes of freedom against tyranny, the triumphs of their magnanimous French brethren over slaves, had been the means of once more guaranteeing the independence of this country. The glorious example of France ought to animate the American people to every exertion to raise their prostrate character; and every tie of gratitude and interest should lead them to cement their connexion with that great republic. The proclamation of neutrality, though admitted to have originated in the best motives on the part of the President, was declared to be not only questionable in a constitutional point of view, but eventually to have proved impolitic. Being falsely construed by Great Britain into a manifestation of a pusillanimous disposition, it served to explain the aggressions of that nation. Experience now urged the abandonment of a line of conduct, which had fed the pride and provoked the insults of their unprincipled and implacable enemy; and was derogatory to the honour, inconsistent with the interest, and hostile to the liberties of their country.
Their tameness under British aggressions was declared to furnish just cause of offence to France; since every infringement of right submitted to by a neutral, inflicted a correspondent injury on the nation at war with the offending power.
The proceedings of the legislature continued to manifest a fixed purpose to pursue the system which had been commenced; and the public sentiment seemed to accord with that system. That the nation was advancing rapidly to a state of war, was firmly believed by many intelligent men, who doubted the necessity, and denied the policy of abandoning the neutral position which had been thus long maintained. In addition to the extensive calamities which must, in any state of things, result to the United States from a rupture with a nation which was the mistress of the ocean, and which furnished the best market for the sale of their produce, and the purchase of manufactures of indispensable necessity, there were considerations belonging exclusively to the moment, which, though operating only in a narrow circle, were certainly entitled to great respect.
That war with Britain, during the continuance of the passionate and almost idolatrous devotion of a great majority of the people to the French republic, would throw America so completely into the arms of France as to leave her no longer mistress of her own conduct, was not the only fear which the temper of the day suggested. That the spirit which triumphed in that nation, and deluged it with the blood of its revolutionary champions, might cross the Atlantic, and desolate the hitherto safe and peaceful dwellings of the American people, was an apprehension not so entirely unsupported by appearances, as to be pronounced chimerical. With a blind infatuation, which treated reason as a criminal, immense numbers applauded a furious despotism, trampling on every right, and sporting with life, as the essence of liberty; and the few who conceived freedom to be a plant which did not flourish the better for being nourished with human blood, and who ventured to disapprove the ravages of the guillotine, were execrated as the tools of the coalesced despots, and as persons who, to weaken the affection of America for France, became the calumniators of that republic. Already had an imitative spirit, captivated with the splendour, but copying the errors of a great nation, reared up in every part of the continent self created corresponding societies, who, claiming to be the people, assumed a control over the government, and were loosening its bands. Already were the mountain, and a revolutionary tribunal, favourite toasts; and already were principles familiarly proclaimed which, in France, had been the precursors of that tremendous and savage despotism, which, in the name of the people, and by the instrumentality of affiliated societies, had spread its terrific sway over that fine country, and had threatened to extirpate all that was wise and virtuous. That a great majority of those statesmen who conducted the opposition would deprecate such a result, furnished no security against it. When the physical force of a nation usurps the place of its wisdom, those who have produced such a state of things no longer control it.
[Footnote 17: A well known term designating the most violent party in France.]
These apprehensions, whether well or ill founded, produced in those who felt them, an increased solicitude for the preservation of peace. Their aid was not requisite to confirm the judgment of the President on this interesting subject. Fixed in his purpose of maintaining the neutrality of the United States, until the aggressions of a foreign power should clearly render neutrality incompatible with honour; and conceiving, from the last advices received from England, that the differences between the two nations had not yet attained that point, he determined to make one decisive effort, which should either remove the ostensible causes of quarrel, or demonstrate the indisposition of Great Britain to remove them. This determination was executed by the nomination of an envoy extraordinary to his Britannic majesty, which was announced to the senate on the 16th of April in the following terms:
"The communications which I have made to you during your present session, from the despatches of our minister in London, contain a serious aspect of our affairs with Great Britain. But as peace ought to be pursued with unremitted zeal, before the last resource which has so often been the scourge of nations, and can not fail to check the advanced prosperity of the United States, is contemplated, I have thought proper to nominate, and do hereby nominate John Jay, as envoy extraordinary of the United States, to his Britannic majesty.
[Sidenote: Mr. Jay appointed envoy extraordinary to Great Britain.]
"My confidence in our minister plenipotentiary in London continues undiminished. But a mission like this, while it corresponds with the solemnity of the occasion, will announce to the world a solicitude for the friendly adjustment of our complaints, and a reluctance to hostility. Going immediately from the United States, such an envoy will carry with him a full knowledge of the existing temper and sensibility of our country; and will thus be taught to vindicate our rights with firmness, and to cultivate peace with sincerity."
To those who believed the interests of the nation to require a rupture with England, and a still closer connexion with France, nothing could be more unlooked for, or more unwelcome, than this decisive measure. That it would influence the proceedings of congress could not be doubted; and it would materially affect the public mind was probable. Evincing the opinion of the executive that negotiation, not legislative hostility, was still the proper medium for accommodating differences with Great Britain, it threw on the legislature a great responsibility, if they should persist in a system calculated to defeat that negotiation. By showing to the people that their President did not yet believe war to be necessary, it turned the attention of many to peace; and, by suggesting the probability, rekindled the almost extinguished desire, of preserving that blessing.
Scarcely has any public act of the President drawn upon his administration a greater degree of censure than this. That such would be its effect, could not be doubted by a person who had observed the ardour with which opinions that it thwarted were embraced, or the extremity to which the passions and contests of the moment had carried all orders of men. But it is the province of real patriotism to consult the utility, more than the popularity of a measure; and to pursue the path of duty, although it may be rugged.
In the senate, the nomination was approved by a majority of ten voices; and, in the house of representatives, it was urged as an argument against persevering in the system which had been commenced. On the 18th of April, a motion for taking up the report of the committee of the whole house on the resolution for cutting off all commercial intercourse with Great Britain, was opposed, chiefly on the ground that, as an envoy had been nominated to the court of that country, no obstacle ought to be thrown in his way. The adoption of the resolution would be a bar to negotiation, because it used the language of menace, and manifested a partiality to one of the belligerents which was incompatible with neutrality. It was also an objection to the resolution that it prescribed the terms on which alone a treaty should be made, and was consequently an infringement of the right of the executive to negotiate, and an indelicacy to that department.
In support of the motion, it was said, that the measure was strictly within the duty of the legislature, they having solely the right to regulate commerce. That, if there was any indelicacy in the clashing of the proceedings of the legislature and executive, it was to the latter, not to the former, that this indelicacy was to be imputed. The resolution which was the subject of debate had been several days depending in the house, before the nomination of an envoy extraordinary had been made. America having a right, as an independent nation, to regulate her own commerce, the resolution could not lead to war; on the contrary, it was the best means of bringing the negotiation to a happy issue.
The motion for taking up the report was carried in the affirmative. Some embarrassment was produced by an amendment offered by Mr. Smith of South Carolina, who proposed to add another condition to the restoration of intercourse between the two countries. This was, compensation for the negroes carried away in violation of the treaty of peace. The house avoided this proposition by modifying the resolutions so as to expunge all that part of it which prescribed the conditions on which the intercourse might be restored. A bill was brought in conforming to this resolution, and carried by a considerable majority. In the senate, it was lost by the casting vote of the Vice President. The system which had been taken up in the house of representatives was pressed no further.
The altercations between the executive and the minister of the French republic, had given birth to many questions which had been warmly agitated in the United States, and on which a great diversity of sentiment prevailed.
The opinion of the administration that the relations produced by existing treaties, and indeed by a state of peace independent of treaty, imposed certain obligations on the United States, an observance of which it was the duty of the executive to enforce, had been reprobated with extreme severity. It was contended, certainly by the most active, perhaps by the most numerous part of the community, not only that the treaties had been grossly misconstrued, but also that, under any construction of them, the interference of the executive acquired the sanction of legislative authority; that, until the legislature should interpose and annex certain punishments to infractions of neutrality, the natural right possessed by every individual to do any act not forbidden by express law, would furnish a secure protection against those prosecutions which a tyrannical executive might direct for the crime of disregarding its illegal mandates. The right of the President to call out the militia for the detention of privateers about to violate the rules he had established, was, in some instances, denied; attempts to punish those who had engaged, within the United States, to carry on expeditions against foreign nations, were unsuccessful; and a grand jury had refused to find a bill of indictment against Mr. Duplaine, for having rescued, with an armed force, a vessel which had been taken into custody by an officer of justice. Of consequence, however decided the opinion of the executive might be with respect to its constitutional powers and duties, it was desirable to diminish the difficulties to be encountered in performing those duties, by obtaining the sanction of the legislature to the rules which had been established for the preservation of neutrality. The propriety of legislative provision for the case was suggested by the President at the commencement of the session, and a bill was brought into the senate, "in addition to the act for punishing certain crimes against the United States." This bill prohibited the exercise, within the American territory, of those various rights of sovereignty which had been claimed by Mr. Genet, and subjected any citizen of the United States who should be convicted of committing any of the offences therein enumerated, to fine and imprisonment. It also prohibited the condemnation and sale within the United States, of prizes made from the citizens or subjects of nations with whom they were at peace.
Necessary as this measure was, the whole strength of the opposition in the senate was exerted to defeat it. Motions to strike out the most essential clause were successively repeated, and each motion was negatived by the casting vote of the Vice President. It was only by his voice that the bill finally passed.
[Footnote 18: Previous to taking the question on this bill, a petition had been received against Mr. Gallatin, a senator from the state of Pennsylvania, who was determined not to have been a citizen a sufficient time to qualify him under the constitution for a seat in the senate. This casual circumstance divided the senate, or the bill would probably have been lost.]
In the house of representatives also, this bill encountered a serious opposition. The sections which prohibited the sale of prizes in the United States, and that which declared it to be a misdemeanour to accept a commission from a foreign power within the territory of the United States, to serve against a nation with whom they were at peace, were struck out; but that which respected the acceptance of commissions was afterwards reinstated.
In the course of the session, several other party questions were brought forward, which demonstrated, at the same time, the strength, and the zeal of the opposition. The subject of amending the constitution was revived; and a resolution was agreed to in both houses for altering that instrument, so far as to exempt states from the suits of individuals. While this resolution was before the senate, it was also proposed to render the officers of the bank, and the holders of stock, ineligible to either branch of the legislature; and this proposition, so far as respected officers in the bank, was negatived by a majority of only one vote. A bill to sell the shares of the United States in the bank was negatived by the same majority.
[Footnote 19: A clause in the resolution as proposed, which was understood to imply that the act for incorporating the bank was unconstitutional, was previously struck out by the same majority.]
[Sidenote: Inquiry into the conduct of the secretary of the treasury terminates honourably to him.]
In both houses inquiries were set on foot respecting the treasury department, which obviously originated in the hope of finding some foundation for censuring that officer, but which failed entirely. In a similar hope, as respected the minister of the United States at Paris, the senate passed a vote requesting the President to lay before that body, his correspondence with the French republic, and also with the department of state.
[Footnote 20: See note No. VIII. at the end of the volume.]
The preparations for an eventual war, which the aspect of public affairs rendered it imprudent to omit, and a heavy appropriation of a million, which, under the title of foreign intercourse, was made for the purpose of purchasing peace from Algiers, and liberating the Americans who were in captivity, created demands upon the treasury which the ordinary revenues were insufficient to satisfy.
That the imposition of additional taxes had become indispensable, was a truth too obvious to be controverted with the semblance of reason; but the subjects of taxation afforded at all times an ample field for discussion.
The committee of ways and means reported several resolutions for extending the internal duties to various objects which were supposed capable of bearing them, and also proposed an augmentation of the impost on foreign goods imported into the United States, and a direct tax. It was proposed to lay a tax on licenses to sell wines and spirituous liquors, on sales at auction, on pleasure carriages, on snuff manufactured, and on sugar refined in the United States, and also to lay a stamp duty.
[Sidenote: Internal taxes laid.]
The direct tax was not even supported by the committee. Only thirteen members voted in its favour. The augmentation of the duty on imposts met with no opposition. The internal duties were introduced in separate bills, that each might encounter only those objections which could be made to itself; and that the loss of one might not involve the loss of others. The resolution in favour of stamps was rejected: the others were carried, after repeated and obstinate debates. The members of the opposition were in favour of raising the whole sum required by additional burdens on trade, and by direct taxes.
While these measures were depending before congress, memorials and resolutions against them were presented by the manufacturers, which were expressed in terms of disrespect that evidenced the sense in which numbers understood the doctrine, that the people were sovereign, and those who administered the government, their servants. This opportunity for charging the government with tyranny and oppression, with partiality and injustice, was too favourable not to be embraced by the democratic societies, those self proclaimed watchful sentinels over the rights of the people. A person unacquainted with those motives which, in the struggle of party, too often influence the conduct of men, would have supposed a direct tax to be not only in itself more eligible, but to be more acceptable to the community than those which were proposed. To the more judicious observers of the springs of human action, the reverse was known to be the fact.
[Illustration: George Washington's Bedroom at Mount Vernon
It was in this room that Washington expired, December 14, 1799. Two days previously he was exposed in the saddle, for several hours, to cold and snow, and contracted acute laryngitis for which he was ineffectually treated in the primitive manner of the period. A short time before ceasing to breathe, he said: "I die hard; but I am not afraid to go. I believed from my first attack that I should not survive it. My breath cannot last long." A little later he murmured: "I feel myself going. I thank you for your attentions; but I pray you to take no more trouble about me. Let me go off quietly. I cannot last long." After giving some instructions about his burial he became easier, felt his own pulse, and died without a struggle.]
The friends of the administration supported the proposed system against every objection to it, because they believed it to be more productive, and less unpopular, than a direct tax. It is not impossible that what recommended the system to one party, might constitute a real objection to it with those who believed that the public interest required a change in the public councils.
[Footnote 21: The declaration was not unfrequently made that the people could only be roused to a proper attention to the violation of their rights, and to the prodigal waste of their money, by perceiving the weight of their taxes. This was concealed from them by the indirect, and would be disclosed to them by the direct, system of taxation.]
On the ninth of June, this active and stormy session was closed by an adjournment to the first Monday in the succeeding November.
[Sidenote: Congress adjourns.]
The public was not less agitated than the legislature had been, by those interesting questions which had occasioned some of the most animated and eloquent discussions that had ever taken place on the floor of the house of representatives. Mr. Madison's resolutions especially, continued to be the theme of general conversation; and, for a long time, divided parties throughout the United States. The struggle for public opinion was ardent; and each party supported its pretensions, not only with those arguments which each deemed conclusive, but also by those reciprocal criminations which, perhaps, each, in part, believed.
The opposition declared that the friends of the administration were an aristocratic and corrupt faction, who, from a desire to introduce monarchy, were hostile to France, and under the influence of Britain; that they sought every occasion to increase expense, to augment debt, to multiply the public burdens, to create armies and navies, and, by the instrumentality of all this machinery, to govern and enslave the people: that they were a paper nobility, whose extreme sensibility at every measure which threatened the funds, induced a tame submission to injuries and insults, which the interests and honour of the nation required them to resist.
The friends of the administration retorted, that the opposition was prepared to sacrifice the best interests of their country on the altar of the French revolution. That they were willing to go to war for French, not for American objects: that while they urged war they withheld the means of supporting it, in order the more effectually to humble and disgrace the government: that they were so blinded by their passion for France as to confound crimes with meritorious deeds, and to abolish the natural distinction between virtue and vice: that the principles which they propagated, and with which they sought to intoxicate the people, were, in practice, incompatible with the existence of government. That they were the apostles of anarchy, not of freedom; and were consequently not the friends of real and rational liberty.
Genet recalled.... Is succeeded by Mr. Fauchet.... Gouverneur Morris recalled, and is succeeded by Mr. Monroe.... Kentucky remonstrance.... Intemperate resolutions of the people of that state.... General Wayne defeats the Indians on the Miamis.... Insurrection in the western parts of Pennsylvania.... Quelled by the prompt and vigorous measures of the government.... Meeting of Congress.... President's speech.... Democratic societies.... Resignation of Colonel Hamilton.... Is succeeded by Mr. Wolcott.... Resignation of General Knox.... Is succeeded by Colonel Pickering.... Treaty between the United States and Great Britain.... Conditionally ratified by the President.... The treaty unpopular.... Mr. Randolph resigns.... Is succeeded by Colonel Pickering.... Colonel M'Henry appointed secretary of war.... Charge against the President rejected..... Treaty with the Indians north-west of the Ohio.... With Algiers.... With Spain.... Meeting of Congress.... President's speech.... Mr. Adet succeeds Mr. Fauchet..... The house of representatives call upon the President for papers relating to the treaty with Great Britain.... He declines sending them.... Debates upon the treaty making power.... Upon the bill for making appropriations to carry into execution the treaty with Great Britain.... Congress adjourns.... The President endeavours to procure the liberation of Lafayette.
That the most material of those legislative measures on which the two great parties of the United States were divided, might be presented in one unbroken view, some transactions have been passed over, which will now be noticed.
In that spirit of conciliation, which adopts the least irritating means for effecting its objects, the President had resolved to bear with the insults, the resistance, and the open defiance of Mr. Genet, until his appeal to the friendship and the policy of the French republic should be fairly tried. Early in January, this resolution was shaken, by fresh proofs of the perseverance of that minister, in a line of conduct, not to be tolerated by a nation, which has not surrendered all pretensions to self government. Mr. Genet had meditated, and deliberately planned, two expeditions to be carried on from the territories of the United States, against the dominions of Spain; and had, as minister of the French republic, granted commissions to citizens of the United States, who were privately recruiting troops for the proposed service. The first was destined against the Floridas, and the second against Louisiana. The detail of the plans had been settled. The pay, rations, clothing, plunder, and division of the conquered lands to be allotted to the military; and the proportion of the acquisitions to be reserved to the republic of France, were arranged. The troops destined to act against the Floridas were to be raised in the three southern states, were to rendezvous in Georgia, were to be aided by a body of Indians and were to co-operate with the French fleet, should one arrive on the coast. This scheme had been the subject of a correspondence between the executive and Mr. Genet, but was in full progress in the preceding December, when by the vigilance of the legislature of South Carolina, it was more particularly developed, and some of the principal agents were arrested.
About the same time, intelligence less authentic, but wearing every circumstance of probability, was received, stating that the expedition against Louisiana, which was to be carried on down the Ohio from Kentucky, was in equal maturity.
[Sidenote: Genet recalled.]
This intelligence seemed to render a further forbearance incompatible with the dignity, perhaps with the safety of the United States. The question of superseding the diplomatic functions of Mr. Genet, and depriving him of the privileges attached to that character, was brought before the cabinet; and a message to congress was prepared, communicating these transactions, and avowing a determination to adopt that measure within —— days, unless, in the mean time, one or the other house should signify the opinion that it was not adviseable so to do. In this state, the business was arrested by receiving a letter from Mr. Morris, announcing, officially, the recall of this rash minister.
[Sidenote: Is succeeded by Mr. Fauchet.]
Mr. Fauchet, the successor of Mr. Genet, arrived in February, and brought with him strong assurances that his government totally disapproved the conduct of his predecessor. He avowed a determination to avoid whatever might be offensive to those to whom he was deputed, and a wish to carry into full effect the friendly dispositions of his nation towards the United States. For some time, his actions were in the spirit of these professions.
[Sidenote: Gouverneur Morris is recalled and is succeed by Mr. Monroe.]
Not long after the arrival of Mr. Fauchet, the executive government of France requested the recall of Mr. Morris. With this request the president immediately complied; and Mr. Monroe, a senator from Virginia, who had embraced with ardour the cause of the French republic, and was particularly acceptable to the party in opposition, was appointed to succeed him.
The discontents which had been long fomented in the western country, had assumed a serious and alarming appearance.
[Sidenote: Kentucky remonstrance.]
A remonstrance to the President and congress of the United States from the inhabitants of Kentucky, respecting the navigation of the Mississippi, was laid before the executive, and each branch of the legislature. The style of this paper accorded well with the instructions under which it had been prepared.
In the language of an offended sovereign people, injured by the maladministration of public servants, it demanded the use of the Mississippi as a natural right which had been unjustly withheld; and charged the government, openly, with being under the influence of a local policy, which had prevented its making one single real effort for the security of a good which was all essential to the prosperity of the western people. Several intemperate aspersions upon the legislative and executive departments, accompanied with complaints that the course of the negotiations had not been communicated to those who were interested in the event, and with threats obviously pointing to dismemberment, were concluded with a declaration that nothing would remunerate the western people for the suspension of this great territorial right; that they must possess it; that the god of nature had given them the means of acquiring and enjoying it; and that to permit a sacrifice of it to any other considerations, would be a crime against themselves and their posterity.
In the senate, the subject was referred to a committee, who reported, "that in the negotiation now carrying on at Madrid between the United States and Spain, the right of the former to the free navigation of the Mississippi is well asserted and demonstrated, and their claim to its enjoyment is pursued with all the assiduity and firmness which the magnitude of the subject demands; and will doubtless continue to be so pursued until the object shall be obtained, or adverse circumstances shall render the further progress of the negotiation impracticable. That in the present state of the business, it would be improper for congress to interfere. But in order to satisfy the citizens of the United States more immediately interested in the event of this negotiation, that the United States have uniformly asserted their right to the free use of the navigation of the river Mississippi, and have employed and will continue to pursue such measures as are best adapted to obtain the enjoyment of this important territorial right, the committee recommend that it be resolved by the senate—
"That the President of the United States be, and he hereby is requested to cause to be communicated to the executive of the state of Kentucky, such part of the existing negotiation between the United States and Spain relative to this subject, as he may deem adviseable, and consistent with the course of the negotiation."
[Footnote 22: Two months previous to the passage of this resolution, the secretary of state had, by direction of the President, given the governor the most solemn assurances on this point.]
In the house of representatives also, a resolution was passed, expressing the conviction of the house, that the executive was urging the claim of the United States to the navigation of the Mississippi, in the manner most likely to prove successful.
Had the measures pursued in the western country been dictated, exclusively, by a wish to obtain an important good, these resolutions would have allayed the ferment which had been excited. The effect which must be produced on Spain by the insinuation that the continuance of their connexion with the Atlantic states depended on obtaining the object they sought, was too apparent to escape the notice of men endowed with an ordinary share of intelligence. But when the real motives for human action are latent, it is vain to demonstrate the unreasonableness of those which are avowed.
After the reception of these resolutions, a number of the principal citizens from various parts of Kentucky assembled at Lexington, and among many intemperate resolutions passed the following:
[Sidenote: Intemperate resolutions of the people of that state.]
"That the general government whose duty it was to put us in possession of this right (the navigation of the Mississippi) have, either through design or mistaken policy, adopted no effectual measures for its attainment.
"That even the measures they have adopted, have been uniformly concealed from us, and veiled in mysterious secrecy.
"That civil liberty is prostituted, when the servants of the people are suffered to tell their masters, that communications which they may judge important ought not to be intrusted to them."
These resolutions concluded with a recommendation of county meetings, of county committees of correspondence, and of a convention when it might be judged expedient, to deliberate on the proper steps for the attainment and security of their just rights.
To estimate these resolutions accurately, it will be necessary to view in connexion with them, the military preparations which were making in that country, under the authority of France.
In October, 1793, it was alleged by the Spanish commissioners, that four Frenchmen had left Philadelphia, empowered by the minister of the French republic to prepare an expedition, in Kentucky, against New Orleans. This fact was immediately communicated by Mr. Jefferson to the governor of that state, with a request that he would use those means of prevention which the law enabled him to employ. Binding to good behaviour was particularly recommended. This letter was accompanied by one from the secretary of war, conveying the request of the President, that, if preventive means should fail, effectual military force should be employed to arrest the expedition; and General Wayne was ordered to hold a body of troops at the disposal of the governor, should he find the militia insufficient for his purpose.
The governor had already received information, that a citizen of Kentucky was in possession of a commission appointing him Commander-in-chief of the proposed expedition; and that the Frenchmen alluded to in the letter of Mr. Jefferson, had arrived, and, far from affecting concealment declared, that they only waited for money which they expected soon to receive, in order to commence their operations.
The following extract of a letter from the governor, on this subject, exhibits a curious specimen of the conclusions to which gentlemen were conducted by the course of political reasoning which prevailed at the day.
After stating the facts above alluded to, he says, "I have great doubts, even if they do attempt to carry their plan into execution, (provided they manage their business with prudence,) whether there is any legal authority to restrain or punish them, at least before they have actually accomplished it. For if it is lawful for any one citizen of this state to leave it, it is equally so for any number of them to do it. It is also lawful to carry with them any quantity of provisions, arms, and ammunition; and if the act is lawful in itself, there is nothing but the particular intention with which it is done that can possibly make it unlawful. But I know of no law which inflicts a punishment on intention only; or any criterion by which to decide what would be sufficient evidence of that intention, if it was a proper subject for legal censure.
"I shall, upon all occasions, be averse to the exercise of any power which I do not consider myself as clearly and explicitly invested with, much less would I assume power to exercise it against men whom I consider as friends and brethren, in favour of a man whom I view as an enemy and a tyrant. I shall also feel but little inclination to take an active part in punishing or restraining any of my fellow citizens for a supposed intrusion only, to gratify or remove the fears of the minister or a prince who openly withholds from us an invaluable right, and who secretly instigates against us a most savage and cruel enemy."
Upon the receipt of this extraordinary letter, the President directed General Wayne to establish a military post at Fort Massac, on the Ohio, for the purpose of stopping by force, if peaceful means should fail, any body of armed men who should be proceeding down that river.
This precaution appears to have been necessary. The preparations for the expedition were, for some time, carried on with considerable activity; and there is reason to believe that it was not absolutely relinquished, until Spain ceased to be the enemy of France.
[Footnote 23: Intercepted letters were laid before the President, showing that this expedition had been communicated to some members of the national convention and approved. It was stated that Mr. Genet, with the rank of major general, was to be Commander-in-chief of all forces raised on the American continent, and to direct their movements.]
The proceedings of the legislature of South Carolina embarrassed those who had planned the invasion of the Floridas, but did not entirely disconcert them. In April, a French sloop of war arrived on the confines of Georgia and East Florida, with a small body of troops, who were landed on one of the islands on the coast, south of the St. Mary, and who declared themselves to be part of a larger force, which might soon be expected. Upon their arrival, several small corps of Americans who had engaged to serve the republic of France, assembled in Georgia, for the purpose, as was universally understood, of co-operating with the French against the neighbouring dominions of Spain.
The interposition of government, and the inadequacy of the force to the object, disconcerted this expedition. Its leader conducted his followers into the Indian country, and endeavoured to make a settlement on their hunting grounds.
While these turbulent scenes were acting, the loud plaudits of France, which were dictated by a passionate devotion to that country, were reechoed from every part of the American continent. The friendship of that republic for the United States, her respect for their rights, the ingratitude with which her continuing benefits were repaid, the injustice done her by the executive, its tameness under British insults, were the inexhaustible themes of loud, angry, and unceasing declamation. It required a firmness of mind, and a weight of character possessed only by the chief magistrate, to maintain the ground he had taken, against such an assemblage of passions and of prejudices.
It will be recollected that in the preceding year, the attempt to treat with the hostile Indians had suspended the operations of General Wayne until the season for action had nearly passed away. After the total failure of negotiation, the campaign was opened with as much vigour as a prudent attention to circumstances would permit.
The Indians had expected an attempt upon their villages, and had collected in full force, with the apparent determination of risking a battle in their defence. A battle was desired by the American general; but the consequences of another defeat were too serious to warrant him in putting more to hazard by precipitate movements, than the circumstances of the war required. The negotiations with the Indians were not terminated till September, and it was then too late to complete the preparations which would enable General Wayne to enter their country and to hold it. He, therefore, contented himself with collecting his army and penetrating about six miles in advance of Fort Jefferson into the uninhabited country, where he established himself for the winter, in a camp called Greensville. After fortifying his camp, he took possession of the ground on which the Americans had been defeated in 1791, where he erected Fort Recovery. These positions afforded considerable protection to the frontiers, and facilitated the opening of the ensuing campaign.
Seeing only the dark side of every measure adopted by the government, and not disinclined to militia expeditions made at the expense of the United States, the people of Kentucky loudly charged the President with a total disregard of their safety, pronounced the continental troops entirely useless, declared that the Indians were to be kept in awe alone by militia, and insisted that the power should be deposited with some person in their state, to call them out at his discretion, at the charge of the United States.
Meanwhile, some steps were taken by the governor of Upper Canada which were well calculated to increase suspicions respecting the dispositions of Great Britain.
It was believed by the President, not without cause, that the cabinet of London was disposed to avail itself of the non-execution of that article of the treaty of peace, which stipulates for the payment of debts, to justify a permanent detention of the posts on the southern side of the great lakes, and to establish a new boundary line, whereby those lakes should be entirely comprehended in Upper Canada. Early in the spring, a detachment from the garrison of Detroit repossessed and fortified a position near fifty miles south of that station, on the Miamis of the lakes, a river which empties into Lake Erie at its westernmost point.
[Footnote 24: See note No. IX. at the end of the volume.]
This movement, the speech of Lord Dorchester, and other facts which strengthened the belief that the hostile Indians were at least countenanced by the English, were the subjects of a correspondence between the secretary of state and Mr. Hammond, in which crimination was answered by recrimination, in which a considerable degree of mutual irritation was displayed, and in which each supported his charges against the nation of the other, much better than he defended his own. It did not, however, in any manner, affect the operations of the army.
The delays inseparable from the transportation of necessary supplies through an uninhabited country, infested by an active enemy peculiarly skilled in partisan war, unavoidably protracted the opening of the campaign until near midsummer. Meanwhile, several sharp skirmishes took place, in one of which a few white men were stated to be mingled with the Indians.
On the 8th of August, General Wayne reached the confluence of the Au Glaize and the Miamis of the lakes, where he threw up some works of defence, and protection for magazines. The richest and most extensive settlements of the western Indians lay about this place.
The mouth of the Au Glaize is distant about thirty miles from the post occupied by the British on the Miamis of the lakes, in the vicinity of which the whole strength of the enemy, amounting, according to intelligence on which General Wayne relied, to rather less than two thousand men, was collected. The continental legion was not much inferior in number to the Indians: and a reinforcement of about eleven hundred mounted militia from Kentucky, commanded by General Scott, gave a decided superiority of strength to the army of Wayne. That the Indians had determined to give him battle was well understood; and the discipline of his legion, the ardour of all his troops, and the superiority of his numbers, authorized him confidently to expect a favourable issue. Yet, in pursuance of that policy by which the United States had been uniformly actuated, he determined to make one more effort for the attainment of peace without bloodshed. Messengers were despatched to the several hostile tribes who were assembled in his front, inviting them to appoint deputies to meet him on his march, in order to negotiate a lasting peace.
On the 15th of August, the American army advanced down the Miamis, with its right covered by that river; and on the 18th, arrived at the rapids. Here they halted on the 19th, in order to erect a temporary work for the protection of the baggage, and to reconnoitre the situation of the enemy.
The Indians were advantageously posted behind a thick wood, and behind the British fort.
[Sidenote: General Wayne defeats the Indians at the Miamis.]
At eight in the morning of the 20th, the American army advanced in columns: the legion with its right flank covered by the Miamis: One brigade of mounted volunteers commanded by General Todd was on the left; and the other under General Barbee was in the rear. A select battalion, commanded by Major Price, moved in front of the legion, sufficiently in advance to give timely notice for the troops to form in case of action.
[Footnote 25: An evasive answer having been returned to the pacific overture made from the Au Glaize, General Wayne was uncertain whether the Indians had decided for peace or war.]
After marching about five miles, Major Price received a heavy fire from a concealed enemy, and was compelled to retreat.
The Indians had chosen their ground with judgment. They had advanced into the thick wood in front of the British works which extends several miles west from the Miamis, and had taken a position, rendered almost inaccessible to horse by a quantity of fallen timber which appeared to have been blown up in a tornado. They were formed in three lines, within supporting distance of each other; and, as is their custom, with a very extended front. Their line stretched to the west, at right angles with the river, about two miles; and their immediate effort was to turn the left flank of the American army.
On the discharge of the first rifle, the legion was formed in two lines, and the front was ordered to advance with trailed arms, and rouse the enemy from his covert at the point of the bayonet; then, and not until then, to deliver a fire, and to press the fugitives too closely to allow them time to load after discharging their pieces. Soon perceiving the strength of the enemy in front, and that he was endeavouring to turn the American left, the general ordered the second line to support the first. The legion cavalry, led by Captain Campbell, was directed to penetrate between the Indians and the river, where the wood was less thick and entangled, in order to charge their left flank; and General Scott, at the head of the mounted volunteers, was directed to make a considerable circuit, and to turn their right flank.
These orders were executed with spirit and promptitude; but such was the impetuosity of the charge made by the first line of infantry, so entirely was the enemy broken by it, and so rapid was the pursuit, that only a small part of the second line and of the mounted volunteers could get into the action. In the course of one hour, the Indians were driven more than two miles, through thick woods; when the pursuit terminated within gun shot of the British fort.
General Wayne remained three days on the banks of the Miamis, in front of the field of battle, during which time the houses and cornfields above and below the fort, some of them within pistol shot of it, were reduced to ashes. During these operations, a correspondence took place between General Wayne and Major Campbell, the commandant of the fort, which is stated by the former in such a manner as to show, that hostilities between them were avoided only by the prudent acquiescence of the latter in this devastation of property within the range of his guns.
On the 28th, the army returned to Au Glaize by easy marches, destroying on its route all the villages and corn within fifty miles of the river.
In this decisive battle, the loss of the Americans, in killed and wounded, amounted to one hundred and seven, including officers. Among the dead was Captain Campbell, who commanded the cavalry, and Lieutenant Towles of the infantry, both of whom fell in the first charge. General Wayne bestowed great and well merited praise on the courage and alacrity displayed by every part of the army.
The hostility of the Indians still continuing, their whole country was laid waste, and forts were erected in the heart of their settlements, to prevent their return.
This seasonable victory rescued the United States from a general war with all the Indians north-west of the Ohio. The Six Nations had discovered a restless uneasy temper; and the interposition of the President, to prevent a settlement which Pennsylvania was about to make at Presqueisle, seemed rather to suspend the commencement of hostilities, than to establish permanent pacific dispositions among those tribes. The battle of the 20th of August, however, had an immediate effect; and the clouds which had been long gathering in that quarter, were instantly dissipated.
In the south too, its influence was felt. In that quarter, the inhabitants of Georgia and the Indians seemed equally disposed to war. Scarcely was the feeble authority of the government competent to restrain the aggressions of the former, or the dread of its force sufficient to repress those of the latter. In this doubtful state of things, the effect of a victory could not be inconsiderable.
About this time, the seditious and violent resistance to the execution of the law imposing duties on spirits distilled within the United States, had advanced to a point in the counties of Pennsylvania lying west of the Alleghany mountains, which required the decisive interposition of government.
[Sidenote: Insurrection in the Western parts of Pennsylvania.]
Notwithstanding the multiplied outrages committed on the persons and property of the revenue officers, and of those who seemed willing to submit to the law, yet, in consequence of a steady adherence to the system of counteraction adopted by the executive, it was visibly gaining ground, and several distillers in the disaffected country were induced to comply with its requisites. The opinion, that the persevering efforts of the administration would ultimately prevail, derived additional support from the passage of an act by the present congress, containing those provisions which had been suggested by the chief of the treasury department. The progress of this bill, which became a law on the fifth of June, could not have been unknown to the malcontents, nor could its probable operation have been misunderstood. They perceived that the certain loss of a market for the article, added to the penalties to which delinquents were liable, might gradually induce a compliance on the part of distillers, unless they could, by a systematic and organized opposition, deprive the government of the means it employed for carrying the law into execution.
On the part of the executive, this open defiance of the laws, and of the authority of the government, was believed imperiously to require, that the strength and efficacy of those laws should be tried. Against the perpetrators of some of the outrages which had been committed, bills of indictment had been found in a court of the United States, upon which process was directed to issue; and at the same time, process was also issued against a great number of non-complying distillers.
The marshal repaired in person to the country which was the scene of these disorders, for the purpose of serving the processes. On the 15th of July, while in the execution of his duty, he was beset on the road by a body of armed men, who fired on him, but fortunately did him no personal injury. At daybreak, the ensuing morning, a party attacked the house of General Nevil, the inspector; but he defended himself resolutely, and obliged the assailants to retreat.
Knowing well that this attack had been preconcerted, and apprehending that it would be repeated, he applied to the militia officers and magistrates of the county for protection. The answer was, that "owing to the too general combination of the people to oppose the revenue system, the laws could not be executed so as to afford him protection: that should the posse comitatus be ordered out to support the civil authority, they would favour the party of the rioters."
On the succeeding day, the insurgents re-assembled to the number of about five hundred, to renew their attack on the house of the inspector. That officer, finding that no protection could be afforded by the civil authority, had applied to the commanding officer at Fort Pitt, and had obtained a detachment of eleven men from that garrison, who were joined by Major Kirkpatrick. Successful resistance to so great a force being obviously impracticable, a parley took place, at which the assailants, after requiring that the inspector and all his papers should be delivered up, demanded that the party in the house should march out and ground their arms. This being refused, the parley terminated, and the assault commenced. The action lasted until the assailants set fire to several adjacent buildings, the heat from which was so intense that the house could no longer be occupied. From this cause, and from the apprehension that the fire would soon be communicated to the main building, Major Kirkpatrick and his party surrendered themselves.
[Footnote 26: The inspector had left the house and secreted himself. The demand of the papers was acceded to.]
The marshal and Colonel Pressly Nevil were seized on their way to General Nevil's house, and detained until two the next morning. The marshal, especially, was treated with extreme rudeness. His life was frequently threatened, and was probably saved by the interposition of some leading individuals who possessed more humanity, or more prudence, than those with whom they were associated. He could obtain his liberty only by entering into a solemn engagement, which was guaranteed by Colonel Nevil, to serve no more process on the western side of the Alleghany mountains.
The marshal and inspector having both retired to Pittsburg, the insurgents deputed two of their body, one of whom was a justice of the peace, to demand that the former should surrender all his process, and that the latter should resign his office; threatening, in case of refusal, to attack the place, and seize their persons. These demands were not acceded to; but Pittsburg affording no security, these officers escaped from the danger which threatened them, by descending the Ohio; after which, they found their way by a circuitous route to the seat of government.
The perpetrators of these treasonable practices, being desirous to ascertain their strength, and to discover any latent enemies who might remain unsuspected in the bosom of the disaffected country, despatched a party which stopped the mail from Pittsburg to Philadelphia, cut it open, and took out the letters which it contained. In some of these letters, a direct disapprobation of the violent measures which had been adopted was avowed; and in others, expressions were used which indicated unfriendly dispositions towards them. Upon acquiring this intelligence, delegates were deputed from the town of Washington to Pittsburg, where the writers of the offensive letters resided, to demand the banishment of the offenders. A prompt obedience to this demand was unavoidable; and the inhabitants of Pittsburg, who were convened on the occasion, engaged to attend a general meeting of the people, who were to assemble the next day in Braddock's field, in order to carry into effect such further measures as might be deemed adviseable with respect to the excise and its friends. They also determined to elect delegates to a convention which was to meet, on the 14th of August, at Parkinson's ferry. The avowed motives to these outrages were to compel the resignation of all officers engaged in the collection of the duties on distilled spirits; to withstand by force of arms the authority of the United States; and thereby to extort a repeal of the law imposing those duties, and an alteration in the conduct of government.
Affidavits attesting this serious state of things were laid before the President.
The opposition had now reached to a point which seemed to forbid the continuance of a temporizing system. The efforts at conciliation, which, for more than three years, the government had persisted to make, and the alterations repeatedly introduced into the act for the purpose of rendering it less exceptionable, instead of diminishing the arrogance of those who opposed their will to the sense of the nation, had drawn forth sentiments indicative of designs much deeper than the evasion of a single act. The execution of the laws had at length been resisted by open force, and a determination to persevere in these measures was unequivocally avowed. The alternative of subduing this resistance, or of submitting to it was presented to the government.
The act of congress which provided for calling forth the militia "to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions," required as a pre-requisite to the exercise of this power, "that an associate justice, or the judge of the district, should certify that the laws of the United States were opposed, or their execution obstructed, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the marshals." In the same act it was provided, "that if the militia of the state, where such combinations may happen, shall refuse, or be insufficient, to suppress the same, the President may employ the militia of other states."
The evidence which had been transmitted to the President was laid before one of the associate justices, who gave the certificate, which enabled the chief magistrate to employ the militia in aid of the civil power.
The executive being now authorized to adopt such measures as the crisis might require, the subject was again seriously considered in the cabinet; and the governor of Pennsylvania was also consulted respecting it. To avoid military coercion, if obedience to the laws could be produced by other means, was the universal wish; and therefore, all concurred in advising the appointment of commissioners from the governments of both the union, and the state, who should warn the deluded insurgents of the impending danger, and should convey a full pardon for past offences, upon the condition of future submission. But, respecting ulterior and eventual measures, a difference of opinion prevailed. The act already mentioned, made it the duty of the President, previous to the employment of military force, to issue his proclamation, commanding the insurgents to disperse within a limited time. The secretary of state (and the governor of Pennsylvania is understood to have concurred with him) was of opinion, that this conciliatory mission should be unaccompanied by any measure which might wear the appearance of coercion. He was alarmed at the strength of the insurgents, at their connexion with other parts of the country, at the extensive-ness of the prevailing discontents with the administration, and at the difficulty and expense of bringing the militia into the field. The governor of Pennsylvania having declared his opinion, that the militia of that state, who could be drawn forth, would be incompetent to enforce obedience, the aid of the neighbouring states would consequently be necessary. The secretary of state feared that the militia of the neighbouring states would refuse to march; and that, should he be mistaken in this, their compliance with the orders of the executive might be not less fatal than their disobedience. The introduction of a foreign militia into Pennsylvania might greatly increase the discontents prevailing in that state. His apprehensions of a failure, in the attempt to restore tranquillity by coercive means, were extreme; and the tremendous consequences of a failure were strongly depicted. From the highly inflamed state of parties, he anticipated a civil war, which would pervade the whole union, and drench every part of it with the blood of American citizens.
The secretary of the treasury, the secretary of war, and the attorney general, were of opinion that the President was bound by the most high and solemn obligations to employ the force which the legislature had placed at his disposal, for the suppression of a criminal and unprovoked insurrection. The case contemplated by congress had clearly occurred; and the President was urged by considerations the most awful, to perform the duty imposed on him by the constitution, of providing "that the laws be faithfully executed." The long forbearance of government, and its patient endeavours to recall the deluded people to a sense of their duty and interest by appeals to their reason, had produced only increase of violence, and a more determined opposition. Perseverance in that system could only give a more extensive range to disaffection, and multiply the dangers resulting from it.
Those who were of opinion that the occasion demanded a full trial of the ability of the government to enforce obedience to the laws, were also of opinion, that policy and humanity equally dictated the employment of a force which would render resistance desperate. The insurgent country contained sixteen thousand men able to bear arms; and the computation was, that they could bring seven thousand into the field. If the army of the government should amount to twelve thousand men, it would present an imposing force which the insurgents would not venture to meet.
It was impossible that the President could hesitate to embrace the latter of these opinions. That a government entrusted to him should be trampled under foot by a lawless section of the union, which set at defiance the will of the nation, as expressed by its representatives, was an abasement to which neither his judgment nor his feelings could submit. He resolved, therefore, to issue the proclamation, which, by law, was to precede the employment of force.
On the same day, a requisition was made on the governors of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, for their several quotas of militia to compose an army of twelve thousand men; who were to be immediately organized, and prepared to march at a minute's warning.